Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

December 3, 2017

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Mark 13:32-37

Dear Friends in Christ,

Jesus and his disciples had been at the temple courts for worship. It was Passover time, and, just like our buildings before Christmas, everything looked especially beautiful. This moved the disciples to comment to Jesus about the massive stones and magnificent buildings. It must have been an awesome sight. Herod had begun a 40 plus year renovation project that aimed at making the temple and its courts rival what was said of Solomon’s temple, and the project was almost finished. It’s a real blessing to have beautiful buildings in which to worship, buildings that proclaim how great and glorious our God is. And considering the fact that God gave Moses the plans for the Tabernacle and David the plans for the temple Solomon built, and they both required a lot of gold and ornate fabrics, it’s not a waste of time and money to have beautiful places of worship. But, Jesus’ response to the disciple’s comments about the Temple and its courts was not what they expected. His answer was, “Do you see all these great buildings?” “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Jesus had their attention. They wanted to know what he was talking about and why he would say such a thing. Jesus’ response was to remind them to keep watch. They, and the church of all time, were to keep watch for two great events. The first was the literal fulfillment of what Jesus said about the buildings of Jerusalem. The time was coming very soon, within a generation, when the buildings of Jerusalem would be destroyed. Once this event occurred the church should not become complacent, but keep watching for an even greater destruction, the end of the world at the judgment.

The beautiful, massive buildings of the Temple and its courtyards were a real blessing. They looked like they could endure forever. Their massive stones gave the impression of permanence. But Jesus gave his startling answer to make sure that they didn’t begin to think like the people of Noah’s day. As Noah was building the ark they must have made fun of him. The Bible tells us that he was a preacher of righteousness. We don’t have any of his sermons recorded, but he certainly shared with the people what God had told him. God’s patience was running out. The people of the world were so wicked and so violent he had decided to destroy them. He couldn’t tell them exactly when, but soon, God was going to send a flood from which no one could escape. He certainly encouraged them to repent and trust in the Lord, the one true God before it was too late. But no one listened. People were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. Jesus didn’t want the disciples to get so enamored by the beauty and size of the buildings that they failed to keep watch for the signs he gave them that they would be destroyed. He didn’t want them to think, as OT believers had, that since Jerusalem was God’s chosen city, and the Temple was his house, he would never let it be destroyed no matter how unfaithful they became.

The disciples needed a little dose of reality to keep them from being too earthly minded. Things had been going well. Jesus was attracting record crowds. Jesus was cheered when he publicly defeated the Jewish leaders or those they sent to try to discredit Jesus in debate. Huge crowds had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. We can understand why they might think everything would just keep on going as it was, or better. How quickly things changed. Just like the coming of the flood. One day it was sunny and beautiful, the next it was pouring unending buckets of rain that didn’t stop for 40 days. Jesus didn’t want the recent good things that were happening to lull them into a false sense of security.

That’s the way it is for us, isn’t it? When things are going well, unless we have a real negative outlook on life, we tend to just assume things will keep going as they are. We go about our lives, we come to worship, we thank God for his blessings, we plan for the future as if everything is going to keep going as it has been, or even get better. It’s easy for us to get distracted; to fail to keep watch. Sometimes we need a little dose of reality to remind us that things aren’t going to continue as they are forever. The first event Jesus’ foretold has happened, just as he said it would. And when the Father’s patience runs out with our current world, he will bring about the second event, not destruction by water, but by fire. Nothing earthly, no matter how powerful or massive, will be able to withstand the destruction of the last day.

In addition to Jesus’ strong words about the destruction of the beautiful buildings, he gave the disciples and us other signs that would help keep us from being distracted by earthly things and focused on watching. You are familiar with some of those signs, famines, earthquakes, wars and rumors of war, false teachers and false Christs, persecution. Although none of those things are pleasant, they all serve to give us a dose of reality. Our lives are not going to continue as they always have. Things could change quickly, at the blink of an eye. And when trouble or persecution comes, it’s a lot easier to pray with John at the end of Revelation – Even so, come Lord Jesus, quickly.

Keep watch. Be on your guard. What does that mean? How do you do that?

It involves making sure that you are not too earthly minded, not too attached to the things of this world. Always remember that nothing earthly is permanent, no matter how powerful or enduring it might seem. As Jesus said in the first verse of our text, heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Hold on to what won’t pass away tightly.

As Jesus illustrated with his parable of the man going on a journey, be faithful in whatever job he has given you to do. Think of how many parables Jesus used to make the point that he has given you blessings to use, material things, physical abilities and spiritual gifts. They are on loan from him. When he returns you have to give an account of how you used them. Don’t burry them in the ground and think he will be pleased that you didn’t loose them. Don’t procrastinate and think that you will get around to using what God gave you later, but now you just want to have fun and goof around. Do whatever God has given you to do to the best of your ability in a way that gives glory to God and helps your neighbor. Consider, as Paul says, that whatever you are doing, your job, your homework, your chores, you aren’t doing them for your boss, or your teacher, or your parents, you are doing them for the Lord. That’s part of an attitude of keeping watch.

The man who went on the journey gave servants jobs to do for which they would have to give an account when he returned, but he gave the door keeper the job of keeping watch. Some have suggested that the door keeper is the church. That might be defining the parable a little too much, but certainly it is the job of the church to remind everyone to keep watch and to help believers to keep watch. I saw that there was some large group of clergy gathered at the capitol in Washington sometime last week, I guess they were protesting the tax plan. They were holding signs with Bible passages that talked about caring for the poor. My immediate thought was, is that really the job of the clergy? Is that really the mission of the church to lobby congress about taxes? How is that going to help people keep watch for the last day? And even if congress did what they asked, would they then say, “now everything is well? Now the would can continue on forever?”

Did you notice that the times Jesus gave in the parable for the man’s return were all during the night? And then he says, do not let him find you sleeping? How is that possible! How can we be expected to be up all night every night watching for Jesus’ return? How can we be watching at all times? You know there have been some people who have quit their jobs and formed a commune on a mountain somewhere so that they can devote themselves to watching constantly for Jesus return, is that what we should do?

Maybe going back to the example of Noah and the flood will help. Did Noah ever sleep? I’m sure he did. But he was watching and ready for the flood to come by faithfully doing the work that God had given him, witnessing to anyone who would listen about what God had told him, and, most importantly, trusting in the promise God gave him. The earth would be destroyed, but he and all who were with him in the ark would be saved.

That’s how we keep watch. We remind ourselves every day that today could be the day. Every sign Jesus has given about his coming in glory on Judgment day has been fulfilled. He could return at any time. That reminder helps keep us from being too earthly minded, too attached to the things of this world. We do the work God has given us faithfully, making use of any opportunity we have to remind others that there is a last day, and if they don’t believe that, they have to admit they aren’t going to live forever. The only thing that endures forever is the word of the Lord. It calls everyone to repent and to trust that Jesus is the only way of salvation. He is the Ark. All those, but only those, who are in him through faith will be saved from the destruction that’s coming. Whether anyone listens or not, and it’s very sad when they don’t, we need our daily dose of that living and enduring word of God. Only as the word calls us to confess our sins, and then points us to Jesus as the one who has paid for our sins, only as we trust in him as our savior, are we truly keeping watch, ready for whenever it is he returns in glory.