JULY 21st, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right On the Mark Dan 7:1-2,9-14/Mk 13:21-37
“CHRIST'S WAKE-UP CALL!”
Jesus ends his prophetic response to his disciples question, “When?”, with a summary warning to stay alert, to keep watch for his return, as he will, unexpectedly return, (lest he find them sleeping...)
“You, too, must keep watch for you don't know when the master of the house will return... Don't let him find you sleeping when he abruptly arrives. I say to you, as to all: Watch for him!” (Mark 13:35-37)
Jesus' closing command to alertness assumes that his disciples are prone to falling asleep on the job. I can't imagine where he got that idea from....!
I stand convicted as well. Just last Sunday, I badly overslept, making it to the 8 am service thanks only to Claudia...! If not for her, y'all also would still be wondering when the master of the house was going to return! Let's face it, some of us are just hard to stir once we've fallen asleep....!
Mom: Wake up! It's time to get ready for school.
Mom: Just checking. I'm glad you're up and dressed.
Calvin: That should throw her off the trail for a while.... (pause)
Mom: Hey, Let's MOVE it!! This is the third time I've called you!! You're going to miss the
bus! Let's GO!!
Calvin: These mornings are going to kill me. (It's A Magical World, p. 105, 138)
In this, Calvin and I understand each other. But if I were wise, I wouldn't be so akin to Calvin as to his best bud, Hobbes, his stuffed-tiger friend, who understands what it means to live one's life poised for adventure, with radar attuned to the return of the master, even to the turn of a doorknob...
Hobbes: Cat nap, noun: A quick, light doze in the manner of cats.
Calvin: I KNOW what it Means! (It's A Magical World, p. 5)
Hobbes has the concept of living life ready and watchful for the master's return down, but I'm not sure tackling him is probably the best call. Consider yourself advised! Back to the text....
As noted, our reading concludes Jesus' response to his disciples' question, 'when?'. Having prophesied the destruction of the temple around forty years before the fact, along with the city of Jeru-salem, his disciples ask for signs indicating that this was imminent. In response, Jesus provides eight warnings and signs, seven of which we read last week. The eighth, I saved for this week, as it is really three prophecies in one, and is tied to the promise that concludes his prophetic message.
That is, Jesus' eighth warning, along with the seventh, involves a prophecy that was not fulfilled in any known way upon the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They point forward - the seventh to the spiritual confusion caused by the signs and wonders the false prophets and messiahs will perform, and the eighth points...upward, into the skies. Its three prophecies involve first the day, second, the night, and third, the earth and the cosmos beyond! As Jesus warns: “At that time..., the sun will go dark, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly powers will be shaken.”
At the time Jesus prophesied this his disciples couldn't imagine what could transpire to fulfill such a prophecy – but now we do. This could point to two devastating events – one geologic and the other cosmic in nature. What might cause the sun to go dark and the moon to blotted out, if not a major volcano or two? We know that when Krakatoa last blew it caused a near global screening from the sun and the moon and the stars. It is blamed for famines... And the second piece, of stars falling from the sky and a cosmic shaking, sounds an awful lot like a meteorite impact!
Whatever it was, Jesus is saying, collectively, when you consider all eight you can see the signs will be everywhere, and the purpose of the signs, is to remind us of his promise. “When everything is ready, I will come again and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”
He echoes this promise as he points forward, through the clouds and ash of so much pain and loss that lie ahead, to a picture of hope and promise shining all the brighter because the sun will be darkened and the moon will give no light, and there in skies above in plain view of all the people, will come into view a sight for every sore eye... “Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory!” (Mark 13:26)
It's a powerful promise and bone-tingling image! So why does Jesus, here, of all places use this opaque reference to himself, “The Son of Man”? Why doesn't he speak more plainly? Actually, for his peers, he couldn't have been more clear. He was borrowing the prophet Daniel's messianic term, a title we heard read earlier, in which Daniel speaks of one in the distant future, bright as the sun, who arrives on the heels of a great storm, a mighty tempest, with strong winds blowing from every direction...
It's an image reminiscent of the signs & warnings Jesus provides in Mark 13. And in the storm...
“I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence. He was given great authority, honor and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race, nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal – it will never end. His Kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
This is a vital and exciting messianic prophecy. It dates back to the mid sixth century B.C. - some 550 years before Christ came the first time. It was well known among Jesus' contemporaries and hotly debated. From this prophecy we learn some important things about the coming of this son of man.
For one thing, Daniel says he will come on the clouds of heaven. Scholars have long assumed this was meant metaphorically, but not only does John paint the same picture in his Revelation vision but the angels make reference to it as well as in Matthew and Luke's telling of Jesus' ascension...
As John celebrates in his introduction: “Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him...!” (Revelation 1:7) Or in the words of the angels at Jesus' ascension: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken up in a cloud to heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1:11)
So in referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus takes claim to this prophecy regarding the manner of his return... The second thing Daniel's vision tells us about this Son of Man is that he is he who stands in the presence of the Ancient One, the Creator, the great I AM. This part of the prophecy was hotly debated by Jewish rabbis as its long been held that no one can stand in the presence of the Ancient of Days, and live, yet Daniel is clear, this Son of Man does. He is also....holy.
Daniel also informs us that this Son of Man, who stands beside God and appears supernaturally,
was given great authority, honor and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race, nation and language obeyed him. (Daniel 7:14) That's a lot of power! Doesn't ultimate power ultimately corrupt? Yet, this Son of Man is holy – he stands in God's presence – he is good, trustworthy to the point that all peoples come, ultimately, to obey him. So, he is a King. He rules, and his rule is so good and fair everyone wants to obey him because.....he is so loved and loving.
What other force could possibly compel all peoples of every race, nation and language to obey anyone or anything…, if not the power of unconditional love? What's more, Daniel shares one more thing about this coming king...: His rule is eternal – and His Kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
Jesus is saying that not only is he one and the same person as this Son of Man Daniel foresaw, but that upon his return he will finish the good work and continue the eternal reign he's already started!
So how do you respond to all that – to signs and warnings and promises from Jesus himself? There are some who discard it as emotionally-charged nonsense, pointing out all the times in the past people were convinced they were living in the end times and did crazy things. There are others, I would assume represented here today, that are convinced we ARE living in the end times and are fascinated by any conversation on the subject. But have we learned the lesson of the fig tree...?
Consider the experience of Captain Scott O'Grady. Scott was shot down over Bosnia on June 2, 1995. He pulled the ejection lever and parachuted into enemy territory. For six days, he hid under bushes, ate bugs and drank rainwater. To make himself less visible, he covered his face with mud. Sometimes enemy soldiers passed within a few centimeters of his hiding place.
What O'Grady didn't know was that from the moment his ordeal began, intense preparations were being made to rescue him. He was wondering, 'Do they know I'm alive? Are they going to come for me? Do they even care?' And all the while the U.S. Military was mobilising to come and get him. They had 40 aeroplanes looking for him. They were using satellites. They were seeking help from other nations. And O'Grady was wondering, 'Will they come for me?'
Believe it or not, in a sense, we're in O'Grady's shoes right now. Our planet has been kidnapped. You and I are living in enemy territory. Some people wonder whether God has forgotten us. Don't you believe it! God's army is making preparations even now to recuse you and me. He's on his way! He's coming back, just as he promised he would, and he's coming for you! So, my friends, stay awake!
That is Jesus repeated and urgent message! Remember back when we started this series on Mark and I told you that Mark uses the Greek imperative verb tense more than the other three gospel writers, even though Mark is by far the shortest? The imperative is the verb tense that conveys a deep sense of urgency, a verb tense that demands a response. Well, Mark uses the imperative here in Mark 13...., more than the rest of his gospel combined. And here at the end of his eschatological discourse, he uses it rapid fire: “You, too, must keep watch! (imperative) For you don't know when the master of the house will return – in the evening, at midnight, before dawn or at daybreak. (those are the four shifts of a Roman guard) Don't let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. (imperative) I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!” (Mark 13:35-6) (imperative!)
Jesus' reference to the four shifts of a Roman guard implies two things: one, how vital and urgent our need to live our lives alert to his return. A guard who fell asleep on duty was executed.
And two, it implies that we must stay alert, whether it’s our “shift” or not. Some think falsely that they'll be ready because they were raised a certain way. “I was raised Lutheran” or “I was raised non-denominational” is going to mean little if we have not pursued a relationship with the Son of Man ourselves, opened up his word and let his voice fill our inner ear, sought his guidance along the way, and sought to learn and live what it means to be his disciple, in partnership and fellowship with others.
Others have had an amazing experience of God along the way, but have since disconnected from his cause and his tribe, who were once awake and aware but have since drifted off a bit.
There are even entire families of faith out there that are so inwardly focused that they have more than drifted off a bit. They have fallen deeply, mortally asleep. Jesus warns against such tendencies as he addresses the church in Sardis: “I know all the things you do and that you have a reputation for being alive – but you are dead! Wake up! Go back to what you heard and believed at first! Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly as unexpected as a thief.” (Revelation 3:1-3)
That's pretty clear! Jesus' warning in Mark 13, and beyond it, is to serve as a wake-up call, not so much to an unbelieving world, but to especially to his church – to you and me. There is a storm a-coming but there is already among us a Great Deceiver who has invaded our world and in taking prisoners, one sleepy-soul at a time. He'll use whatever it takes to lull us into spiritual slumber – a new job with more hours, a home remodeling project, a death of a loved one, a move to a different community, a fight with a fellow believer, a soft spot for partying – anything!
If we're not careful, we may get left behind and miss the boat...!
[DVD clip from The Hobbit, (II); ]
If we're not careful, we may get left behind and miss the boat...! Jesus' closing warning is clear:
Keep watch! Don't let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. Keep watch for him!
How then do we stay awake, alert and watchful? We stay connected – to him and to one another, doing what he would have us do – caring for those who are hurting, praying with confidence in the power of His Holy Spirit and loving others, like the kids this week at VBS, into the kingdom!
Lord, we are willing! Awaken us, your church! We stir in response to your alarm clock, Lord!