Sermon – Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 25, 2018; Mark 13:24-37 ‘Heads Up’
CT: Do not be anxious about the times we live in, rather see the signs as reminders that Jesus is returning for us as sure as summer follows the signs of spring.
Today’s Signs: We read the signs of the seasons—the shorter days, the frost in the morning, the first snow; winter’s coming; there’s no avoiding it. Or conversely the days get longer and the pussy willows poke out their heads telling that summer is close. Jesus spoke openly of the signs of His return; signs that we see and hear of to this day. There is news coverage of wars and rumours of wars, famine in Yemen, earthquakes in Mexico, and fires in California. We are living in the last days and have been since Jesus rose from the dead! Every now and then an act of kindness makes the 6 o’clock news, but every act of violence and bloodshed is covered exposing as much detail as possible. Evil that was once far off is now dumped into your living room. The media has changed how much of our world we see! Human restraint seems to be at an all time low and the Christian Church seems less effective and more beat down than ever before. Church goers gather in groups and talk about lower worship attendance and wonder where the next generation of believers will come from. How long can we hold out; the when of our demise?
When: The when is important to us. If someone says the Holliday Train is coming to town we want to know when; the Christmas dinner is tonight, we naturally ask, “What time?” So it’s of little wonder that the disciples upon hearing about the destruction of the temple wanted to know the ‘when’, but instead of a date Jesus gave them signs to show that it was near. And the signs Jesus spoke of in today’s Gospel lesson are even more terrifying than those that announced the impending destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD; these signs tell of what will happen when His return draws near.
At times, it might seem to us that the whole world is spinning out of control already; that evil and chaos has the upper hand, and that God has abandoned us. Many, using the Christian banner, take this an opportunity to dive into the murky waters of reading an ‘end times’ prediction into every catastrophe, hoping to unlock the ‘when’ of the Last Day. Bold predictions have been made by all kinds of religious gurus; all have failed to pinpoint that day.
Such efforts put human wisdom and reason ahead of Jesus’ words that no one will know the hour or the day; “not the angels in heaven, or the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus didn’t give us a day or the ‘when’; He gave us signs. The parable of the fig tree shows that the signs have a different purpose than timing Jesus’ return. The budding leaves on the tree came late in the spring as sure sign that summer is right around the corner. The point is not that we can calculate the exact date of Armageddon; it’s that every time we see a sign we are reminded that as summer most certainly follows spring so is Jesus’ return; He is certainly coming.
Meantime: Instead of drawing us into calculations about the time of His return, or despairing of His coming because of all that’s going on around us, Jesus draws us to Himself; to strengthen us for this day. Our God is not absent; Jesus is near, now—as we live each day, and He is coming to take us to our heavenly home. All is complete; all is ready; all has been ready since Jesus said, “It is finished.” His suffering and death completed the future for all who believe; He changed the outcome of your eternity. His blood bought your forgiveness and His resurrection assures you that He will come and gather all the elect and you will see Him come; you won’t miss it!
And so we wait like the servants in the parable of the travelling master. Just because He’s out of sight does not mean we’re left with nothing to do—or that what we do doesn’t matter. There’s a story of a tourist who stopped to take pictures of the landscaping outside this beautiful villa in Europe. He struck up a conversation with the gardener who was meticulously caring for every plant in every corner of the yard. Upon finding out that the owner had not stayed in his villa for years the tourist expressed the thought that he must be returning tomorrow because of the gardener’s attention to every detail. To which the gardener replied, “Oh it’s not that the master of this house is returning tomorrow; it’s that he might return today!”
While we wait for Jesus’ return, God has given us much to do. Each of us has responsibilities right where He has placed us—as husband or wife, parent or child (sometimes we’re both), employer or employee—as pastor or parishioner, or relative, friend, or neighbour. No matter where we are or what we are doing, there is much to be done each day with what God has given us for those He has placed in our lives. And while we actively wait we watch, for many false cries will sound; there never seems to a shortage of ‘Chicken Littles’ who say the sky is falling, which is why you need God’s Word in your hearts and minds and not just in the book on the table. Many false christs will arise, yet we work and watch while we wait with expectant joy for Jesus’ return.
No Fear: The troubling signs of our day need not get under our skin; we are certainly closer today to Jesus’ return than we were yesterday. Even when the troubles of life seem to build up and roll in on us one after another, even if things seem to fall apart around us, we need not be afraid; Jesus’ promise is to never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20b). Rather every sign of the end reinforces the sureness of Jesus’ victory and His Word, which will never pass away.
A hockey player doesn’t last long if he plays with his head down, unaware of the dangers and the play around him. He keeps his head up, in the game, working toward the goal, knowing the period—the allotted time is drawing to a close. And so we as Christians live life with our heads up, aware of the signs around us, watchful and ready that none would take us off guard and rob us of all that God has promised and given us in Jesus Christ. Knowing the time we have here is limited, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith as we work toward the goal He has given us; to bear witness to whose team we are on—to whom we represent in all that we do and say no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. We are free to work and live without anxiety or fear of what tomorrow might bring for every sign we see is a reminder that Jesus’ return to gather us into His arms is as sure as summer follows spring. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)