Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Mark 13:24-37
Dear people who are awake: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Stay awake. Jesus tells us to stay awake because it is possible to fall asleep. It is possible for us to fall asleep instead of keeping watch and being ready for Christ’s return. That is to say, it is possible for us to fall away from the faith.
So, stay awake. Stay awake from the false sense of security in which no thought is given at all about Christ’s return on the Last Day. Stay awake from the expectation that things will just keep on going as they have been since the foundation of the world. Stay awake from the lull of worldly comfort. Stay awake from giving highest priority to the cares of this world. Stay awake from the deceitfulness of riches.
Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. You do not know when Jesus will return. Yes, Jesus gives you signs so that you can recognize when the time is coming close, but no one knows when it will be. We have had wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines since Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Mk. 13:8). We’ve had signs of the end times for two thousand years. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost that they were in the last days already then (Acts 2:17). Saint John writes, “Children, it is the last hour” (I Jn 2:18).
Live every day as though it might be your last, because it just might be your last. One day it will be your last.
Our Introit from Psalm 39 prays, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.” This is praying to God that He would lead us to realize that our life on earth is extremely short, so that we would think more about where we will spend eternity. Lead us to not spend all our time and energy stocking up treasure on earth and thus give up treasure in heaven. Lead us to not live lives in the pursuit of pleasure on earth and thus give up the pleasure of heaven.
Recall the parable of the sower. The Word of God that is heard by hard hearts is snatched away by the devil. The Word of God that is sown in some hearts endures for a while, but then, when tribulation and persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately they fall away. The Word of God that is sown in others proves unfruitful when the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word (cf. Mk. 4:1-20). There is great danger that we fall away if we allow hardships or worldly desires to turn us away from God.
Falling away doesn’t just happen overnight. You don’t go to sleep one night filled with faith and trust in God and wake up the next morning hating Him. It happens over time as a Christian does not prioritize the feeding and nurture of his faith. Little by little, he allows the world to influence him. He doesn’t even realize the things that he’s starting to believe are against God’s Word because he isn’t listening to God’s Word. He’s done listening to it because he thinks he knows it all and doesn’t need it any more. Maybe later, like on his deathbed, he thinks.
Do not think that you have lots of time to prepare for Jesus’ return, so you’ll prepare later; that you have lots of time to repent, you’ll repent later. We don’t know when Jesus will return. When He has returned, it will be too late to prepare or repent. The watchman cannot expect to be awake when his master returns if he figures he has some time to sleep, even just for a little bit, and then wake up before his master returns. His master will return at a time that he does not expect.
The Son of Man will return in clouds with great power and glory. Those who receive Jesus now when He comes humbly, are ready to receive Him when He comes in glory. Those who don’t, are not.
The day that Christ returns will be a day of great terror for some and a day of great joy for others. For some it will be scarier and more terrifying than anything they could have imagined. The hearts of unbelievers will melt with fear because they will see all their idols destroyed by fire. Everything they held dear and in which they hoped will be destroyed. Everything for which they worked, everything they valued, everything they believed in will be revealed to be foolishness, lies, and rubbish, while the almighty God they rejected will justly punish them for the truth they rejected; for the grace and mercy they rejected.
Stay awake and prepared for the return of Christ. You may well say, “I’m trying!” I’m trying to prioritize the right things in my life. I’m trying to think more about eternity. I’m trying to hear God’s Word more and even read it more. I come here to hear the pastor absolve my sin and to receive the body and blood of Jesus… but it doesn’t seem to do anything.
My sin that God has apparently thrown into the depths of the sea still remains in my heart. I come to church week after week; I hear the Gospel week after week; I receive communion week after week, but I cannot get rid of my sins.
I still make bad decisions. I still get caught up in the cares of this life. I still doubt. I still cannot be perfectly content. I despair. I still want things that God says I cannot have. I still get angry. I still lust. I still covet. I still say things I shouldn’t say. I’m still selfish.
The truth is, you are still sinful. That does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not doing anything in you. That does not mean that your hearing and reading of the Gospel has been in vain or that Jesus’ body and blood have done nothing for you.
This cannot be the case because you believe. You believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sin. The only reason that you believe is because the Holy Spirit gave you faith when you were baptized, and He has fed and nourished that faith through the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar even to this day. You are awake.
The Holy Spirit has given you faith. He has also kept you in the faith. Even though sin still clings to you, the Holy Spirit has continually forgiven you your sin. The Holy Spirit helps you in your struggle with sin, even though the struggle does not go away in this life.
Your struggle with sin will go away when Christ returns. Then you will be completely delivered from all sin. Not just delivered from sins of word and deed, but even of all sinful desires. Our very sinful nature, which is the reason that we sin, will be destroyed.
Thank God that this life is short! And thank God that He sends His Word and Sacrament to us to keep us awake until the coming of Christ. Christ will return and send out the angels to gather His elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. He doesn’t gather you because you’ve lived a good life, but because He died for your sins and you belong to Him, purchased by His blood. He gathers you because you are His elect and He will keep you in the true faith to life everlasting. Jesus will keep you awake. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.