Awake in the End
Second in a Series of Sermons
November 24 and 25, 2018
It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you, I say to all: Stay awake.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In last week’s sermon, Pastor Muther’s theme was “Enduring to the End.” We focused on two promises of Christ that would help us to remain strong and fruitful in our faith: 1) the Holy Spirit will be working inside of us and through us whether we know it or not, and 2) our salvation is for sure. Today’s sermon is based on that same 13th chapter of Mark, and our theme is “Awake in the End.” On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we think first of all about how important it is to be strong and growing in our faith, secondly about how the signs of the end times are easy to recognize, and third, about how to go about being built up in our faith.
“Don’t worry, it will be fine.” (Story about Debi and I noticing an unusual noise in our engine as we took off from Lewiston on a five hour trip to Milwaukee for her Aunt Ruth’s funeral. Debi, whose father could fix anything, including car engines, suggested that we should get it checked out. I suggested that she shouldn’t worry, it will be just fine. We took off and for about 30 miles we were just fine. No doubt I was rejoicing that I had been right again. Near West Salem, Wisconsin, our car sputtered and choked, and as I pulled off to the side of the road, it died. We ended up getting towed backwards for 40 miles, we missed Aunt Ruth’s funeral, a $150 repair of some silly little water pump turned into a purchase of a different car. Debi may have forgiven me, but she hasn’t forgotten.
Don’t worry, it will be fine. In 1 2014 CBS poll, 82% of Americans were of the opinion they were going to heaven, 2% said they were headed for hell, 9% said they were going to neither place, and 7% didn’t know one way or the other. Contrast that with the teaching of Jesus, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. In other words, there all kinds of folks near and far who are saying to themselves and to pollsters, with regard to their eternal destiny, “Don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.”
Three lessons we want to draw from our Gospel lesson today about what it will mean to be awake to the promises of Jesus Christ on the last day. And then three sets of questions for reflection, arising out of those three lessons.
Lesson #1 is that Staying awake is the difference between the angels gathering you in or (dying a second death). In Rev. 2:10,11, Jesus promises that if we are faithful unto death, he will give us the crown of life. He says that anyone who has an ear for the Gospel should hear what the Spirit is saying to the early churches. And then Jesus promises, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Jesus makes it clear that while everyone must die one time, as in the wages of sins is death, those who stay awake to the promises of the Gospel need not be afraid of the second death, which is eternal separation from God.
On this last Sunday in the church year, we give our attention to that last day when the archangel will be shouting, the trumpets will be blowing, and the Son of Man will be returning, not in humility, but in glory, in majesty, and with the authority to judge. On that day, the fourth day of creation will be reversed. All that holds the heavenly bodies in the orbits and enables sun, moon, and stars to light the earth, shall give way. The sun will no longer be ruling the day, the moon will no more be lighting the way at night, and the stars will come tumbling from their places.
The few who have been baptized into the Name of the Triune God and are holding onto those Baptismal promises will be resurrected, they will be gathered from the four corners of the earth, they will be assembled on the right hand of Jesus, they will be commended for feeding the hungry and giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, they will be invited into the kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the earth. Unbelievers who have been saying “I’ll be just fine, don’t worry” will be scolded for not giving evidence of their faith, they will be punished eternally for their lack of faith.”
The first set of questions for reflection is the same question Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper? Or to say it collectively, “What responsibility do we have in this congregation and in our circles of influence towards those who may be drifting away from the Christian faith, or worse?
Lesson #2 is that Staying awake isn’t (rocket science). To the early disciples, Jesus spoke the obvious, “When the fig tree branches become tender and the sap is swelling and the leaves are beginning to grow, it isn’t that hard to figure out that summer is near.” If he were talking to us Minnesotans today, He might be saying, “When you see the snow and ice melting, the robins are starting to chirp, and the daffodils and tulips are busting through the ground, well then it isn’t that hard to predict that spring time is near!” So also when you hear of earthquakes, famines, hurricanes, and forest fires, when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, when you hear of false preachers doing what they do and many being led astray and increasing persecution of Christians, well then it’s not hard to figure out that Jesus is coming back again, and He’s coming soon.
For those of us who are awake to the promises of the Gospel, the fact that Jesus is coming soon is a matter of anticipation, it’s a matter of increasing joy, it has a way of calming us down and we find our worries fading away into a confidence that God will be working everything out in our lives for our eternal good.
Speaking of this ongoing battle between sinful worrying and trusting the promises of God, many of you know that about a year ago, our daughter Michelle and Brandon saw a troubled pregnancy end with little Gabriel being born, living and breathing for about an hour, and then as his earthly mom held him in his arms, he passed away into the presence of Jesus. Fast forward 12 months, and this past Thursday we are thinking about the next morning when Michelle is scheduled to deliver one more little child, this time with a less major complication. When I mentioned to Debi that I was very worried and was feeling a bit sick to my stomach, she replied that she wasn’t worried and she wondered if I knew why not? I said, “I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’re trusting in God and that he’s got this.” Which is exactly what she was thinking and is precisely what it means to be staying awake to the promises of God. To use Isaiah’s language, the promises of God are that the salvation our God has provided at the cross is forever and the righteousness Christ has imputed to us will never be dismayed. Or to use Jude’s language, while we do battle with the enemies of our faith knowing that Christ is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless and unblemished to himself on the last day. Or to use our Savior’s own language, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Second question for reflection – it comes from a Face book post I saw this week, “If you can trust a puzzle company to make sure every piece is in the box to complete the puzzle, then why can’t you trust God that every piece of your life is there for a reason?
Lesson #1 today is that staying awake to the promises of the Gospel is the difference between spending eternity in heaven or hell, and lesson #2 was that staying awake spiritually is a simple matter of paying attention to the signs of the end times.
Lesson #3 is that Staying awake is a matter of getting your proper (rest). Daily we are tempted towards indifferent and lazy discipleship, but daily and richly God forgives us our sins and chooses to be patient with us. Daily we are tempted to rush right into our hectic schedules and have little time to pray and even less for being in God’s Word. Jesus would remind us this morning that he is that master who has left home and left us in charge. He would remind us that we each have important work to do, which is really a call for us to be vigilant and energetic in our discipleship.
Isaiah cries out for us to give attention to God’s Word, to give our ears to His prophecy, and to keep on lifting our eyes to the heavens. Jude writes about building ourselves up in the most holy faith and to be praying in the Holy Spirit as we wait for Jesus to come back again. Scriptures are full of references to finding rest in knowing that God never slumbers nor sleeps, to us hiding in the shadow of God’s wings, and to being still day after day and knowing that God is God.
A couple of weeks ago, we sang one of my favorite hymns, which used to be “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” but in LSB it’s “Guide me o thou Great Redeemer.” The first verse ends with , “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more; Feed me till I want no more.”
“That’s enough” Which reminds me of my dear mother, who passed away over 5 years ago now. Many of you have heard me talk about her being as prayerful as a person can be. Without exception, she and in later years my dad would spend an hour or more every day reading the Bible, listening to the Bible on tape, putting themselves in a position to be fed and nourished and comforted by God’s Word.
In her last days, she was surrounded by loved ones, including my dear sisters who would read Scripture, sing songs, and pray with her. There was a hospice chaplain who would visit often and read Scripture, sing songs, and pray with her. And one particular day I was there along with her home church pastor, and for hours, we were, you guessed it, reading Scripture, singing hymns, and praying with her. At a certain point, I noticed how tired she seemed to be, and I interrupted Pastor Daenzer and asked, “Mom, would you like us to keep on reading Scripture and praying with you, or is that enough for now.” With heavy eyelids and a little smile, she whispered, “That’s enough for now.” In fact we had fed her till she wanted no more. She just wanted to sleep.
Lesson #3 is that staying awake to the promises of God means resting often in the attributes of our God, attributes like omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, it means listening regularly to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, it means eating and drinking often at the Feast of Victory for our Lord.
Question #3 – How different would my days look if I often prayed with the hymn writer, Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of folks approach the Advent and Christmas seasons a bit differently this year. They spend less time on things that matter very little and more time wondering what it means to be their brother’s keeper. Less time worry about that which they cannot control and more time reminding each other about the victory they are already realizing. Less time just sort of aimlessly wandering through life and more time wondering what it means to live life as one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther