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What Luther Says

SERMON: 'Stay Awake' (Mark 13:24-37)

Today, we have a sermon from Pastor Lewis Polzin of  Boars In The Vineyard fame and Trinity Lutheran Church in Bemidji, Minnesota, a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) as found published on his A Pastoral Approach blog.

Sermon: Mark 13:24-37, November 30, 2014 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text this morning is from the Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter:


“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 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.”


Thus far the text. 
My dear friends in Christ, 
Our lesson in Mark appears to pick up where we left off the last month in Matthew, darkness and the great day of the Lord. But, remember, my friends, Jesus Christ is light of the world, the light which no darkness can overcome. Should the sun go out and all the stars of the heavens, the light of Jesus Christ cannot be overcome. 
The admonition that we hear Scripture give us, stay awake, everyone here should consider for the Last Day, even our own last day upon this earth. If we do not, we will fall asleep, slumber, rest, without knowing that our day is coming, and there we shall suddenly realize that we have fallen away from Jesus and we are no longer His. So stay awake in Word and Sacrament. 
We continue to look to that Last Day, for it reminds us that every man will have to give an accounting to God. Either we shall make our case solely on Christ and His merits, as we do through those Sacraments, or we will make our case on our own merits. There are no other choices. 
This is why Jesus says to mark the fig tree. Mark any tree’s seasons. We read the seasons based upon its leaves and how it grows. We know that when we see the buds, spring is coming. When the leaves begin to turn, the winter is approaching. And so we know by looking at our world and its Christ that the end is coming soon. Our Lord will soon return. 
 How do we know? He has ascended into heaven. And in saying He ascended, what does it mean but that He had also descended to this earth once into our flesh, and that He will return to descend to be bodily with His creation once again? 
Our Jesus’ ascension tells us He is coming again. The earth trembles with anticipation, with wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines will strike the nations. These are the beginnings of the birth pains. As with a woman in labor, when the contractions come, you don’t know when the child will arrive, but you know it’s coming. 
This is why Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour but the Father. All is hidden from this world concerning that last day, except as it has been revealed by the Son. And what does He tell us? Stay awake. That’s what He gives to us. And so we hear His warning, and we take it as gift. 
After all, we do not know what this life entails for us, except that through Christ, through His Word, through His Baptism, through His Supper, He has made us to live forever. This life, with its trials and tribulations are but a momentary affliction as we await the day of Resurrection. We are mortal in this life, yes, we shall die unless Christ descends from the heavens first, but we are immortal as He is immortal for Christ is in us. And today, Christ will, in the very realest sense, be in us again as He comes to us in His body and blood. Without this, we should perish eternally. 
When the devil comes, and come he will, he will accuse us. He will come with a seemingly strengthened hand to accuse us and to punish us with the Law. But, let him accuse. Let him punish. Let him make good use of the evil he would commit against you. Make use of that punishment to let him fall into pride. If he strikes with disease, illness, sorrow, doubt, temptation, let those be his downfall as we scream, “I am baptized into Christ!” Sing with the hymn: Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me! 
All of life is ours, both good and evil. And because of the devil, and because of our sin, all is uncertain here. As good Saint Augustine says: “A child is conceived, perhaps it will be born, perhaps it will be an untimely birth. So it is uncertain: Perhaps he will grow up, perhaps he will not grow up; perhaps he will grow old, perhaps he will not grow old; perhaps he will be rich, perhaps poor; perhaps he will be distinguished, perhaps abased; perhaps he will have children, perhaps he will not; perhaps he will marry, perhaps not; and so on, whatever else among good things you may name. Now look too at the evils of life: Perhaps he will have sickness, perhaps he will have not; perhaps he will be stung by a serpent, perhaps not; perhaps he will be devoured by a wild beast, perhaps he will not.”  
These things are all uncertain. There is nothing in this sin-filled life but the word “perhaps.” As Benjamin Franklin said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Death, taxes, and our Lord’s return. That is why He chides us to stay awake. Jesus knows we will be comfortable in the “perhaps.” Life seems so uncertain, so perhaps I won’t die. Or perhaps Jesus won’t return. But just as sure as April 15 rolls around, so, too, either of the two, death or Christ’s second coming, will happen. 
Let us not love this “perhaps.” Loving it is akin to loving the world and all its pleasures. There are good and pleasurable things in this world, things our Lord has given us to enjoy. But we do not love the “perhaps,” and we do not love sin. The lovers of this world are overcome, overwhelmed, and overtaken by the devil and his world. The world will fall, and the lovers of the world with it. 
But, our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world. And so if we are united to Christ in Word and Sacrament, we, too, are inheritors of His work, which means He has overcome the world for us. That is why Christ says to rejoice for He has overcome the world. 
And rejoice, then, we shall. For He is the one who was beaten and crucified. The creator of all things was mocked and crowned with a crown of pain and derision, not one of jewels and gold as He deserves. But, He who overcame this death overcame the world also. And He did this for us, us who are in Him, us who are in the world. 
Thus, we say to Him, have mercy upon me, a poor, miserable sinner. For we are poor, with nothing in our hands, and miserable, for we are pitiable, and sinners, for we do not do the will of God the Father. But, in saying this, in repenting of our sins, our Lord lavishes upon us the riches of His kingdom. He gives to us forgiveness. He gives to us the strengthening of faith. He gives to us His holy Word and Sacraments for all these things. 
We cling to God for He is the one who is like us, the one who made Himself man for our sake. Only those who stay awake in the Lord may cry out to Him for His mercy. All others fall asleep, and so do their voices. But to Christ we look, and to His cross we cling, and so we cry with the song of Moses, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”  
This is what it means to stay awake, to watch for Christ to come again. There, in Word and Sacrament, we find we need fear no death, fear no devil, fear neither the works of the world. In God I trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man, or anything else, do to you when you are Christ’s? Nothing. And besides, it is only for a little while. As our Christ came once as a little child, He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. And you, my friends, will live forever in Him, for you have been washed, you have been fed, and you have listened and stayed awake in Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. 
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord! Amen.

For emphasis, here's what my Lutheran Study Bible has to say about this passage...

Jesus will return on the Last Day to judge all humanity, fulfilling OT prophecy and His own predictions. No one knows when the events Jesus prophesied will take place; therefore, Christians are to focus on the work He has given them (Matthew 9:38). Aug: "Let no one then search out for the last Day, when it is to be; but let us watch all by our good lives, lest the last day of any one of us find us unprepared" (NPNF 1 6:411). Rather than wasting time and energy trying to determine the exact year or day of Jesus' return, which God has not revealed, we should focus on bringing the Gospel to people who do not yet know Christ as Savior and Lord. Today, we need to focus on the calling we have as Christ's Church: Gospel proclamation (Matthew 28:18-20). God has created this time before the second appearing of Jesus so that we may come to faith and call others to faith and salvation. "Stay awake" or remain alert to proclaim the Gospel and practice the faith. Aug: "When it tells us to watch for the last day, every one should think of [this] as concerning his own last day; lest haply when you judge or think the last day of the world to be far distant, you slumber with respect to your own last day" (NPNF 1 6:411). Jesus exhorts us to vigilance and encourages us to use the available time wisely, proclaiming the Gospel for the salvation of others. Jesus promises to be with us always and has poured out on us His Holy Spirit for the work of evangelizing the nations. No one will enter the kingdom of God by works, nor will any mere religion save anyone. Because Jesus died and rose for us and because the Holy Spirit created and sustained saving faith in His people, we can be sure of our salvation no matter how fearsome the Last Day may be.

As an ex-Evangelical (and one whose primary focus was always the study of end times prophecy as opposed to Jesus Christ), I greatly appreciated a proper explanation of this popular passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In short, it completely takes your eyes off of the fallen, sinful world and puts them squarely on Christ, His Word, and the Sacraments instead (where they should be).

In a Lutheran layman's terms, it's simple -- stay awake!!!

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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