In times of trouble what are the most important things for a Christian to do?
Today I want to encourage us to follow Jesus’ advice to keep awake.
We will first read Mark 13:24-37. Then we will discuss what the solution to all our troubles is, to ask what we would do if today was our last day, discuss a man who outgrew God, the hopelessness of human government, that all states are failed states, that in Christ even bad news is good news, to ask the question where is salvation, what Christmas has to do with that, and why in troubled times we need to keep awake.
- There is a Solution
Advent is a time of hope for the world. It is not the next election, or the next great political movement, the next great religious movement or even our favorite sports team winning the season. Passages such as Mark 13:24-37 reveal that the end of all human systems, even our own, is failure. It also reveals that ultimate justice for the downtrodden is not the occupy movement. It also reveals that ultimate form of government is not found in the tea party movement. It is not the political left or right. It is not in any of the leaders of this world. The great achievements of our time, whether in science, technology, space, medicine, engineering, transportation, communications or the Internet have not solved our most urgent human problems. In Christ’s advent there is a solution to all humanity’s problems.
- If Today was your Last Day
Every generation of the church has predicted the second coming in their lifetimes. Even though they got the dates wrong, they were right in a way because Jesus will return someday. The problem with predictions is that we are clearly told in the Bible that nobody knows the day or hour (Mark 13:24-37). But, what if Jesus returned tonight, how different would our day be? That is the essence of the passage, to treat each day as if it were our last, because one day we will be right. Who would we speak to? Who would we give one last hug to? Who would we apologize to? What would we set right? What have we left undone? What kinds of prayers would we say? What would no longer have any importance and what would suddenly take on great importance?
- The Man Who Outgrew God
An acquaintance once told me that since childhood he “outgrew God.” Do we no longer need God to sustain our lives? He is not absent. Perhaps at Advent we remember Christ’s first and second comings, but forget his presence, thinking that he is absent and that we no longer need his daily providence. Places like Mark 13:24-37 speak of his second coming in clouds with great power and glory. But, Jesus came, comes and is coming. How? Advent celebrates Jesus first coming, his birth as God with us. But it also celebrates his present coming, his mysterious presence with us in communion and his gracious daily maintenance of our lives. And it also celebrates his final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the age. Is Christ absent? He is as close as our every heartbeat.
- Hopeless Human Government
According to some experts, the Gospel of Mark was compiled immediately after the Jewish War of 66-70 AD. The temple was destroyed and Jewish patriots were crushed. Though the prophecy in Mark 13:24-37 was made prior to the Jewish War, Mark was possibly influenced in his emphasis by the recent abuses of a human government. After such a national tragedy hope was needed. Jesus is in charge of the cosmos, not the brutal Roman rulers. This prophecy is not about any hopes for a kinder human government. There is no such hope in any human government. The prophecy is about the only real hope for all our problems, God establishing his government through Christ in a new age. Jesus gave a foretaste of it by healing, teaching and caring for the poor. That’s why we pray thy kingdom come.
- Failed States
There is a lot of talk today about failed states, usually meaning either the historic failure of Communism or in more recent times, countries which have failed economically. But, if the truth be known all countries are failed states. That’s why in the democratic world we regularly fire our leaders and elect new ones. If previous leaders had not failed we would have passed laws to keep them in office. But, all human states have failed. We have failed to curb greed, stop crime, solve poverty, steady inflation, cure diseases, prevent child abuse and reverse climate change. According to Mark 13:24-37, before the second coming states will fail to prevent worldwide catastrophe. At the same time, it is good news, because at the second coming, Jesus will bring an end to all failed states and introduce peace at last.
- When Bad News is Good News
There is so much bad news about today that many people simply refuse to keep up with the world news. We fear terrorism, economic collapse, political change, crime, government interference in our freedoms, the weather, climate change, and a host of other things. Have we ever thought that all this bad news is good news? I’m crazy, right? Yet Mark 13:24-37 seems to indicate that the good news of coming world peace is preceded by bad news. Just like birth pangs quickly give way to great joy, so too will the bad times just prior to Christ’s return immediately give way to the best news of human history. How do we prepare for that? Like a soldier preparing for battle, we must be ready. That time will take faith. Let’s draw near to God now while we have time.
- Where is Salvation?
Where is salvation? If we listen to the deception of television advertising too long we may be inclined to believe that salvation is in the latest fashion fad, pharmaceutical drug, diet or other product that is over-hyped and under-delivers. If we listen to certain televangelists, we may believe that salvation is available in false promises of health and wealth for sending “seed money” to them. If we listen to the entertainment industry too long, we may believe that salvation is to be found in easy sex, big cars, and aberrant lifestyles. If we listen to the deception of politics we may believe that salvation is either on the left or the right. In the end, it all leads to great calamities like those mentioned in Mark 13:24-37, but the next chapter of human history reveal true salvation in Jesus.
- What is Christmas
What is Christmas? It is a great variety of things. It is about stress, gift-giving, sentimental moments, family time, a holiday with pagan origins, materialism, Santa Claus and retail sales. Early in Christian history, the Church saw in this time an opportunity for spreading the good news of the coming of Christ. Ever since then in the noise surrounding this time of year, that message still manages to get through. Even in Shinto Japan, department stores play music containing words of the gospel. In the midst of our Christmas frivolity is a serious message. Mark 13:24-37 points out how serious that message is. We need world peace. One of the main messages of Christmas is that he who came once will also come again in great power and glory to gather his chosen ones. He alone can bring peace.
- Keep Awake
In Mark 13:24-37 we are told to keep awake, to stay alert. As we think of Advent, the coming of Christ in the flesh, it is also good to remember that he will come again. Every generation of Christians has generated its false prophets who claim to know the day or hour of Christ’s return, but they have all proven wrong. Few of them have admitted it. Our duty to God is not in prediction, but in being ready, because we don’t know when Jesus will return. Rather than getting caught up in prophetic speculation our job it to stay awake. What must we do to be ready for his return? What would we change if we knew he would come tomorrow? Ought not our readiness be the same as if he were coming tomorrow, because someday he will?
Today we discussed what the solution to all our troubles is, what we might do if today was our last day, that a man cannot outgrow God, the hopelessness of human government, that all states are failed states, that in Christ even bad news is good news, that salvation is only in Jesus, what Christmas has to do with that. Let’s not allow this word and its deception lull us to sleep, but keep awake!