Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 November 27, 2022
“Stay Ye Awake”
Though generally I find myself a free-church guy, I am aware that today those who are more liturgically-minded begin a new Christian year—for today is the first Sunday in Advent. The word advent rises from a Latin root meaning to come. On the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day—and on the other intervening days as well, we often focus on Jesus’ first advent: His coming into the world, via the miraculous conception within Mary by the Holy Spirit, as the Babe of Bethlehem. This is a right think to do.
We do well, though, to think also of Jesus’ second advent—commonly referred to as His Second Coming. I learned, as part of my seminary education and training, that many a congregation hears a sermon on Jesus’ Second Coming on the first Sunday in Advent.1 Later, as a young pastor, I learned that many a ministry recommends looking forward to Jesus’ second advent while celebrating His first advent.2 This too is a right thing to do—and we’ll focus upon this today. Our text, from the end of Mark 13, will help us focus upon Jesus second advent—His Second Coming. Let us give our attention once again to the reading and proclaiming of God’s Word in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
We may look at Jesus’ return from several viewpoints. First, His return will be visible. It will not be cloaked from anyone, but it will be visible both to believer and unbeliever alike. This visible return will be most glorious and welcome to the believer in Christ—and, alas, it will bring unspeakable horror to the unbeliever. Second, Jesus’ return will be personal. He will not dispatch an emissary; He will come Himself—and all of humanity will know it. Third, Jesus will come bodily. His coming, and His being, will be neither phantasmic nor ghostly. Just as Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven, so also He will return bodily to consummate history and God’s eternal plan.3
Fourth, Jesus’ return will occur at an hour we neither know nor expect. Jesus says that, of that day, no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Yet, in the face of this, some dare the predict the precise date and hour of Jesus’ return—with usually baleful result. Jesus does say that He will return, but, to some, His apparent long delay threatens to invalidate His promise. The Spirit-led words of the Apostle Peter corrects this: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Therefore, we must be sober and vigilant. The Apostle Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, encourages us along this line from his first letter to the Thessalonian Christian households, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). The Lord Jesus Himself charges us similarly, as we read in Luke, “But watch yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trp. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). Indeed, let us be sober, serious, clear-headed, and watchful concerning the second Advent—the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us not only be sober and vigilant, but let us otherwise prepare—and be prepared—for Christ’s return. Jesus teaches us concerning this in His parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Ten virgins were awaiting the arrival of a bridegroom, five of whom took extra oil for their lamps and five of whom which did not. The groom delayed his appearance until midnight. The five virgins with extra oil found themselves prepared to enter the marriage feast, while the five without extra oil, after their flight to obtain oil, found the doors to the feast barred against them upon their return. Jesus closes his parable with these words, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour,”—entirely in line with our theme today.
Let us, furthermore, be diligent in our callings as we watch for Christ’s return. This seems to me the point of Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).4 Each of three servants of a certain master receive a sum, commensurate with his ability, to increase for the 5master’s good and pleasure. The two entrusted with greater sums increased those sums—and they received the master’s approbation upon his return. The one entrusted with least did nothing but return his master’s principal—and received a scathing rebuke in return. Hence, God calls us to diligence in our callings while we anticipate the return of His Son—though that return appear to be long-delayed.
In our text (esp. 34-36), the master places servants to assigned stations and functions, at his pleasure, and charges the doorkeeper especially to keep watch for his return. Hence, he must keep watch, especially at those times when he is least likely to keep watch and when the master is least likely to come—such as at evening, at midnight, at cock-crow (i. .e, the third Roman watch of the night, 12:00-3:00 A. M.), or in the early morning. Should the master come and find the doorkeeper sleeping, then likely displeasure will ensur. Similarly, we must remain vigilant, and in the way of our duty via our callings, when Jesus comes.
God’s Word lists certain signs that Jesus’ Second Coming nears. We find a robust list of these earlier in today’s chapter (Mark 13:3-26). As the time for Jesus’ return nears, we shall note persons claiming (falsely, of course) to be the Messiah—to be Jesus Himself. We shall hear of wars, rumors of wars, and geological calamities—such as earthquakes and famines. The Gospel preached to all nations stands prerequisite to Jesus’ return, and, as the pioneer missionary endeavor continues inexorably forward, our anticipation of Jesus’s Second Coming heightens. This sign seems to be the lone pleasant one in the list. Other, more painful signs, now proceed. Persecution of Christians will rise in scope and in intensity, and otherwise orthodox worship will be profaned by Christ’s opponents. Finally, the physical realm will winess the darkening of the heavenly bodies—and then the Son of Man will come. Marantha—our Lord, come (1 Corinthians 16:21).
Yet, no matter what we see, or don’t see, let us be watchful all the time for Jesus’ return. It will happen, it will happen in the manner denoted in Scripture, and it will happen soon—as God defines soon. Let us remain spiritually awake for this—and may God be glorified.
1I learned of this from from Dr. Bob Hall, late professor of preaching and worship in Erskine Theological Seminary, Due West, South Carolina, in his Introduction to Preaching and Worship course, fall 1991.
2Among these ministries is WHCB-FM (91.5 MHz), licensed to Bristol, Tennessee, during my tenure as pastor of Mt. Calvary EPC in Kingsport, Tennessee (1995-97).
3For the correct claim that Jesus’ will appear personally, visibly, and bodily, see the brief Evangelical Presbyterian Church document “The Essentials,” number 6.
4Often we hear that the chief point of this parable is to develop and to display our talents for the Master’s pleasure—and not to bury them. This is a worthy aim, to be sure, but to miss the diligence of the servants while the master is away—but with certain expectation of his return, though long-delayed—is to miss the main thrust of the passage.
5For cock-crow (Greek alektoroponia [alektoropwnia]) being the third Roman watch of the night, see Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).