Mark 13:24-37 New International Version (NIV)
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
In the Barkley commentary Barkley stress an important point about these four verses that I want to share with you. When Jesus is speaking here he is not giving us a map or a sign for how he will return but simply retelling what the Israelites told in the Old Testament. When reading Mark or any apocalyptic texts we must remember that this is poetry. It is dreams that people had of what they thought of how the Lord would return. The truth is we have our own ideas about what that day will look like when the Lord returns but we must not take these readings as a literal direction as to what to look for. The final truth is we just don’t know when or how our Lord will return. Let’s continue with the remainder of the passage.
The Day and Hour Unknown
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
I want to be honest with you today and share some of my personal testimony today to impress upon you what God is telling me about why Jesus is telling us to Be Alert and watch! I grew up in the church. At the age of 6 I knew Jesus wanted to be in my life and I knew I wanted him to be in my life. I shared this with my parents and they arranged for me to talk with the pastor. What followed was a discipleship class and baptism at the age of 7. Despite the fact my parents grew up in a segregated south I never saw or witness anger or judgment towards people who were different than them. I can even remember mom telling me in my teens how when she was at Meredith College she had a sweet mate that was gay. Through my parents example I learned that faith in Jesus Christ was demonstrated as a love for others. When I got to high school I learned about the love of God and the sin of man. I learned that adults can follow their own selfish desires and when they do bring great harm to children, whether it be physically, emotionally, mentally or physically. I learned that adults in my church didn’t like me and would bully me by saying lies about me to disparage my character. But it was at my public high school that I would have a circle a friends that still remain in my life today. This group was included many races, many faiths and non-faiths diversity of orientation and ability and disability. Just last week I was reflecting on the fact that all my closest friends have never professed a belief in Jesus but never the less God showed me what unconditional love is. We accept each other for who we are. We love each other, support each other in difficult times and celebrate with each other in the good times. Sadly, my faith in God exists despite the church I was raised in. As I consider this sad fact I am convinced that when Jesus says to Be Alert and to watch he is speaking to the Body of Christ. During his ministry, and again when Mark was written around 80 BC and now in 2017 God is saying to us, Be Alert and watch lest we fall asleep and are caught by surprise when the Lord returns.
So how do we remain Alert and Watch for the Lord to return in this day and time? This question led me to my textbook for New Testament theology and Ethics. Richard B. Hays wrote The Moral Vision of the New Testament. In his Chapter on Mark he says the entire Gospel centers on one question Jesus’ asks in chapter 8. He asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Hays points out that it’s not until the final chapter when a Gentile Centurion says, when Jesus has died, “Surely this man is the Son of God.” Hays asserts that we cannot not know that Jesus is the Son of God until he has died. We take this for granted simply because we read the gospel already knowing this but the disciples didn’t. Hays’ conclusion lead me to another and final question that I posted to fellow ordained clergy and lay ministers I know. I asked them what a life looks like when one knows that Jesus is the Son of God. There were varying answers and most centered on a change in the person. Whether that change is evident in how one makes decision to how one sees other people. Two answers that hit squarely with my own personal response to this question I will share. One came from my Childhood Pastor and the other from my Spiritual Director. Dr. Coffey, my childhood Pastor stated that when one knows that Jesus is the Son of God then we will see with the eyes of God. He emphasized this by noting that we are seen by a God that is a God of mercy, love and grace wholly revealed in Jesus. Through faith we become God’s children too. In turn we should look at all of creation with eyes and hearts of mercy, love and grace. Then my spiritual director focused solely on love. That to know Jesus is the Son of God is to love others as Jesus has loved us.
This is where the rubber meets the road. In 45 years of life I have learned that much in life is less black and white and mostly grey. But make no mistake, there are some things that are simply black and white when it comes to the Gospel and the commands that have been placed upon us. Consider these passages from the Bible.
Regarding the Poor:
I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place. (Jeremiah 22:3)
No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. (Micah 6:8)
Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God. (1 John 3:17)
And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
Do all your work in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)
The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. (1 John 4:21)
Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Romans 2:1 | NIV | righteousness neighbor
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
Matthew 7:1 | NIV | law
A person may think their own ways are right,
but the Lord weighs the heart.
Proverbs 21:2 | NIV | righteousness understanding thoughts
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
Romans 14:13 | NIV | gentleness neighbor
We live in a country and world filled with great immorality and because of that fact Jesus’ message in Mark is ever more urgent. For the church to stay awake we must love as Jesus has loved us lest we fall asleep because we have succumbed to the ways of the world. It is not okay, nor has it ever been for us to turn away anyone in need. Regardless of race, gender, age, disability, nationality, religion, orientation or identity we must embrace the call to love. Defend the poor and their right to basic necessities. Ensure community rebuilding occurs around the world when natural or manmade disasters occur. Providing all children safety from abuse and violence because Jesus tells us to not hinder the children for they shall inherit heaven. Guaranteeing all people the same rights we enjoy to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And calling for justice when others have violated or robbed someone of their rights that God has so freely given us. Jesus reminds us in Matthew that we are a light on a hill and now more than ever the world needs to church to let the light of love shine brightly that God may add to the church and that we will remain awake and are ready when the Lord returns.