You Better Watch Out!

Mark 13:32-37

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!’”


Dear Friends in Christ,

Whenever we get to the season of Advent and we start preparing ourselves for our annual celebration of Christmas, we inevitably begin to hear stories of how Christmas has fallen out of favor with so many in our culture, especially the politically correct crowd.  Because of that, some stores now forbid their employees to wish their customers a Merry Christmas for fear of offending someone since the word “Christmas” contains the word “Christ.”  Elsewhere the American Civil Liberties Union swoops down like a hawk on an unsuspecting mouse in communities that would dare to put out a nativity scene in the town square, claiming that this a flagrant violation of the supposed doctrine of separation of church and state, even though that doctrine is found nowhere in our Constitution.  Public schools may hold winter festivals that have all the secular trappings of Christmas, like Santa Claus, trees, decorations, presents, and so on, but don’t you dare refer to it as a Christmas program because again that word “Christmas” has the name Christ in it and heaven forbid that anyone in a public school setting should think of him at this time of the year!  You may have heard about the busses in our nation’s capital that display the following ad during the Christmas season: “Why believe in a god?  Just be good for goodness’ sake.”  Those ads were purchased by the American Humanist Association for a mere $40,000.  Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that according to an article that appeared in USA Today a few years ago, authorities in Bal Harbor, FL outfitted the Baby Jesus in their outdoor Nativity scene with a GPS locator as a protection against thieves.  The previous Baby Jesus was stolen even though it was bolted down.  The lady who oversees that display was quoted as saying: “I don’t anticipate this will ever happen again, but we may need to rely on technology to save our Savior.”  Then she added that the Mary and Joseph statues would also be outfitted with GPS.

Well, I thought that to add some interest to the 2 Sunday morning Advent services I’m preaching this year, I would base my messages upon some of the words found in a couple of popular Christmas songs.  Please note that though these songs are not Christian in nature, I will manage to pull a Christian message out of them.  Now there are some Christmas songs that I decided to eliminate right from the get-go.  For example, I will not be using “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” although you may be interested in knowing that that song has sold more than 10 million copies.

But this morning I’m going to make use of the familiar first line that appears in the popular song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  This Christmas song sounds very much like an effort on the part of parents to get their children to behave throughout the year, especially when it says: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.  He’s making his list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  I can still remember learning that song in kindergarten and thinking quite frequently throughout the year about the ever-present nature of Santa Claus that it conveys, which I guess is why I was always such a good boy back then and never gave my parents or teachers any problems!

But the way I thought of Santa Claus back then is the way I believe many people think of God today.  And because of that, our text for this morning could very easily strike fear into their hearts for it tells of the unexpected and unknown nature of Christ’s return to this earth and how they need to be ready for that event at all times.  “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come,” Jesus says.  Which is just another way of saying, “You better watch out.”  So let’s spend some time this morning exploring these words of Jesus and what they have to say about that climactic event of history that will bring an end to the world and universe as we know them and usher in what the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth and the eternal reign of Christ the King.

First of all, Jesus was absolutely insistent that no one knows when his 2nd coming will occur.  In v. 32 of our text he says: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Did you catch that, my friends?  Not even Jesus according to his human nature knows the time or the day of his return.  You know what that means?  That means that anytime you hear someone predicting a specific date for Christ’s return, you can be absolutely certain that that will be one day it won’t happen.

Now to be sure, there have been those throughout history who have ignored the clear words Jesus in our text and who have felt themselves quite capable of predicting the precise date of his 2nd coming.  For example, back in 1833 a preacher by the name of William Miller began to proclaim that the end of the world was at hand.  He set the date as Oct. 10, 1843.  Thousands heard this warning and over the next 10 years perhaps 100,000 people became followers of William Miller.  And when 1843 rolled around, those followers were so convinced that the end was going to come that year that they did not bother to plant crops.  For why sow wheat if the end was going to come before they could harvest it?  Finally, Oct. 10 came and these followers put on their white ascension robes, climbed a hill and gazed longingly toward the heavens, waiting for Jesus to come.  But guess what?  He didn’t show up.  Their leader, William Miller, admitted defeat, but then did some recalculating and came back with another prediction.  He said he had been a year off in his calculations and that Jesus was coming back the next year, but again he was wrong.  And that’s the way it’s been with every other person who has attempted to predict a specific date for Christ’s return.

“No one knows the day nor the hour,” Jesus says, just like no one knows neither the day nor the hour when their life on this earth is going to come to an end.  It seems like we’re always seeing evidence of that.  The day that I began working on this sermon a couple of months ago was part of a week when some 88 people lost their lives in Hurricane Harvey and the floods that followed.  But a little closer to home, it was also the week that a 17 year old boy from Odin who had been the prom king lost his life in a single car accident.  James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, captures so well the uncertainty and fragility of life with these words in the 4th chapter of his New Testament epistle.  He says: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

So we need to be on guard, as our text says.  We need to be alert.  We need to be prepared at all times, lest that day come upon us unexpectedly and catch us unprepared.  Then a 2nd thing that the Bible teaches us about the 2nd coming of Christ is that it will be a day unlike any other our world has ever seen.  Some years ago I read a book by author Max Lucado entitled When Christ Comes Again.  He begins that book with a fascinating description of what that day may be like that some of you have heard me share before, but it’s worth hearing again.  In fact, I like to read it every year at this time, so listen carefully…

I love that last sentence: “All that mattered, matters no more, for Christ has come.”  My friends, all the things that we think are so important right now and that we place such high priority upon – our material possessions, the home we live in, the clothes we wear, the worldly goals of success and popularity and prosperity we pursue, the trophies we win – none of those will matter on that day.  I guess that’s why I’m such a stickler for church attendance, especially when it comes to parents and their children.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why parents will have their children involved in every extra-curricular activity imaginable – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but when it comes to having their children in church and Sunday School where they are going to learn things that are going to matter for eternity, things that are going to matter on that day when Christ comes again or calls them home, whichever comes first, they allow the things of this world to take precedence over those things that are so much more important.

And that takes us to the final point that I want to make this morning.  And that is that even though we don’t know the future, we do know that the future is in God’s hands and he can be trusted.  At times the future looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it?  A few years ago the World Future Society released their forecasts for the next 25 years and admittedly, some of those forecasts were positive and upbeat.  For example, they said that by the year 2025 the world would have a billion millionaires.  That’s a lot of wealthy people, isn’t it?  I hope you’re one of them and that if you are it will be reflected in your Sunday morning offerings!  They have also predicted that a new process will be developed to remove salt from seawater and make it drinkable at a much lower cost than ever thought possible.  They forecast dramatic improvements in genetic engineering, robotics, and other areas of technology.

But they also report that the threat of another cold war with China or Russia or both could replace terrorism as the chief foreign policy concern of the United States.  They’re also forecasting major changes in climate with widespread flooding and water replacing oil as the most precious commodity on earth.

Now, how much of that will actually occur, no one really knows.  But here’s what we do know as Christians.  The same God who invaded our world 2000 years ago as a tiny infant is the same God who holds the future in his hands.  The same God who allowed himself to be nailed to an old rugged cross as the all-sufficient sacrifice and payment for sin is the same God who knows what lies ahead of us.  The same God who defeated death on Easter morning and took away Satan’s power to do us harm is the same God who has promised that he will walk beside us as we enter the unknown and uncertain days that are before us.  That’s why I say that not only is the future in his hands, but he can be trusted with that future.

So will you do that, my friends?  I know our world is a scary place right now, but our God is bigger and stronger and greater than any problem or challenge that may come down the pike.  And if you’ll give him the chance, he will prove himself faithful, he will prove himself dependable, he will prove himself more than capable to handle anything that comes your way.  Amen.