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How Do We Watch for Jesus’ Return?

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[Jesus said:] “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 cock 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” (Mark 13:24-37).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“Prepare.” “Keep watch.” These are the words of Advent because Advent is a season of preparation. They are also the words of our Gospel Reading, where Jesus repeatedly calls upon His disciples to “watch.” In fact, the command to watch or an activity related to watching is referenced in each of the five verses that close this reading (verses 33-37). Obviously, Jesus desires for us to watch.

The question, however, is “How do we watch for the return of Jesus?”

To put flesh on this activity of watching, Jesus tells a parable. A master leaves his home and puts his servants in charge, “each with his work.” No one knows when he’ll be back. It is not the duty of the master to tell when he will return, but it is the duty of the doorkeeper to be watching. It is the duty of the faithful servant to be about His assigned task. The owner will be back, and they better be ready for his return, whenever that might be.

So, what are they supposed to do in the meantime? Before he leaves, the man gives his servants authority. It’s specific authority. He gives them authority to do the work he’s given them to do. If they continue in what he’s given them to do, they don’t need to fear his return.

That’s the gist of the parable. The Church on earth is like the household. Jesus has gone away, ascended into heaven, but He’s coming back. His people should be ready for His return. In the meantime, what should they be doing?

They should be doing what Jesus has given them the authority to do.

So what has Jesus given you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, authority to do? Let’s look at what Scripture has to say.

In John 1:12-13, we read: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the [authority] to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jesus gives you the authority to be His child—something you could not do on your own, any more than you could make yourself a child of your earthly parents—you had be born or adopted by them. Jesus has made you a beloved child by His sacrifice on the cross to redeem you. You have been born again, by water and Spirit. You have been adopted as a child of God, an heir of God and fellow heir with Christ. This, of course, takes place when you are baptized in the name of the Triune God. And as a child of God, you continue to be absolved by the Lord’s Word of Holy Absolution.

Then there’s Hebrews 13:10: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no [authority] to eat.” The text is speaking of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross, offering His body and shedding His blood. Once again, this declares to you that you have this authority by Jesus to be forgiven, to no longer be guilty for sin. And given the reference to eating in the text, one can’t help but think of the Lord’s Supper. You have the authority to join Him in Holy Communion, to receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Not everyone has that right, but He gives that authority to you as His beloved child.

Do you see your “work” so far? Do you see what the Lord has given you to do until He returns? First and foremost, He gives you the authority to be forgiven! Daily, He desires that you repent of your sin and rejoice in the forgiveness He has won for you by His suffering and death on the cross. That is how you are prepared for His return in glory. Be forgiven: your work is really no work at all because Jesus has done all the work by His life, death, and resurrection.

Having been given much, we have much to give. This brings us to another use of the world “authority.” Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20). Now that Jesus has spoken forgiveness to us, He gives us the authority to tell others. Therefore, as a Church we rejoice to teach all that He has commanded—His Word. We delight to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. By that Word which we are privileged to proclaim, the Lord gives authority to others to be His children.

That’s the authority that Jesus gives to the Church. It’s sometimes called the Office of the Keys. It means that Jesus gives us the authority and the “peculiar church power…to forgive the sins of penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.” Let’s be clear: we are merely His instruments. It is He who does the work of forgiving.

Be forgiven and share that Word of forgiveness with others. That is what the Lord has given you to do until He returns. Now, do you have other responsibilities as well? Sure, because the Lord gives you other stations and other authorities. This takes us back to vocations again. If you’re a parent, God gives you the authority to train your children. If you’re an employee, He gives you the authority to serve your employer. If you’re a student, He gives you the authority to study the subject and respect your teacher. As a church member, you have the authority and privilege of supporting the proclamation of the Gospel which prepares for Jesus’ return. The Lord has graciously given you various vocations in which He would have you serve your neighbor and in so doing, do it unto Him as well. Having been forgiven and made His child, this is what the Lord would have you to do until He returns.

There is a beauty to this divine design.

Have you ever noticed how you gain a deeper appreciation for people when you are asked to do their work? Imagine you were asked by someone to do the things he or she does. He works at a grocery store, bagging groceries, keeping the shelves stocked. She works in accounts receivable, calling customers to work out repayment schedules. He works as a power lineman, out in storms and blizzards, making sure the electricity continues flowing to your house. She tries to raise four children under 10 in a time of on-line learning. He drives one of the millions of trucks that gets your food from farm to market, logging hard miles on the road in all kinds of conditions, separated for hours even days from his loved one. She cares for her father who has the beginnings of dementia.

If you were to work like these people work, you would discover things about them and the way in which they do their work. It may be how she sets priorities based on the needs of her children. When guiding four children in on-line learning, she has realized that not every child learns the same way. She must adapt for the learning style of each child. And the experience most assuredly gives her a greater appreciation for the dedication and care of her children’s teachers.

Or it may be that you will discover how the woman in collections shows concern. When calling to collect, she tries to empathize with each customer. She knows her work is essential to the financial welfare of the hospital, but still she wants to treat her customer with dignity and respect. In this case, when you do her work, you discover her compassion for people and how emotionally draining it can be to constantly deal with people experiencing financial difficulties.

When you do the work of others, you begin to learn their loves and priorities, their values and sacrifices, the subtle joys of service, and the humble delight in a job well-done. Though in one way, the person is far from you, in another way, that person is closer than he or she was before. When we enter deeper into a person’s service, we grow deeper in our relationship with that person.

  Jesus calls us to watch for His coming by serving in His Kingdom. He does this because He knows the power of His love. When we serve others with His love, we are drawn closer to Him. We discover the mysterious ways of His Kingdom and learn a greater appreciation for the incredible power of His self-sacrificial love.

Christians engaged in the work of Jesus discover how He loves the unlovable. He does not find those people who fit His qualifications and bring them into God’s Kingdom. No, He finds that which is unlovable and loves it into life. This is what He did with me and you. We are not worthy to be members of His Kingdom, but through His death, He forgives our sins, and through His resurrection and the bestowing of the Spirit, He empowers us for service. We need not limit the vision of His Kingdom we think qualify. Instead, we bring the Kingdom to people who do not. By doing that, we are daily reminded of the love of Jesus which brought us into His Kingdom.

Christians engaged in the work of Jesus discover His priorities. Worldly success is not the way of Jesus. He does not seek glory or to get ahead. Instead, He seeks out those who have been left behind. Seeking the lost, caring for those who cannot care for themselves, encouraging the weak, lifting the humble, these are the priorities of Jesus as He extends His Kingdom of grace to all.

Because our Master has gone away and we await His return, it is easy at times to be discouraged. It looks like the Church is failing. We watch more and more people turn away from God. But this is God’s Kingdom, not ours. Jesus does not call us to fix it. He simply calls us to serve in it. And to serve our neighbor day to day as we have opportunity. Jesus promises someday He will return and bring about the fullness of God’s reign. Until then, we live in humble, hopeful service.

To watch and wait for Jesus is not to spend our time trying to figure out the signs of the end and predict His return. No. To watch and wait is to be immersed in the work of the Master, to receive His gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life through His means of grace—Word and Sacrament. To watch and to wait is to engage in faithful service and find ourselves being drawn closer to the heart of Jesus as we share His love with His world.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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