On 11/27/2011, I was again honored to be asked to lead the services at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO. With a focus on the Gospel of Mark 13:24-37, I prepared and delivered the following sermon to the glory of God!
GOSPEL: Mark 13:24-37
24But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then 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. 28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
I gave the sermon last year on the 1st Sunday of Advent! It was from the Gospel of Matthew, but it was basically the same story.
I asked the question then… …why are we admonished to prepare for the 2nd coming of our Savior on the same Sunday we start the preparation to celebrate His 1st Coming. We talked about how the word ‘Advent’ means ‘Come’, and we re-read portions of the Gospel with the word ‘Advent’ in the place of the word ‘Coming’.
I concluded that one reason we may be asked to prepare, at this point, for His Second Advent is that, as we go through the finite four weeks of the First Advent, we know for sure when we will celebrate His First Coming. But for His Second Coming, His Second Advent, we will not know the hour.
In verse 32 of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that not even He knows the hour.
Last year we also looked around the world and wondered if various people were prepared. Were the Haitians prepared for the earthquake, the Iraqis and Afghanis for the wars, the Indonesians for the tsunamis? Was all this ‘but the beginning of the birth pangs’?
Since that sermon a year ago, we find the Middle East boiling over as the Arab uprisings continue. We have roving gangs in the U.S. attacking innocent fairgoers and shoppers and people walking down the street. Many of these attacks occur in what is called ‘The Knockout Game’ where youths attack people of my age and older just to try to ‘knock them out’.
We have mobs pillaging local convenience stores, malls, and shops. We have gone to war in Libya and sent troops into Uganda. We see the criminal activities of the Occupy Wall Street movement and their related attacks on businesses and their harassment of school children.
I wondered last year if all this is ‘but the beginning of the birth pangs’? Here we are again in 2011. Is this just the continuation of the birth pangs?
Seems like it’s getting worse to me. So, again this year, it is a good question. Are we prepared for Christ’s Second Advent?
In the first verses of today’s reading, Jesus says, “24But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
What ‘days’ is He talking about when says “in those days”? What suffering? As I read the rest of Mark 13 for today’s reading, it started with the Disciples marveling to Jesus about the wonder of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus then prophesies that the Temple will be destroyed with not one stone left upon another. He goes on to tell them to watch for false prophets with signs performed to deceive you. He tells them to watch for war and rumors of war. He warns that nation will rise against nation; kingdom against kingdom – of earthquakes and famine; we will be handed over to local councils and flogged; brother will betray brother; father will betray child; children will rebel against parents; everyone will hate you.
(Mark 13:17)How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19because those will be days of distress unequaled from The Beginning…
I guess… …all that could be considered suffering. [sarcasm]
And now at the beginning of our reading (after all that Jesus has just told us) we hear “24…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Well, that doesn’t sound much better does it?
In terms of my human experience, I have always looked at the Earth as ‘here’ and Heaven out ‘there’ – somewhere above the Earth. So the very thought of the darkened sun and moon, stars falling, and the heavenly powers being shaken does not sound very good at first blush. It sounds like impending extinction! The scientists tell us that a meteor a mere 6-miles across will be an extinction level event, so a darkened moon, sun and stars would have to be much much worse!
But wait. God created those things in a blink of His eye (clearly not in a blink of our eyes) and has ultimate power over the sun, moon, stars, and earth. So, when Jesus makes his triumphant return, does it really matter if none of that remains? We’re not talking about bodies and brains at that point. We’re talking about souls.
In two Biblical verses, God has just undone The Universe as we know it. So, I doubt if Jesus really means ‘hovering frozen water droplets’ when He says “they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”
There are clouds of water, clouds of smoke, and clouds of dust. There are clouds of bats, flies, foxes, gnats, grasshoppers, locusts, and tadpoles. A cloud may be a swarm, a horde, a multitude, a throng, a host, a crowd, or an army. It could be a white fluffy cloud from a mostly sunny day; it could be a dark angry cloud just before a storm. It could be a multitude of happy foxes; it could be a swarm of starving locusts; it could be an army of crazed Neanderthals. I don’t know, but, I probably better reconsider my idea of what the cloud bringing Jesus’ return might look like.
Jesus goes on to tell us that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Generation? We have had 100 generations since Anno Domini, but have all these things come to pass? Maybe, like the word ‘cloud’, I need to look into the word ‘generation’ a little more closely.
So, I searched for information on the Greek word for ‘generation’. It is ‘genea’ and is used 43 times in the New Testament. I found definitions that matched my traditional understanding. And, I found definitions and writings that said it was not the 20 year period we normally consider but an ‘age’ or ‘time’ or ‘era’.
It took some digging, but I finally found a discussion of this usage of ‘generation’ that matched our Lord’s usage of the word. Now, I didn’t take much time to dig around and vet his résumé, but I found a discussion by a pastor named Tony Warren that brings to light the words ‘chosen generation’. You and I are members of a ‘chosen generation’ of people who are believers in Christ. Another phrase furthers the discussion: ‘We are the Children of God’. Clearly we weren’t born directly to God, but we are His Children. Mr. Warren said, “[The Phrase,] Children of God refer[s] to the whole family of God, which is a chosen generation throughout time, and not just people living at the time in which it was spoken.” This generation spans the time from Christ’s ministry on Earth, through today, and until the end of times – when Christ comes. Technically, it can go all the way back to Abel.
As Jesus continued to warn us, He said “32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nor the Son?!?! Wait a minute?!?! We are taught that our God is a Triune God. The Son is God; God is the Son; the Holy Spirit is God; God is the Holy Spirit. One but three; three but one. How could it be possible that the Son did not know the day and hour of His return?
I would think He’d be in on the big picture of His own ministry. He was there at Creation! He knew about that! Watched it happen! I take that back; He, as the Triune God, made it happen. How could He not know?
Well, back to the search. There were many articles that proposed that the phrase “nor the Son” was not originally a part Mark’s Gospel and was added later. It is said to be ‘peculiar’ to Mark and not found in Matthew, Luke, or John (although it was in the version of Matthew that I was reviewing as I prepared the sermon). Maybe someone just added it in?
Other articles proposed that the word “knows” should be interpreted as “makes it known”. In that case, the verse would read, “32But about that day or hour no one [makes it known], neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” That sounds reasonable, and it flows nicely from our previous discussion of how the word ‘generation’ was to be interpreted as ‘a group’ and not as a period of 20 years.
But, I read on. And, I quickly realized why I don’t get paid the big pastoral bucks for writing and giving these sermons a few times a year.
I came across the writings of Martin Luther on the subject. Seems to me, as a Lutheran, the first place I would look for guidance and biblical commentary would be… …Luther! But, NO! I’ve written at least eight sermons without consulting His thoughts.
And, not-surprisingly, His thoughts on the subject were of great comfort.
Luther’s solution for Mark 13:32 can be found in a debate with Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. Schwenkfeld believed that since Jesus did not know the time of His Second Advent, He was not omniscient and therefore could not be God. Luther’s answer was that in this case, Jesus was speaking with regard to His human nature.
Schwenkfeld Argument: God knows all things. Christ does not know all things. Therefore Christ is not God. I prove the minor premise from Mark, where Christ says that He does not know the last day.
Luther Response: The solution is that Christ there speaks after a human manner, as He also says: “All things have been given to me by the Father.” Often He speaks of himself as if simply of God, sometimes simply as of man. The Father does not will that the human nature should have to bear divine epithets, despite the union, and yet sometimes [Christ] speaks of himself as of God, when He says, “The Son of Man will be crucified.” To be crucified is a property of the human nature, but because there are two natures united in one person, it is attributed to both natures. Again, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” There He speaks of the divine nature. Or again, “They crucified the Lord of glory,” where He speaks of the property of the humanity.
For from the very beginning of Christ’s conception, on account of the union of the two natures, it has been correct to say: “This God is the Son of David, and this Man is the Son of God.” The first is correct because His Godhead was emptied and hidden in the flesh. The second is correct because His humanity has been completed and translated to divine being.
In Philippians 2, St. Paul writes that Jesus…
6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; 7rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
In explaining that verse, Luther wrote:
[St. Paul] says that Christ emptied Himself of the divine form; that is, He did not use His divine might nor let His almighty power be seen, but withdrew it when He suffered.
Bottom line, if Christ did not use His divine power during His humiliation and crucifixion on the Cross, He certainly can choose at other times of His ministry to humble himself. The very fact that He became incarnate as a lowly human bears witness to this interpretation.
Thus, He chose not to know the day or hour of His Second Advent. Or, at the very least, He decided not to tell His Disciples.
Finally, as we near the end of today’s lesson, Christ gives us the warning to ‘Beware’, ‘Keep Alert’, ‘Keep Awake’ – for his coming will be like a thief in the night. This warning is not just for the End of Times when the Son of Man comes in his glory. It is an everyday warning for us as we go through our life and prepare to meet Jesus at our death.
Whenever our Lord comes, be it at our death or at the end times, we must work to make sure He does not find us indulging in wrath or greed or sloth or pride or lust or envy or gluttony. He says to us, “Keep Awake’ that we may be found in peace – aware, and alert.