1. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. The message from God’s Word this Last Sunday of the Church Year is taken from Mark 13:24-37, it’s entitled, “Keep Your Eyes on the Road to Eternity,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Most of you have taken part in a surprise party for someone. You know the excitement and the anticipation that usually accompanies such an event. Everyone gathers at a certain place to wait for the arrival of the guest of honor. Family and friends stand quietly near the door. Some even peek out the window, ready to pass the word, “He’s here!” A certain tension fills the air. All attention is focused on the moment of arrival.
3. This same type of anticipation is what the text speaks about concerning the arrival of Jesus. God’s Word reveals that at the Second Coming of Christ, all of his promises to his people will be completed. The celebration will begin. God will usher in the unending feast in celebration of his tremendous love for us. As his redeemed people, then, we are called to anticipate Christ’s coming and watch for his arrival. Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on the road to eternity.
4. Back in the late 1980s, some Christian leaders predicted the very day of Christ’s return, the day on which, all the planets came into alignment. Obviously, they were wrong. Apparently, they had forgotten the Lord’s words: “No one knows about that day or hour” (Mk 13:32). Jesus tells us about signs of the end, but not so that we can calculate the exact day of his coming. He informs us about the signs to keep us from being spiritually lazy. When we see a false teacher arise, or an earthquake take place, or a war or a famine, Jesus is saying, “Wake up! Repent! I’m about to bring all my words to fulfillment! Get yourself ready for my coming!” Let us be warned against those who might lead us astray, those who make predictions about the end of time beyond what the Scriptures say.
5. “Be on guard!” the Lord tells his disciples, “Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mk 13:33). All too often we completely forget about Christ’s Second Coming. We’re too caught up in our day-to-day lives. How often do you think of his return? Back in college, I would occasionally think of it right before a big test that I wasn’t ready for. “Now would be a great time to come back, Lord!” Usually, though, too many days go by when we don’t even give it a thought. I’m convinced that our perspective on life would be changed if the prospect of Christ’s return was constantly at the front of our minds.
6. Maybe you are tempted to say with the scoffers. St. Peter quotes in his second letter, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? . . . Everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4). Maybe we’re tempted to think, “Maybe all this stuff about Jesus returning is just a fairy tale.” But Peter reminds us that God isn’t slow in keeping his promise, and he certainly hasn’t forgotten it. Peter specifically says in his second epistle, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to parish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9). The Scriptures are quite clear on that.
7. While it’s true that we are to watch for the time of Christ’s return, it isn’t necessarily true that his Second Coming is something everyone is looking forward to. After all, coming face to face with the almighty God isn’t something many people eagerly desire, because we know that we’ve fallen short of what he wants of us, not only in the present but also in the past. Time may heal all wounds, but time does not erase sin. Youthful sins aren’t pardoned just because we were young. The sins of years ago are no less damning because some time has now passed. We may drag some burdens on longer chains, others on shorter chains, but in any event we can’t look forward to the future and to Christ’s Second Coming when past or present sins still pull us down.
8. The phrase “Second Coming” implies that this won’t be the first time that Christ has come to this earth. What makes Christ’s Second Advent a joyous time for us is what happened at his First Coming. Gal 4:4–5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under law.” The first time that Christ came, he wrapped himself in the chains that enslaved us, then broke them for us. He paid the price for humanity’s fall into sin so that we could stand before him, deemed perfect and without blemish, ready for his Second Coming. The eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, entered into human history, and became a helpless infant. He grew up and lived a sinless life to fulfill the Law for us. He did all of this in order to rescue you and me from unending time under judgment.
9. In John 17 Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come.” The hour Jesus referred to there was the time be was about to spend on the cross. Because he suffered and died in our place, we won’t receive the judgment we deserve at his Second Coming. Our judgment day—in the sense of punishment for our sin—already took place at the cross. Our condemnation was experienced by Christ at Calvary. So God’s anger has been appeased. In Christ, we have nothing to fear about the Last Day. At Jesus’ Second Coming we will stand before God robed with the righteousness of Christ himself. As the Scriptures say, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27). Trusting that Jesus has done all this for us, we will spend eternity in the new creation with him.
10. It’s only when we consider both Christ’s First and Second Comings together that the Good News of the Gospel Lesson becomes fully clear. At his First Coming Jesus put us right with God, and at his Second Coming, all that Christ accomplished at his First Coming will reach its final culmination. Both advents together make our salvation complete and sure.
11. So what do we do between now and Christ’s Second Coming? Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on the road to eternity and that calls for two responses. First, he asks you to receive the time he’s given you as a precious gift, using it wisely in faith toward him and in service toward others. Knowing that Christ may return at any time gives us perspective in life, an end toward which to work with whatever time we may have.
12. Think of some important event in your life—a marriage, a graduation, the birth of a child. Then think how the time immediately preceding that event was spent in focused preparation. Our awareness of Christ’s Second Coming does the same thing. Christ gives us a positive end to anticipate—a goal to define for us the value of time and the true explanation of what life is all about. Living the life God has given to us in Christ, we use whatever time he’s given us to glorify him in our lives, to love our neighbor, and to carry out his mission. Whether it’s service in some capacity here at this congregation, at your job, with your family, or somewhere else, God calls you to use the time he has given you wisely and faithfully.
13. Second, as we are good stewards of our time, God also calls us to watch for the time of his return. Jesus even gives an illustration: The time of his return will be like “a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch” (13:34). Our Master has gone away, ready to return at any time. But he has entrusted his important work to us, each with an assigned task (Eph 4:11). We live and work and witness, knowing that he will be coming soon. In his grace, he equips us to be faithful servants. The signs of the end have been fulfilled. Christ’s coming may be today or it may be 100 years from now. Our task is to watch for it, keeping it at the front of our minds, letting it guide the way we use the time we’ve been given.
14. I was reading a story the other day about a little boy who wanted a wristwatch. Day in and day out he pestered his parents, but they continually put him off. Finally, he drove them to the breaking point. The father told the youngster that he didn’t want to hear another word from him about a watch. So, for the rest of the week the lad said nothing about it. He knew that to do so would only invite punishment. But, Sunday soon rolled around and in the evening the family was gathered for devotions. It was a custom in the family for each member to learn a new verse of Scripture and recite it during the devotion. Every other member of the family had said his Scripture verse when it came time for the small boy to quote his. Looking up with a very solemn face, he quoted the final verse of our text perfectly: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
15. Now I’m not sure if that little boy got his watch or not. But I do know that he was persistent. And it is that same sort of persistence and single-mindedness that God desires of us when it comes to watching for Christ’s return. “Whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” (13:35), Christ will return. Washed with his mercy and forgiveness in Baptism, and reassured by his Word, we are constantly vigilant for that glorious day when he appears. Then sin, death, and the devil will be banished from our lives forever; what we know by faith will be confirmed with sight; time will be brought to its fulfillment; and the joys of the new heavens and new earth will be ours eternally. “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Keep Your eyes on the road to eternity. Amen.