December 12, 1999 / No. 2971

Do you live in the hope of the Lord Jesus’ return? What preoccupies your mind as you look into the future, especially now that we enter another millennium in a little while? Is it the hope of the Lord’s coming? Does that burn brightly in your heart and does that determine how you live your life, determine the thoughts of your mind and the desires of your heart? Is the hope of Christ’s coming producing constant watchfulness and prayerfulness in your life? And do these things stand in the center of your Christian life? No one is a Christian who does not have place in his heart for the prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Open up the heart of the child of God and you will find inscribed upon the walls of the heart that prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!” All of those who have that prayer in their hearts keep themselves unspotted from the wicked world, live in the love of God, and desire to be faithful to their Savior in this world.

The apostle Paul gives a very beautiful confession in II Timothy 4:6-8. He says there: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness….” And he says that this crown belongs not only to himself, but to all them that love His appearing. Scripture there is giving to us a clear description of those who are genuinely saved, those whose hope of salvation is not a pipe-dream but a certain reality. They are the ones who love His appearing. Do you love the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you live your life in the hope of His coming? Is that the center of your mind and soul? Does that shape and mold your life so that you are constantly watching, ready for His coming?

Today we want to continue looking into the words of our Lord in Mark 13 as we have in the last two weeks. We come to the last words that Jesus spoke in that chapter, verses 33-37: “Take ye heed, watch and pray:… Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.”

Jesus is concluding the sermon that He spoke on the end-times. He concludes the sermon with an imperative: “Watch!” Take ye heed, watch and pray. An imperative is a command. It urges us to a most crucial duty. When it is spoken in the present tense, as Jesus speaks, the idea is that it is a continual duty. So our Lord says in a repeated and urgent manner: “My chosen ones, My disciples who by My grace confess Me, My disciples for whom I have laid down My life in order that they might be My disciples, speaking to you, I say, until I return and that day dawns when you see Me upon the clouds of glory, you must keep on watching and praying. No fatigue, no complacency, no other preoccupations may be allowed to push this into the background of your heart. Until I come, watch and pray. Take ye heed.” That is, pay attention to this! Let it sink down. Do not give this a quick once over and go on your way living life as usual, focusing your heart and your eye upon the earthly. But take ye heed! Watch and pray!

The Lord is calling us to a spiritual alertness. He is saying, “Drive away all forgetfulness, all indifference. Drive away the gods of mammon from your heart and life in constant, spiritual watchfulness and prayerfulness.” Now mark this down. Preparedness for Christ’s coming demands effort, spiritual effort. No one will be prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ who has not diligently sought to be prepared. That is also true for your death. The moment of death will find you unprepared unless you make preparation now in your heart. So also the Lord’s coming at the end of the world, or His coming for you personally in death, is not something you may push off and consider for another day. Oh, no! You and I may never put on the shelf for another day any of God’s truth. It is an urgent duty today. Are you ready? Are you ready now? Are you watching, are you prepared?

I want you to see that the Lord’s urgent imperative that we are to watch is based on the fact that the time of His coming is concealed and unknown to us. If we knew the time when the Lord would return, there would be no urgency to watch every day. He says, “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for,” that is, here is the reason why you must watch and pray, “for ye know not when the time is.” Because we do not know the time of the end, we must constantly watch and we must constantly be prepared. A wife who waits for her husband to return from the war and does not know when (the day or the hour), but knows soon he will come – he will come any moment – for the war has ended and the last telegram was that he is on the way, that wife would keep herself ready. Think back to the days of World War I or World War II before instant communication. The war is over and the telegram has said, “I am on my way. I should be home soon.” She is watching. She has her hair combed the way that he likes. She has on her good clothes. She is all dressed. Then, perhaps, she would receive a telegram or the doorbell would ring and she would receive the message, “Honey, I will not be home until this Saturday at 2 P.M. Pick me up at Union Station, downtown Chicago.” Then she will not watch. Then, perhaps she will take off that dress and wait and get ready on Saturday morning.

Jesus says, “The Father hath not made known to you the time of My coming for good reason. I would have you live in expectation, in watching. I would have you ready, always!” Luke 12:40, “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” And in verse 35: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.” The issues of your soul and of your standing before God and being ready to stand before the Lord, these are current, these are urgent, these are pressing issues always. Do not say, “Well, I’ve got tomorrow to worry about my spiritual life before the Lord and to prepare for His coming and for glory.” The Lord warns against that carnal thinking. This is His will: Until He come, every day until then, take the whole armor of God so that you might be able to stand. Live in constant devotion and expectation of Him. Live in faith, hope, love, and purity for His sake. Watch and pray!

The Lord calls us to constant watchfulness. The word that is used in verse 33 is slightly different in its shade of meaning. It refers to the idea of chasing away sleep – when, for example, you are driving a car, and drowsiness and fatigue seem to overwhelm you and your eyelids want to go south. You slap your cheek and roll down the window. You do something to try to drive the sleep away. The Lord is saying, “Drive away spiritual drowsiness, indifference.” You must be alert, you must be razor-sharp. You must not live as a spiritually drugged zombie. Stay awake, spiritually.

Physical sleep is a wonder. It is a created power of God to cut you off from reality, from the reality of the world, from troubles, unpaid bills. Physical sleep cuts you off from reality. The Lord says, “Now here is reality. Your life, saved in Jesus Christ, is in Christ. The spiritual things of the kingdom of God are your sole concern. Life for you now is communion with Christ. The eternal life of your soul, which consists in faith, repentance, and the life of obedience to God’s will, this is your life. Do not go to sleep! Do not nod off spiritually. Drive away the lethargy of spiritual indifference.” The world of sin and your flesh wants to lull you to sleep. It wants you to put all of these things off at a great distance. It will say, “Oh, we don’t mean to deny these things. It’s nice that you have this faith. But, you know, it’s really not important now. You can take care of those things later.” Whatever puts you out of touch with the realities of your salvation, on whatever level it may be, drive it from you. If you have a preoccupation with money, if you have a preoccupation with video games, TV, sports, you may not let them dominate, so captivate you that you become oblivious to Christ, to the reality of your spiritual life, to God, to sin, to repentance, to the life of obedience and faith.

Then the Lord says, there must be constant prayerfulness. Watch and pray. Those words are often mentioned together in the Bible. Mark 14:38, the Lord says to the disciples when they fell asleep as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation.” In I Peter 4:7 we read, “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” Those two go together: watching and praying. They are mutual, they are connected. If you are watching, if you are alert to the realities of your soul in a dark world, it will drive you to prayer. Exactly, through constant prayerfulness, you will be made alert. If we are to watch, we must pray.

Now what is prayer, and why is prayer spoken of so repeatedly in connection with our life in the last days? Prayer is the felt consciousness of our need which drives us out of ourselves to seek help in our God. Prayer puts us in touch with realities which cannot be seen. We confess that we come before the throne of God. And we call upon Him as His children. We see ourselves in this present life as pilgrims and strangers. We confess that our hope is above. Every time we pray sincerely we are saying those things.

Our Lord is speaking, then, of the great dangers of complacency and apathy and spiritual sleep, that we get caught unawares. In the light of such things, where are we going to find strength so that we are not lulled to sleep, so that we are not drunken with the things of this world, so that we just are not carried along with the stream of an indifferent world? The Lord says, “Pray. In the light of your current position in this world, you are only going to have the spiritual equilibrium to abide in Me and to do My will when you live in constant prayerfulness. Pray to the Father to have strength that you might know His truth. Pray for peace to know that God is upon His throne and nothing can take you from His almighty will.

Where are you as a young man, a young girl, a young woman? Where are you going to get strength to confess Christ in that class in college? Where are you going to get strength to stand in an age when the gospel and being faithful to that gospel are ridiculed? Where are you going to get strength to stand up when, in a group, suddenly things go in a way that you had not anticipated and they say, “Let’s go off to the bar for a few beers”? And after that, “Let’s go off to somebody’s house for this or that.” And you know in your heart that things are going in a way that are not right. Where are you going to get the strength to say, “No, I’m going home. You can let me out of the car. I’ll get a ride home”? Where are you going to get the strength to do that? In prayer. In prayer we exchange our weakness, our compromise, and our indifference for His strength. Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” Isaiah 40:31 says, “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

The Lord emphasizes that this is our calling. He emphasizes it when He says that His return will be as a householder who returns after a far journey. When he left his house, the householder gave authority to his servants. He gave to every man his responsibilities and tasks. He commanded each one to be faithful. And he commanded the porter, the gatekeeper, to watch. Then, suddenly, he returns, at a moment unexpected, at a moment that they had not known. He comes to inquire of his servants. He expects to find the servants of his household doing his will, watchful. The Lord was of course using an illustration which was true to life in those days, an illustration to which people of His day could easily relate. Imagine what would be the case if in those days the master of the household had left and had commanded one of his servants to be the porter, to watch the gate, to protect his family and his possessions. The servant had pledged fidelity to his master. Then the master appears at a moment when the porter thought not and was sleeping. The master would sit down with him and say, “I called you to watch. I told you that your love for me and for my house and for my children and goods will be seen by watching for my return. Now I have come and you are asleep.” The master would say to the porter, “Your actions speak louder than your words. You said, ‘I care for my master, his house and his children.’ But your actions say, ‘I care not for my master’s house, his goods, or his children. I care not for my master.'”

Let us not sleep, beloved. Let us be alert.

The way that the devil leads men to hell is through sleep. No, not physical sleep. Spiritual indifference. By spiritual indifference one can sleep his way right into the flames of hell. So prevalent in the world is the idea that there is only you, there is only today, you should live only for the moment, and the only thing that counts is yourself and what you have and your own happiness and what you can make for yourself and the success of the present time. When a person lays hold upon that with his heart, he is spiritually asleep. He is far from reality. There is only one duty. We must be ready for the return of our Lord.

And what I say, said Jesus, I say unto all: Watch. There is something very sobering in those words, something very pithy. The Lord says, It all comes down to just one word. What is a Christian to do whose hope is on Christ? What is a Christian to do in every circumstance of his life, in every age, and every day? Watch! Be alert! Be ready! Stand consciously before the Son of Man. That means that you and I as children of God, if our confession is true, will depart from anyone and anything which draws us into spiritual indifference or drowsiness. They are our enemies. If the Lord says, Watch and pray, then anyone or anything which interferes with prayer and interferes with spiritual watchfulness in my life is my enemy, no matter how innocent it might appear.

That is a vital issue. The vital issue is not what you have in terms of earthly, physical things: income, home, pleasures. But the vital issue is that we give our energy to the nurture of our hearts and our faith and that we keep ourselves unspotted from the world. When anything begins to wrap its tentacles around your heart so that you begin to have an excessive preoccupation with that thing and you begin to look to that thing for your comfort and satisfaction, the Lord says, Cast it from you.

Be ready. Are you ready to meet Him? Are you ready now? By the grace of God, does your faith rest in Jesus Christ who died at Calvary? And are you ready for that day, that beautiful day when it dawns, when He shall appear in all of His power? If you are not, the Word of God is: Repent. Repent now.

Let us then learn to pray: Teach me, Lord. Teach me to be watchful; teach me to be prayerful; give me to live today in such a way that my ear is ready to hear the trumpet, my feet are ready to obey the command to come out, my eye is looking upward, and my heart is desiring the coming of my Lord and Master.

God grant it to us.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that through the Holy Spirit Thou wilt keep us both watchful and prayerful until the return of our Savior. Amen.