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Watch! (Mark 13:1-37)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Watchfulness

Keeping watch isn’t always easy.

Watching the time

I’ve got a little timer in the bathroom to try and keep my showers short. It’ s an electronic timer that I usually set for 4 minutes to not only save water but to also to save time in the mornings so that I can fit everything I need to do in (my QT, watering the garden, exercise, making lunch). The 4 minutes is enough time to have a shower if I keep my eye on the time and think about what I’m doing. But some mornings I get in there and forget all about what I’m supposed to be doing. Instead of getting on with washing myself I stand there under the shower daydreaming thinking about nothing and everything at the same time. I don’t keep an eye on the time and before you know it the timer is going off and I haven’t done what I’ve needed to do.

Watching the time isn’t always easy. Its easy to forget what you are supposed to be doing and while it doesn’t make much difference whether or not I spend a little longer in the shower than I was intending, sometimes a lot more hangs on us being watchful and alert.

Watching our health

For instance, we might have a health condition that we need to keep an eye on. I have a thyroid problem and I’m supposed to keep an eye on it visiting the specialist from time to time. I’m meant to be watchful.

I’ve got these little nodules or growths in my thyroid which means it doesn’t work as it should, and I have to take medication to make up for that. At present it isn’t a concern, but I’m meant to be watchful and have it checked out every so often just to make sure it doesn’t develop into anything more problematic. There are times when it is much more important for us to be vigilant and watchful.

Watching while waiting for Jesus

In the reading today the Lord Jesus called his disciples to watchfulness and being watchful for the believer is one of those things that is of the upmost importance. After telling the disciples that the Temple was coming to an end, four of them came to Jesus with the question as to when it was going to happen and what would be the signs that all these things were about to be fulfilled. However, instead of giving them the answer that they were looking for, the Lord did something he often did when posed with a question, he told them what they needed to hear and not necessarily what they were asking for. He told them in this case that they needed to be watchful and alert as they waited for him to return. The command “to watch” or “watch out” is repeated throughout the chapter.

Mark 13:5

Jesus said to them: Watch out that no one deceives you.

Mark 13:9
You must be on your guard
(the same word as in verse 5).

Mark 13:23

So be on your guard (again the same word)

Mark 13:33

Be on your guard (same word). Be alert!

Mark 13:35

Therefore keep watch… (another Greek word but a similar idea – “to keep watch” or “to stay alert”)

Mark 13:37

What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!” (same word as verse 35).

This call to be watchful and alert is for everyone. It wasn’t just for the four disciples who privately took Jesus aside, or for that first generation of believers, it is what the Lord is calling you to be doing today in these times in which we live. It includes us because his words were not just about the destruction of the temple in AD70 they looked beyond this to the end of the age and his return (see Matt 24:3). He calls us to watch and to not fall asleep while we wait for him to return.

Today we need to think about how awake and watchful are we? Jesus at the end of the chapter likens us to a servant who is doorman whose job it is to stay awake and watch. This morning we need to ask ourselves whether we are wide away or are we beginning to nod of and this morning what we need is the Holy Spirit to give us a good prod? Or is too late for a nudge we are already snoring away and what we need is good shake up this morning? Are you awake and watchful?

Being Watchful

But what does it mean to be watchful and alert? When I’m showering it means keeping a close eye on the clock and making sure that I’m getting on with what I’m meant doing and not just standing there under the shower daydreaming forgetting about what I’m meant to be doing. But what does it mean for us to be watching out today? This morning I want to highlight several things that the disciples were told about being watchful while waiting for Jesus’ words to be fulfilled about the Temple and for his coming and the end of this age. Being watchful means:

(1) Watching out for deceivers (verses 5-8)
(2) Standing firm until the end (verses 9-13)
(3) Fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem (verses 14-23)
(4) Not falling asleep (24-37)

(1) Watching out for deceivers (5-8)

The first thing Jesus told the disciples about being watchful was they were watch out for deceivers.

Mark 13:5

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you”.

We are to watch out that no one deceives us. This warning is again repeated a little later in the chapter in verses 21 to 25. While waiting for Jesus deceivers will multiply and they will use the uncertainty of the times in which we live to deceive people and lead them astray. We must be on our guard because these sorts of people will rise up within our ranks. The Lord says that we aren’t to be deceived by them. We aren’t to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rumours of wars and when there are all kinds of natural disasters going on in our world. We aren’t to be surprised by these things. These things are not themselves necessarily an indication that the end has come. Jesus said…

“Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. ” (13:7).

Deceivers offer false hopes in uncertain times.

These verses seem to suggest that deceivers pose a danger because they offer false hope in uncertain and difficult times. Many will come and claim, “I am he” and the Lord says that they will deceive many (v6). This would have been true especially around the time of the fall of Jerusalem with many of the Jews believing that the threat to God’s holy city would mean that the Messiah would turn up to save the day. A little later in the chapter (verses 21 to 22) I think the Lord suggests that for that first generation the fall of Jerusalem would be such an unprecedented time of distress for God’s people in Jerusalem that many will be tempted to think that the end has come. At that time there will be false Christs and false prophets, but the disciples were not to believe them.

Mark 13:21

21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

These things are the beginning of the birth pains

All these things the Lord explains must happen before the end comes. They are only the beginning of the birth pains (verse 8). If you like they are only the Branxton Hicks of the end times. Branxton Hicks are the practice contractions that mothers get before the baby comes. They are the early part of getting ready for labour. They can be painful and feel like the real thing, but they don’t necessarily mean that you are going to have a baby at any moment. But they do remind you that one is coming.

Many mums can mistake Branxton Hicks pains for the pains of labour. Lots of women have false alarms and go into hospital and then get sent back home. This is exactly what Jesus is warning his disciples about. Don’t mistake the tribulations of these times and especially those that have to do with the fall of Jerusalem with the end and the coming of the Lord Jesus. These things don’t mean that the end has come.

You can’t miss the coming of Jesus

A little later Jesus will explain that you won’t be able to miss the end when it comes (verses 24 to 26). The Lord is coming but, his coming will be a universal cosmic event that will shake the whole universe. You won’t be able to miss it and you won’t need someone to point it out to you. You don’t need people to tell you where you can find him for the whole world will know it. Everyone will see him, and he will send his angels to gather the elect. So, if there are those going around pointing out where you can find the Lord Jesus don’t believe them. Don’t be deceived.

Don’t be deceived.

Down through the ages there have been many who have offered believers “false Christs” as alternatives to the one who you must patiently wait for. What these deceivers do is try to get you to stop waiting for Jesus. You don’t need an actual flesh and blood “false Christ” to do this. Some just teach false ideas about Jesus that draw your hopes away from him and who he really is and what he really has done and promised us. They deny what God’s word says and come up with their own ideas about Jesus.

The apostle Paul condemns such people in Galatians 1. He says that they preach another gospel which is really no gospel at all. He also warned Timothy that the time would come when people would gather around themselves teachers to says what their itchy ears want to hear to suit their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3). Yet whether you have flesh and blood “false Christs” or just false ideas about Jesus the net effect is just the same. In both cases what happens is that people transfer their hope from the real Christ who has come and is coming back to one whom they fashioned in their own image and who promises to fulfil all their selfish desires.

False hopes are dangerous because they are not only a distraction, but they lead to disappointment and disillusionment and ultimately to despair and desolation. Jesus wants us to watch out that we aren’t deceived. He has told us these things ahead of time so that we won’t be surprised by these things. He has told us these things so that we know what we will have to go through and endure so that we might not be deceived by those who offer false hopes in uncertain times. We need to understand where our hope is found. It is not found here in this world and what we can have now but in Jesus and what is to come (see Romans 8:24). We are to live in this world as those whose hopes are all bound up in the coming again of the Lord Jesus.

(2) Standing firm until the end

Being watchful secondly mean standing firm until the end despite the opposition.

Jesus tells his disciples that they will experience rejection and abuse and even be put to death on account of belonging to him. They will be brought before local councils and kings and governors as witness to them. The level of opposition in some case will be extreme. It won’t just be the state and the authorities who will be against them, but the members of their own family will turn them over to be put to death.

Mark. 13:12-13

12“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

The disciples weren’t to be surprised by this level of opposition. Jesus explained to the disciples that they will hate them because of him. This will be the character of the times during which the gospel will be preached to all the nations. That first generation of believers were to expect it and we too should expect opposition as we faithfully preach the good news of Jesus.

Being watchful means standing firm and continuing to be witnesses to Jesus despite the opposition it will bring. I think that while we are waiting for Jesus that is what you and I are meant to be doing in this world. Whether you are at work or home or talking to the neighbours across the fence we are called to be witnesses to those around us to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

We aren’t alone

But the Lord reminded the disciple of two important things. Firstly, we aren’t alone in this. The disciples were not to worry about what they were to say when they found themselves being handed over to the local authorities and flogged in the synagogues and brought before governors and kings as witnesses. Instead, they were to say whatever would be given to them to say because it would be the Holy Spirit speaking through them. The Lord would be present with them as they faced these things. They wouldn’t be alone; the Holy Spirit would equip them for what they were called to do.

It will be those who stand firm until the end who will be saved

Secondly, although everyone (the world at large) will hate them, they were to remember that it would be those who stand firm until the end who will be saved. Ultimately, the Lord will rescue them. He doesn’t forget about his people. He doesn’t forget about us.

Friends standing firm would be impossible if we were just standing alone and in our own strength. But it is God who strengthens us. He gives us the courage and the words to speak to be his witnesses in this world. Being watchful means continuing to bear witness to Jesus while we wait for his coming. It’s what you are called to at home or with family members who don’t know Christ. It’s what you are called to do when you are down at the school picking up the kids or at work or at uni. What you do and say ought to bear witness to the one that you belong to and that your hope is in him and not this world.

(3) Fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem

The third way that the disciples were to be watchful has to do with the matter the disciples asked Jesus about in the first place, the destruction of the temple. Verses 14 to 23 seem to provide the most direct answer to the question of the Temple, not giving them an exact timetable but letting them know what they needed to watch out for. These verses warn the believers living in Jerusalem and Judea to flee. The suffering of those days would be great. Jesus says the distress would be like nothing that had been experienced since the creation and nothing like them in their severity would be experienced again.

The word for the disciples who would see these times was to flee.

Mark. 13:14

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand –then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Exactly what the abomination was that causes desolation is hard to be certain off. Luke’s gospel seems to suggest that it is associated with the armies that surrounded Jerusalem. Many think it was the Roman standards that were eventually planted in the temple when the city was overrun. I would lean in that direction myself, however whatever this sacrilege was when they saw it appear it was to be the signal for the believers to flee the city. We might have trouble today pinning down exactly what it was, but the believers of that generation obviously didn’t have the same trouble. Tradition says that the Christians in Jerusalem took Jesus’ warning to heart and fled just before the fall to a place called Pella in the Transjordan.

Jesus warns the disciples that they were to let nothing delay them. They weren’t to go back for anything. They weren’t to be waylaid by false Christs or false prophets proclaiming that he was near. These were all part of the beginning of the birth pangs. I take it that the lesson of the fig tree (28-31) was for the Christians of that generation who would still be alive when all these things to do with the fall of the temple would happen.

(4) Not falling asleep (24-37)

In the last section (verses 24 to 37) the focus turns to the end of the age and the coming of Jesus and what being watchful means for all of us who are waiting for Jesus’ return and the end of the age. We are to watch out and not fall asleep. We aren’t to sleep because we don’t know the time or hour of the coming of the Son.

Mark. 13: 32-34

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.

We need to keep watch for no one knows when the Son will return. It is not a matter of calculation but constant vigilance and faithfulness on our part. In comparison to the fall of Jerusalem the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (see Matt. 24:43). You won’t know when to expect it. Therefore, the only thing you can do it is to remain ever vigilant and watchful. This is stressed in the parable of the man who goes away and leaves his servants in charge of his home. He tells the one at the door to keep watch and to stay awake.

Mark 13:36

If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

What does it mean for us to not be found sleeping? It means remaining faithful while we wait for our master to return by living in this world not as those who belong to it, but as those who belong to Jesus and are waiting for his coming. We are to live as his servants bearing witness to him in both in what we say and do.

It means not forgetting who we are and who we belong to. It means not settling down here in this world and letting the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things stop us bearing the sort of fruit that that the implanted word should bear in our lives (see Mark 4:719). It means faithfully living as those who belong to the kingdom of God. It means not forgetting the Lord is coming and all our hopes are bound up in him and his return which can happen at any moment.

Watch!

We are to be awake and watchful. “Watch” is the final word to all of us and it is sums up the whole passage. We aren’t to fall asleep, but we are to be alert and watchful aware of the dangers. We are to keep holding on the gospel and not let deceivers move us from our firm hope and trust in Jesus. Our rewards are not here they are found in Jesus and his coming. Our treasures are not here they are found in heaven. We are not to put our hope in other things but have it firmly in his coming again. If you let, go of the truth or the importance of it for the way it shapes your life, you won’t be ready for his coming. The word for some today is “Don’t be deceived! Fix your eyes on Christ. Watch what you believe.” Don’t stray!

The second way people cease being vigilant is they make themselves too comfortable while they wait. They are tempted to trade the “well done” of the Master for acceptance and comfort here in this world. Of course, it is naturally to want to avoid being hated by the world, but James warns us that friendship with the world means enmity with God (James 4:4). Instead of being witnesses before governors and kings and upsetting their family some of us will be tempted to not want to identify ourselves too closely with Jesus and his words. The word for us is to stand firm until the end.

We need to ask ourselves today, ‘Are we in danger of nodding off or are we awake and alert? Brothers and sister we need to watch out and be on our guard. We need to keep trusting and living for Jesus standing firm until the end. The Lord told the disciples. ‘What I say to you, I say to everyone, “Watch!”’