‘But in those days, after that suffering,
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.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 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 forth 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 tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; 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 slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’
• • •
Did you hear about the South Carolina man at Waffle House this past week? A guy named Alex Bowen couldn’t sleep one night. He was hungry and he also admitted he was slightly drunk, so he decided to go out to Waffle House for a midnight snack.
When he got there he went inside, and couldn’t find anybody. No customers, no employees. He waited about ten minutes, went outside and looked around, went back in. Still no one.
So he took matters into his own hands. Mr. Bowen went to the grill and prepared to make himself a sandwich — a double bacon cheesesteak melt with extra pickles. Then he saw that the employee who was supposed to be working was fast asleep in a corner. Bowen snapped a picture and then documented the rest of his cooking adventure on his cell phone and uploaded it to Facebook.
Well, apparently his mama taught him right. Bowen said that when he was done, he “cleaned the grill, collected my ill-gotten sandwich and rolled on out.” When Waffle House found out about it, they suspended the sleepy employee. Could’ve been a lot worse, right? The only negative consequence Waffle House and their cook suffered was that they lost a sandwich and had to endure some embarrassment, and one employee will go a couple of weeks without a paycheck.
“Keep awake!” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. Those who heard him say that in Jerusalem back then had a whole lot more to lose.
Mark 13 is a sermon of warning that Jesus gave his disciples about a time of great trouble that was about to fall on the Jewish nation. And now you can read about it in the history books. In 70ad, the Roman armies laid siege to Jerusalem and then completely destroyed the city, leveled the Temple, and scattered the survivors abroad into exile. It was one of the most brutal, devastating events in history. And it marked the end of the Jewish nation for almost 2000 years — until 1948.
In this chapter, Jesus is warning his disciples about that time, a time so terrible that the only smart thing to do was run and try to escape. So he urges them to keep awake and alert, to be aware at all times of what was going on around them so that they would be ready to hit the road when it was time.
But something else was going to happen in those days, and that’s where our specific text for this morning picks up. Right in the middle of the time when all these tumultuous things would be happening — things so calamitous that the only way to describe them was to say it would be like the sun, moon, and stars being extinguished and falling out of the skies — another series of events was going to start taking place. Jesus describes it this way in verses 26-27: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 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.”
A lot of people read this and they think it refers to Jesus returning to earth, or what we call the Second Coming. But I don’t think that’s what it means. Jesus is referring to the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, where Daniel had a vision. Here’s what it says:
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a [son of man] coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him [i.e. to this son of man] was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (7:13f)
Please note: in this passage “the Son of Man in the clouds” is not coming to earth, he is coming to God. He is not returning for his people, he is going to the throne of God to receive the kingdom. This passage in Daniel and Jesus’ words in Mark 13 are not describing the “Second Coming” to earth at the end of history. They are describing what happened back in those days, when Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sat down at God’s right hand: “The son of man came in the clouds of heaven to God’s throne and received the kingdom from his Father.”
This is what we say in the Creed. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. That was his first coming. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. That will be his second coming. But in between, we say that we believe he died, was buried, descended to the dead, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. There was a “coming” in between what we call the first coming and his second coming. There was a coming into heaven, when he took the throne and was declared Lord of all.
Our Lord is telling his disciples that, in the midst of all the turmoil and trouble that was about to fall upon the world, Jesus would be crowned king. Jesus would receive power and dominion and glory forever and ever. Despite his death, he would be raised up, vindicated, and declared Lord of all. Contrary to all appearances, God’s rule in the earth would start taking effect.
And then Jesus says here that something else will happen: “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.”
Following Jesus’ installation as King, there would be a new mission. God would send his messengers into all the earth to proclaim the gospel and gather God’s children together in faith and hope and love.
Advent is the season in which we remember and prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. But here is one “coming” that we don’t always talk about. Jesus ascended into heaven, came to the right hand of the Father and was crowned Lord of all. And now his Gospel message is going out to people all around the world. During Advent, let us not forget this “coming” of Jesus when he went to the Father and was declared King of all creation.
And let us not be like that sleepy Waffle House employee! Let us not fall asleep at the table when we have work to do, when there are those waiting for us to come to them in the name of the King to feed them the bread of life and tell them the Good News. Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven for the life of the world. Let us stay awake to speak and share his life. Amen.