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. 35 Therefore 4 keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37 NIV)
Watch what you’re doing!
Watch this carefully!
Watch and learn!
When we tell people to watch we generally don’t just mean for them to use their eyes. Our instructions are not meant to just encourage the conscious use of the optic nerve. Watching is more than seeing. We tell people to watch because we want them to do something on the basis of what they have observed.
Watch what you’re doing so you don’t have to spend extra time fixing up your mistakes.
Watch this carefully because it’s important.
Watch and learn so that you’ll be able to do this as well.
Keep your eyes on the road!
It seems ironic when the disciples came to Jesus during the last week of his life asking to know what the signs of the Messianic age would be, that they received an answer that exhorted them to ‘watch’. Jesus seemed to be saying that the answer to their questions could be found in him alone. In those times the disciples were called to watch. However in a few short days they couldn’t keep their eyes open in the garden while Jesus was praying and, with the exception of one disciple, they all desert Jesus and fail in so many ways. They certainly fail to watch.
But what is there to see? It’s hardly a pretty sight. Tortured flesh, bloodied body, and gasping for a breath that seems like fire is hardly pleasant to the eyes. A crucifixion was a spectacle that ghouls, mockers, and the helpless watched. There was nothing that could be done but watch and wait for the inevitable.
And this is the way the eyes of everyone must go if they want to follow Jesus. No true disciple of Jesus can fail to not come face to face, looking, watching, and staring at the crucified man dying on a cross. It is here the Messianic age is finally inaugurated. It is here the King is sitting on his throne. It is here the powers of Satan, the demons, the occult, sin, and death are engaged in battle. It is here the victory is won for the grave could not hold Jesus once the cross had strangled the life out of him. Our eyes prefer to see pretty things, pleasant, alluring, and comforting but Jesus won’t let us go past his bloodied cross if we want to see him. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV) and ‘For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV).
The pattern of the Church Year begins again this Sunday. A new year, a new beginning, because the cross of Jesus testifies that forgiveness has been won. We can live in that forgiveness as we wait for the time when Jesus returns. So what do we do? We watch. We don’t permanently have our heads in the clouds so to speak – we watch in other ways.
When the doctor tells you that you had better watch your weight or waist line or your blood pressure you are not being told to sit and study the bathroom scales, the tape measure, or the blood pressure reading for 12 hours per day. No, you are being told to do something.
Jesus says to us, ‘Watch out that you’re not led astray’. As we go into this new year Jesus tells us that he wants us to come out of this year with him. Jesus doesn’t want us to be devoured by the lion, to be caught unawares at the end, to be naked without a white robe. Life with Jesus is not robotic. It is relational, fluid, changing – growing or weakening.
Life with Jesus is active. It involves worship – regular, corporate, sacramental, with its focus on the cross rather than our wishes for therapy or entertainment. Satan’s attack on regular worship is one of his major ploys to bring people’s eyes to focus on something other than Jesus. If he can lead folk to watch other things (wealth, fitness, power, possessions, even a virus) with more fervour and concern than for regular worship then he is happy. When people attend worship ignoring the fact that they are coming into God’s presence and lives actually change then they mightn’t even be watching but sleeping walking.
We are afflicted with something far worse than COVID-19, high blood pressure, stress, cancer, or any other illness. It’s called sin and generally it’s very subtle. The only way to deal with it is to watch it carefully. Christians do so by keeping their eyes focussed on Jesus’ cross in regular worship.
If you were a ship’s captain with a cyclone moving quickly towards you I imagine you would watch matters fairly closely. You must be alert to take the best course of action. It is similar for a Christian who is waiting for Jesus to return to think of life as a voyage and all the problems, hassles, accidents, evil are the storms raging around us. As we wait we watch and as we watch we pray.
Jesus said to his disciples in the garden, ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation’ (Mark 14:38a ESV). Paul wrote to the Colossians, ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving’ (Colossians 4:2 ESV). Praying takes our eyes off ourselves and directs them back to Jesus. We are not in full control of our voyage no matter how much we want it or how hard we try. Regular, daily prayer for ourselves and regular intercessory prayer for others is like placing ourselves and those for whom we pray into God’s hands while the storm rages. His hands are secure and they will accomplish whatever is needed so that we are not lost for ever.
You can’t follow a trail on beach or a path in the bush unless you watch carefully. Similarly Christians are like people out in the wilderness who are following the trail blazer whom they trust will get them home. Our watching then leads to obedience. While we watch for Jesus’ return our lives are marked by obedience to his Word. The rubber hits the road in our Monday to Saturday lifestyle. If Jesus is Lord then he is Lord not just in our speaking but also in our behaviour.
We live in the in-between times. Jesus has come and saved us. Jesus will come and gather us to be with him. In the meantime we wait for his reappearance and we watch so that we don’t miss out. We watch because Jesus told us to. And this means action rather than just blinking our eyes.
To watch means to worship, to pray, and to obey. Jesus has given us life with him and he doesn’t want us to lose it. Jesus said, ‘What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch”’ (Mark 13:37).
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. [Amen]
- Mark 13:24 - 37