At the end of the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Mark, there is a record of a parable that Jesus told about the end of this present earth and His second coming and the coming of His new Kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth. The beginning of the chapter records the Lord’s description of the events leading up to this final event. At the end of the chapter He gives some advice to His disciples about how they should behave while waiting for this event to occur. I’ll pick it up at verse 31: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch: 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 servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
What does it really mean for us to “watch”? What does it mean for us to “fall asleep”? How are we like a “doorkeeper” in the parable? Of course, these are not literal, physical activities that we are to engage in, but they represent spiritual concerns, and refer to our attitude and thoughts surrounding them. In other words, the attitude and thoughts that the doorkeeper in the parable had towards his master’s return, is the same attitude and thoughts we should have about the return of Jesus and His kingdom.
As I meditate on this situation there are 2 areas that come to mind: focus and endurance. Let’s take a look at both of these.
JB Phillips uses the phrase “keep on the alert” in his translation, rather than “watch”. I see it as a question of what we are focused on or where our attention is focused. What are we alerted to? Something has our attention. Something has our focus. What is it? Yes we have our jobs and our families and friends, and other activities in our lives, but what has our primary focus? What is the apple of our eye? This is a matter of our heart. What are we treasuring in our heart? I constantly go back to the proverb that says “keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs forth the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Interestingly, the word “keep” here refers to a gatekeeper or doorkeeper. The inference is that we should be guarding our heart’s focus; we should be alert to what is entering our heart and stealing our affection.
We are commanded here by the Lord Jesus to keep our attention focused on His return. This is what should excite us. This is what should consume the most of our attention. This is what we should treasure the most. Remember too that Jesus said “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. When Jesus returns, he will fulfill His promise to us. This is our great and living hope that is the focus of our faith.
What we are focused on can be a subtle thing that is hard to put our finger on. I believe that our western Christianity is focused on too many other things besides the return of Jesus. The scriptures say that we should set our affections on the things above and not on earthly things. Heaven is where our focus should be, and Jesus’ return represents heaven coming to us. This is when we will be rewarded for our good behavior; this is when we collect our treasures that we stored up; this is when we receive the promises that Jesus has established at the cross: a glorified, immortal, resurrected body that will overcome the second death, the inheritance of the children of God, reigning with Christ, and more. These are the things that we should covet and long for and hold our attention.
If we allow our attention to be re-focused on some other earthly item, this is the equivalent of us “falling asleep” towards the Master’s return. Spiritually we are asleep when our attention is distracted to earthly things that become our primary focus and become what we treasure in our heart. The problem is that we are so used to having some earthly focus to help us get through this life. We are accustomed to having this earthly hope to be the fuel that gets us through our day to day. This earthly hope can be something that is acceptable, good and even thought to be spiritual. It can be a ministry or a job or family or wife or some other noble cause. All of these things are fine as long as they don’t become the primary focus that overshadows our attentiveness to the Master’s coming. Again, this is hard for most because the use of these primary focus items had become habitual survival mechanisms in our lives. Shifting our hope and attention to heaven and the promises that accompany the return of Jesus can be difficult, but it is of the utmost importance. The focus of our heart is critical, and as the proverb says, “….out of it (our heart) springs forth the issues of life”.
Fanny J. Crosby lost her eyesight accidently when 6 months old, being wrongly diagnosed by a doctor and incorrectly treated causing total blindness. She went on to be a Christian who penned some of the greatest hymns written in recent times including one entitled “Blessed Assurance”. As the title implies, our assurance of hope is a great blessing. I think she understood the watchful attention that needed to be focused on Jesus’ return and the fruit of this attention. The third verse of the hymn: “Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest; watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”
When we come to Jesus and realize that we need to “lose our lives” in order to gain eternal life, we need to “die to this world”, we need to consider ourselves as “aliens, exiles and strangers” to this world and focus our hope on heaven. We then ask ourselves, “How should we then live?” or “How does this fit in with the rest of my life?” I believe the key here is to understand what is our primary focus, or what is it that we are treasuring in our hearts. Once we have this established, the next challenge is how do we keep this focus? We are so easily distracted. It’s hard to keep our focus in heaven while living in this world, just like I am sure it was hard for the doorkeeper to keep watch for his master’s return. Patient endurance is the answer. We must patiently endure until Jesus comes, keeping our hearts pure and attentive on the promises and things of heaven.
There is another proverb that I often think of: “By loyalty and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for…”(Proverbs 16:8). The Lord holds very highly the attributes of faithfulness and loyalty. I am sure that the master who returned to find his servant doorkeeper watching for him would view that servant as loyal and faithful, and would reward him for it. Similarly, in the book of Hebrews chapter 6 we learn that “…Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.”
For some reason, this simple idea of patiently waiting for the Lord’s return is not acceptable to us. It’s not glamorous enough, or not productive enough. It’s too simple and therefore can’t be what God wants. We have to be starting ministries, working miracles, causing major impact to our local surroundings, or whatever other exciting endeavor we can come up with, or else we are mediocre, unsuccessful servants of the Lord. I am convinced that if we get our hearts right with regards to the coming of Jesus, fully focused on that hope, all of these other “exciting” endeavors will come as a matter of course, initiated by the Spirit of God, rather than by our carnal minds.
Patiently watching and waiting is what good servants do. They recognize that a loving merciful master has the power to bring fulfilled hope and relief to their circumstances. The master’s return and presence is to be welcomed and longed for. I don’t think our modern culture recognizes this aspect of a servant’s view of their master. This attitude is expressed clearly in Psalm 123: “To Thee I lift up my eyes, oh Thou who art enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eye of a maid on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He have mercy upon us”. Let the reality of this become a part of your life too.
At the end of Jesus’ parable in Mark 13, there is a statement that makes it clear that this command to watch is all inclusive; there are no exceptions. We are all required to watch. We all need to have our primary focus on the Lord’s return. “And what I say to you I say to all: Watch”
If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, then our faith is being exercised when we are watching. It takes a persistent and strong faith to patiently watch without falling asleep. I encourage you to continue to watch. Be strong and keep your heart waiting for His return. What a glorious day that will be, well worth the wait.