Watching for Jesus (Luke 21:34-36)
I’ve never been able to stay up very late. I’d try as a kid at Mammaw and Papaw’s at Near Year’s. When the clock would strike midnight, the firehouse would sound its whistle and set off professional fireworks. I always wanted to stay up, but I’d be asleep before ten. If there’s a movie we’re going to watch as a family, I might as well go on to bed and watch it sometime later. On the other hand, I tend to do well with mornings-provided I have good coffee.
There is probably a time of the day when you are at “peak performance.” Maybe you’re a night owl-Tammy is. Maybe you’re an early bird.
Regardless of what time of the day is our “peak time,” we need to stay alert constantly. Sleep may be good for the body, but sleep is horrible for the soul. “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11). “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thess 5:6).
In this morning’s passage, Jesus talks to the disciples about the need to be vigilant. He tells them: “Watch, for Jesus is coming!” We want to hear Jesus’ words so that we can watch for Him.
In hearing Jesus’ words, we need to understand how difficult Luke 21 is to interpret. The disciples were discussing how beautiful the temple was and Jesus says there’s coming a day when not a single stone of the temple would be left standing (vv 5-6). The disciples then ask when that is going to happen: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (v 7). In Luke’s account the disciples do not ask about the end of the world. They do in Matthew. Yet, in Mark and in Luke, the disciples don’t.
Then, at verse 8, Jesus begins to discuss the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus uses apocalyptic language to discuss the destruction of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, some have interpreted the apocalyptic language to refer to the end of the world. But, it’s clear Jesus isn’t speaking about the end of the world: Jerusalem would be surrounded with armies (v 20); and Those in Judea are to flee to the mountains (v 21). How can anyone escape the end of the world?
But, after Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, He speaks about His Second Coming (vv 25-28)-He says the Son of Man will come in a cloud and that redemption draws nigh.
He then tells the Parable of the Fig Tree about the destruction of Jerusalem (vv 29-33). The idea of the Parable of the Fig Tree is that you can look at signs and know what’s about to happen, but the end of the world is a sudden event, an event without signs. Jesus also says that “this generation” shall not pass away until all is fulfilled.
Then, He switches back to the end of the world to give us this morning’s text. He gives the apostles a word of warning in this morning’s text: “Watch, for Jesus is coming!”
Scripture (Luke 21:34-36)
“But watch yourselves.” Notice the personal nature of this watching; no one else can watch for you, but you watch for yourself. The verb “watch” is a present imperative which refers to constant vigilance.
Jesus is concerned that our hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life. The Greek term for dissipation refers to a hangover, to the distressing after effects of intoxication. Drunkenness is also mentioned. The idea seems to be that we need a clear head to watch for Jesus; we need to be alert. Jesus also says he doesn’t want us weighed down with the cares of this world; how often do we get involved in the things of this world and forget that Jesus is coming altogether?
If we keep a clear head and don’t get bogged down with the cares of this life, that day will not overtake us unexpectedly. No, we’ll never know when that day is coming. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13). “You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2). But, we can be anticipating that day-we know it’s coming.
This verse emphasizes the universal nature of “that day.” This is one of the main reasons we know this verse doesn’t refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The destruction of Jerusalem only affected that city, but this destruction affects everyone.
That day is going to come like a trap. There will be no escaping that day. Jesus encouraged those in Jerusalem to flee its destruction: “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it” (v 21).But, on that day there shall be no escape. No way to wiggle out of standing before God in judgment. No place to hide away from God’s judgment.
That day is going to come “upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” Everyone is going to face that great day. You can’t rely on your parents to stand there for you . . . or the preacher . . . or the elders. Even those who do not know the truth are going to stand there . . . We have an awesome responsibility. You understand the universal nature of the judgment on that last great day. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12). “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).
Jesus urges his disciples to be watching for his return. Instead of getting tied up in all sorts of other activities, we need to be focused. Jesus is coming back, and we need to be anticipating that return-watching for it.
We pray. If we’re praying diligently and faithfully, our eyes are going to stay on that prize, on that day.
We will then be counted worthy to escape all these things-As a Christian, we need have no fear of that final and great day.
We will be able to stand before the Son of Man. In a sense, everyone will stand before the Son of Man-God is going to judge the world through Jesus. Stand here, though, means to stand with conviction, confidence and without wavering. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). If we’re wearing the armor of God, we may stand confidently while Satan comes; if we’re watching and praying, we may stand confidently before the Son of Man.
The message of this text is: “Watch, for Jesus is coming!”
We need to be an anticipating people. It seems to me that, as a general rule, we forget the fact that Jesus is coming again. We talk about the future as though the future is a certain fact-we’ll talk about growing old, our children’s future, etc. Those things may happen, but I know for a fact that Jesus is coming again-I just don’t know when. Would it be so bad if we trained ourselves to say, “If the Lord wills”? “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (Js 4:15). Saying “If the Lord wills” reminds us of the temporary nature of this life.
We need to be ready for when Jesus comes. In this text, Jesus urges his disciples to get rid of the alcohol and the other cares of this life that prevent watching for Jesus. What in your life prevents you from watching for Jesus? Some self-examination is called for here. If we don’t take a close look at ourselves, how will we ever know what needs to be changed? “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13:5).
What steps do you need to take to get rid of that sin in your life? Do you need to bring it into the light of confession? “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Js 5:15). Sin loves darkness and light can choke it and kill it. Do you need help getting rid of that sin? “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2). Do you need to speak with me or one of the elders?
In our text, Jesus urges prayer as a way to prepare for his coming. Prayer focuses our attention on things that really matter. Is it any wonder that Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing”? (1 Thess 5:17).
If we at Dale Ridge understood that we need to “Watch, for Jesus is coming,” how would our lives be different? We’d make sure our lives were ready for that sudden coming! We’d correct our lives! We’d spend great time in prayer!
Are you ready for that coming?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.