Have you heard it? Scattered all throughout the New Testament, this whisper, this call, this command? Almost every time Jesus gives us a taste of the end-times, it’s there, echoing again and again through the other noises.
Because, honestly, there’s a lot of other clamor going on. There’s the ever-pounding drum of wars and rumors of wars. There’s the ominous hiss of false christs rising up. There’s the great cry of the sun going out, the moon going black, and the stars tumbling down from their perches.
And though some of that is reserved solely for the very end of the story, already around us we see the rising. The fear, the hate, the violence — rumors of wars? Why, there are wars going on that we only hear rumors of.
It’s coming. That great disaster, that great calamity, the days of vengeance (Luke 21:22). And though I believe that the Church will not have to endure those days of God’s wrath poured out on the unrepentant world, we know life here will only get worse before it gets better. We know that we will still suffer great things. We’ve been told that it’s all coming (John 15:18-20; Matt. 24:9).
So what should we do? Stockpile our guns, go off the grid, and build underground bunkers?
Should we gather our forces and sally out against our foes, fighting fire with fire? Has Jesus given us a strategic-forces lay-out for attack, or at least the map to a hidden cave to stay safe from all the world is throwing at us?
No AK-47’s, no MRE’s, no hidden bunkers. That’s not what He’s given us. That’s not what He tells us to do.
He simply commands us: Watch.
Because we’re called to be in but not of. We’re called to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies. But we’re called to do this because we’re watching.
Because when you’re watching for Jesus to come, you ensure that all your work — all your life — is done unto the Lord, recognizing that it might end at any moment.
And this seems like a bit of a conundrum. Why bother working, if your job will be interrupted at any moment? If you’re to be halted in the middle, why even begin at all?
But I think we’re looking at it all the wrong way. Just because a show may be halted does not mean that it should never start. To borrow C. S. Lewis’ analogy, the characters in the show don’t know what act they’re in, and to them the finale of the show — very proper and correct and fulfilling to us who are outside, watching the whole movie — is utterly abrupt, in the middle of their lives, and perhaps unwanted.
Though it seems in the middle of great works to the character, the purpose of the show has been fulfilled. And so the show ends.
And that’s how it will be.
Because the purpose of this story, of the whole history of the world, has never been our projects. It’s never been our deeds. It’s never been in our ladders, in our accolades, in our cultures, or in our pedestals. Even good causes aren’t the purpose of this story.
No, the purpose in any work — be it classes, changing diapers, or creating jobs — is not the work itself. Yes, all those things are good and nice, but they won’t last. Because our purpose — the whole story’s purpose — is to glorify God. “This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev. 10:3).
What good is mastering calculus, what good is raising children, what good is bettering others when you stand before the throne? Only this — that you’ve brought glory to His name.
In that day, none of our grand schemes, none of our wonderful plans will be of any use; “the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day” (Is. 2:17).
Why do we work heartily in all that we do? To bring Him glory.
Why do we turn the other cheek and love others? To bring Him glory.
Why do we raise up our children in the way they should go? So that we (and they) can bring Him glory. Because He alone is worthy.
So we don’t have to be concerned that our work might be cut short at any moment. If we are doing it correctly — to glorify Him — then it will be completed when He determines, not a moment too early or too late, to His glory.
And so we work while we watch.
And we hear the warning, the urgency in this whisper. Any moment now, perhaps before tonight, perhaps before we’re done reading — He could be back. Be ready! “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). “In every moment, let us walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing” (Col. 1:10).
But I wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, we can also hear a note of excitement in this one-word call as well. A hint of eager anticipation, a call to look.
Because think of a father, who gently shakes awake his child in the early darkness. The child sleepily follows him outside, rubbing his eyes as the cold air greets his face. The father crouches down beside him, hand on his shoulder, as he points at the farthest hill, its outline barely appearing in the dark eastern sky.
“Watch!” he whispers. A glimmer, a little brightening, but not much more. Suddenly, the glorious sunrise bounds up, throwing away all darkness and night, beckoning all the birds to sing for joy and the clouds to burst forth with color.
And I think that may be a bit how Jesus’ return may be too. Those wars and rumors of wars are that first glimmering on the hill, but the end is not yet. But suddenly, in a moment, the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) shall bound up in glory, throwing away all sin and death and pain, beckoning us to sing with all the church the song of the Lamb, and telling the new earth to burst forth into abundant life.
But that moment is not yet.
It’s coming. That great victory, that great celebration, when all things become new (2 Cor. 5:17). We know that we shall be kings and priests and rulers. We’ve been told that it’s all coming. So what should we do?
Jesus puts His hand on our shoulder, points to the distant skyline of the future, and tells us, “Watch.”
And so let us be working, let us be warned, and let us wonder.
But above all, brothers and sisters, let us watch.
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