A Wake-Up Call!
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A Wake-Up Call!

Mark 13:32–37  (ID: 2901)

Students of Scripture may expect prophecy to give us detailed predictions of the future. As Alistair Begg demonstrates, however, God’s prophets give us no fixed dates and often blend forecasts of events at different times in history, seeing them as a single reality. Ever since Jesus arrived the first time, we have in a sense been living in “the last days.” We cannot know when Christ will return—but our ignorance gives us no excuse for being unprepared. Instead, we have all the greater incentive to await Christ’s second coming!

Series Containing This Sermon

Stories of the Kingdom

Mark 4:1–34, Mark 10:17–22, Mark 11:12–25, Mark 12:1–12 Series ID: 27201

A Study in Mark, Volume 7

The Last Days and Christ’s Return Mark 13:1–37 Series ID: 14107

Sermon Transcript: Print

Mark 13:32:

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. 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 stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Let’s pray:

Gracious God, help us as we read the Bible and think about it together. May the Spirit of God be our instructor. May we learn and believe and trust and live in the light of its truth. Only you, gracious God, can accomplish this, and to you alone we look. In your Son’s name. Amen.

Well, these concluding verses of Mark 13 we might justifiably refer to as a wake-up call, for a wake-up call is certainly what is given here, from the lips of Jesus to the four who are immediately listening to him, the ones who have been involved in this discourse from the very beginning of the chapter—and, as we’ll see in verse 37, through them to all of us.

We’ve studied this for a few weeks now, and I hope that a number of pennies will have dropped, so to speak. I hope that we’re beginning to see the forest from the trees. I hope that we have begun to grapple with the fact that whatever we may have thought before, the function of prophecy as we find it throughout Scripture is not to provide the reader with a detailed program of the future. That is, of course, the way in which prophecy is offered to us on many fronts and a mentality that many of us have imbibed from our earliest days. Such an approach is fascinating, it’s intriguing, it may be perplexing, but it’s not actually the approach that we find in the Scriptures themselves. We’re not provided with some detailed program, a linear progression of thought that allows us to slot all the pieces in the puzzle into place. If you doubt that, you’d need only to read your Bible.

What we discover is that the prophet, whoever the prophet is, sees all kinds of events that will come, and in all of them, he sees the coming of God.  And that’s why we’ve said as we’ve gone through that it is in some measure like hill walking, insofar as you get to a certain point in the hills, and you think that you’re at the summit or you will be at the summit, only to discover that there is further to come, that there are more summits ahead. And so it is with prophecy: often there is an immediate fulfillment, an interim fulfillment, and an ultimate fulfillment. And we’ve been trying to learn as we’ve gone along just how important that is.

What we don’t have are fixed dates. What we don’t have are the things that people are always looking for. And what we do recognize is that the phases of God’s activity are conveyed by the prophets almost as one virtual reality. And that’s what makes it so difficult. It makes it difficult to know exactly where we are, when we are. If we’re prepared to acknowledge that difficulty, then we can proceed with great caution and to our great encouragement. If we’re not prepared to do that, then we will be left to the mercy of those who are going to explain to us the details as they understand them. And you tend to rally around the person that intrigues you most or the person you like the best. Whoever’s study Bible you have, that’s probably the view that you have adopted. And since I don’t have a study Bible, I know none of you have adopted my view.

This is how Cranfield puts it. It’s a quote; it’s not very long, but it is important. Listen carefully. “If we realize,” writes Cranfield, “that the Incarnation–Crucifixion–Resurrection–Ascension, on the one hand”—okay?—“ Incarnation–Crucifixion–Resurrection–Ascension, on the one hand, and the Parousia,” or the parousia—that is, the second coming of Jesus—“and the Parousia, on the other,” if we recognize that they “belong,” in a sense, “together and are in a real sense one Event, one divine Act, being held apart only by the mercy of God who desires to give men opportunity for faith and repentance, then we can see that in a very real sense the latter is always imminent now that the former has happened”[1]—“the latter” being the second coming of Jesus, and the former being his incarnation, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascension.

In short order, ever since the incarnation we have been living in the last days.  Therefore, we’ve been living for quite a while in the last days, and there’s hardly a Q and A that I do but that somebody submits a question asking if we are living in the last days. The answer is yes, we are. They’re never excited by that; they want a different kind of answer. They’re really asking if we’re living in the last days of the last days. And we may answer that by saying, “Why don’t you read Mark chapter 13? It will be absolutely clear to you there. It’s been very clear to us.”

Now, what we realize is, as we said last time, that in Jesus the kingdom has come; in the preaching of the gospel, the kingdom is coming; and in the return of Jesus Christ, the kingdom will come in all of its fullness. So we find that every so often, in the mountain peaks of prophecy, there may be a couple of peaks that come up above the clouds, and they appear to be very, very close; they maybe appear to be very close to one another, but in the same way that sometimes when we’re flying, it looks as though you could actually reach out and touch Kilimanjaro, but it’s really a long way away, or you could touch Mount McKinley, but it’s actually a long way away. And you open up your Bible, and you read something, and it’s said in such a way that it appears that it follows immediately and directly upon the previous thing, only to discover that there may be hundreds of years that separate these events. But the prophet writes in such a way, paints in the palette of his own time, paints in the palette of his own geographical context, describing that which he stands on tiptoes to get a grasp of himself.

Now, all of that is very, very important. The kingdom is going to come in all of its fullness. There is going to be an end. That’s what we’ve been dealing with in chapter 13. And now, as we’ve come to these concluding verses, let me make these four observations.

We Don’t Know the Time of Christ’s Return

Number one, let us be absolutely clear that we are ignorant about the time of Christ’s return. We are ignorant about the time of Christ’s return. That’s what Jesus says in verse 32. We ought not to feel bad about that, because we’re in good company. Actually, we’re in a large company to begin with, because he says that “no one knows.” So I don’t know that anybody’s left out of that group, do you? No. So that’s quite a crowd. “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows.” So I shouldn’t feel bad that I don’t know either. And you shouldn’t feel bad that after the entire study of Mark 13, you still don’t know. The good news is, you still don’t know. If you thought you did know, then you would know how a bad job I had done on Mark chapter 13, and you would be left and tyrannized by my own stupidity. But you’ve been left sensible people to read your Bibles and think these things out.

No, we’re in a big company, and we’re in good company. We’re in the company of the angels. In the company of the angels. Calvin has a pithy statement. He has so many of them, doesn’t he? Listen to this: “It would be … proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven.”[2] “Pride and wicked covetousness,” and “we who creep upon the earth” print books explaining that we know what the angels don’t know—print books and produce CDs and DVDs and dramatic videos to heighten the tension of everybody, to create major agitation with the speculative fancies of minds’ fertile imaginations, despite the fact that Christ himself says, “And by the way, I don’t know.”

Now, that pretty well puts the ax at the root, doesn’t it? Some people might try and do an end run round the angels, may try and exempt themselves from the large company: “I know it says ‘everyone,’ but I’m not really everyone.” Yeah, we know you’re not. Please be seated. But what are you going to do when Jesus says, “And I don’t know?” You remember the disciples, who can’t get their heads around this any better than we’ve been able to do, they come to him after the resurrection, and remember their question: “Lord, are you at this time about to restore the kingdom to Israel?” And he realizes then, “Goodness gracious, they really do need the Holy Spirit to come and teach them all the things and make sense of the panorama of biblical prophecy.” And remember what he says to them on that occasion: “The Father has ultimate authority in relationship to this. He is the one who determines that day.”[3] And despite the fact that the Son is coeternal, coequal with the Father, he submits to this, as mediator, on our account.

That’s the first thing, and it’s straightforward, isn’t it? We are ignorant as to the time of Christ’s return.

You will notice it actually says nobody knows “that day or that hour.” It’s very interesting. There’s going to be actually a moment. There’s not gonna be any kind of vagueness about it: “Well, did you think Jesus just came back there?” “I’m not sure. Let’s just wait and see for a moment or two.” No. It’s not going to be like that. It will not be like that. That’s why he specifies later on the watches of the night: “In the evening, or … midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning.” The Jewish mind understood that. That was when the clock went off, as it were. Those were the times.

No Excuse for Being Unprepared

Our ignorance as to the timing of Christ’s second coming provides no excuse for our being unprepared.

Second thing: our ignorance as to timing provides no excuse for our being unprepared.  Our ignorance as to timing provides no excuse for being unprepared. Rather, it is our very ignorance of the timing of the event upon which the stress is actually laid by Jesus as he concludes this discourse: “No one knows,” he says in verse 32; and then in verse 33, “You do not know when the time will come”; and then in verse 35 again, “Stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come.” And in this little section here you have almost the foreshadowings or echoes—depending on how you want to look at it—echoes of the parables that surround this in Matthew and in Luke.

Will you turn to one with me just for a moment? If your Bible is open—I hope it is—you can turn just a few pages back to Matthew chapter 25. There you have the story of the ten virgins. “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”[4] This, again, is a very Jewish picture. It’s not a picture of a Western wedding. It’s a picture of a Middle Eastern wedding. If we tend to think of it from a Western perspective, then it may sound as though it’s a kind of invented notion. But no, this made perfect sense to the initial readers of the Gospel. They knew that these wedding celebrations went on for about a week. They knew that it was the responsibility of these individuals to be ready to accompany the bridegroom into the presence of the bride. And that is the picture that Jesus uses.

And he points out that there were ten of them, and they were waiting. And in verse 5, as the bridegroom “delayed”—that’s significant isn’t it? There was a delay. And they might have thought that he was coming immediately, but they didn’t know when he was coming. They all became drowsy, and then they all fell asleep. And then “at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom!’”[5] That was the responsibility of an individual often carrying a lamp. He would come out of the darkness, bearing the lamp into the darkness of the night, and declare the fact that he was the forerunner to the bridegroom. Remember John the Baptist: “I am not the one who is to come. I’m just the one who comes before the one who comes. I am not the bridegroom. I’m the best man. I’m just swinging the lamp here. I’m just pointing the finger. I’m just making the cry.”[6]

And they all “rose [up] and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise [said], ‘Since there [won’t] be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.” Finality. And “afterward[s] the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, [O] lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”[7] “The fact that it took you unawares is no excuse. The fact that I came unexpectedly is no excuse.” “Well, why wouldn’t these people give us some of theirs?” Well, the answer is, they couldn’t. Then nobody would have any lamps. Then we would all be in total darkness.

This is not my point this morning, but I’ll make it and move on. Let me just say something to somebody who is here, and your spouse is a Christian and you are not. Let me speak to the young person who is in a home and has been raised in a Christian home, and you are kept buoyant, as it were, on the faith of the structure of your family, but you have never trusted in Christ. Let me tell you something: You can’t borrow faith from anyone else. You can’t borrow faith from your mom. You can’t borrow faith from your husband. You can’t borrow faith from your wife. It’s gonna have to be your own faith. It’s gonna have to be your lamp filled by God, your life invaded by God.  And the point that Jesus is making in the telling of that parable is absolutely unmistakable: “Therefore,” he says at the end of the parable, “you need to recognize that you must watch, for you don’t know either the day or the hour.”[8]

Ignorance Is an Incentive

So we are all ignorant, then, of the date and the timing; that’s number one. Secondly, our ignorance as to the timing provides no excuse for our being unprepared. And thirdly, ignorance, far from being an excuse, is to be an incentive. Far from being an excuse, it is to be an incentive. You see how that comes out, particularly in verse 34: you don’t know the day or the time, but “it[’s] like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge.”

The interest in the second coming of Jesus may become the occasion of all kinds of things. For some, it just turns the individuals into, like, cats on a hot tin roof. It becomes the occasion of agitation. You can never meet them but they’re always trying to explain to you that, “Do you know that it is about to happen?” I had a fellow drive me in Los Angeles, just a few Sundays ago, from service two to service three, because they were in different locations, and all the way there he was explaining to me that it was the end of the world. I actually hoped it was; it’d save me from the third service, because he got me so churned up. But it wasn’t unfamiliar material to me. I grew up with this stuff. I used to go to prophetic conferences that were called “Ten Minutes to Midnight,” things like that. And they always had a clock, and the clock was ticking up and scared the bejabbers out of you, and the fellow who preached explained that, you know, it was all over. And I remember I would drive to my home in Ilkley in Yorkshire from Bradford as fast as I possibly could so that I’d get home, see my mom and dad before the whole thing, you know, went left on me. But I was nineteen then. That’s forty-one years ago, for goodness’ sake, that it was “ten minutes to midnight.” Who was that fellow? I’d like to talk to him now that I’ve had a chance to think about it. I appreciated the sense of imminence and urgency that filled him and challenged me and stirred me up. But actually, he sent me in the wrong direction. He just got me agitated. Augustine says, “He who loves the coming of the Lord is not he who says it is really near, or he who says it is really far, but he who, whether it’s near or far, awaits it with all of his heart.”

No. Preoccupation with these things—you may become agitated, you may become isolated. Isolated from the events of life. You’ve met these people as well: “Well, there’s no point in really caring about the world. There’s no point in caring about politics. There’s no point in caring about the election. There’s no point in caring about whether we’re burning all the forests down. We don’t have to worry about that. Jesus is coming back!” Well, where did you get that from? Not the part about him coming back, but the part that you don’t have to do anything. Did you see the thirty-fourth verse? He’s “like a man going on a journey,” and “when he leaves home,” he “puts his servants in charge.” In charge of what? In charge of what he left behind! You don’t have to be a genius to work out what Jesus is saying. This is a picture of Jesus returning to heaven, leaving his disciples on the earth. And they have a responsibility to do what he wants them to do.

Well, if you look at Luke—Luke chapter 19—you see this, don’t you? Luke chapter 19, after the wonderful story of Zacchaeus. “‘Today salvation has come to this house …. For the Son of Man’”—that’s the Messiah—“‘came to seek and … save the lost.’ [And] as they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable.” And then Luke tells us why he proceeded to tell the parable: he proceeded to tell the parable “because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was [going] to appear immediately.” And so he told them a parable about “a nobleman” who “went into a far country,” and he was gone for a long time.[9]

You say, “Well, wait a minute. I thought it was imminent. I thought it was unexpected. I thought it could happen at any time. And now it says over here that he went away for a long time. What am I supposed to do with these things?” You’re supposed to believe them both. You’re supposed to live every day as if life may go on forever and to live every day as if today may be your last day.  So, in other words, if I think that Jesus is coming tonight, I don’t have to worry about getting my socks and shoes ready for tomorrow morning. I’ll just sit around. I can just be bone idle. I don’t ever need to finish my meals or do anything at all. I can just go sit on a hill somewhere—go to Mentor Headlands and just wait for him. And then you’re gonna have to come and get me, emaciated and just lying there on the sand.

But there are people just like that. All of the prophetic stuff, if you remember the things that have marked the last thirty years of life in America—all of the bizarre stuff has been directly related to somebody with a big mouth and a fat head holding control over people and telling them that this is exactly what is gonna happen. That’s why Waco has gone down in American history as being no place you’d really want to come from. It really is wacko in Waco. At least it was then. But who was involved in that? An eschatological isolator and agitator. And if that doesn’t happen, then the other thing that may happen is just stagnation, where people say, “Well, I don’t really need to do anything at all,” that the fact that this is going to happen, it is a call to passivity and so on. You can work this out for yourselves.

But in actual fact, you see from there in verse 34 that the reverse is the case—that it is because Jesus has gone and will return that his servants are to be engaged actively and responsibly and individually. He “puts his servants … each with his work.” You see that? “There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do.”[10] Your work’s probably not my work. My work’s not your work. And he “commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” “I[’d] rather be a doorkeeper in the house of [the Lord] than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”[11]

And in the parable in Matthew 24—or, not in the parable, but at the end of the Matthew account—he says, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” He says, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”[12] Who’s the servant? The servant who’s found doing when he comes. So it’s not a call to passivity; it’s a call to activity.

The Certainty of the Second Coming

So we’re ignorant of the date. Ignorance is no excuse for being unprepared; in fact, ignorance is an incentive, and the stress is laid on that by Jesus here. And finally, fourthly, although we are ignorant of the proximity of the event, we are not ignorant concerning the certainty of the event. Ignorance of its proximity is planned; knowledge of its certainty is equally planned. And it is that big-picture event, if you like, which needs to take hold of us. That’s why verse 37 is an apt summary, isn’t it? “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” That’s not simply a summary of verses 32 and following; it’s a summary of all that he’s said in the discourse, beginning back in verse 5.

So what then is the bottom line? Or what is the takeaway? Or what is the “to do”? What is the challenge? What are the implications? Because this is clearly not a call to contemplation. This is not a call to sit around, as it were, with a big, gigantic Rubik’s Cube and pass it around one another while you’re having a cup of coffee and see if you can figure it out. No, there is a moral dimension to it, isn’t there? No, it’s a call not to contemplation but a call to action. That’s how he began verse 9: “Be on your guard.” “Be on your guard.” “Keep awake,” verse 33. “Stay awake,” verse 35. “Stay awake,” verse 37. You don’t have to be very clever to say, “I think he wants us to stay awake. You know, I haven’t got all the details here, but I get the big thing: you’re not supposed to fall asleep on the job.” Do you get that part? It’s not really that hard to read the Bible.

So the exhortation is given, you will notice, not just to the four with whom he’s speaking, or to the twelve who are his disciple band, or to the church of Rome, which is the church of Mark’s readership, but to the whole church throughout these last days: “And what I say to you I say to all.” And we could say parenthetically, “And that includes Parkside Church, twenty-first century.” “I say to all of you: stay awake.”

A Warning and an Encouragement

So, in other words, it’s a striking and a clear call. There is a warning that is inherent in it; there is an encouragement that is inherent in it. For your homework, I assign to you the reading of Matthew chapter 25. If you will read Matthew chapter 25, then you can consider what I’m about to tell you by way of summary, and you can go on from there on your own.

The warning that is contained in staying awake is, first of all, a warning as to the matter of our salvation. That’s the significance of the story of the ten virgins. Okay? That there is a day coming when it will be too late. Too late! It’s not possible to excise the dramatic, solemn elements that come at the end of each of these sections. Let me just point them out to you in case I run out of time. Look at the end of the parable of the ten virgins, in verse 11: After “the other virgins came …, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” “I don’t know you.” So let’s, on the strength of what Jesus says—as unpalatable as it is in our pluralistic, syncretistic culture—let’s be absolutely clear that nobody’s going to be able to show up on that day when the door closes and plead the fact that they were a religious person, that they were a church attender, that they were devoutly involved in a variety of religious preoccupations, that they were very, very spiritual. Frankly, the door will close and Jesus say, “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue who you are. You’re not part of my family.” In other words, there will be a time when it’s too late.

That’s what scares me when I preach to you Sunday by Sunday, and I know that many of you are still outside of Christ. You walk away Sunday after Sunday with a knowledge of things, a head knowledge of things. Sometimes you’re stirred by it, moved by it, changed by it, annoyed by it, but you are still outside of Christ. And I need to say to you again: you’re not going in on the well-being of your spouse or your loved one or your friend or your pastor. There is only one who can speak on your behalf, and that is Christ. There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is the man Christ Jesus.[13] And as Calvin says, all that Jesus has done for us is of no value to us so long as we remain outside of Christ.[14] If you’re outside of Christ today, you’re playing with your eternity. You’re rolling the dice for another Sunday. “I’ll get another chance. I’ll do it next time, once I get rid of this, once I finish that,” once this, that, the next thing. The devil loves that stuff. His favorite word is tomorrow. The Bible always says, “Today is the day of salvation.”[15]

Molly Weir was an actress and author in Scotland. She wrote three books, a trilogy of books about life growing up in Glasgow. Fascinating books. I love every one of them. I’ve read them a couple of times over. And in it, she describes as a small girl being sent to various evangelistic enterprises in Maryhill in Glasgow, and various evangelists and children’s evangelists came and preached sermons. And when they preached sermons, they would explain—for example, in a parable like this—the absolute imperative nature of personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Molly Weir lived with her mom and dad and also with her granny. She loved her grandmother. She was passionately committed to her granny. So when she’d gone to these events, she would go back and tell her granny, “Granny, the evangelist said that you need to trust Jesus, and you need to come to this event, and you’re gonna have to trust him too.” And her granny said, “No, I don’t want to go and do that,” and she resisted every encouragement on the part of Molly.

And in a very poignant section of one of the chapters, Molly describes going back to the evangelist’s talk and waiting for his appeal. And he asked them to stand, and she said, “And on that occasion I stood twice, once for myself and once for my grandmother, who would not come out of the house to make sure of her own salvation in person.”[16] Well, we both know that she couldn’t stand for her grandmother. And no one can stand in for you.

That is the warning about personal salvation, in terms of the five wise, five foolish virgins. Then the warning comes in the parable of the talents about wasting our lives for anything other than the gospel.[17] That doesn’t mean becoming pastors or missionaries; it means being concerned with and consumed with the longing and the desire to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ, so that the quality of our work, the endeavor of our labors… We may not be the most skilled person in the laboratory, we may not be the brightest actuary in the consulting firm, but we, in Christ, have the most significant of motivations. Because the Christian is no longer motivated now by self-aggrandizement, or even by remuneration, or even by academic status. All of these things are not without significance, but they don’t make it for the Christian. And that’s what he’s saying in the parable of the talents.

And then, finally, in the warning of the judgment that is to come, he says the same thing: “You’re going to understand that you minister to me, the Lord Jesus, when you encounter me in the least of your brothers and your sisters. Far from these affairs not mattering,” he says, “these apparently inconsequential affairs matter a great deal. When you see someone hungry and feed them, when you see someone thirsty and you give them a drink, when you see someone sick or in prison and you visit them…”[18] And the people said, “What is that about?” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers [and sisters], you did it to me.”[19] So all of our days and all of our deeds, in Christ, good for someone, good for something.

Now, let me finish in this way, and we’ll sing a song, and then we’ll be gone. If we’re going to pay attention to this, if we’re gonna step back from the big picture and look at it and say to ourselves, “Okay, we’ve got it clear now that the next thing in the calendar is the return of Jesus Christ. Whether it is long delayed or whether it is tomorrow, I’m going to live in the expectation of his return.” When Christ returns, to quote Townend in the song, there will be first “a cry of anguish.”[20] “A cry of anguish.” Why will there be a cry of anguish? For the same reason that the five foolish virgins cried out: they were unprepared. Why will there be a cry of anguish? For the person who thought that he was investing his life, she was investing her life, in the cause that was significant, but it had nothing to do with the gospel. Why will there be a cry of anguish? Because we failed to see in the least of our brethren that we were involved in a ministry to Christ himself.

But the same event that brought anguish to the foolish brought joy to the wise.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rain came tumbling down,
And his house fell flat.

And the wise man built his house upon the Rock,
And the rain came tumbling down,
And the house on the Rock stood firm.[21]

Let me ask you: If Christ were to return before we conclude this song, what will your cry be? Anguish at suddenly realizing that every pleading, every encouragement, every urging to be reconciled to God, you’ve met—perhaps kindly, but firmly—with a no? Or will it be a cry of delight, that “here is the one who paid my debt, here is the one who stayed awake in the ignominy of Calvary. He’s the one who’s asking me to stay awake.” 

That’s another whole sermon, if you think about it. If Christ had not stayed awake, if he had not refused the potion—the anesthetic potion of wine mingled with gall—if he had succumbed to the anesthesia on the cross, he would then never have been able to turn to the thief who said, “Lord, will you remember me when you come into your kingdom?”[22] He stayed awake in order that he might answer, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”[23] He bore all of the suffering, in all of his unmitigated painfulness—stayed, if you like, awake to the very end. And all he’s asking for us: stay awake. So that when the Bridegroom comes, it won’t be the drums, it won’t be the cymbals, it won’t be all of that. It will be his voice. It will be his face. It will be the fact that he is no longer the carpenter in Nazareth, he’s no longer the baby in Bethlehem; he is the returning King in all of his power.

Let’s pray together:

Father, thank you that we can always go home and read the Bible and research these things and see what is so. And I pray, particularly today, for some who come regularly here who have never bent their knee to you, for whatever reason—because of bad things that have happened in the past and they are resentful, because of someone that offended them, whatever it might be. Lord, help them today to lay down the arms of their rebellion, to pass on their indifference, and to turn to you in repentance and in faith. God grant that there will be none who listen to my voice now for whom the sound of the trumpet will bring from their lips a cry of anguish, but rather the shouts of joy that will accompany the appearing of the Bridegroom. Hear our prayers, O God, for your Son’s sake. Amen.

[1] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1959; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 408.

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846), 3:153.

[3] Acts 1:6–7 (paraphrased).

[4] Matthew 25:1 (ESV).

[5] Matthew 25:6 (ESV).

[6] See John 3:27–30.

[7] Matthew 25:7–12 (ESV).

[8] Matthew 25:13 (paraphrased).

[9] Luke 19:9–12 (ESV).

[10] Elsie Duncan Yale, “There’s a Work for Jesus” (1912).

[11] Psalm 84:10 (ESV).

[12] Matthew 24:45–46 (ESV).

[13] See 1 Timothy 2:5.

[14] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.1.1.

[15] See, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:2.

[16] Molly Weir, Best Foot Forward (London and Sydney: Pan, 1974), 71–72. Paraphrased.

[17] See Matthew 25:14–30.

[18] Matthew 25:34–40 (paraphrased).

[19] Matthew 25:40 (ESV).

[20] Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “Jesus Is Lord” (2003).

[21] Ann Omley, “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man” (1948). Lyrics lightly altered.

[22] Luke 23:42 (paraphrased).

[23] Luke 23:43 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.