On an Ordinary Day, Suddenly It Will All Change – Mark 13:32-37

By: Northern Seminary

Mary lived alone. She was a gracious older lady whose husband had died more than twenty years before. Life wasn’t easy, but she’d managed well until she got past eighty-five years of age, and then she needed help from a neighbor to put out the trash and bring in the mail. Eventually the neighbor called by every day, just to be sure Mary hadn’t got into difficulties.

Then, when she was ninety-three, Mary did get into difficulties. She caught her foot on a chair, tripped and fell heavily to the floor. Pain shot through her frail body, and she knew she must have broken her hip or her leg. Mary could barely move, and certainly couldn’t get up.

But for several years Mary had had the good sense to wear an alarm on a cord round her neck day and night. She pressed the button, emergency services were summoned and the neighbor let them in with his key. Mary got expert attention and her pain was eased, but clearly she had to go to hospital.

The paramedics got her settled in the ambulance, but just before they left Mary weakly shouted one last thing to her neighbor. “My suitcase – it’s under the bed – get my small suitcase so it goes with me.” The neighbor went looking, and, sure enough, he found her small suitcase under the bed. Mary was relieved as that case went into the ambulance with her. “You see,” she said, “It’s got everything I need. I wanted to be ready.”

Mary may have been ninety-three, but she was ready for a day that she knew would come.

Christmas marks the first coming of Jesus, with the good news of God’s Savior. But there is also a second coming of Jesus (traditionally celebrated at the beginning of Advent). What is certain is that Jesus will come again. What is much less certain is that people are ready for that coming.

Mark 13:32-37

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 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 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!’”

These verses tell us three things:

  • What we don’t know.
  • What we must do.
  • What we should expect.


First, there is something we don’t know. From Jesus’ words I realize that I don’t know and I won’t know what I’d like to know, and since no one knows no one can help me know.

At first this seems odd, because I’ve grown up believing that the Bible tells me everything I need to know. It does. But the Bible never promises to tell me everything I might want to know.

I really would like to know when Jesus is returning and judgment day will come. “But,” says Jesus, “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Those words teach an important lesson about the real humanity of Jesus. Some scholars have thought these words are an embarrassment. How could the Son of God be ignorant about something so fundamental as the day of his return?[1]

But when Jesus humbled himself or emptied himself to become fully human, that really meant emptying himself.

“…he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself.” (Phil. 2:7-8)

Jesus set aside his advantages, one of which was knowledge. Anything less, and he would not have been one of us.

When I’ve traveled to the world’s poorest countries, I have been amazed how like and unlike I am to those I meet. In the jungles of Congo or a dusty village in Bangladesh, there are people trying to feed their families, get on with their neighbors, pay what they owe, and deal with bad weather or other challenges. Just like me.

But also unlike me. When I’m there I always have two advantages: access to money to deal with any emergency, and a plane ticket out of that place. And they have neither of those. Those I’ve met in Congo or Bangladesh have not a penny of reserve funds and they can go nowhere else. My money and my ticket to leave have always meant I wasn’t like them. We had things in common, but my advantages meant I could never be one of them.

To be one of us, Jesus laid aside so much that only God would have or God would know. Jesus became man, not a divine superman with special powers not available to others. When people hit Jesus, he bled and it hurt. When people rejected Jesus, he wept. When they crucified Jesus, he felt excruciating pain and he died. Jesus did not dip into a heavenly bank account and buy himself out of his difficulty or his suffering. He experienced what we would have experienced, and therefore, as one of us, he could be our Savior.

Part of sharing our experience was not knowing everything, even some of the most interesting and most important of things.

Those who think themselves clever enough to calculate the day of the Lord should note these words of Jesus. We think we know what the Son of God freely admitted he did not and could not know? The humility of the Son of God is an example all should follow.

Second, Jesus teaches that there are many things we must do.

To some extent most of us are escapists. We love vacation because that’s one or two weeks when we don’t have to think about work. Or we slump in front of the TV late at night and watch something banal, just so we can let go of all that’s filled our day. Or we play golf, or watch baseball, or climb mountains, or read novels, or do crafts, or build furniture…or any of a hundred other things. And we enjoy them for many reasons, but especially because they’re not our job or our chores. We may not like to admit it but we love to be free of obligations and pressures, and we use vacations, hobbies, and the rest as escape routes.

Following Jesus is not a vacation or a hobby. Nor is our faith a way out of obligations and responsibilities. If anything, the opposite is true.

In Jesus’ parable, while the master was away, the servants still had work to do. “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task” (v.34).

The call of Christ is not a call to a cruise, where we can sit back and wait to dock at the celestial shores. It’s a call to work, a call to serve, a call to lay down our lives for the God who is unceasing in his labor.

Our call is lived out every moment of every day. Family is one context, with our love, our help, our encouragement for each other. We serve our neighbors every time we show friendship, support, and rescue them in times of crisis. And church isn’t a place we attend, but a community of God’s people – our sisters and brothers – with whom we share a common life and common mission. God’s people are also compassion workers, reaching out well beyond those they already know to love and provide for the most needy and disadvantaged who are all around us and all around the world. We are witnesses to the gospel, for everyone everywhere has a birthright of knowing God gave his only Son for them. Some are called by God to new areas of work, ministry, and mission, taking their skills and experience into places of deep need.

But under-girding everything is this truth:

Work for God is offering every goal to him, every word for him, every action to serve him, and every motive for him to use for his glory.

Our lives, and all they contain, are his and to be used as he decides.

Paul writes: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

“We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” In other words a fundamental purpose of our salvation is that we get busy with the work Jesus has given us until he returns.

From my earliest years of school, I remember times when my teacher would leave the classroom for a few minutes. But she never did that without making sure the whole class had work to do while she was gone. Unruly kids like me were very tempted to forget the work she’d set. Sometimes we’d sit talking; sometimes pencils or rulers would fly around the room; occasionally arguments would break out. But if our work wasn’t done by the time the teacher returned, there was trouble.

Jesus has not yet returned. But if we have neglected his calling on our lives, or any of the work he has given us to do, there will be trouble when he steps back into this world.

There is no time to waste on idleness or selfishness. He has given us work to do and we’d better be busy with it when he returns.

Third, there is something we should expect. And what we should expect is Jesus’ return. In the parable, one servant is left at the door to watch. But the way Jesus finishes his story, it’s very clear that everyone must be ready for the master’s return.

“Therefore 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. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (vs. 35-37)

Two things are very clear from Jesus’ words.

1) The master may return at any moment. Nothing in Jesus’ words suggests his return will be expected. In fact Jesus suggests the opposite. In those times people usually didn’t travel after it got dark. Without powerful lights like we have today, they might easily walk straight into a hole or a ditch. And how would they see a gang of thieves just up ahead waiting for anyone foolish enough to be traveling at night?

So the servants left in charge of a large house would never expect the owner to return after dark. But what if he did? Jesus quotes the four ‘quarters’ of the night as the Romans calculated the hours of darkness – evening, midnight, rooster crowing, and dawn – and Jesus imagines the owner coming then. It would be when no one expected.

Jesus’ message is clear: you don’t know when my return will be, and very possibly I will come at a time you don’t expect.

And that leads us to the other point Jesus stresses.

2) You need to be ready. Jesus says about the owner of the house “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping… Watch!” (vs. 36-37).

Students facing an exam know when it’s coming, and they may stay study through one night, two nights or even more just before the test so they’re ready at the appointed hour.

A worker knows the date of his evaluation, and for days in advance gets all his work in order so he’s on top of everything when he meets with his supervisor.

An athlete knows the date of her Olympic competition, and gears all her training so she is at peak fitness for her scheduled race.

A hostess knows the evening and the hour when important guests are coming for dinner, and organization and recipes are timed down to the last minute for their arrival.

All these people know when their day of reckoning is coming. But Jesus says he will come “suddenly.” It’ll be unexpected.

So the warning is to be ready. If you can’t know the exact moment you need to be prepared for, then you must live prepared.

If there’s a lull in a battle, soldiers may have a moment to rest. But they rest with their weapons by their side and with their eyes always watching for another attack. It’s too late to find your gun or your ammunition when the enemy is on you. The soldier at war stays ready all the time.

Readiness all the time is exactly what Jesus wants. We cannot ever step away from our faith, as if we could have a vacation from our discipleship, forgetting our integrity, or our moral standards, or our goals, or how we treat others, or our prayers, or our worship, or God’s call on our lives.

Because we don’t know the time, it could be any time and therefore we need to be ready all the time.

Every now and then the traffic in front of me slows to a crawl, and a mile or two up the road I pass the scene of an accident. As I’ve driven past, I’ve seen the burnt out wreck of a car that went on fire, or a truck over on its side, or cars lying crumpled after a collision. Two thoughts go through my head at moments like that. One is a prayer for whoever is hurt. The other is that no one in the accident expected their life to change forever when they set off that morning. It was just an ordinary day, and they were doing what they always did. Until it all changed.

On an ordinary day, when we’re doing what we always do, suddenly it will all change.

We know when Christmas is coming, and we can be ready because we know the date when we celebrate Jesus’ first coming.

But we don’t know the date of his second coming. We can’t build up to it. We can’t pick up the pace as the day gets near. Instead, Jesus calls us to live ready, to be doing what we should do, to be right in our relationship with him and with all around us.

On an ordinary day, when we’re doing what we always do, suddenly it will all change.


[1] Yet the same words have also convinced scholars that Jesus really did say these words, since no one in the early church was likely to have invented an “I don’t know” statement and attributed that to Jesus.

December 2, 2014

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