Why are we told to Keep Watch?

Our property backs onto a wilderness area that gradually turns into a marsh. The first time I saw the house I fell in love with the wildness of it. It was like living in a forest. Although I’m not an outdoor person and do not enjoy camping, I do enjoy looking at the trees and the wildlife. Sometimes my husband was able to persuade me to take a walk with him in this forest and we would explore the area. The one thing I noticed immediately, and anyone who has ever walked in this type of terrain will also know, is that I had to be careful to watch where I was going. There were holes in the ground where I’m sure some little critter lived; there were tree limbs and branches littering the ground, and there were even little areas of standing water that I had to find a way to cross, without slipping. I had to be on alert the entire time for these natural traps and snares, so I would not be injured or worse, even bitten by a snake. As I ponder on this, I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:42 when He warned His disciples to “stay awake”. The word used here is a Greek word that means to stay awake or be vigilant or keep watch. In other words, don’t fall asleep. As I walked through that untamed wilderness area behind my house, I had to be vigilant to not sprain my ankle, or trip and fall. As much as I love watching the birds, looking up at that time would not have been good. I had to keep watch over my feet. 

I’ve always wondered what Jesus meant when He told us to “keep watch”. However, as I think of this story in the natural, I begin to understand what it could possibly mean in the spiritual. In Ephesians 5:15 Paul admonishes us to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”. So the first thing that I have to understand as I learn to keep watch in the spirit realm, is that I need to be wise, and I need to make the best use of my time. 

In other words, I have to have the wisdom to understand that the enemy is laying traps, snares, tree limbs, branches, little holes in the ground, and even using snakes, to trip us and make us fall and get hurt or bit. Denial doesn’t change anything. He’s out there looking for you and me. He’s looking for weak spots in our lives so that we might become offended with the Lord and walk away from Him. Jesus warned His disciples in John 16:1 by telling them: “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” The word falling away means to offend, to trip up or cause to stumble. What did Jesus just warn them about before He said that? He told them that persecutions would come and they would be hated by the world. I think we can all agree that this has been happening all over the world, and is most recently getting even worse. We must guard our hearts that we not become offended with the Lord but instead choose to trust Him in everything that happens, even and perhaps especially when we don’t understand. 

Jesus also warned His disciples in Mark 14:38 to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”. Jesus told His disciples this right before He was arrested and crucified. What temptation could He have been referring to? I believe He was warning them about fear and offense. They were all scattered and afraid when He was arrested. They were afraid that it could happen to them as well and offended because He was not doing what they had hoped. He did not declare Himself as King of the Jews and deliver them from Roman occupation, which is what they were looking for in a Messiah. They were not looking for a lamb that was crucified. 

Temptation is not always about sinful actions such as immorality. We can also be tempted to become angry, bitter and offended with our Lord when life doesn’t turn out the way we thought it should. When our prayers haven’t been answered or they were answered in a way we didn’t like, or anytime stuff happens that is painful and difficult, it is easy to become offended with Him. When life doesn’t turn out the way we expected it to, the temptation is great to become like John the Baptist and doubt that Jesus really is God and that He is in control. “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3) I will point out what Jesus said to John’s disciples after telling them to report back about the things He was doing, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:6) Why would Jesus say that? I would venture to say that John was offended because he was in prison, and this was not the way he expected his ministry to end up. He fell into the trap of offense. If it can happen to John the Baptist, it can happen to anyone. We must be vigilant and keep watch. 

The enemy is also looking for ways to distract us with the cares of this world. When I look at the world right now, I can truly agree with Paul when he says “the days are evil”. There are so many things happening to us in this world right now that are distracting, to say the least. Fear is everywhere. Anger is readily on the surface. Confusion reigns. If we struggle with who is in control, then these emotions double in their intensity. I’m sure that I am not alone in trying to escape from the fears of this world. It is easy to do that with the internet and other entertainments so readily available in our society. I have to so often reign my heart and mind back in and stop finding comfort in these distraction and instead find my peace and comfort in Jesus. As He faced arrest, knowing the darkness coming at both Him and them, Jesus told them “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Our eyes must be on Jesus in these perilous days. I will leave you with this final word of encouragement that Jesus tells us in Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Look up. He’s coming in the clouds!

Awaiting the return of Jesus

I became aware of a rather startling statistic the other day. I’m not a math person, so perhaps that is why I never noticed it before, but when I did see it, it left me shocked. Have you ever looked at the math in the parable of the sower? Jesus shared this parable in three of the gospels. Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 all share this story in great detail and each one of them share the interpretation that Jesus told the disciples in private. A sower went out to sow. He tells them that the seed is the word of God and that there are 4 kinds of people whose lives the seed is sown into. The first is the one who hears it, but doesn’t understand the message, and the enemy comes and takes the word away. “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path”. (Matthew 13:19) The second is the one who hears the word and receives it with joy, but because the word is planted among the rocks, what I will call a hard heart, the roots do not grow deep, “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away”. (Luke 8:13) Matthew and Mark also call it persecution and tribulation. Trouble! The third kind is the one whose heart is full of thorns, and although they too receive the word for a season, “they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature”. (Luke 8:14) Finally, the fourth kind is the only one that receives the message and actually grows deep roots and eventually produces a harvest of good fruit.  “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”. If you know anything about plants and trees, you will know that shallow roots and poor soil do not create a good harvest. 

So how are statistics and math involved in this equation? There are four kinds of people in this parable, yet 3/4 of them will eventually walk away from Jesus. Three out of four! Not my words, not my understanding, not my interpretation, only Jesus. He said it. Truth be told, it puts the fear of God in me. I know that this generation has been told repeatedly from the pulpit that we cannot lose our salvation. I don’t know if that’s true. Perhaps it is, and there is more going on than I understand. But I do know what the word tells me, and according to Jesus, 3/4 of the people who hear His gospel, will eventually walk away from Him. I will repeat, they walk away. I also know that we have an adversary who is constantly trying to tempt us, and perhaps even more importantly, try to get us to become offended with God. In my feeble attempt to understand what Jesus is trying to warn us about, and I do believe it is a warning, I’m going to try to paraphrase what Jesus said even further. Sometimes just hearing it in a slightly different way helps us to see it with fresh eyes.

One quarter will hear the message and will never be interested in the good news. They are content with their lives, they love this world and they cannot imagine bowing down to God and obeying Him. Another quarter will hear the message and get excited, but as soon as trouble comes, and it will, and their prayers are not answered the way they would like them to be, as soon as things happen around them that they don’t understand or like, they will become angry and offended with God. I see a lot of that happening right now. Another quarter will also receive the word with some excitement, perhaps they were told that if they said a simple prayer of salvation, they would get a free ticket to heaven. Unfortunately, all those shiny things, all those temptations such as money and all that money can buy, and all the pleasures that can be found in this world, are very distracting. Pretty soon, obeying Jesus, doing His will, saying no to sin, living for Him, becomes a bore and maybe even a chore. Slowly but surely, they choose the things of this world, over Jesus. Perhaps they continue to attend church, talking themselves into believing that nothing has changed, but their heart is no longer seeking Him. They honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. (Isaiah 29:13)

Since we are talking about statistics, I want to share another one with you. This one might actually be worse than the first one. Did you know that 50% of the church will be left behind in the rapture? How on earth did I get that one, you might ask? Sadly, out of the mouth of Jesus, as well. In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus is talking to the disciples about the end of the age. Along with telling us the signs that will tell us the end is near, He also mentions the rapture. I’m going to let Jesus tell us Himself in Matthew 24:36-42:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

This passage is interesting because every time I’ve ever seen it quoted, the emphasis is always on the day and hour. Sadly, no one mentions that one man will be taken, and one left, or that one woman will be taken and one left behind. Luke 17:34 repeats this idea of being taken and left behind when he says that Jesus also said, “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left.” 

There is another story in Matthew 25 where Jesus shares the parable of the ten virgins. Five were wise and five were foolish. Five were taken to the wedding feast. Five were left behind.

“And while they were going to buy (oil), the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Why am I sharing these frightening statistics? I really had to think this one through and make sure I was hearing the Lord correctly. I’m sharing them because I believe He is warning us to wake up. I believe He is warning us to not be the church of Laodicea. I don’t want to be left behind. I don’t want to think I’m safe, and have my heart drifting off with temptations and offenses. I don’t want to have Him look at me one day, and say:

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” I’m listening to His advice to that church and I’m asking Him to show me how I can buy gold refined in the fire, and white garments to clothe myself so I’m no longer naked, and I’m buying eye salve so I can see and am no longer blind. (Revelation 3:14-22)

If ever there is a fire on this earth it is now. I’m choosing to buy gold, by trusting Him, by not allowing fear to overwhelm me. I’m choosing to not become offended by the things going on around me that I don’t like or understand. I’m choosing to trust Him with my salvation and spending time in His word, and time listening to His voice. I counsel you to do the same, to search your own heart and keep watch. Be ready, for we do not know the day or the hour.