By Pastor Doug Batchelor
Many years ago, when telegraph service using Morse code was still common, a number of young men had gathered to apply for a job at the local telegraph office. While they were all waiting in a reception area to be interviewed and chatting with one another, the faint sound of the “dot, dot, dash, dash, dash, dot, dot” from a nearby telegraph machine drifted into the room. Suddenly, one of the men jumped to his feet and ran through the door into the adjoining office.
He came back a few moments later grinning. He announced, “I got the job.”
The others wondered, “How did you get the job before we even got a chance?”
He said, “You were so preoccupied with visiting that you weren’t paying attention to the code.” He explained, “I was listening to the message, and it said, ‘I am looking for somebody who is alert, and the first person who hears this message and comes into the office will get the job.’ ” He was paying attention!
I think this is a timely parable to the members of the Christian church, who seem to be deeply distracted from the message God is trying to send us today.
In Mark 13, where Jesus highlights the astounding signs of the second coming, four times He says, “Watch.” That is, pay attention. The Greek word for “watch” in this passage comes from the word greguru, and it means “to keep awake, to be watchful, to be vigilant.”
Interestingly, the Bible calls us to watch in several different ways. Let’s take a few moments for a Bible study that should help wake all of us up.
The first way to watch is to simply remain spiritually awake.
Jesus said that many people will be sleeping when the bridegroom comes, rather than watching. “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). The wedding party was to be watching for the bridegroom, but at that critical moment they all dozed off. Notice it says “they all”—100 percent, both the wise and the foolish—fell asleep.
Paul admonishes, “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, 6 NKJV). This kind of watching is more than just watching, as if you’re gazing listlessly at the television. It requires being attentive and alert and clear about the happenings around us.
Watch and Pray
Not only are we to be awake and watching, Jesus said we are to watch and pray.
Have you ever been in a hospital keeping vigil because someone you love was going through a critical surgery? You kept praying for your loved one and nervously watched the operating room doors because the doctor could have come out at any moment with pivotal news. Your heart was really in it because you were praying for an outcome that meant life or death.
That’s what it means to watch and pray. That’s what Christians need to be doing now. “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).
In the book of Nehemiah, the king of Persia tells the prophet to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. However, the Samaritans and Arabians did not want the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, so they constantly tried to disrupt Nehemiah’s efforts, waiting to catch him off guard so they could sabotage his work.
“But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth” (Nehemiah 4:7). Nehemiah’s enemies were extremely angry at his progress. It’s the same way the devil feels when God’s church is being built up.
They also “conspired … together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (v. 8). Satan comes against us with great wrath to hinder God’s work. “Nevertheless we [Israel] made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them” (v. 9).
In response, God’s people didn’t just pray. They didn’t just watch. They did both night and day.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was facing His greatest trial. There, at the very axis of the plan of salvation, He knew He was about to experience intense suffering and death on the cross. He made one simple request of His disciples while He left to pray: watch.
“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?’” (Matthew 26:40 NKJV). I suspect a lot of us watch like Peter. And the Lord says to us, Could you not watch with me one hour?
We are again at a critical point in history. Jesus is about to return to planet Earth. Probation is closing, and He’s asking us to watch. We don’t want Him to say, What? Could you not watch with me one hour?, but I would guess He just might say that today! So He warns, “Watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41).
Part of this watching is watching ourselves. “Examine yourselves as to whether you’re in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV). You need to be watching yourself and your surroundings. You need to be asking yourself, Am I growing? Am I becoming more like Jesus? “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3 NKJV).
Ask the Lord to watch your mind, your heart, your lips. We need to be guarding what we allow to come into our minds. This is one of the single most important things you can do in your own discipline as a Christian: guarding the avenues to your soul. You’re the combined essence of all those things that you take in. Some of those things have been Trojan horses. We think there’s no harm done, but once it gets into our minds, it becomes a disaster. “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3 NKJV).
We need to watch our brothers and sisters. I’m not talking about being judgmental and trying to catch people in sin. I’m talking about a genuine caring for other people’s souls. “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19, 20 NKJV).
We’ve got to watch each other! Some are spiritually drifting, and we need to care about that.
Children need watching. As they get older, they generally want to be watched less, but that’s usually when they need to be watched the most. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1 NKJV). By watching in love, we can claim a brother or sister in Christ who would have been lost otherwise!
A man in Africa worked in a diamond mine. He was leaving work one day but happened to be watching the conveyor belt as it was taking rocks to the crusher. These were the worthless rocks, to be pulverized and dumped into the landfill. He happened to notice a hand-sized rock and thought it didn’t look right. He grabbed it off the conveyor belt and took it to his supervisor. It ended up being the 10th largest diamond in the world—616 carats. This diamond in the rough was going to be thrown into a landfill but for an alert worker who was watching. They gave him a reward of $15,000.
How great will your reward be if you watch? Every day we meet some of God’s diamonds who are on their way to the landfill. They might look like common rocks on the outside, but many are really bearing a diamond within. If we’re not paying attention, they’ll pass us on the conveyor belt to oblivion. “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him’ ” (Malachi 3:17 NKJV).
You are your brother’s keeper. Watch yourself and watch others. Plus, you need to be receptive to others watching over you! “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Hebrews 13:17 NKJV).
As Americans, we love our independence. We don’t want anybody in our business. We have been so bombarded with this idea, however, that when you talk about Christians watching out for each other spiritually, it seems invasive and nosey. But we should care enough about one another that we watch out for each other spiritually.
Watching the Enemy
I had a friend in the hills who once owned an ornery goat. One time when he asked me to care for his livestock, he warned, “Don’t ever turn your back on that goat. As soon as you do, he’ll butt you so hard you will need to change your ZIP code!” Well, the little beast never did get me, but I saw him knock someone else off his feet. He would graze peacefully like he didn’t care you were there. But just as soon as you took your eyes off him, wham!
The devil is like that.
We need to watch the enemy. Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV).
Good pickpockets often work in teams. One of them will cause a distraction while the others pick the pockets. Long ago, when I was young and far from being a Christian, I worked with a friend to steal from grocery stores. He would go into a store and make a big ruckus. Of course, everybody turned to look, even the security guard. Then, while everyone was watching him, I would slip a steak under my shirt and head out the door. Soon my friend would calm down and walk out too. We never got caught.
Likewise, the devil is a master at diversionary tactics. He creates minor doctrinal distractions to get everybody looking away from the bigger moral problems. Let’s watch out for these tricks and do our best to keep Jesus and His Word as our focus.
Watching and Warning
What good is a blind, deaf, and mute watchdog? This is how Isaiah describes religious leaders who don’t warn people when the enemy is near. “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber” (Isaiah 56:10).
When war was eminent, Israel would position watchmen strategically on the wall for maximum visibility of their surroundings. Approaching armies often kicked up a thick cloud of dust, which you could see from miles away. Sometimes, you could hear the ground rumble.
Should a watchman see the dust and hear the rumbling of an approaching enemy army, he would blow a trumpet to warn all the people in the surrounding farms to flee into the protection of the city walls. Everybody’s life was in the hands of the watchman; if he did not give warning of the enemy’s approach, they would overtake the unprepared still in their fields. Property and lives would be lost.
But did you know that failure to give a warning could be fatal for the watchmen as well?
“When he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. … But he who takes warning will save his life” (Ezekiel 33:3–5 NKJV). You are expected to act if you hear a warning.
“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” (Ezekiel 33:6 NKJV). If the watchman failed to blow the trumpet, he was held responsible for any who died.
You and I are a type of watchman. God has given us life-and-death messages in His Word. We know the sword is coming. He says to you and me:
So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, “O wicked man, you shall surely die!” and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul (Ezekiel 33:7–9 NKJV).
Toward the end of his ministry, Paul wrote, “I am innocent of the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26 NKJV). Why did he say that? He added, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 27). He had faithfully blown the trumpet. He had given fair warning.
The Bible says, “Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1 NKJV). Are you blowing the trumpet? I’m not suggesting marching up and down the street being obnoxious for Jesus, but God does bring people within our sphere of influence every day. The Holy Spirit will impress us to say a word to this person or that person. But you have to be watching.
Not long ago, I called to have satellite Internet service installed in my cabin in the woods. This helped me stay in touch with the office when I was out of town. The satellite company sent up some installers from Sacramento, a four-and-a-half-hour trip one way! After these two fellows pulled up to my yard in their company truck, one of the first things they asked was, “You got any pot?”
I said, “Sorry guys. You’ve come to one of the few pieces of property out here where you’re not going to find any pot growing.” They were disappointed but went on with their work getting the satellite installed and working for me. As they were leaving, I felt impressed to say something.
“Let me show you a neat website,” I said. I showed them the Amazing Facts website.
They saw my picture and said, “Hey, that’s you! You’ve got TV programs.” We talked a little bit, they asked questions, and I gave them some books and sent them on their way.
What if I had ignored the impression of the Lord, thinking these guys were hopeless potheads? According to Scripture, their blood could be on my hands. (I knew they weren’t hopeless because I used to be just like them!)
Of course, I have also missed many opportunities—neglecting God’s prodding to speak up for Christ. If that happens to you, repent and ask God to help you be a faithful watchman. Don’t be frightened and don’t let it become inconvenient to rescue a soul. Just blow the trumpet!
I’m sure you have felt the impression before: “Say something for Me to this person.” So you blow your trumpet and … they didn’t read the book. They didn’t accept Christ. Well, that’s not your job. Your job is to blow the trumpet and pray for them. They still must choose as the Holy Spirit prods their hearts. Remember, the Bible doesn’t say that “before Jesus comes, the gospel will be preached in all the world and then everyone will believe.” It says only that the gospel “will be preached in all the world as a witness” (Matthew 24:14 NKJV). We just need to do our part.
God has called us to be watchmen on the walls and to warn the wicked to turn from their way. We also have such good news: turn and live! It’s a message of hope, and so many people want to hear it.
Watching the Signs
Last but not least, we should be watching the signs of the times.
“He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red”; and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times’” (Matthew 16:2, 3 NKJV).
God wants us to be watching and waiting for Him. To be alert, to be praying, to be in a sense of expectancy and even joy. “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28 NKJV). But this watching of the signs should motivate us into action—to watch where we are and to watch where others are to make sure that as many as possible are in the kingdom when Jesus returns to this world.
Many of the things Jesus spoke about are coming to pass. Let us not repeat the mistakes of God’s people in the past, of sleeping at the critical moment. If the Lord commands us to be awake and to watch, we can be awake and watch. He wouldn’t ask us to do the impossible. But we do need the Holy Spirit, more now than ever, to wake us up. We need revival.
Be a faithful watchman for the Lord. Watch yourself. Watch out for your brothers and sisters. Watch what the enemy is doing. Watch what’s going on in the world. Watch for the blessed hope and appearing of our Lord. Amen.