At Christmas parents are known to use a very simple and generally effective behavior modification tool: we tell a rebellious child, “You had better be good or Santa will not bring you any presents.” It is a reminder that reward (presents) is contingent upon performance.
In Luke 12:35-48 Jesus is seeking to modify our behavior not by threatening the wrath of Santa . . . but telling us about a future reality: the Lord will return and with the return Judgment and reward will be administered. In short Jesus calls us to live every day as if this was going to be the day that Jesus returned. Let’s jump into the text.
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.
Jewish weddings could last several days. Consequently the servants were never sure when the Master would return with his bride. So they did several things. First they were “dressed ready for service”. This means they kept their cloaks tucked in so that they could move freely and quickly. They kept the lamps burning which mean they made sure the wick remained trimmed and the oil was replenished. Finally, they were attentive and alert for the knock of the Master so they could immediately open the door.
I remember waiting for my dad to come home from work every day. When it was about the time dad would come home we would watch for the bus to pull up to the end of the block. As the bus pulled away we would watch intently to see if dad got off the bus. If he wasn’t there we would continue to watch and wait. That kind of anticipation is what these servants showed. This is the kind of watching Christ commands of us.
There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, and Christ’s return is mentioned no less than 318 times in those chapters. Statistically, one verse in twenty-five mentions the Lord’s return. The only books that don’t mention the return of Christ are Galatians and the short letters of 2 and 3 John.
The problem that we have is that it has been close to 2000 years since Jesus ascended to Heaven and He has yet to return. Consequently we conclude that He either is not going to return or we conclude that the odds are that He is not going to return soon. (However, if it has been 2000 years it would seem that His return is closer than ever before!) Many have even mistakenly re-interpret what Jesus plainly said. They say, Jesus never meant to imply that He was going to physically return to earth. They believe His return was to be symbolic (perhaps through the church). Here is the problem I have with such a notion: you cannot read the Bible without clearly seeing that Jesus and the early church clearly predicted that Jesus was going to come back to earth physically and publicly.
Listen to what Jesus Himself said,
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. [Matthew 24:26-31]
Jesus was an excellent teacher. He spoke with clarity and was very careful with His words. He is clear in what He is saying.
In 2 Peter 2:3-10 the apostle Peter addressed the delay of Christ’s return (already people were wavering!). Since it is a long passage let me summarize what Peter says. The delay in the Lord’s return should not be understood as the Lord failing to do what He said. Rather the delay is an act of mercy . . . God is giving people a little more time to repent so that they may be saved. Peter reminds us that God fulfills His Word. He said a flood would come and even though there was a delay (while the Ark was built) the flood came. God said He would bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land. There was a delay, but God did what He said. God predicted the exile of Israel and decades before it actually took place but it happened. God predicted that He would send a Messiah . . . it took a long time but the Messiah came. God does what He says. He has warned us so we should be ready. It may seem like a long delay but from the perspective of eternity . . .it has been a very short delay.
What does it mean to be ready? Basically to be truly ready for the coming of Christ we need to be living such a life of consistency and integrity that should Christ return at any moment we would be without shame or fear. The person who is ready is the one who has surrendered their life to Christ and is continuing in the faith. They are continuing to grow. We have already had some practical instruction in Luke 12. People who are ready are:
- Sincere rather than hypocritical (12:1)
- Ready to witness rather than timid (12:4-9)
- Trusting rather than worried (12:25-26)
- Generous rather than greedy (12:33-34)
- Diligent rather than Lazy (12:37)
Here’s a convicting question: Have you spent even one moment thinking about the Second Coming this week?
- Did it change even one call you made this week?
- Did it change one email you wrote?
- Did it even once change the priorities in your calendar?
- Did it lead you to repair a relationship?
- Did it cause you to hold your tongue in some situation?
If you cannot say yes it means you are not watching; you are not ready.
Jesus gives us positive and negative motivation for living in a state of readiness; for continuing on in the faith.
Positive Motivation In verses 37-38 Jesus twice begins a sentence with “It will be good for those servants.”
It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.
If we are ready…it will be good for us. This is quite a picture. Jesus said when the bridegroom comes and finds his servants waiting for him (even if it is very late at night) the master will be so pleased that he will have the servants sit at the table and serve them! The servants will be honored by the Master.
The picture here is almost too wonderful to take in. God is going to be so proud of those who are faithfully ready and waiting when He comes, that He will honor them in some very special way. The Bible often uses the image of a great supper . . . those who are faithful in following Him will be invited to a meal hosted by the Lord Himself! Talk about undeserved grace!!
After a ballgame a child (especially one who is young) will look to his/her parents for their approval. They want to win the game but the approval, the “well done” of the parent or grandparent means more than the score. It is a wonderful thing to hear your parents say, “I’m proud of you.” Think about how many times more wonderful it will be to hear those words from Jesus. That is great motivation indeed.
Jesus doesn’t stop here. He gives us the other side of the coin. He tells us that the return of Christ will be unexpected and catch many by surprise.
39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Jesus reminds us that what makes a robbery successful is the element of surprise. If someone knows you are going to rob their house they are going to be ready for you. Think about it: if you were a soldier the positive motivation for maintaining a state of readiness would be that such readiness makes your country proud and displays honor for your country. The negative motivation for constant readiness is the reality that an enemy will always try to strike when they have the element of surprise (such as the attack on the World Trade Center or Pearl Harbor).
Jesus is not trying to create an “adversarial situation”. Jesus is not the enemy. However, He does want us to understand that this is not a game. Jesus understood human nature and that a perceived lack of accountability generally leads to a greater recklessness in our actions.
Think about students in a classroom when the teacher leaves the room. Think about how employees tend to leave early and cut corners when the owner of the business is gone on vacation. Think about workers in a plant. If they know the one with authority is going to make rounds at a certain time all the employees will look diligent at that time. However, if the owner has the habit of making random appearances they will have a greater incentive to be productive all the time. People are less diligent when they believe they can disobey (sin) without consequence.
Jesus warns us that He will return at a time when people do not expect. Is this so the Lord can see who is faithful and who is not? No. Jesus already knows those who are faithful and who are not. He will come at an unexpected hour because He wants everyone else to be able to see clearly who is faithful and who is not. He wants the world to see the justice of His judgment! No one will be able to plead that they have been unfairly treated because the truth will be obvious.
The Bible tells us that the surprise on the Day of Judgment is not going to be for those who have turned away from God. The surprise is going to be within the church. There will be people who have walked close to the Light of Christ all their lives but have never been indwelt by that light. There will be some who served in positions of leadership and may have even led others to truly trust Christ as their Savior and Lord who will be consigned to eternal punishment with the lost because their faith was not genuine. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord” and I will say to them “I did not know you.”” On that day the truth will be made clearly known and those who have never followed will be consigned to Hell. This is why the Bible tells us to “examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.”
Jesus drew another picture,
41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
A man went away on a business trip and left someone in charge of the company. At first the man ran the company just as the owner did and in strict accordance with the instructions the owner left. The owner however was gone for a really long time and the man in charge began to feel a little less accountable. So, let’s say he started to harass employees (perhaps harassing some physically and others sexually). He became reckless with the business, attending meetings only when he felt like it, treated customers like they were an intrusion, and spent company funds to indulge his own desires.
The man was acting on two erroneous assumptions:
- He can do what he wants when the owner is gone. His assumption is that absence means no accountability. He is like those who view their lives as compartments. There is “Our Christianity”, “Our family”, “Our business”, and “Our friends” and we believe these compartments are separate. They are not! We are accountable before God in every situation!
- He assumed he would have time to get things right before the Lord returns. How many people live their lives with the idea that they will “get right with God before it is too late” only to die before “their time”.
Jesus could have asked, “What do you think is going to happen when the owner returns one day unannounced?” We all know what is going to happen! Some people are going to get fired! The man in charge will most likely not even have the chance to gather his belongings. He will not only lose his job, he may have legal action taken against him. Others may be fired or suspended because they knew what was going on but said nothing. Still others may only get a lecture because they “should have known better”.
Jesus has gone to Heaven and left things in our hands. He has given us His instructions in the Bible. When He returns He will hold us accountable. You will not be able to use the excuse that you did not read the instruction manual for it was your responsibility to read it. You will not be able to excuse yourself by saying you did not have time for there is nothing you could possibly have been doing that was of greater significance. You will not be able to excuse yourself by saying, “I always intended to get right with God” for if this was your intention you would have done so. . . you would do so today. There is coming a day when the Lord will call us to account and many will be unprepared.
Putting it Together
Let me challenge you with a couple of ideas as we close. To those who profess to be followers of Christ I ask this question: are you living like one who is preparing for an audience with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? That meeting could be today! The trumpet could sound and we might see Jesus descending in the clouds. You could have a heart attack or be taken in some kind of accident. If Jesus came today would you be ready? Would you be seen as a true believer or as a spurious pretender who only has a wheelbarrow full of excuses?
If you knew that Jesus was coming back this evening what would you do differently the rest of this day? Let me be frank: if you would do things differently you had better examine your life to see if you are even in the faith. If you would do things differently if you knew He was coming tonight then there is a good chance that there is a problem with your discipleship.
Jesus calls us to be DILIGENT (as opposed to lazy) in our discipleship. Take a hard look at your life and make the necessary changes so that you will be ready when He comes. Those of us who are true followers of Christ should start each day with this simple declaration, “This could be the day” and then we should live as if it were. We should make the most of every opportunity so that we are ready if He were to come.
It is possible that there are some here who are not ready. You may not even know what it is that you are supposed to be ready for! You may know that you are not yet a believer. You may comfort yourself by saying, “Someday I will become a follower”. But may I ask with all sincerity: What makes you think that someday you will follow Him if you will not do so today? If you can walk away from the message of the gospel this day what makes you think you will respond to that message any day?
If you are open to the message of forgiveness and new life do something about it today. Do not leave here unprepared. Grab hold of Christ and even more importantly, let Him grab hold of you. The Lord calls us to follow Him, to be committed to Him, to live every day as if we were going to meet Him. He calls us to a radical new direction from the road we were traveling. If you are willing for the adventure of discipleship then surrender your life to Him today. Confess your former rebellion and ask for His forgiveness. Ask Him to help you live boldly for Him. Then, tell someone what you did. Make your decision public.
The Bible is clear: Someday Jesus will return. The message from the text today is simple: That day will be a day of great grief or a day of unbounded joy and it will all depend on whether you were prepared and waiting or whether you were unprepared and caught by surprise.