Jesus is coming back; no one knows when; we need to be ready.
July 27-28, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
Welcome to Life Center. Today we’re reading a warning from Jesus—He tells us that He is going to return and we need to be ready.
ILL: Barry McGuire was walking down Sunset Strip in LA one day when someone stopped him and asked him if he was ready to meet Jesus. “I’m not even ready to meet you!” he said, and walked on. But he couldn’t shake the question, and it started him on a journey that led him to Jesus and transformed his life.
I’m asking you the same question: Are you ready? Are you ready to meet God? That’s what we’re talking about today. It’s going to be good!
Introduction and offering
ILL: Back in the mid-90’s, I coached my son, Jeff’s 9-10 year old baseball team. During one game, a boy named Drew came to the plate with the bases loaded. He hit a soft fly ball to the second baseman, who dropped it. Drew was lumbering down the line toward first base so the second baseman picked it up and tried to throw him out, but threw it over the first baseman’s head. He retrieved it and threw back to second, who missed it, chased it down and threw to third who missed it, retrieved it and threw wide of home. As Drew crossed the plate, our team erupted in cheers and screams. A grand slam home run! Really it was an infield fly with 4 errors!
The next time Drew came up the bases were loaded again, and one of the boys hollered “Do it again, Drew!” Drew looked back and said, “Oh no! That was a once in a lifetime thing!” It was!
I had boys who had played several years, and some who didn’t have a clue. So I started, like all good coaches, with the basics: how to throw, catch, run, and hit, and the rules. One of the basics is what we call “ready position”. When you are in the field, this is ready position. When you are at bat, this is ready position. Baseball can be a slow game, especially for kids this age, when their pitcher walks 5 batters in a row, and the kids in the field get bored. Pretty soon you see them standing out there with their legs crossed, staring into the sky, back to the batter, even sitting or laying down out in the outfield! I’d have to yell, “Ready position! C’mon guys, let’s be ready.”
Today, we’re going to read a passage in Luke in which Jesus coached His disciples to be in ready position: ready for the Lord’s return, ready to do God’s will. So here’s the question: Are you ready to meet God? If you were to die tonight, or if the Lord were to return, are you ready? Let’s get ready!
Luke 12:35–48 (p. 895)
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants 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. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 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.”
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 Truly I tell you, 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 other servants, both men and women, 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 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the 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.
We’re going to explore three big ideas in this passage.
- The Lord’s return.
This section is about the Lord’s return, and the need to be ready when He comes. Jesus is coming back; no one knows when; we need to be ready.
Jesus starts in v. 35-36 by telling the disciples to be dressed and ready, lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding. To be dressed literally is to “gird up your loins”—to tuck in your robe so you’re ready to run or work. We’d say, “roll up your sleeves.” And keeping your lamps burning was a metaphor for readiness. The lights are on, and we’re up and ready. Be like servants waiting for your master to return from a wedding—sleeves rolled up, lights on, ready to go.
Anyone gone to a wedding lately? Weddings now last a couple hours. When you leave for a wedding, you’re expected back in a few hours. But in Jesus’ time Jewish weddings lasted several days; those at home had no idea when you’d be back. The servants had to be ready, even in the middle of the night.
Jesus also used this wedding metaphor in Matthew 25 to encourage his disciples to be ready for His return. He told a story of ten bridesmaids who were waiting for the bridegroom to come. Five of them brought enough oil to keep their lamps lit; five did not and ran out. When the groom arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night, the five whose lamps were lit and ready went in to the wedding; the other five missed out. Jesus concluded:
Matthew 25:13 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Keep watch, keep your lamps burning, be ready. That’s the wedding metaphor.
Then in v. 39, Jesus changes the metaphor from a wedding to a thief breaking in in the middle of the night. If you knew the thief was coming, you’d stay awake and wouldn’t let your house be burgled. Different metaphor—same idea. The Lord will return unexpectedly, so be ready. Stay awake, lights on!
Jesus repeats this thief metaphor in Matthew 24 (on your outline), and the apostles repeated this idea in the references listed on your outline.
The point of the thief metaphor is not that Jesus is coming to do us harm, but that His coming will be a surprise, unexpected, so we have to be ready.
Jesus is coming again, and when He comes, it will be the end of life as we’ve known it. When He comes, the dead will be raised to life, and there will be the final judgment. When He comes, all wrongs will be put right and He will create a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness reigns! Come Lord Jesus! You can understand why Christians have longed for His return and prayed that prayer since the beginning. Come Lord Jesus!
Christians have also created elaborate theologies about Christ’s return: pre-trib, post-trib, pre-millenial, post-millenial, a-millenial. I’m a pan-millenial guy—it’ll all pan out in the end.
ILL: Just before we got married, someone had calculated that Jesus was coming back in early September 1975. So Laina and I got married on August 30, 1975—I wanted to make sure I was married before Jesus returned. I don’t need to explain why.
This prediction created quite a stir. Some of my friends got together on that date and stayed up all night praying just in case Jesus returned. I told them that I knew Jesus wouldn’t come back on that date for one reason: Jesus said that no one would know the day. So if someone predicts a day, you know that’s not it!
In 1988, someone wrote a book entitled, 88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 1988. They were wrong—but undeterred. Because next year they published 89 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 1989. I’m not making this up. They were wrong again. Why are you trying to predict the day when Jesus said you can’t. He’ll come like a thief!
I tell everyone that there are three things you need to know about the Lord’s return.
- Jesus is coming back.
- No one knows when.
- You better be ready.
And that’s the point of what Jesus is saying in this passage. Plain and simple.
One last thing before we go to point 2. Everyone listening to my voice will one day stand face to face with Jesus. It will happen when He returns, or when you die—whichever comes first. Death is much like the Lord’s return. It often arrives unexpectedly, and you better be ready. So let me return to our starting question: Are you ready to meet God? If you were to die tonight, or if the Lord were to return, are you ready? Let’s get ready!
- The promised reward.
The second thing that stands out in this passage is the promised reward—and its opposite, punishment. When Jesus returns, those who are ready will receive a reward, and those who aren’t will be punished.
Let’s address a problem right up front. Many people believe that this idea of reward and punishment is unworthy of God. They can’t imagine God doling out either rewards or punishment—it is beneath Him. They also think that the reward motivation is beneath us—that we should be motivated to do good purely for the sake of good, with no thought of reward. It’s a very noble thought.
But Jesus (whom we believe was God in the flesh) spoke often and clearly about rewards and punishment. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, which many people consider to be the apex of Jesus’ moral teaching, He talked about reward no less than 9 times. We should probably not try to be more spiritual or noble than Jesus!
Let me bring it closer to home. How many of you work for a paycheck? When you do more work or better work, do you want to be rewarded for it? How? A bigger paycheck! Do any of you think that reward is unworthy of your boss, beneath him or her? Do you feel that desiring to be rewarded for your work is a bad thing? No!
In fact, if good is not rewarded and evil is not punished, it renders them equal, and injustice prevails. If you do good and another does evil and you both receive the same recompense, what do you say? “No fair.” God is good. This means that He rewards good and punishes evil. We call that justice.
So let’s get over our squeamishness about reward and punishment, and see what Jesus says.
In the first few verses, Jesus said that it will be good for the servants if their master returns from the wedding and finds them ready. In fact, He says this twice: “it will be good for those servants” (v. 37) and “it will be good for those servants” (v. 38). I think it will be good. How good? The master himself will seat them and serve them. Jesus will turn the tables and serve us. This is amazing!
Think of it this way. Imagine a scale. On this side: How much can you do for God? On the other side: How much can God do for you? You are the Lord’s servant and you can do a little for God. But this says that God will be your servant, and He can do so much more for you! In other words, the promised reward is bigger and better than you can imagine. It will be GOOD!
Jesus repeats this in the second section (v. 41-48) saying again, “It will be good for that servant” (v. 43). But in this section, Jesus also talks about punishment for those who aren’t ready or watching. V. 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.” Yikes! That’s serious. And in v. 47-48, Jesus said that our culpability is directly related to what we know. If we know what to do and don’t do it, we will be punished more than a person who doesn’t know and do it. To whom much is given, much is required.
Friends, I don’t pretend to know all the details of how this works. I simply take Jesus at His word and believe that those who are ready are rewarded, and those who aren’t are punished. That makes it simple for me. I want to be ready. And I want to help as many people as I can be ready.
So, what does it look like to be ready?
- Be ready.
Look at v. 40: You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
This is the Big Idea in this passage: be ready. Be ready to meet the Lord. Jesus is coming again, no one knows when, so be ready! What does it look like to be ready. In this text, Jesus gives two very clear things.
First, be watchful, expectant. Look at v. 37: It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Part of being ready is being watchful, expectant.
ILL: Have you ever seen kids at the airport waiting for their dad or mom to deplane? What is the look on their faces while they’re waiting? Expectant, watchful. What is the look on their faces when they see mom or dad? Excitement, joy.
I think that’s how we’re to be about seeing Jesus. There is a sense of watchfulness, expectancy that comes from relationship. Just like kids at the airport are excited to see their parents, we are excited to see the Lord because we love Him. This expectancy grows from love, from relationship. Do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus that makes you excited to see Him?
This is another reason why the early Christians prayed, “Come Lord.” The book of 1 Corinthians includes this prayer near the end of the letter.
1 Corinthians 16:22 Come, Lord!
And the book of Revelation ends with this prayer:
Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The word was “Maranatha”—Come Lord. They wanted to see Jesus. They prayed that often and lived with watchfulness and expectancy.
And when we see Jesus…I can’t wait! It will be better than anything you can imagine—we will be like those kids at the airport jumping up and down and screaming with joy! If you’re ready…if you’re watching…if you know Him.
ILL: JJ Hemingway, well-known DJ at Shine 104.9, passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. JJ was a member here and friend of mine. He loved Jesus. At his memorial service, fellow DJ Lorenda Ray read his obituary. Lorenda read, “Jason James (“J.J.”) Hemingway, age 65, of Spokane, Washington unexpectedly went to his rest from a brief illness on Monday June 17, 2019.” He died unexpectedly. But that’s not what our program read—the obit was printed in our program and it read: “Jason James (“J.J.”) Hemingway, age 65, of Spokane, Washington expectantly went to his rest from a brief illness on Monday June 17, 2019.” I love that typo—and it was true of JJ. They played some of his clips and in one, he was talking about meeting the Lord and he said, “I can’t wait.” He died expectantly—he was ready!
What does it mean to be ready? In this passage, it means to live watchfully, expectantly. Come Lord Jesus. I’m ready! I’m excited to see You!
But being watchful doesn’t mean that we just sit around and wait for Jesus’ return. Here’s the second thing Jesus says about being ready:
Second, do God’s will. Look at v. 42-43. 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.
Jesus uses the picture of a master who places a servant in charge and gives him a clear assignment. “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.” In other words, we want to be doing what God has told us to do.
ILL: On Friday, someone responded to my email about being ready by writing to me: “My prayer is that when it is my time to go I will have my hand to the task He appointed.”
I couldn’t have said it better. You’re ready when you have your hand to the task God appointed for you. You’re doing what God wants you to do. We’re not sitting around waiting and watching—we’re occupied, busy doing what God has for us to do.
In v. 47-48, Jesus talks about knowing the master’s will and doing it. Want to be ready? Do what you know is God’s will. Put your hand to the task He appointed.
I believe that God has some general assignments we’re all to do, and some specific assignments we’re each to do. For example, we are all called to love people. This is the Great Commandment: Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s interesting that in v. 44-45 Jesus uses the example of a servant who thinks the master is taking a long time coming, and begins to beat the other servants. He begins harming the very people he is assigned to help! He didn’t love people, and when the master came he was severely punished. He wasn’t ready because he wasn’t doing what God assigned: loving others. Are you ready? Are you loving people?
In another passage in Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the final judgment as a separation between the sheep and goats. To the sheep he said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” When did we do that? “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” These people were found ready because they were doing what God assigned: they were loving others. Are you ready? Are you loving people?
We’re all given this assignment: love people well. Do it and you’ll be ready for the Lord’s return.
We are all called to help people find and follow Jesus. It’s the Great Commission, the mission that Jesus left us. Some of us have been dreaming about this lately. Wouldn’t it be cool if every one of us had as a personal goal to make one disciple this year? Help one person find Jesus, and then help that person follow Jesus. Just one. But if all of us did that, think of the impact! We’re going to talk more about that in a few weeks. But today I just want you to know that Jesus says that we’re ready when the Lord finds us doing what He assigned us to do. And that is helping people find and follow Jesus. Are you doing that? Are you ready?
Those are two general things that Jesus left for all of us to do: love people and make disciples. And then there are specific assignments. I have some specific assignments from the Lord that He has called and gifted me to do. It will good for me if He finds me doing so when He returns. Same for you. What is your assignment? Are you doing it? Are you ready?
In this passage, Readiness is measured by two things: being watchful and expectant, and doing what God wants you to do.
Some of you are thinking, “What happened to the gospel? What about grace? This sounds like I’m earning my salvation by works.” I think I’ve told you what the passage says—the clear sense of Jesus’ words. And I think we need to let them stand and speak for themselves, and not try to wiggle out of them. Jesus clearly wants us to be ready to meet Him—and I am taking that seriously.
But I don’t for a moment believe that I’m earning my salvation. It’s still God’s grace, because I know that my best will never be good enough. My best efforts to be ready on my own won’t measure up. I’ll fall short—and Jesus will make up the difference.
ILL: My friends Anthony and Edwinah from Kenya stayed with us this week. Anthony told me this story. When he was 6 and his younger brother 3, they found their father’s darts and thought it would be great fun to throw them at each other. One of Anthony’s darts stuck in the top of his brother’s head, and he began howling. Anthony pulled the dart out and blood began spurting from his brother’s head. His mom rushed them to a hospital where Anthony sat dreading his father’s arrival. He knew he would get a beating, and he invited Jesus into his life to make sure he’d go to heaven. But his father didn’t come to the hospital—stretching out the agonizing wait, the expectancy and dread building. This is what many people feel about meeting God: dread. They anticipate a beating, punishment.
But when Anthony’s father finally got home, he did nothing. There was no scolding, no beating; he never said a word about it. He let it go.
Anthony said that years later when he heard the gospel that we are forgiven by God, he thought, “I understand that. I experienced that with my dad.”
That’s our heavenly Father too. I want to give Him my very best. I want to be ready. I want to be watching and I want to be doing God’s will. And when my best isn’t enough, when I’ve stuck my dart in my brother’s head, I’m trusting that Jesus will forgive me and make up the difference. I’m ready to meet Him because I love Him and I’m doing His will—and His grace covers all my shortcomings.
Concluding ministry time.
Full text of the email:
Since Labor Day weekend I have been ready. Fortunately it is by His Grace we are saved not by works.
I do try, day by day, to live up to the second part of that promise. Being ready to do His Good Works as He gives the appointment. As we are all a work in process my prayer is that when it is my time to go I will have my hand to the task He appointed.