November 27, 2022 |Be Ready | Matthew 24:36-51
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Traditionally each week of Advent, each candle lit, has a theme for us to consider in our season of reflecting and preparing for the second coming of Christ.
The first week is Hope.
The expectation of Jesus’ return.
For this Advent season, we will turn to the gospel of Matthew.
Today we will be looking at what Jesus taught his disciples concerning his second coming. In our text, Jesus gives two commands concerning how we should live in light of his second coming, stay awake and be ready, which echo one another.
Stay awake- to watch
metaph. give strict attention to, be cautious, active
Be ready-ready prepared
to do something
to receive one coming
Both commands are predicated by a ‘Therefore’.
Today is a little different, Jesus’ commands here are plain, we know what we should do, how we should live, so today, rather than deal with these commands as we normally would, we are going to look at how Jesus led up to these commands. The why behind them. Three lessons from Jesus about the last day.
But before we get into those lessons, there is a truth that Jesus states at the very beginning of our text that is foundational to our understanding of Advent, of his second coming, and of his teaching concerning it.
Matthew 24:36 (ESV) 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
Life goes on…until it doesn’t.
Matthew 24:37 (ESV) 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
From what I understand about the timeline of the flood, we can guess that there were about 50 to 75 years between when God told Noah to build the ark and its completion. Plenty of time for the people to hear about the coming flood, God’s judgment against the wickedness of man, and have a chance to repent and believe Noah’s warning.
There are some extra biblical Jewish sources that record Noah’s message to the people, in Genesis, it doesn’t record any words from Noah. However, in 2 Peter he is called ‘a herald of righteousness’. Literally a preacher of righteousness. Paul uses the same word to describe his calling as a preacher of the gospel.
Even if Noah did not go out of his way to warn the people, which I believe he did, his work on the ark was a testament to the coming judgment. Surely, when people asked what he was doing, he would tell them about his message from God, his anger at the wickedness of man, and his plan to wipe out the unrepentant and begin again.
And yet, within sight of this giant boat being built, life went on.
Jesus says they were eating and drinking- that is to say, economically, life went on. Fields were prepared, crops were planted, tended, harvested, vineyards planted, harvested, fermented into wine. People traded for what they needed.
Marrying and giving in Marriage- that is to say, socially, life went on. Marriages were arranged, men and women got engaged, weddings were planned and held, families were started and the process started again.
These same words are recorded for us in Luke, either the same incident or another time when Jesus was teaching his disciples about the coming of the son of man. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus gives another example.
Luke 17:28-29 (ESV) 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—
The idea of both of these examples is that God had declared his intention, to destroy Sodom or to flood the earth, and between his declaration and the fulfillment of his word there was an interim amount of time. During this time, life went on. Particularly in the time of Noah, men and women ignored the warnings of the coming judgment and went on with their lives.
Jesus says they were unaware until the flood came and swept them away.
The word unaware is the Greek word for know. A better translation may be that they did not understand. That is to say, they did not believe that there was a coming judgment, or maybe they did not think it would be as bad as Noah said, or maybe they thought they would get on the ark if it really did start to flood. Since they did not understand, they continued on with their life as though what God had said would not come to pass.
And then it did.
The flood came, the fire fell, and what God had said would come to pass, came to pass.
What’s the lesson from Jesus here?
Twice Jesus says, so will be the coming of the son of man.
In the same way, or in the same manner, Jesus says, the time between his declaration and the fulfillment of his promise to return, men and women will go on with their lives, ignoring the coming judgment.
Then, like a flash of lightning (Matthew 24:27) Jesus will return. The sound of a trumpet will pierce the earth and it will be time.
No second chances, no last minute decisions, the way will be shut. Those in Christ, like those in the ark, will be preserved and those outside will be destroyed.
Whether or not Jesus comes back today, this year, within our lifetime, or if he waits another 1,000 years, there will be a last day, a last moment, but as Jesus tells us, no one knows the day or the hour. The lesson for us is that yes, life will go on, until it doesn’t.
This doesn’t mean we stop living our lives, move to a monastery and meditate until Jesus returns. It does mean however, that we live with an understanding that at any moment, Jesus may return.
Therefore, Jesus says, watch and be prepared, ready to greet Jesus whenever he appears.
The first lesson is life goes on…until it doesn’t, it deals with the when aspect of Jesus’ second coming, the second lesson is…
People look the same…until they don’t.
This deals with the ‘what’ happens when Jesus comes.
Matthew 24:40-42 (ESV) 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
There are some people who see these verses as talking about the rapture and therefore being taken as a good thing, but when we look at the context, it seems to be the opposite. To be taken is to experience judgment.
Look back at the example of Noah and the ark.
The ones who were swept away, meaning taken up or taken away, literally, to lift up were the ones who were taken away in judgment and the ones who remained, Noah, his family, and all the animals in the ark were the ones who were left behind.
I want to share a quote with you from one of my favorite Bible commentaries that shows us it doesn’t really matter if we can positively identify which is which, that is not the most important thing.
(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) Either way, God will cut right down the center of the human race and make a final division between the redeemed and the damned. This eternal separation—this great divorce—will divide even the closest relationships: the husband and wife who share the same bed, the co laborers who work side by side at the office. People who share almost the exact same situation in life will find themselves on opposite sides of eternity. A wife will roll over in the middle of the night to find that her husband is gone forever. One business partner will end up in heaven, while the other goes to hell.
In our text, Jesus uses two pictures, both illustrating this great division of mankind.
Two men in the field, most likely working together. Two women, grinding together at the mill.
In the midst of the everyday, mundane tasks of life, working alongside familiar people. Making a living, putting food on the table to feed their families, nice, hard working, dependable people.
People that look like you, talk like you, work at the same place you do, have the same hobbies you do, people that you regularly interact with.
Listen, make no mistake, there are people around you everyday that, if Jesus returned right now, would face judgment and eternal damnation. They would be swept away by God’s wrath.
Not because they were from a different family situation than you, not because they were of a different educational background than you, not because they were born in a different place than you, but because they were not prepared to meet the Lord.
That is our Lord’s command for his followers, be on watch, give attention to his second coming, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
How do we know we are watching for that day?
First, as we saw last week, we have to be surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. Totally and fully committed to the truth that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the savior of the world, the only way to God, and believe that the only way to be saved is to place all of your faith and trust in the crucified and risen Jesus and then live, to the best of your ability, empowered by the holy spirit, as a citizen of his kingdom here on earth until the day you are ushered into his eternal kingdom fully and finally.
Second, tell the good news of the gospel to those around you as you live your life for Him, so that they too may know and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Being watchful isn’t just about knowing that you are saved, but working to share the good news with others. How devastating would it be to be the one of these two men or two women Jesus uses as an illustration that is saved and to know that the other was taken in judgment and all the time you worked beside them, all the times you watched your kids play sports together, all the times you interacted with them, you never told them about the coming judgment?
This is the lesson that Jesus gives, there is an inward spiritual reality that sets two people apart, no matter how close they are, no matter how similar their lives are in terms of family, vocation, or hobbies, no matter their similarities, except for the life changing experience of being born again, no one is ready to meet Jesus when he returns.
The second lesson is people look the same…until they don’t, it deals with the ‘what’ aspect of Jesus’ second coming, the third lesson is…
Jesus tarries…until he doesn’t.
This last lesson deals with the why, that is why we should live watchful and ready, especially in light of what we have heard so far about the ‘when’ and the ‘what’ of the second coming.
Matthew 24:43-44 (ESV) 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Jesus uses a negative experience to illustrate a positive outcome.
In his illustration there is a man who knows that he is going to be robbed. A thief plans on sneaking in while he is asleep and stealing what is rightfully his. Since the man knows that this is going to happen, he stays awake to either scare off or fight off the would-be thief.
This is by design not the way things usually happen. Jesus says, if the master would have known in what part of the night the thief was coming. The reality is, the man went to sleep as he had done a thousand times before and it wasn’t until he woke up did he discover that in the night, at an unexpected hour, a thief had come and robbed him. It is the very unexpected and sudden nature of being robbed that Jesus uses to illustrate his point about His second coming.
Since you do know that the son of man is coming, stay away, stay prepared, so that you are not caught off guard. Jesus changes from this negative experience of robbery to a positive example of a servant who has been tasked with taking care of the master’s household while he is away.
Matthew 24:45-51 (ESV) 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
In this case, it is the servant, who knows, not a thief, but the master is coming back, he just doesn’t know when. While he is away, the servant is supposed to take care of the master’s people by making sure they are fed at the right time.
Whether the master comes in the morning, or at lunch, or at dinner, the master will be pleased to find his faithful servant fulfilling his command when he returns. Even if the master is gone longer than the servant expected, his responsibilities do not change. Right?
One day, one month, one year. It doesn’t matter.
But what if the servant started thinking that he had all the time in the world, that he could do whatever he wanted because the master either wasn’t coming back or that it was so far in the future he would be able to put everything back in order before he came. He would prove that he was not a faithful and wise servant but a wicked one.
48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The word delayed means to linger or tarry.
The wicked servant forgot that the master could come back at anytime and began living as though he had no master or worse, that he was the master, and so he did not expect him and he had no time to try and right his wrongs and being found in open and willful rebellion of his master’s instructions, abusive to his master’s people, and wasteful of his master’s possessions, he was put to death.
Almost 2,000 years have come and gone since Jesus told his disciples what he expected of them, to go into all the world, proclaim the gospel and make disciples in his power, until he returns. The master has gone to prepare a place and we do not know when he will be back. He lingers, he tarries. But we do not have to wonder at this, this shouldn’t cause us concern on whether or not he is coming back, we know why he tarries.
2 Peter 3:1-10 (ESV) 1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
It is love that causes him to tarry. It is his patience that allows mankind to continue.
But as Peter reminds us of what Jesus told him, the day of the Lord will come like a thief. He will return suddenly, surprisingly, and mightily.
He will not wait forever. He will return and it will matter whether we have been faithful and wise servants or wicked pretenders.
Like the servant in Jesus' illustration, we have been given a job to do, to steward what the master has set us over, to serve his people, and spread the good news of his coming kingdom.
Three lessons that help us understand why Jesus tells us that we should stay away and be ready for his coming.
Life will not go on forever, there will be a great separation of people when he returns, and he will come back when he decides to, at a time we cannot know.
As we begin this season of Advent, as we look forward in holy expectation to his second coming, my prayer is that we would all live each day as though it was the day. Worried not about when he will come but will we be ready when he does.