JESUS IS COMING—ARE YOU READY?
- We don’t know when he will come,
- But we do know what will happen.
Based on Matthew 24:36-44
Perhaps you are familiar with the name Nicholas Thomas Wright. N.T. Wright, as he is often known, is a New Testament scholar in the Anglican Church. He has written many scholarly works and also many popular Bible commentaries. In his commentary that covers today’s Gospel account, he shared the following personal anecdote:
It was a fine Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. The family, some on holiday from work, were relaxing in the house and the garden. Books and magazines were lying around the place, along with coffee mugs, newspapers and packets of biscuits. Everything had the look of the sort of cheerful untidiness that a large family can create in about an hour.
Suddenly there was a ring at the doorbell. Wondering vaguely which friend might be calling I went to answer it, dressed as I was in very casual clothes. There, outside, to my horror, was a party of 30 or so well-dressed visitors. They had arranged, many months before, to come to look at the house, because of its historic associations. And neither I nor the family had remembered a thing about it.
You can imagine the next five minutes. I suggested that the visitors went into the garden for a little while (‘to get a good look at the house from the outside’), and then mobilized the family to clear everything up. Within minutes everything was clean and tidy. The children retreated into bedrooms. We opened the front door again and the visit went ahead.
You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage … [is] about.
Matthew for Everyone, Part 2
Today’s service puts us in mind of Jesus’ second Advent, that is, his second coming into this world. As we get ready to celebrate Jesus’ first entrance into this world at his birth, we need to be honest about the situation: Jesus came once, and as we think about his first entrance this time of year, we also have to “get real” about his second coming. N.T. Wright’s personal anecdote is a fitting everyday illustration for our thoughts today—except that if we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, it is not merely a social faux pas or a personal embarrassment. If we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, we can’t tidy up our hearts in five minutes and hastily prepare ourselves. But if we aren’t ready for Jesus’ Advent, we will face eternal consequences. Jesus is coming! Are you ready? Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel help us to be ready. He reminds us to be ready because we don’t know when he will come, but we do know what will happen when he does.
Jesus starts off our discussion of his return with an interesting statement: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It doesn’t surprise us that Jesus says that no one can claim to know the day he will return, or that even the angels of heaven don’t know when that day will be. But how could Jesus say that he, the Son of God, didn’t even know the day of his return?
It’s helpful to remember a truth you learned in Catechism class or Bible Information Class. Jesus had two states during his life on earth: his state of humiliation and his state of exaltation. When he became a human being at his conception and birth, Jesus was still fully God, but he set aside some of his divine power from that time until his resurrection from the dead. In his state of humiliation, in that state where he humbly chose to set aside his power as God in order to win our forgiveness, even the humbled Son of God didn’t know what day would be the last of this world when he would usher his people into the next world, heaven.
Last week I heard an interesting quote: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In a sense, that’s what Jesus says the last day will be like. That day will “rhyme” with the situation that existed in the Old Testament era at the time that Noah lived: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Life before the great flood went on as normal. People didn’t know the flood was coming, or if they had heard Noah’s warnings, they didn’t take them seriously until it was too late and they found themselves being buried in a watery grave.
Jesus doesn’t want people finding themselves buried eternally in a fiery grave, so he shows us how history “rhymes” with Noah’s Day, and he concludes, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
Does the name Harold Camping sound familiar to you? Camping was a Christian evangelist and broadcaster who founded “Family Radio,” a California-based Christian radio group. Camping predicted the end of the world was going to come on May 21, 2011. His organization spent quite a bit of money on billboards and advertising warning people to repent before May 21. When the end of the world didn’t come on May 21, he “recalculated,” claimed that May 21 was only a spiritual judgment, and stated that Jesus was show up instead on October 21. Even if you hadn’t heard of Harold Camping before, you know what happened—or didn’t happen—on that day. We’re still here, and we’re still looking back on that and many other past, unsuccessful attempts to predict the day of Jesus’ return. Jesus was so clear, yet it seems that even prominent Christian people miss his clear words: “You do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
But there’s another side to this situation. We know that we don’t know when Jesus is coming, and we may not foolishly engage in calculations to figure out when he will return, but do we live our lives as if we don’t really care that he’s coming back? In the hyper-commercialized weeks leading up to Christmas, do we easily let it slip from our minds that our real preparation right now is not fighting the crowds at the mall but fighting sin in our lives and in our hearts? Have we lost an urgency to confess our faith to others so that they don’t find themselves in the same fate as the people of Noah’s Day? Have we lost the urgency to fight the pet sins in our lives that have become far too comfortable to us? Have we all but forgotten that Jesus really is coming again, and that being ready requires so much more than making sure the floor is swept and we’re dressed in something better than sweatpants and pajamas? And could our comfortable lack of urgency about the Last Day reveal that in some ways we aren’t all that concerned with Jesus’ warning to “Keep watch”?
The students in my Catechism class are going to have a test later this week. I handed out a review sheet several days ago and told them, “If you study what’s on here, you will do fine.” I basically gave them the content on the test. If you study the sheet, the test is nothing to fear.
Jesus tells us to be prepared for the Last Day. Even though we don’t know when that day will occur, we do know what will happen. He’s given us the “review sheet” that tells us what to expect. With trust in Jesus’ sacrifice and faith in Jesus’ words, we see that the day he comes back is nothing to fear. “[This] is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”
When Jesus compared the Last Day to the time of Noah, he said that some people were taken away in judgment by the flood. Here Jesus uses a different word in the original language that is translated “taken,” and here it refers to his believers who will be taken out of this world and brought to heaven. Life will go on as normal before he returns. People will be about their daily work as usual when Jesus comes to take his own home to glory, while those who rejected him will be left behind for a hellish judgment.
That’s part of what Jesus’ “review sheet” says about his return: He will return and take his believers home to heaven, while unbelievers will face his eternal judgment. But there’s another important highlight on Jesus’ “review sheet” for the Last Day: It will come unexpectedly. “Understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe that doesn’t seem like something we should put on our list of Last Day-knowledge. How does it help us if we don’t know when it will happen? But that’s the point: We know that we don’t know. We realize that we can’t say when that day will be, which means that we know we need to be ready all the time. Just as the homeowner secures his house whenever he is gone so that he is prepared for the burglar, God’s people need to secure their hearts with confidence in the saving work of Jesus on the cross so that we are ready for whatever day he comes to take his people home to heaven.
I had a college professor who told us at the beginning of the semester that he reserved the right to give us a quiz any day. I think we had a surprise quiz only once or twice, but the possibility of a quiz encouraged us to fight our lazy sinful tendencies to be unprepared for class.
We don’t know what day Jesus will come back, but the possibility of that every day encourages us to fight our lazy sinful nature so that we aren’t unprepared for that day. But by the grace of God, you are prepared. You are prepared because you not only know what will happen, but more importantly, you know and believe what Jesus did for you to make the Last Day a day to anticipate with joy instead of fear. You know that Jesus came into this world once before as a humble infant so that he could trade places with you throughout his life and especially by his humble death on the cross. You know that the sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross has forgiven the sins of the world, and that forgiveness has become your personal possession through faith in Jesus. You know that as sure as Jesus rose from the dead, he will come back and raise you from death to life. You know from the prophet Isaiah, whom we heard earlier in this service, that a great and glorious existence waits for you and all people in heaven, where sin and shame and war and disputing are replaced with peace and perfection forever. And because Jesus has handed us the “review sheet” that prepares us for the Last Day, you know that there is no reason to fear it even though we don’t know when that day will be, because we do know what will happen.
There aren’t too many people here today who don’t have a host of deadlines to meet between now and December 25—project deadlines at work, exam studying deadlines at school, shopping deadlines and cooking deadlines so that you’re ready for family Christmas gatherings, even deadlines for memorizing recitations and learning music so that children are ready for the annual children’s Christmas service. For better or worse, the weeks leading up to Christmas are full of deadlines that are all grabbing our attention.
But there is one deadline that is more important than the rest of them. That deadline is the day that Jesus comes again. And while you don’t know when it is, you do know what to expect, and you do know how to be ready for it. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, you are ready for it. And as we take extra time to gather around the Word of God in this house over the next four weeks, the Holy Spirit will keep you ready for it, so that you and all of God’s people can pray with joy and confidence, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.