Keep watch – the hour is unknown
- 2Thessalonians 5:1-11
- Matthew 24:36-51
We survived December 21, 2012 – the day the world was supposed to come to an end.
Because we are supposed to be on one of the first nations the sun rises everyday, Tourism Australia’s Facebook page was flooded with more than 1000 posts such as “Any survivors?” and “Are you guys still alive?” as December 21 – the last day of the Mayan calendar – hit.
Tourism Australia posted a reply saying “Yes, we’re alive”, which resulted in more than 100,000 “likes” and more than 10,000 comments.
All the extra attention helped the See Australia page reach more than four million fans overnight, cementing its position as the largest tourism destination page in the world. Almost as in the days of Noah …
To survive to possibility of the end of the world, a checklist is provided:
- Waterproof matches: for possible tsunamis
- Lots of garlic: to make you less appealing to the hungry Mayan gods
- Batteries: lots of it!
- Corn chips: Mayans offered maize to appease the gods
- Hangover pills: just in case it was not the end of the world Compass: the poles might swing around
- Move to the outback where skyscrapers cannot fall on you
- Consider building an ark
What amazes and saddens me is that so many people lend their ears to obscure predictions and calculations (you do know how hard it is to even come up with a date like 20 December 2012 from so-called “evidence” read into the Long and Short Mayan Calendar off decayed clay tablets, nearly impossible to decipher), but when it comes to the Bible, the Word of God – the most trusted book of all history – the world seems to reject everything it says.
This of course was not the first time that the end of the world was predicted. The problem with these outrageous predictions is that people will eventually not listen to any warning about the return of Jesus Christ. This fact Jesus proclaimed in the chapter we read together from Matthew 25:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35, ESV)
This helps us to understand that, just as the prophets of the Old Testament were foretelling the birth of Christ as fact, so the Holy Spirit of God through the Scriptures tell us about the coming of our Lord on the clouds at the end of time.
The birth of Messiah heard, yet not heeded
Although not every word the prophets spoke, directly pointed to the specific time of the birth of Jesus, what they said pointed to the time of the Day of the Lord, when as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 1:
As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. (2 Corinthians 1:18–20, ESV)
As we have seen last week and at other occasions, everything in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament called and cried out for the perfect to come: no more blood, no more sacrificial animals, no more temples with sections that kept people away from the holiness of God, no high priests, but a perfect and unblemished sacrifice by a perfect high priest; that was fulfilled in Christ.
The writer of Hebrews looks at Jesus and saw in Him the fulfilment:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12, ESV)
Moses therefore said to the people:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— (Deuteronomy 18:15, ESV)
Everything about the kings of Israel cried out for the perfect King to establish a perfect kingdom of God, a King who would serve and protect his people, a King who did not burden his people, but who would take the burned off his people, a King who would destroy the enemy completely and would bring lasting peace to his people. This King had to more than David, but still in the promised line of David.
God’s promise to David was written down by the prophet:
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” (2 Samuel 7:16, ESV)
When Matthew began his Gospel he used this fact as a starting point:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1, ESV)
With this statement Matthew saw all of God’s actions with his people, all his promises to them fulfilled in one Person: Jesus Christ.
Isaiah then wrote about Christ:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, (Isaiah 11:1–3, ESV)
So when Matthew wrote his Gospel we hear this phrase repeated, “to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophets.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:22–23, ESV)
The chief priests and teachers of the law knew exactly the place where the Messiah was born:
“In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” (Matthew 2:5–6, ESV)
Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt.
This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:14–15, ESV)
Upon their return from Egypt they went to live in Nazareth,
… so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23, ESV)
When Jesus commenced his ministry He went and lived in Capernaum. Why? so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:14–16, ESV)
Sometime later He returned to Nazareth and went to the synagogue where He took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read these words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV)
He then declared: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21, ESV)
Yet, John writes:
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive Him. (John 1:10–11, ESV)
As in the days of Noah
In his final teaching before He went to Jerusalem to be crucified Jesus taught his disciples:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:36–37, ESV)
What Jesus teaches in these verses is that his second coming will unexpected, but certain. Therefore He repeats the warning:
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42, ESV)
People in the days of Noah knew about the impending destruction: They spent the 120 years which God had fixed as the limit of his grace “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” as though no judgment were impending. These things are not sinful in themselves; but when there is total disregard of God’s warnings it becomes sinful. These men should have repented in sackcloth and in ashes.
They heard, but they did not understand; they saw but did not understand the meaning of what they saw, because of their spiritual blindness and hardness of heart. This, our Lord says, how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. (Matthew 24:40–41, ESV)
The meaning of these verses is determined by it context, and the context is that some will be ready and expecting the return of Christ and some not: Some are like Noah, while others are like the people in the time of Noah caught up in the deluge. Everything about the return of Christ by some will be explained away “naturally,” “reasonably,” even “scientifically” until the fatal day arrives.
If you had a warning about a possible break-in and you kept watch because did not know when exactly they would strike, you would be in a position to fend them off. This did not happen. The owner of the house was not ready for the robbers, and his house was broken into. Therefore, once again, this warning:
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44, ESV)
In other words, learn from the people who lived in the days of Noah: they had the general warning concerning the impending flood, but they (and even Noah) did not know the day on which God would open the heavens and the fountains of the earth. Noah was ready, they were not.
We do not know the time of the return of our Lord, but we know that He is going to return, no doubt. In a sense then, the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar is in some ways a good thing. We scoffed at the reliability of the prediction, but we cannot scoff at the fact that we need to be ready for the end of this world when our Lord will certainly return.
It is my duty this morning then to not only freshly remind you of the words of our Lord, but to insist on account of this absolute reliable Word of our Lord which will never pass away, that you be ready.
What does it mean to be ready?
We have heard over the last two Sundays how the leaders of the Jewish people, and through them, the people themselves, treated the Word of God. First they were like tenants in the vineyard, entrusted with the vineyard to produce a crop of fruit which would please the landlord. In stead, they killed one messenger after the other, and at last the heir to the vineyard.
In the next parable they were the privileged who were invited to the wedding banquet of the son, but they turned the invitation down, and others become violent, mistreating and killing the servants who came to invite them to the banquet.
Something of the same is happening here in our passage today: it talks about servants put in charge of the household to give them food at the proper time. Jesus is speaking of the ministers and pastors of his church whose obligation is double and includes that of the household committed to them. Until his lord comes he faithfully does exactly what his lord told him, and his lord finds him engaged in the things of his lord. He does not sit idly outside of the house looking for his lord and speculating about his return; he is inside, steadily doing his lord’s bidding.
This of course is not limited to ministers only, but to every Christian. We are called to be prophet, priest and king. It is not the job of the minister only to preach the Word, to intercede for the lost and help those in need, and to rule over sin and the effects of sin, we all are. From all of us will be demanded what we did with the talents entrusted to us as members of the household of the Lord.
To be ready for the return of the Lord is therefore to be fruitful, to be busy in the vineyard, to have something in our hand when He returns. It is his crop, his fruit, his pound, his talents entrusted to us. What do we do with it?
It seems that if we take our eye off the fact of the return of our Lord, we tend to think what we have as a church belongs to us. It does not take long and we get stuck into one another. We quarrel about what we claim to be ours, and in no time the Kingdom of God to us exists in material things. We treat one another harshly, not lovingly; we do not long to serve, but to be served. Such a church becomes a disgrace not only to the Name of the Lord, but to the world they live in. It becomes dead, fruitless and without any sings of being the body of the Lord. Ministers are liked because they say what members want to hear, and when they dare say something different they becomes an enemy of the people. Worse, ministers can easily slip into the comfort of being liked and loved, and not preach the Word of God.
It is just too terrifying to think of the consequences:
the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:50–51, ESV)
My dear brothers and sister in the Lord, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians; he also refers to the fact that the rerun of the Lord will be like a thief in the night. He says
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:6, ESV)
But he also sees the fact of the coming of the Lord as a source of encouragement:
Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thes 4:18, ESV)
I want to encourage you in the Name of the Lord: Jesus Christ is coming again. Let’s be like faithful servants busy with the things of our Lord when He comes.
Sermone Preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 December 2012