Ready or Not (2): To Be Ready, You Have to Get Ready
August 2, 2015
Intro – Several years ago the CT State Police were required to put on chains when it snowed. One trooper failed to do so and ended up in a skid that flipped the car onto its roof. A caller reported, “Well, he seems okay, but you better get someone out here quick. He’s standing on the car putting chains on the tires!” He was just a little late, not ready! That is what Jesus is urging in this passage. He’s coming again. Be ready. Too late to put chains on then.
This follows on the heels of His warnings about greed and anxiety. Those are red flags showing we’re not ready -- focused on the wrong things. Stonewall Jackson was a devout believer, but kind of quirky, absent-minded prof prior to the CW. But following his early brilliant, daring campaign in the Shenandoah, one contemporary wrote: "No one would have thought one year ago that Jackson’s fame would be spread the wide world over as one of the greatest captains. He may well be fearless, as he is ready to meet his God; his lamp is burning, and he waits for the bridegroom." When we’re ready to meet Jesus any time, anxiety vanishes. Be ready! That’s what Jesus is urging.
So, how do we do that? In vv. 35-40 He urges that we Wait Expectantly. And in vv. 41-48 He urges that we Work Earnestly. Both waiting and working are part of being ready. There are 4 elements to waiting expectantly.
I. Assurance of His Coming – This passage revolves on v. 40. 2 key things. First, the Son of Man is coming.” The world may mock all it wants, but Peter says they forget 1,000 years is like a day to the Lord! What is huge delay to us is a couple of minutes to Him. The great proof that He is coming again is that He came the first time. He fulfilled scores of OT prophecies to the letter and there is no reason to doubt that He will do so again “in the same way” (Acts 1:11) as the disciples saw Him go. The doubts of scoffers never slowed Him down before and it will not then either. He’s coming again!
II. Astonishment of His Coming -- 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Thousands have thought they had it figured out. None has been right. None ever will be right. Nothing prevented Jesus’ return in Paul and Peter’s time and nothing prevents Him now. But the timetable is His. It will be when least expected, not when most expected. Many will be astonished. To not be we must live ready! So, v. 40 has set the tone – be ready. Now to further develop this theme, we will go back to v. 35 to develop how we do that – wait expectantly by:
III. Anticipation of His Coming – 3 things we to in anticipation!
A. Be Unencumbered
35 “Stay dressed for action.” Literally this reads, “Gird up your loins.” It was a common expression in Jesus’ time. Everyone wore long, flowing robes or togas. Often they hung loose for comfort. But that made work difficult. So, when they labored, they tucked their togas into a belt to keep the long, flowing garment out of the way. That’s the picture: “Stay dressed for action.”
What action does He have in mind? Service for the King who is coming. Jesus elaborates on this point by parable in Lu 19:12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return (that’s picturing Jesus returning to the Father). 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ We’re to be about His business until He returns. It is not our own concerns that are primarily to occupy us, but His. It is not our own kingdom we are to seek, but His. It is not our agenda, but His. We can’t do that if we’re too entangled in the affairs of this life. Sure we must make a living. Sure we must engage our culture. But also, we must hold this life loosely. It’s not the end game. This life is just the means to a much greater end!
Paul tells Timothy in II Tim 2:4, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” That’s Jesus’ point. This world isn’t home anymore. Phil 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Priorities have changed and we need to make sure we don’t have too many loose ends in this life keeping us from engaging in the mission God for which God created us.
I was saddened watching the Academy Awards last year. Here were people whose whole life was focused on getting a little gold statue to put on the fireplace. Life is all about seeing and being seen and looking glamorous. Host Ellen Degeneres commented at one point, “I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world, because we all know the most important thing in the world is youth.” It was a joke, but when you saw what some had done to look young, it wasn’t funny. All they have is “now”. How desperate it must feel to see it slipping away, first slowly but with greater speed every year. How fortunate for those who know Christ to know this is not all there is. Youth is not the end all, because there is more to come.
Listen, we’re in a foreign country, awaiting our King who is invading soon. His priorities must be our priorities, not those of this world. It’s so easy to get distracted with things, toys, hobbies and habits – not bad in themselves, but devastating if they shove Christ aside. A real and present danger.
During the CW this was Pres Lincoln’s constant struggle. His many generals demanded tons of supplies. Lincoln did his best, but he knew the Union was in danger of losing the war – slowed by its abundance of supplies. The enemy moved twice as far with half as much. Lincoln wrote McClellan in 1862, “this expanding and piling up of impedimenta, has been, so far, almost our ruin, and will be our final ruin if it is not abandoned.” Things changed when Grant and Sherman got into command. Sherman abandoned supplies altogether when he made his march to the sea living entirely off the land. It broke the Confederacy’s back. They finally learned what Stonewall Jackson always knew: “The road to glory cannot be attended with much baggage.”
We must travel light! Minimize payments. Keep things simple. John Wesley used to say, "Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart." Note what Jesus says just before “Stay dressed for action.” V. 34, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Hold things loosely. That’s the point. Wesley earned a fortune from book royalties, but he determined to die leaving nothing behind, and he did, having given away thousands of dollars before they found their way into his heart. So we might well ask, “How is our heart?” Are we dressed for action – is our treasure here and now or is it laid up in heaven? Be unencumbered.
B. Be Enlightened
V. 35: “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” So, what does keep your lamps burning” mean? Well, light in the Bible represents knowledge or truth. What Jesus is saying by keep your lamps burning is know the truth and live the truth. You are now children of light, not children of darkness, so live like it. Jesus is due any time, so live according to truth. Do what is right. Be holy as your Father is holy. Don’t let the light go out and return to your old selfish lifestyle. Not even for a moment. Live in the light.
God didn’t tell us things about the 2nd coming so we could speculate on timing and obsess on details. It’s great to study prophetic details – but they are intended to motivate holy living, not as an ego trip. There is no better commentary on keep your lamps burning than Rom 13:11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Obey God.
I caught this message as a child. I didn’t know all the details I learned later about Christ’s 2nd coming, but I knew He could come at any time. I didn’t want Him to find me doing something wrong. As I got older and Jesus didn’t come, it got easier and easier to lose that motivation. We get sophisticated, don’t we? We anticipate tomorrow will be like today and so forth. Yes – Jesus is coming sometime, but it’s out there. It ceases to be part of our motivation to holy living. Know what’s happened? Our lamp has gone out.
When we were in Edinburgh we came across the statue of a terrier named Bobby. Bobby belonged to John Gray who worked for the Edinburgh Police as a night watchman. When he died he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard and Bobby became famous for sitting at his master’s gravesite awaiting his return for the rest of his life – all 14 years of it! A statue was erected in his honor when he died in 1872. Would it change our lives if we lived in that same expectation of Jesus’ return? That’s what it means to keep our lamp lit.
C. Be Expectant
36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.” What is the message? Expect His return any time. Marriage feasts in those days could last from a day to a week. Someone might return any time. You didn’t know. Faithful servants were ready to open the door at once. There would be no, “Wait a minute while I hide these magazines or turn this show off or clean up the place.” True believers live like He’s coming next minute, ready to open the door at a moment’s notice. He doesn’t have to get ready; he is ready. Jesus doesn’t say, “Get ready;” He says, “Be ready. Stay ready!” Have sins confessed up to the minute, living a holy life, willing to be caught at any moment in whatever you are doing.
“39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.” Different illustration – same point. Thieves don’t send calling cards. They come when least expected. So the only way to counter them is to be on guard all the time. Be ready all the time. Believers live with one foot in time and the other in eternity. It’s great because even if Jesus never comes in our lifetime, it means we are ready to die. Live expecting the Lord’s return at any moment and you are ready to live and ready to die. All bases covered.
C. S. Lewis describes the 2nd coming this way: “When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade, all right; but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else comes crashing in? This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. That will not be the time for choosing; It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.” To be ready then, you must get ready now.
IV. Aftershock of His Coming
37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. Here’s an astounding verse -- almost incomprehensible. Think about it! Who is the master coming back in this parable? It is Jesus, of course. And so far the parable follows local custom. The faithful servants wait expectantly to welcome the Master on his return. But then Jesus totally departs from anything anyone would expect. Totally. You’d expect the servants to feed the master and get him to bed. Jesus depicts the absolute opposite. It is the master who dresses himself in as a servant, sits the servants down to dinner and then he serves them himself. It’s an incredible picture which is why the devout German Bible scholar Bengel regarded this as the greatest promise in all God’s Word.
To feel get the impact of this, check Rev 19: 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” The passage goes on to describe how He quickly rounds up the Anti-Christ and all His enemies. Then Matt 25:31 picks up: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Judgment follows. The lost are cast with Satan and his angels into hell. This is Jesus in the fullness of His power and glory and majesty. This coming is not the humble baby in a manger prepared to suffer utter humiliation to pay the penalty for our sins. This is the conquering, powerful King of kings and Lord of lords coming in judgment to rid the world of sin and set everything right by the power of His Word.
And having done all that, “He will dress himself for service and have them (faithful believers) recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” How humbling! We’ll wish we had served Him better. Will it be a literal banquet? I don’t know. It is described that way, as the marriage supper of the lamb, in Rev. 19. Whatever it is, it will exceed any expectations we ever had. It will fulfill Psa 126:1-3, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.” What a shock to find our unworthy selves being served by the King Himself. If we really believed this it would change our lives.
Conc -- Jesus is coming, Beloved. It’ll be too late to put the chains on the car then. You have to get ready now to be ready then! I heard Vin Skully one time tell a story about former big-league infielder Gene Freese: "He once got back to the hotel after a night on the town, dialed the front desk and asked for a 7 am wake-up call. The operator said, ‘You just missed it.’” Jesus is coming again, Beloved. Don’t miss it! Very soon we will all meet Him either in death or in His coming. So we must be ready. We must not be so bogged down with the things of this life that we fail to be ready for the next. If we are to be ready then, we must get ready now. How? By receiving Him as Lord and Savior if you’ve never done that. And if He is your Lord, live expecting that you will see Him soon because believe me, you will. Let’s pray.