What if Jesus returned today? Would you be ready? You’ve seen those bumper stickers that say: Jesus is coming. And man is he ticked. Or Jesus is coming. Look busy.
I think most Christians would heartily welcome the coming of the Lord. But imagine standing before the Lord Who Has Come. Imagine you staring up at him and he is staring down at you. Some people might be a little anxious, maybe a little scared to be standing before the Lord who has come. “I’m not ready!” “What have I accomplished for Christ?” “I haven’t witnessed enough, I haven’t prayed as I should have been praying, I haven’t taken advantage of the time for the Lord.”
I remember when my parents built a new home. To save money with the contractor, we moved in before it was completed and did the finishing work ourselves– the painting, the staining, the carpet, that sort of thing. Well, my mother had to make an emergency trip to Germany to check on her mother. And she left us for a couple of weeks with that unfinished house. Two weeks went by pretty quickly, and we all found other stuff to do while she was away.
I remember her expression when she came home from Germany and walked into the house. She saw baseboards that needed puttying and painting. Wallboard that needed painting. Exposed beams that needed staining. The look on her face was a combination of disappointment and disgust. “What have you all been doing while I was away?” If Jesus were to return today, would he have the same look? Would he ask, “What have you been doing?”
Jesus told a little parable to illustrate what it will be like when he returns. He said, Be like those who are waiting for the master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
Now the Syrian translation changes two words that give this parable a richer and more authentic meaning. Be like those who are (not waiting for) EXPECTING the master to (not return) WITHDRAW from the marriage feast…. “Expecting” adds some excitement and dynamism. There’s a difference between sitting and waiting for a bus or sitting expecting a movie to start. Reading on… If the master returns from the wedding feast, that suggests the feast is over and everyone went home. But the master withdrawing suggests that the feast is continuing. The master is slipping out for a bit. – perhaps to another part of the home in his private quarters. If the master returns after the party is over, then the reason for his return is obvious. But if he withdraws while it is still going on, we must ask, “Why did he leave?”
Moreover, the master comes and knocks. In that culture, a knock would unsettle the household. You wouldn’t knock; you would call out so that the occupants would know who is there. Why does the master knock? He knocks and doesn’t call out so that his voice won’t echo through the house and make it obvious that he’s left the others at the banquet. He expects his servants to be alert and waiting for him.We are left with the question: Why did the master leave the party early?
We read on to find out why. Verily I say unto you, (Whenever the bible starts out with those words, it’s announcing something astonishing.) Verily I say unto you that he (the master) shall gird himself and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. This is indeed, an astonishing reversal of roles. The master of the house might serve his guests.You remember how Abraham himself served his visitors. But a master NEVER serves his slaves. It’s unheard of. That’s why the master must MAKE his slaves sit down.
But what will they eat? There is no food prepared and the master appears to serve them right away. The natural assumption is that the master brings the food with him. What food? Well, the food from the banquet. The master doesn’t send a waiter, he comes himself. And coming to them, he gives them a taste of the banquet that continues. What an astonishing and unexpected blessing
And this blessing comes to those who are: Working? Nope. Witnessing? Nope. Praying? Nope.Preaching? Nope. Studying? Nope. Jesus said: “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he comes shall find watching.” See what is going on here? This is where the slave ceases to be a slave and becomes a partner in love and a partner in glory.
We see a foreshadowing of the Lord’s return in an incident after his resurrection. It was a glorious time after Jesus’ resurrection and appearing in Jerusalem. But then there was the lull that set in afterwards. And Peter started wrestling with condemnation because he remembered what he did that Good Friday and what he didn’t do. He did not stand up for his Lord. Just the opposite, he denied the Lord – three times!
I’msure it weighed heavily on his heart. Who am I to accomplish anything for the Lord? What can I do? I’m going fishing.” But you remember when the Lord first called Peter. He told him, “I want you fishing for men, Peter!” But Peter didn’t feel all that qualified to be doing that kind of work. He had been a fisherman before. “I’m going back to what I did before, what I feel comfortable doing, what I know.” So Peter goes off fishing and six of the disciples go with him.
Well, you know the story. They’re out there fishing all night and they come up empty handed. After working all night long they caught nothing. A man on the beach calls out to them, “Children, caught anything?” And then a miracle takes place. Have you caught anything? And they answered back, “Nope.” And for a fisherman to admit he caught nothing is a miracle!
Jesus calls out to them, “Cast you net on the other side!” And when they did that, the fish were jumping in the nets – they could hardly haul them all in. John looks back at the beach – “It’s the Lord!” Peter, the impetuous one strips down and jumps overboard. He swims to shore, arrives in front of Jesus and says nothing.
You see, Peter is excited about seeing the Coming of the Lord. But when he gets to the beach and when he stands before the Lord Who Had Come, he just stands there. He’s got nothing to say. He’s a drip, all washed up. He knows that he’s standing in disobedience. The Lord had called him to be a fisher of men, and he was out fishing with the boys. So there stood Peter feeling like a drip. “What shall I say to the Lord?” It was Jesus who broke the ice. He steps up to Peter with breakfast in his hands.“Come and dine, Peter!” The Lord had prepared a hot breakfast of grilled fish for a cold and tired fisherman. The Lord didn’t chastise Peter, he affirmed him. He recommissioned him. “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
Who are those people watching for the Lord? It’s people like Peter who spent all night fishing and caught nothing. People who realize that life apart from the Lord is nothing. People who feel a certain emptiness in this life. A longing for something more to come. A hunger that no person can fully satisfy. A yearning that no occupation can adequately fulfill. A desire that no experience can meet.
Watchers hang on to a promise of hope that Jesus himself gave. And so when he does come, he doesn’t come to inspect, he comes to invite. He invites you to taste of the Heavenly Banquet.
When will the Lord come? No one knows. But we do know that we will meet up with him when this life is done. What will that be like? What will it be like to stand there before the Lord?
Ernest Fowler was a missionary. In 1934 he and two other missionaries went to Columbia to bring the Gospel to an unreached tribe of people called the Yukpa. Unfortunately, one of the other missionaries got malaria and died. That brought an end to the mission. But then Ernest regrouped with the surviving missionary and returned to Columbia. This time they took their wives. They learned the Yukpa language and translated the bible for them. The chief, Papa Marte, became a Christian. But after a few years, violence erupted so they had to leave again. For the next 20 years, Ernest and his wife engaged in other endeavors, but they felt pulled to return to Columbia. They did in 1965, this time with their children.
The mission went well for a year. Then one day, Ernest was out with his twelve year old daughter. While they were away, a band of 7 men arrived at the house dressed as police and heavily armed. They asked for Ernest. His wife told them they would be back soon and invited them in for refreshments. After a bit, the situation went downhill. These were Marxist guerrillas and they started looting the house. They locked the family in a room and told them they’d be shot if they came out. Things got quiet for awhile and then three shots rang out. Minutes later, Ernest’s daughter comes running in crying, “They shot Daddy!”
The guerrillas had met up with Ernest. Ernest knew right away what they were. They shot him point blank in the face and then in the back. Ernest used his life to go to Columbia not once, but three times for the Yukpa tribe. And then he gave his life for them. That’s a trophy that Ernest could bring to the Lord at the end of his life.
Now I hear a story like that and I ask myself: What if the Lord came back today? And what if I were standing before the Lord who had come today. And next to me stood Ernest. What trophy would I bring?
But it’s not going to be like that. We are not going to be queued up bringing our host gifts to the Lord. Instead, the Lord is going to make us sit down and serve us. Like he did at the Last Supper when he washed feet. Like he did when he served breakfast on the beach.
Why does Jesus do it? Why does he serve his disciples, why does he cook for them, why does he wash their feet? Why does he bless those who are just watching for his coming?
Here’s what happens when Jesus does that. When Jesus starts ministering to us, all of a sudden the focus changes. And Jesus has the preeminence. When Jesus makes me sit down and serves me, it’s not me saying: Here are all my trophies Lord that I earned. Instead it’s, “I’m a trophy of Your grace, Lord. It’s not about who I am, but who You are Lord that you would serve me. It’s not about my greatness, but your graciousness, Lord. It’s not what I’ve done, but what you did Lord on the cross.
Someday I will be walking into heaven. All the angels and archangels will be there looking on. And when they see me walk in, they’re going to say, “My goodness! The Lord is so gracious that he welcomed even Gordon into heaven.” They’re going to marvel not at what I did to deserve heaven, but who Jesus is. And it won’t be about the trophies I might get from this life, but the trophy that I am for the Lord.
There something in scripture about us getting crowns in heaven? Paul wrote this: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but [and note this] also to all who have loved His appearing.
The ones who fought the good fight get that crown of righteousness. But ALSO the watchers!Also, all who have loved his appearing.
This morning’ Gospel lesson presents an astonishing picture of role reversal. The master serves the slaves, the ones who stood watch for him. It challenges my thinking about God’s expectations for us. He doesn’t ask for accomplishments, he asks for obedience. Keep watch for my return.
And when we get to heaven, no one will really be interested in what I did with my life or what I might have accomplished during my short time in this world. Instead, they will marvel at what Jesus did. I want to go to heaven not to present trophies to the Lord. I want to go to heaven for all those in heaven to say: “Oh my, the Lord has been so gracious to even include Gordon in heaven.” Christ gets the glory!
And those of you who might feel a little anxious about seeing the Lord who is coming,
…those of you who might feel that you might have missed the mark in life, Hear this: You are trophies. You are trophies to God’s mercy and God’s love. And as you continue to watch and wait for the coming of the Lord, As you continue in hope standing on his promise to return, you, of all people, need not be apprehensive about seeing the Lord who is coming.