Winston Churchill once nodded off during the speech of a fellow member of the House of Commons. The member who was speaking noticed Churchill’s head drooping and startled him awake by asking in a loud voice: “Must you fall asleep when I am speaking?” “No,” Churchill replied. “It’s purely voluntary.”
Jesus has a message for Churchill this morning – Stay Awake! Watch! For you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Actually, it’s a command to his church and it comes in response to a question. The disciples asked him when would be his Second Coming. Ever since that day, Christians have been yearning to know, when’s He coming back?
Biblical prophecy is clear that the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt on the Temple Mount before Jesus returns. That Temple was leveled by the Romans in 70 AD. There is a movement within Judaism to rebuild that temple today. Unfortunately, in 7th Century, the Muslims constructed a big mosque on the Temple site. That mosque stands today as the third holiest site in Islam.
How do you build a Jewish temple where an Islamic mosque now stands? Or does it? There are three competing theories about where on the Temple mount the Temple stood.
Two of those sites do not occupy the same space as the mosque. So it just might be possible to reconstruct the Temple while the mosque still stands. There are a lot of Christians and Jews focused on rebuilding that Temple.
When Jesus tells us to “watch,” is that what he means? Should we be spending our life trying to discern just when it is that Jesus will come? Should we be looking for the signs that point to that day?
It’s fun to study prophecy. It makes the scary things of the world less scary. And it’s exciting to think the Lord’s return could be close.
But when Jesus called his disciples to “Stay awake and watch,” he wasn’t calling us to be obsessed trying to figure out when he’s coming back. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite.
The disciples ask, “When will you return?” And Jesus tells them that he doesn’t know the day or the hour. But he does know what the times will be like. He said that it will be like the days of Noah. They were eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. So on the surface everything looked very normal – no worries.
What Jesus describes here is the secular indifference of Noah’s generation. They were caught up in fulfilling themselves – realizing their potential, if you will. They were focused on the here and now. And God wasn’t even on their radar screen. So they were oblivious to idea that God’s judgment was imminent. By the time they would get any clue to their fate, before the first drop of water fell from the sky, it would be too late. The Ark would already be sealed up with Noah and his family inside it waiting for the waters to rise.
In Noah’s day there two kinds of people. Those who were safely on the Ark knowing that God’s judgment is coming. And those outside the Ark. The ones who were focused on the here and now with no thought of God. And Jesus says that’s how it will be when he returns.
So what are we to do? God is not calling us to build an ark. But are we to cluster together on a mountain top to wait for his coming? Are we to segregate ourselves like Noah did with his family?
Not according to what he says next. Jesus says that when the judgment comes, two men will be working in the field – one taken, one left behind. When the judgment comes, two women will be grinding meal together – one will be taken, one will be left behind.
When Jesus returns, God’s people won’t be all huddled on a mountain top somewhere. They’ll be dispersed throughout the world engaged in their daily pursuits. On the surface, you won’t be able to distinguish them from the others. People who seem so similar in their work will be shown to be dramatically dissimilar at judgment.
Jesus says that day will come as a thief in the night. For some, that judgment will occur at death For others it will occur at the End Times. Are we in those End Times? Jesus tells his disciples to keep watch. Here is where all those biblical prognosticators who specify time and date run into trouble.
A few years back, you might remember how Karl and Cordi Kretzinger’s house was robbed while they were away. For weeks afterwards, they didn’t feel safe leaving the house unattended. One of them always stayed in the house at all times . . . .keeping watch. But if they knew the time and hour that thief would return, there would be no need to keep watch.
Jesus commands his disciples, “Keep watch.” If there was anyway that Jesus’ disciples could know just when Jesus would return, there would be no need for Jesus’ command. They wouldn’t need to “keep watch.”
God, for his good purpose, has kept that information from us. But he does call us to live our lives as if that Second Coming could be at any moment. Those in Noah’s day perished because they were oblivious to God. Sounds like we too will perish if we don’t live as if Jesus was coming back tonight.
It raises a question for me. Paul assures us that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own efforts. How do we mesh Jesus’ command to “watch” with Paul’s assurances? To put it a different way, when Jesus returns, will there be some baptized Christians who are left behind because they weren’t “keeping watch”? ….because they weren’t diligent enough in their spiritual exercises?
I believe Jesus’ final command answers that for us. Jesus tells the disciples that if the owner had stayed awake, he would not have let his house be broken into. And then he gives them this command to his own: “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected time.”
Certainly, Jesus wants us to have our Christian life in order so that when we are surprised by his return. – and we will all be surprised –we will be ready. But it’s a little more than that. Looking at the Greek, when he says: “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected time.” He is speaking to them as a group. He’s saying: You guys be becoming ready” Let me repeat that: “You guys” be becoming ready. Or to be it another way, “You guys must learn how to be a ready people.”
It’s not that he’s demanding immediate action. There’s an element of time involved, there’s a period of adjustment that is necessary. It takes time to learn hope. Jesus tells them, “I want you as my people to be becoming ready” Be a people living in watchfulness and expectation.
Christ asks us together to become a ready people. Living in watchfulness and expectation is something that is best learned in community. And he does this, not because he wants us living like a huddle of puppies by a dinner table waiting for a crumb to fall. He does it so that we might enjoy the abundant life together. Let me illustrate that.
Suppose we had absolute proof that Jesus was going to return sometime this evening. It could be right at sundown, or it could be just before sunrise tomorrow morning. But suppose you knew for certain that Jesus would return sometime this evening. Would your outlook on life change? Would you change your routine at all during the next 24 hours?
If you knew Jesus were coming tonight, would you have any concern about the present state of the American economy? Would you be concerned at all about how to structure your investments for your future security? Would you even care what the stock market was doing? Would you worry about the solvency of Social Security?
If you knew Jesus were coming tonight, would you have any concern about politics? Would you care whether Trump will be impeached? Would you care who the Democrats will put up next year to run against him?
If you knew Christ was coming this evening, would that arthritis be as troublesome for you today? Would you be worried about getting the house cleaned or the yard raked up? Would you run out and wash the car?
If you knew Christ were coming this evening, how would you spend the rest of today? Would you head down to Fresno and try to get a jump on the Christmas shopping, maybe pick up some leftover Black Friday sales? Would you get those Christmas cards written and in the mail?
I think if we knew for certain that Christ was returning this evening, none of us would be doing any of those things. If we knew for certain that Christ was returning this evening, I don’t think anyone would go home and even turn on the TV. There would be no time for that!
I think, we’d be on the phone. We’d be emailing. We’d be Facebooking. We’d be doing everything we know to get the word out to everyone we cared about that Christ is coming this evening.
We’d do it not because we’re supposed to. We’d do it because it’s incredibly good news and we’d want to share it. We’d do it because we would want those we care about to be ready with us. We wouldn’t want them left out.
If we knew for certain that Christ would be coming tonight, I bet we’d stop putting off some things that needed to be done. Some of us might be calling people we know to ask for forgiveness. We might be confessing faults and giving encouragement to each other. We’d have a desire to get right with God by getting right with one another.
If Christ were coming tonight, I bet we would want to hang out together and share the anticipation. We’d be leafing through the bible to beef up on what is now current events. We’d be sharing with each other our history with the Lord, how we came to know Jesus. We’d be sharing the goodness of the Lord – stories of how Jesus has always been right there with us in life.
If we had absolute knowledge that Christ were coming tonight, I think all of our everyday worries and cares would be drowned out in the joy that would be filling this room. We’d be anticipating the new bodies coming our way, the perfect health that awaited us.
If we had certain knowledge that Jesus was coming back tonight, how would we spend the rest of the day? How would we “watch” for his coming before the sun rises tomorrow?
You see, I think that’s what the Lord has in mind for us. To live each day anticipating His return. To be living in this world, but with a perspective that looks beyond this world. To live life with our gaze in heaven and our glance down at this world.
When Jesus says: “You too must learn how to be a ready people,.” He’s giving us God’s provision for the good life – a life of freedom in Christ. It’s a life free of anxiety, free of guilt, free of sadness. free of regret. It’s a life that is changed and charged knowing that He’s coming.
Growing up, my brothers and I would spend summers at my grandparents in Hawaii. And when you get four boys under one roof for a summer, expect conflict, expect bickering, expect fighting…..and we didn’t disappoint. But there were three words that my grandmother would say that could change things in an instant. The three words were: “Uncle is coming.”
“Uncle” was Uncle Johnny. He was a surveyor on the island, so he had a 4-wheeling jeep and knew all the great places to go exploring. “Uncle is coming” meant that we’d be spending the day bouncing around in that jeep scouting out some adventure. It could be swimming in some hot springs out in the volcano country. It could be crawling through lava tubes.
He showed us lava trees. He showed us the Ghost Hill where he stopped the jeep and took off the hand brake. Then we sat and watched as we coasted uphill in that jeep. It was an optical illusion, but we didn’t know that. To us, it was the Ghost Hill.
“Uncle is coming” meant that we’d be having lunch at Dairy Queen and we could order the hamburger deluxe with a chocolate shake. Later, we’d be stopping at a country store to get ice cream in those little cups and soda water out of one of those coolers that held the bottles in ice water. I’d always get the orange soda.
When my grandmother said, “Uncle is coming,” the mood in the house changed in an instant.\ And we started getting ready. We got our rooms in order. We packed our swim suits and towels. We wanted everything to be ready so we could take off as soon as he arrived.
“Uncle is coming.” The anticipation suddenly sweetened our life. There was no time for bickering. We were instantly bonded together for something good that was on its way. That’s the kind of influence Uncle had on our lives.
Now think about it. If watching for an ordinary man can have that kind of effect on four scrappy boys living away from their parents for a summer, imagine what watching for Jesus can do to a congregation?
The disciples asked Jesus, “When will you return?” He did them a great favor. He didn’t tell them when he’s coming. Instead, He told them “watch, stay awake, learn to be a ready people.”
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. A time that calls us to live life in anticipation, in expectation. I’m so glad that Jesus did not tell us the day or the hour. Because that would have spoiled everything. What he did tell us is to become a people Ready for His Coming. So, get ready. Jesus is coming.