Matthew 24:45-51 – The Master is Coming

Expert explains about plagues, Armageddon and Jesus' return

Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (NIV)

Satan once called on some demons of hell and wanted to send one of them to earth to ruin some souls. One demon came forward and said, “I will go.” The devil said, “If I send you, what will you tell the humans?” He said, “I will tell those humans that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.” 

Then another demon came forward, darker and fouler than the first. The Accuser said, “If I send you, what will you tell humanity?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called a conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that good will be triumphant and evil defeated. You may not go.” 

Then one last demon came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. The devil said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid in the destruction of their souls?” The demon said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”

Most people’s crime in not gross sin but in plain indifference, without much thought to a future judgment day. Jesus said that such persons will not know what hit them because the Day of the Lord is coming, and it may be soon. Therefore, the question for Christians is not “When will Christ return?” because no one knows the answer.  Rather, the question for us is:

Are you ready for Christ’s return?

Today’s Gospel lesson is part of what is known as the Olivet Discourse, Christ’s final sermon before he faced the cross. Jesus was looking for his disciples to keep watch, to stay alert, to be ready, like a watchman on a tower scanning the landscape for an invading army.  We are to remain vigilant and remember Jesus is coming again.  We are to live each moment considering the promise of Christ’s coming, not knowing the day when it will happen.

Keeping watch, being ready, and staying alert means being witnesses to a world going about their merry way unaware that there is a doomsday.  We are to be active, like Noah building the ark, anticipating the great flood of coming judgment. We are not to waste time creating prophecy charts and trying to connect current events to the Lord’s return. Instead, we are to prepare for the coming judgment through living godly, upright lives. (2 Peter 2:4-9)

We keep watch by being faithful stewards in God’s household. 

We are to avoid being like the unfaithful teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while his parents are gone for the weekend, has a big party and trashes the house.  The parents will come home at a time the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth! 

The faithful and wise steward is busy doing the master’s business – the mundane work of taking care of the master’s house. Preparing for Christ’s return leads to down-to-earth acts of love and care, without passively or nervously sitting around and waiting.  The unfaithful servant in Christ’s story is careless, cruel, and carouses because he pays no attention to the fact that the master could return at any moment.

When Christ returns, none of us knows who will be taken and who will be left – because people might look like the same on the outside, doing the same work side by side, but can be very different persons on the inside.

As believers wait for their Lord’s return, they may become impatient and get caught up in petty day to day problems, losing sight of what is tremendously important.  One day, a man named Denis Waitley, was trying to catch a flight but was running late. So, he ran through the airport terminal.  He got to the gate the split second the gate agent closed the door.  Denis explained his situation, that he had a speaking engagement to get to, but the agent did not budge. 

Denis’s frustration turned into fuming.  He stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight.  The anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved.  Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life.  The flight he missed, flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane. 

Denis Waitley never registered his complaint.  In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.  He took it home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience, worry, and complaints.  It is about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

We are to keep watch for the Lord’s return because it could be today. 

In the meantime, we are to be faithful by serving a world in tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the coming judgment. Perhaps the best way to overcome our own chronic unhappiness and struggles is to serve the world and be the servant God wants us to be.

God Almighty, you are our hope in this life and the life to come, as we wait for Christ’s return, help us to work for the good, as if each day is our last; and let our hope for a new day shape how we live now. We look forward to the time when all will be made right. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

We prepare for things we really care about; we anticipate things that are important to us. This was the point of Christ’s parable about ten bridesmaids. (Matthew 25:1-13)

People who really care about hunting make careful preparations for the season and anticipate opening day. Those who care about Green Bay Packers football look forward to game-day, plan for special food to eat, and set aside normal activities to watch them play. And, of course, weddings are events which take lots of preparation because families care about the upcoming marriage. Since I have raised three girls, I can testify first-hand that wedding plans begin in third grade for many females.

Some folks show up to things late and unprepared because they simply do not value the event enough to be ready for it. Casual hunters and fair-weather football fans go home when it gets too cold because they are not adequately prepared for the conditions. Quickie weddings happen in Las Vegas when two people are not prepared to have a marriage for a lifetime. People drop out of impromptu events when there is no fun or gets too hard. However, if they really care about it, they prepare for it, have patience through it, and persevere in it when things get tough.

The true test of authentic commitment comes when things are not easy and it takes blood, sweat, and tears to see something through. A Christian is one who professes Christ as Lord and Savior, and backs the words up with a resolve to live into their baptism; to avail themselves of Holy Communion; to plan and prepare for both personal and public worship; and to make it their aim to love God, one another, and neighbor.

There are few human events more freighted with emotion and preparation than weddings. Parents invest a lot of time, energy, resources, and love to have a meaningful wedding for their kids. There is also the potential for disaster at a wedding. Since I have done my share of weddings, I can tell you that a lot of things go sideways in the preparation process and even at the wedding itself. I have seen bridesmaids pass out, grooms forget the ring, and families fight like cats and dogs in the narthex just as the bride is ready to come down the aisle. All kinds of crazy stuff can happen with a wedding. 

At my own wedding, the bridesmaids were literally sown into their dresses by the seamstress just hours before the wedding; one of my groomsman did not show up because, I later found out, he was in jail; and, we were married on the hottest and most humid day of the year – 100 degrees – which did not go so well for a bunch of women trying to have their best ever hair day.

Yet, we got married anyway. The wedding happened because it was important to us. I think it is interesting that Jesus chose to tell a parable using a wedding to tell us what the kingdom of God is like. Weddings in Christ’s day were just as prone to mishap, maybe even more so, than weddings today.

In ancient Israel, a couple would become engaged but not set a wedding date. The groom took the time to busily prepare a home for himself and his bride to live. It might take days, or weeks, or months, even years. It is this imagery that Jesus picked up to communicate his point of being prepared for things we care about. 

No one knew when the groom would be finished with preparations. (Note: Jesus the bridegroom is busy making preparations for a great wedding feast at the end of the age when he will come back and take us to be with him forever, John 14:1-4). When the groom was ready, he left the home he had prepared and went to the bride’s house. Then, the two of them, along with their wedding party, would have a grand procession through the streets of the town, almost always after dark, and then back to the home of the groom. So, oil lamps were important to have ready and on standby.

Ten Bridesmaids by Dinah Rau, 20

Here is the parable of the bridesmaid’s setting: The groom has left his house and begun his trek through town. He might come right away, and he might not, depending on what route he takes. The bridesmaids (or virgins) have their oil lamps ready. Five of them have plenty of oil, and five of them do not. The groom took a circuitous route, so the virgins fell asleep waiting. At midnight, the groom finally showed up at the bride’s house. Five virgins were ready and five were not ready. 

The five bridesmaids without enough oil went to find or buy some more, while the five virgins with plenty of oil joined the celebration. The procession returned to the groom’s house, posthaste, before the five bridesmaids who were not part of the procession finally caught up to them at the house. They knocked on the door and expected to get in. But the door was shut and was not going to be opened. The marriage happened without them.

Bottom line of the story: The five foolish bridesmaids were not ready because they did not care enough to be prepared. This, at face value, might seem harsh. Yet, in Christ’s time, not having the oil needed for the lamps would be akin, in our day, to half the bridesmaids showing up at the wedding at the last minute in jeans and t-shirts without having done their hair and expecting to stand up with the bride. No bride or groom and their family in our culture is going to roll with that kind of behavior because it is deeply offensive.

As in all of Christ’s parables, the characters represent the people listening. The five wise and five foolish bridesmaids point to the various characters who were following Jesus. Those folks consisted of both faithful disciples of Jesus, as well as wedding crashers who were not there because they valued and respected Jesus.

Jesus told us to keep watch, because we do not know the day or the hour when he will return. So, the big question for every professing believer in Jesus is: Are you prepared?  We are to maintain constant vigilance, being always alert for Jesus to show up. It is one thing to profess Christ; it is quite another thing to live each day doing God’s will and being prepared for Jesus to return. In short, Jesus wants more than fair-weather Christians. 

We cannot assume someone else will give us oil, or simply rely on another person to have everything we need to live the Christian life. Each one of us must listen and learn from God’s Word for ourselves; cultivate a life of prayer; serve the church and the world in ways God has called us to, without relying on someone else to do the work I should be doing. 

For those whom Jesus is the most important person in their lives, you will see preparations to serve him every day. It is my personal practice to rise each morning by 5:00am. I light a candle and spend some quiet unhindered time reading Scripture, reflecting on it, and praying. Throughout the day I pause to intentionally connect with God in prayer and worship (Yes, even a Pastor must do this!). 

I get up early in the morning regardless of how I feel. I engage in spiritual disciplines even when it does not strike my fancy. I go to work and do what it takes to get myself in a position to be a blessing to others, despite the times when I am less than 100%. I do it because God has called me, and I care about that.

Let us come back to Christ’s message of the parable: We prepare for things we really care about, and we anticipate things that are important to us. For the first three hundred years of the church, believers in Jesus met in cramped places with few resources other than the Holy Spirit of God. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, everything literally changed overnight.  Emperor Constantine built St. Peter’s Basilica and instituted state-funded support for bishops. Suddenly, Christianity was cool. At this point, the church began a moral and spiritual slide into worldliness and decadence. 

It seems throughout the history of Christianity that the church flourishes most when it is under some sort of persecution or adversity. And when it is not, it flounders and lapses into worldliness. Sometimes, the primary values and goals of Christians are ensuring that we get our way through politicians, as if our hope is ultimately tied to political elections. Instead, our goal must be to live for Jesus, no matter the circumstances. In fact, the church’s faith grows more genuine when it is proven through great trials.

The return of Jesus is a future reality which needs to be constantly on our spiritual radars. Jesus wants us to watch and pray, to be prepared, because it could be today that the bridegroom shows up at our house!

Revelation 2:8-11 – Persevering to the End

perseverance

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. (NRSV)

What is unique about chapters two and three of Revelation is that Jesus himself is the speaker to seven different churches. Today’s New Testament lesson is addressed to the church at Smyrna, which was a large and beautiful port city in the ancient world. Jesus was letting the believers in Smyrna know they were about to experience severe persecution. However, they need not be fearful and can remain faithful because their Lord knows all about suffering. The church’s perseverance under such trouble would result in the crown of life, given to them by Jesus himself.  This was surely an encouragement to the believers as they underwent difficulty.

The congregation at Smyrna was facing imprisonment and, for some, even death for their faith. The heart of the message by Jesus is to remain faithful.  There will always be cowards and those with weak faith who will fold when the going gets tough. Yet, persecution and hardship have a way of purging the soul as well as the church of its dross.

Suffering is inevitable; how we handle adversity when it comes is completely under our own control.

Few of us reading this will ever likely face a hardship that could result in martyrdom. Knowing there are brothers and sisters in the faith throughout the world who do face daily hardship for their devotion and beliefs puts our own troubles in a different light. The daily irritations and trials God puts in our way to refine us and shape our faith certainly seem small compared to imprisonment and martyrdom. Yet, no matter who we are and where we are located on this earth, whether facing uncommon hardship or banal difficulty, the afflictions of both body and soul come to us as opportunities to lean into faith and love Jesus to the end.

Our Lord is not looking for perfect people, just faithful followers willing to endure suffering with the truth that our Lord stands with us. 

Whatever our current circumstances may be, Jesus offers us his perspective on it. He knows precisely what is going on and understands the spiritual resources you and I possess for each adverse situation we encounter. In fact, few of us really discern the largess of internal resources are within us because of Christ’s redemptive work and the Spirit’s abiding presence – not to mention the very personality God graciously gave us in the womb before we were even born. Even though it seems, at times, we lack strength, wisdom, and courage for what is ahead – Jesus has supreme confidence in us to maintain faith and endure through our afflictions.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon.

To finish the race we need to be in good spiritual health. The perseverance of the saints will happen as we run step after step with boldness despite fear of the unknown future around the bend. This requires the equipment of risk, vulnerability, accountability, and steadfast love which is both received and given. Perhaps most of all it requires keeping our heads up and running toward the promise of reward at the finish. The crown of life is an image of both congratulation and celebration of a race well-run and the enjoyment of unending fellowship with our Lord for whom we have endured so much.

When all is said and done, and the end of the age has occurred, we will be able to look back in hindsight and see that it was really Jesus who all along was fortifying us to keep standing and keep going. Christ is so vested in us that he continually ensures our ultimate victory through a constant presence of help and encouragement. The heritage of both Reformation and Holy Scripture testify to this truth:

“All our progress and perseverance are from God.” –John Calvin

“I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, CEB)

May the grace of Jesus sustain you; the love of God surround you; and, the encouragement of the Spirit surprise you, today and every day. Amen.

Grant, O God, That we may never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul; that we may never abandon the struggle, but that we may endure to the end, and so be saved; that we may never drop out of the race, but that we may ever press forward to the goal of our high calling; that we may never choose the cheap and passing things, and let go the precious things that last forever; that we may never take the easy way, and so leave the right way; that we may never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.

So keep us and strengthen us by your grace that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life down even to the gates of death; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year