Active waiting

VideoSermon: Sunday, 13th March, 2022     
Speaker: John Johnstone  
Scripture: Luke 12:35-48

There are certain situations in life where you always have to be ready and prepared. Driving is one of them. We always need to make sure there is enough air in the tyres, petrol in the tank, oil, water, and screen wash. We need to be MOTed, taxed, and insured. And when we are driving, we must always be aware of our surroundings, what is in front of us and what is behind. What are the hazards? You cannot and must not switch off. You cannot close your eyes for 30 seconds when tired. Be prepared.

Certain jobs demand that we are always prepared and ready and watchful. The motto of the US coastguard is ‘Semper Paratus’, which means ‘always ready’. Of course, it’s obvious that emergency services need to be ever ready to help those whose lives are in danger. If you are a fireman, you need to be prepared for such an emergency. What are the fire and rescue service doing when there are no fires? Playing cards, and watching TV? I hope not. I’m guessing they are testing equipment, performing drills, and keeping up their fitness. No-one knows in advance when a fire will be, so you must be ready all the time, every day. It is not a passive waiting, but an active one.

1. Waiting for Jesus’ return

Jesus is telling us today that when it comes to the Christian life, we must always be prepared for his coming back. And this readiness is certainly not a passive one, but a highly active one. We are always in training, always putting his commands into practice, always witnessing, always confessing our sins, always helping others, always strengthening our relationship with God. We do this, knowing that one day, each one of us will stand before Jesus and give an account for our lives. We must be ready for that day. We must live in the light of that day. Not to do so would be sheer folly.

So, let’s begin with a simple question, does the truth that one day we’ll all stand before Jesus to give an account influence how we live day to day? It ought to. Out of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, Jesus’ return is mentioned 318 times. There is a massive emphasis in Scripture on this fact.

“Eschatology (teaching about the future) in the Bible exists not so much to inform us of the details of the future as to prepare us to serve God faithfully today.” (Darrell Bock)

Listen to what Paul says in his letter to Titus: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus: 2 vs 11-14)

“The second coming of Christ is the centre in which all the lines of our religion meet.’ (Matthew Henry)

“Careful, constant readiness to meet Christ and face final judgment defines the outlook with which life is to be lived.” (Terry Johnson)

That might sound somewhat severe to you, or a little over-the-top. It is not. God wants us to enjoy his good gifts of family, friendship, food, art, music, nature and laughter. However, the main focus of our life must be to live in a way which pleases God. And this demands that we think carefully about how we spend our lives, so that we invest in the right things, and don’t waste the time and opportunities we’ve been given.

Luke pictures us as servants, and our master Jesus is away at a wedding, and we don’t know when he’s coming back to his house, but we must be ready for his coming at any point, especially in the wee small hours of the night. In those days, weddings could last for days, and it was common for the end point to be late into the night. Good servants would always be topping up their lamps with oil, keeping the fire going, and keeping an ear out for the sound of the master’s horses coming close. They are commended for their positive attitude, ready to spring up and give their master and joyful and warm reception whenever he would arrive. There’s no begrudging spirit or grumpiness here.

There’s a really encouraging twist in Jesus’ teaching. Verse 37 tells us that Jesus himself will be so thrilled by this behaviour and moved by their faithfulness that he himself will serve the servants! What an amazing time that will be. The servants sharing in their master’s joy.

This reminds me of the time Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet. But the foot washing was just a picture of the much greater work of Jesus, and ultimate expression of Jesus serving us, which was his death on the cross for our sins. This is the quintessential example of the master serving us. He did not come to be served but to serve. However, I believe that this points to a future time in Heaven, at the great banquet in Heaven, often called the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19) when in some ongoing way, Jesus will serve his people, even as we worship and serve him. I’m not sure exactly what this might look like, but it is tantalising to think about it. God has a heart to call us into fellowship with himself, and reward his people and bless them, so that we share in his bounty. This underlines for us that living life in the light of our accountability to God ought to be a sobering but joyful experience, knowing that one day we might be able to hear those wonderful words: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Don’t you want to hear that from Jesus?

Once again, Jesus stresses that the time of his coming is unknown and will be unexpected. In verse 39, it compares Jesus’ coming to that of a thief in the night. In other words, there’s no time to sleep, or to take our foot off the gas. Today is a day to live for Jesus, and not for self. Tomorrow, if we are spared, is the same. And the next day. Don’t be distracted by living for work or money or pleasure. Sure, others might do that: do not be like them. Be prepared.

‘So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:6)

We all know what it means to get ready for a night out- choosing our best outfit and looking our best. Sometimes we go to great lengths to ‘look the part’. It’s as if Jesus is saying in this passage, go to great lengths to make your soul beautiful.

Let me share a question I’ve been challenged with recently. Imagine Jesus were coming back in 6 months’ time. What would you be doing during those 6 months. Surely, you’d be upping your game a bit, spending much more time focused on getting to know the Lord better in the Word and prayer, serving in his church more zealously, and seeking to grow in holiness, depending on the Spirit’s power. He’s coming in just 6 months! I don’t have time to waste. I’m not going to be distracted by my plans to travel, home improvements or making another £1000. I’ll be meeting Jesus soon. What a thought! Well, that’s the way we ought to live now, if we want to be like the faithful servants in this passage. What a challenge!

2. Working until Jesus’ return

Jesus gives us another picture now, in order to stress to us that as well as waiting for Jesus’ return, we ought to be working hard. We are like managers or stewards who have been entrusted with certain tasks, and of course, Jesus expects us to get on with the hard graft: v43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.

All Christians are managers in this sense, as we have been entrusted with our own time, money, resources, gifts and opportunities, and Jesus expects us to put these things to work for the extension of the Kingdom of God, and for the glory of God.

I hope most of us know that we can never earn our way to Heaven by working hard, because only Jesus can pay for our place in Heaven, and he pays with his own blood. However, once we become Christians, we demonstrate that we have truly changed by our obedience and hard work. Working hard for God and living a fruitful life becomes more natural for us, because we have a relationship with Jesus who is the vine, and if Jesus is the vine and we are branches truly attached to him, then we must bear fruit.

‘…those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.’ (Titus 3:8)

‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (James 1:22)

‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good.’ (Acts 10:38)

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10)

This teaching is a really important reminder to us all not to ‘play’ with Christianity or to think that it’s ok to be passive Christians, just turning up to church, but not serving in significant ways. Serving and working isn’t an optional extra. And the work we do at home and in paid employment too must be done in a way that pleases our Heavenly Father. Should the thought of this hard work stress us out? Should we react by hiding away and keeping our faith secret and keeping our distance from the church family? Not at all! Jesus gives a tremendously positive encouragement for us to work hard. What is this encouragement?

3. Jesus shall reward the faithfulness of his servants

‘Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.’ (Luke 12:44) What is Jesus teaching here? It means that the Christian who is faithful in his or her temporary earthly responsibilities will be given vast permanent authority in Heaven. Our reward will be expanded responsibility, which will be deeply satisfying and a great honour. Jesus speaks about this again later in Luke’s gospel: ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ (Luke 19:17)

Some people have more money than others. Some people have more free time than others. Some people are more gifted than others. But none of this really matters. What matters is that we are faithful in using whatever opportunities God has given us. He is looking for faithfulness, and he will reward faithfulness. You don’t have to be anyone special. You just have to have the desire to serve God with what you have, whatever that might be.

4. Jesus shall punish the faithlessness of lazy servants

There are those, even in the church, who might seem to be servants of God, but it becomes obvious over time that they are not, because they produce no fruit. Instead, they live to satisfy their own sinful desires. They look after themselves, line their own pockets and mistreat those in their care. They might think they can live any way they want, with no accountability or repercussions. Their punishment will be great. V46 says they are assigned a place with the unbelievers, and that is because in reality they are unbelievers. These people have abused both God’s trust and human life.

“Everything will be revealed when Jesus returns, so we must make sure our life matches our profession. Everything will be put right, and the truth will be known at last! There will be justice on earth.” (Kent Hughes)

Note too that God’s justice is so fair that he takes everything into consideration. Those who knew a lot about Jesus and his commands and call to trust in him, if they do not, will be punished much more severely than those who never heard about these things. God is totally fair in all he does. I think many of us have been given much and entrusted with much. Many of us have grown up in Christian homes and heard the gospel hundreds of times. Jesus says to us, from you much will be expected! This is all the more reason for us to ask the Holy Spirit to help us to be good stewards of all Christ has entrusted us with.

I’d like to ask you to do one thing – live each day being mindful of the fact that one day we shall meet Jesus and he will assess our lives. Pray that he will be able to say to us (Matthew 25:21): ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’
May our future meeting with Jesus dominate the way we live our lives.

So, what is your main task in life? To prepare for retirement? To prepare your children for life? Or is it to prepare for eternity and our meeting with God.