Be prepared…

Sermon: Sunday, 31st July, 2022 Video
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Luke 17:20-37

We all know how important it’s to ‘be prepared’. If you’re going on holiday abroad, you must have your passport, and travel insurance, and sun cream. If you are going to a job interview then we must be prepared for the questions we are likely to be asked. The boy scout motto is a good one: ‘Be prepared’. We’re told to start paying into our pension plans in our 20s so that we are prepared for our retirement. However, the main thing in life we need to prepare for is meeting God. Again and again, the Bible tells us the sobering truth that one day we shall all meet Jesus to give an account of our lives.

We might not like the idea of God judging the world. But it is, in fact, a good thing. Imagine there was no judgment- people could do anything they wanted and it wouldn’t ultimately matter. It wouldn’t matter how I treated you or how you treated me. We could rebel against God all our days and that wouldn’t matter either. But it does matter. We need to be ready to meet King Jesus. We need to put our trust in him, so that we can be part of his Kingdom.

The kingdom of God has a beginning, a middle and an end, and if we can understand this framework, it will really help us to grasp God’s plan for the world much more clearly. The kingdom’s beginning, middle and end are all mentioned in this passage, and that makes it an ideal place to see the ‘big picture’ when it comes to the kingdom of God. Luke mentions ‘the kingdom of God’ 27 times in his gospel so clearly this a major Biblical theme. In fact, Jesus speaks more of his kingdom than he does of anything else. What is the kingdom of God?

How do we define it? The kingdom of God is the reign of God through God’s people. It comes through the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel in all the world. God himself is the King, but in this sin-sick world, his reign has been resisted by us because we want to live selfish lives. God in his grace, sends his Son Jesus into this rebellious and broken world to die for sinners, and through faith in him, our allegiance is no longer primarily to ourselves, but to King Jesus, who reigns in our hearts.

In Jesus day, there was an expectation that God would come as King to redeem his people and restore creation. There was a keen interest in the kingdom of God; however, there was also a lot of misunderstanding about what it would be and how it would grow. Who would bring this kingdom and when would it happen? Let’s see what Luke chapter 17 can teach us about the beginning, middle and end of the kingdom of God.

1. The kingdom’s beginning (verses 20-21)

The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question (verse 20): When will the kingdom of God come? For the Pharisees, God’s kingdom was bound up with the coming of the promised Messiah. They expected the kingdom would be a political one, where Roman rule in Israel would be broken and when once again Israel would be exalted and blessed and prospered by God. They expected this to happen straight away. They expected the immediate restoration of political and religious life in Israel. It would be like the days of King David or King Solomon once again! But they were wrong. The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom but a spiritual one. And it would not come immediately but in stages.

When will the kingdom of God come? It’s already here, says Jesus! It is in your midst. What does Jesus mean? He means that the kingdom has already come because the King has come and the King is Jesus himself. The Pharisees are blind to the fact the kingdom is all about Jesus and centred on him and his work and his reign. The beginning of the kingdom, stage 1, arrived in Jesus’ own ministry and work.

What did Jesus say after he cast the demon out of the mute man? We read in Luke 11:20: ‘But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ Jesus has already calmed the storm and walked on water, raised the dead and cleansed 10 lepers. And still they ask when the kingdom will come? Because Jesus’ ministry is different from what they had expected the Messiah to do, and because of their own spiritual blindness, they cannot see what’s literally staring them in the face. Jesus challenges their thinking. You will not find the kingdom through signs in the sky but in the person of Jesus Christ.

2. The kingdom’s middle (vs 22-25)

The middle stage of the kingdom is the stage we are in right now in 2022. It is that time between the resurrection of Jesus, and his coming again in the future. Sometimes it is called ‘the last days’. Don’t be confused by this. We are in the last days now, and this is the middle stage of the kingdom.

Listen to Acts 2:17: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ In many ways, the last days are an exciting time to live in, because it is an age when Jesus reigns, and when the gospel is spreading and changing lives all over the world. Satan no longer has dominion over the Gentile nations, but rather many of them are coming to Christ, and entering the kingdom. Through the outpouring of the Spirit many are being saved, and God’s people are being built up in the faith.

However, as we know, Satan is still active in the world and there is so much going on in the world which breaks our hearts. In verse 22 Jesus says: ‘The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man…’ Why will we long for Jesus to come back? Well, because of the terrible persecution experienced by so many Christians in the world, and because we are so fed up with our own struggles with sin. When we gather at the prayer meeting, and pray for our brothers and sisters who are under such spiritual pressure and when we consider the spiritual state of our own nation too, we often long for Jesus to return. This actually makes us vulnerable to false teaching. Jesus warns us about this and says don’t get ‘sucked in’. False teachers will come (verse 23) claiming to know when and where Jesus’ return will be. Jesus’ warning is crystal clear: ‘Do not go running off after them.’ In fact, it’s crazy to follow those who claim Jesus has already returned, because when it does happen, it will be public and visible and unmistakable.

The truth is, this middle stage of the kingdom is marked by the suffering of Christians. We must expect this. There will be those who hate us. There will be pressure to give up the faith, and just live instead for material things. This is the normal pattern of the Christian life: suffering now and glory later. Jesus even speaks of his own suffering as the Son of Man (verse 25): ‘But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’

If Jesus had to suffer before his glory, then we must suffer too. We read in Acts 14:21-22: ‘They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.’

3. The kingdom’s consummation (vs 26-37)

Jesus goes on to speak to his disciples about what will happen when he returns to earth. We often call this the 2nd coming of Jesus. When will this be? Do we have a date, or even a rough idea? Many people down through the centuries have looked at wars and famines and religious upheaval and have predicted when and where Jesus will return, claiming being able to interpret the signs.

Every other time I speak with one of my friends she claims the time must be very close because of all the ‘interesting signs’. You probably know Christians who speak like this too. It is like they have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and they are trying to figure things out. Perhaps the disciples themselves thought Jesus’ return would be within a relatively short timeframe. Jesus wants us to understand what will be happening on earth at the time of his return.

Will it be a dramatic war or widespread famine or virus? Actually, Jesus says that people will be doing ordinary things, just as they were in the days of Noah and the days of Lot, two other occasions of the Lord’s judgment. People will be eating and drinking and marrying and planting crops and visiting friends. Life will be going on in its regular pattern, and there will be no specific warning that Jesus is coming in judgment. People will be getting on with life, at work and leisure and spending time with their families, and God is not in their thinking at all.

What point is Jesus making here? Why is he likening his 2nd coming with the days of Noah and Lot? Jesus is making it clear to us that when he comes again, he will come in judgment. This is crucial for us to understand. There will be a division, even amongst families, of those who love and know Jesus, who will be taken, and those who don’t know or follow Jesus, who will be left to face the consequences of their own sin. Tragically, many will not be ready for Jesus’ coming. In fact, they have lived their lives for themselves, as if there would never be any accountability before God. They are wrong. Everyone will have to meet the Lord Jesus face to face when he comes again, and so the urgent question for us today is, am I ready for his coming?

In Noah’s day, people must have thought the promise of a future flood was just a made-up story designed to frighten them and they just carried on ignoring God and living for themselves. But God only warns us because he wants us to turn to him. Those who trust in the Lord are saved in the ark and those who reject him face God’s just judgment.

It is impossible to overstate how serious this passage of the Bible is. It is urgent that we are ready for our death, or the return of Jesus, whichever happens first. His return is something his people can long for, because it will usher in a new and perfect earth, where we shall live in Christian community forever. However, if you ignore God and refuse to give King Jesus your allegiance, then his return is something to be feared. There will be no second chances.

Practically speaking, what does it mean to be prepared for his coming? It means to have a living faith in Jesus, believing that he died for you. It means submitting to Jesus as the King of your life. It’s far more than coming to church or being religious. That is not enough. Remember Lot’s wife, says Jesus. She was so well-connected to godly people such as her husband Lot and Abraham, and yet, because she did not have faith in the LORD, she was lost. Her heart was in material things and pleasures and things which ultimately do not matter.

In verse 37, the disciples ask Jesus where this will happen. Jesus’ reply is proverbial. He says: ‘Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.’ Jesus seems to be saying that the judgment of God will take place wherever there is unbelief and spiritual death.

If you remember anything from this sermon, remember the warning of Jesus. We must be ready for his coming again. And the only way to be ready is to have faith in King Jesus. Are you ready? Sure, we could take a survey and ask people how many of them believe in the judgment of God, but whatever the results might be, does not change the reality that God has set a day for judgment.

‘For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17:31)

Many people will say to you, ‘There’s not going to be a day of judgment’. That’s just made-up nonsense. And they will carry on doing ordinary things, ignoring God in the world he has made, and ignoring King Jesus. They will try and keep control of their own lives, and they shall lose their lives (verse 33). But those who hand the reins of their lives to Jesus, which is the best way to live anyway, shall inherit eternal life, through their faith in Christ. They can look forward to Jesus’ coming again, and the consummation of the kingdom. Don’t be so wrapped up in materialism that you are unprepared for Jesus’ coming again.

Why not bow to King Jesus now, and enter into his kingdom? Pray to him now and ask him to forgive you and take control of your life.