A friend who is an author posted a message on Facebook this week. ”The London Book Fair is cancelled. The end of the world is nigh!” It is true that a number of major events around the world have been cancelled. But most have continued as usual. A quick shout for all the spaniels at Crufts – well done spaniels! It is possible that this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo might be postponed. We don’t know how many people in England will catch the dreaded Covid 19 virus, or how ill it might make some of them. We don’t know how badly the economy or the stock market might be hit as this illness spreads. Coronavirus is not a sign of the end of the world – it really isn’t. But it is a reminder that we can never be sure about what is going to happen in the future. We all have our hopes and dreams. We can make all the plans we like. But nothing is certain. Circumstances can change. People get ill or have accidents. Nothing in the future is certain. Except there is just one thing we can be absolutely sure of. Jesus is coming back one day. And that’s a promise.
The Old Testament was full of prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming. And both Testaments are packed full of references to the second coming of Christ. Somebody has counted 1,845 mentions of Christ’s Return in the Old Testament and 318 references in the New Testament – an average of 1 in every 30 verses! 23 of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. For every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ’s incarnation, there are 8 which look forward to his return!
Jesus is coming back. That is the one event in all our futures which we can be 100% certain will happen. There is God’s ultimate rebuke to this post-modern post-Christian world. The world which rebels against objective truth and morality. The politically correct world where the only rule is that there are no rules. The world which says that we can make and choose our own gods, or choose to have no god at all. One day the truth will come to light. One day Christ will return and on that day EVERY eye will see and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is coming back. There are many Old Testament promises about God’s Messiah and Saviour which were not fulfilled in Jesus’s earthly ministry. They are waiting to be fulfilled. And we have the teaching and promises of Jesus to encourage us.
Several of Jesus’s parables looked forward to a time of harvest, like the Sower and the Different Kinds of Soil we find in Luke 8, pointed forward to a day of judgment. Jesus talked plainly about his return in
Luke 9 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
There are even more stern warnings of the day of judgment in
Luke 10 13 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.
In Luke 11 Jesus taught his disciples what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Every time we pray “Your kingdom come” we are looking forward to the Return of Jesus at the end of time.
Again in Luke 11 Jesus points forward to the judgment which will be enacted on his return.
Luke 1129 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, ‘This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.
On Friday we read Jesus’s warning in Luke 13 28 ‘There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
The parable of the Great Banquet looks forward to the celebration at Jesus’s return. Outside Luke’s Gospel we have so many promises Jesus himself made concerning his return, for example in
John 14 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
The return of Jesus Christ is the one completely certain event in the future of human beings. And in our reading in Luke’s Gospel last Monday we read three short parables which show us how we should be living in the light of the Second Coming.
The parable of the servants ready to serve
LUKE 12 35 ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak.
Decades ago when I was a schoolteacher I occasionally had to leave the laboratory momentarily to collect something from the prep room next door. I would always give my students something specific to do to keep them out of mischief while I was out of the room. It was always amusing when I went back into the classroom to see which pupils were doing what they had been told, ready for my return, and which were not. Woe betide the servant who is not awake and doing his job when the Master returns
Jesus is coming back. When we look forward to a holiday we make plans for it. We spend days or weeks making sure we have everything prepared, tickets, accommodation, all the things we need to take with us, working out what we will do when we get there. How much more should we be preparing for the return of Jesus.
‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, … 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.
Jesus is coming back. And when he does he will expect us simply to be doing the jobs he has given us to do. Learning from him, loving him more dearly, following him more nearly. Jobs like worshipping and serving. Jobs like loving our neighbours and bearing faithful witness to Jesus as his Ambassadors in this fallen world.
37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.
What an unexpected punchline. A master would never serve his servants. It was always their job to serve him. What an amazing reward for faithful service, that the master is prepared to wait on his servants! Jesus is coming back. We all need to be ready.
There’s a simple motto which sums up this challenge. “Live every day as though Jesus died yesterday, rose from the dead today and is coming back tomorrow.”
The parable of the thief in the night
Luke 12 39 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’
This parable in itself is particularly striking and memorable. But what makes it even more significant is the number of times it is quoted elsewhere in the New Testament. Not just in Matthew chapter 24 but by other writers as well.
The apostle Paul quotes this saying of Jesus when he wrote to the Thessalonians, in what was probably his first letter, written less than 20 years after Jesus was crucified.
1 Thessalonians 5:1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
A few years later, the leader of the apostles Peter refers to this saying in his second letter.
2 Peter 3 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Then the apostle John talks about the thief in the night twice in the book of Revelation. The Risen Christ sends this challenging message to the church in Sardis.
Revelation 3 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
And the Risen Christ brings this warning in Revelation 16:15 Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
So we can have no doubt that Jesus actually told this parable of the thief in the night. And also that it was a saying which was important in every part of the early church.
40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’
The Early Church expected Jesus to return in their lifetime. Every generation since could have expected Jesus to return in their lifetime! And we should be ready. It is only God’s mercy and patience which gives yet more time for human beings to return to their Maker. And we need to be ready – because the Son of Man will come at the hour we least expect Him! How many of us are ready for Jesus to come back today?
Every time I stand up to speak I like to keep in mind one sober thought. This might be the last sermon I ever preach! You may never hear me preach again. Don’t think I am getting morbid here. I am not anticipating gloom and disaster. Quite the reverse. My sobering thoughts are actually exciting and thrilling. This could be my last ever sermon, because before we meet again, or even before I finish speaking this morning, the Lord Jesus Christ could return. The Second Coming could be closer than any of us expect! Jesus is coming back like a thief in the night!
The parable of the servants ready to serve and the parable of the thief in the night are clearly aimed at every Christian. At all times we must all be ready for Jesus’s return. But then Jesus tells a third parable aimed particularly at leaders in the church.
The parable of the manager of the household
41 Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’
42 The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, “My master is taking a long time in coming,” and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 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 unbelievers.
Every Christian must be ready for Jesus to return. But here is a solemn warning for leaders in the church. They especially have to honour the responsibilities God has given them. The manager of the household must not exploit or mistreat the other servants. If they do they will face much fiercer judgment.
47 ‘The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
You may have heard the saying, “With great power comes great responsibility” That quote does not come from the Bible. It is known as “the Peter Parker principle” from the Marvel comic books stories of Spiderman. Initially not spoken by any character but just by the narrator, in later flashbacks we discover that it was the favourite punchline of Peter’s Uncle Ben. “With great power comes great responsibility”.
NRSV From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
God expects more from mature Christians than he does from new Christians. He expects more from strong Christians than he does from struggling Christians. Those in leadership carry greater responsibilities than those who are following.
Jesus is coming back. The day of his return is sooner now than ever before. Billy Graham said this about the Return of Jesus. “Our world is filled with fear, hate, lust, greed, war and utter despair. Surely the Second Coming of Christ is the only hope of replacing these depressing features with trust, love, universal peace and prosperity. FOR THAT DAY the world wittingly or inadvertently waits.”
Jesus Christ is coming back. Good news for some – bad news for others. The one absolutely certain future event! Will we be ready for him?
“He is coming for the ones, Who is ready to meet Him.
He is coming for the ones, Who are ready to greet Him.
He is coming for the ones, Whose lamps are burning bright.
He is coming for the ones, Who are watching and waiting.
He is coming for the ones, Who are separating,
Themselves from the world, And walking in the light.
Moving in the stream of the Spirit’s leading,
Living of the love of the Lord and feeding,
On the Holy Word that can purify the soul.
Running in the race for the crown of glory,
Taking up the cross and telling the story.
Waiting for the One who has saved.
And made them whole.
He is coming for the ones, Who await His appearing.
He is coming for the ones, Who are persevering.
He is coming for these
Is He coming for the you?” (Jimmy and Carol Owens from “Come Together”)