For a text that is so clear and straightforward, I sure had a difficult time preparing the sermon for this week. Truth is, I think my own sermon title intimidated me: 'Be Ready'.
This is the instruction I received daily while I was growing up as the youngest child in a fairly strict home: 'Bryn, get ready for school. Bryn, you better be ready for your exam. Bryn, get ready for hockey. Bryn, get ready for church'. You hear that enough and you begin to resent the instruction, 'Be ready'.
I turn to Luke 12:40, and what do I see, but Jesus, My Lord, telling me "be ready ; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect ".
A clear and straightforward message, but a very important message. The instruction to "be ready " is an important message because, I suspect, very few Christians are truly ready to serve Christ. Many people, as we learned last Sunday, are too busy accumulating worldly possessions, or we are busy doing something, or we are busy doing everything--that is, everything but what our Lord requires of us.
Our passage in Luke waits until verse 40 to tell us the reason why we are to be ready: "be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect ".
Clearly, this is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ. The first Advent of our Lord was a mission of grace but, according to Scripture, Jesus' Second Coming is a mission of judgment--it is a time to separate the wheat from the tares(Mt. 13:40); it is a time to test each persons works by fire(1Cor. 3:13-15). It is this we are to be ready for. At the same time, I don't think we have yet exhausted what it means to say that Christ is "coming ".
Earlier in this chapter we read a parable about a man who stored up possessions for himself only to have God say to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared? "(v.19, 20).
So regardless of whether we live to witness the Second Coming of Christ, we will witness a type of coming of Christ when we die . And so the question remains, 'Are you ready for Christ's coming?'. If Christ came today, would you be satisfied with how you have lived for Him? Or would you regret that most of your efforts were spent organizing your temporal affairs?
Legend has it that the devout Francis of Assisi was approached one afternoon while he was gardening and was asked, 'Francis, if you knew that Christ was coming this very hour for your soul, what would you do?'. At this, Francis paused from his work, looked up at the man and replied, 'I would finish my gardening'. Francis could finish his gardening because he had no regrets about how he lived out his commitment to Christ.
How well are we living out our commitment to Christ? Jesus tells us, in verse 35, to "be dressed for action " and to "have our lamps lit ". What does that verse say? Dressed for action? And we thought the command was to be dressed for church! We thought the Bible commanded us to wear expensive clothes on Sunday, when in reality, the command from Scripture is to be dressed for work. The command of Scripture is to "be dressed for action ".
The command to "be dressed for action " cuts to the heart of the matter here. The Christian life is not a life of passive and smug indifference to the rest of the world. The Christian life is a life where action is paramount and where, in a world of darkness, we are called to be beacons of light.
"Action " does not stop after an hour of warming a pew, or filling a pulpit, on Sunday morning. The type of action Christ calls us to is needed everyday. Every day of our life is a gift from God to be used wisely for His glory. Why would we choose to live this way, why would we choose to prioritize kingdom "action " over worldly action? The answer is simple: We dress ourselves for kingdom work because it is the work that brings us the most joy and the most lasting rewards .
Jesus likens the one who is "dressed for action " with "a slave waiting for his master to return from a wedding banquet, so that he may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed is the slave whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds him so, blessed is that slave "(v.36-38).
Many of you, I hope find your work extremely fulfilling. I am here to tell you that nothing is more fulfilling and joy producing than kingdom work. Now as I say that, I don't want you to think you have to quit your job and become a missionary to find true fulfillment. The challenge I have for you is for you to transform your worldly affairs into kingdom work. Even in our over-zealous, politically correct, society, be challenged today to find ways to turn everything you do into kingdom work. Jesus is coming again. Your work will be tested, but only kingdom work will survive the refining fire.
Transforming everyday, ordinary, activities into kingdom work is what glorifies God . And when God is glorified our joy is made full. We see this happen in the parable--the slave honours his master by waiting up for him and greeting him; and then we read, "Blessed is the slave whom the master finds alert when he comes ". The Greek word, translated "Blessed ", literally means "happy ". "Happy is the slave whom the master finds alert when he comes ". Happy is the one who is ready to work for God .
Notice that the slave gains more than happiness here. Notice that the slave gets more than just a warm, fuzzy, feeling from knowing that he has done well. Notice that the slave gets rewarded . When the master returns to his awaiting servant we read that the master "fastens his belt, has (the slave) sit down to eat, and (the master) comes and serves him "(v.37).
The slave was ready for action, but what happens? The master serves the slave! I could find no precedent for this kind of treatment in first century Palestine. At best, slaves would be rewarded by being invited to sit and eat with their master. But to have the master serve the slave? This is truly exceptional. Yet, this is what Jesus promises to the Christian who is "dressed for action ".
Jesus our Master promises to serve us--according to His will--but He serves us nonetheless. What a great arrangement we have here! We participate in kingdom work and Christ promises to serve us. You may wonder whether you have the time, strength, or ability to serve Christ, but you must remember this: You do not serve Christ, you do not not do kingdom work, by your own strength. You do kingdom work with the strength Christ provides (1Pet. 4:11). Remember the words of our Lord in Mark 10:45: "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many ".
Jesus switches gears a little in His parable when He says that "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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour "(v.39-40).
Jesus is telling us to be alert. Jesus tells us to be prepared because He is coming like a thief. The apostle Paul tells us the exact same thing in 1Thessalonians 5, verse 2, "you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night ".
The Bible presents many images of God--God the shepherd, God the waiting Father, God the mother hen who gathers her chicks. But God the thief?
Yes, God the thief. If Christ is like a thief, if Christ is coming "at an unexpected hour ", how shall we respond? In 1Thessalonians 5:6, Paul says to us, "let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober ".
Are you kidding me Paul? "Let us not sleep "?! But of course, Paul is not talking about literal sleep here. And though Paul condemns drunkeness elsewhere, he is not talking about literal sobriety here either. Paul is using sleep and drunkenness as metaphors for what happens when people get lazy in their relationship with Christ.
We do not know when Christ is coming, that much is for certain. It is also true that there is plenty of kingdom work to be done--on this earth, in our community, and in this church.
So what is your current condition? Are you sleeping? Then it is time to wake up, Jesus the thief could come at any time. Are you intoxicated by worldly pursuits? Then put down the bottle and be sober, Jesus the thief could come at any time.
Now let's be optimistic--maybe you are not in a spiritual slumber, maybe you are not intoxicated by worldly pursuits. The question for you then is, are you "dressed for action "? Is your lamp shining?
We are the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we are not meant to sleep. As the body of Christ, we are not to pollute the body with the things of this world. As the body of Christ, our obligation is to be "dressed for action ".
Friends, it's time to get dressed, Jesus the thief could come at anytime. Amen.