If you’ve ever worked a job where you had to be on call, you would probably agree that being on call is the worst work schedule. You have to be dressed, ready, and prepared to go to work everyday, but you may never get the call. In a sense, today’s passage is about being on call as we wait for Jesus. We are to live like He’s going to return today, but prepare that His return may not be for 20 years.
In Matthew 24, Jesus tells His disciples that they must be ready for His return. He will come like a thief in the night, just like a thief comes unexpectedly. Jesus’ return will be unexpected and He could come at any time, so His disciples are encouraged to be faithful and persevere while they wait:
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:44-51 (ESV)
In the parable, Jesus compares two servants. The master is leaving and gives the servants the responsibility of tending the household. One servant heeds the master’s instructions while the other takes advantage of his freedom. When the master returns, he finds one servant engaged in the household duties – he was rewarded and given more for his faithfulness, much like the parable of talents that Pastor Sam addressed last week. The other servant was found eating and drinking, and things did not go well for him.
This parable points out two important things: the importance of our faithfulness by contrasting the two servants and the consequences of their faithful and unfaithful acts, and the certainty of our Master’s return. Jesus said He would return but not when – He will return, and we should be ready for when that day comes.
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 1 Peter 4:7
FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. Hebrews 10:37
Each day, we are one day closer to Christ’s return:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”…But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9
Peter is warning us not to grow weary or discouraged, especially by those who doubt and mock, but be mindful that Jesus is returning. For most of us though, it is not the mockers who dissuade us but our own flesh and desire for comfort. To be alert, on the ready, and always prepared takes initiative and sacrifice. Our own flesh keeps us from preparing when we focus on our comfort instead of Christ’s return.
Throughout the New Testament scriptures, we get the sense that the return of Jesus, His second coming, is imminent. The caveat is that God does not see time the same way we do. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day, so we are instructed to be ready. His return is close but then He tells a parable about a delayed return and the need for preparation, faithfulness and perseverance.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)
This is a parable and also an allegory where the characters and events are symbolic. The marriage custom of that day had two stages. The first stage was a betrothal, similar to our engagement period, but unlike our engagement, the betrothal was considered as binding as marriage. While a betrothal could be canceled, it was a legal act requiring divorce. The second phase was the actual ceremony or celebration of marriage, and there could be up to two years between betrothal and celebration while the groom went to prepare a place for his bride.
When the time came, the bridegroom would go to the bride’s home to pick her up and take her back to his parents’ home (or his home) for the celebration, which could go on for days. Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine was during a wedding feast.
Five of the bridesmaids were described as prudent, and five were described as foolish. The bridesmaids who were unprepared for the bridegroom’s return were shut out of the feast with no second chance. The parable ends with, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”
Jesus the Bridegroom will come for His bride, the church. We need to be ready and always diligent. The two parables remind us of the imminency of Jesus’ return and the importance of our faithfulness. That is why Paul says that he runs the race to win the prize, and not to be disqualified:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
How do we live between this tension of being ready and waiting patiently? Here are three admonitions from Scripture:
1. Do not grow weary
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Galatians 6:9-10
2. Be on the alert
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6
Where were you on May 21, 2011? Do you remember that date? Nothing happened on that day, but that was the day that Harold Camping predicted that Jesus would return, followed by the end of the universe.
The timing of Christ’s return is unknown but the call is to be alert. His return could be today, so be faithful in what you are doing. The question we should be asking is not when Christ will return, but how will we be found? Will we be found faithful?
3. Rejoice and be glad
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” Revelation 19:7-9
The good news is that Christ is coming and will take us with Him into the banquet. The wise, those who were faithful, were ushered into the celebration. Let us encourage one another with these words.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20