- 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
- Matthew 24:36-51
Dear brother and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,
It would be very unusual if there were somebody in church today who does not have a watch. We are creatures bound by time and space in more than one way. Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the reality of seconds ticking by, and the days, months and years rolling by. God created this reality: “there was evening and there was morning” the author of Genesis 1 repeats for every one of the six days of creation. We are bound by this rhythm.
There is another way we’re bound by time: we keep an eye on our clocks and watches. We are aware of what needs doing and how long we need to complete the tasks. Some even work to be paid by the hour. Time is money.
So, why do we call the things on our wrist “watches”? Is it because we look at it a lot? Most dictionaries only as a last option define “watch” as a time piece; the preferred understanding of “watch” has to do with look out!, surveillance, or a period of time during which a soldier is on guard.
It is this last meaning we find in the word of our Lord, “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:42) In a certain sense then Jesus is saying staring at your watch will be of no help, but be on your watch!
The first advent was clearly announced
Right at the dawn of human history, right at the point of human rebellion against God—and precisely because of it—God announced the coming of someone who would crush the head of the serpent; this promise was ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
In a sense the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, was a fulfilment of the what Passover Lamb meant to those who were led out of the house of Egyptian slavery. And after the institution of the sacrificial system the blood of every animal pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And there were the prophets of God who prophesied in fair detail about the coming of the Messiah. Even the godless prophet Balaam, being in the grip of God, had this to say:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17, NIV)
This prediction was meant for David who subdued the rebellious nations and led God’s people to peace, but ultimately it was about Christ who was promised as the One would reign on David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:13). Psalm 2 talks about the Anointed One (Messiah) who would rule with an iron sceptre (Ps 2:9).
More pointed prophecy followed by Isaiah who, 700 years before Christ was born, told what his name would be (Isaiah 7:14); that He would by the Son of which the New Testament later referred to as “the Son born to us”—Wonderful Counsellor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7); that He would by King along the line of David (Is 11:1-2); that He would be the suffering servant of the Lord:
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3,5 NIV)
Daniel spoke about Him:
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14, NIV)
There are many more references to Christ’s coming in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, after his resurrection our Lord instructed his disciples:
Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44, NIV)
So the coming of the Messiah had been announced to hundreds of years. The fact of his advent (arrival) was known; the hour not. But when it happened there was no doubt that God indeed made all the prophesies true.
- The angels sang loud and clear.
- The message was loud and clear:
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ [the Messiah] the Lord.
- The sign was clear to see:
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
- A star appeared in the sky which led philosophers kneel before Him
- The old man Simeon, driven by the Holy Spirit met the parents of Christ in the temple with these words: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations…” (Luke 2:30–31, NIV)
- Anna of whom the Bible records: “…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38, NIV)
- John the Baptist prepared his way as prophesied in Malachi 3:1, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. (Malachi 3:1, NIV)
- John the Baptist also said: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (John 1:29–30, NIV)
Despite the announcements through the ages, at his birth and at the beginning of his ministry about Christ, the majority were not prepared to meet Him; they were off-guard. In the end they killed Him by hanging Him on the cross.
The second advent clearly announced
That He will return was part of Christ teaching to his disciples:
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? 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. (John 14:2–3, NIV)
Matthew records the instruction of Christ in the last days of his ministry on earth: “Your Lord will come again.” (Matt 24:42)
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:30–31, NIV)
The hour not known
Noah started building the ark far away from the sea. He did so because God made his plan to destroy the people of the earth because of their sinfulness and gave him instruction to prepare a way for his family to escape the flood. For 120 years he was building the ark. Many people scoffed him, especially when he told them about the impending disaster. He was a preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5), but they laughed about the idea of God’s punishment on sin by sending a world-wide flood. The Bible puts it this way:
For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:38–39, NIV)
Did they know nothing? They knew everything but they were unprepared for the event when it happened. They not ignorant, but they did not take what they knew seriously.
And it begs the question as to what we know on one hand, and how we apply what we know, on the other hand. Because our Lord stated, “This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mat 24:39)
Not all will be saved
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:40–41, NIV)
We are not called to stop doing our daily work. You will still be at your desk, in the office, in the classroom, behind the wheel of the bus, to the control of the aeroplane—the work God assigned you to do. Paul spoke about people in Thessalonica who expected the coming of the Lord to be so near that they stopped working; Paul warned them:
Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:11–12, NIV)
But not everyone busy with their work will be saved; only those who kept watch for the coming of the Son of Man. One’s daily program can become too commanding; one’s pursuit of success in your workplace can become too consuming; one’s pursuit of happiness, or the chase after hedonistic frivolity, fun and hollow joy may suck you in to be caught unawares when that great, glorious but dreadful day of the Lord suddenly dawns like a thief in the night.
I suppose there were many scratch marks on the outside of the ark as the water of the flood kept rising. It must have been heart-wrenching for Noah on the inside, but there was nothing he could do about it. Listen: “The Lord shut them in.” (Genesis 7:16) In control of who could be in and who had to stay outside, was God Himself. God shut Noah and his family in, but those who defied his warnings, God shut out!
Be on your guard
Jesus is coming again. That’s a fact. Some were unprepared in spite of all the prophesies regarding his first advent, and so they despised his appearance when He came. They were not saved. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11, NIV)
Don’t stare at your watch, or try to mark the calendar a possible date for his return; no one knows the day and date of his return.
If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:43, NIV)
Rather, in full alertness knowing that Christ will return, make the best of every opportunity—now! Be like the wise and faithful servant whom the master finds busy when He returns. Don’t be like the wicked servant who said, “My servant is staying away a long time.”
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. (Matthew 24:50, NIV)
Let me conclude with a verse from 2 Peter 3:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9, NIV)
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 December 2017