Summary: Jesus shares illustrations to show that his return will be sudden and unexpected. His call on us is to be ready at any moment. The First Sunday of Advent reminds us that Jesus came, and Jesus is coming again!
The military has a readiness system of green, amber and red, to illustrate threat levels we might face at any given time. When you go on base or on post, you’ll see a Force Protection Condition, or FPCON, ranging from normal to delta. Likewise, the president oversees a national threat level system from Defcon 5 to Defcon 1. All of these are designed to keep us at the proper readiness level to match the threat. They are designed to help us to be ready for whatever we have to face. Maintaining readiness is important as a nation. And evidently, from today’s passage, it is important as a believer.
Matthew 24 contains the last of five long talks or discourses Jesus gives to his disciples prior to his arrest and subsequent execution. In this last one, nicknamed the Olivet Discourse, he dwells some on the End Times or Last Days. What will it be like when he returns, when God moves us all into that last phase of eternity? Jesus doesn’t give us any specifics, but he does give us some principles. Primarily, he stresses,
1. Jesus’ return will be sudden and unexpected
He illustrates this with several examples, beginning with the days of Noah in verses 38 and 39. Jesus doesn’t focus so much on the evil prevalent in that time period, but instead focuses on the ordinariness of daily life: people are eating, drinking, and getting married. They have no concept that life as they know it is about to change radically, that their eternity is about to begin.
The scenario reminds me of America at Christmas time. We calendarize Christmas, or “Christ-Mass,” because of the birth of a Savior. But, for the most part, the holiday is completely overtaken by the commercialism of the season. Christmas has become the mecca of consumerism. Instead of saving our souls, it saves our economy. There is nothing wrong with a strong, family-oriented celebration centered around gift-giving. I love Christmas as much as anyone else. In fact, I bought several gifts for myself on Black Friday! However, I am thankful that the Lectionary organizers always start off the church year, the first Sunday of Advent, with the second coming of Christ: Jesus came once; Jesus will come again. It reminds us of what is most important.
So Jesus talks about the extraordinary happening smack dab in the middle of ordinary, everyday life. Jesus’ return will be sudden; it will be unexpected. Other examples he gives from everyday life: two farmers are working in the field; one is taken, one is left behind; two women are grinding wheat: again, one is taken, one is left behind (vv. 40-41).
In both settings, there seems to be little to no difference between the two men, or between the two women. They look the same on the outside. Yet, one has a relationship with God through Christ Jesus, and one doesn’t. One heads to eternal life and one heads to destruction. In the blink of an eye. Everything changes. Without warning.
Jesus warns us not to try and predict when all this will happen. At the beginning of the passage, in verse 38, he says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (v. 38)
In verse 42, he says, “...You do not know on what day your Lord will come” (v. 42)
In verse 44, he repeats, “...The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (v. 44b)
Evidently, three times were not enough to repeat the message. When Jesus later ascends to heaven, recorded in Acts 1:7, he returns to this topic. The disciples have just asked him when the end times will happen, and he replies,
“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Acts 1:7
Now various religious groups for centuries have sought to peg the year or date Jesus will return. And you know how often they have been wrong? 100% of the time! I don’t know how they miss these verses I’ve just shared with you. I’m sure the verses are in their Bible as well. I guess they’re just trying to emphasize our role. And what is that? It’s part 2 on your outline:
2. Our role is to be ready
Jesus says simply, “Keep watch...” (v. 42). It reminds me of the Boy Scout motto, which is, “Be prepared.” Jesus illustrates with an example involving home security. Back then they didn’t have police as we do today. The military might protect the upper crust of society. But if you were middle class or lower, you were on your own. Last week, while shopping in the downtown Mexican market, we saw a sign for sale that had a picture of a firearm and said, “Enter at your own risk. We don’t call 911.” That Texas sentiment was what defined the common homeowner in Jesus’ time. And Jesus said, if you knew when the thief was coming, you would be ready to catch them in the act. But since we don’t know, we have to maintain a state of readiness around the clock. Many people today have perimeter cameras up around their homes. My brother-in-law from Alaska is here this week for Thanksgiving. Several times he checked his phone app to see who was on his doorstep back home. He was trying to be ready for that thief if and when they came.