When I was a kid, I usually looked eagerly forward to the evening, when my Dad would come home from work. I loved my Dad, and it was the highlight of the day when he came home and I got to see him. My Dad could also be strict with me sometimes, however, and if I knew that I had done something I was not allowed to do, I was not always as eager to meet my Dad. On one occasion, when I had done something really bad, I actually decided that I did not want to see my Dad at all. So when he walked down into the basement, I seized the opportunity, and locked the door behind him, thinking that now I would not have to face him. Needless to say, this was not a very wise plan. My Dad did eventually get out of the basement, and he was not amused.
Our Savior Jesus Christ promises us in the text for today that he will come again, and he wants us to be ready. Like little children are running into their father’s arms, when their conscience is clean, so can we receive Jesus with joy, if we are ready for his return.
For those who believe in Jesus, this is a day they can look forward to with joy and expectation. It is the day when everything we have believed in without seeing, will become visible and manifest.
But many people do not think of the second coming of Christ as something joyful. I have heard many Christians tell me how they lived in constant fear of the second coming of Christ. They could not sleep at night because they did not know whether they were ready to meet Jesus when he came again.
Unfortunately, many preachers have fed into this fear by preaching about the second coming of Christ in a scary way. It appears that they believe they can threaten people into becoming Christians if they remind them that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
But in the Bible, it is not like that. Neither Jesus nor the apostles tried to scare people to faith by threatening them with Jesus’ second coming. When they invited someone to receive Jesus, they did it by describing salvation in Jesus Christ and the love that he has showed us in that he, who was God, became a human being like you and me so that we could have fellowship with him.
When Jesus talks about his second coming, it is in order to encourage those who already believe in him. It is to tell them that all the promises that he has given them will one day be fulfilled in a visible way.
The text for today contains one of the most beautiful images I know regarding what is going to happen when Jesus comes again: “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 have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them” (Luke 12:38 TNIV).
Have you ever experienced that you showed up for work and your boss met you at the door and said: today, I have decided that I will do your job. Instead you can go over to the golf course and play some golf. Here, why don’t you take my car keys.
I think it sounded just as unbelievable when Jesus told his disciples this parable. When the master comes and he finds his servants watching, the master would dress himself and start to wait on his servants. This is just not the way things work. It would be the servants who would have to wait on the master, just like Jesus says on another instance:
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10 TNIV.)
But when Jesus comes again, it will be different. Then it is the master who will be waiting on his servants. Then God’s own son will wrap his apron around him and be the servant of those who have been expecting him.
At the same time, Jesus tells his disciples about his second coming because he wants them to be ready. He tells them several parables where he explains that it may take a while before he comes again. And already at the time of the New Testament, there were some people who made fun of Christians because they were walking around waiting for the second coming of Christ. The apostle Peter was familiar with this situation.
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Pet 3:4 TNIV.)
When I grew up in Oslo, Norway in the 80’s, it was not popular to be a Christian. Although, Norway was a Christian country, the atmosphere was quite hostile to the Christian faith. When I went to junior high, I therefore had to put up with my share of mockery. Kids usually say what they mean without making the same allowances for politeness that adults do. On one occasion one of my peers asked me if I was waiting for Jesus second coming. And when I answered yes, they said: so, you must have been waiting for many hundreds of years, then. At the time, I was proud that I looked older than what I really was, but this comment was a little over the top, even for my taste.
In response to the question of the delay of Jesus’ second coming, the apostle Peter continues: “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. 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.” (2 Pet 3:8-10 TNIV.)
That Jesus’ second coming may be delayed, is something Jesus wants us to be prepared for. But he also wants us to be ready to receive him when he comes. He also predicts that there will be some people who are not ready, and they will receive their punishment.
A few verses further down from our text for today, we read: “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. 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.” (Luke 12:47-48 TNIV.)
No doubt, verses like these have caused much fear and worry regarding Jesus’ second coming. Jesus makes it clear that it is necessary to be ready when he comes.
What does it mean to be ready?
First of all, one thing must be clear, and that is what being ready does not mean. To be ready does not mean to know when Jesus is coming. Jesus makes it crystal clear that no one knows when he comes again. His second coming will be equally surprising as his first coming. “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. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:39-40 TNIV.)
Actually, when he was walking around on the earth, Jesus himself did not even know when he would come again. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36 TNIV).
Nevertheless, many people appear to believe that to be ready means to know when Jesus is coming, so they make themselves busy trying to interpret the signs of the times, attempting to figure out the countdown of the days before Jesus’ coming, almost like a Christmas calendar for Jesus’ second coming. And again, it appears that the purpose is to scare people: we have now progressed this far according to the schedule of the end times and now we are getting closer and closer, so now we have to be looking out.
This is a great misunderstanding. Five years ago, many people were able to tell us that the new millennium would trigger the return of Christ. But lately, we haven’t heard so much about that.
Being ready does not mean that we know when Jesus is coming. We can see this clearly in the parable about the five wise and the five foolish virgins in Matthew 25, to take one example. They all went out to wait for the groom and they all brought their lamps that were supposed to give light. But it took so long before he came, that they all fell asleep. The wise as well as the foolish. No one knew the when the groom would come. When he finally came, and the cry sounded: Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’, then they woke up and they had to get their lamps lit again. The foolish virgins had not brought oil for their lamps, so they could not get them to light. But the wise ones had brought extra oil, so they were ready at all times.
What does it mean to be ready?
In the verses following our text, Jesus explains his parable. The servant who is not ready, he says, is the one who “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” ( Luke 12:45 TNIV).
In other words, the unfaithful servant, is living his life as if his master would not return. He thinks he can abuse his power as much as he wants, because no one will hold him accountable. “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” (Luke 12:46 TNIV). For those who are not ready, Jesus’ second coming will be an unpleasant surprise.
The servant that is ready, on the other hand, is the one who constantly does what his master entrusted him to do. “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? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions (Luke 12:42-44 TNIV).
This faithful servant does not have to make any special preparation when the master comes. He is always ready. He does not need to know the time of his master’s arrival. He is ready, anyway. That is how Jesus is encouraging us to live our lives.
And the good thing is, we know what Jesus expects of us. We know what Jesus wants us to do.
The apostle John tells us about some Jews who came to Jesus and asked him: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29 NRSV).
I think it is helpful to consider what it means when Jesus compares his relationship to the church with the relationship between a bridegroom and his bride. When Jesus comes again, he comes to get his bride. That is why the thought of Jesus’ second coming is not a scary thought to me. Because it means that nothing will keep me from being together with Jesus.
In other words, to prepare for Jesus’ second coming can be compared with preparing for your wedding. I can vividly remember the spring of last year, when Melissa and I were preparing our wedding. Melissa lived in Birmingham at the time, and I lived here in Chicago. When the date for our wedding was fixed, the last days could just not pass too quickly. I remember how we used to talk on phone. Our conversation would go like this: Do you know what day it is today? And the answer would be: It is 5 months and 16 days to our wedding. When the day finally came, Melissa and I were ready.
In general, I have a lot of practice in preparation. My entire life is about being prepared. Being prepared to have something to say. Every time I am preaching, I have to being prepared to have something to share. In my work, I have to be prepared to give a lengthy theological lecture every single day. And I have to be prepared to answer all the crazy questions that my students ask me. It can be quite stressful to have this on me at all times.
Sometimes I have nightmares about not being ready. I dream that I get to class and I have left my notes at home and I have nothing to say. I get up in front of the students and I just stand there. They look at me and I just look back. I’ve got nothing.
But there was one event in my life that I was not worried about preparing for. That was my wedding. Because I knew what I was going to say. It was not hard. I knew what Melissa was going to say also. That’s why I was not worried.
How can we be ready for Jesus when he comes again? For us who believe in him, it is not hard. I know what I am going to say. I also know what Jesus will say. That’s why I am not worried. Because I know that he wants me. Because he has said so. I know that he came to the world, not to save the righteous, but to save the sinners. And therefore I know that he came for me.
When Jesus, my bridegroom comes, I am ready to run into his arms. I know what I am going to say.