Sunday 27



Romans 13: 11-14                                                                                              
Matthew 24: 36-44

We're in the period of advent, which is the period of 4 weeks running up to Christmas, when traditionally Christians prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus.

But there’s a deliberately two-edged feel to advent. We prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, his birth at Bethlehem. But we also remind ourselves that Jesus will come again, and the other focus for Advent is preparing ourselves for that great event.

And so the question for this morning is this: Are you ready for the day when Jesus will come back?

Now it may be that some of us struggle to believe that Jesus will come back. Or perhaps it’s even a new idea to us – we’re used to talking about Christmas when Jesus was born as a baby, but we’re not used to the idea that he will come again and we will get to meet him.

So before we can ask whether we’re ready for the day when Jesus will return, we have to make sure we’re all clear that he will.

The Bible reading we just heard was taken from Matthew chapter 24. This is near the end of Jesus’ life, and by this point he’s already taught several times about his own return.

So take chapter 7, for example, verse 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

He’s speaking of a day when he will come back, and people will stand before him. Jesus will decide who gets to enter heaven and who does not, and the criterion will be whether you knew Jesus or not. Some people know him, and that will be seen in the way they live. Others do not.

And then as Matthew’s gospel carries on, Jesus told a number of parables which speak of that day. The point of those parables is that Jesus’ return will be a moment of separation. So let’s look together at chapter 13, verses 24 to 30.

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

He later explained that parable, and explained that the day of harvest in the story is the day that he, the Son of Man, comes back. And the story pictures people as like plants in a farmer’s field. While the young plants may sometimes be hard to distinguish, at the end of the day, there are only two types of plant: Weeds and Wheat. And the day of harvest is when the weeds go on the bonfire, and the wheat goes into the barn.

Jesus consistently taught that he would return. And that his return will be a day when he judges each one of us, and a day of separation, a day of very different destinies, a day for heaven or hell. As you can see, we need to be ready. We don’t know when.

But when it comes to getting ready, we have a problem. This tail end of Matthew 24 picks up on a problem we’ve got when it comes to getting ready.

The problem we’ve got is that we don’t know when Jesus will come back. We don’t know when. If you ask me to get ready for any big event, the first thing I will always think about is: How long have I got to prepare?

Back in Matthew 24, look again at verse 36: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Even Jesus did not know the date he would come back.

Which means that the moment before Jesus returns will look just like any other moment in the middle of a day.

Which is what Jesus says. He compares it to the flood in the time of Noah. Noah was ready, but for other people it caught them totally by surprise. Right up to the moment the rain started people were eating, drinking and getting married. Life just went on as normal.

And Jesus says it will be exactly the same on the day he comes back. He uses pictures of the ordinary everyday tasks of his day. Two men working in the field, as normal. Two women, grinding flour by hand, as normal.

Which makes being ready for Jesus’ return really tricky. We can’t do it by knowing the date and then making sure we’re prepared for that date. Not like cleaning the house before guests arrive. Not like Christmas. We know when Christmas comes, don’t we? It’s December 25th. It’s been December 25th ever since our birth. We know how many days we’ve got left before the last posting date; we know how long we’ve got to buy and wrap the presents. Even so, some of us get caught out.

But imagine if the system was different, and you didn’t know when Christmas would be. So there’s one day, picked at random every year, when it will be Christmas day for that year. The actual day was a carefully guarded secret. The first you find out is when you get up in the morning, and all the news channels announce that today is Christmas Day.  So you cancel your plans, you don’t go to work, and you spend the day celebrating Jesus’ birth in church, eating lunch with your family or some friends, and then giving presents to those closest to you. The return of Jesus is like no other event.

When you plan a wedding, you know how long you’ve got, and you steadily tick off the items on your “to do list” during the months beforehand. When a baby is due, you may not know the date that labour will begin, but you know the earliest date it is likely to happen. And usually, but not always, there are warning signs that things could be imminent. Even the fire drills at my old school were not exactly unexpected.

But one day, Jesus will come back, and we’ll have absolutely no prior warning. We’ll be in the middle of our normal day’s duties, just as if it were any other day. Someone will have put the kettle on to boil but not yet made their tea. Someone else will be servicing their car, and they’ll have drained out the old oil but not put any fresh oil in. There will be people who have posted a letter but the postman has not emptied the letter box yet. And others will be on the phone to their grandma.

We don’t know when Jesus will come back. Which makes it very hard indeed to be ready. We need to be ready.

Remember Jesus has already spoken, earlier in Matthew, of his return being a day of separation. We get the same thing in this passage, although he doesn’t go into details. You get those two men in the field – he says that one will be taken and the other left. Those two women grinding corn – one taken, the other left.

Now, don’t get too hung up on the language of people being taken and others being left behind. Jesus doesn’t say where these people are taken, and he doesn’t say what life is like for those who are left behind. He doesn’t say which destiny is better – being left behind or being taken.

The point Jesus is making is that the day he returns will be a day that different people will experience differently. Two people will be peeling potatoes in the same kitchen, but when Jesus comes back their lives will suddenly take a radically different turn. So we each of us need to be ready to meet Jesus.

We can’t get ready because the deadline is approaching. The only alternative is to be ready every day. Every day we live could be the day when he returns, or the day when we die and are fast-forwarded to the day when he returns. So we need to be ready for that every day. Such that if Jesus returned before this service finished, we’d be ready.

Now, the rest of this chapter, and the whole of the next chapter of Matthew, will build a picture of what being ready looks like. But from earlier in Matthew we already know what the headline is. Being ready is all about knowing the risen Jesus. Knowing him in such a way that your life reflects that relationship. Knowing him, and living as he would have you live.

So for today, the question Jesus is asking us is simple: Are you ready for the day when Jesus will return? That’s harder than it might be, because we don’t know when that will be. But one day Jesus will come back, and it will happen when we least expect it. And so the day to be ready is today.

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