Working for the Coming King

Matthew 24:36-51

5 December 2010

Woodley Baptist Church

First morning service


Appropriately, this morning, on this second Sunday in Advent, we're going to be looking at the second advent of Jesus. Not his first coming as an infant king, born in a stable, but his second coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great gloryref, which, of course, is still to come.

Now, here's a question I want to think about as we consider this passage: If I could convince you that Jesus will be coming back on, say, 2 January next year, exactly four weeks from today, how would it change your life?

If you knew absolutely that you had four weeks left before Jesus comes in glory to wrap up creation and to sit in judgement on the world, how would you choose to live those four weeks? How would they be different from that last four weeks?

What effect would it have on your prayers, on your Bible reading? How would having a deadline energise your efforts to warn others, to urge them to believe in him? Would you finally deal with that sin that's been dogging you for so long? Or would you sin outrageously for 27 days and repent on the 28th? Whom would you mend a relationship with? Would you turn up for work on Monday?

We'll come back to all that later, but have a think about it.

I want to look at this passage in three parts corresponding to the three paragraphs in the NIV starting at verse 36.

The flow is like this. First Jesus tells us that his coming will be sudden and unexpected, right in the midst of ordinary life. Then, next paragraph, he warns us, therefore, to watch and be ready at all times. And third, he tells us what it means to be ready.

An extraordinary, ordinary day

First, Jesus' return will be an extraordinary, ordinary day.

Amid the bloodshed and carnage, it was the tiny mundane details that proved so striking. One passenger was busy listening to his iPod. Another was reading a text. A third was scouring a newspaper, a fourth was daydreaming.

That's how a recent newspaper article on the July 7 bombing inquest begins.

Some passengers were late for work; others had let the earlier train go by because it was too crowded; another had missed his stop, distracted by a text message. An ordinary day's commute for hundreds of people. Then suddenly, bang: carnage. The day became extraordinary.

A graphic picture. But no less graphic than the way the Bible depicts the second coming of Jesus.

It will begin as a thoroughly ordinary day. Look at verse 37, As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriageref. Ordinary people living ordinary lives, simply going about their business. Enjoying life; planning for the future; raising families.

Then, carnage! Verse 39, they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all awayref. I'll always be puzzled why everyone seems to think that the story of Noah is suitable for small children.

Again, in Luke's similar account in Luke chapter 17, Jesus likens his coming to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: Luke 17 verse 28, It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and buildingref. Just living their lives; going about their work; planning ahead.

Then, carnage! But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.ref

Back in Matthew 24, Jesus spells out again the very ordinariness of the day. Verse 40, two men will be in a fieldref; verse 41, two women will be grinding with a hand millref. People will be going about their usual daily work, as they have done day after day after day.

But suddenly something extraordinary will happen: one will be taken and the other left... one will be taken and the other left.ref One destined for glory, the other for condemnation.

When Jesus comes he will divide humanity. He will separate even the closest relationships. These two women grinding at the mill are probably sisters, or mother and daughter, sitting opposite each other, taking turns to drag the heavy millstone round. One will be taken and the other leftref.

This is an image that haunts me, and it's one of the reasons I wanted to preach this passage today. You know, often when we read the Bible we latch on to some encouraging or uplifting verse, and quite rightly. But sometimes the Spirit shows us something that disturbs us, that gets us in the pit of the stomach, that horrifies us. That's how it is for me with these verses.

They always give me image in my mind of my office and Jesus' words paraphrased: Two colleagues will be sitting at adjacent desks; one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in a meeting; one will be taken and the other left. It's shocking and sobering.

In my better moments, living in the light of Jesus' return has a profound effect on how I see my relationships with my colleagues and my role at work. How does the extraordinary prospect of Jesus breaking into your ordinary life change the way you think about it?

Expecting an unexpected day

Moving on, in paragraph two, verse 42, Jesus tells us to expect an unexpected day.

Keep watch!ref he says, Be ready!ref, verse 44.

You do not know on what day your Lord will comeref. It will just be an ordinary day. You'll get up in the morning, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work or whatever you do. You won't have any inkling it's the day. So, be ready at all times.

It's interesting that Jesus uses a mixture of positive and negative images to illustrate his return. In the next chapter he is a bridegroom, but here he uses the image of a thief.

In The Archers on Radio 4 at the moment is a storyline in which David and Ruth have had a large amount of valuable hay stolen from their barn. The crafty thief must have known that they would both be out at the NFU annual lunch: normally at least one of them is around on the farm. They were caught unprepared. Obviously, had they known a hay-thief were planning a raid they would have been prepared.

So it is with Jesus, verse 43, understand this: 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.ref

Jesus is emphasising the need to be constantly ready for his return.

His second coming is not like Christmas. Everyone knows the date of Christmas: never mind the shops displaying Christmas stuff from October onwards, some people I know actually start their Christmas shopping in the January sales. We've got plenty of time to get ready. Our house is full of advent calendars counting down the days. We know exactly how long until the big day, although it still somehow manages to catch one or two of us by surprise.

But the second coming will not be announced; it will come like a thief in the night. They only thing we can do is be ready at all times. Wake up! Expect the unexpected. Watch! says Jesus; be ready!

Working towards that day

But what does it mean to be ready?

Well, that's what Jesus talks about in paragraph 3, verse 45: working towards that day.

And he uses an image from the world of work. He considers a servant, literally a bond-servant or slave: doulos in Greek. In the New Testament this is perhaps the closest analogue to an employee today. Of course there are significant differences, but, on the whole, domestic slaves were well-treated, respected and valuable to their masters.

This servant was certainly trusted and valuable. His master has put him in charge of running his household while he is away. He is to govern it faithfully and wisely, making sure all the other servants are well fed and cared for. He has been entrusted with considerable resources.

Jesus presents us with two contrasting scenarios. In the first, the servant is faithful. He wants to serve his master; he has a relationship with his master; a sense of privilege at being trusted by his master. So he runs the household wisely and faithfully, treating the others well and looking after things.

The way he does his work is a reflection of his heart's attitude to his master. He does his work faithfully and well because he loves his master and wants to please him. He cares for others because he knows that his master would want him to. He's not working out of fear his boss is about to come through the door; he's working simply because he is faithful. When I'm out of the office, I hope my team are working like this — not doing the bare minimum to get by, but working hard because they love their jobs, they respect me and I respect them.

For this servant, it doesn't matter one bit when his master returns. He will always be found faithful. And he will be rewarded handsomely, I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessionsref. In the next chapter, in the parable of the talents, Jesus puts it like this, Come and share your master's happiness!ref

In the second picture, the servant takes advantage of his master's absence. Since his master has been away for a long time, he concludes that there's nothing to stop him taking advantage of his position. He beats the other servants, and starts squandering the household's resources. He starts behaving as if the master will never return.

With an attitude like that, it's never going to end well for this servant, is it? Verse 50, The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware ofref.

In each case the behaviour of the servant reveals his heart. Either he is faithful, serving well for as long as it takes because he loves and respects his master. Or he is wicked, only interested in what he can get out of it. As soon as it looks like the master is not coming back, his true colours are revealed.

Our master's return seems somewhat delayed, doesn't it? In view of this, we might have one of three attitudes.

First, you might continue to look forward to it eagerly. You are serving our master faithfully, obeying him because you love him, trying to please him in your relationships with others. You have nothing to fear; these things show that your hearts is right. It doesn't matter on what day he comes back, he will take you to share in his happiness.

Or, second, you might fear his return. You know that you are not living in a way that would please him. You fear he will look at your life and condemn you. This is not the worst place to be: you know what you need to do! He might return at any time - you urgently need to come to the cross of Jesus, and to pray for his healing and forgiveness. If you are fearful, then do talk it over with the prayer team, or one of the elders this morning.

But third is the worst place to be. You might simply be indifferent. You've long since stopped taking seriously that fact that Jesus is coming back. You are quite content to live your life your own way, with no expectation of judgement or accountability. That's the position the second servant was in, and his punishment was brutal, verse 51, He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teethref.

The reason we need to "keep" watch and "be ready" is that our hearts so easily become cold and hard. We so easily move from one to three. We need to be on our guard against turning from faithfulness to wickedness, from one type of servant into the other. Watch and pray.


I promised you we'd come back to that question.

There's a whole industry of trying to calculate the date of Jesus' return. And I've lost count of the number of people who've said to me recently, "Ben, I truly think we're in the end times". Well, we've been in the end times for almost two-thousand years, so no surprise there.

If we learn nothing else from this passage, it is that forecasting Jesus' second coming is utterly futile. No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.ref

But more than that, we should also learn that it's utterly pointless as well. Even if we did know the date, it should make not one jot of difference to the way we live our lives.

The question I started with was this, If you knew Jesus will be coming on the second of January, how would you live the next four weeks differently?

Well, it's a trick question. It ought to make no difference at all. We are called to live and work constantly expecting his return. That's the way Christians live.

Jesus will come back in the midst of ordinary life: our ordinary lives. Whether working, parenting, retired, whatever — our ordinary lives should be ready for him.

If knowing the date of Jesus' return would make you live differently then you're not living right now. So take those things you'd do differently, and do them now!

If the prospect of Jesus coming in a month would make you up your game in telling others about him: do it now! If the prospect of facing Jesus tomorrow would force you to sort out some sin in your life, or to mend a relationship: then do it now!

If the prospect of Jesus returning next year would change your attitude to your work, then change it now.

The faithful servant is always ready. Watch out for the deceitfulness of your heart; don't let yourself become indifferent to his coming.


For a time of reflection, I want us each to imagine that we do know the date of Jesus' return. Let's ask ourselves honestly, would knowing the date make a difference to my life?

If it would, then let's resolve to make those changes now. Let's ask him for his Spirit's help, and let's be ready when he comes, because we love him.

If you knew Jesus will be coming on the second of January, how would you live the next four weeks differently?