Alfred Place Baptist Church

12:35-40 Always Be Ready

Luke 12:35-40 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. 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.”

I spoke to you last week about our duties to help poor people in the light of the enormous treasures that will be ours quite soon in the glories of heaven. So many verses in the Bible speak of this and the behaviour of the early Christians shows how seriously they accepted this responsibility. I attended the Westminster Conference in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, and one evening as I walked across a pedestrian bridge over the Thames to the South Bank I met beggar after beggar. Some were young women; one was an amputee having lost both legs; there were numbers of men sitting there with paper cups. I had exhorted you about not ignoring these people and two days later they confronted me and I tried to do what I had urged on you, to stop and engage them in conversation, and give them some money from my pocket. I experienced the guilt and frustration we’ve all experienced at such times. I had to be in the Festival Hall at 7.30. It was a freezing night. It was more like Moscow weather than a typical December night in London. I hadn’t a single piece of Christian literature to give them; I was unprepared, but I did smile and talk and give them a little money. I wish I could have honoured my Saviour more. What would he have done and said? I sought not to belittle those poor men and women or dismiss every one of them as crooks. They were pouring no contempt on my Lord Jesus. It is so easy to think that they were there because of their own folly and sin, but I cannot think like that. I have enough folly and sin in my own life. There but for the grace of God I might be begging for pennies and pounds from passers by. There were crooks and layabouts begging there, no doubt, but what a freezing night to be doing that. I was glad to hear from the amputee that he had a couch to sleep on that night.

The Saviour has been talking in this sermon about the riches of heaven’s joys and glories. He has been urging us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven – think of the possibility of doing that – by how we’re living on earth and that is the connection with the wake-up call of this next passage in this great sermon which has been read in your hearing and is set before us today. Heaven’s joy and glory will be ours when we die in Christ, or even when that Lord Christ returns. Eternal blessedness – ours! So Jesus exhorts us to be ready and watching when he comes. It is the period of the year we call the ‘advent,’ and we remember the first coming of the Lord Jesus, but here our Saviour is speaking of his second advent. You remember his last words to his beloved disciple John, “Surely I come quickly.” We have watched people taking out their mobile phones as the train to Aberystwyth leaves Borth station, the next station to ours on the railway line, then they call their families and they say, “I won’t be long. I am almost home.” So Jesus says to us, “I’m even now on the road. I’m traveling as fast as wisdom and compassion for the men and women who have yet to hear the good news will allow. I’m on my way. I am coming quickly.” He has promised to return, and to come in person. He’s not going to send a deputy; no apprentice is coming in his place. He is coming. He will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. He who went up to heaven shall return in like manner. There will be an advent in glory, as there was one to a stable in Bethlehem. He has promised to return. The great scheme of redemption requires Christ’s return. It is a part of the plan of God that, as he came once with a sin-offering, he should come a second time without a sin-offering; that, as he came once to redeem, he should come a second time to claim the inheritance which he has so dearly bought. He came once, that his heel might be bruised; he comes again, to crush the serpent’s head flat, and, with a rod of iron, to dash his enemies in pieces, as potters’ vessels. He came once, to wear the crown of thorns; he must come again, to wear the diadem of universal dominion. The Apostles’ Creed says, “He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.”

Christ is coming to the marriage supper; he comes to gather his saints together; he comes to glorify them with himself on this same earth where once he and they were despised and rejected of men. Make sure of this, that the whole drama of redemption cannot be perfected without this last act of the coming of the King. The complete history of Paradise Regained requires that the New Jerusalem should come down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. It also requires that the heavenly Bridegroom should come riding forth on his white horse, conquering and to conquer, King of kings and Lord of lords, amidst the everlasting hallelujahs of saints and angels. It must be so. The Man of Nazareth will come again. None shall spit in his face then; but every knee shall bow before him and every tongue will confess him as Jehovah Jesus. The Crucified shall come again; and though the nail-prints will be visible, no nails shall then fasten his dear hands to the tree; but instead thereof, he shall grasp the sceptre of universal sovereignty; and he shall reign for ever and ever. Hallelujah!

So our Lord tells us that in the light of that we are to live “like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet” (v.36). I am not talking about any suspicious nonsense. To stand star-gazing at the prophecies with your mouths open is just the wrong posture. Some foolish people pushed a leaflet through my door last month telling me what was the date of the second coming in 2011. Nobody knows, Jesus said. The angels in heaven didn’t know and God hadn’t even revealed the date to his Son during his life here on the earth. Knowing the date is immaterial to fulfilling our duties as his servants. Precisely because we don’t know the exact time we are always to be like men waiting for their master to return. Imagine the royal Rolls Royce limousines carrying the Queen and her family back to Buckingham Palace from Sandringham, and then, when they arrive at the Palace at midnight, the whole place is in darkness. No policemen on duty. No sentries in the sentry boxes. All the gates and doors locked and padlocked. Everyone asleep when the Queen and her family arrive. There is no one to welcome them. What shame and consternation. No one was bothered that her majesty was returning that night. “Philip, do you have a key?” she asks. “A key?” he says. Consternation reigns through unreadiness.

“Be . . . ready” Jesus said, “like men waiting for their master to return . . .” (v.36). Cheer yourselves with the thought of his coming, “While I am at work today, my Master may return. Before I get overwhelmed with the tasks I must do, my Master may return. While others mock what I believe my Master may appear. Whether they dismiss or admire my faith is nothing to me. I live before the eyes of the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount. I do my duties day by day knowing that he sees me. One day I shall certainly see him. Let me be ready. Let me be waiting for his return. Let me be looking for his appearance. “ It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes” (v.37). Clearly we must ask the question what does this watching entail?

WATCHING FOR HIS COMING ENTAILS A TOTAL LIFESTYLE.

i] Don’t be obsessed with the things of this world. That is our Lord’s insistence in this sermon isn’t it? We are not to be people worried about what food and clothing we must have, or what might happen in the future. We are not to live spoiled, selfish lives thinking what delicacies we’ll buy in the delicatessen this week, what fine wines, what are the latest fashions we’re going to purchase. We are not preoccupied with such things. They are not our life. Food and clothes are grand, but in their place, and that’s a small place. We are the very opposite of the cows and sheep we see in the fields around the town, their eyes fixed on the grass and their tiny brains preoccupied throughout their entire lives with their next mouthful of food, never able to appreciate a rainbow or a sunset or the song of a lark. We have immortal souls; we shall live as long as God. We have been redeemed by the blood of the Son of God. We can appreciate Jesus of Nazareth. Our concern is to please him. What a day it will be, the climax of our existence, to see his face and be with him. We shall reign with him for ever and ever. Oh don’t be slaves to this earth! Don’t build your nest in any tree around you; they are all marked for the axe. Down they are crashing, but your affections are set up there upon Christ the Son of God. Seek first his kingdom and righteousness and don’t be obsessed with the things of this world.

ii] Be dressed ready for service (v.35). On a football pitch the referee is dressed for his role; the goalies are dressed for their roles; the other players are dressed in two different team colours and patterns for their roles; even the managers are dressed like executives for their role. There is a dress code when these expensively paid players meet one another on a soccer pitch. No one is wearing long flowing clothes down to his ankles. Each has to dress appropriately. So it is with us when we are working at our vocations, our sleeves are rolled up and we are addressing the tasks that we’ve been given. The blacksmith wears his leather apron. The fireman wears his uniform. The town crier would wear his official robes. The soldier on duty in Afghanistan wears his battle dress.

That is the way to wait for the Lord, prepared and equipped for service when he appears. At the most fundamental level have you heard the gospel of Christ? Have you responded? Have you believed into him alone for life and mercy? Have you acted upon what you have heard? Do you know that you are a sinner? Have you heard the call to repentance? Do you know that Christ’s death was not the tragic murder of another holy prophet but the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world? Does his imputed righteousness clothe your life? Does his shed blood dissolve your guilt and shame? Is your great hope seeing him and being with him one day? Is this the ultimate event in your future?

Are you getting on with being the sort of Christian Jesus describes in the Bible? Are you keeping the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the great final chapters in Romans? Are you the sort of husband or wife, father or mother that God requires? Are you unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you ready always to give anyone who asks you a reason for your hope, your answer being full of meekness and fear? Do you tell men that there is one name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved? Are you raising your children to love the Lord Jesus? May your Master, when he returns, find you doing your duty. You are to be engaged in the vocations to which God has called you. You are to be doing all you do out of love for Christ, and as your consecration to him. Oh that we were dressed ready for service for him. Work, and wait, and watch! Can you put those three together? Work, wait and watch! That is what our Master asks of us.

iii] Keep your lamps burning! (v.35). If your Master comes when you are old and arthritic then you will still be ready for him. If your plans did not work out for your life as you hoped are you nonetheless ready for God’s plans day by day? It is not for us to lay down to sleep in idleness before he comes. Let us not be like the imaginary snoozing staff in the imaginary Buckingham Palace story I described to you, all asleep and the doors locked keeping the Queen and her family out in the cold that dark night. No. The servants are all alert and ready because their minds are fixed on the fact that their monarch would soon be returning. They would be mentally alert and spiritually vigilant because their minds are focused on the head of state. The soldiers are all on guard “even if he come in the second or third watch of the night” (v.38). The policemen are all on duty and in radio contact with Scotland Yard. The staff are all awake; when the limos arrive the doors are flung open and smiling men and women come out and greet the family with hot punch. The supper is ready, the kettles are boiling, the tables are laid, in the beds the electric blankets are all on, the lights are shining warmly through the windows greeting the travelers, and everything is ready for the return of the head to her home. “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.” (v.37). So are you ready when he will come again by keeping your lights shining amongst men, day after day? Do you think that your character and conduct are examples of Jesus Christ to the world in its darkness and ignorance? Are you remembering the poor? Are you holding forth the word of life by your life and deeds? That is the way to keep your lamps burning brightly.

iv] Act just as you would act if he should appear that moment. You would not want to be like Abraham scared of the leaders of the pagan world, telling his wife to say to everyone that she was in fact his sister. You would not want to be caught acting like David on the roof of his palace a peeping Tom at a woman washing. You would not want to be like Peter in the most vulnerable place, a Christian all alone in a hostile environment, suddenly being interrogated by a cocky young maidservant and angry with her for daring to put him under pressure and thus swearing and denying he ever knew Christ. There are some places you wouldn’t want to be when your Master came again. There were some activities you would not want to be involved in when your Master came again. There are some websites you would not want to be found visiting when the last trumpet sounded. You would tremble to meet our Lord under any of those circumstances.

Let us try every morning when we got up to live that day as if it were our very last on earth, that it were the vestibule of heaven and soon we would leave it to see Jesus and be with him for ever. When we go to bed at night let us close our eyes with this thought, “Perhaps this world has run its course and tomorrow morning early, before the alarm clock rings I shall hear the greatest of all cries, “The Lord is come! The Bridegroom is here!” What an incentive such thoughts would be, what a spur to godly actions. Act as if Jesus would come during the next hours, and if you wouldn’t want his eyes to see it then don’t begin it.

v] Don’t let the Master down on your watch. “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.” (v.37). We act as those who keep the watches of the ages for Christ. For example, a Roman soldier stood on guard for three hours (the ‘second watch’ began around midnight and the ‘third watch’ went on past the dawn). When a soldier had been on the watch for his period, there came another sentry who took his place, and the first man retired, and went back to the barracks, and the fresh sentinel stood in his place during his allotted time. Men and women, we have succeeded a long line of watchmen. Since the days of our Lord, when he sent out the chosen twelve to stand up on the day of Pentecost and bear testimony to the coming of the promised Spirit, how the watchers came and stood and went. Our God has changed the watchers, but he has kept the watch. He still sets watchmen on the walls of Zion who can’t hold their peace day or night, but must watch for the coming of their Master, watch against evil times, watch against error, and watch for the souls of men. At this time, some of us are called to be especially on the watch, and dare we sleep’? After such a line of lynx-eyed watchmen, who counted not their own lives dear to them that they might hold their ground, and watch against the foe, shall we be cowards, and abandon the watch? Or shall we be sluggards, and go to our beds? By him that liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore, we pray that we may never be guilty of treason to his sacred name and truth. May we watch on to the last moment when the cry shall ring out, “Behold, the Bride­groom cometh; go out to meet him.” Christians of Aberystwyth you are set to watch today just as they did in the brave days of old! Keep the faith! Fight the good fight! Trust in the Lord! Preach the word! Whitefield and Wesley’s men were watchers; and those before them, in the days of Luther and of Calvin, and backward even to the days of our Lord. They kept the watches of the night, and you must do the same, ‘Till he come!’

You think that I am setting too high a standard, and that you couldn’t possibly live like that. You might flinch from it and feel that this is an impossible life, and yet there is nothing here to make a believer afraid. Being ready for the return of Christ to this world implies nothing that’s impossible and unattain­able. It requires no angelic perfection; it requires no man to leave his family, and retire to live in a hut in Snowdonia: it re­quires nothing more than the life of repentance, faith, and holiness. The man who trusts and obeys is the one who is dressed ready for service, and whose lamps keep burning. Such a man may have the responsibility of caring for an empire, like Daniel. Or be a mere slave in a Nero’s household, like some in Paul’s time. All this matters nothing. If he lives looking unto Jesus, he is a servant who can “immediately open the door to him.” Surely it is not too much to ask Christians to be men of this kind. Surely it was not for nothing that our Lord said, “The Son of man comes at an hour when you think not.”

Are we ourselves living as if we were ready for the second coming of Christ? It would be fitting if this question were put to our consciences more frequently. It might keep us back from many a false step in our daily life: it might prevent many backslidings. The true Christian shouldn’t only believe in Christ, and love Christ; he should also look and long for Christ’s appear­ing. If he cannot say from his heart, “Come, Lord Jesus,” there must be something wrong with his soul.

2.WATCHING FOR HIS COMING WILL MEAN BLESSEDNESS FOR YOU.

What blessings will come from being watchful Christians! You expect the ordinary wonderful blessings that come from doing God’s will. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the peacemakers. They are the most contented, all-round, happy people as they live like that. It is in itself a blessed life, the only blessed life, and also God blesses them – he smiles down upon them as they constantly ask him for help to live like this. I say that these servants who keep alert living in anticipation of their Lord coming again are going to live wonderfully blessed lives just from that, but there is much more. They are also going to know other quite extraordinary blessings. Hear these words of Jesus; “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready” (vv.37&38).

Can you believe what you are hearing? This is Jehovah Jesus, God the Son, the Creator of the universe, ruler of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime, the Lord of providence, the Judge of all the earth, the one who is a Spirit infinite, eternal, unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. The winds and waves obey him; devils fear and fly at his word. He has the keys of death and hell, and yet he says these words. He is so overjoyed when he sees his servants dressed ready for service and keeping their lamps lit, serving their Lord faithfully and waiting for his return that he himself tucks his robe into his belt, invites his servants to sit around his table and then as they sit there wondering what in the world is going on, he begins to serve them. “Would you like this tender steak? How many roast potatoes do you want? Here are the peas, parsnips, the corn on the cob, the carrots and the Yorkshire pudding, the beans and the stuffing. Here is a great silver jug of hot gravy, and tall crystal glasses of water with ice cubes tinkling at the top.” Then he has prepared delicious cheesecake and fresh cream as a dessert, and the best Kenyan deep roast coffee and little bars of peppermint chocolate to complete the meal. The Lord has thought of everything, and now he is hovering around in the background, not intimidating them, not spoiling their meals but everything they want he provides. He gives them personally and individually all this food richly to enjoy. This is his blessing to them because they are dressed ready for service and their lamps are lit and they are waiting for his return.

People listening to this would be gob-smacked. Wherever had they met a real ruler, Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus, any of the Caesars or Herod the Great, putting on the clothes of a servant, inviting his slaves to sit down at the royal table while he cooked a magnificent feast and waited on them? What master would ever make himself nothing by taking the role of a servant? Only our God, Jesus Christ. What is unthinkable for any other Lord is the very essence of Jesus coming into the world wearing our weakness, taking on the flesh of our humanity, stripping off his robes to wash his disciples feet and choosing to die the death of the cross in their place because he loved them.

So he blesses his servants waiting for his coming with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. He gives them all things richly to enjoy. He says, “That couple would be happy married to one another,” and he brings them together. He says, “She could handle a talent for music well,” and he gives it. “He could become a successful businessman and wealth wouldn’t compromise his witness,” and he gives that gift to another man and he opens up his life. He gives children to some husbands and wives. He gives such gifts, leadership, and success, and health, and academic ability, and sporting skill, and eloquence, and long life, and friends, and family, and deliverance from sickness. He gives refrigerators full of food, and he goes on anticipating their every need year after year. What a blessing it is to serve him, and then when we die and come into his presence there lies before us a wonderful feast, the marriage festival of the Lamb and his bride, the church. It is all a gift of grace, the preparation is all divine, the invitation to the feast is all divine and the perpetual delight – pleasures that do not cloy – are all his good gifts to us. That is what the Lord does for every one of his servants.

WATCHING FOR HIS COMING MEANS VIGILANCE.

Finally Jesus speaks a word of caution; “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.” (vv. 39&40). Why does our Lord compare his coming to a thief in the night? It is scarcely flattering, but it is certainly a common simile in Scripture. Paul and Peter both tell us that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, and Jesus tells the church in Sardis, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (Rev. 3:3). It is not difficult to understand the reference to a thief. Thieves do not Email you in the morning to announce they are going to burgle your house that night. They come unwontedly. We had a letter from a former member of our congregation last week. Her name is Audrey and she has moved back to Kuala Lumpur in the past month and she describes in horrifying details one night earlier in the month when her sister was having a shower and she was in her bedroom with both their parents out. She heard a noise and going out into the passage saw that two men armed with machetes had broken into the house. She screamed and ran back into the bedroom and locked the door. Then she called the police. The two thieves ran off before the police came and no harm was done. Devastatingly unexpectedly the thieves arrived without any warning, and so it will be when Christ returns. Not a person will suspect that that day was to be the climax of history.

So the image of this 39th verse is again of men arriving at a house, but on this occasion the master, the head of the family, was firmly ensconced there. Maybe he was deeply asleep after a day’s work and snoring away so that he could hear nothing of a window being opened and burglars breaking in and ransacking every drawer and cupboard. Thieves have entered, not coming to bless but to steal. The following days how the owner lamented what had happened. If only he’d had a dog . . . if only he had barred the windows . . . if only he had stayed awake . . . if only he’d had a tip-off that that night he was going to be burgled then he could easily have made preparation for this event. That is always what people say with the wisdom of hindsight; “if only we had known in advance.” But you know in advance that one day the Lord from heaven will return because he has spoken of it. He came once; should he not come again?

Let me ask you again, “Are you ready?

There are two groups in this congregation; there are those who are ready for the coming of the Lord, and those who are not. What a loss it will be for you who are unready when Christ comes again. You are going to lose everything that is valuable, everything that is true, and noble, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, and excellent, and praiseworthy – all that will be stripped from you as thoroughly as a thief going over all you value and leaving you with nothing of worth. There is nothing of any significance in hell, and that is where you are going if you are unready for the Lord’s return.

Which group do you belong to in the congregation? Those who are ready, or those utterly unprepared for an encounter with a holy God who knows all they have done? Christ is coming as unexpectedly as a thief slipping his hand into your bag and quietly pulling out your purse. One minute there, the next minute gone. So Christ will suddenly appear. Am I ready to meet him? He could return in the next hour. Am I prepared? I could meet him through death tomorrow. Am I ready? Have I prepared my soul? Have I turned away from my unbelief in repentance? Have I placed all my hope of life in eternity in Christ? Have I surrendered to Jesus as my Lord and my God? Am I seeking to sanctify and prepare my soul for eternity through the word, prayer, the means of grace and the life of the congregation? Am I storing up for myself treasures in heaven? What of the poor and the needy on earth? Am I deliberately not noticing their plight?

May the Lord keep you waiting, working, watching, that when he comes you may have the blessedness of entering upon some larger, higher, nobler service than you could possibly accomplish here. “His servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face.” One of the events that follows his coming is being summoned before his judgment seat. How will you answer him then? If you have refused his love, and kept him at a distance from your life, and turned a deaf ear to his invitations and delayed, and delayed, and delayed, and delayed, how will you answer him in that day? If you stand speechless then your silence will condemn you, and the King will say, “Bind him hand and foot and take him away.” God grant that you believe in the Lord Jesus unto life eternal, and then wait for his appearing from heaven, for his love’s sake! Amen.

12th December 2010 GEOFF THOMAS