Ready for His Return

The Gospel of Luke 2  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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We often struggle with service that drags on longer or is more intense than we thought we were signing up for!
Imagine yourself in this situation: You decided to get married and have children. But serving your spouse and your kids day after day, hour after hour, proves to be an incredibly tall task—to serve them with kindness and respect, preferring their needs above your own preferences, and not giving in to exhaustion & frustration, the inclination to throW your weight around, to get what you want.
Or you volunteered to serve in a ministry role with relationship to your church family. You set out, of course, to honor God and bless the Church, but the task and the people seem to be asking much more of you than you thought you volunteered for.
How do we handle this very real struggle? We must stay focused on the finish line, the return of Christ and the receiving of our eternal inheritance, and we must remember to whom we are ultimately responsible, not allowing the details of the daily battle to drown out the big picture of being pleasing to our Master.
And it is that Master, Jesus Christ, who told us truly what to expect. In our study of Luke’s Gospel, in recent months we passed through chapter 9 and heard Jesus preparing his disciples in this way with the reality of what it would mean to be a sincere follower:
Luke 9:23–24 ESV
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Jesus never said it was going to be easy, but he does promise that it will be worth it.
Now, jump ahead to chapter 12, which is where we are now. Christ has been warning his followers of the danger of religious hypocrisy, which is the same blindness present in the Jewish religious leaders, and the danger of materialism, of living for this world, as threats to true discipleship and right relationship to God.
At the tail end of that discussion, he tells them not to worry about material provision but to entrust themselves to God and focus on investing in things that are eternal rather than in that which is earthly and temporary (vv. 32-34). And Jesus comforts them again that the Father will give the kingdom to those who are his true children. This kingdom conversation leads naturally into a depiction of what is expected of Christ’s servants while they await the culmination of that kingdom.
Luke 12:35–48 ESV
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
To express his point with force concerning their role and responsibility, Jesus employs parables as living metaphors to illustrate how his followers ought to live in his absence while awaiting his Second Coming.

We must be ready; the Master is returning.

What we can’t afford to miss in the overall metaphor is that Jesus is the Master, and we are his servants.
In our nature as humans (a nature inherited from Adam and Eve which the Bible describes as inherently sinful), we tend to cultivate the lie in our own hearts that we are our own authority, and we set out to live our lives accordingly. It shouldn’t surprise us, and we shouldn’t ignore, that the secular culture around us behaves as though the highest value in their worldview is individual autonomy.
Here’s the thing: God exists, and if he didn’t exist you wouldn’t exist either. Therefore, he is Lord over all that he has made. You are accountable to him. He is the authority.
This eternal Triune Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) sent God the Son to earth to reveal God and to rescue us from our selfish, blind, dead natures that are leading us straight to our destruction—eternal separation from the good and glorious God who made us to worship Him.
So Jesus is the Master. He is Lord. The metaphor isn’t stretched. It’s accurate.
And we are slaves under his authority. We will either prove ourselves to be unbelieving and unfaithful slaves who reject his authority, or we will demonstrate our repentance and belief in His Lordship and his saving purposes by growing in faithfulness as stewards of his grace (not only his slaves, but also being given by him the right be called God’s children!).
Although Jesus is physically absent at present, he is returning. We must be ready! So Jesus says…
Be prepared like servants waiting for their master’s return. (vv. 35-36)
Dressed for action (girding up our long robes into our belts) - strenuous activity (running, scrubbing on our hands and knees, etc.)
Keeping lamps burning - How many of you leave the front porch light on when you know guests are arriving in the dark? That’s idea.
Ready to open the door at once, bells on, as soon as he should arrive. - Everything is ready for your arrival, Master. How may we serve you?
Take stock of your daily life. How often are you behaving in the daily grind as you are preparing for Jesus return? Or how frequently are you simply trying to make it through the day, or investing mind and effort in only preparing for tomorrow on this earth?
Know that there will be blessing for those the Master finds watchful and waiting. The Master will honor them with His service! (vv. 37-38)
The Master expects to find us awake—actively pursuing the mission of his kingdom, not sleeping or sloughing off. Even if it is one of the later watches at night, he expects to find us alert and serving. - The Romans divided the night watch into four shifts, the Jews divided it into three. Whichever system Luke might be referring to, the point is that it’s the latest hours of the night, and that the Master’s return does seem to be delayed. In spite of the late hour, we must be alert—watchful and waiting.
Of course, physically speaking, staying awake all the time is impossible. But the point of Jesus’ illustration is to speak in spiritual terms. We must be spiritually alert at all times: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (cf. Mt 26:41), and so we must walk by the Spirit (of God) in order to not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
As to the second part of v. 37, what an astonishing picture!: The Master of the universe honoring those who have served him faithfully by himself dressing as a servant and serving believers at the banquet table! - We ought to be astonished, as Jesus’ own audiences would have been with illustrations like these: to realize that the Lord of all creation, in spite of His eternal position of authority, came to earth not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. And to hear again that those who are true and faithful believers will receive the astonishing blessing of him serving us upon his return, honoring us with such kindness.
Listen, that mindset of our Lord should be enough for us to reverse our understanding: leaders have to lead, those in authority must exercise their authority, but Christ has taught us to do so in service… in service to him, in service to others... for the good of those we lead.
I am daily convicted that my primary question to my family, and to our church family, must always be, “How may I serve you?”
Be warned that we don’t know the hour of His return, like the unexpected intrusion of a thief. (vv. 39-40)
Don’t be disillusioned by what seems to us to be his delay. His patient delay up to today has meant rescue for me, and for many of you. Should he delay tomorrow it would mean repentance and restoration for others.
But the other side is this: In spite of our efforts to watch for the signs of his coming, we don’t ultimately know when it will be. That’s the point of the illustration about a thief’s intrusion. If we knew when the thief decided to break in, we’d also be ready to prevent it.
Similarly, if we knew exactly when Jesus was coming we could dink around and not be on our guard or active in service, until the moments or hours right before his return. But since he will come at an hour we do not know, we must be always ready for his imminent return.

When Jesus comes, He will reward and judge.

“Jesus authority implies responsibility to him.” (Bock, 1186) Remember what we said earlier: We are accountable to him. … And He will one day return and evaluate everyone by their response to him and how they lived accordingly.
The previous illustration from Jesus causes Peter to ask:
To whom does all this apply? (v. 41)
Without answering Peter’s question directly, Jesus implies the responsibility of all believers, with particular emphasis on the greater responsibility of spiritual leaders.
Blessed is the spiritual leader who serves wisely and faithfully, like a good steward over his master’s household. (vv. 42-44)
Wealthier households would have enough servants that it served them well to set one servant as head over all the other servants. He would be the chief steward. His job was to wisely manage the labor and safety and provision of all other serving members of the household so that the master of the house was free from worrying about them. Such a manager would be completely trusted in the master’s absence.
We think of Joseph in the OT time of the Patriarchs. ***
In the illustration, we see Jesus pointing to the stewardship responsibility of spiritual leaders. We are to concern ourselves with his agenda, following his instruction, and seeking the good of his people. And notice that selflessly managing well to honor the Master is ultimately to our own great benefit.
And now the privilege of leading comes with severe warning as well:
But the unfaithful leader who behaves like his master’s delay is license to abuse his privilege and responsibility will be judged as an unbeliever. (vv. 45-46)
Time and time again in these sections we’ve been going through recently I cannot help but think of the Jewish religious leaders and their position of knowledge but rejection of Jesus. And time and time again I think of Judas. ***
The dramatic and graphic picture is one of rejection, of being severed from eternal relationship with God. That is the punishment commensurate with being clearly presented with the truth of who Jesus is and why he came and how we ought to respond with our whole lives… only to refuse to repent and submit to his authority.
All other servants too will be judged/disciplined according to the knowledge they have of their responsibility before God. (vv. 47-48)
There’s an interpretive challenge here to know if these last two servant examples are true followers but whom are disciplined for lack of faithfulness or if these are would-be followers who are ultimately judged because they don’t prove to be sincere. (This conclusion is more obvious with the first unfaithful steward, but less clear with these subsequent servants.)
The bottom line is, our judgment or reward will be commensurate with the knowledge we have had and how we responded and lived our lives.
[Conclusion] How might we summarize these thoughts from the text today?
To be ready for Jesus’ imminent return is to stay alert with watchful expectancy, striving to be servants who are wise and faithful with the knowledge and responsibility he has given us.
1. “ONE’S ATTITUDE TOWARD THE LORD’S SECOND COMING IS THE RESULT OF HIS RESPONSE TO HIS FIRST COMING.” Deffinbaugh - From our human perspective, we can in fact act however we want in this life, as if God has no authority over us, and that might seem successful for a while, but we will one day be judged accordingly. You can try to claim you didn’t really know (like you just didn’t get how serious it was… or there just wasn’t quite that obvious convincing evidence of God’s existence and his will for you), but he will respond that all of humanity is without excuse. - You must get ready now to stand before God at the judgment. Your attitude toward Jesus returning is determined by the how you respond to the fact that he has already come a first time.
2. To those who are sure of our standing in Christ, we need a kick in the pants every so often from our Master’s authoritative and inerrant Word (each week, each day?) to remind us of the seriousness of the privilege and responsibility of belonging to and representing the King—the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to live with anticipation (focused minds) of the Master’s imminent return, knowing that our service to him is manifest through our wise and faithful service toward others he has placed around us.
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