Stay Awake...Be Ready (Matthew 24:36-51)
Passage: Matthew 24:36–24:51
2012: The End is Near?
I. The End is Near?
Listen to a recent newspaper article about a new tourism campaign Mexico. The headline reads: “Mexico to cash in on 2012 Mayan end of the world apocalypse prophecy”. The article states, “Inscriptions found on two Mayan tablets have been interpreted by some as heralding a cataclysmic event on Dec 21, 2012.
The country's tourism agency, which stressed it does not itself believe the world will end, hopes to attract 52 million visitors to southeastern areas that were the heart of Mayan territory...More than 500 Mayan-themed events have been planned including ceremonies with Mayan priests performing rituals, burning incense and chanting...The town of Chiapas, on the Guatemalan border, is installing an 8ft digital clock in its main park which will count down to the much anticipated date.
Experts including archaeologists at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology say Mayan thinking has been misinterpreted and the world will not end. They say the Maya saw time as a series of cycles and 2012 merely marks the end of one of those cycles.
But suggestions of an apocalypse have been fuelled by the Hollywood blockbuster film "2012," which in turn has helped Mexico become more intriguing for tourists.”
The end of the world. Maybe you've heard about this theory. Maybe you've heard about this date, December 21st, 2012. But could the ancient Mayans be right?
Well we need to change the question, don't we? We shouldn't ask, “What did the Maya predict?”. We need to ask, “What does the Bible tell us about “the end of the world”? But listen to this. When we bring that question to the Bible, we discover that God is more concerned about us understanding the “why” of “the end”, rather than the “when”.
Let me show why I can say that. Turn with me this morning to Matthew chapter 24. We begin our study of “the end” by turning to Jesus Himself for answers.
II. “The End” According to Jesus
Matthew 24 contains a section of teaching by Jesus that is traditionally referred to as the Olivet Discourse. The name comes from the location where Jesus spoke these words: the Mount of Olives. He spole to his disciples as they looked to the west, over the Kidron Valley, to the city of Jerusalem and to the Temple that rose above the city.
This section of teaching is the most extensive description Jesus gave about His return and the judgment that would follow.
Well, what I’d like to do this morning is spend the majority of our time on verses 36-51. And the reason I want to focus on those verses is because they emphasize the “why” rather than the “when”. But before we go there, let’s do a quick survey of what we find in the earlier verses of this chapter.
If we ask why Jesus taught His disciples about “the end”, we could initially answer that by pointing out that he talked about “the end” because He was asked. Look at verses 1-3:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
Now the statement that Jesus makes here about the destruction of the temple would have been incredibly disturbing to the disciples, to any Jew for that matter. Obviously, they want to know when this is going to take place. And as their question indicates here, they’re already connecting this with the dawning of a new Messianic age when Jesus will rule in power.
But if you noticed in verse 2, Jesus prompted the question by responding to their admiration of the Temple. You see, in the closing verses of chapter 23, Jesus had already talked about judgment coming upon this generation (v. 36) and their house being left “desolate” (v. 38).
So what we see in chapter 24 is Jesus warning His disciples, and subsequently, Matthew’s audience. He is warning them about the days surrounding the destruction of the temple and about “the end” as Jesus calls it in verses 6 and 14. He warns them about false Messiahs, false prophets, about political instability, about natural disasters, and even how they themselves will be persecuted.
If you scan down to verse 15, you will notice that when Jesus talks specifically about the destruction of the Temple itself, He warns all who might hear his words (notice Matthew’s comment here “let the reader understand”), he warns them to leave Jerusalem and Judea. Why? Because of what Luke describes in Luke 21:20: “armies” will surround the city and desecrate the Temple, as Matthew also indicates here using language from the book of Daniel.
And of course, the words of Jesus Christ were completely accurate. Within a generation, in less than 40 years, the Temple in Jerusalem would be desecrated and destroyed. Listen to how Josephus, an eyewitness to these events, describes the destruction of the Temple that took place in 70AD:
And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious [the rebels] into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, they [the Romans] brought their ensigns [their banners and eagele standards] to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator [commander] with the greatest acclamations of joy. (Jewish Wars, Bk6, Chp6)
But look at verse 29-31. After referring to this awful event, Jesus goes on to describe His return and the “closing of the age”, to use the words of the disciples in verse 3.
But how is it that Jesus places His return right after the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple? Did we somehow miss His return in the First Century? The second coming of Christ doesn’t seem like one of those things you could overlook. So how do we make sense of this? Well look at what Jesus tells us in verse 32:
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:32-35)
Notice what Jesus does here. He emphasizes the distinction between the tribulation surrounding the destruction of the Temple and his return. Verse 29: “When you see these things taking place”…what things? All of the trials and events He described in verses 4-28. When you see those things, know that “he is near, at the very gates.”
Verse 34: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all THESE THINGS take place” What are “these things”? The same “these things” in verse 33, that is, all of the trials and events he described in verses 4-28. And again, we know from history that Jesus was exactly right. Within forty years all of those things did take place. But what about the next event that was to follow, the return of Jesus?
Well, in a couple weeks we will return to that question. This morning, I think it’s enough for us to say exactly what Jesus said here in verse 33: “…He is near, at the very gates.”
Now, I very quickly just moved through thirty or so of the most controversial verses in the Bible. I do believe it’s important to think carefully about the details that Jesus’ gives us here and the timing and relationship between these things.
But I believe it is more important that we focus on the end of this chapter, because in the closing verses of Matthew 24, we find the clearest indications of what Jesus really wanted these guys to know; what He really wanted later listeners to know, as well.
III. The End to Which Jesus Taught About The End
A. The Master’s Return (24:36-44)
Let’s begin with verses 36-44. Listen to what Jesus tells them:
36 “But concerning that day and hour [that coming time of judgment when Christ returns] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. >>>
40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Do you see the main point of these verses, the idea that Jesus is emphasizing and reemphasizing? The main point is summed up in verse 44: Jesus Christ is returning at an hour you do not expect.
While on earth, Jesus did not even know the Father’s appointed time for the closing of the age. His return will be unexpected because, just like in the days of Noah, before the flood, people will be inattentive and distracted. And just as the flood came and swept many away in judgment, so too will people be taken in the coming judgment. Some will be spared. But the point is that Jesus will come like a thief coming at an unexpected hour of the night.
No one who’s been robbed knew when the thief was coming. If they had, they wouldn’t have let the thief break in. It is the unexpected nature of his visit that distinguishes a thief. What we’re going to see in the other two messages in this series is that all of these passages are tied together by this same analogy: Jesus is coming like a thief sometime in the night.
What I want us to see here this morning is that Jesus gives two instructions to his listeners about living in light of what their hearing. Verse 42: “Therefore, stay awake…” And verse 44, “Therefore, you also must be ready…”
Yes, one of the reasons Jesus is giving them this information about the events surrounding His return and the coming judgment is to warn them and prepare them for what they can expect. But He’s doing this because He has a greater goal in mind. The end to which Jesus speaks about “the end” is summed up in those two commands: “Stay awake…Be ready.”
Now, I think those two phrases are really saying the same thing. They’re both saying, “Be vigilant!” But…what does it mean to be vigilant; to stay awake; to be ready?
In 1843, William Miller, a Baptist layman and amateur Bible teacher predicted, based on his study of the book of Daniel, that Christ would come the next year, in 1844. Eventually the exact date was determined to be October 22nd, 1844.
As that day approached, people all over the U.S. sold all their earthly possessions and left their homes. When the day finally did come, many donned white robes and went up on mountains or in trees to wait for Christ. Of course, you can probably figure out how that story ended.
But, is that what it means to be ready?
Maybe “being vigilant” means keeping a careful eye on the newspaper in order to watch for the fulfillment of prophecy or the identification of the Antichrist. Maybe it means we keep our eyes to the sky.
B. The Servant’s Faithfulness (24:36-44)
Well, we don’t have to wonder what Jesus means here. He goes on in the next few verses to describe what he means. Look at verse 45:
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant,whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servantsand eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour he does not know51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Do you see what Jesus is saying here? Staying awake, being ready means being faithful to the Master and His work. The fact that the Master’s coming was unexpected did not affect the faithful and wise servant. Whether the master was gone for a week, a month, or even a year, he would return and find that servant living according to his desires.
Jesus even gives us a picture of what it means to not be ready. In contrast to the faithful servant, Jesus tells us about a wicked servant who, after some time, sees his master’s delay as an excuse for apathy and indulgence. This kind of ‘servant’ will be so distracted by fulfilling his own desires that he will be completely unprepared when the Master returns.
Jesus actually goes on in chapter 25 to give two more parables about this same idea of preparedness. In 25:1-13, he describes ten virgins, five who were prepared for the groom’s coming before the wedding feast, and five who were not.
In 25:14-30, this theme is described in terms of a master who entrusts money to his servants so that when he returns from his journey, they will have used the money to make money. And again, some are faithful to this plan, while one is not.
But, you see, all of them make the same exact point: be ready! And that last parable reemphasizes what it means to be vigilant: it means faithfulness to the Master’s work.
You see, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples about things that were to come so they could fill in boxes on prophetic wall chart. He told them those things so they would be prepared and not shaken by situations that could easily shake someone up. As he said in verse 6, “See to it that you are not alarmed”
He did not want them to be discouraged or distracted from the work at hand. He wanted them to “stand firm to the end” (v. 13).
IV. Being Faithful and Wise Servants
Listen, whatever you think about the “end times”, whatever you believe about the circumstances surrounding the return of Jesus Christ and the timing of His appearing, we need to remember these words of Jesus.
I believe Scripture supports the basic premise that is so popular today, that knowing something about the timing of Christ’s return is critical. But that ‘something’ we need to know, according to Scripture is not about this or that sign. What we need to know about the timing of His return is that the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Will the world end in 2012? Maybe. But I say that, not because of some misreading of a Mayan calendar. We can say that because Jesus will come like a thief in the night! Do you believe that…that Jesus will be like a thief who comes at an unexpected hour?
Why is it important that we do believe that? It’s important because Jesus tells us, in light of this fact, we need to be ready, or as verses 45-51 make clear, we need to be faithful to the Master by being faithful to His work.
Notice that in the parable that begins in verse 45, the work of the Master involves caring for the needs of others in this household. So according to this parable, the faithful and wise servant serves his master faithfully by serving those around him faithfully. The faithful and wise servant serves his master by caring for that which is most important to the master. And he does so in order to please the Master when he returns.
Are you a faithful and wise servant of Jesus Christ? If you are a follower of Christ then you, all of us, have been called to carry out the Master’s work until He returns. We have been called to care for one another. We have been called to serve all people according to the Master’s desires. We have been called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to invite men and women, boys and girls, to follow Jesus through the forgiveness of the Cross.
Imagine if you were a servant in a large household. Imagine what would be at the forefront of your mind every morning when you woke up. You would immediately think about what needed to be done that day in accordance with the Master’s wishes. You would plan your schedule around carrying out those responsibilities.
And under normal circumstances, you would do this under the watchful eye of your Master. But if one day your master simply told you that he was going on a journey, without disclosing where he was going or how long he would be gone, how would your attitude change?
For the faithful and wise servant, there is no change of attitude. He knows that the Master could come at any time. He will still wake up at the same time each morning, and carry out his responsibilities just as he has always done. You see, the same thing that motivated that servant when the Master was home will be the same thing that motivates that servant when the Master is away: Paul puts it this way in II Corinthians 5:9…So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Now the “home” or “away” in that passage is talking about our place on earth or in heaven. But the idea is the same. Whether we walk in heaven in the bodily presence of the Master OR walk in His bodily absence here, our goal is still to be pleasing to Him.
Do you wake up each morning with a desire to please Jesus Christ? Do you set the course of your day, do you nurture the attitude of your heart, do allow the thoughts of you mind to be shaped by the fact that Jesus could return this day? And if you believe that, are you saying, “I want Him to find me being faithful to the work to which He’s called me”?
There is a bumper sticker I’ve seen out there that says this: “Jesus is coming back. Everyone look busy.”
As silly and as mocking as that sounds, all of us can fall into that very trap. Did you notice how the wicked servant was tempted in verse 48 to turn away from his master’s agenda? It was because of a delay in the master’s return.
You see, while on earth, Jesus knew enough about His return to know that the temptation would be to believe that there was a delay; that somehow, Jesus had been slowed up, hindered, detained, stuck. And if the disciples believed that was the case, Jesus knew that many would become apathetic. Some would turn away all together.
The danger of this ‘delay mentality’ is still a temptation today. It is so easy for us to get ourselves into the kind of daily pattern that leads to a spiritual rut. Especially when we’re struggling, one day can merge into the next and the cycle can seem so unending.
When you’re caught in the teeth of the daily grind, it’s easy to lose sight of the Master’s return.
Jesus knows this. He knows that our minds can be distracted from the reality of His unexpected return. That’s why He calls us to be ready, which as we saw, doesn’t simply mean constantly keeping your thoughts on His return (“Is it now…here it comes…He’s back…); but it means committing your life to a course of action that is pleasing to the Master in every respect. It is a commitment to His agenda.
But when the daily grind causes us to push back the return of Christ, when it tempts us to make that reality something abstract and distant, then we will find ourselves on a slippery slope. We will find ourselves tempted to doubt the reality of Jesus himself, that He is a living Lord who calls us His work.
And how easy it is at that point to just “look busy”. To go through the motions.
Brothers and sisters, the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. What will He find you doing when He comes?
The vigilance that Jesus calls us to is a vigilance that can only come from the new life that Jesus makes possible by His death and resurrection. When our hearts are focused in faith on Jesus Christ as our only hope, when the gospel, the “Good News” is filling our hearts and minds, only then will we be turned from living for ourselves in sin, and turned to a life that longs to please Jesus.
May each of us be driven by that love for Jesus Christ. May each of us find in our heart a longing to hear, on the day of His return, these words from His lips: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21)
More in 2012-The End Is Near?
February 19, 2012God is Not Slow (II Peter 3:1-13)
February 12, 2012Encourage One Another with These Words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)