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Sunday, December 08, 2019

"Keep Watch" [Matt's Messages]

“Keep Watch”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
December 8, 2019 :: Matthew 24:45-25:13

This is our fourth message in Matthew chapter 24, often called the Olivet Discourse or the Eschatological Teaching because our Lord Jesus taught about the End Times on the Mount of Olives during that last crucial holy week. This is Jesus’ own teaching about Jesus’ own return.

I’m not going to go back and recount everything we’ve learned over the last 3 messages in Matthew. It would take the whole sermon time to do that. There are a lot of details here, a lot of complexity. And faithful Christians have disagreed on how to interpret many of those details over the course of church history.

So if you want to go back into that further, or if I’ve lost you along the way, I’d recommend going back and re-listening to those messages or reading the manuscripts of the sermons which I post on my blog. That’ll catch you up. And it might help you to fall asleep at night. Maybe both!

But, today, we’re not going to go back over Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (in verses 1&2), or Jesus’ description of the Birth Pains that characterize the time between His first coming and His second coming (in verses 3-14), or Jesus’ prediction of the abomination of desolation which I believe happened in that generation (in verses 15 through 26), or Jesus’ prophecy of the actual coming of the Son of Man which will be obvious and glorious (in verses 27 through 31). And we’re not going to go back to verses 32 through 35 which give us a summation of that entire section of the teaching and end with our Hide the Word verse about the certainty of Jesus’ words coming true. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

We’re not going to go back there over all of those details.

But I do want to restate what we saw last week (in verses 36 through 44).

One, because many of you weren’t able to be with us last week due to the ice on the roads.

And two, because the point that Jesus was making then is the same point that He’s making now in today’s passage.

And the point is the point!

Jesus has gotten to the so-what, to the nub, to the rub, to the relevance of all of this teaching on the End Times.

We’ve seen it again and again–Jesus is focused in His teaching on eschatology on application to our hearts and our lives.

Application.

And here’s what He said was the application:

Keep watch

Spiritually speaking. Keep watch.

The main upshot of Jesus’ teaching on Jesus’ return is spiritual vigilance.

It’s watching and waiting and being ready for His return.

In the words of our statement of faith, the return of Christ “demands constant expectancy.”

Keep watch.

Why?

There is one big reason why we need to do that which Jesus emphasized over and over again in verses 36 through 44, and He’s going to keep doing it until the end of chapter 25.

And that is that no one knows when the Son of Man will come.

So let me ask you the question I ask all ordination candidates when we get to Article 9 of our Statement of Faith. See if you can pass an ordination exam question:

When will Jesus return?

What’s the right answer?  We don’t know.

When will the Lord come back? We don’t know.

When should we expect the Coming of the Son of Man? We don’t know.

Listen to verse 36 again, from last week.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Not only do we not know. The angels in heaven don’t know.

And more unbelievably, at that time, even the Son of Man in His human nature did not know when He would return.

If the Son of Man professed His ignorance on this point, who do we think we are to pretend we know or to speculate as if we do?!

I don’t know how Jesus could say it more strongly. So He just keeps saying it.

Listen to verse 42.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

You do not know.

He’s says that He’s going to come like a thief in the night. Not to steal things but to catch people unaware.

So He says that we must always be aware. We must always be spiritually vigilant, constantly expectant. V.44

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Do you think He wants us to keep watch?!

What does that look like?

What would it look like for you and me to live our lives on watch?

That’s actually the theme of the rest of chapter 24 and chapter 25.

We’re going to focus on it for at least 3 more messages, right up to the New Year.

What does it look like for you and me to live our lives on watch?

I’d like to begin by asking the question that we ended with last week:

What do you want to be found doing when the Lord returns?

We don’t know when He will return.

So what do you want to be up to when it actually goes down?

Jesus asks a similar question in verse 45.

He frames it as a wisdom question like in the Proverbs. The contrast between the foolish and the wise. V.45

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

The master goes away, and leaves a faithful and wise servant in charge.

You can guess who the master is. You can guess who the servant is supposed to be.

What does that faithful and wise servant do while the master is away?

He does what he should do!

He does what the master wants him to do!

If he’s in charge of feeding the other servants, he makes sure they get their food and on time.

And it will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

Now, Jesus is going to camp on this idea of giving an account of your actions while He is away and His giving out rewards for faithful service in the next chapter. I hope to study it with you, Lord-willing, next week. It’s that “good and faithful servant” story.

But He raises it here with this illustration.

What do you want to be doing when the master returns?

You want to be doing what He asked you to.

Is that what you are doing?

What are you doing with your life?

Are you living a faithful, obedient life?

Are you doing what your master has asked you to do?

Are you living out the values of His kingdom?

Does your life look like the Sermon on the Mount, for example?

When Jesus told us how to live if we are citizens of His upside-down, inside-out, already-but-not-yet kingdom.

Are you being faithful with whatever portion of that kingdom work you are supposed to be managing? Feeding those you are supposed to be feeding and on time.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant?”

Is that you? Is that me?

The good news is that the master richly rewards the faithful and wise servant.

We can’t begin to imagine what that reward might be like.

In the parable, the faithful and wise servant is put in charge of all of the master’s possessions!

That sounds good to me.

What do you want to be doing when the Lord returns?

Because you don’t know when it’s going to happen.

Keep watch. Because:

#1. HE MIGHT COME SOONER THAN YOU EXPECT.

In verse 48, Jesus poses a thought experiment about the opposite of a faithful and wise servant. V.48

“But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Wow!

Notice once again that Jesus says that the master will come at an unspecified and completely surprising moment.

When this servant does not expect Him and at an hour the servant is not aware of.

Now, that’s partially the servant’s fault. Right?

This wicked servant has said in his heart that the master will be away for a long time, and so he reasons that he has lots of time to get things straightened up later.

And so he lets his true nature come out and take over.

He doesn’t feed his fellow servants. He beats them.

And he gives himself to wild, debauched, wicked living. Sinful pursuits.

“Oh, we’ll clean this up later. We have lots of time. Let’s have some fun! We can treat each right in the church later. Let’s brawl right now. And let’s party hearty! ”

What do you want to be doing when the Lord returns?

When I was a youth pastor, I remember one night we took the teens bowling. We had a good time and we were packing up to leave, and I was in the front seat of the church van with one of the students, and I remember very clearly he said to me very honestly, “I don’t want God to come back just yet. I still want to do some more sinning.”

Very honest!

He might come sooner than you expect.

And what if it’s today?

This guy in Jesus’ story thought that he had lots of time to repent.

But he sure didn’t.

And look where it got him. Verse 51 again.

“He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Remember who the hypocrites are from chapter 23?

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, hypocrites.”

The fakes and the snakes.

The blind leading the blind.

The false and the wrong.

Looking good on the outside but on the inside only death.

Those who are unprepared for the return of Christ because they were hypocrites–not really believers and not really followers of Jesus–will go to torment.

What do you want to be doing when the Lord returns?

Or conversely and just as importantly:

#2. HE MIGHT COME LATER THAN YOU EXPECT.

We don’t know.

He might come later.

In chapter 25, Jesus tells another parable of the kingdom with the same point.

You don’t know, so keep watch. Chapter 25, verse 1.

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”

Let’s stop right there and make sure we understand what is going on in the story because our Pennsylvanian weddings are not like first century Israeli weddings.

There were a number of traditional parts to a Jewish wedding at that time, and the ones that seem to be operative in this story are that the groom and his dad would often go to the home of the bride to make the final negotiations and arrangements for settling everything about the wedding and then the groom would process through the streets of their town back to his home for the wedding feast to begin.

The focus here is on the groom because he stands for Jesus in the New Testament.

Other passages focus on the bride which stands for the church in the New Testament. But that’s not the focus here. The focus is on the bridegroom and when will he come?

And other members of the community would be invited to the wedding feast.

Remember the wedding at Cana where they ran out of wine?

A bunch of people get invited.

And these young maidens were invited to join the procession through the streets.

It was apparently going to happen in the evening.

So they were given lamps.

I don’t think these are Coleman camping lamps.

It’s more likely that they were “large dome-shaped torches, fueled by rags soaked in oil and used for walking outside” (ESV Study Bible).

Like the Olympic torch.

And in Jesus’ story there are ten of them.

He makes five of them wise and five foolish.

Again with the wise and the foolish. In this story, you are either one or the other.

And the difference between two is that the wise took oil in jars along with their lamps.

But the foolish ones did not take any extra olive oil to burn in their lamps.

Now, many Christian interpreters have tried to figure out what the oil stands for in the parable.

You’ve probably heard a lot of the options.

The Holy Spirit.
Grace.
Good works.
Salvation.
The word of God.

The list goes on.

I don’t think it matters to get the point of Jesus’ story.

Especially because they are going to go out and get some for themselves later in the story.

The point is that they were not prepared for the bridegroom to take longer than they expected.

In many ways, these lit lamps were their tickets to the feast, and they had neglected to do anything to make sure they were ready to enter the feast if it took any real time of waiting.

They were foolish because that’s exactly what happened. V.5

“The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

There’s the key point of the parable.

“The bridegroom was a long time in coming.”

Some people think that Jesus led everyone to expect that He would return very shortly in the first century and that the church was in tizzy because He didn’t.

Is that what happened?

Well, Jesus did lead everyone to expect that He would return at a time that they don’t expect and that it could be very short.

That’s the last story about the wicked servant.

After the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in AD 70, the Coming of the Son of Man could be imminent.

But Jesus also explicitly left open the possibility that He might take a long time before returning.

From our perspective, a long delay.

He might come much later than you expect.

He said so!

It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus told this story.

But that should not surprise us.

He said it might be so.

In the story, all of the guests are checking their watches and saying, “When is that bridegroom going to come? What are they doing in there?”

This is like the part in our weddings when they couple are taking pictures after the ceremony.

If you aren’t in the pictures, it seems like forever until they finally come to the reception and you get to eat!

Sometimes, I move on mentally. And I forget that we’re supposed to be waiting expectantly for the couple to arrive so the celebration can begin.

These young ladies fell asleep.

Was that bad?

Not in this story. Because both the wise ones and the foolish ones fell asleep.

It’s not wrong to sleep.

This keeping watch thing does not mean try not to go to sleep until Jesus returns.

Knock yourself out. Burn yourself out. Because Jesus might be here in any second.

No, this story is about Him taking longer than we might expect. So rest is going to have to be a part of the equation for us.

Rest, but be ready.

The wise virgins could rest because they were ready.

The foolish virgins shouldn’t have allowed themselves to rest until they were ready.

Because the bridegroom was a long time in coming. V.6

“At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' [Everybody scrambles around.] Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' [We have a responsibility to light the way for the bridegroom, the whole way from here to the feast. You’re on your own. So they take off.] But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”

He might come later than you expect.

But that doesn’t mean you know how much time you have to prepare.

You’ve got to be prepared all of the time.

Isn’t it fascinating that they had all of that time and yet they were not prepared?

And nobody can do your preparing for you.

I sometimes wish that I could prepare people to meet the Lord myself.

There are a lot of people I would try to get ready for His return if I could.

And we all should urge people to do so.

But we can’t do it for them.

We can’t get anyone saved.

Not our kids.
Not our grandkids.
Not people we love.

We can urge them to prepare for the Lord’s return.

But everybody has to do it for themselves.

I have to do it for myself.

And you have to do it for yourself.

Have you done it?

Are you prepared for the Lord’s return?

He might come earlier than you expect.

So don’t delay.

He might come later than you expect.

So get ready to wait.

I think that a lot of preachers and teachers on the End Times don’t do enough talking about this aspect of Jesus’ return.

They get people whipped up into a frenzy that it could be soon. It could be soon! It could be soon!

And it could be soon.

We should be ready. We don’t know!

But we don’t know.

And Jesus said there might be what seems to us to be a delay.

So we ought also dig in and be ready for the long haul.

There were churches in the first century like in Thessalonika that made that mistake.

They were quitting their jobs and just waiting around for the Second Coming.

But Jesus didn’t say to quit your job.

Jesus didn’t say to not plan for retirement or to strategize for long term effect.

Those are good things to do. Go ahead and go to work this week!

Go ahead and save for retirement. Not to play your life away but to not be a burden to others and to be able to give to the Lord’s work in the future if there is a future.

Go ahead and build that organization that you think you’re called to build.

Go ahead and make long term plans. Because you don’t know.

You don’t know!

We have to stop pretending like we know!

Even the Son did not know.

Think about this. According to chapter 24 verse 36, Jesus did not know that it would be over 2,000 years until He came back to get us.

He knew that it would be at a time we did not expect.

Could be sooner. Could be later.

We don’t know.

The point is to be ready either way.

Patient and Expectant.
Expectant and Patient.

That’s what it means to keep watch.

Are you ready either way?

Like many of Jesus’ parables, it’s a crazy story.

These young ladies get some more fuel and come through the streets to the wedding banquet, and they are refused entry.

This probably would not have happened in real life.

They probably would have gotten shamed and then let in.

You dishonored the bridegroom by not lighting the way like you were asked, but whatever.

But Jesus puts a kicker on His story to show just how important this is in the spiritual realm. V.11

“Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

I do not know you.

Those are some of the scariest words in the Gospel of Matthew.

They were invited to the feast, but because they did not prepare in faith for the long haul of waiting for the bridegroom, they were not known by the bridegroom when they tried to get in after the last second.

After the last second, the door does not open again.

Are you ready?

Are you ready for the return of Christ?

You don’t know when it’s going to happen.

It might be sooner than you expect.

It might be later than you expect.

You don’t know.

The question is are you ready?

You don’t have to wait to find out.

You can get ready right now.

The Lord invites you to turn from your sin (He calls that “repentance”) and put all of your faith in trust down on Jesus Christ and what He did for you at the Cross.

And begin by faith to follow Jesus as your King.

It might be harder to do that than you might expect.

It might be more arduous.

It might involve more hardship and difficulty and bad times.

You’ve got to be ready for the long haul.

But it’s worth it.

He is worth it!

The Bridegroom is worth it all.

Verse 13.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”


***

Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything
52. First and Last
53. The Suffering Serving Son of Man
54. Shouting for the Son of David
55. Expecting Fruit
56. Come to the Wedding Banquet
57. Whose Image?
58. Acing the Test
59. What Do You Think About the Christ?
60. How Not To be A Leader
61. Malignant Religion
62. Fakes and Snakes
63. Birth Pains
64. The Coming of the Son of Man
65. No One Knows

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