Luke 2  ~  HOPE

 

We are now in a season of expectation, both as we look forward to the Christmas celebration of our Lord’s first advent and his second advent when he will come again in glory as King of kings, Prince of Peace, and Righteous Judge of the earth.  And today is the Sunday of Hope.  Often times people will say they hope for something, meaning they wish for it, they desire it, they would like it - but they aren’t sure it will happen.  That’s not what we mean.  Hope is not wishful thinking or day-dreaming: hope is something that isn’t in our hands yet, but we know it will be.  It is confident expectation.

In this season, we have the hope of Christ’s first advent, as we sing songs about our Savior’s birth - something people had hoped for from the hour in which creation fell, when God gave the protoevangelium, telling that ancient serpent “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  And through long years of waiting, God kept reaffirming that hope: the promise of the Immanuel - God with us - born of the Virgin, the promise of a child born to us and a son given to us, and on and on - Old Testament prophecies and types all pointing to and preparing people for “Christ Jesus our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1)  But let us turn our focus to the hope of Christ’s second advent, for which has church has waited two thousand years, by reading our Lord’s words from Luke 12.

 

"Be dressed for service and well prepared, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 There will be special favor for those who are ready and waiting for his return. I tell you, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, there will be special favor for his servants who are ready! 39 "Know this: A homeowner who knew exactly when a burglar was coming would not permit the house to be broken into. 40 You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected." (Luke 12:35-40, NLT)

 

1) Christ’s Coming is Certain

On an Antarctic expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton was compelled to leave behind a party of men; but before leaving, he promised them, ‘I will come back’ - a promise he kept.  When the men saw the rescue ship arrive, they dashed out of their crude hut, leaving the table set with a partly sliced loaf of bread, a half-eaten cut of cheddar cheese, and half-filled porridge bowls to race to their returning leader.  Sir Shackleton asked them, “Well, you were packed and ready, weren’t you?” to which the men answered “Yes sir...we never lost hope.  You had promised to return and we believed you would somehow.”  These men may not have known all the details about how or when Sir Shackleton would return, but they knew by faith that he would return, faithful to his promise.

Likewise, our Lord has left us behind - a party of pilgrims sojourning in the world; but before leaving, he promised us, “I will come back!” and just like those men we should be ready and never lose our hope that Christ will return, faithful to his promise that he made and reaffirmed. 

“You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come...” (Luke 12:40)

“Let not your hearts be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

“He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’” (Revelation 22:20)

No promise made by even the most honest and well-intentioned mere mortal is as sure as this; as I’ve said before, Scripture declares God’s fidelity to his word: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19

 

2) The Timing is Unknown

As many of you know, I’m a fan of the popular science fiction television series “Doctor Who,” which recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a special, globally simulated episode.  Television ads urged viewers to watch on Saturday, November 23rd, at 2:50 PM.  In the final hours before its premiere, there was an on-screen count-down, showing the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining as every fan was waiting for Saturday, November 23rd, at 2:50 PM. 

There was no uncertainty about when this long anticipated television special would premiere; and the same is true about many things we look forward to with confident expectation.  When it comes to our annual Thanksgiving covered dish luncheon, Thanksgiving Day football games, store openings on Black Friday - people know the date and time.  We know the day and hour for many events - so what about Christ’s coming?

Well, according to Harold Camping, Christ would return at 6 PM on May, 21st 2011.  I remember hearing a local radio personality talking about that prediction of Christ’s coming again at 6 PM on May 21st - and the first time I heard that prediction was on May 21st.  Gee...a little more advance notice would have been nice!  I remember calling my dad shortly after 6 when yet another attempt to predict the day and hour of Christ’s return failed.

In our reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “The Son of Man will come when least expected.”  In another passage, he informs them, “However, no one knows the day or hour these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.  Only the Father knows.” (Mark 13:32)  Think about it: the angels in heaven who worship God gathered around his throne do not know the day or hour.  The Son of Man, Christ Jesus, during his earthly ministry, did not know the day or hour.  Why then should we think we can know the day or hour?  In fact, we don’t need to know the day or the hour; for when his disciples asked him for a time table in the book of Acts, Jesus said as much.  We read, “When the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, ’Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?’  ’The Father sets those dates,’ he replied, ’and they are not for you to know.” (Acts 1:6-7

So no man knows the day and hour of our Lord’s return; and living in a culture that likes spoilers and crossing out dates on calendars and setting alarms and count downs to everything from space shuttle launches to the dropping of a ball on New Year’s Eve to a world television premiere not knowing may frustrate some people...but there are reasons why it’s better for us not to know: and here’s one.

 

3) Our Reaction 

Jesus tells a parable about a master and his servants, saying, “Be dressed for service.”  (The more literal King James translation reads, “Let your loins be girded about;” which refers to a working man tucking or tying up his long outer garment so it wouldn’t impede his work, so it wouldn’t get in his way; a modern paraphrase might be “Roll up your sleeves.”  So, “Be dressed for service...) and well prepared (other translations read “keep your lamps burning;” another way of saying “be ready.”  Why?)  as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.  Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks.“  (Luke 12:35-36)  What’s the parable saying?  As the servants were to gird up their loins and keep their lamps lit, ready to open the door to their master and serve him, so we are to be ready; as he says in verse 40, “You must be ready all the time.”  But what does it mean to be ready?

 

1. Wait - Again, the parable begins, “Be dressed for service and well prepared, as though you were waiting for your master to return...”  I like learning the etymologies of words - and the other day I learned that the English word wait comes from an Old French word meaning “to watch;” just like at Thanksgiving, if you’re waiting for someone to arrive for dinner, you might be looking out the window watching for them.  The Greek in this text means the same thing - we’re not talking about idle inactivity but an active watching. 

We ought to live in constant expectation, knowing that not knowing the day and hour means that it can be at any day and hour, that his return is imminent.  As he said in Mark’s gospel, “So keep a sharp lookout!...What I say to you I say to everyone: Watch for his return!’ (Mark 13:35, 37)

Sadly, there are many Christians who have given up waiting and watching.  In fact, I just saw there was a poll that revealed only 79% of American Christians believe in Christ’s second coming.  Only 79% believe that an event repeatedly talked about in the New Testament and considered so integral to basic Christianity that it’s in our creeds is going to happen!    For many there’s no longer this sense of imminence or expectation.  For too many Christians Christ’s return has become peripheral and inconsequential to them.  This downward spiral from anticipation to apathy is chronicled by the Christian rock band “The Newsboys.”  In the song “Lost the Plot,” there is a shift from waiting and watching to dozing.  They sing, “When you coming back again?  We’ll be ready for you.  When you coming back again?  We’ll be waiting for you.  Maybe we’ll wake up when - maybe we’ll wake up when - you come back again.”  We need to wake up, stay up, keep waiting, keep watching.

 

2. Work

In Thru the Bible, Dr. J. Vernon McGee writes, “Many people feel that the Lord is coming soon, so they are waiting instead of working.  We should work as though the Lord was not coming for another one thousand years [and, I would suggest simultaneously as though he would come back in one minute]...The blessed hope is the coming of Christ, and we should be filling our ‘hope chests’ with works that we can one day lay down at his feet.”  Our Lord has assigned us work to do and given us instructions for how to live in his absence: witness him, preach the gospel, make and baptize disciples, show forth Christ by a godly conversation, pray for all men, love one another, etc.

That’s what Jesus is talking about in verse 42.  Jesus says, “I’m talking to any faithful, sensible servant to whom the master gives the responsibility of managing his household and feeding his family.” (Luke 12:42

Think about it this way: Imagine a teenager being left alone at home for the evening or weekend while the parents leave for a high school reunion or someone’s wedding several hours’ drive away; and imagine they give their teenager instructions - “make sure you do your homework.  Please run the dishwasher.  If you get the chance take your dirty clothes off the floor and put them into the hamper.  And no parties.”  If that teenager does what they’re told, if they do their chores and follow their parents’ instructions, they’ll be ready when they see their parents’ car pulling back into the driveway.  But imagine the teenager who throws a raucous party, shirks responsibilities and procrastinates - when he sees his parents’ pull into the driveway, and realizes that the house is a wreck - he’s going to panic.  Why?  He’s not ready.  Likewise, if our Lord returns and we’ve been following his instructions and doing the work he’s given us to do, we’ll be ready; but if we’ve been walking after the flesh and putting off doing the work he has given us to do, we won’t be. 

 

In this vein, there are several instances in the New Testament in which the imminence of Christ’s coming serves to encourage us to do what we ought to do until that day and hour.  Here’s a couple:

1) It Encourages Us To Meet Together - “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

2) It Encourages Us to Live Godly Lives - “Another reason for right living is that you know how late it is; time is running out.  Wake up, for the coming of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is almost gone; the day of salvation is almost here.  So don’t live in darkness.  Get rid of your evil deeds.  Shed them like dirty clothes.  Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light.” (Romans 13:11-12)  

 

Closing

This parable also reveals a reward for those who are ready.  We read, “There will be special favor for those who are ready and waiting for his return. I tell you, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!  He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, there will be special favor for his servants who are ready!” (Luke 12:37-38)  What an honor, that the master should serve his servants and make those who were ready to rest at the dinner table!  And what a feast which their Lord serves them: for in several instance in Scripture, eternal beatitude in heaven is depicted as a feast - in other words, all our readiness, our waiting, our work are not for nothing - someday, even as he promised, our Lord will come again to take us to himself that we might be with him where he is forever; someday, we will enter into our master’s happiness and rest.  Therefore, let us stay alert, keep watch, and be about our Lord’s work.  Amen. 

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