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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Art of Waiting

Luke 12:35 - 13:9

Most of us do not know how to wait, not in the sense the Lord uses the word. We know that we must have everything now. It is no accident that debt of all forms is the highest ever known, for debt means having it now and paying for it later. Christians, however, must learn to wait upon the Lord – for He is coming indeed. In these passages today the Lord will teach us how to wait.

(Luke 12:35-48 NIV) "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, {36} 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. {37} 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. {38} 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. {39} 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. {40} You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." {41} Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" {42} The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? {43} It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. {44} I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. {45} But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. {46} 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 unbelievers. {47} "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. {48} But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Readiness

Since the earliest days of the church, full doctrine has always included the idea that the Lord is returning. The subject is fully taught in the New Testament. There are many theories about the timing of that return (and their advocates are often far too zealous in this), but all agree: He will return. That is not the question. “When” is a useless question; the only real question is, “what shall we do in the meanwhile?”

Be dressed

To his hearers, this statement would provoke memories of the Passover. The Jew was to eat the Passover dressed ready for a journey.[1] Indeed, the first Passover was exactly that, for the angel of Death would pass over their houses and not over the Egyptians. That was the tenth plague, the one that caused Pharaoh to “let my people go.” And go they did, and in a hurry. So it is that we should also be prepared at any time to go where our Lord commands us.

The phrase is also used of a mental readiness:

(1 Pet 1:13 NIV) Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.

There you see the essence. The verb “prepare” in this verse is translated “dressed” in the passage above. We are to be dressed

·         with our minds ready for action. Do we read the Scripture? Are we ready with at defense of the faith?

·         self-controlled. Are we “out of control,” or do our lives show the proper balance and participation in all things?

·         with our hopes set on Christ. In what do we put our hope? On our money? In a government, or a cause? Or on the Lord Almighty?

Lamps Burning

This is a common metaphor for our good deeds.[2] We must be careful about this, however. We are not to be professional good deed doers. The object of being light is quite specific: we are to be light so that men will see our good deeds and thus glorify God. If you do it for the praise of men, you will have your reward from their lips.

A warning to teachers (and others)

It must first be noted that our Lord’s warnings here about those in authority are quite founded in fact: there will be abuse of such authority. The temptation is always there:

(2 Pet 2:1-3 NIV) But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. {2} Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. {3} In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

Responsibility is in accordance with knowledge. The Lord makes it quite clear that those who act in ignorance will be punished as those in ignorance (ignorance is no excuse for guilt, but it does affect the punishment). Those who know, however, are held to a higher standard. We have recently had a member of the staff removed because of his moral failings (no, I don’t the details.) Some might think this unfair; after all, the church is a hospital for sinners, right? But listen to Paul’s words:

(Titus 1:7 NIV) Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

The leader must not be one who is easily swayed by temptation, both for the benefit of the flock and for the reputation of the church. Therefore, the leader must pay all the more attention to the warnings, and be about his Master’s business. Teachers in particular are warned specifically:

(James 3:1 NIV) Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

(This passage must make recruiting Sunday School teachers all the more difficult). The principle, however, applies to all of us:

(1 Pet 4:10 NIV) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

In whatever gift you have, you are to use it faithfully until He returns.

Great Expectations

Throughout history there have been many episodes of those who “knew” the date of his return. No doubt that someone will get the right date if only on the million monkeys, million typewriters principle, but the Scripture makes it plain: you will not expect him to come at the hour he does. The most common analogy he makes is that of the “thief in the night.” At least six times in the New Testament we see this picture. Now, just how do we prepare for the coming of a thief?

·         We do not make a giant fuss about it – as we would if we knew exactly the time of arrival. We take instead reasonable precautions. Like what?

·         We establish a system of defense. We buy locks and strong doors. Now, do we do likewise in our lives, barring the door to sin?

·         We put away things that the thief might steal easily. Similarly, we can ask whether or not we have put away the things that Jesus would condemn.

Watch. Be ready. He is coming again.

Fire on Earth

At first glance, the next section of Luke’s writing looks out of place, as if it didn’t relate to the passages before or after it. But there is a connection.

(Luke 12:49-53 NIV) "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! {50} But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! {51} Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. {52} From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. {53} They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Perhaps we can best understand this by going back to the Old Testament. Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” wrote this:

(Lam 3:25-26 NIV) The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; {26} it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

 

The King James Version sheds some light on the difficulty of translation:

(Lam 3:25-26 KJV) The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. {26} It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

 

The phrase “wait quietly” in the NIV is “both hope and quietly wait” in the NIV, as in most modern translations. There are actually two verbs here; one is a simple one for waiting; the other is more complicated. I give you its dictionary definition:

2342. chuwl, khool; or chiyl, kheel; a prim. root; prop. to twist or whirl (in a circular or spiral manner), i.e. (spec.) to dance, to writhe in pain (espec. of parturition) or fear; fig. to wait, to pervert:--bear, (make to) bring forth, (make to) calve, dance, drive away, fall grievously (with pain), fear, form, great, grieve, (be) grievous, hope, look, make, be in pain, be much (sore) pained, rest, shake, shapen, (be) sorrow (-ful), stay, tarry, travail (with pain), tremble, trust, wait carefully (patiently), be wounded.

This makes me glad not to be a translator. It also tells me that “waiting” on the Lord is not the same thing as waiting in line at the DMV. It is a much more active waiting – and hoping.

The word translated “fire” is also used for “lightning.” We see this passage and ask, “How is it that the Prince of Peace comes to bring not peace, but a sword? How can He kindle division, who prays that we might all be one?”

I would ask the reverse question; how can He not kindle division? What compromise does righteousness make with wickedness? He is the Stumbling Stone, and those who depend upon their own righteousness will stumble over Him eventually – now, or at the Judgment. Indeed, the metaphor of “fire” would be familiar to his listeners, and they would know that he was speaking of the Day of the Lord.[3]

The “baptism” He speaks of is, of course, the Crucifixion. Indeed, after the Crucifixion Christianity (thus Christ) spread like a wild fire. We must remember while waiting that we are not above our Master, and that our waiting may involve our deaths.

Division

One of the most painful situations which develops in a church is the divided family. We must remember that we need to seek first the Kingdom; the family comes after that. If the family conflicts with our faith, the family must yield. Therefore, there will be conflicts. Paul discusses this with the Corinthians, and renders his personal opinion (note that he does not ascribe this to God):

(1 Cor 7:12-17 NIV) To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. {13} And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. {14} For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. {15} But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. {16} How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? {17} Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

Note the phrase “retain the place in life.” This is waiting upon the Lord in every sense, for it has us place all personal ambition at his feet.

Signs of the Times

(Luke 12:54-59 NIV) He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. {55} And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. {56} Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? {57} "Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? {58} As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. {59} I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."

 

(Luke 13:1-9 NIV) Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. {2} Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? {3} I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. {4} Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? {5} I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." {6} Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. {7} So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' {8} "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. {9} If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"

There is a long history of foolishness about the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are frequent occurrences, especially in Protestant sects, of those who proclaim that they have computed the date of the return. (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are among those who descend from the “Millerites”). Why such things should occur in the face of the explicit warnings of the Scripture often puzzles people. But remember that Satan never creates; he can only twist what God has made. And God makes two things clear about the timing of Christ’s return:

·         You will not know the hour of his return.

·         But you will be able to discern the season.

Which brings up the very interesting point: just what sort of season do we live in? (Baseball comes to mind J)

Much might be said about the time in which we live, but it comes down to a practical point: what are we going to do about it? Christ makes a typical point: while there is still time, settle out of court. Once you meet the judge, you will get the full penalty of all you have done. Therefore, repent! Straighten up your life! (But in so doing, please remember the lesson on demons; self-reformation is useless; you need him).

Excuses

Some of us, however, are readier with excuses than with repentance (I am exceedingly familiar with this technique). The most common one is identified here: those guys who were killed in this disaster or that political action were such sinners that God wiped them out. I’m not that kind of person; God will be merciful to me.

Just what gives you that idea? There is only one who is righteous, and that is God. You (and I) are sinners; repentance and grace are our only hope.

The test

The Lord is coming back again, to judge the living and the dead, and I will face my God. How do I know that what I am doing is pleasing to Him? How can I be sure that my work will be rewarded with the cherished words, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” There is one test: the fruit of your life.

It may seem you have the rest of your life. Indeed, it may seem that God has been waiting a long time – and He may wait a long time yet, if He pleases. For as Peter puts it,

(2 Pet 3:8-10 NIV) But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. {9} The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. {10} But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

·         God is patient with us.

·         He will not be patient forever; He is coming again.

·         Watch!


[1] Exodus 12:11

[2] Matthew 5:16

[3] Malachi 4:1

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