Matthew Lesson 111 (2017)

 

PREPARING FOR THE GLORIOUS DAY-(I)

 

Matthew 24:32-51

Key Verse: 24:45

 

“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?”

 

          So far, in 24:1-31, Jesus has been mainly talking about what would happen right before his second coming. Particularly he distinguished the beginning of birth pains from the actual birth pains in the end times. He did so in order for his followers to not be unnecessarily alarmed or be distracted, wasting their time and energy in trying to figure out the details of those signs. Starting in verse 32 and continuing in Chapter 25, Jesus highlights how his followers should prepare themselves for his glorious second coming, and he starts off with the Parable of the Fig Tree.

 

          Look at verses 32-33. “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” By hearing “the fig tree”, it’s easy for us to automatically think that the fig tree refers to the nation Israel, which many people believe. However, according to Luke’s account, in the same occasion Jesus not only mentioned the fig tree but also all other trees. “He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees.’” (Lk. 21:29) Therefore, we can clearly see that Jesus’ intent in telling this parable is simple. Jesus wanted to make a point that people can be aware of his second coming because of the obvious signs, such as global persecution and especially the abomination that causes desolation, which he compared to the twigs and leaves of the fig tree (9-29).

 

          Even though it’s really heart breaking to see many terrible things happening in the world today, we, as Christians, should not panic or be confused. Because those things are just the beginning of the birth pains, and the end is still to come (24:6). By studying Matthew 24, I am more convinced that we, as Christians, won’t go through the time of tribulation on earth because we will be raptured.

 

          Many Bible scholars generally believe the tribulation would be 7 years and the great tribulation is 3 ½ years on earth. But to be honest, we are not 100% sure. Jesus said in verse 34. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Here “this generation” may refer to the generation that will be living at the time these predictions come to pass. In other words, most people who are alive at the beginning of the time of tribulation will still be alive at the end of it. There will be the final judgment on earth through his second coming, and prior to it will be terrible suffering on earth. Jesus reaffirms it in verse 35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The current heaven and earth will pass away because there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). However, a number of Bible verses prove that the church will be removed from the earth through the rapture before the time of tribulation (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thess. 5:9).

 

          Yesterday, I had the chance to talk with one of my Jewish neighbors. One of the questions I asked him was “Are you guys waiting for the coming of the messiah?” He said, “Yes.” I told him that I am waiting for Jesus to come back as he promised. But then he talked about something else, like antisemitism he experienced. However, I realized that both the Jews and Christians are waiting for the coming of the Messiah. I wanted to ask him if he knew when the Messiah would come. Do you know why? It’s because down through the ages, there have been numerous people among both the Jews and the Christians who have speculated the exact day of the coming of the Messiah. I know many of them were well meant. However, they had been proven wrong. Actually, the disciples also asked the very same question “Tell us, when will this happen? What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3)

 

          Jesus had answered the second question about the signs. Now, he is going to answer the first question about the time. But surprisingly enough, Jesus’ answer appears to be puzzling rather than convincing. Look at verse 36. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” He said that he didn’t know. I feel that we can tolerate the fact that we humans, or the angels don’t know the time of Christ’s second coming. It’s hard to accept that Jesus the Son of God didn’t know the day or hour of his own second coming. Well! How do make sense of that? There have been many well-meaning speculations about Jesus us not knowing the day of his return. I heard some people say that Jesus actually knew it but he was just humble. Or he didn’t want his disciples to know it at that time. If that’s the case, Jesus didn’t tell the truth. Yet, Jesus clearly said that he didn’t know it but only God the Father knew it. Actually, it was not the first time Jesus admitted that he didn’t know everything. As a matter of fact, Jesus was humble enough to admit to his disciples that he didn’t know everything. He actually said to his disciples that he depended on God the Father in everything he spoke and did. “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn. 5:19)

 

          What does it tell us about Jesus? Jesus is God the Incarnate who was born as a perfect human being, like you and I, except that he was sinless.  Yet, at the time of his birth, he didn’t have the all the divine knowledge and wisdom. He had to grow in wisdom and stature (Lk. 2:52). Even though Jesus displayed his divine nature and knowledge in many occasions, he still had to submit everything under the authority of God the Father. And that’s what Jesus did when he said, “No one knows… not the Son, but only the Father.”  Jesus the Son of God was God the Father-centered, and he, as the Son, is always glorifying God the Father. Now, our Lord Jesus who is fully glorified knows what Father knows. And I can trust him even more.

 

          So what did Jesus say about the time of his return? Well, he likened the time of his return to the time of Noah. Look at verses 37-41. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the food, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” His point is that his coming will be sudden. Well, we know that most natural disasters, like earthquakes, tsunamis, or flash floods, are very destructible because they come suddenly without enough warning. As a matter of fact, when Noah built the ark, the warning of God’s judgment through the flood had been given to the people of Noah’s time. But no one, except his own family members, heeded the warning. The day Noah entered the ark even business was going on as usual. I am not sure if Jesus was talking about rapture or his final judgment, but the point is clear. His coming whether for our rapture or final judgment will be a sudden event.

 

          Look at verses 42-44. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” It seems that the exact day of his coming was left unknown to us on purpose. It is left unknown to us so that we may be watchful and be ready all the time. Of course, Jesus wants us to be watchful not for the coming of a thief but his coming. In other words, he does not want us to be indulged in other useless and unimportant things. He wants his disciples to be like the virgin bride eagerly waiting for her bridegroom. He wants us to keep the purity of our soul through the long process of waiting.

 

          What does it mean to be watchful? Being watchful does not mean to be anxious, nervous or alarmed. Look at the phrases “Therefore keep watch” (42), “But understand this” (43) and “You must be ready.” (44)

Being watchful means to be ready and being prepared. Actually, God does not want his children to be anxious or nervous. In fact, constant stress and too much anxiety can lead us to a depression and to other serious mental illnesses. We need the peace of God while we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s why Jesus repeated offer his people to his disciples.  I want us to read several verses from John’s Gospel. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (Jn. 14:1) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn. 14:27) and “I have told you these things, so in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

 

          Why is having the peace of God so important? It’s because when we have no peace of God, we become very vulnerable to the devil’s temptation and threat. But when we have the peace of God, we can have a sound mind and be truly watchful and prayerful. However, having the peace of God does not mean to be complacent. We can have the peace of God as we completely trust in him in our daily life.

 

          Waiting for the second coming of Jesus can be very challenging, demanding and tiring. Yet, it should be one of the most meaningful life struggles and experiences. And it will be greatly rewarded. In the following verse, Jesus instructs his disciples on how they could be best prepared for his glorious return. Look at verse 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?”  How can we be best prepared for Jesus’ second coming? It’s not that we do something unusual, trying to figure out the details of the signs of the end of the world, including the exact time of his coming. Instead, in order for us to be best prepared, we need to feed ourselves and others with spiritual food, which is the word of God.

 

          Didn’t Jesus say earlier, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Mt. 4:4) Why do we need God’s words? It’s because we are created in God’s image. In other words, we feel empty and lonely unless we are well fed and nurtured with spiritual food, God’s words. People try to find true meaning and satisfaction in many things of the world, but they remain empty. Our soul, which is made in the image of God, can find true meaning and satisfaction only when we have intimate fellowship with God, being nurtured with his words. That’s why Simon Peter said to Jesus earlier, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn. 6:68) He also said, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25a)

 

          We, as disciples of Jesus, should also remember that we have been put in charge in God’s household to give them their food at the proper time. Here, food refers not necessarily to physical food but to spiritual food even though many people need physical food. But people in our country are starving mainly because of the lack of God’s words and unbelief.

 

          I heard a story about a little boy who was invited to dinner at his neighbor’s house for the first time. There were many people in that house. When people sat down at the table to eat, the little boy who grew up in a Christian home automatically bowed his head to offer thanks for the food. Then he realized that he was the only one who bowed his head and the rest were just ready to eat. So he said to people, “Don’t you thank God for your food?” For a moment, there was an embarrassing silence, and then the lady of the house said, “No, we don’t!” The little boy thought for a moment and said, “Oh. You’re just like my dogs- they just start right in!” Many people live their life as if God does not exist. They are extremely thirsty not necessarily for physical food but for spiritual food. They need to be constantly reminded of God who created the heavens and the earth, made them in his image and likeness and sent Jesus Christ to save them from their sins. And we have the spiritual food to share with them. We are called to be faithful and wise ministers of God’s words.

 

          In the rest of the chapter, Jesus continues to talk about rewards and punishments for his servants. Let’s all read verses 46-51. “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 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.” We need to examine ourselves to see whether we are good and faithful servants or wicked servants.

 

          Let me close my sermon. How can we prepare for the glorious day?  (1) We should not be too alarmed with unnecessary concerns about the details of the signs of the end of the world. (2) Instead, we should be alert by walking closely with the Lord and keep the purity of our soul through his words and prayer. (3) We should live as faithful and wise ministers of God’s words. No matter how difficult the time we may live in, we are still in the time of God’s grace and the time of God’s salvation. We don’t need to be alarmed but we definitely need to be ready and prepared. And we can do so, as we diligently feed ourselves and others with God’s words. May the Lord help us to live as faithful and wise ministers of God’s words.

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