John Donne, the seventeenth century poet and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, once asked in a poem: “What if this present were the world’s last night?”
In other words: what if you knew that tonight the world was coming to an end? How would you live today if you knew that?
In our passage for today from Luke 12:32-40, Jesus suggests how we should live in light of the fact that he is one day going to return to the earth. Listen for God’s word to you…
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know 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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
When is the Son of Man coming?
The New Testament teaches us that Jesus will one day return to the earth. In Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts, chapter one, verse 11, we read the words of the angels to Jesus’ first disciples:
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
But the New Testament also teaches us that Jesus will come for each believer at the end of each of our individual lives. At the beginning of John 14, on the night before he went to the cross, Jesus said to his disciples…
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
Now here’s the thing… we don’t know either when Jesus will return to the earth or when we will die (and Jesus will take us to himself). So, we need to be ready at all times to meet him.
With this in mind the key question is: how should we then live? How should we prepare for Jesus’ return? I see four descriptions of how we should live in this passage.
Storing Up Treasure in Heaven
First, we should live as those who are storing up treasure in heaven, not on earth. We all know how to store up treasure on earth. Some of us are better at it than others, but basically, we all know how to do this.
What we don’t know how to do is store up treasure in heaven. So, the key question is: how?
What does the Bible tell us about how to do this?
Here is something startling…
The Bible talks about treasure in heaven five times. Each time, it is a statement from the mouth of Jesus. And each time Jesus tells us that we can store up treasure in heaven by doing one thing. Do you know what it is? Jesus says we can store up treasure in heaven by giving away our money on earth.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus makes almost the exact same statement as he does here in Luke 12, and just before he makes this statement, he has been talking about giving alms. That is: giving money to help the poor.
Then, in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18 we have the story of the rich young ruler who approached Jesus and asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus tells him, “Sell all that you own and distribute the moneyto the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me.”
Do we have to give away all we have in order to have treasure in heaven? I don’t know. Jesus made this statement to one rich young ruler whose wealth was getting in the way of his relationship with God. Jesus did not make this statement to everyone he met.
So how do we know how much we should give away?
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says,
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.
What is more impressive to me than Lewis’ words were his actions. He gave away approximately two-thirds of the royalties from the sale of his non-academic books. He and a lawyer friend created an account called the Agape Fund out of which money was given to help widows, students, and many others in need.
So, that is the first guideline Jesus gives us regarding how to prepare for his return. We should be storing up treasure for ourselves in heaven.
Dressed for Action with our Lamps Lit
The second guideline Jesus gives us regarding how to prepare for his return is to say that we should be dressed for action with our lamps lit.
Literally, in the Greek, the first phrase is “let your waist be girded about”.
William Barclay explains,
The long flowing robes of the east were a hindrance to work; and when a man prepared to work, he gathered up his robes under his girdle to leave himself free for activity.
Barclay goes on to describe the kind of lamp Jesus was talking about…
The eastern lamp was like a cotton wick floating in a sauce-boat of oil. Always the wick had to be kept trimmed and the lamp replenished, or the light would go out.
These are two very evocative phrases describing how we should be ready for Jesus’ return. The second image suggests that we live in a place and time of darkness where lamps must be lit.
Personally, I have found what C. S. Lewis had to say about preparing for the Second Coming very helpful. In his essay entitled “The World’s Last Night” Lewis says,
The doctrine of the Second Coming teaches us that we do not and cannot know when the world drama will end. The curtain may be rung down at any moment: say, before you have finished reading this paragraph. This seems to some people intolerably frustrating. So many things would be interrupted. Perhaps you were going to get married next month, perhaps you were going to get a raise next week: you may be on the verge of a great scientific discovery; you may be maturing great social and political reforms. Surely no good and wise God would be so very unreasonable as to cut all this short? Not now, of all moments!
But we think thus because we keep on assuming that we know the play. We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. The audience, if there is an audience (if angels and archangels and all the company of heaven fill the pit and the stalls) may have an inkling. But we, never seeing the play from outside, never meeting any characters except the tiny minority who are “on” in the same scenes as ourselves, wholly ignorant of the future and very imperfectly informed about the past, cannot tell at what moment the end ought to come. That it will come when it ought, we may be sure; but we waste our time in guessing when that will be. That it has a meaning we may be sure, but we cannot see it. When it is over, we may be told. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.
That last line has helped me more than all the other books I have ever read about the Second Coming. “The playing it well is what matters infinitely.” Am I playing my God-given part well? Are you playing your part well? “Playing it well” is how we prepare for Jesus’ return.
Waiting for our Master to Return
Another thing Jesus tells us, about how to prepare for his return, is that we should be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
In order to understand Jesus’ little story, you have to understand that first century Jews divided the night into three portions. The first watch was from 6 pm to 10 pm. This is when a wedding party would normally begin. Then there is the second watch from 10 pm to 2 am. And there is the third watch from 2 am to 6 am.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”
Once again, we do not know when our master is returning from the wedding banquet. It may be in the first watch, it may be in the second watch, or it may be in the third watch. The point is: no matter when the Master arrives, we need to be ready and waiting.
That leads to the final thing Jesus says we need to do to prepare for his return. We need to be alert. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.”
The opposite of staying alert is sleepiness. Most people sleep at night, so the need to stay alert again suggests we are living in a time of darkness.
Jesus is coming like a thief in the night. We do not know when he will return. So we must stay alert at all times.
Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 16:13… “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”
What will be our reward?
What will be our reward if we do all this to prepare for Jesus’ return? Jesus tells us we will have an amazing reward. That reward will be that the Master will serve us. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”
What an amazing picture that is when we consider who our Master is! Our Master is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who has created and redeemed the universe. That Master will serve us at his heavenly banquet.
When I try to imagine what it will be like to meet Jesus someday, I tend to picture running toward him and embracing him. But then I know I will also feel like falling on my face before him.
I guess that’s how I picture meeting Jesus because that is how it is pictured in Scripture.
- Out of the ten lepers Jesus healed, only one returned to thank him. And that one was a Samaritan. And he fell at Jesus’ feet. (Luke 17:16)
- When Jesus was transfigured in the presence of three of his disciples on the mountain, they fell on their faces. (Matthew 17:6)
- When Saul of Tarsus saw a light and heard a voice, he fell to the ground. (Acts 9:4)
- And when John meets Jesus in Revelation 1:17, he falls at his feet as one dead.
- Six more times in the book of Revelation it talks about someone falling before God or an angel to worship.
How amazing it will be to fall before the One who deserves all worship in heaven and on earth, and to have him say to us, “Come. Sit. Let me serve you.”
There is a reason why we call it “Amazing Grace”…