Ready or Not . . .

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Being ready must be proactive not reactive.

1 Thessalonians(1), Matthew(18) (Part of the Liturgical Calendar(9) series)
by Marc Webb(78) on November 19, 2017 (Sunday Morning(346))

Gifts(2), Gospel(22), Judgement(7)

How many here today have ever played Hide and Seek? Hide-and-seek is a popular game in which any number of players, ideally at least three, conceal themselves in the environment, to be found by one or more seekers. The game is played by one player chosen as being "it". This person closes their eyes and counts to a predetermined number, usually 100, while the other players hide. After reaching this number, the player who is "it" calls "Ready or not, here I come!" and then attempts to locate all concealed players. This popular game probably has been around since the second century originating in Greece. With hide and seek four things were always certain: “It” was surely coming, “It” was coming when “It” got ready, “It” was coming whether you were ready or not and if you were not ready, then you would pay the consequences.

When I think of being “ready or not” I think of those times when something happens when you least expect it. You can probably think of many times in your life where something happened and you were either ready for it or you were not. For me my mind goes to July of 1999 when I was in a car accident and spent 21 days in the hospital and many more laid up at home through November of that year. You know I didn’t say to my wife Judy the day before, “Hey I hope we have that supplemental insurance, tomorrow we are going to need it” or the morning of the accident, say, “Stay close to your phone because you are going to get a call from the State Police to come meet me at the hospital”. No, it was a totally unexpected event that happened and we were either going to be ready or we were not going to be ready for the future that came with that unexpected event. Now you can never be ready for something like that but as we looked back God definitely prepared the way for us to come through that experience.

What is it for you? I am sure everyone here this morning can think of something that has happened to them or their family and you were either ready or not ready for it. Maybe, it was a financial situation that came upon you all of a sudden, maybe it was a job promotion or demotion, maybe it was finding out you were having twins, triplets or quadruplets. Sure, you have time to prepare, but ready or not those little ones were coming and you probably had to change some of the plans you had at first. Maybe it was a diagnosis, disease or illness or maybe it was a death in the family that was unexpected.

This morning we are going to be looking at two passages that you may not think are linked together but they are. The first is in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, in chapter 5. Paul had gone to Thessalonica to preach the gospel to them. In the short time he was there, before being run out of town, he told the people about Jesus’ return. Now, in Paul’s absence, the Thessalonians did not deal with this knowledge the way Paul would have hoped and this was one of the reasons for this letter to them. Paul was encouraging the church of Thessalonica and us today about the importance of being ready. That game, of Hide and Seek, reminds me of the return of Jesus.

The second passage we will look at this morning is the parable of the talents. This parable is a familiar one to us and the insights we can glean from it prepares us for our future on this earth as we await Jesus’ return. That brings us to our big idea this morning that Paul and Matthew ​​ want to us to know, and that is, being ready for Jesus’ return must be proactive not reactive. But before we start unwrapping these passages let us dedicate this morning and this message to the Lord in prayer. Please bow your heads with me.

Dear Heavenly Father, Open our ears, this morning, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, that we may serve you today/now and always. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

To understand this passage in chapter 5, we need to first go back to 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 starting in verse 9. I will give you the cliff notes replay of chapter 4. When Paul was in Thessalonica he preached about the return of Jesus and this teaching had produced an odd and awkward situation in Thessalonica. The result was that many Thessalonians had quit their day job. They were getting together in crowds exciting and upsetting not only themselves but the community at large as they waited for what they thought was the imminent return of Jesus. Ordinary life had been disrupted in their communities. They had abandoned their jobs and stopped trying to make a living for themselves. Paul gave them some very practical advice in chapter 4. First, he tells them that when Jesus comes back he would want to find them quietly, efficiently and diligently working and making a living for themselves and their families. Knowing that Christ is coming back doesn’t mean we should stop our lives it means we should live our lives even harder and better and all the more faithfully. Second, he tells them the way to show others that they were Christ followers is by not allowing their Christianity to turn them into useless citizens. That would just discredit Christians and Christianity. A religion is known by the kind of people it produces. Our witness must line up with the lives we are living. Our lives must be the sermon that brings people to Christ. Third, he tells them they need to support themselves by working their jobs and not sponging off of others for charity. The effect of the Thessalonians quitting their jobs to wait for Christ’s return was that others had to support them. As Christians we need to help others who cannot help themselves but we also must be able to help ourselves and give back to the community not just take from it. We need to delight in giving and not taking especially if we can supply our own needs.

But, this idea of the imminent return of Jesus had brought another problem to the people of Thessalonica. They were expecting it to happen at any time and they definitely thought it would happen in their lifetime. They were worried about their loved ones who had died since becoming Christians. They were not sure that those who had died would join them when Jesus returned. Paul’s answer is that both those who are alive and dead will be together when Christ returns. He tells them not to sorrow about death as those who have no hope such as the pagans. ​​ In the face of death, the pagan or non-Christian has no hope. Paul lays down a great principle here that if a person has lived in Christ and died in Christ, even if he is dead he is still in Christ and he will rise with Christ. Paul in Romans 8:38-39 says this, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. The importance is that if we are in Christ nothing can break that union.

Paul goes on to draws us a picture which is his attempt to put into words what is inexpressible and indescribable. This is the picture: On the day of Christ’s return, he will descend from Heaven to earth. He will utter the word of command, and thereupon the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God will awake the dead, and then the dead and the living will both be caught up in the chariots of the clouds to meet Christ and will be with the Lord forever.

Here is a picture of what it may look like when we meet Jesus in the air. This picture of being caught up in the air with Jesus is sometimes called the Rapture and is considered by some Christians to be the first part of the Second Coming of Jesus. The picture that Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a picture of Jesus returning but only in the sky and all of a sudden and unexpectedly. This event ushers in the Great Tribulation where we see seven years of upheaval and the rise of the Antichrist. At the end of the seven years Christ returns for the second time on the earth and conquers Satan and his forces at the Battle of Armageddon.

Let me pause here and give a public service announcement so to speak. Starting in February of 2018, Pastor Stuart will be preaching on the Book of Revelation which will flesh all this out. I am looking forward to hearing Pastor Stuart unpack it next year. So consider this morning a kind of prequel to what Pastor Stuart will be preaching next year.

Now we are ready to look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. If you have your Bibles or want to use one of the pew Bibles turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and follow along with me:

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

It is hard to understand the pictures in the New Testament of the return of Jesus to get his children. It has its background in the Old Testament in a concept called the Day of the Lord. This Day of the Lord was common in the Old Testament and all the pictures which belonged to the Day of the Lord have been attached to Christ’s return. To the Jews all time was divided into two ages – the present age which was totally and incurably evil and the age to come which would be the golden age of God. In between the two ages was this Day of the Lord which would be a terrible day. It would be like birth pangs of a new world. It would be a day when God would pour out his wrath on the ungodly. When Jesus comes to take or “rapture” his people, soon after God will begin to pour out His judgments during those seven years called the Great Tribulation. Unfortunately, many people will not be prepared. They will actually be deceived and actively deceiving others. The Antichrist who steps forward after the Rapture begins to assume power all over the world. The chaotic conditions created by the Rapture will cause people to look for someone to lead them. This Antichrist will claim that he can bring "Peace and safety". In verse 3 of our scripture this morning, Paul says destruction will come on them and they will not escape.

The main characteristics of the Day of the Lord were that it would come suddenly and unexpectedly. It would involve cosmic upheaval where the universe was shaken to its foundations, and it would be a time of judgment. The New Testament writers identified the Day of the Lord with the return of Christ. Naturally, people wanted to know when that day was and the Thessalonians like us today are no different. Jesus in Mark 13:32 said “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Jesus, himself, doesn’t even know the day he will return, only God knows the time. But, that didn’t stop people from speculating in that day and it doesn’t keep us from trying to figure it out today as well. Here are a few of the predictions of Christ’s return in the past. One of the earliest predictions was in 500 AD. Three Christian theologians predicted Jesus would return in the year 500. One prediction was based on the dimensions of Noah's ark. A Spanish monk prophesied the second coming of Christ and the end of the world would take place on April 6, 793 to a crowd of people. Johann Jacob Zimmerman, a Lutheran minister, predicted Jesus would return in 1694. Charles Taze Russell, the first president of what is now the Watchtower Society of the Jehovah's Witnesses, calculated 1874 to be the year of Christ's Second Coming. There have even been people who have predicted Jesus’ return and when it didn’t happen actually predicted it again and again continuing to move the date back. One of the latest predictions was that Christ's return would correspond with the September 28, 2015 lunar eclipse. You may have heard it called the blood moon prophecy. Finally, there are future dates that have been predicted to be the day Jesus will return. The next being June 8, 2019 which corresponds to the Day of Pentecost that year.

Paul had two things to say to the Thessalonians about that day. One, the day will be sudden and unexpected but there is no reason why anyone should be caught unawares or unprepared. We can be certain that Jesus is coming back. The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned approximately eight times more frequently in the Old and New Testaments than His first coming. ​​ In fact, Christ’s return is mentioned 318 times in the New Testament alone. ​​ The only doctrine mentioned more than the doctrine of Christ’s second coming is the doctrine of salvation. ​​ All of the nine authors of the New Testament mention Christ’s second coming.

Paul knew that the Second Coming of Jesus was one of the most repeated teachings in all of scripture. He even tells the Thessalonians it is so obvious that I really have no need to write to you about these things. Here is an illustration:

There was a man who stopped at a gas station. He noticed a piece of rope dangling from a sign. The sign was labeled "Weather Forecaster." The man asked the station attendant, "How can you possibly tell the weather with a piece of rope?" The attendant smiled and replied, "When the rope swings back and forth, it’s windy. When it gets wet, it’s raining. When it’s frozen stiff, it’s snowing. And when it’s gone... it’s a tornado!" There are some things that should be obvious without even asking. The imminent return of Jesus Christ is one of those things.

Two, Paul goes on to say that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. Just as a thief does not call you up the day before and tell you he is planning on robbing your home, so it will be when Jesus returns. ​​ It would have been helpful if the Bible gave us the exact time of Jesus’ return so we all could be ready, but that was not God’s plan. God’s plan for us was to accept his son as our Savior which would make us ready when Jesus came back for us. Jesus in Matthew 24:44, said, Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

In verses 4-7, Paul, says it is only the person who lives in the dark and his deeds are evil who will not be prepared. The Christian who lives in the light and who is watchful and sober, will be ready. The Christian must be watching and waiting for the coming of Jesus. We are to be like soldiers assigned to guard duty who are commanded to “stay alert”. One of my favorite hymns growing up was “Onward Christian Soldiers”. As Christian soldiers we are commanded to “watch”. The Greek word for watch is gregario. It means to stay awake or be on the alert. This must be a continual practice of the Christian. Roman soldiers were put to death for falling asleep on watch. The outcome of not being watchful and ready for Jesus’ return could be just as fatal for the person not constantly looking for the return of Jesus. Paul also tells us we need to live daily with self-control. He warns us that we must not allow anything in our lives that will influence our moral alertness. Paul talks about be sober and being drunk. We know that drinking alcohol and getting drunk greatly hinders a person’s abilities to focus and make important decisions. Likewise, sin will affect one’s ability to make moral decisions. Usually, a person does not get drunk with just one drink, but one drink leads to 2 and then to 3. Slowly the drinker becomes drunk without even noticing it. All his senses become blurred making him a danger to himself and others. Likewise, if we do not control the sin in our lives, we will soon become so overcome by its effects that we are unmindful of spiritual matters. We can become unaware of and unconcerned about the imminent return of Jesus. Just like a drunk person who is passed out and unconscious so is the uncontrolled sinner spiritually passed out. In verse 8, it says that since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. We need to live each day with the protection of God’s armor and Paul makes special mention of faith, love and salvation.

So, we have learned that no one knows when the day will come and we cannot leave things til the last second. We must be ready now because it will be too late when that day is already here. Ready or not . . . Jesus is coming. Being ready for Jesus’ return must be proactive not reactive.

In Romans 3:23 it says for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That’s all of us and because of our sin in Romans 6:23 it say the wages of our sin is death which is an eternal separation from God. But God made a way for us to be saved. In Romans 5:8 it says, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And, finally we must trust and surrender to Jesus as Lord. In Romans 10:9-10 it says, If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Which brings us to our first next step. Maybe this next step is for you which is to be ready by accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior and living my life every day for him. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be left behind. As Pastor Stuart looks at Revelation next year you will see the judgment that God has not only for this earth but for those who do not believe in him or his son Jesus for salvation. Revelation does not paint a pretty picture for those who are left behind and if you are not a Christian here this morning Revelation will be a scary ordeal. But the awesome thing about Revelation and the Day of the Lord is that if you are a Christ follower and you are ready then it is a book of hope and encouragement and it should motivate us to witness to our family, friends and co-workers etc. who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

So now that we have the hope of Jesus’ return how should we live out our lives as Christ followers on this earth. The answer is found in the Parable of the Talents. In 1 Thessalonians we saw that they had stopped working and were idle waiting for the Lord to return which they felt was right around the corner. I also talked about different people, who predicted Jesus’ return and probably had fallen into the same trap. And Paul told the Thessalonians they needed to be working and being good citizens and in that way they would be good witnesses of Christ and Christianity to the world. Now, Matthew gives us the roadmap of what we are to do while we wait for the Lord’s return. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 25:14-30 and follow along as I read from God’s word:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

In Matthew 25:13, the verse immediately before Jesus tells this parable, he said this, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." Jesus prefaced this parable with telling us he is coming again and we don’t know when. It could be tonight or tomorrow or next year! But what if it's not tonight or tomorrow or next year? -- While we wait for the Lord’s return, how are to live, what are we to do? We need to answer four questions:

The first question comes from vs. 14-15 and it is “What gifts do I have from God?” Notice here that the man gave some of His goods, (His possessions, His property) to all of His servants. They didn't all get the same amount, but all of them got something according to their abilities and then he went away. God wants us to understand that He has given us all some valuable gifts and abilities. We need to explore these gifts and abilities and to be using them for the good of the kingdom of God here on earth.

The second question comes from vs. 16-18, and it is “Am I gaining all I can for God's Kingdom?” In verses 16-18 Jesus said: "Then he who had received the five talents went and put his money to work and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money." “Am I gaining all I can for God's Kingdom?” God has given each of us gifts and abilities, but are we using them for his glory? We can’t bury our talents! We must be using them for God's Kingdom! We must get busy, and put our talents to work for God. In the King James Version verse 16 says the man with 5 talents "went and traded with them." The idea behind this word "traded" is somebody working, somebody carrying out a task.

Jesus told a similar parable in Luke 19. In verses 12 and 13 it says this, . . . A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. We might say: "Get an occupation" or "Get busy" or "Get a job!" Jesus Christ wants us to get enthusiastically involved in serving His cause: praying, going, giving, helping, teaching, leading, serving any way we can. So, while we wait for the Lord's return, we need to ask ourselves “Am I gaining all I can for God's Kingdom?”

The third question comes from vs. 19-23 and it is “What is our ultimate goal?” Jesus mentions what our ultimate goal should be twice in vs. 19-23. Our ultimate goal as Christians is to hear the Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord." Notice here that we as Christians are accountable to God. We will give an account of our lives to God. God's Word makes this truth very clear. In Romans 14, Paul wrote these words to the Roman Christians. Starting with verse 10, But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.'' So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.”

Also in 2 Corinthians 5:8-10, the Word of God says this to us as Christians. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” We must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul is not talking about lost people, here. He is talking about saved people. God saves us to serve Him. And while we wait for the Lord, He wants all of us to be occupied in serving Him. We should be occupied serving the Lord in our church, in our communities, at our places of work, in our families, everywhere. We will stand before God one day and all our days will be laid bare before Him and we will be judged by how we lived our life on this earth while we were waiting for Jesus to return. Did we work hard? Did we use the gifts God gave us to further his kingdom on this earth? Each one of us can only you can answer that question for ourselves.

The last question we need to ask ourselves comes from verses 24-30 and it is this: “Do I really know God?” In verse 24, the wicked and lazy servant said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown." But let me ask you this question: Did that man really know God? – I don’t think so. Our God is merciful, kind and gracious! Listen to part of King David's prayer in Psalm 86:

“Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me: for I am poor and needy. Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me. Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone. I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul; and have not set thee before them. But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.”

Our God is merciful, kind and gracious, and He proved that forever by the cross of Jesus Christ! God is so good that He came into this world and died on the cross for our sins. He will surely save anyone and everyone who trusts in Him. This is the merciful God we know as Christians. This is the God who wants to know you as Lord and Savior, Father and friend. So, the last question is “Do you know God for who he is?”

This brings us to our second next step. Maybe this next step is for you which is to identify the talents that God has given to me and start to use them to further God’s kingdom on the earth.

I have asked Ben Verow to come and play a song for us this morning before I close. Listen to the words and search your hearts and answer the four questions we just discussed.

Far too many people today are focused on the things of this world. They do not have time to go to church on Sundays or they never pick up a Bible and read it. They care nothing for Jesus or spiritual things. They are not ready and watching for the return of Jesus. They don’t even know Jesus and do not want to know him. Unfortunately, the same thing is true of people all over the world who go to church and say they are Christians. They are so wrapped up in the things of this world, they believe it is okay to be a fan of Jesus instead of a totally committed follower of Jesus. They are like the Pharisees who say one thing and do something completely different. Their lips say one thing but their hearts are not for Jesus. No matter if you are a Non-Christian or if you call yourself a Christian, if you are not ready and watching for Jesus and using your gifts for his kingdom here on earth, when Jesus comes you could be left behind. What will Jesus find you doing when he calls out, “Ready or Not, Here I Come”?

As the ushers prepare to take up the communication cards and Doris and Gene come to lead us in our final song this morning let us pray.

Generous God, we thank you for salvation. We long for the day of your return. Help each of us to be ready for that day and to be watchful and sober. We praise you for the gifts that you have given each of us. We praise You for the gift of unity that the Spirit creates in our body of believers here! You place others perfectly in our lives, and inspire us as Christians to work together with the gifts that you have given us. Help us to use the gifts and abilities that you have given us to further Your kingdom here on this earth. Not one of us can accomplish your work in this world on our own. But together, we can complement each other’s strengths and cancel out our weaknesses. As a team, a unified body focused on the gospel of Christ, we can do great things for your honor and glory as we were purposed to do. All this we pray in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.