" />
Announcement:

Please join us for worship on Good Friday at 6:00 p.m.

Therefore: Be Ready!

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 29, 1999

Matthew 24:42-44

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 24. We are continuing our study in Jesus’ teaching on the end time. Especially as He gives practical exhortations to us, not only to His disciples but to us, but how we are to prepare for those end times. Especially in this section beginning here in Matthew 24:42 and following all the way into Matthew 25, Jesus explained in detail what it means to be ready, to be prepared for His coming. So, let’s attend to God’s holy word here in Matthew 24, verse 42. This is the word of God.

"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. "For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we ask this day that by Your Spirit, you would apply Your truth to each of our heart in our own situation. Help us not to think, O Lord, how this truth applies someone else, but to see what You have for us in Your Word. That we might humble ourselves before it. We pray, O Lord, that You would cause this truth to accrue to our saving benefits. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Have you ever been caught unprepared? Utterly unprepared? Maybe some of you students can relate to a situation like that in your own academic career, high school, college, somewhere. Have you ever walked into a class and you discover right as you walk into that class and you are sitting down in your desk, the teacher is handing out a test that you had forgotten about? The first day of class he had given a schedule of the tests for the term. This was the first major exam of the term and your friends had all been studying about it for two weeks and this was the first time that it entered into your mind, that this day was going to be the day of the test. And you have that sinking feeling in your stomach that it is going to take you the rest of the term to overcome the 'F' that you are going to make in that test that day. Something like that happened to me when I was on the other side of the table giving a test my first semester at RTS. In the first final exam that I gave, my exam came at the end of exam week and all the other exams mostly had been given and so all of the guys were completely exhausted by that time. And of course they had spent a lot of hours preparing for my exam, and as I handed it out, there was this fellow about three rows back in the middle of the row, and as he turned it over after we had prayed and began to read over his exam, I heard gradually growing louder, audible weeping. It started with a sniffle and it got louder and louder and louder until he had his head in his hands on the desk weeping, and I made my way back to the middle of the classroom, and called him over to the side and said, "hat happened?" He said, I just didn’t think you were going to ask all those things on the exam. Now I am not really that mean of a guy, but it really impacted this fellow. He was utterly unprepared and this was the major test for the term and he saw his whole term’s tuition going down the drain in a flash. He was utterly unprepared.

Of course, there are other ways that we can be unprepared and far more important ways. Perhaps you have been involved in a situation where you needed insurance and you thought you had insurance for a certain thing, and then when the crisis happened, you went back to check your policy and you weren’t covered for that. Maybe you have been caught in the transition between insurance and that has happened before and you are in a real fix because a disaster has struck and you are not prepared.

Jesus is speaking to us in this passage about spiritual preparedness. And He is telling us that to be spiritually unprepared for the day of His coming, would be the worst disaster that could ever befall a human being. No unpreparedness which we have ever experienced in life can possibly be compared to the kind of spiritual unpreparedness about which Jesus is warning today. And I would like you to look with me at this passage very briefly. Jesus gives some very practical challenges to us about spiritual preparation. In verse 42, He tells us that we ought to be prepared because of what we don’t know. In verse 43, He gives us an illustration which we will all be able to relate to about someone not being prepared in this life. And then in verse 44, he tells us that we ought to be prepared because of what we do know. Let’s look at this passage together today very briefly.

I. Christians should be prepared for His coming because we don't know when to expect Him.

First in verse 42, we see this exhortation that Jesus gives to be prepared because of what we don’t know. That is kind of strange. Be prepared because of what you don’t know. Jesus it telling us about the uncertainty of His coming. And He is telling us that because of the uncertainty of His coming, we need to be prepared. In other words, we are to be prepared because of what we don’t know. We don’t know when He is coming, and therefore, we should be prepared. That is the lesson that Jesus is teaching us that Christians ought to be alert because we don’t know the timing of His return. His argument is we ought to be ready because we don’t know the time of His coming. When Jesus says here, to be alert or be on the alert, again He is not telling us to look for signs. He has already made it clear that that is not the prime part of being prepared for His coming. No, to be alert is to live a sanctified life in consciousness of the coming judgment day. To be spiritually awake. And so often in these passages, Jesus will use the image of being awake or being asleep to reflect, or to refer to being prepared or to be unprepared. Matthew Henry says it is the great duty and interest of all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to be awake and keep awake that they may mind their business. And it is so easy for our minds to slip away from our business. And Jesus is saying here, don’t fail to attend to the most important spiritual business in the midst of all your other responsibilities. Don’t allow the thing which is most important to be lost in the shuffle.

When I was high school, we has an assistant coach, who was a former fullback who had been hit a few too many times. And he had slurred speech. And he didn’t have much intelligent advice to give, actually. And as he would walk through the various groups of men who were practicing, the linemen here, the line backer there, the receivers there, he would repeat everyday, every practice, every year, the same phrase over and over again. Keep your mind on your business, he would say. That was good advice from this rather limited fellow. Keep your mind on your business. It was easy in that setting, in that heat, in the tiredness of it all, to forget what you are there for. And to fail to focus on the thing which you had been called to do. And Jesus is saying to His disciples, keep your mind on your business. Don’t forget the most important thing, don’t forget preparations, for my coming. To watch, you see, implies not only that we believe that our Lord will come, but that we will desire that He will come. That we would be often thinking about His coming and always looking for His coming as sure and near even though the time of it is uncertain. Jesus is calling on us to keep that one thing before our eyes.

Notice, by the way, in verse 42, that Matthew gets in a testimony to the deity of Christ even in this phrase. He says, be on the alert for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. This is not just anyone coming, this is the Lord, this is your Lord. And so he testifies to the deity and to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is referencing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

And so, Jesus, in this passage, teaches us that we must be ready because we don’t know when He is coming. And being ready, among other things, guarding our hearts against the world. Not allowing the concerns of the world to take us away from the most important thing. And so, Jesus gives a very practical pastoral use or explanation for our ignorance of His coming. Why in the world would the Lord leave us ignorant of some things? Well, in this case, Jesus tells us why the Lord leaves us ignorant of the timing of His coming. It is so that we will be vigilant. Here is what Calvin says: "Anyone who lives intemporantly and has his sense swamped with food and wine, will never lift his mind to think of the life of heaven. As there is no desire of the flesh that does not intoxicate a man, men must attend to all of these and not sink into the world, if they want to make haste to the kingdom of Christ." In other words, there are all sorts of things, that are conspiring to draw our hearts away from the Lord, in our everyday experience. And by saying to us to 'be alert,' Jesus is saying, 'keep the one thing before you at all times and you be prepared for the day of My coming.'

By the way, this very passage where Jesus exhorts us to behave because of what we don’t know reminds us that the Bibles teaches us many things that we don’t fully understand which at the same time are perfectly practical. You may run across passages, or subjects in the Bible that you don’t fully comprehend and you wonder, why did you put that in the Bible Lord? I don’t understand it, and even when I ask ministers and professors, they don’t seem to understand it fully. Why would you put something like that in the Bible?

Well, there are many things in the Bible that we don’t fully understand that are intensely practical. The doctrine of the trinity is a very practical doctrine, but it is very hard to understand. I remember when Doug Kelly was writing one of his books, and he had a passage on the doctrine of the trinity and his publisher wrote him and he said, now Dr. Kelly, you really need to give us a practical illustration of the trinity. Now that really irritated Dr. Kelly. Christians for twenty centuries have been trying to come up with a practical illustration of the trinity, and they haven’t come up with one. And so he was be huffed about this, and so he came up with this historical illustration. He told the story of Augustine, who had a young man who was his apprentice. And while Augustine was writing his great masterpiece on the trinity, he stopped one day to go out to beach on the seashore to walk and to reflect and to clear his mind, so he could go back to work again. And his apprentice was out on the beach and he was doing something very strange. He was going over with a bucket to the sea and he was dipping the bucket in and taking water out and walking over to a hole that he had dug in the sand on the beach and he was pouring the water into the hole. And Augustine walked over to him and he said, "What are you doing?" And he said, "I am pouring the ocean into this hole." And Augustine said, "Why that is ridiculous. You can’t pour the ocean into that hole." And his young man said, "Well you are writing a book on the trinity aren’t you? Is it anymore believable that you can explain the trinity than I can pour the ocean into this hole?" And Augustine had to grant, point taken. And there are many things in the Bible that we don’t understand and yet they are practical and this is one of them.

Jesus says, none of you will ever know the time of my coming, but it can spiritually practical that you know that I am coming and you don’t know when. Because it teaches you to be vigilant. This is just yet another one of those things that the Bible teaches that we don’t fully understand and it still is very, very practical for our day to day living. And so Jesus tells us that we need to be alert because of what we don’t know. We don’t know the timing of His coming and so we must be alert. And he goes on to illustrate that in verse 43.

II. The result of not being alert.

In verse 43, he gives us a warning illustration. He tells us a story about what happens when you are not alert. The result of not being alert. He is alluding here to the disaster, the spiritual disaster of unpreparedness. And he teaches us that though Christians don’t know the timing of His return, we do know the temporal results of unpreparedness. We see it around us all the time. The illustration is taken from common life in Palestine. The illustration of a robber, or a thief breaking into a house at night. And I am told that thieves would often dig through the brick in homes at night and break in and steal. And you know, Jesus is saying, you know if the head of the household had known that a thief was coming that night, he would have been on guard to make sure that his family was not harmed, or that his possessions were stolen. And so Jesus is showing an illustration of how a homeowner by not being diligent, lost something. Now, he is not blaming the man for being robbed. But he is raising the issue of culpable unpreparedness. Jesus is saying, you know there is a difference if we are not prepared for Him. Because He has told us that He is coming. He hasn’t told us when. But He has told us that He is coming. And He has commanded us to be prepared. And so if we are not prepared, unlike a homeowner, who experiences a surprise break-in from a thief, we are responsible. We are culpable, if we are not prepared for that day. And it is amazing how often this theme is repeated in the New Testament.

Let me ask you to take your Bibles out and turn with me to three passages where this same metaphor is used about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First of all, in I Thessalonians, chapter 5, I Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 2-4. Here, Paul, the apostle, refers to the coming of our Lord, using this metaphor of the thief. I Thessalonians 5, verse 2. “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief” Paul is reminding Christians that they know that Jesus is coming and they should not be overtaken by the day of the Lord as someone is overtaken by a thief in darkness when they’re unprepared. And he is reminding them of the disastrous results of those who say 'peace and safety. Everything is all right, we don’t need to be prepared.' They will be overtaken like a thief in the night. He uses the same metaphor.

Peter does to, if you will turn forward to II Peter chapter 3, verse 10: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” Again, he warns of the suddenness and the unexpectedness of the coming day of the Lord to the natural man, those who don’t love Christ, those who don’t trust in Christ, those who don’t have saving faith in Christ. They will be unprepared. They don’t think the day of the Lord is coming. But to the disciples, Jesus is saying, you be prepared. Because though you don’t know when I am coming, you do know that I am coming. So you be prepared.

There is another place, Jesus Himself, in Revelation chapter 3, verse 3, reminds us of this again. Jesus in His earthly ministry uses this metaphor, Jesus now in heaven, speaking to the seven churches, speaking to us says in Revelation chapter 3, verse 3: “'Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.” Now we wouldn’t blame someone for being robbed. But Jesus is speaking here of culpable unpreparedness. You know, if we knew that a thief was coming to a friend’s house, and we warned them, by the way, I know that a thief is coming to your house tonight, and they made no preparations, we would be rightly upset at their lack of preparation.

If we knew. because of the miracles of modern technology that a hurricane was about to hit the beach where we were staying. If we knew that it was going to happen somewhere in the next twenty-four hours and we knew that it was going to be fairly a direct hit, and that it was a very dangerous hurricane, and we made no preparation to protect our possessions or our family, and we experienced tremendous and disastrous loss, our friends would be very upset with us, because our unpreparedness would be culpable. In the face of knowledge, we have not prepared. And Jesus is saying, He is saying to His disciples, you know that I am coming. Don’t be unprepared. Be ready, because unpreparedness, spiritual unpreparedness, is not an option. Its consequences are dire. A friend of mine was involved in a long distance courtship with a young man who had a very impressive job and he hob-knobbed with higher ups in Washington, DC. And this friend, as she would go to visit him on courtship, often found herself waiting in the airport. Not for ten or fifteen or twenty minutes, but for forty-five minutes or an hour or two. And this young man would always come and say, "Oh, you know I got this last minute call from Senator So and So and I just had to do this work before, I am so sorry that I am late." And this happened over and over and over again. As you can imagine, that courtship went nowhere. She is married to someone else and he is not married at all. He knew that she was coming, but he wasn’t prepared. Other things got in the way. Now we can all understand that happening once or twice, but over and over. The chronic upreparedness finally took its toll on the relationship. You thought of other things too.

Are we unprepared for the coming of the Lord? Are there other things which are more important in our experience than our relationship with the Lord and His coming. Are there other things that we care more about than His coming and eternal fellowship with Him? See, the humble Christian, is the vigilant Christian, the watchful Christian, the wary Christian. The humble Christian has his eye, has her eye on the coming of the Lord. And the Lord Jesus is saying, be prepared, because you know the results of being unprepared.

III. An exhortation to be prepared because we know He is coming.

And finally in verse 44, he gives another exhortation. In verse 42, he gives us an exhortation based on what we don’t know. In verse 44, he gives an exhortation based on what we do know. His coming will be unexpected, but it is certain. We may not be certain about the time of His coming, but we are certain that He is coming. And so Jesus tells us that as Christians, we ought to be ready because we do know that His coming is going to be unexpected. Jesus’ argument changes now. First, He has said, we ought to be ready, because we don’t know. Now, He says, we ought to be ready because of what we do know. We do know that He is coming; when, we don’t know. That we know. We don’t know the timing, but we do know that He is coming and He is coming unexpectedly. And in light of this, Jesus is arguing, that we need to live like watchmen. That is, we need to be prepared in mind and heart for His coming.

Now, how do you do that? Jesus is going to spend much of the time in the next verses and in the next chapter explaining specifically you do that. But let me make this suggestion today. To be prepared for His coming, is to be prepared by trusting Christ, and by loving Christ. You are prepared for the coming of Christ, by trusting Christ and by loving Christ. Now, look, most of us have grown up in the Bible belt and we have heard that kind of language all our lives. And we have heard it so much that we are inoculated to it. We don’t even realize what it means. Let me tell you what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not saying, you are prepared for My coming, because once upon a time you signed a card, or you prayed a prayer or you made a decision. You are prepared for His coming, if you are trusting Christ. Listen to the tense. I want to know what you are doing now. Are you trusting Christ? Not a long time ago, you made a profession of faith, but you have lived like a child of hell since then. I want to know, are you trusting in Christ? That is how you are prepared for His coming. Are you trusting in Him alone? Is your hope for your salvation, where you are going to spend eternity entirely placed on Jesus Christ and His finished work? Are you trusting not in your works, but in His works for your eternal fellowship with God? If you are, you are ready for His coming. If you are not, you are not. Do you love Christ? Sometimes we can trick ourselves into thinking we are trusting in Christ, but it harder to trick ourselves into thinking that we really love Christ when we think about it much. Do you analyze yourself form time to time, examine yourself to see if you love Christ?

See, being prepared for His coming, means cultivating your love to Christ. Because of His fathomless love for you. Think of this. If we love a person, we like to think about it. We don’t need to have people to force us to be reminded of Him, we don’t forget His name. He comes before our minds many times in a day. He may be far away, but He is present in our thoughts. And so for the true Christian, Christ dwells in our hearts and in our thoughts every day.

The true Christian doesn’t have to be forced to think about His crucified master, he loves to think about His crucified master. The true Christian has thoughts about Christ everyday for the simple reason that he loves Him. Do you think about Christ? That is one way to ask yourself and to give a good honest answer to the question, do I love Christ, am I loving Christ? Do I think about Him? If we love a person, we like to please him. We are glad to consult his tastes or her tastes and opinions, to act upon their advice and to do things which they approve. We even deny ourselves to meet their wishes, and we abstain from things that they dislike.

You see ,the true Christian, will study to please Christ. Show something to the Christian in his life or her life that displeases Christ, the Christian will get rid of it. Show something in life that Christ loves and approves of, and the Christian will do it. Do we want to please Christ? Is that something that is part of our conscious living? If we love a person, we like to be with them. It is wonderful to think about them and read about them and talk to them. But, above all, we want to be with them. Do you long for the day of the coming of the Lord so that you will be united with Christ forever in fellowship with Him? You know, some people, view worship as a torturous hour from which they can only too soon be released. You know what you are going to be doing forever in heaven? Do we long for that kind of fellowship with the Lord? In worship, in His presence? Do we love Christ?

You see, a person is vigilant, a person is watchful, a person is prepared, a person is alert, a person is ready. Not be passively waiting for Christ, or by trying to decipher secret signs, but by actively trusting and loving Christ and longing for the day of His coming. True conversion, C.H. Spurgeon said, true conversion gives a man security, but it doesn’t allow him to leave off being watchful.

Now the most secure Christian in his salvation is the most watchful and hopeful Christian, longing for the day of Christ’s coming. If you are trusting and loving Christ today, then you are going to be singing “Joy to the World” with Isaac Watts on the day of His coming. If you are not trusting and resting in Him, then you are going to cry for the mountains to fall upon you and hide you from the one who is coming as the judge of the world. And it will not spare you in that day. Pray God, that you will embrace Christ, even now. Let’s pray.

Oh Lord and God that day is going to be an awesome day of joy for those who love and trust You. And it is going to be the most fearful day of all time for those who have not embraced the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that no one will go from this place today, without having done business in his or her heart with the Lord Jesus Christ. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.