If you've come through getting this leaflet you'll know that I've set an ambitious goal this morning that we will answer some of the big questions of life. So that no one goes home disappointed I'm going to start with one of the big questions of 2014 – what ever happened to the Apprentice? Everyone knows that Autumn is Strictly and the X Factor and summer is the Apprentice, it's the lead out reality TV show which eases us into our autumn bonanza… but where was it this year? So without further ado let me answer that for you reality TV fans – the Apprentice was moved back from the summer to avoid the world cup and it starts on Tuesday week.
And yes, that was slightly flippant… but actually The Apprentice isn't a bad place for us to start this morning. For those who don't know the show pits would be disciples of business mogul Alan Sugar against each other and week by week the various hopefuls are divided into two teams and given a task to invest some of Lord Sugar's money and gain a return… the team that makes the most money enjoys a reward and the team that loses misses out, and one of them will be fired.
It's good tellie because the intensity of the competition is amazing. They build and build and build to a great climax of frantic activity as their time for the task runs out… and then they face judgment – Lord Sugar in his board room with his dreaded firing finger: 'You're Fired'.
And so 'The apprentice' is like a little miniature of what Jesus talks about in Luke chapter 12, the passage we're going to be looking at this morning. To stretch the analogy, we could say Jesus says we're like those Apprentice candidates – and he is the Boss who's coming to assess our work. But unlike the apprentice it's not a game, he's sticking his nose into our real lives; and unlike Lord Sugar he doesn't do count downs, he could come back at any moment.
So if I could summarise the passage in one sentence it would be this:
Jesus is coming back (to judge) and he warns us to get ready. That's it: Jesus is coming back and he warns us to get ready.
The passage develops the logic of that sentence with three straightforward claims from Jesus:
Jesus will come back when we don't expect him;
Jesus coming will be good for those who're ready; and
Jesus coming will be disaster for those who aren't ready
That's the argument Jesus makes, and we're going to follow it as our three points this morning. And along the way we're going to see some shocking claims from Jesus, more as we go along, but first, point one:
1. Jesus is Coming Back When We Don't Expect Him
Jesus launches into this section without announcing what he's talking about, but it becomes clear at the end of the first paragraph, at verse 40:
You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
This is the topic, this is the big push in this whole section: you – and I, and the people Jesus was speaking to – need to be ready for Jesus to come back. And we can't let our guard down, because we don't know when he's coming.
Jesus seems to think this is important because he keeps repeating it in different ways in this section of Luke. Solet me repeat it: He'll come when we're not expecting him. The first image he uses is of servants waiting for their master to come back from a big celebration – a wedding feast. You can imagine the butler and the servants waiting near the door can't you, peaking out into the dark; and they're all immaculate in their uniforms … and in Jesus day they would have needed a good supply of lamp oil to make sure they can light the way in the dark.
And Jesus say 'be like them' – staying alert, standing watch, equipment at the ready so we can serve him no matter when he arrives, even if, as in verse 38, it's in the late night or early morning – the second or third watches of the night. Perhaps parents with teenagers might relate to this, maybe you've been that parent sitting up late to make sure they get home safely. Of course there is a big difference between parents and servants – but teenagers don't always act like there is, so maybe it works!
The second image Jesus uses adds a tone of warning: in verse 39 and 40 Jesus compares his return to a thief sneaking in: the thief comes to catch you off guard, when you're not watching out; so to catch a thief requires a deliberate, constant watchfulness: The son of man will likewise come at an hour when we do not expect him
And in v.42-46 he adds another layer of complication that makes it hard for us to stay alert – not only will his return be unexpected, but it could be long in coming – it might even seem like it's never going to happen! The point of all this is Jesus insists we need to be ready and waiting for him to come back, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is or how unlikely it seems to be, it's matter of vital urgency. Now Jesus was speaking to people who knew what he meant, but we might need to take a step back and ask what he's talking about.
You see the Jews Jesus was speaking to expected that God would come at the end of time and judge every person who had ever lived – and those who didn't meet up to his standards would be thrown into hell where they would be cut off from God and therefore from every good thing which comes from him. But those who measured up would be blessed with eternal life in God's very presence, enjoying all his goodness and all his blessings, all the time, without pain or suffering or wrong of any kind.
Jesus has been talking about this coming Day of Judgment throughout Luke chapter 12, apparently to the same vast crowd of people. He's going to go on in a similar vein through chapters 13 – 22, returning to this theme again and again. For 10 chapters of Luke Jesus keeps coming back to this one idea - banging on about this Day of Judgment, of the resurrection, of the coming kingdom… and his dominant tone is one of warning – watch out, be on your guard, get ready, repent… And none of that would have been surprising to his listeners. But there is a very big twist in how Jesus presents that day.
Jesus is taking hold of their expectation and turning it around in the most shocking way. He says that on that day it will be him that comes to judge. Remember – verse 40: the Son of Man will come. The Son of Man will come.
'Son of Man' – that's Jesus' way of speaking about himself. It means member of the human race: human. But it also points back to the Old Testament book of Daniel where Daniel saw a vision of the Day of Judgment and a mystery figure – a Son of Man – who enters God's presence. This Son of Man is given authority to rule and he is the one who judges on that fateful day.
Do you see just how offensive and bizarre this claim is – Jesus was a man, just like me, or you. And people knew him, knew his family, saw him grow up; people remembered him as the carpenter from Nazareth. And yet this tradesman from the back country stands in front of a vast crowd and tells them to shape their lives around a future day when he will come and judge them for how they've lived. And it's not a slip of the tongue or a drunken outburst or something like that … he won't let it go - again and again he claim to be the one who will judge every one else – it's totally bonkers,
unless it's true…
and the people are beginning to wonder if it just might be – you see in the chapters leading up to this speech, in the days and weeks before Jesus said this, he's demonstrated that there's more to him than meets the eye – he interrupted a funeral in a nearby village called Nain by raising the corpse to life; later he raised a dead girl in Capernaum; on the sea of Galilee he told a storm to stop and it did, along with the waves on the sea; he made blind people see and paralysed people walk and the list goes on and on – these are crazy things the people saw with their own eyes, there was something about Jesus he wasn't crazy, he was powerful!
So let's try a thought experiment this morning – let's suspend disbelief for a while and just imagine that what Jesus says is true. Imagine that he really is coming back to judge and he could come any time. That would be something to prepare for wouldn't it? Jesus says he's coming, and he'll come like a thief in the night. I've been looking for a point of comparison all week and finally it came to me – Home Alone. Do you remember the 90's comedy Home Alone… featuring Macaulay Caulkin as little Kevin left at home on his own while the rest of the family fly to Paris for Christmas? Box office gold. If you remember you might recall that two thieves initially canvassed the area posing as Police officers and asking home owners when they would be away and what security measures they were taking. And that's a classic illustration of Jesus point – thieves don't call first and make an appointment when you're in, they wait until you're not ready, they deliberately target the time you're least likely to be ready, and that's when they turn up.
Jesus coming will be unexpected and sudden like a break in. But what happens in home alone? Our Little hero overhears the thieves discussing their break in – he knows when they're coming – it's like the script writers lifted their script from this very passage – and, knowing when they're coming, he booby traps the whole house – you might remember a hot iron to the forehead, a burning hot door handle and deadly frozen steps … and so two grown men are foiled by an 8 year old kid.
Now I'll grant you Home Alone isn't the most realistic film, but one thing they get right- if you or I knew that we were going to be burgled we'd take action too – maybe not comedy booby traps, but would you set up a web cam to catch the thieves in the act, or maybe call a few friends (big friends) to come and stay over, call the police in hope they might keep watch; I don't know, maybe you might top up your insurance and go on holiday! But the one thing we wouldn't do if we knew the thief was coming is to go to bed and sleep soundly as if it was nothing.
Jesus wants a reaction out of us, Jesus demands a reaction. But if we're going to know how to react then we need to know what sort of consequences we're talking about, and that leads to points two and three. And I have to say this is one of those good news / bad news scenarios … Jesus gives us the good news first:
2. Jesus Return Will Be Good for Those Who Are Ready
His return will be good for those he finds ready and waiting. You don't need to be Einstein to see this, Jesus says it straight up in verse 37:
it will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes;
The master will serve his servants – that's unheard of, imagine Downton Abbey with all the servants sat at the posh table and the Lord and Lady putting on a meal, they wouldn't know where to start!
In the second half of the passage this idea is repeated and spelt out in another way – a promotion, verse 43:
It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so (that is performing his assigned tasks well) when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
So the butler becomes the prime minister.
What I hope you can see is that Jesus goes a bit British on us here – 'it will be good' is a gross understatement. It will be far more than good, it will be going from a servant to a friend, it will be sharing in the possessions of the master … moving back to the reality Jesus is talking about, he – Jesus – in his pomp as he shares God's rule, will take the place of a servant and look after his people who are waiting faithfully for him. He will share his glory, his possessions as King, with them.
Jesus who shares in the very glory of God himself will serve them and share all he has with them. This is subtle, but if we're paying attention we see this is a picture of heaven. When Jesus returns to judge all those who are waiting for him will share in his glory, the glory that belongs rightly to God alone. I'd say that's good, in fact that's better than anything this world can offer, by a really long, long way.
But of course it raises a really big question – how do we get ready, what does being ready mean? Does Jesus want us on the streets with a placard? Or in a nuclear bunker? Does he want suicide bombers?
Well again, it's not spelt out for us in any detail, but the gist of it is right there in the imagery Jesus uses – to be ready for Jesus is to live as if he was our master and we were his servants. Now that might raise all sorts of issues and objections, and I can't deal with them all now. But I do need to say this: Jesus makes clear over and over that he doesn't mean paying attention to a list of rules, he's not talking about religion with do's and don'ts as such.
He's talking about something much more than that. Jesus is talking about surrendering our whole life to him as if he was our creator and therefore owner. The truth is that unless we – unless you and I – are prepared to give ourselves to him totally like that, we can have no part with him in his rule, no place with him in his heaven.
Does that offend you? Does it shock you? Listen: Jesus demands you submit to his rule over your life – he claims you as his own possession, he claims the right of creator to you his creation, and he does the same for me. That's hard for us to accept, and a big part of that is that we can't imagine an authority that isn't corrupted by self interest. I'm sure you'll know the saying 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. Isn't that why our democracies involve such complex checks and balances so that no one gets absolute rule?
But Jesus isn't like us. Look again at the sort of ruler Jesus is – he promises to serve his servants. No absolute power works like that, Kings don't don the servants outfit and lay the table… but Jesus came to serve – and when he says he will serve, he's looking ahead primarily to the service he is going to offer on the cross – he who claims the right to absolute sovereignty laid down his life as a sacrifice to save his people. That is a King worth serving, if he will not hold back his own life for us, we can be sure that he will govern with our best interests at heard.
Jesus says the Master will take up the instruments and serve. I've just read a biography of John Stott, who was among other things, the chaplain to the Queen. He often spent part of Christmas at Sandringham with the royal family… and he delighted to see Her Majesty behaving just like the rest of us – on one occasion he recorded in his diary that Her Royal Highness stooped to clean a royal mess with the royal sponge. It's hard to imagine isn't it? How much more out of keeping with stature is it for Jesus – if he really is the one who will judge every person – to stoop down and serve you and me, the little people.
So that's one side of the equation – if Jesus returns and finds us serving him as our master it will be good, it will be amazing, it will be heaven itself as he shares with his people the things that belong to God alone.
That alone should be reason for us to take Jesus words seriously, but it's not all that needs to be said, because there is a serious warning here for those who are not ready – and that's point three:
3. Jesus Return Will Be Disaster for Those Who Are Not Ready.
His return will be disaster for those who are not ready
We've already seen that Jesus compares his return to a visit from a thief in the night, coming when we are least prepared and catching us off guard.
The thief comes to strip us of our prized possessions and Jesus comes to call us to account for all that we have done with his possessions, first and foremost our lives which he claims as his own.
V.45-46 picture a servant who has forgotten that he has a master – he uses the masters possessions as if they were his own, and he abuses the masters other servants as if no one would ever call him to account. I'm afraid that this is a picture of normal life. Yes there might be more, or less drinking, and there might be less violence, but these are images of a life that is self indulgent, self centred and relationships that are damaged by raging self interest so that we use others for our own ends. Not many of us take this to the extreme – we're not all wolves of wall street, gangsters or low lives… but we're all infected with it to some extent. The heart of the issue as Jesus sees it here is that we live as if there is no one watching who can call us to account.
But the imagery of judgment is fierce here – when the Master returns he will cut that useless servant to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers! Hear the warning in plain language: if you live your life to yourself, without reference to God, then Jesus' return will spell disaster for you. All you've enjoyed and lived for will be taken away and you will be excluded from enjoying any of the things your creator gives you – and he is the source of every good thing.
What Jesus is saying is that for those who live as if he was irrelevant his coming will be like that volcanic eruption in Japan last week – shocking and disastrous. According to reports – Mount Ontake was a popular walking spot, and on Saturday there were hundreds of walkers on the mountain when it erupted without warning. Many of them have survived, but as of the last news bulletin I saw there are 48 confirmed dead, and it's likely there will be many more.
On Saturday morning they planned a walk, but that day they met their maker. They were just out for a walk, how could they know what was coming. But if they knew it was coming do you think they would have contemplated for a single second going out on that mountain as it was about to explode.
Jesus word s this morning constitute a warning every bit as serious as a volcanic eruption. If he's right then it is vital for every single one of us here to listen to his warning and get ourselves sorted with him today.
So are you ready? Do you know where you're going? Jesus is increadibly blunt with us – so of us here this morning are heading for his judgment – are you one of them? He says we need to do something now, because we never know when it might be too late. So this morning I want to invite you to get ready.
I expect that some of us here this morning know its true and know we aren't living in line with that truth. I urge you to speak to me after – I'll loiter down the front here, come and grab me. Don't leave without doing something about it.
And I'd exect that there would be a few of us who suspect this is true but want a bit more convincing – maybe it's evidence you need, maybe time to think it through and ask questions, maybe something else. For you I want to suggest you do the identity course – invest 7 evenings getting to know Jesus a bit better and then make your mind up.