August 7, 2022
While anticipating Jesus’ return, we should neither become so preoccupied with his return that we neglect the day-to-day kingdom work nor become complacent about his return. The goal is this: While we are waiting, keep on serving.
Many people choose their vocation based on what might be called the “cadence” of their personality. Some like a predictable routine: into the office at 8 a.m. and out promptly at 5 p.m. They like the weekly tempo of having certain meetings on certain days. Sometimes when they go on vacation, they’re a bit restless for a few days because their rhythm has been temporarily interrupted.
Many people who work from home offices get up at the same time every weekday. That’s because even though no employer is on hand to check when they sit down at their desks, these workers know that a structured schedule is even more essential if they are to get work done without the crutch of an on-site supervisor. But if a home-worker’s child gets sick and must stay home from school, it may result in a dramatic drop in that worker’s productivity for that day. That’s because the routine has been changed.
Compare those people with others who thrive on work where structured routine is seldom possible — people such as police officers, firefighters, and emergency-room technicians. They must be in a constant state of “active readiness,” prepared for any number of crises that are likely to cross their paths. They may have hours of relative peace and calm, but then suddenly something some emergency intrudes. And when it happens, they’re emotionally prepared and mentally awake.
In today’s passage from Luke 12, Jesus reminds his followers that when it comes to being prepared for his return, they need to be actively ready, regardless of the cadence of their personalities. However, throughout church history, the followers of Christ have typically gone two opposing directions when it came to the expectation of Jesus’ return. In today’s gospel passage, Jesus gives an example that illustrated a healthy way to live while waiting for his return, which will occur without warning.
Much of the success of the Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye can be attributed to the intriguing pull of contemporary interpretations of Bible prophecy. In fact, it has become quite an industry. Perhaps its draw has to do with all the mysterious symbolism in the biblical books Daniel and Revelation. None of us knows exactly what the Second Coming means in detail. But the Bible is firm in its conviction that in some meaningful, world-changing, kingdom-bringing way, Christ will return.
But, when, we cannot know. Jesus himself made it clear that his return would be sudden and unannounced, at “an unexpected hour.” Thus, the study of “eschatology,” the doctrine related to the last days, though leaving us with some unanswered questions, also imparts to us a sense of urgency.
Having said that, we also acknowledge that some Christians have responded to the biblical references to the Second Coming in ways, it seems, that Jesus did not intend. We see one of these responses in the New Testament times in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians. Some of these zealous believers were so convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent that they forsook their daily duties, and in some cases, even their families. Some had stopped working, because they reasoned that there was no point to it in a world that was about to end. Jesus was coming back very, very soon, and so all normal daily activity seemed to take on an air of futility. Paul had to take those believers to task, saying, “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.”1
The opposite error was committed by those who adopted a sense of complacency, an attitude we often see portrayed in the parables. People in this camp would say things like, “It has been so long. He’s not likely coming back anytime soon (at least not in our lifetimes). Let’s just get on with our lives. He’ll get here when he gets here.” But then, these parables usually end with a master who is none too pleased with the complacent attitudes of the servants.
Today’s passage shows us the middle ground between these two opposite reactions, something we can call a state of “active readiness.” This attitude not only maintains a sense of alert expectation about Christ’s return, but also allows us to keep our focus at the day-to-day work of advancing God’s kingdom.
The first step of “active readiness” is to have a fearless expectation that God wants to be generous regarding our role and participation in his kingdom when his Son returns. In our text, he told his audience, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Many of us find great pleasure in giving gifts to children. Their sense of anticipation and excitement is infectious, and their gratitude is obvious. And this doesn’t apply just to toys or new bikes or other things to play with. When a child wants to play an instrument, for example, and we provide lessons, we have the pleasure of being in the audience during the child’s first concert. Our enjoyment is not from the proficiency of the performance, which, being at the beginner level, may not be too good, but there’s delight in seeing the child beginning to grow from what we have given. Seeing progress brings us joy when we provide a child with the necessary resources.
God is no different. He is pleased to give us the kingdom because he “can’t wait” (in a sense) to see what we’re going to create with what he provides. What fruit are we going to bear with the natural talents and spiritual gifts that he gives us? How are we going to be more like Christ a year from now because of the people he brings into our lives? Like a loving parent who’s always ready to put his or her child’s “creations” on the refrigerator, God looks forward to seeing what we’re going to do with the resources he provides for us.
The second step of “active readiness” is the proper prioritization of what’s important in our lives. In this passage, Jesus makes the radical suggestion to sell what we have and give it to the poor. The essence of this command is this: Hold on loosely to the things of this world, so that we will be better able to let of go of them should the advancement of God’s kingdom require it.
This passage also records some oft-quoted words of Jesus: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The desires of our hearts are what drive us. Sometimes we make “finding God’s will” for our lives way too complicated. If our relationship with God is healthy and growing, then we should use our best judgment to determine the specific things God wants us to do. If we make an incorrect judgment, God will let us know in some fashion. But God gives us not only kingdom assignments, but also the deep-seated desires to carry them out. Author Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”2 That’s where the real (heavenly) treasure trove lies.
Jesus also stated the final step of getting to a state of “active readiness”: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.”
In essence, Jesus is saying, “While you are waiting, keep on serving.” We are not to become so preoccupied with Jesus’ return that we lose focus on the tasks at hand. On the other side of the coin, we should not become so immersed in day-to-day living that we forget about the unannounced nature of his return. He could come back at any time. Now of Christ’s return, everything that is a normal part of our lives — our vocations, our families, our ministries, will all be turned over to him — and he will give us new tasks and responsibilities.
So, we are to work as if Jesus won’t return for another thousand years, and at the same time, watch as if he could come back by the time, we take our next breath. Balancing the two is not that difficult if we keep our focus on the right things. God is going to accomplish his intentions in his time frame. And only he knows when his son will return.
Maybe the best way to find the balance is simply to focus on today, and maybe even just on the present moment. As Aslan (of Narnia) said to one of the children, “This moment contains all moments.” While certainly Jesus wants us to plan and learn from the past, he doesn’t want us to live our lives in either “time zone.” Rather, we are to focus on the present moment in which we find ourselves and pour all our prayers and energy into what God wants us to do in that span of time.
So, let’s keep ourselves in state of “active readiness.” In God’s good time, Jesus will return. While we are waiting, let’s keep on serving.
1 2 Thessalonians 3:6.
2 Wishful Thinking (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 95.