Advent 1 Proper A1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 24:36-44 Sermon
November 28, 2010
Hymns(from The Service Book and Hymnal):
3 "The Advent Of Our God"
5 "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"
2 "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
327 "The Lord Will Come And Not Be Slow"
6 "Hark The Glad Sound, The Saviour Comes"
TEXT (vs. 42-44): “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
The "Niners." When I say the word "Niners," what comes into your mind? Most people readily identify that name with professional football, right along with the Packers, the Bears, the Vikings, the Chiefs, the Broncos, the Cowboys, and so forth. The "Niners" refers to the San Francisco Forty-Niners, a rather well-known and well-established professional football team, headquartered in San Francisco, California.
Now I'm not one that follows professional football that closely, although I do enjoy watching some of the games. I prefer the college teams myself, but that's a different story for a different time.
The Niners were all the talk at the beginning of the season. Football pundit Patrick Goulding wrote an article that appeared on August 28, 2010, sporting this headline: "San Francisco 49ers 2010 Season Predictions: Nothing Short of Perfection." In the article, he wrote: "Winning the division, even winning the conference simply is not good enough. Coach Sing (referring to Mike Singletary) will never be satisfied with anything less than a Super Bowl victory..." And then he continues, "...the 49ers have a strong if not stellar team. It should then stand to reason that if the 49ers could win any game, they could by extension win every game. They could taste perfection and the sweet satisfaction that so narrowly evaded the team in 1984 and 1989."
My goodness. From what that article says, you should be able to take your life savings to Las Vegas, and bet everything on the Niners to win every game, and just clean up. It's almost a no-brainer, just like shooting fish in a barrel. You should be laughing all the way to the bank.
However, if you have followed pro football at all, you know that the pundits' predictions were not accurate at all; in fact almost the opposite is true. So far this year, they have had a whopping 3 wins and 7 losses, and there's still 6 games on their schedule. Last Sunday, Tampa Bay shut them out, 21 to zip. Tomorrow night they play Arizona, and we'll just have to wait and see what happens there.
Aren't you glad you didn't wager all your money betting on the Niners? The way things have turned out, the only way you could have come out ahead is to bet that the Niners would lose. The pundits were way off on their predictions. This is a great example of people not knowing what the future will bring.
People have frequently asked me what I think will happen in the future with regard to various subjects. I can guess and suppose right along with anybody, especially if I have some facts to go on. However, one of my classic responses is, "I'm sorry, but my crystal ball is broken," indicating that I just don't have a clue.
The truth of the matter is, that we just don't know the future. We can guess perhaps, but we don't know for sure. And that's where we get in to our Gospel lesson for this morning.
In Matthew 24, Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples. They want to know about the end of the age. So Jesus gives them various signs that the end is coming. He mentions such things as wars and rumors of wars, false prophets, famines, betrayals, persecutions, deceptions, wickedness, and other things. The future doesn't look all that bright for God's people.
But everybody wants to know when Jesus will return to this earth. When is all this going to end? When are God's people going to be able to get away from all this and go home? When is this deliverance going to happen?
Jesus basically tells them that this is something they don't know and never will know. The actual day is kept hidden. All we need to know is that we must be ready all the time for Jesus to come.
I think that it is absolutely incredible to hear the predictions some people have when it comes to Christ's return. The Jehovah's Witnesses have come up with a number of different dates, all of which were wrong. Others have done the same thing. Some even suggested that the year 2000 was going to be God's grand finale. But here we still are, still waiting.
Jesus is very plain in this area. Anybody who reads Matthew's 24th chapter should have no problem in grasping what Jesus says. In effect, he's saying that you will never know the answer to this question until it actually happens, so you can quit wasting your time trying to figure it out. I don't think you can make it any clearer than that.
But you know, people have always been trying to figure out the future, which in effect is like trying to read God's mind. As much as it happens today, it was even worse back in Old Testament times.
Deuteronomy 18 talks about this at length. Here are a few selected verses: "10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter inthe fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD....14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. 15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him....I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him....21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."
That's a lengthy section, and I've only given you some selected verses; but I believe that it's safe to say that God certainly doesn't appreciate people who try to read his mind or who attempt to put words in his mouth. Common sense would dictate to anybody that God only reveals to us what he wants us to know. And we have to trust that he will tell us all that we need to know, and not leave anything out.
Nobody knows either the day or the hour. And that leaves us with a certain amount of apprehension. Even though Jesus warns us, and enumerates all of the signs that we can witness all around us, we still want to know when.
Jesus uses the illustration about the "thief in the night." Essentially, this is the classic example of 20/20 hindsight. "If I would have only known," we lament after something preventable has happened.
Think about the precautions we take to prevent break-ins. I have 1" throw case-hardened steel deadbolts on my doors, and I keep my doors locked. My vehicle has an alarm system, and I always lock my doors and take my keys. I have outside lights on electric eyes. And if all else fails, a .38 hollow-point should do the trick. I think I'm fairly well protected from thieves and robbers. We all need to be prepared to prevent the worst from happening.
One of the things that determine how we handle the unknown realm of the future is how we as human beings approach various situations in our lives. It all boils down to two different approaches: you can approach something in love, or you can approach something in fear. If you think about it, you can categorize almost every decision you make in these two ways.
The problem with the future, is that human beings tend to approach it with a sense of fear. If something is unknown, then we are afraid for a variety of reasons. Something may harm us, something might embarrass us, we might make the wrong decision, we might say the wrong thing, or we otherwise could make an error in judgment. If we live our entire lives in fear, then we become both paranoid and pessimistic.
People who approach everything with a sense of fear are actually doing a very good job of making themselves and everybody around them miserable. It shows a lack of trust, a lack of faith, and a lack of love. If an employer acts like this, then nobody wants to work for them. If a spouse acts like this, then suspicion and jealousy are at the forefront, and that's how divorces get started. There is absolutely no justification for approaching situations with fear.
When we approach the future with a sense of love, then we also trust others around us. Most importantly however, we trust God. In fact, that's a lesson we must continually learn, because fear can creep in so easily and throw everything off-kilter.
Jesus comes to us with promises. He makes these promises because he loves us; and we trust him because we love him in return. We have the assurance that he will not disappoint us or let us down. He's never gotten a promise wrong, nor has he ever made a mistake. Jesus has given us no reason whatsoever to fear him or not trust him.
By not knowing the day or the hour of his return, we can't let our relationship with Jesus ever grow cold, nor can we just put him on the "back burner," so-to-speak. We have to keep our relationship at the very forefront of our existence.
We come to him as sinners; and even though we don't know the day or hour of his return, we know without a doubt that Jesus loves us and died for the forgiveness of our sins. He showed the ultimate act of love on our behalf, and that needs to be our response as well.
Our faith is a response of love. The Holy Spirit gives us this gift of faith so we can have a relationship with Jesus our Saviour. Through faith we find forgiveness for our sins, and through faith we have a sure hope for the future. We have a sure hope of heaven for all eternity, even though we don't know the day or hour we will meet our Lord, face-to-face.
In 1 John chapter 4, we read the following words in verses 16-18: "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
I think that sets the contrast between fear and love very well. Having confidence in the Day of Judgment means that we will not be at all concerned about the day or hour part of it. When God's love is complete in our lives, then that confidence is ours, and we have nothing whatsoever to fear.
Those who are trying to figure out the day the world will end, or who go chasing after people who claim to be able to foretell the future are not living in love. Those who are pessimistic and paranoid are not living in love. These are people who live their lives in fear, and their whole way of life reflects this. And as a result, they make themselves and everybody around them miserable.
If we look at what the pundits said about the San Francisco 49ers, we can see how far afield human beings can get when they try to predict the future. Even when that guess is educated and backed up with statistics, it is still a guess just the same. And when that guess is tested against their 3 and 7 win/loss record, even the best of the pundits will have to admit their error. And even with this, we still don't know how the Niners will fare in their last six games. We might guess that their record won't show much improvement, but do we actually know that? They do have the potential for winning the rest of their games, however unlikely that might be. We just don't know.
What we do know however is what God has in store for us. We know that our sins are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. We know that we stand before God according to Christ's righteousness and not our sinfulness. We know that we have a mansion in heaven that awaits us. We know that we have a God who loves us beyond what we could ever imagine.
So how do we look at the future? Do we see things through the eyes of fear, or the eyes of love?
Remember the words the Apostle Paul records for us in the 3rd chapter of Galatians, verses 12-14: "12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."