A Call to Readiness — Part One
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A Call to Readiness — Part One

Luke 12:35  (ID: 2197)

Each of us has an appointment with God. We may not know the exact date, but the meeting is a certainty. Are we ready? Addressing this very question, Jesus shared a parable about several servants whose master had left town for a wedding banquet. In the same way that a wise servant is ready to meet his master the moment he returns, Alistair Begg explains, so should we be ready for Jesus’ second coming.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 8

Signs and Parables along the Way Luke 11:14–14:35 Series ID: 14208

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn once again with me to Luke’s Gospel and to chapter 12.

As we return to our studies in Luke’s Gospel, the awesome privilege of going through the Bible together, I’m reminded of the story of the Scottish beadle—that is, the church officer who carries the Bible up into the pulpit—who remarked about the visiting minister’s sermon that he found it to be fine except for three things: first, it was read; second, it wasn’t well read; and third, it wasn’t worth reading. And as we come to the Bible this morning, it is a reminder to us that we rely totally upon the Spirit of God to bring the Word of God to bear upon our lives. It is an absolute futility to think of putting in time just listening to a man ruminating about an ancient text. It may stimulate, it may move a little, but we look to God alone. So let us bow in a moment and genuinely ask God to meet with us in the study of the Bible. Will you ask God to meet with you as we read the Bible and study it together now?

Make the Book live to me, O Lord.
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

The Fact of the Return of Jesus Christ

When the character in the musical sings, in the 1960s, “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? [Let me know],”[2] the character is expressing something that is actually at the very heart of human existence. It may well be that many of you have never, ever heard those lyrics, and most of you have tried desperately to forget them for a long time, not being one of your favorite songs. But for those of you whose lives are propelled onward by the importance of lyrics, then you will recall them and perhaps have thought of them.

Just yesterday, I found myself in a website that contains the lyrics of the top forty songs from 1939 until 1999. I was delighted to discover it. I shouldn’t have discovered it when I did, because it became a tremendous distraction to me. And in the course of it, I was able to hone my recollections of a number of songs and also at the same time to recognize the way in which songs, particularly in the ’60s and the ’70s, were able to take things that were fairly banal and make them sound incredibly profound—not in every instance, but frequently.

Now, I mention this this morning—you say, “What has this possibly got to do with Luke chapter 12?”—well, simply because in Luke chapter 12, we’re discovering that the history of humanity is not, as the Greeks, as others, believed, cyclical. The Greeks believed that men and women were essentially on a treadmill. In fact, they believed that the gods were on a treadmill too. And on this treadmill, they may be able to amble casually, or they may rush furiously, but the one thing they knew for certain was that it was a treadmill and that it was going nowhere. And so they simply went through their days going round and round routinely, experiencing over and over again similar events as history repeated itself.

I say that wasn’t unique to the Greeks, because in contemporary culture, that is largely where society lives its life. Listen to men and women speak, and they’ll say, you know, “This is all we have. This is all the time we have. We need to make the most of it now. You only live once. You only go through once.” And certain terminology like that points to the fact that when a man or a woman loses their connection with the beginnings of the world and lives in confusion as to the nature of the end of the world, then they have nothing left but to seek to immerse themselves in the now—to seize the moment, to grab the gusto, to try their best to try and make sense of their human existence.

In 1970, the Temptations had a song entitled “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today).” That was 1970. Thirty-one years later, listen to the kind of things they were saying:

The only person talkin’ about “Love your brother”
Is the preacher.
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning
But the teacher.
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration,
Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation.

Ball of confusion,
Oh yeah,
That’s what the world is today.

The sale of pills are at an all-time high,
Young folks walking with their heads in the sky.
The cities ablaze in the summertime,
And, oh, the beat goes on.

Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul,
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growin’ up too soon,
Politicians say “Pay your taxes” will solve everything,
And the band played on.

So round and round and round we go,
And where the world’s headed, nobody knows.

O, Great Googa Mooga,
Can’t you hear me talkin’ to you?
Just a ball of confusion,
Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today.

O, Great Googa Mooga,
Can’t you hear me talking to you?
Just a ball of confusion,
That’s what the world is today.

And then it just trails off: “O, Great Googa Mooga, just a ball of confusion, hey!”

So, thirty-one more years of advance in the internet age, with the vast developing of technology, with an exponential discovery rate in scientific progress that staggers the human intellect, and here we are. Young people growing up with no knowledge of their origins. For them, their existence is essentially matter plus time plus chance. And if they know anything, they know they’re not going anywhere. Small wonder that they decide to do so many of the things they do. If the ’60s thought it was a good time to “tune in, turn on, and drop out,” I think 2001 holds greater prospect.

Now, no song intrigued me as much or annoyed me quite as much as a song that came out in 1969, when I was seventeen, that, again, was this attempt at profundity—a thin veneer over the banal that makes this point. It was entitled “The Windmills of Your Mind”—you may remember it—by Noel Harrison. It was a kind of talking-singing song, or a singing-talking song, and it sounded, you know, really heavy. You know,

[Run] like a circle in a spiral,
Like a wheel within a wheel,
Never ending [or] beginning
[In] an ever-spinning reel.

Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon,

you know,

[They’re] running rings around the moon. …

Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.

Keys that jingle in your pocket,
Words that jangle in your head.
“Why did summer go so quickly?
Was it something that we said?”

Lovers walk along [the] shore;
[They] leave their footprints in the sand.
[Is] the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand? …

When [I] knew that it was over,
[I was] suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the color[s] of her hair.

And this is the verse I couldn’t remember:

Like a tunnel [that] you follow
To a tunnel of its own,
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone;

Like a door that keeps revolving
[In] a half-forgotten dream,
[Like] the ripples [of] a pebble
Someone [tosses in a] stream;

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face,
And the world is like an apple
[Spinning] silently in space;

Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.[4]

What the dickens does that mean? What in the world is that about?

Well, it is in part all that a person can say unhinged from a knowledge of where it all began and disengaged from a belief in the reality of how it will end. Therefore, creation is a crucial biblical doctrine: “In the beginning God…”[5] And the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was God in the beginning in the very formation of the universe, creating all of the beauty that you see before you in this beautiful floral display this morning—Christ, who had his hand in all of this, is the Christ who now teaches his followers in Luke 12 and is the Christ who will return and usher in the end of the age as we know it.

The believer’s hope for the future is not in a timetable of events. It’s not in a series of impersonal happenings. It is in the expectation of the return of a person. He is coming. That is the great reality.

In other words, in contrast to the notion of history being cyclical, the Bible says that history is linear: that all of human history is moving towards a destination; that the return of Jesus Christ is an event whose significance is ultimately only comparable to the very creation of the universe. When you, today or tomorrow, pick up your diary and look at what you have planned for the coming week, realize this: that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is an event that is written into every human diary, into every time schedule, into every work planner. The return of Jesus Christ will be an event in history for all men and women. And every one of us this morning—whether we have recognized this ever or whether, having recognized it, we have pushed it to the back of our minds or not—every one of us is moving towards a rendezvous with the Lord Jesus Christ.

And in light of what we have said, that the main things are the plain things, we need to emphasize what the New Testament emphasizes—namely, the fact of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. For that is far more important than the question of when or the precise nature of events which will accompany his coming. The believer’s hope for the future is not in a timetable of events. It’s not in a series of impersonal happenings. It is in the expectation of the return of a person. He is coming. That is the great reality. Exactly when and precisely how—though not unimportant in their way—they are, in the end, secondary issues.

And yet what do we find? That the last hundred years of evangelical Christianity has done an adept job at making what is secondary primary, what is peripheral central, and, as a result, taking what is both central and primary and making it secondary and peripheral. So you’ll find people talking about all kinds of timetables and all kinds of charts and all kinds of schemes, and that may be completely disengaged from any emphasis such as we find here brought by Jesus in Luke chapter 12.

The fact of the return of Christ derives from biblical revelation and not in the first instance from the events of history. The reason we believe that Jesus Christ is coming is not because we’ve been able to read the Wall Street Journal correctly but because the Bible says that Jesus is coming. And it is that fact which is to drive everything else. In fact, the certainty of the return of Jesus and the uncertainty of the timing of the return of Jesus is to be, if you like, the regulative principle of genuine Christian experience. For we know where we are in the scheme of things: We are watching. We are waiting. We’re hoping. We’re praying. We are looking for the hope of all the ages.

Now, that this is the emphasis of these verses is unmistakably clear. Look at verse 40, for example, if your Bible is open: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour … you do not expect him.” A tenth grader reading this section and being asked to say to his teacher what is involved in it would be able to say that it is really a call to readiness, that it is a call to Christian service, that it is, if you like, a call to ready service. And they would be able, just by a careful reading of the text, to say Jesus is saying that his servants are to be watchful, they are to be faithful, and they are to be diligent. Now, most of us spend our lives preparing for events of lesser significance, and yet it may be that we have never really seriously taken into account the importance of being ready to face Christ and to face the judgment that will follow.

Now, in this twelfth chapter, Jesus has warned his followers against hypocrisy, against sinful anxiety—events that will take place in this world—and now, in this section, he exhorts them to prepare for the world to come. Just allow your eyes to scan the text. Look at it in verse 35: “Be dressed, be ready, lamps burning.” Verse 36: “like men waiting.” Verse 37: people “watching.” Verse 38: “ready.” Verse 40: “ready.” At a time they don’t expect—verse 46. Verse 47: “ready.” Now, once again, there is no terrific insight necessary here. The plain emphasis of the passage is to be found in these matters.

A Clear Command

Now, what I want to do is point out to you that in the pictures that Jesus uses, we discover him first of all issuing a clear command. Look at verse 35; it’s very clear. Jesus says, “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.”

Now, the picture that he employs would be familiar to his immediate listeners: that of a man returning from a wedding banquet, coming home in the evening and coming back to the context in which he had servants who would have been waiting for him. Instead of the master’s absence becoming an occasion for indolence or for neglect, these good servants will be watching and waiting, and they will be there ready for service. Verse 36 says, “They can immediately open the door for him.” Why? Because they have been watching for him! He doesn’t have to beat on the door for a long time and go around the back of the house and beat on a window and whatnot. No! Because they hadn’t fallen asleep in his absence. They were actually ready for action. They said, “You know, he’ll be coming soon. And when he comes, we want to be ready when he comes.” Jesus says, “Now, that picture is a picture of how my servants should be in the prospect of my coming.”

In fact, if you have a King James Version, you will notice that the somewhat archaic language leads you in the right direction: “Let your loins be girded about,”[6] or something to that effect. That is a picture from the Old Testament—Exodus chapter 12—in the instructions given for the eating of the Passover. Exodus 12:11: “You should eat with your cloak tucked into your belt, with your sandals on, and with your staff in your hand.”[7] And the Eastern dress was such that they had these long, flowing outer garments, which would so easily impede progress, and so whenever there was a state of readiness involved, then they would take their outer cloaks, and they would pull them up, and they would take the belt that they were wearing that gathered everything in the middle, and they would tuck their cloak into their belt. And with their sandals on and their staff in their hand, they were ready to be about whatever business fell to them.

Jesus says in verse 37, “It[’s] [going to] be good for [the] servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.” “Watching.” Watching for him. In fact, he says what he’s going to do is he’ll turn the tables on them, and he will provide for them, and he will dress himself as a servant, and he will have them recline at the table, and he’ll come and wait on them—a picture that takes us forward in Luke’s Gospel, way into Luke 22:27, in the context of the Last Supper, where, you remember, Jesus takes and addresses the concerns of his followers, and he points out the nature of the kingdom that he is establishing. And he says, “I am among you as one who serves,” and he ministers to them as they sit there at the table.

“It will be good for [the] servants whose master finds them watching.” And verse 38: “It will be good for [the] servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.” In other words, if he doesn’t immediately come back, it’s going to be good if he finds them ready. The Romans divided the hours of the night into four watches; the Jews divided it into three watches. And the picture there is just the passage of time in between the ascension of Christ and his return. And he says, “You know, as the time elapses and we go into the third and fourth watches of the night, or the second and third watches of the night, then the Master will be delighted to find still a spirit of readiness amongst those who are his servants.”

So there is, then, first of all, a clear command. It’s not difficult to understand: “I want you to be dressed, ready for service, with your lamps burning.” Are you dressed? Clothed? Ready for service? Lamp burning? I’ve had the advantage of studying this passage; therefore, it’s perhaps unfair of me to ask the question in this way. But have you spent one moment in the last week thinking about the return of Christ? Has it changed one call you made? Did it alter one letter that I wrote? Did it repair one broken relationship? Did it close my mouth when I was tempted to open it? Did it do anything at all? Because I said to myself, “You know, I need to remember something here. He’s coming! I’m supposed to be dressed, ready for service. My light is supposed to shine!”

An Important Observation

Secondly, he makes an important observation. Verse 39: he says, “I want you to understand something: if the owner of the house had known what hour the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have let his house be broken into.” The verb that is used there for “broken into” means to actually bash your way through the wall, and it is an indication of the fact that the houses were made of mud bricks. He says if the owner of the house knew that the person was going to come bashing through the mud bricks and break into his house, then, of course, he would have been ready to deal with him at his appearing. But it was the very fact of the unexpected nature of it that made the burglary possible.

It hasn’t been possible for me, for years now, to read this verse without thinking of an incident that I discovered in a newspaper article as it related to the city of Liverpool in England. A couple who parked their car routinely outside of their house of an evening got up one morning and found that their car was stolen. A couple of days later, their car reappeared. It was in perfect condition, and inside they found a note from the person who had taken the car, thanking the couple for the use of their car, apologizing for the inconvenience to them, and saying, in order to put matters to right, he was leaving for them two tickets for the theater. The husband and wife then went to the theater, and he reappeared and burgled their home. True story! Now, if the individual, upon receiving the tickets, had said, “You know, I can imagine what this person is up to,” then they would not have gone out. But it took them completely by surprise.

That’s the point that Jesus is making. There’s no other greater point than that. If the owner had known the hour the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have let his house be broken into. The fact is, he didn’t know; therefore, it was broken into. “And you do not know either,” he says. Therefore, the implication is the same: “You’ve got to be ready, because the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night. He will come at an hour that you do not expect him.”

A Striking Warning

That takes us, then, from a clear command and an important observation to what we might refer to as a striking warning. This comes in response to Peter’s inquiry in verse 41: “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” If you go back to the beginning of the chapter, you may recall that there was a large crowd of many thousands that had gathered around Jesus, and they were trampling on one another. And Jesus was speaking to his disciples and then, in turn, really to those who were within earshot of the instruction that he was giving to them. As is the case elsewhere, Jesus does not answer Peter directly. Instead, he in turn poses another question. And he is essentially saying to Peter, “Let me tell you this next little piece, and then if the cap fits, wear it.”

And then he describes another scene that would have been obvious to these people: the master or the owner of an estate delegates the oversight of his estate to a servant manager, who in turn, then, has certain responsibilities, not least of all for making sure that the workforce that is under him are given their food allowance at the proper time. The owner of the estate, in his absence, provides for his manager a certain measure of freedom. And Jesus says, “If the manager, then, is faithful and wise, he is going to use the period of the owner’s absence to make sure that everything is taken care of.”

And in that context, notice the phrase again, verse 43: “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.” It will be in his actions and in his activities, in his service, in his spirit of readiness that he declares himself to be a faithful and wise manager. It’s not that he has a baseball hat made for himself that bears the inscription “Faithful and Wise Manager,” and he walks around the estate making sure that everybody knows who he is: “I am a faithful and wise manager.” That would be easily done. But no, his faithfulness and his wisdom is directly related to his watchfulness and his readiness and his preparedness to use the privilege of freedom not as an opportunity to despise those under his care but rather as an opportunity to care for them effectively.

And Jesus says such an individual will actually be promoted. Verse 44: “I tell you the truth, [when the owner returns,] he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” He’s going to say, “You’ve done a wonderful job here, and as a result of that, let me give you a few other of my properties to look after as well, because you are so clearly faithful in this particular area.”

Then comes the striking nature of it. He says, “However, on the other hand, if the servant seizes the master’s delay”—verse 45 and following—“as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, as an occasion for the indulging of his whims, then he’s going to be severely punished.” In fact, look at what he says at the end of verse 46: “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” What a striking statement (I think you would agree?), settling once and for all any mistaken notion that we may take to cherish to ourselves that somehow or another, in relationship to the return of Jesus Christ, if we want to get very zealous about things and be ready and be watchful and be diligent and be all these things, then, somehow or another, we will be commended for that when Christ returns and there will be blessings and goodness that will accompany it; but, of course, if we choose not to, then it just means that you don’t get, you know, the extra pieces that Christ has planned for the faithful and for the diligent. No, we can’t say that! Because the alternative is far more striking. He says if he’s a faithful and wise servant, he will be commended, and he will be promoted upon the return of Christ—upon the return of his master. If he’s a stupid, selfish rascal, he will be cut up and thrown out with the company to which he belongs.

Once again, this is an unpalatable truth at the beginning of the twenty-first century—the idea of judgment, the idea of reckoning. And yet it is written into the very fabric of our existence. Every test needs to be marked. Every exam needs to have a grade. Every athletic endeavor has to be timed or measured. And the journey of our lives through our days in the service or the denial of Christ will inevitably lead to a payday one day, to a moment of judgment when the returning Christ will put matters to right. He will do so perfectly. He will do so fairly. He will do so finally. And one of the reasons that men and women can live in such confused indolence is the fact that they have divorced themselves from the beginnings of the universe, and they have denied to themselves the reality of the end of the universe. So it’s just “like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.”

Jesus says, “No, I want to set it out very differently for you. I want you to understand that you’re either a faithful and wise manager and you’re looking at commendation, or you are not and you’re looking at the most dreadful results.” In other words, he’s going to put this individual with his own company. Would he then assign a true believer to a place with the unbelievers? No, it cannot be! He would simply assign an unbeliever who cherished the illusion of belief and manufactured a perception of belief, thus denying the reality to himself and to those under his care—he will simply take the unbelieving professor and put that unbeliever where unbelievers go. That’s what he’s saying. And it will be perfectly fair! For the man has simply disguised the reality. And when the judge pulls back the curtain and reveals the heart of the man, the motivation of the man, the genuine existence of this soul, then it will be perfectly obvious: “You’re in the wrong spot. You’re over here.” This is a vital truth that this foolish age needs to ponder. His position may have simply concealed the state of his heart, and given the right context, a long enough delay, a greater sense of freedom out of the confines and constraints that were there when the master and the owner was present, the reality of his existence became apparent.

Do you ever wonder if the only reason you continue to do what you do is because of the context? Because of the framework? Because it’s Sunday and you have to preach? And if ever you were to be removed from that environment, what would be there at the heart of the servant? Jesus, in chapter 11, has stunned the Pharisees, addressing them in relationship to religious hypocrisy. He says, “You know, you clean the outside of the cup, but inside it’s filthy.”[8] He says, “You talk about knowledge, but you’ve removed the key whereby people may come to knowledge, because what you have rattling around in your heads hasn’t transformed your lives.”[9] What kind of servant are you?

The journey of our lives through our days in the service or denial of Christ will inevitably lead to a payday, when the returning Christ will put matters to right. He will do so perfectly. He will do so fairly. He will do so finally.

A Vital Principle

A clear command, an important observation, a striking warning, and finally, a vital principle. “That servant,” verse 47,

who knows his master’s will and does[n’t] get ready [and] does[n’t] do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. … The one who does[n’t] know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with [a] few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

In other words, the more you have, the more that you are entrusted with in terms of the servant of the master, in service of the master, the greater your prospect of honor and the greater your prospect of peril. That’s what he’s saying!

Does it make you think of James 3 at all? “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”[10] Because we have been given the unique privileges of dealing with the matters of eternal significance. If we then should prostitute such a privilege, if we then should be charlatans and hypocrites in relationship to these things, if we should seek to use them simply for selfish aggrandizement or for the exaltation of our own pathetic egos, then we will be beaten with many blows.

Now, I don’t know about you, loved ones, but that is a very scary prospect to me! That is far scarier to me than whether Mrs. X liked the length of the sermon, you know, or whether Mr. X was delighted with the absence of the organ or the presence of the organ—whatever it was. None of these matters are irrelevant, but they pale into insignificance in relationship to this: that given the immensity of the privilege, there is a vast peril that confronts one.

We will be, he says, addressed not simply because the things we have done, but in James 4:17, “Anyone … who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” So you’re on the line not just for what you did, but you’re on the line for what you didn’t do—for all the things you knew you should do and you didn’t do.

If it makes you think of 1 Corinthians 3, then you’re on the right track. Do you remember 1 Corinthians 3? Paul says, “Here’s a Paul. Here’s Apollos. Here’s Cephas. Here’s this person saying this person is this, this person is that.” He says, “Listen, one may plant, and another may water, but only God can make things grow.” He says, “I’ve been given grace in order to lay a foundation as a builder. In point of fact,” he says, “there’s no foundation that can be laid other than that which is laid in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[11]

We’ve seen that in our studies, in the study of the wise and the foolish builders. Both men are building. One is actually going up faster than the other. The people come along the road and say, “I wonder why that character is digging in the ground so much. Look at Mr. B! Mr. B.’s already got his house up! He’s on the second and third floor. And this fellow hasn’t even got the foundations in.” But when the winds come and beat upon the house, Mr. B’s house comes down like a pack of cards, and Mr. A’s house remains solid. Why? Because it is built upon the rock. So there is no foundation than that can be laid, which is in Christ Jesus.

Incidentally, to this we will come this evening, because it is the first aspect of readiness. What does it mean to be ready? It means to be converted. If you’re not converted, you’re not ready. You can’t be ready! For that is the very entry point of readiness. Now, once the foundation’s been laid, then we build. And the question is: Are we building carefully, or are we building carelessly? Are we building with wood and with hay and straw? Or are we building with gold and silver and costly stones?[12] Because, says Paul, the man’s “work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.”[13]

What day? This Luke 12 day, when the master returns. He’s not interested in whether you learned the timetable of history off by heart. He’s not concerned whether you can draw out charts and diagrams as related to all of the events that may surround the when and the how of his return. He’s concerned about whether your nose is up against the window, whether you’re watching for Jesus, the way that a child may watch for his grandparents coming to visit on a Sunday afternoon: nose up against the window, watching every bus, watching it go away again, waiting for a moment to see if they’re going to appear, then disappointed in their absence—but not sitting reading timetables! And when they arrive, not remotely concerned about all of the exigencies that have led to it, but simply to say, “I’m so delighted that you’re here!” That’s the picture! Looking for him, watching for him, and building in such a way that “the Day will bring it to light.” It’s a staggering thought, because what it says is that the work of our lives “will be revealed with fire, and”—this is a metaphor—“and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up,” he won’t receive his reward! “He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”[14]

Now, what I found most pressing in relationship to this is that the righteous judgment of Christ is mentioned with purpose in order to spring a complete surprise not upon the lost pagan outside the pale of the church but to spring a surprise upon the complacent churchgoing soul whose entire confidence is based upon the fact that they are a member of the community. You see, it is one thing to say, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,”[15] and then to find ourselves in the mainstream of our days, and what are we relying on? “Well, I’m a member of the community.” “Well, I’m an attender.” “Well, I’m a preacher.” “Well, I’m a Bible study leader.” “Well, I’m a baptized follower.” Are you relying on something that you are doing so as to be ready? Or are you relying on something that Christ has done?

And the surprise and the shock is not a shock that will be found out in the outlying communities when Jesus Christ returns for people who are just whistling Dixie and couldn’t give a rip. The surprise in Matthew chapter 7 is not there. The surprise is within the confines of the community. “Many will say to me [in] that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we attend Parkside Church? Didn’t we participate in the events? Weren’t we involved in the ushering and in the greeting? We did all kinds of things!’ And I’ll say to you, ‘Depart from me. I never even knew who you were.’”[16]

That’s the shock! The shock’s out there. The shock is that we may live so closely to the light without having been embraced by the light; that we may give the appearance of having become the recipients of the seed of God’s Word, à la Luke chapter 8 in the parable of the soils; that everybody around us, including ourselves, believes that we have actually tasted of the Lord’s kindness, but as time goes by, we stumble and we fall and we never reappear. Jesus taught that! Only one soil brought forth fruit that was thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.[17] But to the casual passerby—they said, “Well, everybody received the soil. Everybody is presumably on the way.” And look at this! One may be a leader of the people of God and end up assigned to a place with the unbelievers.

And here is Reverend So-and-So, looking after the custodial concerns of the estate under his charge in the absence of the owner, charged with providing food at the proper time to make sure that they’re there. Says Leon Morris, “They that take the gospel to themselves must either live by the glory of the gospel or perish beneath the judgment of the gospel.”[18]

So forget the idea that religious man will get off lightly in the judgment. The fact is this; the principle is clear: the religious man will find himself more strictly judged, more precisely judged on the basis of his greater privilege. It’s worth noting that the people who will be surprised on that day are not the rank outsiders but those who think themselves safe within the church.

Now, you see, this takes us, then, to the question that we’re begging all the way through, and that is: What, then, is the nature of this readiness? Because if the awfulness grips our hearts, it is clear to any thoughtful person, “I better find out what it means to be ready.” And it is to that issue that we will give ourselves this evening, when we come back to this passage again.

Father, we pray this morning that we will not try and dodge around the clear impact of the Bible, that you will not let us rest in relationship to this question: Are we faithful and wise servants, watching, waiting, hoping, praying, eagerly awaiting your return? We do pray, gracious God, that the words of our songs may be the genuine expression of our hearts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] Hal David, “Alfie” (1966).

[3] Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (1970). Lyrics lightly altered.

[4] Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, “The Windmills of Your Mind” (1968).

[5] Genesis 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[6] Luke 12:35 (KJV).

[7] Exodus 12:11 (paraphrased).

[8] Luke 11:39 (paraphrased).

[9] Luke 11:52 (paraphrased).

[10] James 3:1 (NIV 1984).

[11] 1 Corinthians 3:5–11 (paraphrased).

[12] See 1 Corinthians 3:12.

[13] 1 Corinthians 3:13 (NIV 1984).

[14] 1 Corinthians 3:13–15 (NIV 1984).

[15] Edward Mote, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” (1834).

[16] Matthew 7:22–23 (paraphrased).

[17] See Luke 8:4–15.

[18] J. V. Langmead Casserley, Kingdom and the Church (Edinburgh and London: 1956), 2, quoted in Leon Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment (London: Tyndale, 1960), 63.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.