January 14, 2001
Like the servants in Jesus’ parable who stayed awake for their master, we want to be ready and waiting for Christ when He returns. Alistair Begg reminds us, however, that we are only prepared to meet Jesus if the Holy Spirit has transformed our hearts and minds—something only He can do. Once He converts us, we can eagerly await the Lord’s coming by continuing to run the race He has prepared for us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now we’re going to turn in our Bibles to where we were this morning in Luke chapter 12. For those of you who were present, you know that we were looking at the section that begins with the thirty-fifth verse, and we concluded through at verse 48. We said that the passage issued a call to readiness, and we considered the clarity of Christ’s command, the importance of his observation, the striking nature of his warning, and the importance of the principle with which the passage concludes. We left off, though, by recognizing the fact that we still had not truly addressed this matter of what it means to be ready.
There are phrases that are part and parcel of all of our lives on a fairly routine basis. We hear people shouting, “If you’re not ready in five minutes, I’m going without you.” That is one that I’ve grown up with for a long time. I didn’t realize that I would then come to employ it just as much as others had done who went before me. Or the somewhat demanding inquiry “How long is it going to take you to be ready?” Or “Will you be ready if I come around for you at six o’clock?” Or the declaration “You can come for me anytime you want. I’ll be watching for you.” All of those kinds of phrases are part and parcel of our routine existence, because we are endeavoring to make and to keep certain appointments.
What we saw this morning was that in this passage of Scripture, as with the rest of the Bible, we discover that each of us has an appointment that we may not have factored into our calendar as yet. Each of us is moving towards a rendezvous with the Lord Jesus Christ. And because of that, it is imperative that we are prepared for the meeting. This comes across quite straightforwardly in the phrase with which verse 40 begins: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man [is going to] come at an hour when you do not expect him.” For us to be ready means that our condition and our character is such that for Christ to suddenly appear, or for us to suddenly disappear into his presence, would produce no fear and no shame. That is essentially what it means to be ready: that Christ may come at any moment, or we may be ushered into his presence at any moment, without shame and without fear. To the extent that we consider that notion and conclude that we are either shameful or fearful, we are therefore unprepared and not ready.
At the risk of being unduly simplistic, can I suggest to you that we can summarize a state of readiness as being converted and continuing. If I’m going to be ready, I need to be converted, and I need to be continuing. So there then are three questions. The first question is “Am I ready?” If to be ready means to be converted and to be continuing, then the two questions that emerge from that are “Well then, am I converted?” and “Am I continuing?” Now, what I want to do is briefly take these in reverse order.
The second question, “Am I continuing?” is posed to the person who has come to renounce all trust in themselves and to depend solely by faith on the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ to trust that in his death upon the cross he has borne the punishment that our sins deserve. And when a man or a woman comes to this personal, life-changing encounter with Christ, one of the ways the Bible describes this is that the individual has been “converted.”
So, for example, when Paul writes to Timothy concerning those who will be leaders in the church, he says that one of the things that must be true of the individual is that “he must not be a recent convert.” He mustn’t be somebody who had known nothing of Christ and has now come to understand why Jesus died and lives—he mustn’t be a recent convert—because he will be dubious in the exercise of his leadership. When Paul writes to the Colossians, he says to them, “So then, just as you received Christ,” which is another way to describe conversion, “[so] continue to live in him.”
Now, to those of you who tonight would express quite clearly the fact that you believe and trust in Christ, here is the question: Are you and I continuing? We saw this morning from 1 Corinthians 3 that it is possible for us to reach the shores of heaven much like a shipwrecked sailor. That’s the significance of the metaphor that all of us are working either with substances that will last or that will burn up, and it is possible that we then will be saved (and the phrase is) “as through the fire.” In other words, we are ourselves in safety, but that we’ve really made it there in much the tattered condition of a shipwrecked sailor.
In direct contrast to that, when Peter writes in 2 Peter chapter 1, he speaks about the approach to continuing in the Christian life and adding to our faith goodness and kindness and all of these various aspects in such a way so as to make it into heaven by means of what he refers to as “a rich welcome” or as an abundant entry. And the picture that is used there is that of a returning Olympic athlete, who doesn’t enter through the normal gate but has a gate broken down for him especially, or for her, so that they may be entered into the city in a garlanded welcome. And tonight, the way that you and I are living in our desire to follow Christ is moving us every day, every hour, one step closer to an arrival that is akin to a shipwrecked sailor or to the arrival that is akin to the abundant entry of an athlete who has excelled. Where are you? How about this past week? Abundant entry or shipwrecked on the shore?
Readiness is an evidence of continuance. And no genuine Christian, no true Christian, will make a study to learn, for example, how forgetful of the things of Christ he or she may be and still be accepted. “Well, what is the least I can do and still get in?” asks somebody. If you find yourself asking that kind of question, you should probably examine yourself to see if you are of the faith. If you find yourself saying, “How safely may I sleep and take my ease and yet not be lost?” then you’re asking the wrong questions. On the contrary, every true believer will be anxious not simply to maintain their ground but actually to gain more and more ground. The relatively contemporary song puts it quite straightforwardly when the writer says,
I’m [treading] on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still [singing] as I’m [heaven-]bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Or, if you like, in the devotional of Oswald Chambers, the true believer who is serious about continuing is saying, “I want to give ‘my utmost for his highest.’ I’m not content here simply to amble along. I don’t want to be caught up just in the rut of indifference. I want to be the kind of individual who is making every effort, straining every sinew, by the enabling of Christ, to make it safely to the tape, to run right through to the end.”
Now, if we’re going to do this, it is imperative that we stay on the lookout. The Bible makes frequent reference to the fact that we’re to be watchful even as we’re waiting. We’re to be watching, in the same way as a sailor would stand up in that crow’s nest or whatever you call it and would be looking out for icebergs—at least in an earlier day, before they had all of the sonic and radar equipment. And so the person would be up there in the freezing cold of the night as the oceangoing liner made its journey across the Atlantic or whatever it was, and his distinct responsibility was to make sure that he saw at the earliest moment anything that may cause peril to himself and to the other members on board—in the same way as a soldier would take the watch of the night to stand up and guard on the parapets of the city walls in order to look out to protect the city dwellers from the advance of the enemy.
If you and I are continuing and therefore are seeking to put ourselves in a position of readiness, then we will be taking seriously the exhortation of Scripture to stay awake and to stay alert. That’s how Peter puts it in 1 Peter 5, remember? He says, “Be sober” and “be vigilant,” or, “Stay awake, stay alert.” Why? “Because your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, and he’s looking for somebody to devour.” Coming from the pen of Peter, that in itself is quite remarkable when you think about it, because he had to learn that lesson himself the hard way, did he not? Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane urges upon his disciples the importance of their watchfulness and their prayerfulness, and he says, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” They neither watch, nor do they pray, and they fall foul of temptation. And so will you and I.
We, if we are to continue to be ready, need to be constantly on our guard against everything that is contrary to watchfulness. Now, we could go through a long list. I’m not going to. It’s not the time to do that. But let me just give you four words that I wrote in my notes.
You want to continue? Then you’re going to have to deal with laziness. Laziness. “As a door turns on its hinges, so turns a lazy man upon his bed.” The late Alan Redpath used to say, “You will never get any victory in your Christian life until you get blanket victory.” I heard him say that half a dozen times before I understood what he was on about. And what he was talking about was getting out of your bed in the morning. And he said, “If the blankets can defeat you, then anything can defeat you.” And laziness is a sore trial in every endeavor of life, and not least of all in our spiritual pilgrimage. You or I have never begun to take seriously the call to readiness and the call to continue if we are going to allow, in the affairs of our souls, a spirit of lethargy and laziness.
The second word is worldliness. Worldliness. The iceberg of laziness. The iceberg of worldliness. Worldliness is not six things on a list. To be worldly is to think about everything absent the mind of Christ. It is to begin to allow the generation in which we live so to invade our thinking that we think in the way in which the unbeliever thinks rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we read the same newspapers, but we read them with a different perspective. But the iceberg is there. And if you allow yourself in songs and in literature, in your approach to the arts, in your engagement in the scientific world, in whatever it is that is part and parcel of your routine existence—if you allow yourself to be increasingly influenced by god[less] thinking, it will be a detriment to your continuance and therefore to your readiness.
The third word is sensuality. Sensuality. Which is, of course, really the word to describe the pervasive influence of our contemporary culture; it is just almost totally sensual. It’s virtually impossible to buy a magazine, to watch a television program, to do anything at all without the invasion—the direct, offensive invasion—of our hearts and minds. And it is a sore trial. It is the absolute opposite of everything that smacks of purity and of holiness.
And also a spirit that is just one of inconsideration—namely, that my words and my actions, my heart and my thoughts, are not dealt with in a consideration of what the Bible has to say, but I’m just inconsiderate in relationship to it all.
And when I allow laziness to combine with worldliness and sensuality and a spirit of inconsideration, then I will find myself very quickly in what we used to refer to, at least in the old days, as a backslidden condition. And to slide back is, of course, the exact opposite of to head on. And tonight, the fact of the matter is that those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ are either going backwards or we’re going forwards, but we’re not standing still. For there is no standing still. For to try and stand still when the Bible bids us move forward is actually to take a step backwards, even if we don’t move.
And you know what is the great mama of all of this? Procrastination: “Tomorrow. We’re going to deal with all of this tomorrow. Thanks for sharing that with us this evening, Pastor. That was very helpful, and tomorrow we’re going to get at it. We’re going to be ready starting tomorrow.” The devil’s favorite word is tomorrow. If an issue is worth addressing, it’s worth addressing now. If a matter needs to be dealt with, it needs to be dealt with now. It’s not a consideration of tomorrow. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. We do not know if we will see the light of tomorrow. Therefore, if I’m going to be continuing, I’m going to be trusting. I’m going to be obeying. I’m going to be following. I want to live in my duty; I want to die at my post.
I would find it hard to understand how somebody could convince me that, believing and trusting in Christ, they were continuing and yet remained unbaptized. “Oh yes, I believe in Christ, I want to continue in Christ, I want to follow Christ, I want to trust Christ, and I want to obey Christ. But I will not be getting baptized any time in the near future.” Does that strike you as contradictory?
Well, let me go, then, to the second, or to the first point, which is now the second point, and it’s the last point. What does it mean to be ready? It means that the believer needs to be the continuing one, and the unbeliever needs to become the converted one. Because until a man or a woman is converted, then they are not ready to meet Christ. And Jesus says, “You need to be ready, because the Son of Man is going to come at an hour you do not expect him.” Well, if I am unconverted, then I am not ready to meet him.
How awful to think of being hurried with my sins unatoned for, unpardoned, into the presence of the one against whom I have offended so deeply! What an embarrassment to be ushered into the presence of Jesus—he who has loved with an everlasting love, he who has extended his entreaty to me, he who has died upon the cross to bear sin—and all of a sudden to be brought face-to-face with Christ! What are you going to say then, unbeliever? “Oh, well, I was just getting round to it. I’d actually made up my mind that sometime in the next few months I was going to deal with this, you know.” It will be far more tragic than it will be embarrassing to meet Christ unprepared.
You say, “Well, that is a rather uncomfortable feeling, and I don’t like to feel uncomfortable.” Well, I sympathize with you. I don’t particularly like to feel uncomfortable myself. But I do want to tell you this: you should beware of anybody who seeks to make you feel comfortable in those circumstances. Because the gospel is God’s means of saving sinners. And therefore, it is as a sinner—aware of the fact that I’m guilty, that I am helpless, that I am unable to rectify my circumstances—that I may then come to Christ and trust in what he has done on my behalf. I say again to you: beware of everyone who would try and ease your circumstances in this respect.
Let me give you just a little quote from Pilgrim’s Progress, which you ought to read at least once a year. It’s one of the old books that will qualify as one of the old books after you’ve read three new books. I can’t read it all, because I don’t have the time to read it all. If I did, I would read you the encounter between Christian and Worldly-Wiseman.
You remember how this story goes: that he has met Evangelist, and Evangelist has said to him, “Do you want to be rid of that burden on your back?”
And Pilgrim says, “Oh yes, I most dreadfully do.”
And then he says, “Well, do you see yonder wicket gate?”
And he says, “Yes.”
And he says, “Then make your way to that wicket gate, and when you get there, you will find the one and be pointed to the one who is able to bear the burden on your back.”
And so he begins to make his journey there, and as he makes his journey, he meets this gentleman called Mr. Worldly-Wiseman.
And he says to him, “How did you get that big burden on your back?”
And Pilgrim says, “I realized I had the burden on my back by reading the book that’s in my hand.”
“Oh, yes,” says Worldly-Wiseman, essentially, “you shouldn’t go reading that book. I mean, you start reading that book, you’re going to get yourself all kinds of burdens. You’ll start to believe all kinds of things. The last thing you want to do is to read that book. And where are you heading?”
“Oh, well I’m going over to the wicket gate.”
“Well, why are you going over there?”
“Well, because I met the man Evangelist, and he told me that’s where I need to go.”
“Oh, come now,” says Worldly-Wiseman, “you don’t need to be doing that. First, you don’t need to be reading the book, and secondly, you don’t need to go on that journey. I can help you to get the burden off your back far easier than this. In fact, you needn’t really be concerned about it at all.”
Which doctor would you prefer, quite honestly? The one who gave you the honest diagnosis and said, “You know, you have a tumor here, it is terminal, and there is something we can do about it, and we need to do it immediately”? Or would you rather go to the doctor who said, “You know, you’re absolutely fine. You don’t have a problem at all. Go out and go and play a game of squash and have a pleasant evening.” Well, the one would make you feel very comfortable. The other would make you feel very uncomfortable. The one who made you feel uncomfortable, having your best interest at heart, may preserve your life. The one who made you feel comfortable was actually consigning you to an early death.
Beware Mr. Wiseman. If I’m unconverted, I’m unready. Are you converted?
Can I take the final moments to speak particularly to a certain kind of individual? I want to speak to the person who may well have been coming around Parkside for some time, or you’ve been going to another church, or you’ve been listening to the gospel over a period of time, and you’re still unconverted. You have been consistently warned that there is a judgement that is coming that you’re going to face; you have been told that readiness is an absolute essential, that you have a rendezvous with Jesus to keep; you have been urged to escape for your life; and yet you remain unconverted. It’s not that you’re ignorant. You’re far from ignorant. You know the way of salvation. You’ve actually been able to share it with other people when in certain circumstances you’ve found yourself in a coffee shop, and they’ve been asking about the nature of Christianity, and you’ve been able to lay out the whole gospel plan. It is a gospel plan that you know, but it is not a gospel plan that you know by personal transformation, because you’re unconverted. It’s not that you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, because you read the Bible and you listen to the Bible. You hear it taught from the pulpit with regularity, and you have the experience on a routine basis, on account of your friends and loved ones urging you to trust in Christ, and still tonight you are unconverted. You are therefore unready to meet Jesus.
Now, here’s my question for you: Do you believe that you are ever going to be ready? Do you believe that you’re ever going to be ready? And if you do, why do you think you’re going to be ready? Consider all the urgings you have resisted, all the sermons you have heard without response. Aren’t the probabilities set against you being converted and therefore ready? Those of you who can coolly listen to the exhortation of the Bible, to the call of the gospel, to the preaching of the cross and consistently resist the urgings and the promptings of the Spirit of God by the Word of God are probably not going to be converted. Have you considered that?
Why would it be so? Not because of any want of God’s mercy, not because of any lack in the merits of Christ, not because of any absence of warnings and promises, and certainly not because your sins are too great to be forgiven—and not because you will seek Christ and be rejected. For none of those reasons! Why, then? Because nothing to this point in your life suggests that you’re going to get ready, because you have never got ready so far. And you’ve been asked to get ready, you’ve been warned to get ready, you have been urged to get ready, you have understood the necessity of being ready, you are convinced that readiness is an urgency, and yet you are unready! Therefore I say to you, it is probable that you will never be ready!
What do you think is going to happen next that hasn’t happened yet that will bring about a condition of readiness? A better sermon? A more urgent warning? A more gracious entreaty? A more striking call? Consider your circumstances, unbeliever. Everything about you suggests that you are going to remain careless, you are going to remain unbelieving, and you are going to remain impenitent. I’ve been reading again this week the Confessions of Augustine, and at one point early on, he says, “What crooked paths I trod! What dangers threatened my soul when it rashly hoped that by abandoning you it would find something better!” And that’s where you live your life! “Oh, I know that he says that. I know that you care about that. I know you’ve urged me in that way. But I want to abandon you. And I think if I can abandon you, I will find something better.” Then it doesn’t matter who says anything to you. It doesn’t matter what you hear, it doesn’t matter where you go; you remain faithless, you remain unbelieving, and you remain impenitent.
That this is a probability should be obvious even to yourself. Consider your misspent years. Consider the shortness and the uncertainty of the time that remains in your life. Consider the entreaties that you’ve rejected, the warnings you’ve ignored, the invitations that you have disregarded. And I ask you again: What better opportunities can you expect later than you have enjoyed to this point in your life? The longer you listen and ignore the voice of entreaty, you harden your heart, you distance yourself from these offers of mercy, and it becomes more and more probable, humanly speaking, that you will be overtaken by death in an unready state than it is that you will ever repent, be converted, and be ready for eternity.
You find this a little harsh? It is exceedingly probable. And therefore, you have every reason to fear. But thanks be to God, it is not certain; and therefore, you have no reason to despair.
My dear unbelieving friend, if this should strike you wrong, then prove me wrong by waking from your self-indulgent lethargy and casting yourself upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sinners. Or remain unready, and so increase the probability you’ve just considered.
Can we end with Augustine? What a story the life of Augustine is! His mother prays for him, longs for him. He makes a hash of it left, right, and center. And when you get to book 8 of the Confessions, he’s gone through all manner of things—most things that we would want to never have our children experience. And he finds himself in this garden, and he says, “I felt that I was still the captive of my sins, and in my misery I kept crying ‘How long shall I go on saying “tomorrow, tomorrow”?’” See? Procrastination. “Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?” That’s the question.
I was asking myself these questions …. [And] whether it was a voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain ‘Take it and read, take it and read.’ At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and to read the first passage on which my eyes should fall. …
… I seized it and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites. I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled. …
[And] then we went in and told my mother, who was overjoyed. And when we went on to describe how it had all happened, she was jubilant with triumph and glorified you, who are powerful enough, and more than powerful enough, to carry out your purpose beyond all our hopes and dreams. For she saw that you had granted her far more than she used to ask in her tearful prayers and plaintive lamentations. You converted me to yourself.
Are you ready? Are you converted? Are you continuing?
Father, we long that beyond the voice of a mere man we might hear your voice, that we might be able to say,
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, [thou] weary one,
Lay down your head upon my breast,”
and that we might be able to say,
I came to Jesus as I was,
… Weary, [and] worn, and sad;
[And] I found in him a resting place,
And he has made me glad.
Father, I pray that you will accomplish your purposes in our lives—that those of us who are playing with sin, who are growing increasingly inconsiderate and lazy, that we might be arrested and that we might say, “As of tonight, by God’s enabling, it is now to be my utmost for his highest.” For those of us who know it all in our heads and can rehearse it in the hearing of others but remain unconverted by the truth we are able to describe, woo us by your love, warn us by the awfulness of eternity spent in hell, but do not let us continue in our spirit of procrastination. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 1 Timothy 3:6 (NIV 1984).
 Colossians 2:6 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 3:15 (paraphrased). See verses 10–15.
 2 Peter 1:11 (NIV 1984). See verses 5–11.
 See 2 Peter 1:11 (KJV).
 Johnson Oatman Jr., “I’m Pressing on the Upward Way (Higher Ground)” (1898).
 1 Peter 5:8 (KJV).
 1 Peter 5:8 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 26:41 (paraphrased).
 Proverbs 26:14 (paraphrased).
 Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), 132.
 Augustine, Confessions, 177–78.
 Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (1846).
Copyright © 2023, 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.