by Rev. David Holwick
This week I visited a local man who is in jail. He is charged with theft because he stole some tools and a can of gas. It seems awfully foolish to spend two years in jail for junk. Apparently he knew a man who spent six months each year in Florida. Unfortunately, all the thief’s friends also knew the man spent half a year in Florida and they got to the house first and cleaned it out. If the owner had known this, he would have vacationed in Fresno, Ohio, [a nearby town] and been home every night.
It must be very unnerving to be robbed. You take your security for granted, then in a flash you realize how vulnerable you really are. We never seem to be prepared for the unexpected. It something you should get used to.
Unexpectedness is one of the keys of the Christian life because someday, maybe in our day, Jesus Christ is going to return. The Second Coming is one of the greatest themes in the Bible. When Jesus was ascending into heaven after being with his disciples, angels told them;
"This same Jesus ... will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11)
Someday a thief may catch you off guard - it happens to millions of people even in small towns like ours. But this is nothing compared to being caught off guard by Jesus. There is no way to predict when it will happen, even if you study prophecy 24 hours a day. You cannot predict it but you can be prepared for it. In verses 45 to 51 of Matthew 24, Jesus gives another illustration, or parable, to emphasize the importance of being prepared.
The master of the house is going on a journey. We are not told the details. The master leaves his household in charge of a servant. As the head servant, he would take care of the other workers and see that everything runs smoothly. There are two possibilities: the servant may do a good job. He acts responsibly and sees that his duties are fulfilled. His master will reward him when he gets back and give him greater responsibilities. Or, the servant can be a jerk. When the cat is away, the mice will play. He takes advantage of the situation, abuses his temporary authority and generally goofs off. He will not be rewarded - but more on this later.
Everyone knows that Jesus is not talking about employer–employee relations. Here he is talking about Christians. Jesus is the master who has gone away and we are the servants who have been left in charge of his kingdom. What kind of servant are you?
Practically everyone here thinks they have a relationship with God. It may not be very deep but it’s there. You believe in Jesus but how are you serving him? Too many Christians are like the wicked servant. He made two fatal mistakes. First, he lived under a false assumption. In verse 48 he says:
"My master is staying away a long time"
I know what it is to live under this assumption. When I was a kid my parents had to go to lots of parties so my dad, who was in the Army, would get promoted. At first they stuck us in the base nursery or with a babysitter. As we got older we were allowed to police ourselves. They would tell us where they were going, how to contact them and about when they would get home. We were under strict instructions not to mess up the house (we would stand there like little angels – Yes, mommy, Yes Daddy). We watched them drive off down the street till they disappeared. Then the fun began. Our friends came over, we ransacked the kitchen and played Olympic gymnastics on the furniture. Then suddenly we’d hear a car come up the driveway and that chilling knowledge that our folks had come home early.
Jesus hasn’t come back for a very long time now. Many consider the Second Coming to be nothing more than a myth. Think of the generations who have come and gone. Just remember the warning in 2 Peter 3:9:
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
It’s a fatal mistake to think that Christ won’t return in your lifetime. Back in the 60’s and 70’s the Second Coming was fashionable. Hal Lindsey’s "The Late Great Planet Earth" sold tens of millions of copies. I think it resonated because society was in such turmoil – race riots, Vietnam, Watergate. The foundations seemed to be shaken and the Second Coming was a plausible hope. But now things are calmer, more prosperous. Our nation has much less turmoil (not everyone is OK but most are). At times like this the Second Coming seems passé. But don’t count on it - it will be a time just like this when the Second Coming will be set in motion. Matthew 24:38 mentions average activities, nothing dramatic. Then it will be too late.
The second fatal mistake of the wicked servant was to live as if God wasn’t looking. He was abusive of other servants. According to verse 49, he hung around drunks and low-lifes. It’s interesting that Jesus mentions drunkenness. Several other passages, like 1 Thessalonians 5, make the same association. I think it is because alcohol dulls the senses. It helps you to forget your troubles though it won’t do a thing to solve them. It’s not a responsible way to approach life. By now most of you have heard of the two recent accidents in our area. One young man fell out of a truck and lost his life. Another fell off a motorcycle and lost his leg. What you may not know is that both had apparently been to the same party on CR 6, up past Jack Randall’s bridge. There was a wild party, lots of booze, several were hurt in fights till the police broke it up.
You can live for the good times or you can live for Jesus Christ. Such a person would be the good servant. He was prepared for the return of his master. What can a Christian do to be prepared? Part of it is knowing the signs of the times, as Jesus put it. Be aware of the prophetic events the Bible talks about like events in the Mideast and so on.
Knowing the signs is important but it’s not enough because the final details are hidden and no key or timetable can unlock them. The Bible promises it. Jesus tells us what is more important than knowing prophecy. It’s how you live. That’s the best way to be prepared. Jesus says the good servant is given his instructions. Verse 46 says plainly;
"It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns."
Nothing spectacular – he just does what he’s supposed to do. Duties of Christians at home, work, Sunday school... Being faithful to your spouse [etc.]
In 1 Thessalonians 5:4 says godly Christians will not be caught unawares. A responsible God-honoring lifestyle is your best preparation for the Second Coming.
Today’s passage has a very sobering element. Both men are called servants; one is good, one is wicked, yet they both have the same status. A servant is a common term for a Christian in the Bible. So Jesus is not talking about Christians as opposed to godless pagans. He is aiming it at consistent Christians and backsliding Christians. Non-believers are not in the picture. Because of this, some people teach that this passage means faithful Christians will be Raptured and backslidden ones will not. The backslidden ones may make it into God’s kingdom in the end but they’ll have to suffer terribly.
If that is true, it gives you something to think about. Imagine being left behind. All your friends are being taken up and you’re screaming, "Hey, what about me??" It would be pretty scary but I don’t think is going to be like this. Jesus never says backslidden Christians are not raptured. What does he say? According to verse 51, they are cut in pieces, thrown in with the hypocrites and they weep and gnash their teeth. This is the image of eternal Hell, nothing else. There’s no second chance.
Does the unfaithful servant lose his salvation? This passage is one of the strongest on this issue. I believe the key term is "hypocrites." Jesus applied it to religious people who lived like God wasn’t important to them. They were phonies. They do a good job of fooling other people – they are fooling themselves as well. You might say they are not really backslidden Christians, but religious-appearing pagans. Jesus never really knew them. Only genuine believers will go with God. Will you be one of them?
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