These are unsettling times. The days are filled with strife and confusion. War could break out at any moment. Our government says that terrorists are among us – and we know it. There are tremors shaking the foundation of the planet as nation rises up against nation.

Many have grown apathetic towards the cause of Christ. Two weeks ago I talked to a man who was a missionary in Chile for 25 years. I asked him, “What is the greatest difference between the people of Chile and what you see now that you are back in America?” He said, “In Chile you can read the Word of God on the street and draw a crowd of 200 people, but in America people don’t even listen to you – they don’t care.”

Persecution and enslavement of Christians is rampant around the world. In the Sudan, Christian children are kidnapped and sold as slaves. In Vietnam it is against the law to own a Bible. In China, those who go to worship go in secret because of the persecution that has taken place for decades. In many countries in the Middle East, sharing the Gospel will get you a prison sentence complete with hard labor or isolation.

Back in 1999, just before the stroke of midnight that would bring in a new millennium, many were wondering if it was going to be the end of the world. Magazine covers mused about the potentially catastrophic day. TV preachers told us to get ready. Survivalist tried to convince us to buy generators, water, and “trail mix” to prepare for cataclysmic events that would unfold. Sermons were shared supposing that it could be the big one. Y2K was to usher in the return of Jesus and the streets were buzzing with expectation and excitement for some, unrest and anxiety for others.

Then the dawn of 2000 came. The sun came up on the brand new morning and we still had electricity, our water ran as smoothly as it did in 1999, there were no hoards of hungry marauders roaming the streets to find their next meal, and the sky hadn’t split with the coming of the Son of Man in all of His glory and majesty. So we went back to work. We went back to life as we knew it before the electricity filled the air with apocalyptic talk of His coming and the end of the world. We went back to not giving a thought to the coming Day of the Lord, the Judgment Seat of Christ, and Last Days. We went back to living in the rut of routine, tuning in the television rather than the voice of the Lord, and we went back to sleep – to the slumber of our souls. Back in 1999, many were getting ready to meet their Maker, but today?I hope we’ll all be ready.

That great American theologian, Bob Dylan, sang long, long ago – “The times they are a changin'” – and boy are they ever. Many years ago, the Church looked for the soon coming of Jesus Christ with great expectation and it colored every fiber of their lives. They lived with passion and purpose because they believed that Jesus could come at any moment and they wanted to be found faithful when their Savior returned. Alexander Maclaren once wrote,

The primitive church thought more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. The early Christians were looking not for a cleft in the ground called a grave but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory. They were watching not for the undertaker but for the uppertaker. (Alexander Maclaren 1826-1910)

Our thoughts have turned elsewhere. Our hearts are longing for something more, something new, and something novel to lift us out of the mire and muck of our humdrum existence, but if we were asked to make a list of what it is that we are longing for – the coming of Christ wouldn’t make the Top 10 for most people today. Jesus encouraged His followers by saying,

42 “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. (Matthew 24:42-44 NIV)

When Jesus said, “Keep watch,” He used a very expressive word that deserves a deeper look. The Greek word for “watch,” means, “To watch, to give strict attention to, be cautious, active, or to take heed lest through remission and indolence some destructive calamity suddenly overtake one.” The word appears 23 times in the New Testament and in every case you get the sense of the urgency and importance of paying attention. The Louw-Nida Lexicon of the Greek language says about the word, “In some languages “watch” in Matthew 24:43 may be rendered as ‘his eyes would be open’ or ‘he would surely see what was happening.'”

Let’s take a minute and look at some of the other places in God’s Word where we find this urgent-filled little word. In Matthew 25, Jesus told a parable to illustrate how important it is to be ready. Jesus began His story by saying, “On that day the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the Bridegroom.” Five of the virgins were prepared – they had oil for their lamps, but the other five weren’t prepared – their lamps had grown dry and they didn’t take any oil with them. At the end of the story Jesus exhorts His listeners by saying,

13″Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:13 NIV)

In The Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes about Paul sending for the Elders of Ephesus. When they arrived Paul had something important on his heart to share with them. He used the same word that we are studying when he said to the Elders,

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31 NIV)

In 1 Peter 5:8 the readers of Peter’s letter were encouraged to be “alert” to the plots and schemes of the devil. Peter wrote to them saying,

8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)

In the book of Revelation we find the letters to the seven churches. Among the list of churches we find the Lord’s words of exhortation to the church in Sardis. Take a look at Revelation 3:1-3 and look how the Lord seeks to jar the members of the church from their slumber so that they might “Wake up.”

1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Revelation 3:1-3 NIV)

Over and over again in Scripture we find the Lord urging us to “Wake up!” We are to live life with our eyes wide open so that we will not be led into false teaching and so that we will watch for His glorious appearing at the set time.

There are many people today, even many Bible teachers, who downplay the significance of the Bible’s teaching concerning the return of Jesus. The skeptics say, “Don’t you know that throughout history the followers of Jesus have been looking for His return, but they have all been sorely disappointed?” The scoffers and skeptics of our day are no different from the scoffers and skeptics who spoke with such ridicule and cynicism during the days of the early followers of Jesus. In 2 Peter 3 we read,

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4 NIV)

There are some things that the Bible may be unclear about, but the return of Jesus is not one of them. John MacArthur wrote in a sermon he taught on “The Certainty of The Second Coming.”

Of the 46 Old Testament prophets, less than ten of them speak of His first coming, 36 of them speak of His Second Coming. There are over 1500 Old Testament passages that refer in some way to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. One out of every 25 New Testament verses directly refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. For every time the Bible mentions the first coming of Christ, it mentions the Second Coming eight times. For each time the atonement is mentioned is once, the Second Coming is mentioned twice. Jesus refers to His Second Coming 21 times and over 50 times we are told to be ready for His return. And so this is a major theme of Scripture and I only throw those numbers at you not so you’ll remember them but so that you get a feeling for the breadth of the prophetic word referring to the Second Coming. (John MacArthur. “The Certainty of the Second Coming.” Revelation 1:7-8. http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/66-3.HTM)

Jesus taught about His return for His own on many occasions, but none were so thorough as His sermons in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 8. All three of these chapters tell the same story for us. Matthew and Luke tell us that some of the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him when the events would come that would mark the end. In Mark we learn which of the disciples came to Jesus in private: Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to Jesus that day and His response to them was startling. Take a look at Matthew 24 with me and let’s read the second half of the chapter together.

23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “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. (Matthew 24:23-44 NIV)

Jesus told His followers to not be deceived by those who would claim to be the Messiah. He said to keep watch, live with your eyes wide open, expect Him at an unexpected time, and watch for the signs of His coming.

I would suggest to you today that many folks who lived through Y2K with great expectation are now slumbering, slouching in their pews wiling away the days in complacency, but the Lord insists that we keep our eyes on the skies!

Living in the moment and living with expectation for Christ’s return is not the same as climbing a mountain somewhere and waiting for His arrival. It is not an escapist’s ladder out of this life filled with its responsibilities or an excuse to do nothing since He is coming back anyway. Living each moment with the assurance that our blessed Lord is on His way will color all of life for you and me. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

Martha Snell Nicholson was a woman who suffered tremendously throughout her life. She suffered from four incurable diseases, struggled with intense pain for more than thirty-five years, was an invalid, and was bound to her bed. Yet, from her bed, Martha wrote some of the most stirring visions of her heavenly home, her triumphant Savior, and the joy she experienced in each new day as she lived with the expectancy of the coming of her King. Listen to a sampling of her writing.

The best part is the blessed hope of his soon coming. How I ever lived before I grasped that wonderful truth, I do not know. How anyone lives without it these trying days I cannot imagine. Each morning I think, with a leap of the heart, “He may come today.” And each evening, “When I awake I may be in glory.” Each day must be lived as though it were to be my last, and there is so much to be done to purify myself and to set my house in order. I am on tiptoe with expectancy. There are no more grey days — for they’re all touched with color; no more dark days — for the radiance of His coming is on the horizon; no more dull days, with glory just around the corner; and no more lonely days, with His footsteps coming ever nearer, and the thought that soon, soon, I shall see His blessed face and be forever through with pain and tears is the joy that awaits. (Martha Snell Nicholson)

Do you see how living with the expectancy of the coming of the Lord can lead to an overwhelming sense of purpose and enthusiasm about living life? There are many places in God’s Word where the biblical authors write about the coming of the Lord and then follow it with, “since this is going to happen then we ought?” Turn with me to 2 Peter 3 and see what I am talking about. Peter is speaking about the return of the Lord when he writes,

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12 NIV)

Another example of how an awareness of Christ’s return leads to action on our behalf is found in 1 Thessalonians 5 where Paul writes,

1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 NIV)

Paul says that we are not in darkness so that the coming of the Lord should not surprise us like a thief. We know the promise of the Lord. In Matthew 24, Jesus said pay attention to the signs of the times, live with your eyes wide open. When you read Jesus’ sermon and you list the signs that will be so prevalent then you have to know that the coming of the Lord is closer now than it was when we began worship this morning.

We must pay close attention to the signs, but don’t become so entangled in trying to figure out the signs and the time of the Lord’s return that it keeps you from living your life for His glory in this day.

There was once a lady who was distracted because she misread the signs before her eyes and read things into events that were unfolding. Let me tell you the story. See there were two gas company servicemen, a senior training supervisor and a young trainee who were out checking meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their truck at the end of the alley and worked their way to the other end. At the last house a woman cooking dinner was looking out her kitchen window. She watched the two men as they checked the gas meter of her neighbor and then moved on to her gas meter.

When the two men finished the meter check, the senior supervisor challenged his younger co-worker to a footrace down the alley back to the truck to prove that an older guy could outrun a younger one. As they came running up to the truck, they realized the lady from that last house was huffing and puffing right behind them. They stopped immediately and asked her what was wrong. Gasping for breath, with her hands on her knees, she replied, “When I see two gas men running as hard as you two were, I figured I’d better run too!”

Now there is a lady who was paying attention?but she misread the signs. You and I are to pay attention, to make sure our house is in order, and to patiently wait with expectation the soon coming of our King. Remember Jesus’ words that we read in the beginning of our study? Read with me once again from Matthew 24:42-44.

42 “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. (Matthew 24:42-44 NIV)

Unsettling times will undo us if we do not have the peace of knowing that we have been claimed as God’s own. I want to urge you this morning to get your house in order before you leave this sanctuary. If you have never received Jesus as Lord of your life then I want to invite you to take a moment this morning and allow the Lord to search your heart. Allow Him to show you the greatest need you have at this very minute. It isn’t a need for more money to pay your bills. It isn’t a need for more time to get done the things you need to get done. It isn’t the need for physical healing for some ailment or disease that you may have. It isn’t the need for anything more than this?you and I need Jesus. We desperately need the Savior to come into our hearts and make His home as He moves us, changes us, and prepares us for His arrival. Won’t you invite Him in?

I Hope We’ll All Be Ready
Matthew 24:42-44