Text: Luke 12:35-48 [New Year’s Eve]
I don’t know about your household, but we pretty much have the tornado routine down pat. When the emergency weather radio sounds its alarm, I drop whatever I’m doing, and go look at the radio lights and scrolling message. Sometimes it is just a flash flood or thunderstorm warning, which means it’s time for everyone to come indoors.
At other times it is a “tornado watch.” That calls for more serious attention. I push the large button on the emergency radio and listen for a couple of minutes. If the watched area include Warrick, Vanderburgh, Henderson, or Union counties, then I’ll tune the T.V. into the weather report, and tell the family we are under a “tornado watch.”
Tornado watches can put a real damper on your plans for the evening, but they can be lifesavers, so I don’t ignore them. It is not unusual for the tornado watch to last for three or four hours. I’ll do other stuff indoors, but keep my ears tuned to reports on the radio or T.V. When the storm front approaches, I watch the T.V. carefully. Will it go to “tornado warning,” and everyone needs to head to shelter “right now,” or will the storm pass without incident? You never know in advance. You just have to keeping watching and paying attention until it’s over and the “All clear” signals are sent.
The Midwestern phenomenon of the “tornado watch” is a good analogy to what our Lord told his disciples in our Gospel lesson. He said: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet . . . You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” In other words, just like during a tornado watch, the believer needs to constantly be alert and ready for Jesus’ return. Jesus could return this evening, tomorrow, ten years from now, one hundred years from now, or a thousand years from now. Nobody knows when this will be, except our heavenly Father—and HE is not saying when. I guarantee that your emergency weather radio will not give you any warnings either!
In every generation, some false prophet or deluded preacher rises up and tells the world that he knows when Jesus will return. This happens in spite of our text, verse 40, where Jesus said he will return when we don’t expect him. It happens in spite of Matthew 24:36 in which Jesus said that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
This past month, Harold Camping, a former Christian Reformed pastor in the San Francisco Bay Area, died at the age of 92. Rev. Camping became world-famous for his prediction that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011, whereupon believers would be taken up to heaven. He said there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world. He had previously predicted that Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994. Both predictions were proven wrong, as is obvious!
In the 19th century, a former Baptist preacher named William Miller studied the Bible and concluded that Jesus would return on March 2, 1844. Our congregation was only three years old at the time. That predicted date passed, and the disappointed followers of Rev. Miller gathered to organize the first of several Adventist denominations. Rev. Charles Taze Russell, a former Congregationalist minister, made a similar calculation later in that century, predicting our Lord’s return in 1914. Although that year brought the First World War, Jesus did not return, and Russell’s disappointed followers organized the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Returning to our Gospel lesson, in verse 41, Peter asked Jesus, “Do these words apply to us or to everyone?” Jesus’ answer indicates that his warning to “Keep watch” applies to everyone. But it has special application to the apostles and ministers of the church. The ministers of the Christian church know God’s will, because God has revealed it clearly in Scripture. So they will not be able to plead ignorance on Judgment Day, if they fail to do their Lord’s will (verse 47). And if they use their office to abuse people, Jesus will cut them to shreds and send them to hell with the unbelievers (verse 46).
How does Jesus’ command to “Keep watch” work out in everyday life? If you compare it to a “tornado watch,” it makes lots of sense. During a tornado watch, the head of the house has to multi-task. He or she has to pay attention to what is going on outside, while also washing the dishes, working on the car in the garage, paying the bills, or whatever needs to be done.
Believers who “keep watch” are multi-taskers. They keep in mind the imminent return of Christ, and all that implies, while at the same time holding down a job, taking care of a family, going to school, making plans for the future, and whatever else needs to be done in the regular course of life. Jesus doesn’t want you to give up your jobs, careers, families, homes, etc. and wait for him in the wilderness. He wants you to attend to all the tasks of your various vocations, while at the same time keeping the end of all things in mind.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the event for which the final day is named—Judgment! Jesus teaches us that when he returns “he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32; cf. Revelation 20:11-15).
Everyone in history will stand before Christ on that Day of Judgment. How will Jesus determine who will be saved and who will be damned? The Bible uses the term “justified” to describe those persons who will be saved, i.e., who will be declared innocent of all sins by Christ the Judge. The saved will not be “justified” by their good works, but solely by faith in Christ, which faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism. Saint Paul explains “We have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
When believers “keep watch” for Christ’s return, they can rest assured that they will be saved through faith in Christ’s merits, his precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. “Keeping watch,” then, is not for us a matter of fear and trembling, as may happen during a tornado watch, but is a matter of confidence, hope, and joy, because we know that our Savior loves us and will be coming soon to take us home with him.
In such confidence, hope, and joy we end this year, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.