This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 24:36-51
Sermon prepared by Rev. Ken Vanderploeg, El Paso, TX
If you knew that you only had two months left to live, what would you do? A while back there was a television program that tried to fulfill the dreams of those who were given such a prognosis, providing funds and making the arrangements necessary for those most intimately involved to make someone’s last wish come true. So a ten year old with leukemia was given a three day trip to Disney World in Florida . A woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer was given a trip with her husband to Hawaii . Someone else was reunited with a daughter or a son who had no contact with them for years. Reconciliation needed to happen.
So if you had only a couple of months to live, how would you spend them? Travel the world? Take an Alaskan Cruise? Ride your bike across America ? (A Canadian attempted to wheel his way across Canada in a wheel chair before he died of bone cancer) Climb a famous mountain? Go parasailing? One man recently made his first jump from a plane on his 92 nd birthday. He wants to make the most of his remaining days. What would that mean to you?
A. Our Personal Pleasure and Comfort has Become Our Objective for Life
The American constitution tells us that we have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our culture feeds us with the idea that our pleasure is the whole objective and purpose to our lives. Advertisements sing to us, “You deserve a break today.” Our jobs are viewed as a necessary means (or even a necessary evil) to a prosperous lifestyle. Many will sacrifice time at home with a wife and children to maintain two jobs in order to drive a decent vehicle (or two or three). We need a three stall garage (one stall for the car and two to store all the things we have accumulated), a cabin in the woods or by a lake, and then we need a month of vacation time to spend there. As young people look into their possibilities for a vocation, one of the first questions raised is, “How much will it pay? What are the benefits?” Once on the path to a career, we pray that God will bless our efforts. Few are they who really seek God’s direction and his will for their lives. Few are they who discover, “This is my calling” Few have any idea that someday God will ask for them to give an account for the choices they have made, for how they spent their days, their money, their lives.
The text here from Matthew 24:37-39 says,
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.
B. People Are Ignorant That They Are Not Their Own Master:
People, for the most part, are ignorant that they are not their own master but belong to the God who created them. People prefer to think that they are their own masters and the designers of their own destiny. Many make their plans and work to accomplish their goals for themselves oblivious to the fact that they have very little control of their own lives. There is a bigger picture of events, plans, and goals way beyond our influence. The people in Noah’s day had no idea that their world was about to come to an end. They carried on as if everything was stable, predictable, and secure as when the world was made. But a flood was just around the corner. They were about to be swept away from the face of the earth.
C. We, Like Noah, Ought to Know Better
Only Noah and his family were spared from the disaster because only Noah understood his calling and faithfully submitted to it. Noah knew who was master of the universe, and Noah lived in relationship to his Lord, his King. Genesis 6 reports,
GE 6:8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
9 This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.
What does it mean that Noah walked with God? Did he, like Adam, take walks with God in the park in the early evening hours? Did he have conversations with God like Moses did later on? Or does it mean that Noah sought God with all his heart and as a result: grew in the knowledge of God’s will with spiritual wisdom and understanding, living a life worthy of God’s name, pleasing him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that he might have great endurance and patience? (Colossians 1:9-11 reduced)
This was Paul’s prayer for the church in Colosse, a pastor’s prayer for his congregation, and I am sure, God’s desire for all who call themselves “Christian.”
Matthew Henry, a well known commentator, states: He walked with God, as Enoch had done before him. He was not only honest, but devout; he walked, that is, he acted with God, as one always under his eye. He lived a life of communion with God; it was his constant care to conform himself to the will of God, to please him, and to approve himself to him. Note, God looks down upon those with an eye of favor who sincerely look up to him with an eye of faith. But, that which crowns Noah’s character is that he was devout, and so he devoted himself to God, in his generation, in that corrupt degenerate age in which his lot was cast. It is easy to be religious when religion is in fashion; but it is an evidence of strong faith and resolution to swim against a stream to heaven, and to appear for God when no one else appears for him: so Noah did, and it is upon record, to his immortal honor. (M atthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible)
Noah’s faithful obedience to God flows out of a heart that is eager to please God, to honor God with all that he is. There is a difference between “doing devotions” and “being devoted.” Those who do their devotions are religious in every way. But once they have done their devotions, they have put in their time. You need not ask any more from them, they have nothing else to give. Those who are devoted have a different attitude.
Here is a real life example: Imagine that you have a son who plays soccer. You put him in a league in which you were promised that there were no Sunday games. But towards the end of the season, the coach informs you that he has entered the team in a tournament and their first game would be Sunday morning. You tell him that you are sorry but that you and your son will not be able to make it to the game. When he asks why, you tell him that you have a different priority for Sunday. You see, you love the Lord and want to spend the day with him and his people. “Oh, sure,” says the coach, “I love God too. I pray to him every day and tell him so. But then I can play soccer too. I don’t see the conflict.” “Yes,” you respond, “but it’s like my relationship to my spouse. It’s one thing to tell her that I love her, and it’s another thing to take out my agenda, write her name across one full day of the week and tell her, ‘On this day, I am yours! This day you will have my undivided attention, and nothing will come between us.”
You see, for the coach, having his “devotional time” was enough. Being totally devoted to God was something unfamiliar to him. He was definitely more devoted to soccer.
God wants our undivided loyalty, our undivided attention. Noah found favor in the eyes of God because of his sincere heart of faith. But, writes Matthew Henry, “distinguishing favors bring about peculiarly strong obligations.”
Did Noah enjoy his work? Were his sons cheerful and thankful for their employment or their benefit plan? Or were they motivated by their devotion and love for God himself, no matter what the cost, so that God’s will became their pleasure, even if the work itself was not so pleasurable?
We don’t read anything in Genesis about their attitudes as they built the ark, only about their actions: Genesis 6:22 says, “ Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
Some of you may feel like you never had any options as far as your vocations and lifestyles go: Perhaps you feel trapped in a situation you can’t see your way out of. You didn’t have many choices; things just happened the way they happened and there wasn’t much you could do to change things. You have limitations that prohibit you from getting the education you would need to qualify you for the task you really would love to do. You may have so many other obligations, financially or on your time, that you are very limited to what you can offer in the areas of ministry or service that you would really love to do. Or you may be physically limited; you can’t spend much time on your feet any more—your back can’t stand the pain of sitting in a certain position for very long, your eye sight is failing and you can’t drive safely so you are home bound. If only this problem could be solved, then you would avail yourself to serve in such and such a capacity.
We may not have control over our circumstances, but even so, we do have a choice of how we bear up under the weight of our responsibilities, or of our limited abilities. Some think that if we have the right attitude towards God that he will spare us from all sorrow or liberate us from the hands of our enemies in every instance. There are those that believe that as we approach the day of Jesus’ return, all of the true believers in Jesus Christ will be raptured from the face of this earth so that we will not have to suffer persecution or martyrdom. This particular text from Matthew 24 is often sited as a proof text to the idea of the rapture. So let me point out to you the words used in this text and you will see how they are often misinterpreted:
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.
Who were taken away in the flood? The unfaithful and unbelieving. Who was left behind? Noah and his family. The idea of being taken away in the Old Testament was always considered a punishment for unrepentant sinners. When the people of Israel disobeyed, they were taken awayinto exile. The language here reflects the same concept. Those who are taken are those who are being punished. Those who remain are those whom the Lord favors.
The chronology of events that will take place described by Jesus in Matthew 24 confirms that our faith will be tried in the last days.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
To stand firm is to remain steadfast in the ways of God. What is the essence of God? Love. God is love! Those who lose faith will diminish in their loving deeds for others, their love will grow cold as they become self centered rather than Christ centered. That is precisely what is described in verses 48-51 of the passage we are looking at today.
But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50
When people begin to look only to their own interests, rather than to the interests of others, we end up with people who abuse others. Responsibilities that were given to them are neglected. Instead, they are off pursuing their own pleasures. Their work becomes a necessary evil. What they really look forward to is “party time” Not much has changed in 2000 years or even in 6000 years. If you asked this servant what he would do if he knew he only had a couple of months to live, you can expect that his answer would be, “Quit my job and live it up!”
But Jesus praises those who live up to their responsibilities, who are faithful to their master and are found doing what they have been called to do until his return.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
Note the task that the wise and faithful servant was given: he was placed in charge of his fellow servants to give them their food at the proper time. When Jesus recommissioned Peter in John 21, three times he exhorts Peter, “Feed my sheep and lambs.” Obviously Jesus is comparing the wise servants with his disciples who are commissioned with the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The foolish, rebellious servants represent the Chief Priests and the Pharisees who are more concerned with acts of devotion (which they are really good at) than with being truly devoted to God. They are more anxious for their own positions of privilege and status than instructing or serving the people with the true essence of the Word of God: God is love, therefore love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
If you asked the wise and faithful servant what he would do if he only had two months to live, how would he spend them? He would surely respond with something like, “Doing what I am doing now, perhaps with greater fervency.”
Jesus Christ gave his life for you! That is loyalty to the end. And if Christ were to return this week, would he find you to be faithfully completing the responsibilities/vocation that he has given you? Are you totally devoted to the Lord? How faithful are you in his service?
So what would you do if you only had two months left to live?
Prayer of Response
O Christ our Savior, who reigns in glory at the right hand of the Father, we glorify your name. You are ruler and judge over all the nations, and you have called us into fellowship to be your servants, citizens of the Kingdom. We have at times forgotten your call upon our lives to be your body, separated and consecrated to be your Royal Priesthood, a holy nation called to declare the wonders of salvation, that those walking in darkness and ignorance might see you living in us and be drawn to the light of your saving love. We get so easily distracted, building our own little kingdoms, seeking our own security, reveling in the things that give us pleasure. We fail to distinguish the difference between a time for devotions and being totally devoted to you. Renew a right spirit with in us, O God, that we might be found faithful to the call which you have placed before us. Do not let our hearts grow cold as the world becomes more hostile towards us and all who seek to honor you. Strengthen our resolve to love you and our neighbor, for your sake. Amen.
Order of Worship
Call to worship: Psalm 84: 1-4
O God, you pour out the spirit of grace and love.
Deliver us from cold hearts and wandering thoughts,
that with steady minds and burning zeal
we may worship you in spirit and truth. Amen.
* Songs of Praise
(Themes of God’s unfailing love & our response of loyalty to him)
#244 “God Himself is With Us”
#185 “I Will Extol You, Oh My God “
#175 ”Unto God Our Savior “
Psalm options: # 9:1,4,9 “Whole Hearted Thanksgiving”
# 11:1,2,3,4 “The Lord is My Strength and My Refuge “
God’s Will for our Lives: Matthew 22:37-39
Prayer of Confession
Forgive us, O Lord, for everything that spoils our home life:
for the moodiness and irritability that make us difficult to live with,
for the insensitivity that makes us careless of the feelings of others,
for the selfishness that makes life harder for others.
Forgive us, O Lord, for everything that spoils our witness for you;
that we so often deny with our lives what we say with our lips;
for the difference between our creed and our conduct,
our profession and our practice;
for any example that makes it easier for people to criticize your church
or for another to sin.
When we think of ourselves and of the meanness
and ugliness and weakness of our lives,
we thank you for Jesus Christ, our Savior, for your bountiful grace.
Grant unto us a true penitence for our sins.
Grant that at the foot of the cross we may find our burdens rolled away.
And so strengthen us by your Spirit that in the days to come
we may live more nearly as we ought.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: #267 “And Can It Be”
Prayer for Illumination:
Our Lord and our God,
now as we hear your Word, fill us with your Spirit.
Soften our hearts that we may delight in your presence.
Sharpen our minds that we may discern your truth.
Shape our wills that we may desire your ways.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:36-51
Sermon: ‘Servants of the King Display Faithfulness’
Prayer of Response
* Songs of Reponse options:
# 285 “O Jesus, I have Promised”
#288 “Take My Life and Let it Be”
#291 “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior”
# 292 “Living for Jesus”
Prayer of Dedication
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we, your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life,
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages.
* Offertory Song: #296 “We Give You But Your Own”
* Benediction: May the grace of Christ, which daily renews us,
and the love of God, which enables us to love all,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which unites us in one body,
make us eager to obey the will of God until we meet again,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. —based on 2 Corinthians 13:13
* Parting Hymn of Praise: #320 Lord Dismiss Us With Your Blessing