Is there a more annoying customer service phrase than, “Your repairman will arrive sometime between the hours of 8am and 4pm”? Whether it’s the plumber coming to fix your sink, the cable guy coming to install your cable, or the dishwasher repairman coming to unshackle you from the nightmare of handwashing your dishes, a vague, unknown arrival time is frustrating, because it forces people to be ready, not just when the repairman arrives, but for that whole time frame! And when you you’d rather be doing pretty much anything else besides waiting for the repairman, it’s annoying, isn’t it? “Why can’t they just give us a precise arrival time?” people complain.
But as annoying as “sometime between 8 and 4” is, think how much worse it’d be if you were told, “Your repairman will arrive…sometime.” No time frame, no best guess; just…“sometime.” It’d be crippling, right? You couldn’t go to work, out to eat, or grocery shopping without worrying, “Will they show up while I’m gone?” You couldn’t be certain you were prepared, unless you never left home—Not very practical, is it?
This weekend we kick off a new church year with the season of Advent. During Advent, we focus on Jesus’ “comings”— his first coming at Christmas, and his second coming at Judgment Day. For 2,000 years, people have wondered, “When will Jesus return at Judgment Day?” Thousands have failed miserably attempting to predict the precise day of Jesus’ return. But here’s an insider secret. You ready? Got your calendars out? If you read your Bible cover to cover, do you know how many times God addresses the exact time of Judgment Day? Once. Here in Matthew 24. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
The only answer Jesus reveals about when he’ll return is… no one knows but God. Basically, “Jesus will arrive…sometime.” No time frame, no best guess. The timing of Jesus’ return is…unknown. Unknown timing usually leaves us feeling anxious or uncertain. But when it comes to the unknown timing of Judgment Day, we have Certainty in the Unknown. However, unknown timing requires preparation! 1.) Preparation with End Times Urgency and 2.) Preparation with End Times Certainty.
Jesus tells us that we 21st century Americans are, pardon the pun, in the same boat as the people of Noah’s day 4,500 years ago. How? Jesus connects the dots. The time of God’s judgment was unknown to them, and the time of Judgment Day is unknown to us also. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away.”
Because of the world’s unchecked wickedness and unbelief, God instructed a righteous man named Noah to build an enormous boat, or “ark”, to save Noah and his family from the flood God was sending to destroy the wicked world. In love, God warned Noah and his peers: “Judgment is coming.” We’d expect Noah’s peers to repent and beg for forgiveness, or at least help him build. But everyone just went on with their lives.
You’d think Noah building a huge ship in the middle of the desert would have tipped them off! The people didn’t lack concern or urgency because they weren’t warned. Noah warned them constantly. They just refused to believe him.
The blindness of their unbelief caused them to be completely unprepared when the destructive floodwaters came. You can picture people’s jaws dropping as they gathered around a meal like every other day; you can hear the panicked screams of wedding guests,—as rain started falling, and springs burst forth from the ground. They believed then…but it was too late.
As I wrote this sermon at Copper Rock, I observed the coffee shop full of customers young and old–drinking coffee, eating lunch, meeting for business, doing homework. And it struck me. How many of these people have heard warnings of Judgment Day, but go about their daily routine without thinking twice about Jesus? How many of them feel no urgency to prepare, because of the blindness of unbelief, just like Noah’s contemporaries? How many will only believe once it’s too late?
Then I felt ashamed, because I remembered that when I started studying this sermon text, I thought, “Judgment Day again? We’ve covered Judgment Day the last 4 weeks, can’t we talk about something else?” Is there anything I should be more excited to talk about than Jesus coming back to free us from a world of sin, death, and sadness? Are there more urgent matters than preparing ourselves for Judgment Day? But we get caught up in the “here and now” of daily life. Because the time is unknown, Judgment Day seems so far off—so unnecessary to think about right now. But is it?
Just like in Noah’s day, God has given us signs to keep Judgment Day on our minds. In the preceding verses of Matthew 24, Jesus describes what the “End Times”—the time preceding Jesus’ return– will look like. He says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of war.” There will be famines and earthquakes.” “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, you will be hated by all nations because of me.” “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” “Many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.” “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But those things aren’t new! These signs of the End of the Age have been visible since Jesus ascended into Heaven. That means this very second, we’re in the End Times. Jesus could return any moment!
That makes our preparation for Judgment Day more urgent, doesn’t it? Kind of like pregnancy. Packing the hospital bag and painting the nursery are far more urgent for mom and dad in week 35 than in week 3, because the baby could arrive any minute. In the same way, we prepare for Jesus’ return more urgently when we understand that “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Jesus could return at any moment, so we need to prepare not with laziness or apathy, but with End Times urgency!
Like a teacher handing out a test which counts for 100% of the students’ grade, and the deadline for the test is “unknown.” But Late submission= automatic failure. Some might be gutsy enough to procrastinate. Some might believe the Prof is bluffing. But wouldn’t the smart student prioritize finishing that test immediately above all else, to ensure they don’t miss the unknown deadline and fail the class? Prepare with urgency.
So, how exactly do we prepare for Judgment Day? Jesus compares it to defending your home from robbers. Obviously, thieves don’t notify homeowners when they’ll be breaking in, or we’d set up “Home Alone” style defense systems to keep them out! But thieves’ arrive when we don’t expect them. So, unless you’re armed and sitting in a chair in front of your door 24/7, how can you be certain you’re prepared?
Enter home security systems! Brinks Home Security uses the slogan, “Always There” for that reason. We can’t always be watching for thieves, but security systems don’t leave home. They keep homes safe, even if the thief comes when people aren’t expecting.
So to be prepared for Jesus’ return, should we spend our whole lives staring at the sky, waiting for Judgment Day? Not very practical! Rather, we need a spiritual “security system” so we’re always prepared for Judgment Day, whether we’re at the office, sitting down for a meal, or asleep in our beds. As Jesus says, “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” That spiritual security system is our faith! If we believe that Jesus is our Savior, then whenever Jesus returns we can be absolutely certain Judgment Day will mean unexpected grace for us, rather than unexpected judgment. Just as he promised Noah, God promises us, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Faith helps us prepare with End Times certainty!
Like the teacher’s unknown test deadline, our deadline is unknown also. But the unknown doesn’t make us uncertain. Although the deadline of Jesus’ return is unknown, our loving Teacher has given us all the answers. He submitted the perfect score on our behalf. He handed in our test with his suffering and death. And he rose to give us End Times certainty that salvation is ours.
But that doesn’t mean we can forget about preparing. If you install the security system, but don’t pay the monthly fees to keep it running, it won’t stop the thieves. If you install a smoke detector, but never change the batteries, it won’t keep your family safe. We have to maintain these security systems, because if we don’t, they fail to keep us secure.
Although we have End Times certainty through Christ, End Times urgency to keep our faith strong and secure remains! That means charging our spiritual batteries by regularly hearing and studying the Word, through which the Holy Spirit strengthens the faith connects us to Jesus! It means “putting aside the deeds of darkness and putting on the armor of light.” End Times urgency means living like you’re already citizens of Heaven, as we await Jesus’ return to take us there!
Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom? Then you’ve probably tripped, or stubbed your toe! It’s difficult to walk in the darkness. Since we live in a world of darkness and sin, we need the light to show us the way to walk! “(God’s) Word is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path.”
If we understand the importance of maintaining our earthly security systems, how much more important is it for us to maintain our spiritual security system as we await Jesus’ return! We do that by staying connected to the Word.
Only God knows when Jesus will return. Whether it’s today between the hours or noon and 4, or 100 years from now, if by faith, we grasp the perfection Jesus won for us, then no matter when Jesus returns…we’re prepared. We prepare with End Times urgency. But with End Times certainty through Jesus, our prayer of faith will be, “Come Lord Jesus, quickly come!”