I’ve been reading “And The Angels Were Silent – The Final Week Of Jesus” by Max Lucado for some time now. I must admit that while it’s an excellent book, as are all of his writings, I have picked it up and put it down many many times and have been distracted by other books and things that caught my interest. I find I do this all too often – start, stop, hurry up, slow down… in many areas of my life, including my walk with God which grieves Him I know. Well, back to the reason for this post. I was reading the other night and Chapter 18, Be Ready, struck a chord in me. I know it’s a bit of an undertaking, but I am going to share this chapter with you, I feel it’s that powerful and that important.
“So Always be ready, for you don’t know the day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42
There is a secret to wearing a vest. It’s a secret every father should tell his son. It’s one of those manly things that has to be passed down from generation to generation. It rates up there with teaching your son to shave and use deodorant. It’s a secret every vest wearer must know. If you own a vest, I hope you know it. If you own a vest and don’t know it, here it is: Button the first button correctly.
Take your time. Don’t be in a rush. Look carefully in the mirror, and then match the right button with the right hole.
If you do, if you get the first button buttoned right, then the rest will follow suit (pardon the pun). If, however, you don’t get the first button right, every button thereafter will be buttoned incorrectly. The result will be a lopsided vest. Put the second button in the top hole, or slide the second hole over the top button and, well, it just won’t work.
There are certain things in life done only one way. Buttoning a vest is one of them.
Being ready is another.
According to Jesus, being ready for His return, is a vest-button principal. According to Jesus, start wrong on the first move, and the rest of your life will be cockeyed.
Not everything is a vest-button truth. The church you attend isn’t. The Bible translation you read isn’t. The ministry you select isn’t. But being ready for Jesus’ return is a vest-button truth. Get this right and the rest will fall into place. Miss it, and get ready for some wrinkles.
How do we know this is a vest-button principle? Jesus told us. According to Matthew, Jesus told us in the last sermon He ever preached.
It may surprise you that Jesus made preparedness the theme of His last sermon. It did me. I would have preached on love or family or the importance of the church. Jesus didn’t. Jesus preached on what many today consider old-fashioned. He preached on being ready for heaven and staying out of hell.
It’s his message when he tells of the wise and the foolish servants. The wise one was ready for the return of the master the foolish one was not.
It’s his message when he tells about the ten bridesmaids Five were wise and five were foolish. The wise ones were ready when the groom came and the foolish ones were at the corner store looking for more oil.
It’s his message when he tells of the three servants and the bags of gold. Two servants put the money to work and made more money for the master. The third hid his in a hole. The first two were ready and rewarded when the master returned. The third was unprepared and punished.
Be ready. It’s a first step, non-negotiable, vest button principle. That is the theme of Jesus’ last sermon, “So always be ready, because you don’t know the day your Lord will come.” He didn’t tell when the day of the Lord will be, but he did describe what the day would be like, It’s a day no one will miss.
Every person who has ever lived will be present at that final gathering. Every heart that has ever beat. Every mouth that has ever spoken. On that day you will be surrounded by a sea of people. Rich, poor. Famous, unknown. Kings, bums. Brilliant, demented. All will be present. And all will be looking in one direction. All will be looking at him. Every human being. “The Son of Man will come again in His great glory.” You won’t look at anyone else. No side-glances to see what others are wearing. No whispers about new jewelry or comments about who is present. At this, the greatest gathering in history, you will have eyes for only one-The Son of Man. Wrapped in splendor. Shot through with radiance. Imploded with light and magnetic in power.
Jesus describes this day with certainty.
He leaves no room for doubt. He doesn’t say he may return, or might return, but that he will return. By the way, one-twentieth of your New Testament, speaks about his return. There re over three hundred references to his second coming. Twenty three of the twenty seven New Testament books speak of it. And they speak of it with confidence.
“You must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at a time you don’t expect him.”
“…Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
“…he will come a second time, not to offer himself for sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
“…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
His return is certain.
His return is final.
Upon His return, “he will separate them into two groups as a shepherd separates the sheep from from the goats. The Son of Man will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.”
The word separate is a sad word. To separate a mother from a daughter, a father from a son, a husband from a wife. To separate people on earth is sorrowful, but to think of it being done for eternity is horrible.
Especially when one group is destined for heaven and the other group is going to hell.
We don’t like to talk about hell, do we? In intellectual circles the topic of hell is regarded as primitive and foolish. It’s not logical. “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.” So we dismiss it.
But to dismiss it is to dismiss a core teaching of Jesus. The doctrine of hell is not one developed by Paul, Peter or John. It is taught by Jesus himself.
And to dismiss it is to dismiss much more. It is to dismiss the presence of a loving God and the privilege of a free choice. Let me explain.
We are free either to love God or not. He invites us to love him. He urges us to love him. He came that we might love him. But, in the end, the choice is yours and mine. To take that choice from each of us, for him to force us to love him, would be less than love.
God explains the benefits, outlines the promises, and articulates very clearly the consequences. And then, in the end, he leaves the choice to us.
Hell was not prepared for people. Hell “was prepared for the devil and his angels.” For a person to go to hell, then, is for a person to go against God’s intended destiny. “God has not destined us to the terrors of judgement, but to the full attainment of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Hell is ma’s choice, not God’s choice.
Consider, then, this explanation of hell: Hell is the chosen place of the person who loves self more than God, who loves us more than his Savior, who loves this world more than God’s world. Judgement is that moment when God looks at the rebellious and says, “Your choice will be honored.”
To reject the dualistic outcome of history and say there is no hell leaves gaping holes in any banner of a just God. To say there is no hell is to say God condones the rebellious, unrepentant heart. To say there is no hell is to portray God with eyes blind to the hunger and evil in the world. To say there is no hell is to say that God doesn’t care that people are beaten and massacred, that he doesn’t care that women are raped or families wrecked. To say there is no hell is to say God has no justice, no sense of right and wrong, and eventually to say God has no love. For true love hates what is evil.
Hell is the ultimate expression of a just Creator.
The parables of the wise and loyal servant, the wise and foolish bridesmaids, and loyal and wicked servants, all point to the same conclusion: “Everyone must die once and be judged.” Eternity is to be taken seriously. A judgement is coming.
Our task on earth is singular – to choose our eternal home. You can afford many wrong choices in life. you can choose the wrong career and survive, the wrong city and survive, the wrong house and survive.. You can even choose the wrong mate and survive. But there is one choice that must be made correctly and that is your eternal destiny.
It’s interesting that Jesus’ first and last sermons have the same message. In his first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls you and me to choose between the rock and the sand, the wide gate and the narrow gate, he wide road and the narrow road, the big crowd and the small crowd, the certainty of hell and the joy of heaven. In his last sermon he calls us to do the same. He calls us to be ready.
While on one of his expeditions to the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton left some of his men on Elephant Island with the intent of returning for them and carrying them back to England. But he was delayed. By the time he could go back for them the sea had frozen and he had no access to the island. Three time he tried to reach them, but was prevented by the ice. Finally, on his fourth try he broke through and found a narrow channel.
Much to his surprise, he found the crewmen waiting for him, supplies packed and ready to board. They were soon on their way back to England. He asked them how they knew to be ready for him. They told him they didn’t know when he would return, but there were sure he would. So every morning, the leader rolled up his bag and paced his gear and told the crew to do the same saying, “Get your things ready boy. The boss may come today.”
The crew leader did his crew a favor by keeping them prepared.
Jesus has done us a service by urging us to do the same: Be ready. It’s a vest-button principle. Get that one buttoned right today. For you don’t want to be fumbling with buttons in the presence of God.