Some have said that warfare may be defined as long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. This was no doubt true for those who were involved in the military campaign on the Aleutian Islands in WWII. These islands, just off the coast of Alaska, were territories that were vital to the war. Some of these islands had been attacked and taken by the Japanese. The close proximity to the United States made the positioning a serious threat.
It is said that “Even the most adamant and dedicated nature lover could hardly remain enthralled, month after month after month, by the surroundings.” They were surrounded by “endless snow-capped mountains, mud-filled tundra, and water, water everywhere. As LIFE magazine pointed out …the weather and the landscape were relentless, monotonous enemies all their own.
The lull of such a monotonous landscape was only accentuated by the monotony of waiting. Soldiers were ever aware of the enemy’s proximity and understood that they could be attacked at any minute. But all they could do is wait. Hours stretched into days. Days stretched into weeks. They could even go months without anything happening. They just sat in the bone chilling cold of the Alaskan artic.
But at a moment’s notice they would have to spring into action. It was an immediate adrenaline rush as the siren’s sounded, calling them to come forward and engage.
For those of us who are Christians, we might lik en our day to day experience to those soldiers on the Alutian Islands. Our passage this morning reminds us that there is a very real danger that we face. We can be lulled to sleep by the monotony of waiting. The tedium of life might make us drowsy and we can become less diligent in our service to Christ.
But Christ teaches us here that we must always be ready. As a matter of fact, you can see the kind of diligence that he is talking about in the very opening of our passage. He says in verse 35, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” Now, the dressing has to do with the kind of attire they would wear back then. They had the long flowing robes that didn’t allow one to move quickly. You would have to hike it up in order to have a readiness of action.
When it comes to the lamp, that again is to show your anticipation. When it got dark back then, they didn’t have any street lamps or night lights. It was dark. So something was to happen in the night, they needed their lamps trimmed and ready to go. They couldn’t fiddle around fumbling around in the dark trying to get it going.
Both of these are exhortations he uses to rouse us to faithful execution of our duties as Christians.
But why? Why is it that we must be ready? It is because Christ may come at any moment. As Christians, we believe that Christ will come again. And Jesus teaches us in this passage that we must be found doing our duty when he does. Certainly that’s the point of verses 35-40. These verses Christ teaches us the reality of his coming and the effect that should have on us.
I. Assures us of the reality of his coming [35-40]
In verse 37-38 Jesus compares his coming to that of a master coming home from a late night party. He says, “It may happen in the second or third watch of the night.” The point is, you don’t want to doze off. You need to be alert and prepared for when he comes.
Then in verse 39 Jesus sort of mixes his metaphors and compares his coming to a thief. No one knows when the thief comes. That’s what makes it such a bummer. The only way you can catch a thief is by staying up all hours of the night to catch him.
The whole point of these verses though is that we need to be ready for him to return. We don’t know when he is going to come, but we do know that he will. And that ambiguity should only provoke us to even greater diligence.
When I was younger I used to work at a local fast food restaurant. And one of the things that they did was create some competition between stores. They got the stores in our region to compete against each other to see who would be the best at service.
It went like this: There was an standard amount of time that they said a person should wait from the time he ordered to the time he paid and picked up his items at the window. From time to time we would be tested to see if we could uphold those standards or even beat them. The guy who oversaw all the stores in our area would either come to our store himself or send someone to the store in his stead. And he (or his appointed delegate) would come through the drive through and he would time us. And those scores would be recorded and placed up against the other stores in our region. We’d then see how we ranked against them.
But in order to do that we always had to be ready. We couldn’t just wait and watch around for him to come. We had to be serving each and every customer with the same diligence. Every car that came through that drive through had to be given the best we could give them.
That is what Christ is trying to help us understand here. We do not know precisely when he is going to come. But that ambiguity should only make us more intent in doing our duty.
Now, I want to be sure that you young people recognize this. For it is you who have perhaps the greatest tendency to be slothful. I want to emphasize to you young people how important it is to own Christ as your personal savior and be intent on serving him.
Throughout my ministry I’ve noticed how young people can be somewhat slow in this. There often doesn’t seem to be an urgency in making that profession of faith. There doesn’t seem to be a real intent on serving the Lord. Sure, there is a form of obedience. You obey your parents and you are not living any kind of radically rebellious life. But at the same time there doesn’t seem to be a deep impression upon their soul of “I need to serve Jesus. I need to seek his face.”
There is obedience, but it seems to lack something of the diligence that Christ demands. I get the feeling that there is no real conviction in the heart.
One example of this is simply in how many young people delay in making a formal profession of faith. I’ve heard of some young people in other churches get to be 18, 19, 20 years old and have not given a formal profession of faith. It actually gets to the point where the elders have to sort of poke and prod them. They will be talking at their elder meeting and they will say, “You know, so & so hasn’t made a profession of faith yet. Should we say something to him?”
I don’t think that we have anyone like that here. But we do have a lot of you guys who are 6, 7, 8 years old. I know that you are young, but that doesn’t mean you cannot be serving Jesus. You might not know a lot about the Bible or what Jesus demands, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be intent on finding out as much as you can.
And I want you to recognize that Jesus is coming back. And that reality should stir you up. It should make you all the more eager to serve him. Even though you are as young as you are, you still need to be diligent to serve him.
But our diligence must not only factor in the reality of Christ’s coming. But we should also take account of the nature of his coming.
II. Assures us of the nature of his coming [41-46]
In verses 44 – 46 Jesus explains what is going to happen when he comes. Again, he uses two pictures to describe it. He talks about a servant in the master’s house. And he says that if the master comes back and finds this servant diligently executing his duties then he will reward him. In verse 43 he is called blessed. And the following verse says that he will be rewarded; the Lord will set him over all his possessions.
In other words, the one who is serving Christ and found faithful on the last great day will be given a greater measure of grace. His life in the eternal kingdom will be somewhat advanced and made more full.
We might say, on the basis of this, that the blessing that he will enjoy is greater responsibility in heaven. After all, heaven isn’t going to be a resort-like place where we are all sitting by a pool indulging in idleness. That’s something of what you find in Islam. You are given your 70 virgins and all the wine you could ever desire. The Islamic view of heaven is rather carnal.
The Christian view of heaven is that life will continue. You will continue to work and glorify God by means of your labors.
In contrast to this stands the one who was lazy. What does Jesus say will happen to him? What he says is actually kind of startling. In verse 46 he says that he will be cut to pieces and put with the unfaithful.
Now, we shouldn’t press the details here. The point isn’t that Christ is going to put somebody through a shredder. The point is that his end will not be pleasant. He will end up facing the wrath and curse of God and undergo all the pains associated with it. I think that he uses this vivid picture so that you will understand just how serious this is.
You will also notice that this is pointed particularly to those who are leaders in Christ’s church.
In verse 41 Peter asks, “Lord, are telling this parable to us or to all?” In other words, “Jesus, to whom does this apply? Is it for those of us you have made leaders, or is this directed to the average layman too?”
I think that it is safe to say that it is most certainly has general application. Everyone of you hear today needs to understand that you need to be serving Christ and not fiddling around. But I do think that Jesus does specify a special application to church leaders. That’s what he seems to mean when he talks about those who are “over his master’s house?” That’s the language of authority. That’s talking about the role of an elder. The one who has authority over the other servants and can be in a position to abuse them (as verse 45 refers to) are the pastors.
Now, I recognize that I’m speaking to myself here. And to Mark and Jim. And you all know that we want to be working towards making some others of you elders too. So these words should be sobering to a lot of us.
Let’s just say that Christ does not tolerate any abuse of power. And we need to recognize that if we are an elder our primary job is to feed and nurture Christ’s sheep. We cannot be ordained and simply sit around on our hands. The moment we come to this office we have the responsibility to pray for the people, to encourage them in their walk with the Lord, to watch over them and protect them.
We need to remember that being an elder is not the same as being a CEO of the church. The work of an elder is maintaining the pastoral care of the flock. If we are doing that, then Christ will reward us. But if that is not done—if we are not taking that responsibility seriously, or if we are abusing the powers given to us, then Christ will have to do something about that.
And that leads us to the last thing that Jesus says in this passage. We’ve noted the reality of his coming and the nature of his coming. But we should not fail to recognize the justice of his coming.
III. Assures us of the justice of his coming [47-48]
In the last two verses we read about two kinds of judgment. Two different servants are judged, and you will note that they judged in a way that is not altogether the same. Verse 47 says that one servant received a “severe beating.” The other servant, in verse 48, is said to received a lighter beating.
Now, don’t be mistaken. Both servants got a beating. Neither of these guys got to skate free. Both of them received some blows. But one of them got knocked around a bit more than the other.
What counts for that? Did Jesus go soft on us? Is he some sort of capricious God who plays favorites?
The answer, of course, is no. Each received the punishment that they justly deserved. The one received a greater punishment because he had greater knowledge and greater responsibility. He says, “to the one who is given much, much is demanded.”
We just said that there will likely be different levels of experience in heaven. The faithful servants will be given more joy and more delight because they will have more to delight in. God will set them over much and they will have a fuller experience of heaven’s bliss. Yes, everyone will be happy. But some will be even more happy. You see, Mark has had a greater service that I have. And so he will have a greater reward in heaven, and as a result, a greater joy to go with it. And I will have joy too. And when I see his joy, I will grow in joy. And he will see the joy I have at his joy and he will become even more joyful!
But here we learn that there will be differing degrees of hell that are experienced. It will not be good for anyone. By the way that Jesus talks about hell, we know that it is horrid. But just as some will experience more delight in heaven, some will have more anguish than others in hell.
Some of you might have read the classic “Dante’s Inferno.” It is a book about a man who has a fanciful journey through all the different levels of hell. At the upper most level are what he calls the “virtuous pagans.” They were people who had no knowledge of the gospel whatsoever. He Puts people like Aristotle and Plato in this place. And he says it is just black there—very dark. There is an ominous feel to it; a feeling of loneliness. You understand that their hearts and their minds were darkened, but they attempted to use their reason rightly. So their punishment is not too terribly bad. But as you progress to the next level, the punishments that he thinks up become more and more excruciating. And what is interesting to note is that the further down you go, the more religious the people become. As you descend you start to meet popes and cardinals from the catholic church. But the one he puts at the very bottom, right next to Satan himself, is Judas—the one who had the most intimacy (and therefore the greatest knowledge of) Christ.
Now, we shouldn’t get out theology from Dante. His picture of hell is more metaphorical and not by any means accurate. He was writing it for the purpose of sarcasm and taunting his enemies. He was not attempting to give a theological dissertation on hell.
Certainly we know that the so called “virtuous pagans” are not going to just be sitting around in the dark. Christ tells us that in hell there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But Dante did get this right: Some people will experience a greater punishment. And those who do will be those who have the most familiarity with the truth of Christ or those who have been put in places of greater authority.
Now, this needs to emphasized because in our day it seems that the bigger your name, the lighter they go on you. If you are an all star athlete and you get brought up on charges, it often seems that you get a lighter charge because you are someone who is in the spotlight.
And Christ does not want you to have the kind of attitude that “if you work up the ecclesiastical ladder,” then you will get more perks and be given preferential treatment.
No. Not at all. The higher you go, the more responsibility you have. And the more responsibility you have, the more strict your judgment becomes.
In the 1987 NCAA Regional Finals, LSU was leading Indiana by eight points with only a few minutes left in the game. As is often the case with a team in the lead, LSU began playing a different ball game. The television announcer pointed out that the LSU players were beginning to watch the clock rather than wholeheartedly play the game. As a result of this shift in focus, Indiana closed the gap and ended up winning the game by one point. Indiana then went on to win the whole tournament.
LSU lost, not because they were not capable of winning. Their downfall came not because they did not have the ability. No. They lost because their heart was no longer in the game.
I believe that this passage comes down to the same thing. In the end, it is not so much about one’s giftedness or greatness. It comes down to the matter of the heart, and whether or not it is truly in the game.
If your focus is on Christ and your heart is knit to him, we have nothing to worry about. We will look forward to his coming with great anticipation and we will serve him faithfully. But if our hearts are distracted, our diligence will wane. And when the end comes, we will find ourselves experiencing a great loss.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.