Be prepared. 12:35-40
The passage before us consists of two short teaching parables. Both give advice to disciples concerning the returning Lord. A servant must be prepared, prepared for their master's unexpected return from a wedding feast, and prepared for the unexpected break-in of a thief. The "wakeful" servant is the blessed servant, for the Son of Man will return unexpectedly. There will be no time to get ready in that day, and speculation over when that might be is fruitless, so be prepared to meet him.
v35. The servant who is at the ready is dressed, "ready for action", NEB, with lamps filled with oil and wicks trimmed.
v36. The prepared servant waits in the porch for the master's return, ready to serve him.
v37. "Readiness" is a dominant theme in the New Testament, cf. 1Thess.5:6, Eph.5:14. The disciple must be "ready" for the Master's return, v40, 47. In an interesting twist, Jesus has the returning master serving the servant who is "alert". This is certainly not what would happen in real life, but it is what Jesus intends to do for his disciples, cf. Jn.13:5. At the messianic feast Jesus will serve us. Here again Jesus touches on the theme of grace.
v38. The timing of the master's return is uncertain, but the servant who is ready will be gloriously blessed.
v39. The Lord will return as a thief in the night - at an unexpected moment. The householder who is wakeful, ready, will not be caught unaware, will not be surprised.
v40. "The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." The reference to the coming Son of Man alludes to Daniel 7:13, the one who receives dominion and rule from the Ancient of Days. Take care, for his reign brings with it judgment. So, be ready for his reign; no one can calculate the day of his coming. Only those disciples ready for Christ's coming will share in his kingdom.
The perseverance of the saints
One of the more fascinating doctrines of the Christian faith is the perseverance of the saints. The doctrine deals with the continuation of our salvation. We may be saved today, but will we be saved tomorrow? Is it possible for a believer to fall away from Jesus, and if so, what would prompt such a fall?
Most believers tend to worry about their future salvation. There is the worry that some action, some sin undisclosed, indwelling, recurrent.... will bar us from entrance into the kingdom of heaven. We often worry that we may not make the grade in the goodness stakes, that we are not quite good enough for heaven. What level of Christian commitment must we maintain to assure our eternal salvation?
A believer who is strong on free-will, who believes that their salvation is dependent on the quality of their response to Christ today and everyday following, is naturally bound to question the worth of that response. Is my response acceptable today, and what of tomorrow? Will my response to Christ be acceptable in years to come?
A believer who is strong on the sovereignty of God, who believes that their salvation is dependent on the sovereign predestined will of God, is no better off. The question always remains, am I one of the elect or am I just fooling myself? Such a believer is always examining their life to see whether they exhibit the "fruits of the Spirit" to an extent that guarantees their standing in Christ. They can never be sure that their piety evidences a genuine salvation. The Lord chooses, but did he choose me?
Jesus warns us that we must remain ready and watchful, for he will return when we least expect it. Such a disciple will be greatly blessed - Jesus will "wait on them." Yet, what does it mean to be ready and watching for the Lord's return?
Some argue that the image Jesus uses here is of faithful service. The servant is getting about the master's business. Yet, rather than faithful service, the focus is on faith. My salvation is dependent on nothing more than the free gift of God's gracious kindness appropriated through the instrument of faith. If I put my trust in Jesus for salvation, then that salvation is guaranteed as a gift of God's grace. My faith may be weak, as small as a mustard seed, but weak faith is no barrier to God, for his grace is sufficient for me. Yet, what about tomorrow? This is where readiness and watchfulness comes in. My salvation tomorrow, as for today, hangs on the slender thread of faith entwined in the mighty cord of God's grace in Christ.
As it was in the story of the rich fool, it is easy to see our life secured in the stuff of life. In these two short parables, Jesus calls on us to guard the slender thread of faith as we await his return. We must be ready for his return with the thread intact.
1. Consider all the possible meanings for a servant's readiness and watchfulness. Note the context of these parables, namely v22-34, especially v31, 33b.
2. Is Jesus in this passage encouraging faithfulness or faith?
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