The Lord's Day Morning

September 12, 2010

Luke 12:35-48

“Be Ready”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to the gospel of Luke, to the twelfth chapter. We’re working our way through this gospel together. The last two Lord's Days we have looked at sections of Luke chapter 12 that dealt with the overarching subject of covetousness, a pervasive and perennial temptation and sin and we have seen Jesus address that particular temptation in a very direct and personally applicable way.

Today, Jesus turns His attention, beginning in verse 35 of Luke chapter 12, to a different topic. And He's addressing the issue of how we live daily as His disciples. He's especially concerned that His disciples would live in such a way that they are ready for His return. And He is particularly interested that His disciples would be good shepherds of His sheep and that His people would live lives of mutual service, that they would care about one another, that they would be spending their lives not for themselves, not looking out for number one, as it were, but always, constantly, looking out into the family of God and living for their brothers and sisters and seeking the best interest, spiritually speaking, of their brothers and sisters.

This is something of which you saw in Galatians chapter 5. Life in the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, is a life of freedom, but that life of freedom is a life of self-renunciation where we seek to serve the best interests of one another. We not only love our neighbor in general, but we especially love and care for and invest in the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And so don't you love the phrase from the hymn that we sing — “A life of self-renouncing love is one of liberty.” That's the kind of freedom that Paul was talking about in Galatians 5 and it's something of what Jesus is addressing here in Luke chapter 12.

But let's pray and ask for God's blessing as we read His Word and hear it proclaimed. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. Especially we ask today that You would hold Your Word up before us as Your royal law and show us ourselves, Lord. Show us our sin. Show us our own concession to temptation, the particular ways in which we are out of accord with Your perfect will. And then show us Your salvation. Point us to the Savior. Point us to our Redeemer and our Deliverer and to the hope that He offers to us in the Gospel. We ask that You would do this in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is God's Word. Hear it. From Luke chapter 12 beginning in verse 35:

“’Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

Peter said, ‘Lord, are You telling this parable for us or for all?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom this master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

So, how's it going for you? How's life? Good! When you think about your life, just to yourself, and you make assessment of how you’re spending your time, where you’re spending your money, where your focus is, where your energy is, what you really, really want, what do your answers to those questions tell you about your readiness for the Lord's coming and your loyalty to Him? That's the issue that Jesus is raising in this passage with His disciples. When He says to them here, “Be ready,” He's not asking them to become engaged in end-time prognostication.

In the 19th century amongst American evangelicals and some British evangelicals, it became very popular to go to these passages in the New Testament where Jesus told His people to “Be ready” and to attempt to do sort of a prophetic version of the Bible code and discover the timing of the return of Jesus Christ so that the response to Jesus’ exhortation, “Be ready,” was to somehow try and figure out when it was exactly that Jesus was going to come again. That could not be further from what Jesus wanted in response to His exhortation to “Be ready.” And you see it very clearly in this passage.

In this passage, “Be ready,” “Keep watch,” “Be awake,” is not an exhortation to Christians to try and divine the signs of the time and determine whether the coming of Christ is sooner rather than later or to specifically know what hour or day He is returning. The exhortations here in this passage clearly are designed to move us to live in a particular way. Furthermore, Jesus makes it crystal clear that no one does or will know when He is coming. Just look at the passage itself. In this passage, Jesus gives a series of pictures of what it means to be ready and you see four of them in the first few verses that we read.

Look at verse 35 — “Stay dressed for action.” Now that's a very vivid word picture and it comes from the practice of the ancient Near East, typically men, as one of their main garments would have a long, flowing robe. Now it's a little hard to run in one of those, so when you’re getting ready to run, a man hikes that up, wraps the long part around his waist, and ties it tightly. That's where the Biblical phrase, “girding your loins,” comes from. And then he's ready to run. Well there's Jesus saying, “Be ready.” What does that mean? Stay dressed for action; be ready to spring into action. It's not a word about trying to divine when exactly He's coming. It's about whether you’re living in readiness to serve Him. He even uses the language of being dressed to serve of Himself later on. Be dressed to serve — it's talking about an attitude that pervades the way that you approach life, that you’re always ready to be serving the purposes of Jesus in this world.

And then in the next part of verse 35 He uses this picture — “Keep your lamps burning.” Now in Jesus’ day, when the sun went down it was dark. There were no street lights. There were no automobiles with halogen headlights. There were no electric lights indoors, so if you were going to have any light in that world you had to be prepared. You had to be prepared for the right lamps and you had to have plenty of oil for those lamps. You had to have your wicks trimmed and you needed to be ready to go. And so when He says, “Keep your lamps burning,” He is talking about an attitude of life which is prepared to serve.

And then He changes the picture again. Look at verse 36 — “Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast.” So these people are expectantly waiting for the head of the house to come back from the wedding feast so that the minute that he comes into the courtyard they are ready to spring to the door and welcome him home. All of these are pictures not of trying to divine in the future when Jesus is returning, but living in such a way now so that whenever He returns we are ready for that return. And it continues on into two blessings that He gives you in the next couple of verses.

There are two blessings that are pronounced in verse 37 and verse 38. In verse 37 He says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” So we're told, here's another way that you’re ready — you’re awake, you’re not asleep at the switch, you’re not asleep at the wheel, you’re awake, you’re ready for Him. The way that you’re living has made you ready for His return. And then this blessing comes in verse 38 — “If he comes in the second watch or in the third” — even if He comes in the middle of the night when other folks are asleep, you’re ready.

I. Warnings to the leaders.

But how are you ready? What does readiness mean in this passage? Readiness, in this passage, means, especially for pastors and elders, a mindset, an attitude, and a practice of always looking out for the well-being of the flock. And for one another, it means a mindset and an outlook in which we are bent to do the will of Jesus, that it is our great concern in life to live in such a way to glorify Him, to live in such a way that we are going His will. We see that very clearly in the passage. You notice that Peter asks one of those questions that teachers often hear from students. You know, the teacher is in the middle of what he or she thinks is a brilliant and inspiring lecture, and the hand goes up on the third row in the back, and the student says, “Excuse me, is this going to be on the test?” (laughter) And you die inside! You thought you had them on the edge of their seats and all they want to know is, “Is this going to be on the test?” Well, Peter, the hand goes up in the middle of these stories about being ready and he says, “Um, Jesus, just a quick word of clarification — Do I need to be listening to this?” That's what Peter basically says. He says, “Are You saying this for us, are You saying this for the benefit of Your inner circle of disciples, or are You saying this for all? You know, is this something that You want us to learn or is this just something that You’re generally saying for everyone?” And Jesus does not answer Peter's question. I think that is probably a mercy for Peter. If Jesus had answered that question directly it wouldn't have gone well for Peter.

But notice, Jesus is interesting in the way He responds. A lot of times, when you ask Jesus a question, how does He respond? He responds by asking you another question. Usually that means that your question wasn't so good so He's going to give you another question that really is good that you need to think about. Other times, when Jesus is asked a question, He answers by not answering your question but saying something else that only looks tangentially related to what you have just asked. But watch how Jesus answers questions because the way that He answers questions always points you to the truth that He thinks that you need to know. And if He thinks you need to know it, you need to know it.

So look at what Jesus says in response to Peter's question. “Who then is the faithful and wise manager?” Okay, He's going to tell you who it is who's ready. So if Jesus is going to tell you now what it means to be ready, we ought to be all ears.

Who is the one who's ready? Here's what He says. He's the one who does what? He's the one, when the householder goes away, he gives to the household their food at the proper time. Now you understand that's an answer to Peter's question. Jesus is saying to Peter, “Peter, I'm going to go away, and in the hands of you disciples I'm going to leave My sheep. And while I'm away, here's what I want you to do. I want you to feed My sheep. I want you to feed them the Word of God. I want you to give them the means of grace. I want you to care for their souls. I don't want you to use them; I want you to serve them. I want you to always be thinking about them. I always want you to be thinking about their spiritual wellbeing. I don't want you to get rich off of them. I don't want you to take advantage of them. I want you to live your life in such a way that you’re feeding them, you’re shepherding them, you’re serving them, you are looking out for their wellbeing. That's what it means for you, Peter, to be ready.”

And you see, the application of that comes home very, very directly to all those of us who are pastors and elders especially because that's what we're called to do. We’re called all the time, whether we are fulltime pastors or whether we are elders who have other mouths to feed and other jobs to work and other concerns to take care of — we may be doctors or we may be school teachers or we may work for the city or the state or the county or we may be in business or real-estate — but whatever we are, as elders and pastors, as teaching elders and ruling elders, we must live in such a way that it is a prime concern to seek the wellbeing of this flock in our lives. Congregation, you can pray for your pastors and elders that we do this, that we live in such a way that our prime concern is that this flock will be fed and taken care of, nourished with the Word of God, protected from wolves that would come in and seek to pick off the sheep, seeking out the wellbeing of people who are lonely and isolated, who need help and encouragement in the trials and tribulations of life, that is to be job one for us.

And Jesus very clearly in this passage says, “When I come, the way that the servant fares that I've left to take care of My flock, will depend on how good a job he's done.” And He uses very strong, striking language.

But you know it's not different from language that's used elsewhere in the New Testament, is it? Turn with me to the book of Hebrews to chapter 13. In Hebrews chapter 13, and if you’re looking at the ESV, this is literally the last page of Hebrews in your edition of the New Testament. Hebrews 13 verse 17 — the author of Hebrews is giving an exhortation to the congregation to obey your leaders and to submit to those whom the Lord has put over you, and then he says these words – Hebrews 13:17 — “for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying, on the last day, those pastors and elders are going to stand hand in hand before the judgment throne of God and they will give an account as to whether they have lived their lives in such a way that it was their prime concern that the flock of God was fed the Word of God, was protected from spiritual wolves, was served in their hour of need, was shepherded in their spiritual life. And that's something, elders, that we need to bear in mind all the time. There will be a day when we will give an account for this flock, and we want to live in such a way that no matter when Jesus comes, we are doing what He told us to do – we are serving this flock the Word of God, we're shepherding and encouraging, we're guiding and protecting, we're doing the things that He said for us to do.

II. Warning to the people.

But this passage is not just for the disciples and it's not just for pastors and elders. It is for all of us, and you see that at the very end of the passage. Look at verse 48. Half way through verse 48 Jesus says this, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Jesus is establishing a principle there and now we see why He didn't answer Peter's question directly because Jesus was both speaking to the disciples and for all. In other words, He had a specific message in these stories for His disciples and all those other pastor/elders who were going to be given the charge to shepherd the flock of God. And that message was — I want you to be ready, and this is the way I want you to be ready — feed My sheep; make sure they get the pure milk of the Word; make sure they are fed with the rich meat of the Word of God; protect them from the wolves; shepherd their souls; while the world is only caring about what they can get out of those sheep, you be concerned to serve those sheep and to help those sheep and to build them up and encourage them in their time of need. That's what Jesus was saying to the disciples. That's what Jesus was saying to pastors and elders, but He was also speaking for us all. And the “for us all” is this — “to whom much is given, much is required.”

Now how then are we all to be ready like Jesus says in this passage? Well, it is very, very clear how that is to be done. It is by not looking out for ourselves, but by being concerned for the wellbeing of one another. Notice how He describes the bad servant in this passage. Look at verse 45 — My master is delayed; he starts to beat the other servants; he starts to eat and drink; he hogs the food; he hogs the wine to himself to the point that he gets fat and drunk — and what does Jesus say? The master's going to come when that servant's not expecting it and he's going to “cut him to pieces.”

So what are we called to do? We are called, in the local congregation, to live a life of self-renouncing love towards one another. We are to be self-giving towards one another. Yes, we're to love our neighbors and that includes everyone – believers and unbelievers alike — but especially in the context of the congregation, we are to live a life of others-serving, self-renouncing love.

Now, let me just pause and say, in specific application to our communicants – our communicants, some of you are very young, early teenagers, students; you made a profession of faith and you've communed in this church for the first time only a few months or years ago — Jesus calls us to be ready, not by what we say, not by what we say we believe, but by what we do. Listen to the language that Jesus uses in this passage. Verse 47, He's speaking of a servant who knew his master's will but didn't do it. Listen to what He says — “He did not get ready,” verse 47 “or act according to his will.” Do you see what Jesus is saying?

What's going to be the basis on which we are judged when the Lord comes? Did we do what He said? Did we do what He said? It's exactly the language you get in the Great Commission.

Turn with me to Matthew chapter 28. Most of you know this passage by heart, but just look at Jesus’ words there. As He tells His disciples how to make disciples, He says this — verse 20 — “teaching them,” Matthew 28 verse 20 “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Now notice, He doesn't say, “Teach them to know all that I have commanded you; teach them to memorize all that I have commanded you,” but what? “Teach them to do what I have commanded you; teach them to live out the things that have commanded you; teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

And so who are the people who are faithful servants in the local congregation? They’re the people who are doing what Jesus told them to do. They are actually living out in their lives His command. And in this passage it is especially not living for yourself but living for one another's wellbeing in the flock so that we're looking out for one another.

Now young people, that is a huge, huge challenge, because you’re thinking about all sorts of things. You’re thinking about not being thought of as a nerd. You’re thinking about having the right friends. You’re thinking about doing well in school. Maybe you’re thinking about being popular. But are you, young people who have professed faith in Jesus Christ, are you living in such a way that you are actually showing love to one another, or are you just thinking about yourself? Do you ever sit around and think about, “You know, there's somebody in my own youth group who is incredibly lonely. How am I ministering to him? How am I serving her?” Or congregation at large — you’re so happy and satisfied because you've got a group of good friends that love you and they love Jesus and you come to church every Sunday and it's great to see them and you get to see them sometimes during the week but you’re not thinking about people with great, great problems and great, great obstacles and great, great loneliness in this very congregation.

Jesus says, “When I come, faithful servants are going to be ready. And the way that they’re ready is they’re going to be living lives that are all about serving one another, looking out for one another.” Self-renouncing love, other-focused service — that's liberty, that's freedom. A life of self-renouncing love – that is liberty. Do we live life like that or is our life filled up with a lot of other stuff?

So I ask you again, how's it going for you? Or here's how I really wanted to start the sermon off today. I wanted to say, I wanted to call this sermon “Are You Ready?” (laughter) Now usually when you hear those words you hear them through a megaphone and you are thinking about other things! But that's actually a great illustration!

Here's what I want to challenge you. Every time you hear those words for the rest of your life, “Are you ready?” you hear Jesus asking you a question — “Are you ready for Me to come? Are you living so that when I come I find you encouraging one another, loving one another, serving one another, helping one another, making sure that we're not just living for the weekend but that we're living for the Lord, encouraging one another that there is more to this life than food and clothing and houses and wealth and prominence and position and fame and all this other stuff that clutters up our life?”

Life is about knowing Christ and sharing Christ and seeing people grow in grace and being built up from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and seeing people come to faith in Christ and seeing people that didn't have a people now have a family. You know, our Women in the Church are celebrating a theme this year of our congregation as a family. Well this is how a family lives. It cares about one another. It doesn't just think about the individual.

And so I ask you — are you ready? If Jesus says to you, “Are you ready? Are you living like you’re ready for Me to come again?” — every one of us needs to ask that question. By God's grace, may He enable us to answer it with integrity, “Yes, Lord, we're living to serve You. We’re living to serve Your flock. We’re living to serve Your Gospel.” But if you can answer it that way you can only answer it that way by grace because by nature we're selfish. By nature we're thinking about ourselves. It's only the grace of the Gospel that can liberate you to live for other people. May He help you do that.

Let's pray.

Lord, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for this flock. I thank You for so many people who do show this kind of love in our very midst. It moves me to tears sometimes to see these people love one another, but we know we have a long way to go. We’re selfish by nature, we're sinful to the core, we're insecure, we're prideful, we're fixed on our own agendas, we miss the big picture all the time, and we so need to hear these words from Jesus — “Are you ready? Are you ready for Me to come? Are you doing what I left you here to do? Are you serving My people? Are you obeying My will?” Lord, speak to us, deeply into our hearts today. We want to be, we want to be servants, like the good servants who are going to be blessed who are described in this passage. And so we ask You for forgiveness and we ask You for grace. And we ask that, by the Spirit, You would work the Gospel so deep into our heart that the Gospel changes our lives and changes our priorities and changes our attitudes and changes the way that we live towards one another so that we are a constantly Christ-serving, other-focused, body of believers, a true family, bent on doing one thing — the will of the One who saved us. Do this Lord. And we know Lord that if You do it, it will be an absolute manifestation of Your reality and Your grace and Your power. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now take your hymnals and turn with me to number 567. This is a prayer and it's also sort of a self-exhortation for us to do exactly what Jesus is talking about in this passage. Let's sing it to God's praise.

Receive now a blessing from the One who promises to bless the faithful servant when He comes. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Christ. Amen.