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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Therefore, Keep Watch
Text:Matthew 24:36-51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Second Coming

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Amid the Thronging Worshippers

O For a Closer Walk with God

A Wonderful Savior Is Jesus My Lord

O Jesus, I Have Promised          

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
“Therefore, Keep Watch”
Matthew 24:36-51

In almost every era of time people have thought that the Lord would return in their lifetime.  Some commentators believe the Apostle Paul may have thought that because in 1 Corinthians 7:29, he describes how the time is short. The Thessalonians whom Paul wrote to certainly thought the Lord would return in their lifetime.  Some were so sure that the return of Jesus was imminent that they quit working.  Paul had to instruct them, If a man will not work he shall not eat...

History is dotted with many other similar incidents. After the Reformation, a man by the name of Jan Matthys said he was the prophet Enoch and Christ would return in the year 1533. Christopher Columbus, in his Book of Prophecies predicted the world would end in 1656.  More recently we have seen the vain attempts of Harold Camping to predict the end of the world, first in 1994 and then in 2011.  Harold Camping died along with his predictions.  He is no more, but the world continues to move on.

That anyone would even venture to make a prediction is astonishing in the light of what Jesus says in these verses. First, Jesus teaches that no one knows the day or the hour.  In verse 36 He says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Why does only the Father know, and not the Son?  In His divine nature Jesus is truly omniscient. Consider His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well as just one of many examples.  The woman had mentioned that she didn’t have a husband, and Jesus had said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.” (John 4:17-19).

Since Jesus, being truly God has knowledge of all things, why, in regard to the second coming does He say only the Father knows the day and hour?  In His humanity Jesus limited Himself, but only on some occasions such as here.  Perhaps Jesus limited Himself here precisely to show how foolish, sinful and utterly absurd it is for anyone to try to predict when Jesus will return and the world as we know it will end.

God holds time and eternity in His hands. Jesus will return at the time that the Father has appointed. Rather than trying to predict that time we are to live in obedience to our Lord and His word each day.  Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (v. 42).

Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches a great truth that applies to all of life, and certainly to eschatology - the study of the end times - as well as the relationship between the omniscient divine nature of Christ and His truly human nature.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

There is a biblical principle woven throughout Scripture, namely, that we are to live each day in obedience to the Word of God, living one day at a time and not worrying about the future, nor trying to predict the future.

As in the Days of Noah

Jesus goes on to teach in verses 37-39 that His return will be a great shock to most people as He returns “like a thief in the night” and many are caught by surprise.  He says: “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 all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (37-39).

It has often been pointed out there is nothing wrong with what people are doing in these verses.  Eating, drinking, being married and given in marriage are all good things. What makes it wrong and sinful is when God is left out of the picture.

The people of Noah’s day were so preoccupied with their own lives that the flood caught them by surprise.  It is not as though they were not warned.  When Jesus says in verse 29, “They knew nothing about what would happen,” He is describing how they blocked the reality of what would happen out of their mind just as so many people today do. But they, just like people today, had many warnings.

For instance, in 2 Peter 2:5 Noah is described as a preacher of righteousness. As he built the ark he proclaimed the reality of the flood and the need for repentance and faith in the Messiah for salvation. The people certainly knew that Noah was serious as a preacher of righteousness. They knew it, because as he preached, he continued to build. The ark was no small vessel. It took a long time to build.  Many commentators believe from Genesis 6:3, that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark.

In Genesis 6:3, as the Lord surveyed the wickedness on the earth, the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5).  And God said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3).

Some commentators take that to mean that people would not live to be hundreds of years old, as many people did in the early history of the world.  But many others see that verse as describing the amount of time before God’s judgment would flood the earth. It would be 120 years, the amount of time it would take Noah to build the ark.

It is, after all, in Genesis 6 where we read about Noah, of how he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. In that chapter Noah is described as one who found grace and was obedient to the command God gave him to build the ark.

Consequently, people not only heard the warning from the lips of Noah, the preacher of righteousness, but they also saw the sincerity of his message, demonstrated by his life.  He kept building this massive ark, year after year, quite likely for 120 years as Genesis 6:3 implies.

And there was yet another indication of the flood, an indication that people of that day would certainly have known about.  In Genesis 5, a chapter of genealogies, we read how Enoch walked with God and was no more. That in itself would catch anyone’s attention. That was a subject that must have come up in conversation: “Remember Enoch? That’s amazing! He walked with God right into heaven!”

And then Enoch had this son with an unusual name.  From the Hebrew it is a little hard for us to tell exactly what Enoch’s son’s name means, but clearly it points to a time of judgment.  Many commentators believe that his name means, “When he dies, judgment.” Or “When he is dead, it shall be sent.” Literally his name means "man of the dart". Just as a dart is thrown, and hits its target, Methuselah's life and death were aimed at the time of the great flood.

We know Enoch’s son by his Hebrew name, Methuselah, and we know that he was the oldest person to have ever lived. That was in our Young People’s Bible Trivia recently. One question was, “Who was the oldest person?”  Everyone got Methuselah right.  But then the next trivia question was, “How old was he when he died?”  And everyone got that right as well - it was multiple choice (!) - 969 years old.

So picture this in your mind: Noah is building this massive ark, decade after decade he is working on the ark. But he is also a preacher of righteousness. Certainly he warns of the judgment to come and the need to repent and believe in the Messiah, the Seed of the woman who will crush the serpent.

And as he preaches and as he builds there is the son of Enoch, that remarkable man who walked with God right into heaven without ever dying a physical death. And Enoch’s son has this unusual name, Methuselah – “When he dies, judgment,” or “When he dies it will come.”  Enoch walked with God, as they walked, did God tell Enoch what to name his son?  Any thoughtful person would think about that, wouldn’t they?  But no, they were too busy eating, drinking, giving in marriage. Life goes on with so many activities, so many things to be involved in.

In his trilogy on Genesis, the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice wrote:

By the time Methuselah was 850 years old God had appeared to Noah to tell him to build the ark, and Noah was getting under way. The crowds had gathered to scoff. 900 years old... Noah had laid the keel, constructed the ribbing, fitted the sides. The crowds were smaller because the novelty had worn off. 910... 920... 930...940...950... 960... Noah had long since finished the outside and laid the decks. The crowd had now faded away entirely. 965... The ark was almost finished. 966...967...968. The food had been brought on board. 969! The ark was finished. The animals were taken on. Methuselah died. God closed the door. The flood came.

“When he dies it will come!” In this Methuselah was a living testimony to the fact and inevitability of God’s judgment.” (Genesis, Vol. 1, pg. 235)

And Jesus says that is how it will be when He returns. He says, verse 39, “That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  People will be caught by surprise, not because they weren’t warned, but because they were too preoccupied with their own lives, and immersed so deeply in their sins that they fail to respond to the message.

In our study of Apologetics, we saw that people perish because they suppress the truth about God that is self-evident. They perish, not because of a lack of evidence that God exists; they perish because they suppress the obvious truth of His eternal existence and glory.  As Romans 1:18-22 puts it: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools...

Separation of Believers and Unbelievers

The third truth we see in this passage is that the return of Jesus will bring about the eternal separation of believers and unbelievers, those who have saving faith in Christ and those who don’t. In verses 40-42 Jesus says, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

When Jesus says, twice over in those verses, "one will be taken and the other left" we understand that one will be taken to glory with the Lord, and the other left for eternal judgment in hell. By contrast, many in the church today, those who are premillennial and dispensational in their view of the end times, cite these verses as proof that there will be a rapture of believers followed by a great tribulation of unbelievers who are left here in earth and given a second opportunity to repent and believe.

These verses are cited by the popular Left Behind series of books and movies. They made for interesting reading and an action-packed movie, but they missed the clear teaching of Jesus in these verses and Scripture as a whole. There will be one second coming of Jesus.  There will not be a seven-year tribulation in which unbelievers will have a second chance to be saved.  Nothing in the context of these verses suggest anything different. The Bible is clear in many places that there will be one return of the Lord at which time He will judge all humanity and each one will be assigned their eternal destiny.  We read that in passages such as Daniel 12:2, Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. We also hear that in the words of Jesus in John 5:28-29, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

That a separation is involved when Jesus returns should not surprise us because the first coming of Jesus already caused a separation of believers and unbelievers.  Jesus pointed that out Himself when He said, in Matthew 10:34-39: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

That eternal division, brought about by each individual’s response to the gospel, will be realized at the second coming when "one will be taken and one will be left."  Those who have saving faith in Christ alone will be in the glory of heaven; those who do not will be left to the judgment of hell.

Dr. R.C. Sproul was asked if that eternal separation would bring sadness to those in heaven as they knew a dear family member was consigned to eternal punishment.  R.C. answered along these lines: “The person in heaven would say, ‘God is just and righteous in all He does.  He is to be ever praised.’”  It was a wise answer and lines up with Abraham’s consolation as he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18:25 he asked the rhetorical question, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And the answer is unequivocally “Yes.”  And we will praise Him for it.

Therefore, Keep Watch

Because of the certainty of the return of Jesus it is crucial that we keep watch, as Jesus says in verse 42, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” We are to “keep watch” Jesus says, which entails not so much looking at the signs of the times, as looking at Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him.

In verses 45-51 Jesus tells a brief parable showing the importance of keeping watch. It has a specific application to those of us who are ministers, but it also applies to every Christian. Jesus teaches us this parable to challenge us, to challenge us to see whether we are being faithful to Him and to His word. After describing a servant who was put in charge of his fellow servants while his master was away, Jesus says in verse 50, “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”

The same is true for you and for me. The Lord will return at an unexpected hour, and our physical death may come at an unexpected hour. If we really took these truths to heart, how would it affect our conduct?  Would we say those words of gossip?  Would we watch the TV shows or movies that we do?  If we really took to heart the words of Jesus in this passage would we be half-hearted in worship? In service in God’s kingdom?  In our love for the Lord and for our neighbor?

Or would we, if we really took to heart Jesus’ words, take on the resolution of Jonathan Edwards, the theologian behind the Great Revival in America in 1733, who had the resolution we looked at last week: “Resolved never to do anything that I would be afraid to do if I knew that if was the last hour of my life.”?

When we keep watch by focusing on the reality of the return of Christ, we have a great incentive for holy living. Sometimes it is said that Christians are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good, and sometimes, unfortunately that is true of some professing Christians. But focusing on the return of Christ is an essential part of keeping watch and it gives us incentive to live holy, obedient lives. 1 John 3:2-3 speaks of this by saying:  ...We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Eternal Sorrow or Eternal Joy

As we look for the day when we will see Jesus, we do so as believers with great joy. The second coming will terrify unbelievers but bring great joy to God’s people. This chapter closes with words of Jesus that should terrify every unbeliever, and every hypocrite who pretends to believe in the Lord, but only as a show, only to go through the motions of Christianity without a heartfelt, personal relationship of faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus says in verses 50-51, The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Revelation 6 describes that day this way: The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:14-17).

But for those of us who by God’s grace have repented of our sins and have believed in Jesus alone for salvation, it will be the most wonderful day. Jesus described it this way in Luke 21:25-28: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

No one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return. But may each one of us be truly prepared through saving faith in Him alone, so that when "these things begin to take place", we can stand up and lift up our heads, rejoicing that the fullness of our redemption is drawing near even the wonderful and awesome return of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ!  Amen.

                                            - bulletin outline -
“No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father... Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what
day your Lord will come.”  - Matthew 24:36...42
                                 “Therefore, Keep Watch”
                                        Matthew 24:36-51
I.  Throughout history there have been innumerable predictions of the
     second coming of Jesus Christ, yet:
     1) No one knows the day or the hour (36, 42)
     2) The second coming will  surprise most people (37-40), as Jesus
          returns like a thief in the night (43, 44)
     3) It will bring about the eternal separation of those who have saving
         faith in Christ and those who don’t (40-41)
II.  Applications:
     1) We are to “keep watch” (42), which entails not so much looking
          at the signs of the times (32-33), as looking at ourselves (45-51)
     2) The second coming will terrify unbelievers, but bring great joy
          to God’s people (50-51; Luke 21:25-28; Revelation 6:14-17)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Ted Gray

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