As a former teacher, I’ve given my students hundreds, if not thousands, of
tests. But some of the most interesting and important tests are not the kind given on paper but are the tests of character that happen from time to time. On occasion, I had to leave my room as a teacher, and this immediately presented the class with a pop test: a test of their character. Would they keep working quietly as I wished and as they were supposed to, or would they go their own way and ignore what the teacher has commanded them?
In a similar way, there is a test in this life that we as Christians have all been given, a test that Jesus addresses in his teaching this morning from Luke 12. The test begins with our knowledge that the Lord is not physically among us. While we see that Jesus is not with us physically at the moment, we have His promise that He will return. The problem is that we don’t know when, and so we’re tempted to go our own way in the meantime.
In Luke 12, the Teacher prepares you for this test and asks you the question: “What will you do in My absence?” There are basically two ways that we as servants can respond to the absence of our Master: they are what I call “Wise and Watchful” and “Foolish and Fiddling.”
Jesus begins his discourse on how we are to live in His absence by commanding us to be wise and watchful. “Be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open it immediately.” We are God’s servants waiting for the return of their master, not knowing when the master might return.
The first kind of servant is the Wise and Watchful one. The wise steward is one who watches for his Master. His waist is girded, and he is dressed and ready to go. His lamp is burning, and he is ready even at night, even in the dark. He has not let his attention slip away from his one sacred task, which is to watch for the Master.
You must be watchful in waiting for Jesus Christ. When I taught, I had some classes I could leave alone and they would work quietly. With teachers and students, it’s easy to imagine the teacher coming back because she’s probably just left and the students know what she looks like.
But how can we stay watchful when the Master delays, and when He’s often difficult to see and remember anyway? In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey talks about a kind of competition between things that are important and things that are urgent. The things that are important and urgent usually get done, except by irresponsible people. But what of the other 3 kinds of things – the unimportant but urgent, the important but not urgent, and the unimportant and not urgent?
I believe that our problem in remaining watchful is that we relegate the coming of Christ into our lives as important but not urgent (in theory) or even worse as unimportant and not urgent (what our behavior often indicates). Why don’t we remain watchful? Because we don’t think watching for the Lord is urgent or important.
Sometimes we know that watching for the return of Christ is very important, but it’s completely not urgent. Like the foolish virgins, we think we’ve got all the time in the world. After all, Jesus Christ has tarried for 2000 years now, and there’s a good chance He’ll tarry until long after I’m dead. One of my favorite things to point out about the older versions of the Book of Common Prayer is the Tables in the front for finding Holy Days. On page lvii in my 1928 Prayer Book is Table II, providing the Golden Numbers (for calculating Easter and therefore all of the other moveable feasts). There, you’ll find that the editors of the Prayer Book were prepared to calculate the day Easter falls on until the year 8400! Maybe Christ won’t come tomorrow!
But I think we’ve misunderstood the passage if we think that Jesus’ words are just about His Second Coming. If that’s true, then the implication would be that we can go through our whole lives and not witness the coming of Christ. How anticlimactic!
But what if we recognized that Jesus Christ comes not only in His nativity 2000 years ago and at some indeterminate date in the distant future but also every day into our lives? Then our watching takes on new meaning and new urgency. No longer can we pretend that the coming of Christ is not urgent because He is coming to you each and every day. Did you watch for Him? Did you see and greet Him?
Why not? Because you may have thought it wasn’t urgent. Worse yet, you may have thought, or acted like, it wasn’t important. How do we know that something is important in our lives? We go out of our way to make time for it. Do you go out of your way to make time to meet and greet Jesus every day? The worst economic exchange in the world that a man can make is to trade something that is both important and urgent for something that’s both unimportant and not urgent. An example of this would be someone who forgets to spend time with God in prayer and the Word and Christian fellowship and worship and service but somehow remembers to watch TV or surf the Net or go out and play in some other way. Time with God, meeting the Master, is both important and urgent, while our extra leisure is both unimportant (relatively) and not urgent.
We need, therefore, to place reminders of the presence of Jesus Christ everywhere in our lives. We need to schedule Him in, so that we make time to pray, read His Word, meditate, serve others in His name, help make disciples, worship Him, and have Christian fellowship. We need to write ourselves notes and set up reminders on our cell phones or mirrors and refrigerators. We need to call each other and e-mail and meet to encourage and remind one another.
The truly amazing thing for the one who is Wise and Watchful is the reward God promises to him. What does Jesus say (verse 37) the Master will do for the Wise and Watchful servant? “Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” To the Wise and Watchful servant Jesus promises to sit down and eat with them in His heavenly banquet. He promises to feed them with the heavenly food which is Himself, and He promises that He Himself, the Master, will serve the servant!
This is almost too amazing to be true! Except that we know that the same Master who washed His disciples’ feet before He gave up His life for them will come and serve you as well, if first you serve Him. If you stay wise and watchful, Jesus promises (verse 42) to make you a ruler over His household. I can scarcely imagine what good things God has in store for those who remain wise and watchful in this life: maybe you should spend some time today meditating on this!
Though I prefer not to think what Jesus has in store for those who are Foolish and Fiddling, He nevertheless reminds us. To the foolish and fiddling servant, the one who thinks that the presence of the Master is either not urgent or important or is neither, Jesus promises nothing but punishment. Jesus tells us that the Master will cut him in two (verse 46)! He will count him as an unbeliever – even if he professes to believe. And the Master will beat that servant with many blows.
You may think that since Jesus has already delayed His Second Coming 2000 years that you’ve got plenty of time to get your act together. But how do any of us know when God may require our life of us? For any of us, the day of the Lord could come tomorrow – or when we least expect it. What if He comes when we are like the servants in His parable: unprepared, drunk, and cruel? You may or may not be a drunkard, but are there things in your life that distract you from your Lord? Do you find yourself often forgetting about God and caring too much about your daily luxuries and the things of this world?
When I had to leave my classes for one reason or another, some classes stayed on task: these were the wise and watchful. More commonly classes would get distracted and begin talking, playing, or horsing around. In some schools even worse things could happen with the teacher gone. One time when I was teaching, in one of the relatively good schools I taught in, I had a teacher next door with whom I team taught. Sometimes, she would leave the room, and she’d ask me to listen for her kids. One day, a kid named Steven ran into my class from next door, screaming. He was known for playing around, so at first I thought he was joking, because he was screaming, “Mr. E., Mr. E.! Scott stuck a pencil up my butt! Scott stuck a pencil up my butt!”
It took me a few seconds to realize that Steven wasn’t kidding and that, in fact, a pencil was lodged inside a certain part of Steven’s anatomy! Apparently, Steven was returning to his seat, and Scott thought it would be funny to pretend to hold a pencil under where Steven was about to sit. Apparently, he also thought Steven would notice him – and the pencil. He didn’t.
Playing while the Master is away can be even more dangerous to your health than a pencil in your anatomy (which, in this case, was only ½ an inch away from the spinal cord. Thanks to God, Steven suffered no serious injury).
How you live each day in this life has eternal consequences. The choices we make determine our future, the choices we make each day whether or not to watch for the Master and meet Him. When I was a kid, I wrote stories where my classmates got to fill in the blanks to make up parts of the story and even, once, help write the ending. But you get to write the ending to the story of your life. You have the choice of whether to be Wise and Watchful or Foolish and Fiddling.
“Watch ye, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:35-3).
Prayer: Lord, help me to stay watchful in my life with You. Help me to make use of the many reminders of Your presence that You graciously give me each day. Help me to watch and pray so that I may not fall into temptation and may watch with You this one hour. Help me, Lord, for my spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak! Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate on what things you know the Lord has been telling you to do (or stop doing!) but which you keep deferring until tomorrow. What are some of the ways you’ve been doing this that you’ve meditated on and prayed about before? Is there one area in particular where you know God is saying to you “Do this!”
Resolution: I resolve to find one way in which I have fallen asleep before the Lord and to find one remedy to help me be more watchful.