Matthew 24:36-51 ~ "Taken Away"
Open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 24. We are going to be looking at the end of the chapter, specifically at verses 36 to 51.
Before we get going I would like to just ask the Lord by his spirit to illuminate the passage before us and then we will jump in.
Father, we come to the end of the Olivet Discourse, to the end of the explicit teaching before your son begins to illustrate by means of parable. We come to the end of the explicit didactic portion this morning Lord and we see the final promise of a return. Lord I just pray for your people this morning that they would understand exactly what it is that your son is saying. We pray that your spirit would illuminate the text and that you, oh Father, would open our hearts and minds to understand exactly what it is that you are saying to us. Lord I pray that you would help us to know that our ignorance about the exact moment of your return is intended by you to be an encouragement for perseverance. We pray Father that you would do that work in our hearts this morning. Lord we ask these things in Jesus name, Amen.
What is on your bucket list? We start out this morning with a question, what is on your bucket list? For some of you who are not familiar with that term it is a relatively new expression. It is an expression that means “what is it that you want to do, what is it that you hope to do before you die?” The expression was made popular a couple of years ago in a movie by the same title of “Bucket List” acted by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It's this idea that if we want to have a fulfilled life and if we want to die happy, if we want to feel a sense of purpose and a accomplishment and achievement there are certain things that are on our bucket list. There are certain things that we want to do before, as the expression refers to, “we kick the bucket” so to speak. That's the euphemism for dying or for coming to the end of our lives. So I ask you this morning, utilizing that expression which is common and made popular in our world today, dear brothers and sisters what is on is on your bucket list? Now as you ponder that question in your heart undoubtedly there are things you're thinking about right now that you'd like to do. I know that there are things that I would like to do. But, I would like for us as we consider that question to ask a more fundamental question, what would God have on our bucket list? What would Jesus like to see us be doing before we die? That's the question that Jesus addresses here at the end of chapter 24 midway through the Olivet Discourse. For you and I as we consider the days in which we are living, as we consider the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we might the be tempted to think “I know the world is coming to an end and there are certain things that I need to do, there's the certain things on my bucket list that I want to check off.” But, what I want you to consider is what does Jesus instruct us to do as the end approaches? In verse 36 Jesus makes the explicit statement concerning the hour and the date of his return - no one knows. He makes the statement that not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the father only. Jesus as he is answering the disciples’ question he answers it by saying point blank “I don't know.” If you recall the question way back at the beginning they say to Jesus “when will you return, what will be the sign of your coming and to the close of the age?” and Jesus launches into this whole discussion striving to answer that question, but in case they are going to follow up his teaching with a request for more specificity such as give us an exact date, give us an exact moment, give us a mathematical formula by which we might calculate it all out for ourselves, Jesus is saying “no, you're not going to get an answer to any of that stuff. No one knows.” The angels in heaven don't know and Jesus God the son himself doesn't know. He doesn't know. When he makes this statement we understand that all of these events that are being described by Christ here in Matthew chapter 24 could come at any time.
This is where we enter into the tension of apocalyptic literature of the Scriptures. There are among us brothers and sisters who look at this passage and say that these events were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. There are undoubtedly brothers and sisters among us who look at the events described here and they say yes some of the stuff happened but not all of it; therefore, we have to conclude that all of these events are yet still to come in the future. There is another category of individuals who are saying that there are multiple layers of fulfilment to the events described here in Matthew chapter 24. You will have an immediate fulfilment, you will have an intermediate fulfilment, and then you will have an ultimate fulfilment. That's really the right way to understand prophecy in general. If you read through the book of Isaiah or any of the other prophets in the Old Testament you will understand that when they talk about the day of the Lord they talk about it in these terms. If you go back and consider these passages they are seemingly contradictory. The Old Testament prophets understood the Lord coming back to this earth in two ways and they mention both of these ways in the same prophecy on more than one occasion. They understood the Messiah to be this person who would come and who would suffer and even die. They also understood the Messiah as a person who would come and conquer and rule and set up his kingdom. If you were to ask the average rabbi in the first century how do you interpret these passages in the Old Testament? Do you know what the common way of interpreting these passages were by rabbis in the first century? The rabbis common theory at the time was that there would be two messiahs and that they would come at the same time. It never entered into anybody's mind that these passages talking about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Lord could be talking about one Messiah who might come at different times. We step back and we look at how the rabbis and those in the first century interpreted these passages in the old testament and we understand now, that in light of the first coming of Christ, that when we look at prophecy we have to understand that the Old Testament prophets prophesied future events as all of these events kind of piled up on top of each other, but there would be great gulfs of time in between one event versus the next event. It's as though they would go up and stand on top of a mountain peak and they would peer off into the distance and it would look like history was one mountain peak on top of another and they would just see one enormous height surpassed by another enormous height surpassed by another one.
They would understand all of these peaks, all of these moments of history as sort of falling one right on top of another and they would never ever clue into the fact that in between each mountain peak is a wide valley of time that separates the prophecy and its fulfilment. So here in Matthew 24 Jesus describes events which, if you're living in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and were familiar with the teaching of Jesus, you would suspect as Roman armies are approaching with their standards proclaiming Caesar to be God that the end was at hand. You wouldn't be alone in that category. If you were alive when Rome fell in the fourth century in the days of Augustine when Constantine comes to power and the poor barbarian hordes march in and sack Rome, like those early church fathers, you would think this is the end. If you're reading Matthew chapter 24 very carefully, although you would be able to fit all the details very specifically or exactly, if you were a Jew or a Christian living in Germany in the 1930s you would come to the conclusion that the end was approaching with the rise of Hitler.
Now, in all of these instances we see that the end is not yet. Jesus is saying nobody knows that day or that hour. Yet, as we look at Matthew chapter 24 in its entirety we find here an incredible depiction of the encroaching darkness and we are able to identify its approach when we listen to what Christ says. If we take Matthew 24 and we look at the world around us and when you see a rise in violence, when you see a rise in natural disasters, when you see a rise in apostasy and false prophecy and false teaching, when you see all of these things you know Satan is on the move. You can be forewarned and for armed against the danger that is approaching. And yet, the end is not yet. Jesus says to the disciples very specifically regarding the exact day and the exact hour, no man knows.
He goes a little bit further in verse 37 “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” What was it like in the day as of Noah? They were developing their civilizations, they were marrying and giving in marriage, they were building towers, they were building colleges, they were building roads, and they were building bridges. It was a time of cultural flourishing and it was a time of great wickedness. If you are alive in the days of Noah and your name wasn't Noah you would look out on the progress that civilization was making and you would be convinced that we were entering into a grand utopia of human achievement. But, if your name was Noah and you happen to worship God, you would look out at all of this and you would think “this is wicked” because everyone is busying himself about his own business, seeking to do his own thing and no one is giving any thought to God and no one is giving any thought to worshiping the one true God.
God in Genesis chapter 6 is described as looking out on the entire world at that time and from his perspective he was sorry that he had made man. He instructs Noah to build an ark and to take his family to the ark so that He can bring judgment on the world. Jesus is saying that when he comes in his final moment of glory, when human histories last days come to their conclusion, it will be much the same. The world will be quite satisfied with itself. The world will be proud of its achievements and accomplishments. Individuals and families will be going on about their business of living as though they have not a care in the world, they will be engaging in marriage, they will be giving their children up for marriage and no one will suspect that judgment is coming. They will be caught totally unawares. This is the contrast between those of us who have placed her faith in Christ and his word and those who have not. We are capable of seeing the world that is falling apart in the midst of a world that looks at self and sees itself is making great strides and advancing and making great achievements. Jesus says that in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day when Noah entered the ark. They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus is coming to do judgment. That's a word that we don't like to hear. It's a word that we don't like to share with our friends who don't know Jesus. But, I pray it's a word that we will come to embrace. We like to talk a lot about God's love. God loves us, he sent his son Jesus Christ to die in the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We take comfort in the reality that God loves us. But we need to pause for a moment and we need to reflect on what love looks like.
If I say to my wife “I love you,” I cannot at the same time be completely indifferent to those things which threaten her. A number of years ago shortly after I returned home from the Marine Corps I was pursuing my degree in biblical studies at Dallas Baptist University. One evening I was doing Greek homework. I was slaving away late in the night to memorize Greek words with flashcards. Of course these my wife had gone to bed early and I was up late getting ready for a Greek test the next morning. We lived in a home in inner-city Dallas where gang violence was rampant. Our home was in fact the subject of a drive-by shooting at one point in time. You say “why did you live here?” I was a seminary student and this is what I could afford with a seminary wage, which was zero. So we lived in inner-city Dallas in a dangerous neighbourhood. We had three or four deadbolts on both the front and back door. It was about midnight and my wife had gone to bed when I heard my dog in the backyard and she starts to go ballistic barking and growling. I kind of ignored it. I didn't really think anything about it. She barked at a lot of things, but the more she kept on barking the more I began to realize she was really are agitated and there might be something backyard. As this soon as that thought entered my mind all of a sudden my dog fell eerily quiet. And that really got my attention. A few seconds passed and I heard a deadbolt on the back door towards the backyard slide open. Then I heard another one click open and then the doorknob began to turn. Now, in that moment I was filled with fear. I was absolutely convinced that somehow somebody had got a key or picked the lock or had done something to my back door and I was convinced that somebody was breaking into our home.
The way that our home was laid out was beside the back door there was a laundry room off to the right and you can go through the laundry room into the master bedroom where my wife would have been sleeping sound and peacefully. In that moment I was so filled with fear I thought I have got to do something! Yes the thought crossed my mind to bolt out of the front door, but then I thought my wife wouldn't be too pleased with that idea (laughing from the congregation). There is a dining room table there and I kept the heavy Mag steel flashlight for safety and protection that you could use to shine a light in the dark and also use a club if you needed to. So, when the door started to click and swing open I was thinking I have got to stop this person; I've got to stop them at the back door before they come into the house because my wife's in the master bedroom. I thought if I can hit them and propel them back out of the house then I can keep them outside and my wife can call 911. So I screamed Shanti call 911! The dining room table was in front of me and I don't remember now exactly what happened, but I blew through the dining table and furniture just flew to the side and I just went straight through towards the door grabbing the flashlight off that shelf as I went into the kitchen. I hit the light switch at the kitchen flew through the kitchen to the back door. The kitchen light was one of those halogen ones that kind of take a few seconds to sputter on. So, I'm running to the kitchen and the light starts to flicker. I can see the doorway, it is a starry night and through the start light I can see there's the shadowy figure at the back door and I'm running at this person. My plan is to hit him hard and then tackle him and propel him back out into the backyard and the whole way I'm shrieking Shanti call 911! Call 911! Just as I launch myself, when I'm about to just crack this guy’s head as hard as I can with the Maglite, the shadowy figure in the door with the voice of Shanti says “why would I call 911?” I didn't hit her at the flashlight. I managed to sort of force my arm to the side, but I hit her and we both went flying out into the backyard. It made for a good story the next morning, but it didn't make for a very good story right then and there in the moment. It's one of those awkward moments where because of the rain it was kind of muddy and we were all covered in mud now.
You see, I love my wife and I can actually say “yes, I know now I would put myself in harm’s way for her.” In that moment, in which I say I love my wife, I cannot say that I love my wife and be indifferent to anything that would hurt her or endanger her. If I love my wife to the degree to which I love her, to that exact degree I have to oppose everything that would harm her. To the degree that I love my wife I must oppose to that exact degree anything that would harm her; the greater the threat to my wife the greater my opposition to that threat. You guys following what I'm saying? When we talk about the judgment of God we are not talking about anger we are talking about love. When we talk about God coming to exercise judgment on this world there is an element of anger, absolutely. Scriptures talk about it in terms of his wrath, but we need to understand that God and the character of God that we are talking about is not some capricious arbitrary God who just flips and flies off the handle at the drop of a dime, this is a God who is exercise great patience and great restraint in holding back his judgment for the sake of leading this world towards repentance and yet there comes a moment in time in which his love is going to manifest itself on our behalf on him coming in doing judgment; as in the day of the days of Noah. You have a man who loves God and he loves the Lord and he worships the Lord and God comes to Noah and he says build an ark. There is an instruction given so that Noah can be preserved as Noah’s life was in danger from the world around him. Not simply physical danger, but far greater danger, spiritual danger. If God loves Noah there comes a moment in which God has to step in and rescue Noah from the spiritual calamity that is unfolding all around him; and he does. Dear brothers and sisters there is coming a moment where, for you and me, God is going to step in and rescue us from spiritual calamity, the spiritual danger which is unfolding all around us.
The term that is used is “taken.” It says in verse 39 “and they were all unaware until the flood came” and then in verse 40 “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” Now we are confronted with the question of perspective. Who exactly is it that's getting taken and who exactly is it that is being left? Some will argue that the individuals that are being taken are the church individuals who began a personal relationship with Jesus and that they are taken, that they are rescued, that they are delivered from this world. The other perspective is that it is actually a moment of judgment in which the person that is taken away is the individual that is not a Christian and who does not worship the Lord and that when this person is taken it is a person who is taken away for judgment. Now I've gone back and forth and it's a debate that I am not going to settle in the 5-10 minutes that I have here to talk about it. This is the take away; whether it's the church being raptured off the earth or whether it's the people on the earth who are not the with the church and who are not Christians that are taken away for judgment this much is absolutely certain, God is intervening and interceding to separate his people from that which threatens them. He is in a sense propelling Himself out of the back door in order to exercise judgment on the real threat. We can take comfort in that. Judgment is not a dirty word. It is a necessary word if we are to truly believe in the love of God. Now, that moment is coming. The moment of judgment is coming. It's a moment of judgment that is coming not only for the world that does not know the Lord, but judgment is also coming for us within the church to what extent do we contribute to the general well-being of our brothers and sisters? To what extent do we contribute to the happiness of the church? To what extent do we work together with our Lord to proclaim the gospel and to lift high the name of Jesus and to seek first his kingdom? To what extent? I asked you the question what's on your bucket list? Jesus gives us instruction in this passage in light of the fact that judgment is coming, judgment on this world, but also judgment for us within the church. What does Jesus want us to be doing? Look with me verse 45. In light of the fact that he's coming back to separate us from spiritual danger, he is also coming to evaluate and critique that which we do as brothers and sisters in the Lord and he poses the question “who is the faithful and wise servant?” In this passage He is going to talk about hypocrisy and judgment within the church. He is judging hypocrites within the church and he's also going to talk about reward to those individuals who are faithful and will be blessed by the Lord as a result of their faithfulness. Jesus starts off by asking the question “who is the faithful servant?” This is a rhetorical question. He's going to give you the answer. He says verse 45 he says “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” For verse 46 “Blessed is the servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” Here is the context; when you're looking at this you thinking okay, there are certain individuals within the master's house and one of them is in charge and that guys got a greater degree of faithfulness. That's not exactly the parable. Jesus sets up the parable here utilizing an analogy that was very common in the first century. He is essentially saying that you have a master who oversees the house and a great many slaves. The master has to go away somewhere to conduct business and so he asks one of the slaves to step into a position of responsibility and to take care of the other slaves while he is away. A lot of interpretations look at this passage in the say that what Jesus is talking about here is leaders within the church.
Please understand me; there is absolutely a higher standard of judgment for those who would presume to lead the church. That is absolutely true. James chapter 3 says “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers; for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” That is true, but that is not what Jesus is saying in this passage.
In this passage Jesus is inviting all of us to put ourselves into the position of this servant. A number of years ago, again as a seminary student, I was working at a job and my boss he was going to be away for business conference. We did a number of odd and ends type of jobs at this particular place of work. We were basically the errand boys who cleaned the warehouse, we got the coffee for people and we just did a whole bunch of random stuff. It wasn't glamorous. There were about a dozen of us who worked in the warehouse. My boss says “I'm going to be gone for four days. Claycamp you're in charge.” I hated when that happened because when you're working with college students the expression “when the cats away the mice will play” is even further compounded. When you are a university student you're out all night not studying, but playing and partying and having good time and then have to be at work at 8 o'clock to try and earn your wage. The boss goes away for three days and what is your first immediate thought? Woo hoo. I'm going to show up late and I'm going to write on my timecard that I was actually here in time. I can say I did the work but not actually do it. I get away with murder; it's going to be great and I still get paid. That is always the thought you have. I hated to be put in charge of that nonsense. He says to me “Claycamp you're in charge.” To which I would say “can you please get somebody else to do it?” I just don't want to do this. He always put me in charge. Now, I am technically not their boss. It's not like when university student Joe doesn't come to work I'm going to write him up. It's not like I'm going to be able to make a comment about his work record and put it in his permanent file. What's going to happen is the boss is going to give me a list of jobs that need to be done and I'm responsible for overseeing their that work gets done with less than adequate help from everyone else. I'm the one who is going to be responsible for making sure it gets done and I have no actual real authority to make sure that these guys are going to help me. That's similar to the situation that Jesus is describing here. He is inviting all of us to put ourselves into that position. You have a responsibility that you've been given you have a job to do in overseeing all of the other individuals in the house, but you are not in charge of them in the sense that you get to tell them what to do. You are placed in a position of responsibility, of working with them, working together to see that the affairs of the House are managed. He makes this promise sooner or later the master of the house is coming home. The wise servant does his very best. The wicked servant is like all those other guys that said I'm going to show up late to work and I'm going to say I was here on time and I'm going to pretend to do a good job but I'm going to shift it all onto somebody else if it doesn’t work out well. I'm generally just going to enjoy myself. He says here in verse 48 “But if that wicked servant says to himself, my Master is delayed and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites.” Notice that last word – hypocrites; meaning two faced, meaning duplicitous. Jesus' statement here is that you've got two people, you've got a good servant and you've got a wicked servant; as he begins to talk at length about the wicked servant he gives a label to the wicked servant of hypocrite. The wicked servant claims to be a servant of the master. The wicked servant claims to love the master, but the wicked servant is lying. The wicked servant does not love the master and when he is given an opportunity to serve he does not serve the master he indulges in his own pleasures. That's the wicked servant. The wicked servant is liked the college kid who, when he learns that the master is going to be away for three days, immediately gets it in his head that he gets three days with no accountability, three days to sleep in late to pretend to work but not really work.
Do you know what the differences between the faithful and the wicked? The faithful says I've been asked to do a job; however difficult that job may be, I'm going to do it as best I can because sooner or later the boss is coming back. The wicked servant says I've been given the job to do and I'm not going to do it because the boss hasn't come back yet. Do you see the foolishness of the wicked servant? Sooner or later the boss is coming back. For a great many of us we feel in those moments that you can't actually accomplish anything given what you have to work with, given the difficulty that it is to follow Christ, but you're not actually charged to accomplish anything. You're charged with being faithful to serving Jesus. The difference between the wicked servant and the faithful servant is, are you are looking at the fact that Jesus is not here yet or are you looking to the fact that Jesus is returning. That makes all the difference. If you remind yourself on a daily basis that Christ is coming back and if you live every day with the motivation that if today were the day that you came face to face with Jesus would he be proud of how you lived today. That makes a world of difference as compared to the individual who says I've got time. He's coming back sooner or later, but it is not today or tomorrow or the next day.
When I ask you what's on your bucket list of things to accomplish, Jesus doesn't actually give any kind of useful list here. He talks about responsibility and he talks about service, but again it's in the point of a parable which means we can't press all the particulars exactly. To be faithful to Jesus, to fulfilling those items that Jesus would put on your bucket list including feeding your servants, that's not the point of the parable. The point of the parable is, do you live every day as though it's the day you're going to face Christ? Do you live out your life with an expectation that sooner or later you will meet Jesus? In fact that's what He gives as the motivation for how to live.
If you look back in verse 42 Jesus' statement is, “stay awake for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” He openly acknowledges that we don't know the exact day of his return and yet that is supposed to be an encouragement to us to stay awake not to fall asleep. Not to indulge. Stay awake so you'll see when you're Lord is coming. Verse 43 “know this, that if the master of the house had known at one part of the night the thief was coming, he would've stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” Therefore you also must be ready. For the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Ignorance of the exact moment should not lead us to squandering our time thinking we've got all the time in the world. Ignorance of the exact moment is intended by the father to be an encouragement to day by day living for Him. So what's on your bucket list? For many people, even Christians, you will hear statements along the lines of I'd like to visit Israel before I die or I'd like to see the Grand Canyon before I die or I'd like to go and take a look at the Mayan ruins in South America. For some of us our dreams are simpler like I want to meet that special someone, get married and raise a family. None of those things are presented by Christ as being necessary items on your bucket list before you die. For Jesus, in light of the fact that the end is approaching, this is the one thing he is looking for - faithfulness to him. The one thing that should be on a bucket list is will we hear from the Lord “well done my good and faithful servant.” That's the one thing you should be seeking to accomplish every day before you kick the bucket. I pray that that's your heart's desire.
Would you please join with me in prayer. Father, we just thank you so much for the promise that you will return. We thank you Lord that you are coming for your people. Father we have many dreams and aspirations, but in the midst of all those dreams and all of those goals Lord, we ask not that we would necessarily see the accomplishment of every wish on our bucket list, but Father we ask that you would help us above all simply to be faithful to you in the little things, in the day-to-day things. Father, help us to serve you with our whole hearts and our whole minds. We pray these things in Jesus name, Amen.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.