When Mark Hall set out to write the song that you just heard, he was working on a contemporary setting of the classic Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” As he started working on the song, he began to see how the people of Bethlehem really missed the coming of Jesus. It wasn’t much different for the city of Jerusalem. They missed the Savior of the world, who died on the cross. The song quickly draws parallels to the United States. Are we as asleep as the people of Bethlehem and Jerusalem? The stakes are high if we miss the coming of Jesus.
Much is being written on the Second Coming of Jesus. The popularity of the “Left Behind” series of books is partial proof that people have an interest in the future and how it will all end. It seems everywhere you look people are interested and have all kinds of theories about the Second Coming. My question for you is, “Are you ready?” Jesus cautions us in Matthew 24:30, “…No one know the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” I want to suggest to you that what is important about Jesus’ return is that he is coming back. It is not important to be looking for all the signs. Many times when we think of Jesus’ return we look to Matthew 24. I want us to go one chapter beyond that to Matthew 25. As part of Jesus’ discourse on the last days, he tells three parables. As we take a look at the parables this morning, I want to ask the question again, “Are you ready for Jesus’ return?” When it comes to his return, I believe Jesus was very clear that there three important things about His return. What are they? One, we must watch and pray. Matthew 25:13 says, “So stay awake and be prepared, because you do not know the day or hour of my return.” A chapter later in Matthew 26:41, Jesus is rebuking His disciples at a crucial time and he says, “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing the body is weak!” So in order to be ready we need to watch and pray.
Jesus told the story of the ten bridesmaids. All ten of them took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them took their lamps and extra oil. Five of them only brought their lamps and the oil that was in them. We find out that the bridegroom was delayed for some reason. It could be any number of reasons, but he was delayed and the bridesmaids decided to take a little nap. All of a sudden the bridegroom returned. You know how it is when you are woken up from your sleep. You’re a little groggy and a bit disoriented. I’m sure the bridesmaids were this way. Five of them were prepared for his coming and had the extra oil, because they had probably used some waiting for the groom’s return. Five of them were unprepared, because they used up all the oil waiting for the groom’s return. The five who didn’t have enough oil asked the other five for some extra, but those who were prepared didn’t have enough for those who came unprepared. So the five went off traipsing into the town at midnight to find oil. Finally, they got some oil, (must have been at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter.) But when they returned the door was locked and even though they had an invite they were denied meeting the groom.
Is this a picture of the American church? Some people spend all their time looking for signs and symbols of the Lord’s return…Look at all the books written about it. And yet, this doesn’t help us become better disciples of the Lord Jesus. It makes us knowledgeable about the future times, but leaves us empty in learning how to be more like Jesus. I think it would be good for us to occupy the time while the bridegroom is delayed with trying to be more like Jesus. Can I ask some questions this morning? Why do you come to God’s house week after week? Is it to see friends? Is it to talk about the latest happenings? You’ll remember that we are in a series title, “Lifesong Lessons.” Our life should reflect the one we worship. If we worship the everlasting God, then our lives should reflect that. If we worship Jesus, our lives should reflect that. Remember Romans 12:1-2, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.”
Some of you are going to think that I am meddling this morning. But that’s ok. Since were on the subject of worship, can I ask a favor? We need to be more respectful of our time together in worship. One of the things that have bothered me over our time together is talking that happens during worship. Some will say it’s the teens and our students. But many times I notice adults talking during the service, especially while we sing or take the offering. Remember the old saying, more is caught than taught. If we expect our students to be quiet in worship, then we need to set an example for them.
My prayer for our church is for us to become a mile deep discipleship church. Some churches go for one or the other. Some are a mile wide (congregation size) and an inch deep (spiritual size). Others are an inch wise and a mile deep. Somehow we must always balance the two. We have been commanded to take the gospel into all the world and make disciples and in order to make disciples we must know what God is teaching us. The first point is to watch and pray. The second point that we’ve already moved into is to occupy the time. We need to make the most of the time that we have. We have no idea when Christ is coming back. That’s why I believe that we should spend the time, not trying to figure out all the biblical roadmaps on when he is coming back, but to make the most of the time we have and bring as many people to Jesus as we can and disciple them in the ways of Christ.
Thursday night I had the opportunity to come over into the sanctuary and pray. I came over to pray for something completely different, but God used that time to speak to me about things that I needed to take care of to be the shepherd he has called me to be. I want to make it very clear that I love you this morning and I want God’s best for you. I want to see lives sold out for Jesus, not only students and young adults, but everyone who comes to our church. My prayer is that our church would be completely sold-out to nothing but Jesus and to occupy the time that is left in being sold out to Jesus and doing his work.
If we take a look at the second story Jesus tells in Matthew 25, we discover a story about a boss and his employees. The boss is about to take a long business trip. He gives the assets of the company to three employees. To employee number one he gives ten thousand dollars (This is a small company.) To the second employee he gives five thousand dollars, and to the third employee he gives a thousand dollars. He tells them that he is going away and that they should take care of the money for him. The boss stays away a lot longer than the employees thought he would. Finally, he returns from a many month long world-wide business trip. He calls all the employees together and asks for an accounting of what they have done. The first employee says, “You gave me $10,000 when you left and I doubled the amount.” The second employee says, “You gave me $5,000 and I did the same and doubled the amount.” The third employee by now is standing sheepishly in the corner. “I know you are a tough boss and I was afraid to lose any of the money you gave me, so I put it in the safe.” The boss is furious. I can just imagine it now in his best Donald Trump voice, “You’re fired. Couldn’t you have at least taken the money and put it in a low risk CD, or at the very least put it in the bank and gathered a measly 2% interest. You don’t deserve what I’ve given you. Give me that $1,000 and I’ll give it to the number one employee.” And so it was. We need to be like the first two employees. We need to take what God has given us and do all we can to increase the investment he has made in us. We need to be busy about the work of making disciples. Some of us are better than it than others, but that’s ok, we need to be faithful in doing the task that he has called us to.
We need to watch and we need to pray and we need to occupy the time. Is there anything else? The final story of the trilogy that Jesus tells is the story of the sheep and the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. What does he say to those on his right? “Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Those on the right are astounded they know what the Lord looks like and never remember helping anyone who looked like him. When did we help you they ask? We helped lots of people, but we didn’t help you. We wouldn’t have forgotten that experience. Jesus replies, “When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”
Then he will turn to those on his left and say, “Away with you, you cursed ones into the fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you left me out in the cold. I was naked and you didn’t give me any clothing. I was sick and in prison and I rotted there!”
They will ask, “When? When where you hungry? That’s not fair Lord, we didn’t even know you were hungry. Can one of the angels go get the Lord a hamburger? Or when were you thirsty? We don’t understand. Or when were you a stranger, you weren’t one of those creepy people who came to the door? That wasn’t our ministry! When were you sick? We don’t even know what size you wear. When were you in prison? When were you sick? I hope it wasn’t fatal. It was? ENOUGH!
Jesus stops them. It has become too much. He replies, “If you have refused to do it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have refused to do it to me.” Those on his left will go away to eternal punishment, but the ones on the right to eternal life. If we look at the difference it is in what they did and didn’t do. We have long way from the mission churches of the past. Most of our Wesleyan churches have no idea what the inner city looks like. Jesus makes it clear that sharing the good news includes helping the down and out. That’s why I encourage you to be part of the bell-ringing for Salvation Army. They are a quality organization to be partners with.
This morning I want to ask you, “Are you sleeping?” The scriptures tell us “time is running out. Wake up, for the coming of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Church, we need to wake up and get busy, first of all by getting deeper into God’s Word and growing closer to him. We can never grow enough! Second, we need to get busy, making disciples as Christ has commanded us. If you are sleeping in a spiritual slumber, the time is now to wake up. Again, I love this church and I want us to be the best that we can be for the kingdom. I want us to be spiritual mature and bring others to spiritual maturity. If you desire prayer that God would wake you up or you desire to go deeper with God, the altar is open. Come be ministered to by Jesus.