The First Sunday of Advent November 28, 2004
609, 604, 56, 60
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Dear fellow Christians:
In a few days we will turn over the calendar page from November to December. Many of the boxes on that page are likely already filled with appointments and reminders. In addition to all of the usual activities there are concerts and parties to squeeze in, guests to prepare for, trips to take, and shopping to do. Some of the items on your calendar may have been scheduled more than a year in advance. Some you will pencil in as you go along, and still others we will put off until a later time. We are accustomed to looking ahead, setting our own schedule, and planning for specific events at definite times.
But what if in the middle of all this, say during a busy December, God were to announce: “That’s it! You’re done! It’s all over!”? God could and will do that one day. The most important date on the world’s calendar since Jesus’ birth is the day of His return. But we can’t mark it on our calendars for “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven” (Matthew 24:36 NIV). Jesus’ warning and encouragement could not be more urgent. We need to hear it now, today! This could be the day!
The Lord’s warning is that we are not to be distracted from the day of His coming. We are to learn a lesson from history. “As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” [vv.37-39] God announced that He would destroy the entire earth because of sin. Yet, He did not do it immediately, but gave mankind 120 years of grace.
The reaction of the world was “ho-hum” indifference. People of the time were violent and immoral, but what Jesus stresses here is their confident carelessness toward spiritual matters. They couldn’t help but see Noah and his sons building an ark that was a football field and a half long and forty-five feet high. Not only that, Noah warned them and urged them to repent before it would be too late. The Bible calls him a “preacher of righteousness” (cf. 2 Peter 2:5).
Some admired his dedication. Some called him eccentric. Some ignored him as the lunatic down the street. But no one believed him. After all, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Even if disaster were to come at some time, it surely would not be today. So people went on with their lives and business as usual. They filled one calendar page and turned over the next, month after month and year after year. On one of those ordinary days Noah and his family entered the ark and no one paid any attention even then. Suddenly, without warning, the floodgates of heaven opened and torrential rains fell. The world realized too late that this was the day!
As the days of Noah were, so is our world. For the past 2,000 years God has been warning that the end is coming. But people barely notice before they shrug it off as nothing imminent and continue on with business as usual. Peter writes: “They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” He promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s Word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same Word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:4-7 NIV). This could be the day. None of us is expecting it today. It is business as usual. But that is the Lord’s point. That is just when He is going to come.
Are we ready? There is nothing wrong with eating and drinking, marrying, giving in marriage, and enjoying all the other blessings of life on this earth. But we have to be watchful, so that these things do not distract and blind us to the Lord’s coming. That can so easily and painlessly happen. When the average Sunday church attendance across our church body is somewhere in the 50% range, we need to ask whether it is a warning signal that we are being distracted by the world. We need to examine our individual lives and see whether our jobs, family responsibilities, community involvement, recreation, and all the other details of the day are causing us to forget that this could be the day it all ends. Jesus says, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap” (Luke 21:34 NIV).
Rather than being caught unprepared as the people of Noah’s time, we are to watch and be ready. Noah is a good example of how to do that. He did not procrastinate and say, “I have plenty of time to prepare later.” Nor did he panic and say, “I’ll never get the ark built, the supplies stockpiled, and the animals rounded up in time.” He listened to the Lord, took Him at His Word, and then acted on that Word. He faithfully built and preached until the flood came.
That is how we are to become ready too. We are not to sit back, coast along and do nothing. On the other hand, we are not to fret about the details. The Lord has them all under control. Rather, the first thing to do is to listen to the Lord. We need to take time each day when we can sit down with the Bible and have God speak to us. We need to have family time with the Word when we can talk with our loved ones about what God says regarding the future. We need our weekly gathering here around the Word as a family of believers for mutual encouragement and strengthening. Midweek Advent services are a wonderful means of keeping our eyes on Jesus during this especially busy time of year. When you are tempted to put off these times with the Lord or cut them short for the sake of some earthly circumstance, remember this could be the day the Lord returns. How important will all these earthly things be then?
When we listen, God tells us that we do not have to fear Jesus’ return. We look forward to it with eager anticipation, just as we anticipate Jesus’ birth each year. The two comings are connected. Jesus came the first time so that we could be watching and waiting for His return at the end of time. He came in great humility so that He could be under God’s Law and fulfill it for us with His own holy life. He laid down that life on the cross to free us from the penalty of our sin. Everyone who believes in Him is pronounced righteous by God. Noah was called righteous and “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8) for the same reason.
A living faith moves us to serve the Lord, rather than live for the world. If you knew that the world was going to end at midnight tomorrow night, how would you use those last hours? Would you take a whirlwind trip to the places you always wanted to visit? Would you splurge and buy what you always dreamed of owning? Would you take in as many new experiences as possible? Many years ago a pastor was asked that question. His answer was not what you might expect. He replied, “Why, I would do what I had planned to do. I would preach in the morning. I would spend the afternoon and evening at home with a family who invited me. I would go to bed at the usual time, commend myself into the Lord’s hands, and wake up in heaven.” Which alternative better reflects true readiness for the Lord?
We are ready for the Lord when we approach each day as though this were the day. Then our priorities will be clear. Then we will want to dedicate our time to serving the Lord and loving our neighbor, whether we spend our days at home, on the job, in the classroom, or anywhere else.
When the Lord comes there will be only two groups of people. For one, the day will be the happiest ever; for the other, that day will mean eternal death. “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.” [vv.40-41]
For the believer, the Last Day means rescue from sin and the curse it brings upon the world, just as the waters of the flood lifted Noah and his family up away from the destruction of the earth below. We will be taken up to be with the Lord Jesus in the glory of Paradise. The unbeliever who rejected Christ will be left behind. Recent best-selling books and movies portray those left behind as living on earth for a period of tribulation, a kind of second chance for them. But that is not at all what the Lord says. There was no second chance to repent after the rain started pouring down. There is no second chance to install a security system after the thief has broken in and stolen everything of value. Those left behind will be abandoned to eternal death and Hell as the world is immediately destroyed at God’s command.
We play Russian roulette with our souls if we say, “That day is a long way off.” It is closer than we might imagine. This could be the day! Write it on the top of the calendar page. Pencil it into your day planner. “Look, He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7 NIV). This could be the day! Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings!
Christian Worship 25:4
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