The following message is based on Matthew 24:29-51, presented at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on February 21, 2010
Comfort. What brings us comfort and encouragement? A hot cup of tea on a cold afternoon? Eating chocolate? Reading a good book? None of you better respond with “Sleeping in on Sunday morning!” These are just a few things that bring us comfort. Probably none of us thinks of the end of the world as being an invoker of comfort in our lives. Webster’s defines the verb “to comfort,” as to give strength and hope.” Words like reassurance and encouragement may come to mind.
Insecurity may the antonym for comfort. Reassurance is not what the astronaut expressed when someone asked him: “How does it feel inside the space capsule?” He replied: “It really makes you think, when everything is done according to the lowest bidder. It really makes you think.”
The following message is the second part of a study on the end times, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. But as the conclusion of history may cause some to feel uneasy, to the Christian it is something that brings consolation, especially as we wait for Christ in a world where there is much injustice around us. Today is the second part of a study on the end times, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. Comfort in relation to our Scripture today is to possess strength and hope in view of the return of Christ. How can we, as believers, gain comfort from the idea of end of the world and the return of Christ?
I. FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST ARE ENCOURAGED TO KNOW THE TIMES IN WHICH THEY LIVE.
What strikes me as unique is that there is incredible imagery in the apocalyptic language of verses 16-31. The symbolism, I must admit hard to keep track of. The language of fleeing under duress, a great time of tribulation, Sun and Moon being darkened, falling stars, angels sent and blowing trumpets, etc. These things were taking place in a figurative way, yet the behavior of those caught off guard is like nothing has happened; as if life is normal. Note Jesus’ words in verse 37: “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 “For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” In some ways, this is a repeat of history! It is the same dominant attitude as was present in the days of Noah!
One commentator noted that these events are foreshadowings of Christ’s return. They all have Old Testament influence, especially in the book of Daniel. In other words, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, and the situation surrounding it are repeatable throughout human history as a signal of what is to come. But the coming of the Son of Man is decisive and final.
Decisive events happen all the time. For instance, there was significance not only in the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but also in the barbarians’ sack of Rome in 410 A.D. marking the end of the Roman empire. Then when the Reformation occurred in 1517. Although a movement to recover the Bible’s place in the church and in faith, it was also a fragmenting event. Nothing would be the same. For some of us, it may have been December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy, President Roosevelt stated. For others it was September 11, 2001, watching the news and seeing those planes hit the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan.
Some believe that we are facing a time unprecedented, the information age, an age of extreme diversity and individualism. The church is on the brink of something pretty monumental. How will we respond to a world that is becoming more secular and diverse? Will we be found faithful? The call is to watch the times, and watch them closely. H.L. Ellison states: “The call to watch implies a spiritual alertness is not only in view of the Coming, but also of those judgments in the world, which by their decisiveness foreshadow the Coming.”
The lesson to you and me is this. The Second Coming of Christ will be seen as a surprise, something least expected. Paul describes it as coming “like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).” So the encouragement to Jesus disciples of all generations is to be spiritually prepared. Followers of Christ are encouraged to know the times in which they live. That’s why Christ leads us into the parable of the fig tree. We next learn that…
II. FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST ARE ALSO ENCOURAGED TO BE PREPARED FOR THESE TIMES.
Notice verse 32: “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” Jesus, in an effort to prepare his disciples, tells a parable. A parable is a hypothetical story meant to illustrate a life lesson, though may not be apparent to a superficial reading or hearing. Among all of the vegetation in Palestine, nothing is more barren-looking during the winter months than the fig tree. When its leaves sprout, you know that spring is coming soon. Jesus uses this parable as if to say that the signs of the end will be apparent, before the end occurs.
What does a spiritually prepared person look like in reference to Jesus’ return? Our Lord then uses more parables. There is the parable of the watchful householder in verses 42 through 44 to let us know that His return will occur when it is least suspected, like a thief in the night. “For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” This implies the attitude of those prepared for His coming. To be alert, to be watchful. To know the times.
Readiness also implies the right activity, not just a state of mind. So the Lord uses the parable of the useful servant. Note that the good slave is at work. He is faithful and sensible. He is busy about kingdom work when the Lord comes back. There is an attitude of expectation. Hence, he is rewarded upon the master’s return. Verse 46 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. How does one be ready?
P stands for prayer. Whenever the terms “watch” occur in the Bible, there is also the term prayer. Prayer is communicating with God. It is a two-way street of sensing His direction as well as expressing your needs.
H is for Holiness. Our behavior must be different. We must function with a different impetus and a different code of ethics. In a day in which people get angry and fly airplanes into governmental buildings, as 53-year-old software engineer Joseph Stack did this week in Austin, Texas.
L is for love. If in the end, peoples’ love will grow cold, the one thing that distinguishes God’s people from the rest of the world is how we treat each other and how we treat outsiders. It is amazing how adults treat children these days. Abuse is becoming common. Near Atlanta, Georgia, a woman’s ex-boyfriend shot and killed her 18 year old son, a young man with a promising athletic future. These are a sign of the times! It used to be that neighbors and society at large felt responsible for the next generation. Kids were relatively safe. Homes were left unlocked. Keys left in the ignition of cars. Not any longer! It is contrast to things like this that God’s people are known by their prayer, holiness and love.
But there is surprise and unpreparedness by the wicked slave; because his actions are irresponsible and insensitive to the times. The unfaithful slave is lazy, drunk, and lacks necessary judgment. Friends, this isn’t only speaking of physical laziness or overindulgence, but certainly spiritual irresponsibility which is found in an overall indifferent attitude to the things of God. Which are we?
Followers of Jesus Christ are encouraged to know the times in which they live, as well as be spiritually prepared for those times. You may wonder if the second coming of Christ is just a 20th century doomsday doctrine that a few marginal ministers thought of. The answer is no, not at all. Rather, it is found in the Apostles’ Creed, where the last line reads that Christ will come from His throne in heaven, “to judge the living and the dead.” In agreement with such, Caspar Schwenckfeld wrote these words in 1542: “He will then appear the second time, on that great day, at the sound of the war cry and the voice of the archangel, and will descend from heaven in his glory, with the trumpet of God, to judge the living and the dead, for the Father has committed all judgment unto Him.”
The second coming is a source of encouragement and comfort to Jesus’ followers. That the world in which we live is not the way it is supposed to be and one day, Jesus will return to make it right. He will part the clouds and come back for His people. That’s why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” John prays for that day when he writes in Revelation 22:20: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus
 See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comfort.
 H.L. Ellison, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), 168.
 Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief, ed. H. Drake Williams III, “The Confession of Our Common Christian Belief With a Summary Declaration or Interpretation,” (Kitchner, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2006), 123.