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Christian broadcaster Harold Camping made the headlines in 2011 when he predicted the world would end on May 21st 2011. His supporters, many of whom sold their homes and gave up their jobs, travelled widely publicising the date and urging people to get right with God before it was too late. Harold Camping later acknowledged his error, and repented. He passed away in December 2013. In January 2014, his organisation reaffirmed his view that all mainstream churches were apostate.
I felt sorry for Mr Camping, and even sorrier for his supporters, because as we look at the subject of Christ’s return, it quickly becomes clear that we are dealing with two certainties; Jesus will return, and we do not know when.
It’s possible that Jesus was talking about a recent burglary when he mentioned the thief and the owner of the house. The unexpected nature of the incident, if it had been expected there wouldn’t have been a robbery, pointed to Jesus’ return; “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” This is a theme that occurs over and over again with reference to Christ’s return – no one knows when. It isn’t a fact that’s hidden away in some obscure verse – it’s everywhere.
So, the Lord’s return will be at an unexpected time, but there will also be a delay. The apostles thought Jesus was going to take the throne in the very near future. Just before the ascension they asked; “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus strongly implied that his return would not be immediate (v46, Matthew 24:48, 25:5, 19). It may have been 2,000 years but Jesus said it would be a long time.
The main thrust of this section is that Jesus followers should live in a state of readiness. We do not know when but we know we have to be ready. That doesn’t mean we pack everything away and sit around, it’s the opposite. “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.” (12:42-43) Jesus has given his church a mission to spread the good news of the kingdom. Readiness is doing what Jesus said.
The final section of the passage concerns responsibility. I’ve heard preachers say on many occasions; ‘all sins are the same before God’. I know what they mean, all sin separates a person from God, and all sin, if not atoned for, will send a person to a lost eternity. But there is a difference between those who knowingly reject God’s word (v47) and one who sins in ignorance (v48). The one who sins in ignorance remains guilty as everyone has a responsibility to find out what God’s will is; “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) The one who knows God’s word and still choses to reject it is guilty of greater sin. Either way, every one of us is a sinner and our only hope is Jesus. We have been entrusted with the most precious thing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is a wonderful privilege but it is a responsibility that we have to take seriously.
Lord help us to be faithful servants, to be diligent in your service and faithful to our calling. Help us Lord to share this wonderful Gospel with the people we meet today.