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We have a tendency, as Christians, always to be ‘watching’, because Jesus told us to watch. What most of us are watching for is definitive signs of the end times, much the same as Jesus’ first followers were doing.
But we have to be careful that in watching, we don’t focus so hard on looking for signs that we miss everything else going on around us and even overlook our whole reason for being here.
Case in point: I took a 2-month train trip across Canada a few years ago. While I was on the train, I bought a book with fold-out maps that showed all the milestone markers along the train tracks. So for the next few days after I’d bought the book, I was glued to the train window, watching for the next milestone. In fact, I was so focused on looking for the milestone markers, I missed bear sightings, moose sightings, mountain peak sightings, etc. Sure, I was able to check off milestone after milestone in my map book, but what good did that do me? In hindsight, I would rather have seen the bears and the moose and the mountain peaks than the milestone markers.
We need to be careful that in watching for signs of the end, we don’t overlook everything else going on around us. We need to be careful that in focusing on end time prophecies, we don’t forget what it is that we’re actually here for – to learn our lessons and to help others with theirs. A focus on the end times can lead to bizarre and very un-Christianlike behavior, such as joining doomsday cults that pick a date when Jesus is allegedly to return and then run with it. If we know scripture well enough, we know that we cannot know the date or time of Jesus’ return in glory. Also if we know scripture well enough, we know that when Jesus does come, we won’t have to glue our noses to a train window, watching for milestone markers, or use a spiritual magnifying glass to find and decipher the signs. Because Jesus tells us that when he does come back, it will be like lightning flashing from one horizon to the other. We won’t be able to miss it. The signs will be so huge and obvious, everyone will see them, including unbelievers who have no interest whatsoever in looking for them.
You won’t have to pore over obscure writings that aren’t included in the Bible. You won’t have to click on yet another false prophet’s click-bait headline on YouTube. You won’t have to consult with an “end times expert” or attend special meetings at a sketchy church downtown to learn what to watch for. You’ll just have to still be on Earth and be your normal attentive self.
Eschatology is an entire field devoted to the end times. I don’t think that becoming a devotee of eschatology is what Jesus had in mind when he told us to “watch”. Always to be alert and aware like he was, yes, but to be so obsessed with end time prophecies and signs that you forget about loving your enemies and following the Commandments, no. Loving your enemies and following the Commandments take priority always. Treating others as you want to be treated takes priority always. Whether or not this or that celebrity may or may not be the antichrist, or whether or not this or that invention may or may not be the mark of the beast – these are the spiritual equivalent of gossip and hearsay. If we spend any time at all on these and similar speculations, it should only be in passing. We should never focus on them.
If you find yourself being drawn to blogs and videos about the end times or trying to overlay current events on the laundry list of signs given in Matthew 24, you need to stop. It’s a temptation. Jesus advised us to watch for signs of the end times, not to obsess over them. More important for us is to be ready, because even though Jesus’ coming in glory will be so obvious that even a blind man will see it, he will come at a time when we least expect it.
I believe this will be a supernatural suppression of expectation for everyone, not just unbelievers.
Which is why Jesus wisely advised us that, instead of only watching for signs of the end times and his coming, we should ALWAYS TO BE READY FOR IT.
Being READY is even more important than watching for signs.
If we’re ready, it won’t matter if we miss the signs, because we’ll still be good to go.
“Therefore be ye… ready: for in such an hour as ye think not
the Son of man cometh.”
There was a news story the other day about a TV reporter who dropped dead from a brain aneurysm a few minutes after giving a news report. Yesterday, we heard about yet another plane that dropped from the sky in mysterious circumstances, leaving no survivors. We hear about these deaths, maybe say a prayer for those who are mourning their dead, and then we move on with our lives. We didn’t know the reporter. We didn’t know anyone on that flight. These are other people’s problems.
Jesus says no-one knows the time of the end, not even the angels in heaven. He gives us a general run-down of ‘signs’ we should watch for, but they’re so vague they could apply to any age in history. At the same time, he tells us always to be ready not only for the world’s end, but for our own: Both of these, guaranteed, will come without warning.
I don’t know about you, but this stuff makes me stop dead in my tracks and panic a bit. I think: What if my end came now? Would I be ready? Was the reporter ready? Were all the people on that plane ready?
Jesus calls death the ‘thief in the night’ who enters your house while you’re sleeping. Sleeping means unaware and vulnerable. Sleeping means darkness. Sleeping means defenceless. Sleeping means looking like you’re dead.
The sleep described here is a spiritual sleep, not a physical one, and the thief a spiritual thief, not a common one. When we let ourselves be lulled by the world into thinking we have all the time in the world to get things right, we’re spiritually dozing and setting ourselves up to be robbed of everything God’s planned for us. We’re in danger of losing heaven.
When the urgency of “doing the Father’s work” is replaced with “eating and drinking with the drunken” and “beating fellow-servants”, we’re in trouble. Jesus spells out precisely what will happen to us if we lose that sense of urgency, and he does so using terms that leave no room for misinterpretation.
God loves us, but he also means business. Every day, all around us, we see and hear about people who experience their own personalized version of the end of the world. Some of these people we even knew well enough to be emotionally affected by their death. When their end came, were they ready?
God lets us hear about other people’s deaths so that we will imagine ours. Everyone in the Bible has gone through what is waiting for us. Half of my family has already gone through what is waiting for us. Death won’t always happen to other people. One day, when we least expect it, the thief will come for us.
Knowing this, we have no excuse if we’re not ready. We can’t claim ignorance.
We all need to seriously think about the reporter with the brain aneurysm and the people on that plane. Their stories are graphic reminders of Jesus’ warning always to be ready because we don’t know – we won’t know – the time of our end. If you were that reporter, if you were on that plane, would you have been ready a few days ago?
Are you ready now?
But, thank God, Jesus not only told us that we should be ready, he showed us how. We need to be sober. We need to watch. We need to have lots of oil in our lamps. We need to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And, most importantly, we need to treat other people as kindly and mercifully and respectfully as we ourselves want to be treated, and to make the best use of everything God’s given us.
If this doesn’t describe you and your life, you’re not ready.
Today may be your last day to get it right.
Do it now.