Christians live with hindsight and foresight. We look back to our redemption: the once-for-all finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf. And we look forward to restoration, where there is a total do-over, a make-over on Planet Earth, and Jesus Christ rules and reigns.
As we look forward, how should we live? The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus 2:12-13: “Live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
As we anticipate, what should we know? What should we be aware of? Consider the parable of the fig tree that Jesus tells in Matthew 24:32: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.”
Notice that Jesus did not say, “Interpret what the fig tree means.” He simply said, “Learn a lesson from it.” He didn’t say, “Now you go to your theological libraries and try to figure out every little meaning of every detail.” He just said, “Look at the fig tree. Take a lesson from it.”
I believe there is a simple, straightforward meaning to the parable of the fig tree: You can tell what’s coming ahead by what you see right now. Jesus gave a series of signs earlier in this chapter–massive worldwide persecution (Matthew 24:2-13); worldwide evangelization (Matthew 24:14); the abomination of desolation and the mass exodus of the Jews from Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15-20); and the cataclysmic catastrophes that occur on the earth and in the heavens (Matthew 24:21-31).
Jesus said these signs would be “the beginning of sorrows.” The word that is used to mean sorrows is the same word that means birth pains. Birth pains are different from abdominal pains. Birth pains are more frequent and more intense. And when the birth pains come, you know the birth is about to take place.
If you ever travel to South Dakota, there’s a little town there known as Wall, and there is a drug store called Wall Drug. When Ted Hustead started the store back in the 1930s, he knew it would not get much traffic from his small town, so he put up signs–everywhere. He decided that everyone should know about his store. So he put a sign in all 50 states that tells the distance from that state to Wall Drug, S.D.
In Memphis, the sign reads: “Wall Drug: 1,192 miles.” In Paris, France, it says: “Wall Drug: 5,961 miles.” At the South Pole: “Wall Drug: 9,333 miles.” There’s a sign in Moscow and Kenya. There’s one outside the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. But if you’re driving on Interstate 90 and you’re 45 miles outside of Wall, you can count 53 signs in that 45-mile stretch leading into the little town. The signs get bigger and brighter. So, just seeing a sign for Wall Drug isn’t necessarily an indication that you’re close, but when those signs become more frequent and more intense, you know you’re almost there. Jesus gave a whole list of signs, or time indicators, so that already we can say, “I’m noticing the world shaping up toward His coming.”
Matthew 24:35 gives us a promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” There are two parts to this promise: The world of men will end, and the Word of God will endure. If you’re a materialist, I feel sorry for you. If your only hope is that new home or that wonderful garden or the new car, enjoy it now, because it’s all going to burn. The Lord has been faithful to remind me of this throughout the years. It seems that every time I buy something new, even though I try really hard to take care of it, it gets dinged or scratched. It still works, but it’s as if the Lord is saying, “It’s all going to burn.”
Matthew 24 closes with a parable about a wealthy master who leaves for a period of time and places all that he has with a servant. He comes back and catches his servant “in the act.” But what does he catch his servant doing? If the servant is wise, he is working; if the servant is foolish, he is wasting time.
The foolish servant says, “The lord is delaying his coming,” inferring that his master wouldn’t come for a long time, if at all. And in this section of Scripture Jesus goes on to tell two other parables. One speaks of 10 virgins going to meet the bridegroom, and the bridegroom is delayed in his coming. The other is the parable of the talents, in which a man gives his servants money and immediately goes on a journey. In that parable Jesus said, “After a long time, the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.”
It seems to me that, in telling these parables, the Lord was preparing His disciples for what would turn out to be a long absence. He was using imagery to say, “I’m going, and I’m coming back–but it’s going to be a long time.”
And the question for us is this: What are we to be doing in the meantime?
The answer is found in this story in Matthew 24. There are two kinds of servants: wise and wicked. The wise servant is caught in the act of faithful service. The wicked servant is caught in the act of fickle selfishness.
We who follow God are His servants. He is the Master. I want to remind you that if you are a Christian, Christ owns you. When you gave your life to Christ, you gave your life to Christ. He is the Boss. He calls the shots. You can never see your life as independent from God. In fact, that’s the very essence of sin.
Jesus says, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?” (Matthew 24:45). This indicates a task done in God’s household, the church. How are you helping to build up other believers in God’s household? How are you sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who don’t know Him?
Notice that the first servant is given two adjectives, faithful and wise. Let me ask you: What if your car started one out of three times? Would you say the car is faithful? What if you didn’t show up for work two or three days a month–just because you didn’t want to? Would your employer say you are faithful? What if you decided to make your mortgage payments most of the time, but a couple times a year you didn’t, because you wanted to buy something else? Would the bank say you’re faithful? In the same way, if you just come to church sporadically, but not enough to get involved, are you faithful?
Wise is the second adjective. Wise means you have enough insight that would prompt your obedience. Do you know that the wisest way for you to live is in absolute surrender to Christ? Romans 12:1 says “I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” It’s the smartest way to live. It’s faithful and it’s wise.
And it’s how we are to live in light of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.