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Luke 12:35-40 1
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,  36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Background

These verses contain two small parables. While they do not specifically mention Christ’s return, that is their focus. Those who are ready will be rewarded, and those who are not ready will suffer judgment.

In our first parable, Jesus tells about slaves who wait vigilantly for their lord to return home (12:35-38). This is not passively waiting but slaves  showing great care and perseverance in preparation for the Master’s return.  Imagery in this parable resembles what we find in Matthew 25:1-13 and Mark 13:34-37 although they are not parallel passages or versions of the same teaching. Luke has its own points to make. Christ’s basic point is that faithfulness demands diligence. The parable also accentuates the surprise of a master who chooses to serve dinner (diakoneo) to his slaves (see Christ’s description of His own behavior as “one who serves” in 22:27). Normally the opposite would be expected. Even the slaves in the parable appear to be caught unaware by their master’s hospitality, since presumably they have done what Christ tells His audience to do: gird their loins in preparation for service (12:35). The inversion of social roles between lord and slaves illustrates the new relationships envisioned between master and slaves in Christ’s Church.

The early church looked forward to Christ’s coming with great anticipation. However, by the time this Gospel was written 2, Christians were beginning to understand that Christ’s coming was being delayed beyond their expectation. Today, looking back on two thousand years of Christian history, we find it difficult to expect that Christ will come during our lifetime. We generally have left preaching about the Second Coming to fundamentalists. However, the Second Coming should still be an important subject for preaching, because people need to know that the world is not moving aimlessly through time, but that God has a plan and that plan concludes with judgment and redemption.

Christ continues to discuss the need for readiness, but the imagery shifts dramatically to an other parable, a householder who needs to remain alert because a thief will not let him know when the break-in will occur (see a parallel in Matt 24:43-44; also 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4; Rev 3:3). If anyone has grown too complacent we are now being told that Christ’s return is going to be more like an act of breaking and entering. Surely the emphasis here is meant to be on the surprise of a theft and not the violence attached the image of a thief.  This isn’t a surprise like walking into your favorite restaurant to discover all your friends gathered to throw you a fortieth birthday party. There is risk involved. Christ doesn’t calm every fear. Some things remain fearful, theologically speaking, because the outcomes are unknown. Security, therefore, remains elusive in this passage.

Luke also deals with the themes of watchfulness and falling asleep elsewhere. At the Transfiguration, “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men who stood with him” (9:32). They were rewarded for their faithfulness. At the Mount of Olives, Christ “came to the disciples, and found them sleeping because of grief, and said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation’” (22:45-46).

The New Testament teaches us that Christ’s Second Coming is an important part of God’s plan for our world, so it is an important element in our Christian faith. Much effort has gone into predicting the time of Christ’s return, but such efforts are always fruitless. The Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour, like a thief at night. The question, then, is how can we prepare for the Lord’s coming? We can prepare, not by being always awake, but by being always faithful.

Items for Discussion

  • Please share a story about some task you have done in your life that was unbelievably hard, long, arduous, dangerous, tiring, seemingly never ending, and then how you managed to successfully conclude the task. How did you manage to get through to the end? How did you keep your focus on the task?
  • How are your stories similar to the “faith walk” that the Christian is being called to? The task is hard – How do we keep focused?
  • Have you thought about Christ’s return and what it will be like for the world? What it will be like for you? What imagery do you see when you think about the Second Coming? Is it frightening? If so, of what? It is a relief? If so from what?
  • How will you personally recognized Jesus? In other words, what kind of “Master” do you think He will be? 
  • What kind of servant is the Christian being called to be? Where do we fall short today?
  • What are the distractions in life that might keep us from being prepared for Christ’s return?
  • While the world attacks the peace we seek, the Christian must always remain faithful – What things should we be doing to “Keep on digging” when the world around us seems to be crumbling?

Discussion Challenge

  • The parables tell us that those who are prepared will be shocked in a pleasant way and those who are not prepared will feel like they have been robbed.  How do we prepare and support each other to be faithful, prepared people?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. The most probable date for its composition is around AD 80–110, and there is evidence that it was still being revised well into the 2nd century.
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