Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
We’ve all heard some version of the question, “If today was your last day on earth, what would you do?” The question is designed to get us thinking about what truly matters and what doesn’t.
There is a helpfulness to this question, I suppose. I certainly don’t want to spend my last day before seeing Jesus perfecting my yo-yo technique or binge-watching Dora the Explorer.
But to be frank, I find the “last day” question paralyzing. It’s overwhelming to consider all the things that could possibly be done. How does one decide what’s the most effective, impactful, God-honoring thing to do when your toes are on the precipice of eternity? How could I know if it’s better to sneak into North Korea—should it even be possible—and preach the gospel, or to track down all my unsaved friends and family so I can preach the gospel to them? Maybe I should also drain my life savings so I can give it away—but who should I give it to?
I have no idea how to answer these questions. Besides, thinking about the most effective thing to do on your last day seems to me like the silly meme that gets shared online: “Jesus is coming; look busy.”
Does being prepared for the second coming of Christ merely involve some extraordinary acts of obedience moments before he returns?
According to Jesus, it doesn’t.
What Does It Mean to Be Ready for Jesus’ Return?
In the Gospels, Jesus frequently charges his followers to stay ready for his return. One such place is Luke 12:35-48. Through a couple short parables about different kinds of servants, Jesus illustrates for his disciples what it means to be ready.
Stay Dressed for Action
In this passage—contra the logic of the “last day” question—being prepared for Jesus’ return means doing the kinds of things appropriate for your context, however ordinary and mundane they might seem. If you’re a teacher, be found grading midterms to the glory of God. If you’re a Christian who works in a factory, be found working until the whistle blows.
Jesus commands, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” (v. 35). The literal rendering of the phrase “stay dressed for action” is, “let your loins stay girded.” Back in the day, to have your loins girded meant that a man was ready to work because he had pulled his long, flowing robe around to the front and tied it tight so that it wouldn’t interfere with action.
These commands of Jesus, then, are pretty straightforward. Just do the kinds of things that a servant should do: Have your lamps burning, belt pulled tight, and be ready for work. Grade the midterms; work hard at your job. And if you are ready for the work God has put in front of you today, then you’re ready for the return of Jesus.
As the passage continues, Jesus underscores this idea again:
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” (vv. 42-43)
Note why Jesus calls a manager “faithful and wise.” If when the boss returns, the manager is feeding those under his charge, he’s considered faithful and wise. That’s not so extraordinary, is it?
If your job is feeding people, and when Jesus comes back you’re found feeding those people, he’ll call you faithful and wise. Or take for example a mother who is nursing her baby in the middle of the night: Although this is not impressive in the eyes of the world, she is more ready for her last day than if she were doing a hundred radical last-minute tasks.
While the “last day” question is paralyzing, the simple obedience Jesus calls us to is freeing. Whether you’re single or married, a mother or father, a student or business owner, getting ready for Jesus’ return will probably look an awful lot like your other days—that is, if you’re living for Jesus on those other days.
Love the Master
Not everyone in these parables is ready for the master’s return:
But if that servant says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming,” and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. (vv. 45-46)
Apparently, when the master is away, some servants play. They eat the master’s food, drink the master’s wine, and abuse the master’s servants. To say they did this merely because they believed their master was delayed, does not probe deep enough. They did what they did because what they loved most was being their own master (Luke 16:13).
In this example of unreadiness, we gain insight. We learn that the engine that drives all our service is what we most love. What we love in our hearts always bubbles up in our actions—whether our love for the Master, or our love for playing the master. Since the Garden of Eden, all people have the desire to play their own master. But when we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, he gives us new affections, new loves. We have the desire to serve him rather than ourselves.
Because Jesus first loved us, we Christians love him; and we eagerly anticipate his return. This means that the crucial task for Christians to cultivate readiness for God will involve—to a great extent—cultivating love for our Master, Jesus Christ.
There’s one final detail that we must see from Luke 12. It’s too good to miss. Not only does Jesus tell us how to be ready for his return, he also tells us good news about what happens when he does return. We read,
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. (v. 37)
The master’s servants were awake and ready to serve him. But that’s not what happens. There’s a beautiful reversal. The master dresses himself for service, sits them at his table, and serves them.
These instructions in Luke 12 about being ready don’t explicitly mention the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection, but the entirety of Luke’s Gospel certainly makes the point that these were the redemptive works that make the second coming of Christ something Christians should not fear, but wait for with eagerness.
And because he is most certainly coming again, and in light of the great love Jesus has for us now and will show us then, while we wait for his return, let’s not just look busy, but be busy with whatever he’s called us to do, no matter how seemingly insignificant the work.