Sermon on Luke 12:35-48 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins and read by Elder Marlin Viss during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 05/08/2022 in Novato, CA.
Today’s passage naturally follows from last week’s discussion about valuing heavenly treasure over earthly treasure. Here, Jesus warns them and us about the coming day of judgment. At the day, earthly treasure will do you no good. But what you will need at that day is a storehouse of heavenly treasure. Such treasure fundamentally comes from God’s grace through faith in Jesus. So then, today we’ll consider first in general the doctrine of the second coming of Christ. Then, we’ll consider how Jesus says people should respond to this doctrine. Lastly, we talk about the applicability of this doctrine. As we walk through these points, we’ll spend time addressing the two main parables in this passage, the Parable of the Watchful Servants in verses 35-40 and the Parable of the Faithful versus Unfaithful Servants in verses 41-48.
Let us begin first to talk in general about the second coming of Christ. This is also known in theological terms as the Parousia. If you look up the word Parousia in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it defines the word Parousia as, “The time when Jesus Christ will return to judge humanity at the end of the world.” That’s a solid definition. So then, we see Jesus prophesy his second coming in verse 40. He says there that the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. We remember that the Son of Man is his common way he refers to himself in his role as Messiah. Now this whole passage is largely talking about his second coming, but much of it is cloaked in parable. But verse 40, he speaks to make application of his parables directly to himself. He has a future date of his coming. The idea here is that Jesus would soon die on the cross then rise from the dead. Then he would then ascend up into heaven. From there, through the ministry of his church, he will make disciples of all the nations, Matthew 28:18-20. But one day he will return to this earth. He went up in the clouds into heaven, and he will return back to earth, coming in the clouds, Acts 1:11. This will be the final climactic event of this present age. At that time, when he returns, the dead will be raised and Jesus will judge the living and the dead at a final day of judgment. As Jesus said in John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” So then, the return of Jesus Christ to this earth marks the end of this age and the resurrection of the dead. There will then be a final judgment where one’s eternal destiny will be declared, Revelation 20:11-15. Those forgiven and saved in Jesus will be ushered into the glory of the age to come and the rest will cast into an eternal judgment of the lake of fire.
This is why it is so important to know that Christ is coming again. He tells us this as a warning. But returning to verse 40, we learn in this passage that we won’t know exactly when he will return. He is going to come at hour that we don’t expect. It is these parables in our passage that further teach that. The first major parable here is that of the Watchful Servants. Starting in verse 35, Jesus describes servants who are waiting for their master to return home after a wedding feast. So the master goes away, which is akin to how Jesus right now has gone away up into heaven. But in verse 36 it imagines the servants should be waiting up for their master to come home so they can open up the door to him and receive him when he returns. But notice in this parable that it is the uncertainty of when the master will return that is highlighted. It is certain that he will return, it is uncertain when that will be. So, in verse 38 it speaks of if he comes in the second or third watch. The Jews had three established watches in the night, so this suggests that the master might be very late in returning. But the point is the uncertainty of when he will return.
The parable then takes an aside in verse 39 to use a different parable, that of the thief in the night. That analogy is found in several places in the New Testament to describe the second coming of Christ. The idea is that if you knew when a thief was going to come and break in, you would make sure to do something to prevent it. Elsewhere, that preventative measure is to not go to sleep, but to stay awake if you knew the thief was coming that night. Here in verse 39, it says that master wouldn’t leave the house if he knew when the thief was coming. The point is the same. If someone knew exactly when a thief is coming, he would take specific precautions for that time. But people don’t know when a thief is going to come. The point of the analogy is that we don’t know when Jesus will come back. Jesus himself said that he didn’t know the day or the hour. This is why it is so amazing when some Christians claim to have cracked some code and figured out when he’s coming back. But there’s no secret code to crack. The information is right here and in various other places. We won’t know when. It will be a surprise.
The same truth is given in the Parable of the Faithful versus the Unfaithful Servants in verses 41-48. Look specifically at verse 45. There, it imagines an unfaithful servant who thinks to himself that his master is delayed in coming. This results in the unfaithful servant misbehaving. But notice the shortsighted mentality of the unfaithful servant. He observes what seems to him as a delay in his master’s returning. But he treats the delay like as if the master is never coming back again. He acts like he can thus behave with impunity because his master is longer in returning than he had expected. This is short-sighted because the master will ultimately return and hold him accountable.
So then, in this first point we’ve not only acknowledged the second coming of Christ, we’ve also observed how Jesus taught that we won’t know when it will happen. In fact, it will seem to us to be delayed. It will seem to us to be longer in coming than we had first expected. We might be tempted to think that such a delay means he is not actually coming. That is why Jesus gives so much warning to expect a delay and to expect to be caught off guard when he finally returns. The Apostle Peter warned in 2 Peter 3:4 that in the ladder days there would be people who scoff at this idea that Jesus is yet coming back. They will point to the delay as proof that he’s not coming back. Such scoffing has been happening now for centuries. Such scoffing and doubt is very much alive and present today. Most people don’t believe in the return of Jesus. But all true Christians do. Jesus is coming again and he told us to expect such a delay so we don’t get caught off guard when he finally does come back.
Let us turn next to see how Jesus says we should respond to this doctrine of his second coming. In terms of this Parable of the Watchful Servants starting in verse 35, we see that we are called to be ready and waiting. In the parable, he says the servants need to be dressed, with their lamps lit, and awake, when their master finally returns. So then, people need to be ready to greet Jesus upon his return. What exactly does that mean? In short, it means before Jesus comes back, you need to confess your sins and turn to Jesus as your Lord and Savior. It means that prior to his coming, you are looking not to yourself but to him for salvation and life. It means you are believing on him and continuing to believe on him until he returns. To fall asleep ahead of his coming is akin to making an initial profession of faith but ultimately reverting back to your old ways and not continuing to profess Christ. So then, this call to wait and be ready for Jesus’ return calls us not only to come to Jesus, but it also us to persevere in our faith. This idea then of being ready and waiting is an important aspect of responding properly to the doctrine of Christ’s Parousia.
Another commended response to this doctrine is found in the Parable of the Faithful versus Unfaithful Servant. See what Jesus commends in that parable in verse 42. He commends the servant who is a faithful and wise manager. The word for manager can also be translated as steward. A steward is someone who manages things that belong to someone else on their behalf. Jesus says a good steward will be both wise and faithful.
In terms of being wise, the steward is supposed to use wisdom and prudence to exercise his stewardship. Here you might recall Jesus’ parable of the talents of silver from Matthew 25 where the good servants wisely invested their master’s money to double their investment, but the bad servant wasn’t even wise enough to put the money in the bank and generate interest – they just buried their money in the ground until the master returned. Wise stewardship means you think how to best manage and oversee what has been entrusted to you. Wisdom will capitalize what has been entrusted to them for the master’s best interest; foolishness will squander the resources.
As for faithfulness, a steward is also to be faithful to care for these things in service to his master. If your next-door neighbor asks you to feed their pet while they are gone, you are being entrusted with a task of stewardship. If you forget or otherwise neglect to feed the pet, you are not being faithful as a steward. This is why we speak of stewardship as caring for those things that have been entrusted to you – hear the word “trust” in there. If a steward is faithful in their responsibility, then such trust was well founded. If they are not faithful, then that shows the steward wasn’t trustworthy and he has broken that trust. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 4:2, saying, that “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” At the heart of such faithfulness of a steward then, is a entrust responsibility to care for things that belong to someone else.
So then, in this parable we see examples of a wise and faithful steward versus the opposite. So then apply this to our service as Christians. While we wait for Christ’s return, we should see ourselves as servants of Christ who are his stewards here on earth. There are things he has entrusted to you, talents, resources, time, opportunities, spiritual gifts, etc. We are to be both wise and faithful in how we steward those things he has entrusted. We aren’t supposed to be like that unfaithful servant here in verse 45 who just parties and mistreats the servants under his charge. So this is another aspect of properly responding to the doctrine of Christ’s second coming. While we wait, we are supposed to be useful and productive in serving him here and now. We are to see this as a function of faithful stewardship until he returns.
Jesus goes on to say the result of how we respond to his impending return. Look at the negative. For that unfaithful servant in verse 46 it speaks of him being cut in pieces and put with the unfaithful. In other words, he’ll end up destroyed. Similarly, verse 48 speaks of a beating for unfaithful servants. Again, both of these things are description in parable. But the parables reference the reality that when Jesus comes back there will be a just punishment doled out on those who have not known his salvation. And I appreciate how verse 48 describes that the punishment will take into consideration what people did and did not know. In other words, God’s punishment on the wicked will be just. The more light of God’s revelation that you’ve received, the more guilty you are if you yet reject it. In other words, while all degrees of punishment in hell will be terrible, some will be worse, and all will be just.
But Jesus also tells us of the positive result for those who are ready for his return. Notice the several wonderful ways this positive result is described here. In the Parable of the Watchful Servants, twice it describes how blessed such servants are, verses 37 and 38. And in rather unexpected fashion, Jesus says that the master who returns late at night but finds his servants up waiting and ready for him, will find that the master himself rewards those servants by turning around and serving them! What grace for a master to show such to a servant who ultimately was just doing his duty! And then in the Parable of the Faithful versus Unfaithful Servant we see that the master will recognize the wise and faithful steward. In verses 42 and 44 it says that he will be set over the whole of his master’s household. We can remember this happened with the wise and faithful Joseph in the book of Genesis, first in Potiphar’s house, and then in the jail, and ultimately in Pharoah’s house. And so the parables speak of servants being blessed, served, recognized, and promoted. Again, this is description from the parable, but it references how when Jesus comes back there will be a great reward given to the elect. To those who stand fast in faith in Christ until his return, they will be blessed with the full enjoying God in a future paradise unto eternity.
Having spent some time considering the possible responses to this doctrine of the second coming and their related outcomes, let us turn now in our last point to consider the applicability of this doctrine. I’m sure its clear from the application I’ve already given, that this doctrine continues to apply to us today. It was applicable for them back then, and since Jesus has not yet returned, all this directly applies to us still today. But the reason I wanted to have our final point be to address its applicability is because of Peter’s question in verse 41. There, Peter asks about the applicability of this teaching. There Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” Remember, Jesus had just given them the Parable of the Watchful Servants as a warning against being caught off guard when Jesus comes on the day of judgment. That’s an interesting question because it makes us ask why Peter would ask such a question. Wouldn’t it be obvious that Jesus’ teachings would have application to both them and everyone? But Peter wanted some clarification here. Here is why I suspect Peter would want to ask that question. He probably thought that surely himself and the other inner circle of the twelve disciples wouldn’t need such a warning. This is surely Peter saying to Jesus, “I know you are telling us this parable, but really you mean it for everyone else, right? When you come for judgment and for glory you will surely remember us, right? How we’ve been with you here all this time? This is really a message for the masses, not for us, right? Or, are you telling us specifically that we need to do something different than what we’ve been doing?” And so, I suspect that Peter asks this question then to try to get some confirmation from Jesus that they are indeed in a good standing with him and don’t have to do something else.
But Jesus doesn’t give Peter a simple answer. But, what he does go on to say doesn’t let the disciples off the hook. They like all Christians will need to be ready and waiting for Christ to return. They like all Christians will need to look to be faithful and wise stewards until Christ returns. None of us can rest on past ways we’ve served Christ. We need to all press on and continue in faith, until the ends. Jesus doesn’t explicitly answer Peter’s question the way he asked it. But Jesus’s answer is clear. The applicability of these parables is for all Christians, the disciples included. We all need to make sure Christ’s return does not catch us off guard.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I thought Peter’s question here and Jesus’ answer would give us some good final application today. It is easy to sit in church and hear sermons and think the exhortations are for other people. We can sit and hear sermons and think, “I hope so-and-so is really listening, because they really need this lesson.” But let us sit and learn from each sermon to especially find the applicability they bring personally. In today’s case, we each need this exhortation to perseverance in the faith until the day of Christ. Today’s message is again something for us all to take application from.
Indeed, by the grace of God, may we be ready and waiting for Christ’s return. By the grace of God, may we be servants of Christ who are sfaithful and wise stewards of what he has entrusted to us. May we wait for him to come in eager anticipation of the joy that will be ours in that great day of the Lord.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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