Certain professions require a uniform. The military is the first profession most of us think of, but there are others as well. Some restaurants require servers to wear a company shirt. In a hospital, it is easy to identify nurses by their scrubs and doctors by their long white coats. If TV commercials are to be believed, even the Culligan Man comes to our house dressed and ready for service.
At the beginning of our lesson Jesus tells the disciples "Be dressed and ready for service." The ancient Hebrews would have said "gird up your loins." Darrell Bock states that this command "implies a constant state of readiness that once taken up, is to remain in place." Jesus' words give us instructions on how to watch, how to wait, and how to prepare for his Second Coming.
Among many Christians in the United States, it remains popular to read the Bible to discern the signs of the times to determine approximately when Jesus will return. In fact, it has become quite a lucrative endeavor for those who publish on the subject. But to read the biblical text for the purpose of eschatological weather forecasting is to misread it. We are much better off taking our cues from Jesus as to what it means to watch for his return.
Here in Luke, Jesus is clear. We prepare for Jesus' coming by being about the business of the kingdom. We are ready when we live lives pleasing to him in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Jesus drives this point home with three images.
The first image has been mentioned-- being dressed and ready for service. In December of 1776 when the Continental Army under the command of General Washington was encamped near the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, the Hessian soldiers were encamped not far away across the river in Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessian soldiers remained in a constant state of readiness for an attack by sleeping in their uniforms with muskets loaded by their side. Even though they were sleeping, they were dressed and ready for service. In like manner, Jesus tells his disciples that to be ready to receive him at his unexpected arrival, they too must always have their loins girded attending to the master's business.
The second image is that of servants keeping their lamps burning waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. In those days, the time it might take to get to a destination was uncertain and there was no way to communicate while on the road except by messenger. So, the servants would have very little idea of when the master would arrive. His arrival could very well be in the middle of the night. Just as we would leave our porch light on for a family member returning home late, so Jesus instructs us always to be ready to welcome him. There can be no excuse for his followers to be unprepared.
The third image concerns the thief who burgles a house. If the owner would have known when the crime would take place, he would have been ready to take action to prevent it. If someone tells us today they heard someone planting to break into our house, we might tell the police and have them ready to arrest the perpetrators when they arrived. Jesus says, "You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (12:40).
If it is not yet clear that being ready for the Second Coming is being about Jesus' business in this world, our Lord drives his point home in verses 42-46.
And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.To be ready for the unexpected return of Jesus is to continue to do the Lord's work in his absence. The time between Jesus' first and second coming is not break time for Christians to passively sit until the Great Trumpet sounds. Indeed, to do so will catch us off guard when Jesus does return because we will not be dressed and ready for service. The father of English church history, St. Bede says of this passage, "It is not numbered among the virtues of a good servant that he hoped it would come quickly, but only that he ministered faithfully.
There is a bumper sticker I see from time to time on the highways and byways-- "Jesus is coming. Look busy." In one sense, that is very true; but those of us who follow Jesus are not simply to be busy-- we must be busy with the Lord's business. Christians don't just do whatever. We do whatever is necessary to obey Jesus' command "to make disciples of all nations." When we are about that business, we are dressed and ready for service.
So, let us stop searching the Scriptures for an eschatological road map to the Second Coming that does not exist, and instead join Jesus in the work of these last days that will prepare us for his unexpected return that will happen in the Heavenly Father's own good time.
Let us be dressed and ready for service.