Keep Your Cell Phone Charged
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 12:35–48. There should be some in the pews as well. In those Bible’s the passage is on page 990. Off and on for a year we’ve been teaching through Luke’s gospel. We’ll be in it consistently for a while now.
The first line of our passage, which I’ll read in just a moment says, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” (v. 35). If you have a Bible with notes at the bottom, then there will likely be a footnote about being dressed for action that says the literal reading is, “Let your loins stay girded.” So, I thought about titling the sermon, “Burning Lamps and Girded Loins.” If you ask any church-growth expert the secret to a growing, thriving church is to have as many sermons about girded loins as possible. That’s what they’ll say, trust me. It’s a well kept secret.
Since this is such an obscure phrase to us, I did some research and found a graphic on the Art of Manliness website. There look to be about six steps that involve pulling your robe around to either the front or back, and then tying it up so “you’re all set for both battle and some hard labor.” Pretty simple. The origin of the phrase is in the Exodus story when God’s people ate the Passover meal ready to leave Egypt; they ate with their robes tucked so they were ready to run (Exodus 12:11).
About 20 years ago, Reebok sold basketball shoes that you pumped up when you were ready to play. Girding your loins is sort of like that. A more contemporary line might be keep your cell phone charged, which is the title of the sermon that I went with. You’re welcome.
But however you say it, the idea is the same: Jesus is coming again, so be ready for it.
35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 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. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 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? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 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, 46 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. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”
There are all sorts of unwritten social rules about the acceptable amount of time to return certain forms of correspondence. A medical bill might be due in 30 days or even 60 days. Those rules will actually be written. But how long can you keep someone waiting before you should return a thank-you card to someone who gave you a gift? I suppose it if it’s a wedding gift, you get some slack. If it’s a birthday gift likely less time.
And what about waiting for a return email? And what about returning a text message?
We’ve been studying prayer during our young adult Bible study, and I shared with just a few people that I’ve recently been waiting to hear back from someone on a writing project. It doesn’t take too many days before I start wondering, “Did the person get my email? Maybe it went to a spam folder. This person has received and responded to my other emails. Maybe he lost this one or forgot about it. Maybe he doesn’t care anymore.
Waiting can be very difficult. This passage speaks of waiting with readiness for the coming of the Lord, waiting with our loins girded, waiting ready to run hard after Jesus, waiting with our cell phone juiced up.
The temptation that Jesus corrects in this passage is that when we believe God’s slowness in returning to earth actually means indifference on his part and we begin to misuse people and things. That’s the exact progression in v. 45. When we think in our hearts, “He’s not coming back,” we take matters into our own hands, abusing people and abusing stuff and building our heaven hear on earth where we are master. But what God wants is his followers to live in light of his sure, glorious return.
I was talking with a man in our congregation this week. He’s been a Christian longer than I’ve been alive. And he said to me that, in his opinion, one of the weaknesses of the church today—meaning the broad church—is our neglect of both difficult passages in the Bible and the Christian’s future hope.
I told him, I’d do my best to speak to both of these this week. In fact, I’m just going to order the sermon this way; first, looking at the punishment for those who love being master, which is a hard statement, and then second, looking at the blessings for those who love the Master.
1. The punishment for those who love being master
Let’s first look at the more difficult theme of punishment. This is seen most clearly in vv. 45–48. I’ll re-read it.
45 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, 46 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. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Thinking about this passage, I’m reminded of a common effect in TV and movies to build suspense. In one set of shots, viewers are shown someone coming home, say the owner of a home. Interspersed with these shots is someone else doing something that ought not to be done, say, someone robbing the house. The director then cuts back and forth between the two scenes so she can build tension. The owner is in his car while the thief is in the bedroom. The owner is at the front door fumbling with his keys while the thief is slinking down the stairs to the back door. What’s gonna happen?
We’d be misreading the passage, however, if we only focused on being ready for the return of the master or being unprepared for the return of the master. To be sure, the passage speaks of readiness, but the deeper reason behind our readiness is the real issue.
The question is not simply our preparedness for the master’s return, but rather a question about what you most love. Do you love to play the master, or do you love the Master? That’s the question.
In the children’s story The Cat in the Hat, the fish is quite concerned about the big mess that the cat has made with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and he’s quite concerned about whether everything will get cleaned up before mother comes home. The narrator writes, “Then we saw [the cat] pick up all the things that were down. He picked up the cake, and the rake, and the gown, and the milk, and the strings, and the books, and the dish, and the fan, and the cup, and the ship, and the fish. And he put them away. Then he said, ‘That is that.’ And then he was gone with a tip of his hat.”
The cat got the house ready in time, but there’s no indication that he loves Mom.
The issue is not whether while the master is gone can his servants tidy up the place right before he gets back, but rather that when it appears his return is delayed, will they take it as a chance to do what they deeply want to do, namely, play the role of the master, abusing people and stuff.
In v. 45 when we read,
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…
a literal rendering of the first part of the verse is, “But if that servant says in his heart.” The issue is the heart. Take note, church, what you believe in your heart of hearts is not irrelevant to actions. Let me say it without the double negative. What you believe in your heart of hearts will come out in your actions—always.
And, O, what actions we see on display as v. 45 continues! The joy of the master’s food and the joy of the master’s drink all abused while he is away.
This passage tends to bother us, but probably not in the ways it should. We feel sympathy for this servant for the way he is punished, and while we might not say it outright, we likely think it feels unjust and harsh. As I’ve said in other weeks, this might be because you see yourself as powerful. But what if instead you saw yourself as a fellow servant who gets mistreated only for the fact that a servant more powerful than you comes along and does so just because he can. What if you saw yourself as those abused and mistreated? It wouldn’t feel so harsh.
A few years ago there was a movie called The Butler, which tells the story of an African-American man who served eight presidents during his time as a butler at the White House. The opening scene was the kind of thing I need to see as a majority-culture White person, but it was so disturbing I’ll never watch the movie again. It messed me up for days. Suffice it to say that on a plantation a wife is abused, a husband is shot, and a young man—the future butler—watched it all.
It can feel harsh when Jesus says he is going to punish the wicked and put them with the unfaithful (speaking, I believe, of hell). But let there be an encouragement here: God invests himself in the wellbeing of others and will see justice done. In another passage that speaks of the final judgment at the end of time, rather famously Matthew 25:40 says, “[A]s you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Jesus identifies with the least of these. In a similar way, consider the way Saul, who later became Paul, was confronted by Jesus on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. Jesus does not ask Saul, “Why are you persecuting Christians,” but, “Why are you persecuting me?” (v. 4).
Because people are made in the image of God, all people have dignity, value, and worth. You may have a different role within society than another, or a different role in the workplace than another, or a different role within a family than another, or a different role within the church than another, of you may be an infant on life support—but that does not make anyone beneath you. Might does not make right.
But you say, “Benjamin, that scene from The Butler is so far out there. That’s not us.” I understand. I think this is why Jesus speaks of gradations of punishment based on gradations of wrongdoing. That point is made in several places in this passage. Peter asks who Jesus is talking to, to the disciples or all (v. 41)? Jesus’s answer seems to be that he’s talking to everyone who has a connection to himself, but Jesus has a special focus on leadership. Jesus is saying that when no one is watching, God is watching. And he will come again. His delay, as Peter would write to the church many years later, should not be counted as some count slowness (2 Peter 3:9).
Before we leave this section, it might be helpful to widen out from this passage to what’s come just before. There are more ways than one to become indifferent to the Second Coming. Across vv. 13–34 the issue seems to be passion for wealth and the cares of the world. In other words, Jesus is wants us to have our hope in the master’s return where he will set up his kingdom here on earth, and so Jesus rebukes the desire to create your “heaven” here on earth using the things of earth. First, Jesus spoke the parable about the guy who constantly thought about building bigger and bigger barns to build a bigger estate and his heaven here on earth. And then Jesus spoke of seeking all the things that “all the nations of the world seek after” (v. 30). Considering the whole chapter, my point is that it’s difficult to be ready for heaven and the master’s return when your heart and hands are full of earth.
2. The blessings for those who love the Master
Thankfully, there is more here than punishment. In fact, I wouldn’t even say the main thing is punishment. There is a surprise in this passage far more surprising than the reckoning that takes place. The surprising thing is the reversal. The master returns to serve his servants. Look again at vv. 35–38,
35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 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. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!
Again, the issue is not simply readiness, but love for the master. And when we read what happens upon his return, we can see why these servants were so ready for his return and why they loved their master so much. They were ready for his return because they loved him—and he loved them.
Picture it like this: The master has been gone for three or four weeks. There are no cell phones to send text messages. There are no apps to check if the master’s plane will be arriving on time. Now it’s late at night, and the master is coming home. He sees his estate off in the distance; light is coming from the windows. Before he even arrives a servant shouts, “I see him; he’s coming home.” They grab his robe and slippers and get him his favorite snack. 1 And then comes the surprise—for them and for us. The master takes off his robe, washes the feet of the servants, sits them at his table, and feeds them his best meal.
Now that is special. That’s good news.
I mentioned at the start that a man in our church told me he thinks churches often neglect to teach about both the hard passages of the Bible and our future hope. There is, after all, a connection between these two things. The urgency with which Jesus charges his followers to be ready is precisely because great things are at stake.
But it’s not simply “churches out there somewhere” that forget these things. So often when I speak of the gospel, I’ll use various shorthand phrases to refer to the whole thing. And often when I do speak of the gospel in shorthand, whether in church or at home or in something I write, I’ll often speak of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to the throne of the universe. All that is true enough. But it’s incomplete.
This last Christmas, the president of our church denomination was visiting a few pastors in the area, and there was a dinner with him and his wife and Eddie Cole, who was here preaching last week. After the meal there was a Q&A. I don’t even remember what the question was or who asked it, but in answering the question our president spoke of the gospel in shorthand. But when he spoke of the gospel in shorthand, he said the life, death, resurrection, ascension, AND the Second Coming of Jesus. When he did that, I felt this twinge of conviction. I’d been leaving off the Second Coming.
We all need reminders that he’s coming, which is why prioritizing in your hearts the weekly gathering of God’s people in a local church is a crucial step in being ready for the master’s return. At church this morning our first song was a song-version of the Apostles Creed, which speaks of the Second Coming. And at church now we have the privilege of closing our service today with communion. In just a moment I’ll pray and invite Pastor Jason and the worship team back up. As you participate in communion this morning, do so as a foretaste of the coming of the Son of Man who invites you—not because you deserve it—to his table to feast on his meal and enjoy his drink.
Pray with me as Ben and the music team comes back up. Let’s pray . . .