Chapter 19: “And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”

DO you know why Jesus tells us to “watch,” and what it is we’re to “watch” for?

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”  {Matthew 24:42 KJV}

Do you know what else Jesus tells us to do along with watching? He tells us to “pray”—and for good reason. (Notice also: there’s a second thing we need to “watch.”)

“Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”  {Luke 21:34-36 ESV, KJV}

Maybe you’ve noticed that the three passages we’ve had so far are all from different Gospels. Just so you know: Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21, are all accounts of the same important talk Jesus had with the disciples shortly before His death.

Along with watching and praying, and closely connected with not letting “that day come upon us unawares,” there’s another extremely important thing Jesus tells us we need to do—“be ready”:

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”  {Matthew 24:44 KJV}

Now, before we begin to take a closer look at this question of the end of the world and Christ’s injunction to be ready, I think it’s important that I first try to help you understand how absolutely critical it is that we be ready—and what happens if we’re not ready. And to do that I need take you no further than what Jesus says immediately after telling us to be ready in Matthew 24:44.

As you read these verses I’d like you to take special note of what happens to “that servant” if he’s not ready when his lord returns:

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant… It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns… But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come on a day when he does not expect him and in an hour he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  {Matthew 24:45-51 NIV, KJV}

What we just read took us to the end of Matthew 24. Now I want you to see how Jesus begins chapter 25: with the parable of the ten virgins—five of them being wise and five of them being foolish; and as you’ll see, Jesus is still discussing the same subject. (That’s why He begins the chapter with the word, “Then.”) As with the last passage, I’ll only share a portion of it with you. And this time I’d like you to take note of three things: what happens to the virgins “that were ready,” what happens to the virgins that weren’t ready, and then how Jesus finishes the parable:

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom…. the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”  {Matthew 25:1-13 KJV}

If you take the time to read the portion that I omitted from the parable of the ten virgins you’ll find that the reason the five foolish virgins weren’t ready was completely different than the reason why “that servant” in our first story wasn’t ready. But while their reasons were completely different, their end destinies weren’t: both the servant and the foolish virgins are portrayed by Jesus  as missing out on heaven because they weren’t ready. (Surely no one can think that being “cut asunder,” “appointed your portion with the hypocrites,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a portrayal of a heavenly destiny. And just as surely, Christ followed that story with the parable of the ten virgins to reinforce what He had just taught: the absolute necessity of being ready.) And then immediately after finishing the two stories Jesus adds that word “therefore”:

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” {Matthew 25:13 KJV}

Because what I’ve just shared with you is another teaching that for many is probably not only new, but possibly scary, let me stop and point our eyes to what we really need to focus on: God, His word, and His power to save us; not on ourselves or all the problems the devil and life throw at us.

“Being confident of this, that God, who began the good work in you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.”  {Philippians 1:6 NIV, NLT}

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power… Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm.”  {Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT}

As I sat here re-reading that last passage I was reminded of a passage we had in an earlier chapter:

“Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm.”  {Ephesians 6:13 NLT}

“He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  {Jesus in Matthew 10:22 NIV}

As Paul says in that Ephesians passage, it’s “God’s armor;” and it’s God’s “mighty power” that we need to focus our eyes on, not on ourselves and not on life’s never ending problems. And since we’re here, do you know what Paul lists as the first piece of that armor? “Truth”—and all we need to do is let God teach it to us (which oftentimes is one of the biggest problems), believe it, and then with God’s help, live like we believe it.

There’s something else I want to touch on before we begin to directly consider Christ’s directions to be ready, and it has to do with this question of the end of the world: While Jesus is unmistakably clear that “we know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (I believe that includes the month and the year also), and while I want to proclaim as loudly as I possibly can that we need to plug our ears and run the other way whenever we hear someone preaching a message that sets any kind of definite time for Christ’s return, Jesus at the same time is equally clear, and it’s recorded in all three of those Gospels I’ve been quoting from: we can know when His coming is near. (Mt. 24:32, 33; Mark 13:28, 29; Luke 21:29-31) And while I’m well aware that Christians have been proclaiming Christ’s near coming for more than a hundred years, I can’t help but tell you that I’m more convinced than ever in my Christian life that the end of the world is near and that we need more than ever to heed those words of Christ to “be ready.” Let me add something to what I just said: I’m also convinced that it’s infinitely better to be ready and have Christ not return, than to have Him return and not be ready. Besides, none of us know that we’ll be alive tomorrow, so we would be wise to be ready today.

“The Holy Spirit says, “Today you must listen to his voice.” …never forget the warning: “Today you must listen to his voice.”  {Hebrews 3:7, 15 NLT}

Now I want to begin considering this question of being ready. (Obviously volumes could be written on this, but I’m only going to touch on a few things Jesus mentioned in one of those beginning passages and then on one other very important thing.)

Here once again is the passage containing those few things:

“Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”  {Luke 21:34 ESV, KJV}

The first thing I want to briefly look at is “dissipation and drunkenness.” (The best definition of dissipation that I’ve found is: “a course of life usually attended with careless and exorbitant expenditure of money, and indulgence in vices, which impair or ruin both health and fortune.”) We need to become absolutely and forever convinced—and this is true for everyone, not just Christians—that dissipation and drunkenness, and all other forms of ungodly behavior, don’t bring any real happiness, but instead bring misery, ruin, and eventually death (both physically and spiritually). Then with God’s help we need to determine to put them away forever and not look back. And as a powerful incentive not to look back we would do well to keep these words of Christ in mind:

“Remember Lot’s wife.”  {Luke 17:32 KJV}

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story: Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah He sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family. And on the way out one of the angels warned them not to look back, but Lot’s wife ignored the warning, looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. You can read about it in Genesis 19.)

The second thing in that passage that I want to consider, and it’s important enough that this isn’t the only time Jesus warned of it, is “the cares of this life”:

“Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with… the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”  {Luke 21:34 KJV, NLT}

“The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life… so no crop is produced.”  {Mark 4:18, 19 NLT}

Unlike dissipation and drunkenness, “the cares of life” aren’t something we as Christian husbands and fathers, or Christian wives and mothers, or any other Christian for that matter, are called upon to put away. I think doing that is a form of fanaticism that tends to lead to this:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  {1 Timothy 5:8 NIV}

But while there will always be cares, and while it’s a part of our Christianity to bear our responsibilities, it’s critical that we learn the lesson of not allowing those cares and responsibilities to crowd out Jesus and spiritual things, because if we do “that day” will most assuredly “come upon us unawares.” What we all need to do is to fill our hearts and minds with verses from the Bible, and stories from the Bible, that will encourage us to trust God and not worry. Along with that we need to really believe, and then try to keep it ever in our minds, that the cares of this life are as a drop in the ocean compared to eternity:

“The troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”  {2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT}

What a wonderful verse!

Something else that will help us to not have so many cares is to not have so many “things”:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world…”  {1 John 2:15 KJV}

If we “love not the things that are in the world” not only will we have less of them, but we’ll be far less likely to be consumed with worry over them—and the debt that so often comes with getting them.

Now I’d like to share with you something that while not being quite the same as “the cares of this life,” is still what I believe is an excellent example of how learning to trust God, which is the ultimate answer for dealing with the cares of this life, is something even the greatest Christians have struggled to learn. It’s what Martin Luther once wrote to his closest friend and associate, Melanchthon; a man Luther had so much confidence in that he once said, “If you survive, my death will be of little consequence”:

“I hate with exceeding hatred those extreme cares which consume you. If the cause is unjust, abandon it; if the cause is just, why should we belie the promises of Him who commands us to sleep without fear?”  {D’Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 7; b. 14, ch. 6}

Let me finish this section with a couple passages we would do well to read often:

“I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life… Look at the birds… your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are… And why worry about clothes? Look at the lilies how they grow… if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you?”  {Matthew 6:25-30 NLT}

I think I should remind you of that important condition Jesus includes there:

“Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”   {vs. 32, 33 NLT, HCSB}

Since we just had that passage: I think Christ’s words, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” combined with Jeremiah’s words, “ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13 KJV), contain one of the biggest keys for being ready.

And finally:

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.”  {1 Peter 5:7 NLT}

Now to the final thing from our passage; and while I believe the one we just looked at is important, I think this next one is even more important—“your hearts”:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down… and so that day come upon you unawares.”  {Luke 21:34 NRSV, KJV}

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”  {Proverbs 4:23 NLT}

That last passage is one of those kinds of passages of which Moses would have said, “tie it to your hands as a reminder, and wear it on your forehead… write it on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 11:18, 20 NLT)

Along with guarding our hearts, we’re told to “establish”  them; and to give you a better grasp of just what that means, and how important it is, I’ll follow our next passage with the definition of establish:

“Establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  {James 5:8 ESV}

ESTABLISH: “To set and fix firmly or unalterably; to settle permanently.”

I don’t know about you, but for me that definition adds so much more meaning to the passage. And to help us in that direction, a passage that has long been one of my favorites:

“The Lord GOD will help me… therefore have I set my face like a flint.”  {Isaiah 50:7 KJV}

Since “love” is such an important emotion of our hearts, let me share with you a couple passages on love. The first we must always do; and the second we must never do:

“Keep yourselves in the love of God.”  {Jude 21 KJV}
“You have forsaken your first love.”  {Revelation 2:4 NLT}

Thankfully God isn’t asking us to “keep ourselves in the love of God” without His help.

There’s another passage that deserves to be included here. And since I’m sharing it, I’ll include a second passage with it:

“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”  {Colossians 3:2 KJV}
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  {Matthew 6:21 KJV}

Two final passages on our hearts:

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart.”  {Psalms 119:11 KJV}
“Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts.”  {Colossians 3:16 NLT} 

Do you remember that advice I shared from Moses a few paragraphs back? Just so you know, he was referring to God’s word: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead…” And just so you also know, I’ve never “tied them to my hands” or “worn them on my forehead,” but I do always keep them in my pocket on those little cards I talked about in the introduction, and I can assure you, doing that has been a tremendous help in “fixing those words in  my heart and mind” and in “letting the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in my heart.” And for those of you who didn’t read the introduction—and as I said then, I understand if you didn’t—for as little as $25 you can buy a laminator and a box of 100 laminating pouches, start making yourself these laminated Bible cards that will last you practically forever, and take a giant step forward in “fixing the words of God in your heart and mind” and in “letting the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your heart.” And I promise you, it has the potential to enrich your life far beyond what I could ever express.

Let me point out something else: I don’t know if you noticed, but many of those passages we’ve just had are extremely short; and if ever the saying were true, it’s here: Good things come in small packages. I point this out to encourage you: Generally, the shorter the passage, the easier it is to memorize.

Now I want to turn our attention to that final thing I said I wanted to look at; something so important that I would say it’s one of the great testing truths of Christianity. It’s actually something we had in an earlier chapter, only this time I’m going to take it a step further than I did the first time I shared it—which is where I believe the great test comes in.

This time in sharing it with you I’m going to include an extra passage so that you can see its relevance for us in this chapter. And as I share these two passages I would once again ask that you give them a little extra time and thought:

“Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news… your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son! You are to name him John… he will be great in the eyes of the Lord…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit… He will make people ready for the coming of the Lord.”  {Luke 1:19, 13-17 NLT, NCV}

And how is it that “he would make people ready for the coming of the Lord?”

“In those days John the Baptist began preaching in the Judean wilderness. His message was, “Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  {Matthew 3:1, 2 NLT}

If “turning from your sins and turning to God” is what was to “make people ready for the first coming of the Lord,” why should we think it would be any different in getting ready for the second coming of the Lord? And as I tried to show in another of those earlier chapters, there’s no such thing as turning to God without turning from our sins.

Now, as I said, I want to take this truth a step further than I did in that earlier chapter, and to do that I want to share another passage we had earlier, a passage that can probably do more to “make people ready for the coming of the Lord” than any other passage in the Bible—that’s why Jesus says it’s, “the first and great commandment”:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”  {Matthew 22:37, 38 KJV}

As I tried to express when I first shared that passage: When Jesus says that we’re to love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, He truly meant all. And going hand-in-hand with that, when God says, “turn from your sins,” He just as truly means turn from all our sins as He means love him with all our heart.

I’ll return to those two passages that I started out this section with in a few minutes, but first I want to point out two common errors that many Christians fall into when it comes to this question of turning from our sins.

Error #1—We can’t allow the devil, the world, or our own hearts to deceive us into thinking that the “little” sins aren’t all that important and that God will overlook them. While it’s definitely true that some sins are worse than others—I’d certainly rather have you lie to me than kill me—lying will keep us out of heaven just as surely as killing will. As a matter of fact, the Bible seems to stress that fact:

“Murderers… and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”  {Revelation 21:8 KJV}

“Outside (the holy city) are… murderers… and everyone who loves and practices lying.”  {Revelation 22:15 HCSB}

The important thing that all of us really need to understand is that it’s not primarily the size of the sin that makes sin so bad, but sin itself; and when I say sin I’m not talking so much about failure, or falling, I’m talking about willfully, knowingly choosing to do what God has clearly told us not to do—no matter how unimportant it may seem to us. To do that is a form of rebellion, and rebellion is far worse than most of us realize. And as I show you just how bad God regards rebellion I hope you’ll really take it to heart:

“Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft.”  {1 Samuel 15:23 NLT}

“Anyone who does these things—one of which is “witchcraft”—is an object of horror and disgust to the LORD.”  {Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NLT}

(I would encourage you to take a few minutes to read 1 Samuel 15:1-23; especially verses 21-23)

One more passage that I hope will help convince you how important the little things are:

“Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least (or worst) in the kingdom of heaven.”  {Matthew 5:18, 19 NRSV}

Common error #2 is something I touched on in an earlier chapter so I’ll just quickly mention it here: We must come to the full realization that it’s God, not us, who determines what is sin. And since sin is whatever God says is sin, how can we truly know what sin is if we don’t know what God says; which of course means we need to become much more familiar with what God says.

Now I want to return to those two passages—and because that first passage is so special I’m going to cite it in its entirety again:

“Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news… your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son! You are to name him John… he will be great in the eyes of the Lord…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit… He will make people ready for the coming of the Lord.”  {Luke 1:19, 13-17 NLT, NCV}

“His message was, “Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  {Matthew 3:1, 2 NLT}

I think it would be good to remind you that John isn’t the only one who gave that “message”:

“I have had one message for Jews and Gentiles alike—the necessity of turning from sin and turning to God, and of faith in our Lord Jesus.”  {Paul in Acts 20:21 NLT}

If we really want to be “ready for the coming of the Lord,” and I sure hope we do, God has told us how: “turn from your sins and turn to God”—“with all your heart.” I believe it’s as simple as that. If we turn to God with all our heart, and as part of that, turn from all our sins, everything else will take care of itself and we’ll be ready when He comes. And I assure you: God would never be so unjust as to tell us to do something and then not give us whatever it takes to accomplish it.

“He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin.”  {Titus 2:14 NLT}

I want to say one last thing. Along with turning from your sins and turning to God, I’d like you to take from this chapter two all-important questions and make finding the answers to them the search of your life: Why should you turn from your sins? And why should you turn to God? And I’ll say to you: the Bible is where you’ll find the complete and perfect answer to those two great questions. Let me also say to you: it’s one thing to intellectually and theoretically know the answer to those two questions, and it’s another thing altogether to have those answers written in our hearts and truly be a part of us. And as a start to helping you find the answers to those two great questions I’ll share with you in short and simple passages what the Bible, from beginning to end and in a multitude of different ways, is ever seeking to teach us.

                Why we should turn from sin
“Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.” {James 1:15 KJV}
“Death came because of sin.”  {Romans 5:12 NIrV}
“You can choose sin, which leads to death.”  {Romans 6:16 NLT}

                 Why we should turn to God
“In the way of righteousness there is life.”  {Proverbs 12:28 NIV}
“The truly righteous man attains life.”  {Proverbs 11:19 NIV}
“I have come so that they may have life.”  {John 10:10 HCSB}

“He that sat upon the throne said… Write: for these words are true.”  {Revelation 21:5 KJV} 

I’ll leave you with three final passages; and once again I would ask you to spend a little extra time thinking about them before you turn to the final chapter. And just to make sure it’s not missed: the great key to turning from sin,  or from “wickedness,” is coming to hate it more and more and more. And the great key to turning to God, or to “righteousness,” is coming to love Him (and righteousness) more and more and more and more; and that’s what the first two passages are all about. And as our final passage so wonderfully informs us, that’s precisely the work God wants to do in every one of our hearts—if we’ll only let Him.

“To his Son he says, “Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal power is expressed in righteousness. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”  {Hebrews 1:8, 9 NLT, NIV}

“Do what is good and run from evil—that you may live! Then the LORD God Almighty will truly be your helper… Hate evil and love what is good.”  {Amos 5:14, 15 NLT}

“And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.”  {2 Thessalonians 3:5 KJV}