Maybe you’ve never waited till you were out of clean shirts to run another load of laundry. And maybe you’ve never had to pick up a bag of burgers and fries on the way home from work because you’d failed to make plans for supper.
But if you’re like most people, you know what it’s like to put off something until the very last moment—and then work like a maniac in the hope that you can sneak in under the deadline.
Sure, you know what that’s like. We all do. That’s why the stores are so crowded the week (and the day) before Christmas. And perhaps it’s why so many people think getting ready for Christ’s second coming is crazy.
Most Christians would like to be ready for the day of Christ’s return, and most of us realize that Christ’s return is the day of judgment with no more second chances. In short, most of us think about Christ’s second coming in much the same way we do about a trip to the dentist. Sure, it’s on the schedule. And yes, we really ought to be flossing. But who has the time? After all, today I have to get a haircut, balance the checkbook, and figure out what I’m going to tell my brother-in-law about when I’m going to pay back the money I borrowed from him.
Strange as it may sound, successful procrastination requires successful planning. Why? Because you can’t wait until the last moment unless you’ve got a pretty good idea of when that last moment will be.
For example, if I told you I’m putting off my holiday shopping until the day before Christmas, you might think I’m stupid, but if I told you I’m putting off buying my auto insurance until the day before I have an accident you’d know I was an idiot.
Christmas is a set date that I can figure out in advance. I can probably even come close to predicting the first snowfall of the season, especially if I keep a careful eye and ear on the weather reports. I’ll know in advance, and I’ll have time to prepare. But if I delay getting ready for Jesus to come, I’m betting that I’ll know in advance when that day will be.
Christ’s second coming is more like love at first sight. Unexpected? Always. Inconvenient? Sometimes. Absolutely wonderful? Only if you’re available. Only if you’re able to make this unexpected moment the start of something beautiful. Because if you aren’t—if you’re already married with six kids and a 30-year mortgage—that love at first sight is only going to make you miserable.
Of course, if Jesus’ second coming really is like falling in love, you wouldn’t dare delay being prepared. You wouldn’t wait to get ready. You’d try to be ready all the time. And, in fact, Jesus said this is precisely what we should be doing. He said we must always be ready for His return, because we can’t possibly know in advance when He’ll return, any more than you or I or anyone else can know in advance who will win the lottery.
“You do not know on what hour your Lord is coming,” Jesus said, for “the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. . . . You know neither the day nor the hour. . . . But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:42, 44, 36, NKJV).*
Illustrating the point
And just to drive the point home, Jesus told His followers two stories. In the first, a man is surprised when his boss returns earlier than he expected. In the second, a group of girls is surprised when the party begins later than they’d expected (Matthew 24:45–51; 25:1–13). Both stories are about people who thought they knew when to be ready, and both feature people who are horribly disappointed as a result.
Granted, this makes God sound like your high-school algebra teacher who was always springing pop quizzes on you, always hoping to catch you off guard. But take another look at these texts in Matthew 24 and 25. You’ll find that Jesus is more like the teacher who surprises his class by announcing, “If you’ve kept up your homework, I’ll give you an A for the semester with no final exam.”
Good news? It is if you’ve kept up your homework! Bad news if you haven’t.
And that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do. He didn’t tell us to buy a gun and a long, white robe. No! He told us to endure—a word that described my grandmother, toughing out a night job until she could get my mom through school. He told us to “take heed”— words that describe my father looking over a contract to be sure he didn’t get swindled by the guy who sold me my first car. And above all, Jesus told us to watch—a word that describes any mother who’s caring for her child in a shopping mall.
These aren’t things you can easily do at the last minute after the kid has graduated or after the contract has been signed or after the child gets lost.
Two more illustrations
Again, just to make sure we didn’t miss the meaning of His words—just to make sure we understand how to endure and how to take heed and how to watch—Jesus told two more stories.
In the first, a man leaves three employees in charge of the family business while he goes on a long trip. Two of them do well, and he rewards them on his return. But the third man is so scared of doing something wrong that he does nothing at all, and the boss is so annoyed that he fires him (Matthew 25:14–30).
Sound ominous? Then ask yourself why you identify with the third man— and read the next story.
It’s a courtroom scene, and everyone is surprised at the verdicts. “What have we done to deserve this?” they say.
“You were kind to Me,” Jesus replies to some, while to others He says, “You were not kind to Me.”
“What? When? How?” they all blurt out. “We never saw You before in our lives!”
“Whatever you did for someone in need,” Jesus replies, in effect, “you did it for Me, and whenever you ignored someone in need, you ignored Me. Maybe the person who was hungry or cold or locked up in jail couldn’t pay you back for whatever you did or didn’t do, but I can, and Judgment Day is when I’ll do it” (verses 31–46).
Jesus didn’t tell this story just to get us to pitch in a little something extra for United Way (though that’s a good idea too). No, He was talking about what it takes to be ready for His second coming. In fact, He was describing the kind of people who are always ready for Him to come.
How to be ready for Jesus to come
People who are ready to meet Jesus don’t just sit around polishing their halos. They keep busy. They do what they can with what they have to help others. And they do it today, because they know there are people who need help right now: pregnant teenagers and Haitian refugees; hospice patients and three-year-olds who’d like a story read to them before bedtime.
And the people who especially need help usually can’t wait long. They haven’t got the resources, or they haven’t the time. And most of all, many of them don’t have the hope. They’ve all but given up believing that, if they can just hang on a little longer, something better will come along. But when we help, we give them that hope.
Think of the times you’ve had an entire day brightened just by something as simple as finding a parking meter with time still left on it. With a little unexpected kindness, we can do the same for others. We can make it easier for someone to believe that God loves them because they’ve seen a little bit of His love in us. We can make it easier for them to believe that God has a better day coming because we’ve made their day a little better in the here and now.
What’s more, we can do this every day. We don’t have to wait for the end of time to spread a little of God’s love around. No! We can do it while we’re getting a haircut, balancing the checkbook, or talking to that brother in- law about the money we borrowed from him.
Is that crazy?
Only if you put off doing it.
Because there’s no secret to getting ready for Christ’s second coming. You get ready the same way you get ready for a blood pressure test. Or for that matter, the same way you get ready to listen to your child when the time comes that he or she needs someone to talk to. You get ready by being the kind of person who is ready all the time.
In other words, you’ll be ready to see Jesus when He comes again if you already see Him in everyone you meet.