Have you ever been told to keep an eye on the signs? Or have you ever heard that you may well miss the snatching away if you weren’t ready?
It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (Luke 12:37 NIV)
“I wish we’d all been ready….”
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. You’re flying on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic and you turn to see the passenger next to you has turned into a pile of clothes. You nervously (or excitedly) search the plane for a naked person, before you remember the stories your youth pastor used to tell you,
“If you aren’t paying attention to the signs or you have allowed compromise into your life you may be left behind….”
Your heart skips as you remember how you drunk that glass of whisky at your uncle’s birthday party the week before. You also remember how just that morning you let out a flurry of cusses to a reckless driver on the way to the airport. Whilst waiting you also saw a lingerie ad on a magazine rack and didn’t immediately condemn your eyes because for a split moment it calmed your stress. You then remember all of the times your spiritual walk was compromised by fleshly things. You’ve grieved the Spirit so much and ignored Him for so long you’ve been left behind! You didn’t even hear the sound of the trumpet. It was just like the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-12. If your lamp lacked oil when the bridegroom showed up you missed the wedding.
Suddenly you wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and you realize it was all a dream. Just a bad, bad dream. You pick up the Bible and decide to dedicate the rest of your time on earth to God, but then you stumble upon the words of a certain apostle…
….for God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 CLNT bold mine)
What does Paul mean by watching or drowsing? Preparing for the time or being completely unaware of it will procure the same result in Christ? Doesn’t that sound like a lazy gospel?
We’ve been travelling to Acts with each instalment of this series and to further ground Paul’s words we will do it again. We’ll return to Acts 13 where Paul is detailing the accomplishment of God through Christ for the justification of all, and that if any were to believe it, they would be being justified (Acts 13:39 CLNT). The response from Israel was unfavourable, to put it kindly.
Now on the coming sabbath, almost the entire city was gathered to hear the word of the Lord. Yet the Jews, perceiving the throngs, are filled with jealousy, and they contradicted the things spoken by Paul, blaspheming. Being bold, both Paul and Barnabas, say, “To you first was it necessary that the word of God be spoken. Yet, since, in fact, you are thrusting it away, and are judging yourselves not worthy of eonian life, lo! we are turning to the nations. (Acts 13:44-46 CLNT)
This is the same chapter where we read about the Jewish magician Bar-Jesus who was contradicting Paul’s message with words of the law, becoming jealous that anyone could experience justification apart from their sanctimonious rituals. Israel was the prime, and we should say only, candidate of “keeping watch.” But like Bar-Jesus, they were stepping out of line in demanding everyone else follow their example. When Paul came along and told everyone that they were justified apart from works of the law, Israel stepped forth and said, “That’s not fair. We worked for our salvation and favour so you must work too!” It is no wonder then that the temporary blinding of and casting away of Israel is for the Gospel of Reconciliation (Galatians 11:25, Romans 11:15).
What does this mean for the man in our illustration above? Do you remember in Avengers: Endgame when Thor had spent five years doing nothing but drinking beer, getting fat, and playing video games? When he revisited his home to find the infinity stone his hammer flew right into his hand as if absolutely nothing had changed. “I’m still worthy!”
This extreme example makes a poignant point, except it was never about us being worthy of anything. We could be in the exact place Thor had been in. We could ignore God for five years or more. We could drink whisky and delight in erotic articles all day. We could do absolutely nothing for the betterment of our lives (something I wouldn’t recommend), yet at the snatching away God will still remain faithful to His promise. Unlike Israel, we were called before the disruption of the world, not based on our works, but on the sheer delight of His will (Ephesians 1:5).
Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also. (Romans 8:30 CLNT)
Once again, Paul sits on the opposite side of the law, never discounting its goodness, but discarding its necessity in the face of the perfect sufficiency of Christ. After all, it is only He we read above.