Don’t Waste Your Life is the title of a book John Piper wrote in 2003. Recounting something of his own teenage and early adult experiences in the late 1960s, he observes, ‘existentialism was the air we breathed. And the meaning of existentialism was that “existence precedes essence”. That is, you first exist and then, by existing, you create your essence. You make your essence by freely choosing to be what you will be. There is no essence outside you to conform to. Call it “God” or “Meaning” or “Purpose” – it is not there until you create it by your own courageous existence’ (p.14).
Today, almost 20 years later, I echo Piper’s 2003 comment, ‘this sounds strangely like our own day…’.
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 12, verses 35-40 Jesus of Nazareth draws out a bigger picture of our existence: “You must also be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour”, he says (12:40).
In speaking about an unexpected hour of his coming, that is, his return, Jesus implies that we are much more than the sum of our parts – that we exist, not by happenstance, but by design. Despite the voices in the western world today, there is something, no, someone, far greater than we can imagine – who has given us life (existence) and who gives our life meaning (essence).
Contrary to many in our society who refuse to take Jesus seriously, eminent historians such as Dr. Edwin Judge comment:
‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth or legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it’ (EA Judge, emeritus professor of history and director of ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney).
To treat the four Gospel accounts of Jesus as authentic is key to understanding who we are.
Today and over the coming Wednesdays we’ll be looking in advance at the lectionary Gospel readings for the upcoming Sundays – all from the ‘travel narrative’ in the Gospel of Luke. So come with me to Luke 12:35-40.
Be prepared. In speaking about a day of his coming Jesus uses the metaphor of a wealthy man who was away from home at an important wedding. The man’s servants, Jesus says, must be ready for his return no matter how late the hour: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him when he comes and knocks” (12:35-36).
It’s easy to miss the force of these words. In the same way the servants needed to be ready for the return of their master, we need to be prepared for Jesus’ return.
There is something special here we often overlook: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” Jesus says. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (12:37). To be blessed by God is to be the beneficiary of his goodness and open-handed generosity.
Furthermore, Jesus is saying that on his return, he himself will serve his faithful people who are alert and actively preparing for his coming. “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” (12:38)
Deep Joy. We can only begin to imagine the deep joy that we will experience if Christ finds us faithful when he returns.
Jesus’ imagery here indicates three things about the timing of his coming. It is imminent, the master could return at any time; there is delay, the master seems to be taking his time. And there is a third element: surprise. In 12:39 Jesus references a householder not knowing when the thief will come.
We are seriously mistaken if we think we know the time of this. Yes, some who profess to be God’s people are constantly looking for signs. Some even set a date and give away all their possessions. But they ignore Jesus’ words: ‘When the day comes, it will come as a surprise’.
The reality is that one day all men and women will stand before God. While this is a frightening thought, it is also encouraging, for it means that justice will be done and all wrongs in the world throughout the centuries will be perfectly addressed.
But this is not Jesus’ focus here: he is addressing his people. The sobering thought here is that all of us who profess to be his followers are answerable to him – not just for the things we have done, but also for the things we have not done.
He is challenging us all to ask, What kind of life am I living? Am I growing in the faith? Am I simply serving my own interests in life or am I honoring the Lord in my thoughts, my words and my actions? How do I use the gifts, skills and material resources the Lord has given me? And what about my relationships – with my family and my friends, my colleagues and in the wider community?
Am I prepared for the Lord’s return? And am I helping others to prepare for the return of the King – using the opportunity to introduce them to him before it’s too late? How am I using the time the Lord has given me? Will I find on that final day that I have lived a wasted life?
A prayer. Lord God, you know that we cannot put our trust in anything that we do: help us to have faith in you alone, and mercifully defend us by your power against all adversity as, through your grace, we endeavor to serve you faithfully throughout our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.