“For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. Matthew 24:38-39
Les Miserables, translated the miserable, or wretched ones, could very well describe the perspective and condition of many in the world as well as America in 2014. Polls together with other circumstances point to a sense of foreboding as the New Year begins. The once popular American President now has a 39% approval rating after winning a large victory in 2012 where many more than 50% voted for his reelection; the vast majority in America believes the country is headed in the wrong direction; unemployment is much higher than the manipulated numbers state; millions have lost their medical insurance and tens of millions will in 2014 as employers drop new unsustainable coverage for their employees; health care costs are going through the roof; dependency rolls in the U.S. are multiplying dramatically; the middle class is rapidly shrinking; the poor class is growing; racial tensions are at their highest in many decades; economists are predicting a stock market collapse in 2014; al Qaeda terrorist activity is on the rise world-wide; and U.S. relations with foreign leaders and allies have fallen to its worst state ever.
However, the misery of many U.S. citizens, as well as many illegal aliens in America looking for legitimacy, does not nearly approach the misery of the Second and Third World, nor the many places where Christians are hated, persecuted, and martyred mercilessly on a regular basis. The world-wide press, and particularly aggravating, the American press and even America’s churches have remained largely silent to this holocaust. The so-called Arab Spring is rather an icy winter in its destructive, ruinous results. If not true for you, misery, nevertheless, abounds in this New Year.
The world in Jesus’ life time was similarly dark from the time of his birth and sudden flight into Egypt to escape a murderous tyrant, to the time of His crucifixion at the hands of the Jews and their Roman tyrants. Within a generation of His ascension into heaven Jerusalem was sacked, totally destroyed, and the remaining Jewish nation scattered to the four winds. In the final week before Jesus’ death on a cross, He spoke about this “precarious future, and with poignant stories, parables, pertaining to life ahead until His return, gave instructions for any who wished to survive this misery in each new year from then to 2014, and to the judgment to come for the whole world. If you have ears to hear, then you do well to hear what He has to say as you enter this new year.
There are six of these parables of Jesus from Matthew 24:36 to the end of Matthew 25. All of them project two primary time factors: delay and imminence. There is a delay to His return which contrives to lull people to sleep, to procrastinate what ought to be done now; and there is also an imminence to His return, a sudden event which no one but God the Father knows the day. Those who have not prepared their heart and soul in advance will have no last minute opportunity to be ready when Jesus comes in what is described as a flash of a stroke of lightening. This is the theme of each of the six parables which Jesus tells in the final days before His death, displaying a different emphasis in each, but the same lesson in all: readiness now, not put off!
The perspective of delay: the wicked servant believes his master is staying away a long time, the bridegroom was a long time in coming and all ten virgins fell asleep, the master who distributed talents to his servants delayed his return a long time. The perspective of imminence: in each parable the return of the master or bridegroom was sudden, catching the unaware completely unprepared for his return, and, consequently, shut out into permanent darkness and dissociation from the master or the bridegroom. The parables Jesus tells are not told delicately. They are unequivocal in their judgment for the unready. “…the point is simply that readiness, whatever form it takes, is not something that can be achieved by a last-minute adjustment. It depends on long-term provision, and if that has been made, the wise disciple can sleep secure in the knowledge that everything is ready (R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew). It is unquestionably the point of Jesus in these parables that to count on and determine your course of action upon an assumption of delay while not giving immediate priority to readiness is to court disaster, a disaster from which you cannot recover!
In Les Miserables, just before his death in this life, the main character of Victor Hugo’s novel, Jean Valjean, displayed a readiness in his final song in the musical; not unlike the repentance seen throughout his life after his sin of stealing as a young man: “God on high, hear my prayer; take me now, to thy care. Where you are, let me be. Take me now, take me there. Bring me home, bring me home. It was not a last minute adjustment; it was genuinely appropriate to the life he had lived, an application of a life of faith in the gospel, and love, kindness, and forgiveness to others. As you enter a new year, make it your most important endeavor to be ready for the sudden return of Christ, not needing any scrambling for oil, or digging up your talent where you hid it. If you have ears to hear the Savior, hear him now.
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