The Lesson Of Watchfulness

Scripture Reading: Matthew 24: 32-51

It was Tuesday evening. Jesus had left the temple to return to it no more. His last words to the people had been spoken. On the way His disciples called His attention to the temple, perhaps suggesting its magnificence and its solidity. It was indeed a wonderful building. But Jesus said, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.”

The little company moved out to the Mount of Olives and sat down. A deep solemnity filled their hearts. The disciples asked Him to tell them when the things He had foretold should come to pass. They had in mind three events — the destruction of the temple, the Lord’s final coming and the end of the world. He warned them first against being led astray by impostors. He bade them to be in readiness for whatever might come. The parable of the fig tree taught them to expect tribulations. The precise day and hour “knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father only.” The stupendous events would come unheralded. It would be as in Noah’s days. The flood came suddenly. Those who were ready entered the ark and were saved, but the rest perished. “So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

The great lesson Jesus taught His disciples was in the word “Watch!” which sounds in every-recurring strokes in His discourse like a great bell. Questions as to when or how are discouraged, but they are always to watch. “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh.”

We must be always watching — watching ourselves, lest we do wrong; watching our Guide, that we may follow Him closely and carefully; watching our duty, that we may always know it and do it; watching for danger, for on every hand danger lurks. It is not a safe world to live in — that is, it is not safe unless we watch, and unless we are in divine keeping. Satan is so wary, his approaches are so insidious and stealthy, and sin is so alluring and deceptive, that only sleepless vigilance can insure safety.

In this passage, however, the watching is for the coming of Christ, for which we are commanded to be always in readiness. He will surely come, and His coming will be sudden and unannounced. There will be a great final coming of Christ, but really He is always coming. The only way, therefore, to be prepared for Him at any most sudden moment is to be ready all the time. If there is one hour when we relax our vigilance and cease to watch, that may be the hour when He will come.

There is an old legend of a man who waited a thousand years before the gates of paradise, watching for them to open, that he might enter in. At last, yielding to weariness, he slept for just one hour. And during that hour the gates opened for a few moments and closed again. Thus by being off his guard a little while he missed his opportunity. The coming of Christ will be so sudden that no preparation can be made for it after He appears. We must learn to live so that there will not be a moment, day or night, when we would be afraid or ashamed to have Him come into our house or place of business and find us as we are. There is no day which may not be our last. Therefore, we should keep our work done up to the moment, finishing it every evening as if we were never to come back to it anymore.

Christ illustrates His teaching to make it more emphatic. “If the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched.” Thieves do not send a notification of the hour when they will break into the house; they make their coming as stealthy as possible. They come when they will be the least expected and when the master of the house is least likely to be watching. If one would be prepared against them when they come, he must always be prepared. Christ will come as a thief in the night. That means that His coming will be without warning, without any token to indicate His approach. All efforts of wise men to compute the time and settle upon a year or a day when He will come are useless, for Jesus Himself said, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven.”

What is it to be ready for the coming of Christ? For one thing, it is to be at peace with God, reconciled to Him, saved. In a sense, death is a coming of Christ to individuals, for it ends their probation and ushers them into the presence of God. What is it to be prepared for death? No one is prepared who has not accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, finding forgiveness of sins and new life and love in Him. Nothing could be more terrible than the sudden coming of death to one whose sins are not forgiven and who is thus unprepared to meet his God.

But forgiveness is not the only thing in preparation for death. One’s work should be well done. There is a story of man who had wasted his life and who at last, near the end, found peace in believing. A friend said to him, “Are you afraid to die?” He answered, “No, I am not afraid to die; but I am ashamed to die.” He meant that while his salvation was assured in Christ, he was ashamed to go home, having wasted all his years and having done nothing for the honor of his Master. We should do our best possible work every day that we should never be ashamed to have Christ come.

Jesus sought to make the meaning of His words very clear. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant,” He asked, “whom his lord hath made ruler over his household?” The answer is implied in the form of the words used. He is both faithful and wise. Then comes the assurance of reward — “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” Doing how? Doing his work with fidelity. The watching that Christ wants is not sitting at the window and looking out to see Him approach, but diligence in all duty. If a man went away, leaving a servant in charge of a certain work, fixing no time for his return, what should the servant do? Stand in the door, gazing down the road, watching to get the first glimpse of the master’s return? No, that is not the kind of watching that would please his master. The way to be ready for Christ’s coming is not to sit down in idleness to wait and watch for His appearance, but to keep at one’s work with unceasing diligence, so that when He comes He may not find us in the midst of unfinished tasks, away behind with our work.

There can be no better rule in life than to make every day of life complete, to finish everything each night before retiring, so that if we should never come back to our work again, nothing would suffer. A Christian woman was told by her physician that she could not live a great while, and that she might die any hour. She did not, however, drop her work and shut herself away to prepare for death. She went on with all her usual duties, only with more earnestness and greater diligence, knowing now that the time must be short. Some people would suppose that in a case like this, one should give up all active work and spend the short and uncertain time in praying and reading the bible; but this Christian woman’s way was the better way. Long before she had made her peace with God, and all her life had lived in readiness for eternity. When the warning came that the time was growing short, she was not flustered. Thus far she had done her duty as well as she could, and all she had to do now was the work of the few remaining days and hours. This she did with love and faith, and with diligence, and when the Master came, she quietly went away home with Him.

While there is reward for the servant who is faithful, there is punishment for the evil servant who fails in his duty. Judgment will come upon him suddenly. “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him.” That is, the lord of the unfaithful servant. There are several things said her about this unfaithful servant. He is unbelieving. The delay of his lord leads him to conclude that he is not going to return at all. His unbelief leads him to abuse his position — he becomes tyrannical and despotic in his treatment of those placed under his care. Then his own habits become unworthy; we find him eating and drinking with drunken men. These are characteristics of those who reject Christ through unbelief and become unfaithful.

The punishment of the unfaithful servant is vividly described. It is a fearful thing to live regardless of life’s sacred trusts and solemn responsibilities. It is a terrible thing to die after having lived thus. We should compare these two pictures — the faithful and the unfaithful servant — and know positively which one of the two is our own portrait.