Come and Die: A sermon based on Matthew 24:36-44
Come and Die Matthew 24:36-44 Joe Ellis — December 1, 2019
I’d like to tell you something that’s good to keep in mind when you’re talking with Rayner. Like a lot of us in a small church, he wears a lot of different hats. So when you’re talking to Rayner, he might be wearing his church Elder hat, or he could be wearing his Refugee Team Hat, or he could be wearing his projectionist and sound guy hat, or he could be wearing ‘his guy who just likes to give his opinions’ hat (which is probably why we get along so well, birds of a feather : ) Just last council meeting Rayner kept saying “we” as he was talking. I didn’t know what he was talking about until I realized that in the blink of an eye Rayner had switched hats. He wasn’t talking about ‘we’ council members, he was talking about ‘we the refugee team.’ Its helpful to know which hat people are wearing when you’re listening to them. I bring this up because we see Jesus wearing a lot of different hats when we read the Gospels. There is the Son of Man hat. The Son of God hat. The Messiah hat. The Son of Mary and Joseph hat. The leader of a band of disciples hat. The Teacher of wisdom hat. Of course, there is a sense that Jesus is wearing all these hats at the same time, yet often times one of these hats will be more pronounced that the other. There is one hat Jesus wore that we almost never talk about. Yet it’s a hat he wore often, and it’s the hat he’s wearing in the passage we just heard. Jesus wore the hat of a prophet, an Old Testament type prophet who’s job it was to bring a message from God to the people of Israel about their present situation. Like other Old Testament Prophets, Jesus came with a strong message of warning to people of Israel in His day. He was warning the people around him of the consequences that would come if they kept on trying to bring about God’s kingdom through violence. Rome was the nation that was occupying Israel and Jerusalem, and those who thought they were true, diehard worshipers of God thought that they needed to violently overthrow Rome before God’s promises could be fulfilled. In fact, they thought the Messiah would play a key role in doing just that.
Wearing his Prophet hat, Jesus came with a strong, urgent and prophetic warning about what would happen if they kept to that agenda. The Scripture passage we just heard is part of a chapter which, as a whole, Jesus is talking about the terrible fallout that will come if Jews in Jesus’ day keep up their nationalist and violent agenda. Unless the people repent of their violent nationalist agenda, disaster will come. Specifically, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Jesus stakes his reputation as a prophet on this. We see him doing this at the start of the chapter. Jesus and the disciples are standing outside of the temple, and Jesus says, “not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.” So, the disciples ask, “when’s that going to happen?” The rest of the chapter is Jesus’ answer to their question about timing and signs. Jesus talks about the circumstances that will lead up to the destruction of the temple — there will be false prophets, increase of lawlessness, a desolating sacrilege set up in the temple, fake messiah’s will appear. In the parallel chapter in Luke, Jesus says, “when you see Jerusalem surrounds by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” The presence o the Roman Army will be the final sign that judgment has come upon the city, and Jesus warns his followers to flee, run away. If they don’t run away, they will meet a bloody end.
Its in that context that we need to hear the passage we read this morning. Jesus hasn’t changed subjects, he’s still talking about the Jerusalem war. He warns his followers that the coming destruction of Jerusalem will happen suddenly. Life will appear to be going about like normal, like in “the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Life will be business as usual when the war machine of Rome descends upon the city. So the disciples must be on their guard. The sword of war swill take one and leave the other untouched. That’s why Jesus warns his followers to watch and be ready, It’s so that they
can flee when the signs of trouble start to get more serious. Church history tells us that the followers of Jesus did flee from Jerusalem when all Jesus said would happen did happen in the year 67. Through the Spirit the disciples received some sort of warning and they fled to a place called Pella.
One way we can hear this passage applied to our lives is as a call to spiritually discern where our communities are headed. Jesus came with a strong word to a religious community that it was way off track in what they thought was God’s will. The communities and cultures we live in have a strong pull, and it can be very difficult not to go in the direction a culture or community is going. It’s like trying to swim from Telkwa to Houston. Yet, just because a particular current is pulling in a particular direction doesn’t mean that’s where a person should go. Think of the different currents you are in. The Bulkley Community, your school community, your church community, your work community. You can also be part of bigger communities like being Canadian, or Evangelical, or Conservative or NDP or Liberal. Each of these communities pulls in different direction. Some of those directions are wonderful, but what happens when they’re not? It’s far easier to just take for granted that the places our communities are leading are good. Yet wearing His prophet hat, Jesus warned the people in that day that blind acceptance will be deadly. And just like he did then, Jesus will give us warning if we, or the communities we are apart of, are heading in a wrong direction. Let’s take a moment and think about the communities that we are in. Is it possible that Jesus been trying to warn you about blindly going along with a certain crowd? Generally, when Jesus speaks to you he’ll speak in a way you can understand, but still it’s helpful to talk to a wise person who can help you figure out what Jesus is saying.
So, when Jesus says, “Keep awake, or you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” — Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple as the sign of His coming (or going) to the throne of God. Earlier in the passage, Jesus told his followers that when the Temple is destroyed that would be the sign that His prophecies have come true, and he has received all power and glory from the Father. Yet throughout church history this passage has
worn a couple of slightly different hats. The historical hat this passage first wore has often been replaced with a similar, yet different, hat. This passage has often been interpreted apart from its original context and as a result we come to the conclusion that Jesus is describing what will happen when He returns to the earth at the end of this age. We call this the second coming of Christ. Although this meaning is different from the original hat this passage wore, in a lot of ways, that meaning sits comfortably on this passage. I imagine when Jesus does return it will be sudden, we will be going about normal life, it will be business as usual. Just like Jesus described. We must be prepared and anticipate that he will return unexpectedly. Another hat this passage has worn is to describe Jesus coming for you or me at the end of our life. There too, we also must be prepared for that moment. It could happen suddenly, unexpectedly . While both these hats are a bit different than the first hat this passage wore, both hats sit comfortably on the head of this passage. This metaphor is getting kind of strange, I know.
But I want to try still another hat on this passage. Wearing his prophetic hat, Jesus warns his followers that the destruction of the temple is a sign that He has come into His rightful seat on the throne of God. Before that moment, when they see the armies coming for Jerusalem, the people who heard Jesus’ words would have a choice to heed His warning and flee to safety, or die under the Roman sword.
Christ often comes into our lives presenting us with a similar set of alternatives. The choice is follow Jesus, submit to His Rule of life, heed His warnings, trust His leadership, or encounter the death that comes from the result of our own choices. All sin leads to death, and Jesus warns us to flee before it’s too late. From His throne, Jesus sends His Spirit to each of us. The Spirit warns us and calls us to flee from the death which lies at the end of the road we’re walking down.
Jesus talks about the two men in the field, one will be taken the other left. He talks about the two women grinding meal together, one will be taken and one will be left. Sometimes I feel like both of those men. Sometimes I feel like both the one who dies and the
one who lives. For when Jesus comes to us with His warning for us to flee from the life we’re living, part of us will die. Obeying this call will ultimately lead to life, but part of us will also die we respond to his call. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when Christ calls a person, He bids them to come and die. Jesus challenges His followers to watch for those moments, to be prepared to come and die, in the belief that we might find true life.
I experienced this sort of thing when I had begun my first semester at North Carolina School of the Arts in 2001. I was a theatre major. My plan was to graduate, do the stand-up comedy thing, break into Saturday Night Live and become a wildly famous film actor. Eventually I’d transition from comedy to drama so I could get an Academy Award. That was my dream and I was on the road to finding out if I could make it a reality. My present self is probably my past self’s worst nightmare. But everything changed when I was walking to class and a friend of mine told me the earth shattering news that two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre and another had flown into the Pentagon. No one went to class that day. We just sat around together and watched the repeated footage of the planes, the smoke, the rubble, the tears, the grief. Something happened to me that day, that week. My dreams died. My hopes for fame and glory became like ash. In light of the pain, the tragedy, the destruction, the death, I began to see my ambitions for what they were selfish, self-glorifying, and trite. I was dying. A part of me that had to die was dying. Yet, in that death I began to yearn for a different sort of life. Watching the footage of such evil, the unshakable conclusion began forming that I do not want to live in this world without Jesus. I did not want to live alone without Jesus in this world where people are capable of such evil. If no one was on the throne of God, I didn’t want to be a part of this world. My world was rocked, shattered, and smouldering, and from that place I began to seek Jesus, the Son of Man, on His throne. I felt led to step our of the cultural stream I was in, I left that school, and I began seeking life somewhere else.
Our passage ends with Jesus saying, “42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in
what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
He is coming. the followers of Jesus listened to these words, they watched, and they left Jerusalem before it was too late. We need to stay awake too, whether it be in anticipation of Jesus’ final coming, or in anticipation of Jesus sudden appearance to bid you ‘come and die’ so that you might find life. Its not a one time thing, we’re called to anticipate hearing those words afresh again and again. When He bids you to come and die, don’t resist. It will only be more painful. When you finally let go — and that which needs to die, truly dies — you will enter into a deeper, mysterious and beautiful life on the other side.