Long ago, a friend of mine had a motorcycle accident and showed up with bandages over his head and arms at the teahouse the next day, where a group of us friends met regularly. He said he wished he was dead because he was sure he would have gone directly to heaven since he had been behaving well those days.
My friend thought the timing was perfect for him to die in the accident, but now he was disappointed because he had to keep behaving. I hoped he was joking because we all know that our admission to heaven does not depend on our effort but purely on God’s grace. Thank God!
However, my friend’s concern is not baseless because Jesus did say that he wants to see us awake and hardworking when he returns. The Lord said,
“Blessed is that servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (Mt 24:46).
If salvation is not based on our work but God’s on grace alone, why would he expect us to work hard with persistence? Does it mean grace is not free? Grace is surely free but not cheap. The Protestant emphasis on grace alone and faith alone has been often taught out of context. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
“The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I have discovered that Grace is like electricity that has inflow and outflow to complete a circuit. A lightbulb can not light up by just having the inflow of the electric current. It needs two wires and does not turn on by just a single wire. We are just like lightbulbs. Grace makes us shine when we pay it forward—or grace it forward. For example, Jesus said,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Mat 5:8).
It means, without the outflow of mercy, there is no inflow of it. Grace and mercy works similarly. Jesus used several parables to teach this mystery, such as The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, in which the servant who received grace did not pay it forward, and his grace was canceled because it did not have an outflow.
Grace and mercy come with a mission, a ministry, or meaningful works. It does not mean grace has strings attached, but it’s just how grace flows. On the other hand, Jesus said that the servant who is found goofing when he comes would be severely punished together with the hypocrites.
“He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 24:51).
(I am sure you know this parables, so I am not covering the entire parable, but just to use it to lead in to todays’ topic.)
It sounds scary. I think that’s what my friend was afraid of. He doesn’t want to be lumped together with the hypocrites after a lifetime of following Christ. None of us do. The word “hypocrites” comes from the Greek word with a similar pronunciation: ῠ̔ποκρῐτής (hupokritḗs), meaning “stage actor,” or “pretender.”
Hypocrites are like weeds that pretend to be like real plants. If you have been to the wheat farms, you know that the weeds that grow in the wheat fields are identical to wheat until harvest time. When the harvest time comes, they stand tall and visible because they don’t carry the weight of the grains like real wheat. The weeds have empty heads, and that’s why they are lightweight. Jesus said,
“At harvest time, I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Mt 13:30).
If a stalk of wheat does not bear fruit, it will look like weed, standing tall without the weight of grains. That’s why an unfruitful stalk of wheat will be mistaken as weed, and the reaper will collect them together with the weeds and burn them.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means coming. It’s a season to think about the coming of Christ, particularly the second coming, which will be the harvest time. Last time, he came to sow the seeds, but he expects to see the fruit this time.
So, today, we will explore how to maintain a fruitful state based on this week’s scripture lesson so that we will not be mistaken for the weeds or hypocrites and get burnt.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Luke 21:25–36. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Lk 21:25–36).
[This is the Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God.]
Based on the context of his entire teaching, Jesus does not want us to get fixated on the time of his second coming but focus on cultivating a fruitful life because the second coming is like a harvest time, and only the fruitful go home with him. Knowing the end time does not help us become fruitful because, without constant cultivation, we cannot just squeeze out fruit at the last moment.
However, the disciples wanted to know the time and the signs of the Lord’s second coming, just like all of us. Jesus did not tell them the time except that there would be signs indicating the time is near. The current pandemic can be counted as a sign because it has all the elements, but Jesus said these signs are only the beginning of the birth pangs.
It means the worse is yet to come until we see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud.” Jesus wants us to use these signs as encouragements, warnings, and stimulations to stay fruitful and productive. He said,
“Now, when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28).
So, for the fruitful, the end time is not to be feared but to get excited and energized as our long-expected Brother, Friend, Lord, and Savior is coming. Jesus also compares him to a groom coming to the wedding. It’s time for celebration. For the believers, the Second Coming is like a wedding banquet.
Jesus also told the Parable of the Bridesmaids, in which he said that only the bridesmaids with the lamps lit could enter the banquet. Some bridesmaids are left out because they are too foolish to prepare extra oil for their lamps to last until the Groom comes. It means they did not take the Lord’s wedding party seriously.
These bridesmaids are like the unfruitful stalks of wheat that get collected together with the weeds. They were like unproductive Christians that get lumped together with the hypocrites. I know it’s sad. Don’t you think it’s a shame to be left behind after a lifetime of being a card-carrying Christian?
Someone asked me, “Why do they get left behind? Does it mean they did not believe from the beginning, or they stop believing along the way?” Theologically speaking, once we believe and are baptized, we are saved forever because God promises to ensure we get there even if we falter. Great is His faithfulness!
How they get left behind is a mystery the scholars have debated for two thousand years. So, I won’t waste time on it because I believe Jesus doesn’t want us to spend time on it. He wants us to focus on our fruitfulness instead of wasting time figuring out others’ unfruitfulness.
According to the Parable of the Bridesmaids, the wise bridesmaids cannot even help the foolish one at the final moment. Jesus said,
“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” (v. 32).
This verse gives us a clue. First, we must understand the word “generation” is translated from Greek, γενεά (genea), which is also used as a slang for “kind.” So, based on the way Jesus used this word elsewhere, Jesus does not mean that the generation of people of his time will not pass away, but that “kind” of people will never run out until the end time. What kind of people? For example, Jesus said,
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Mat 12:39).
In this context, Jesus was talking to the Scribes and Pharisees because they asked for a sign to prove Jesus’ authority. In that case, Jesus was using the word as contemporary slang, and he was not talking about the entire generation of people, but the kind of people that are nominal believers like the Scribes and Pharisees that do not bear fruit.
So, when he said, “this generation will not pass away,” it means there will be no shortage of nominal believers or hypocrites even at the eleventh hour. They don’t repent even though their pants are on fire. No catastrophe will shake them to sense. So, he is saying, “You think all these wars, pandemics, and disasters would wake people up, but don’t count on it. There will always be hypocrites to the end time.”
It’s like in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. While burning in hell, the Rich Man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them about the end time, but Abraham said,
“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).
Moses and Prophets mean the Bible of Jesus’ time. That’s the “generation” or the “kind” of people Jesus was talking about. Like the generation of Noah, they would not turn around until the door Noah Ark is closed. Yes, it’s sad, but Jesus said there will always be that kind of people until the end time.
Now, let us look at what Jesus is advising us to do to avoid missing the boat and getting left behind. In the next three verses, Jesus gives us two simple pieces of advice to maintain our fruitful and productive State. Like electricity, it has two parts – input and output of grace.
1. Maintain Your Grace Input
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.” (v. 34-35).
Your heart is another word for your spirit. He wants you not to let worldly pressures weigh down your spirit. You have heard the pressure of the pandemic has weighed down many people’s spirits—us included. As a result, dissipation, drunkenness, and drug abuse are at an all-time high both in this country and around the world.
For those who don’t use drugs or drinks to escape the pressure, their spirits are still weighed down by the worries of this life. These end-time signs can surely weigh us down, and he said that it comes to all who live on the face of the whole earth—believers and non-believers alike.
How do you handle it as believers? Maintain your grace input. Jesus said,
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (v. 28).
Redemption is the fulfillment of grace. When you think about God’s grace, you will be able to stand up and raise your head instead of being weighed down by the worries of this life. If the worries of this world weigh you down, recharge it with grace. Apostle Peter also said,
“With minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13).
Don’t let the sickles of the reaper cut you off and burn you up together with the weeds. Set your hope on the grace and count the blessings! That’s the only way to maintain the state of your spirit, keep your head lifted, light shining, bearing fruit.
The second equally important piece of advice is …
2. Maintain Your Grace Output
“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (v. 36).
Even though this verse does not clarify how to escape all these things and stand before Him, Jesus has repeatedly mentioned that the way to escape from getting mistaken as hypocrites is to keep working faithfully. He has told numerous parables to emphasize this truth. Those who are found sleeping or slacking are those who would not escape these harvest times.
He says that we must be alert. Some people think God is far away during troubled times like this as if God is only around in good times. No, the darker the night, the closer to the light. So, you must keep alert like a rooster and ready to crow a joyful noise as soon as you see the crack of dawn.
Don’t let the dark times distract you from your grace output. The darker the night, the more light the world needs. Your grace output makes you shine brighter because it completes the circuit. The hypocrites do not shine in the dark times because they are fake and selfish. They may have grace input but no output. They are not fruitful.
If you are shining bright and far, no reaper will mistake you with the weeds. That’s how you escape the end time—by being fruitful.
Again, this is not about salvation by work. You don’t work to be saved, but you must grace it forward to complete the circuit by showing gratitude and shining the path for others to come home.
These are the two simple tasks our Lord instructs us to get through the end times:
1. Maintain Your Grace Input
2. Maintain Your Grace Output
That’s it for today, and I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I love expounding. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.