One of the features of naval warfare today is that you can come under attack when you can’t even see the enemy. Ships and aircraft can target you and fire upon you when they are still over the horizon, and the first thing that you know about it is when your electronic warfare system detects an incoming missile. Once the missile is detected there is only a matter of seconds in which to react and deploy your anti missile systems. So, you have to be constantly vigilant and ready to react.
On May 17, 1987, an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet fired two Exocet missiles at the Navy frigate USS Stark, which was patrolling in the Persian Gulf. The Stark was equipped with radar systems to detect such missiles in the air. The electronic warfare operator should have received two alarms - one audible and the other visual. But, without warning the Exocet missile slammed into the side of the USS Stark just above the waterline, tearing a three metre hole in the ship and killing 37 sailors.
An investigation into why the warning system did not work revealed that the electronic warfare operator had turned-off the audible alarm feature because too many signals were being received that were setting off the alarm, requiring actions that were distracting him from performing other signal analysis. And, when the visual signal came in, he was distracted and didn’t see it.
Just as the sailors on a naval ship need to be constantly vigilant, so you and I must be constantly ready for Jesus’ return. The Gospel passage tells us that there are three things that we should do to ensure that we are ready for Jesus’ return:
I. We must be dressed and ready for action.
When we are at Defence Watches at sea, we must always have with us our gas masks, and anti-flash protective clothing in case we are hit with a chemical attack or missile. When we grab our short periods of sleep, we sleep in our clothes so that we can immediately respond to an incoming missile and protect ourselves.
The servants in Jesus’ parable were also dressed, with lamps burning, and waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so that they could respond without delay as soon as he returned and knocked on the door.
Similarly, you and I need to be always dressed ready to meet Jesus, whether it is when he returns at his second coming, or whether it is when we die.
We need to make sure that we are washed clean of sin at all times and clothed with the righteousness that we receive through accepting Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. We need to endeavour to harbour no unforgiveness towards any one. And we must seek to be clothed with the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ the characteristics that arise through constantly seeking to allow the Holy Spirit to have his way in how we think and behave.
II. We must be doing what Jesus wants us to do.
When the Exocet missile is inbound, the sailors on the ship are tested to see if they have properly prepared themselves for this moment. Similarly, when Jesus comes again you and I will be judged.
Jesus said that what we should be doing is storing up ‘treasure in heaven’. This means:
· doing things out of our faith in God and love for Him;
· doing things that bring glory to God; and
· doing things that are in accordance with God’s will, ie things that He wants us to do.
But many people are focused on accumulating treasures on earth in the form of worldly wealth and prestige.
Jesus’ concern with worldly wealth is not because it is wrong for us to enjoy the blessings that God gives us in this life; but rather, because of the impact that these things may have on the way that we live. The problem that Jesus saw is that very often we allow our love for our possessions to hinder our work for Christ. Jesus said that, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (v.34)
Also, treasures on earth do not endure. We can lose a fortune overnight with a downturn in the stock market, or our house may burn down, and the expensive car soon rusts away. And even if we do manage to have accumulated wealth by the end of our life, well of course we cannot take it with us.
Two elderly friends met up on the way to the funeral of one of their long-time mates. Their deceased friend was thought to have accumulated much wealth. On the way to the cemetery, one old fellow asked the other, "How much did he leave?"
The other old fellow replied, "All of it."
III. We must always remain alert.
Just as there can be very little warning that an Exocet missile is targeting your ship, so there may be very little warning that we are about to come face to face with Jesus through either our own death or Jesus’ return. Jesus said, ‘You … must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’ (v.40)
The Bible tells us that we will not know when Jesus is going to return, and his return will be sudden and when least expected.
If Jesus were to return right now, would you be ready to face him? Are you dressed and ready, and living the life that he would approve of? We must not let other things in life distract us from being ready.
(What things might distract us?) Many people become distracted by their desire for accumulating wealth, or for gaining prestige or promotion, or by their sports, or by wanting to spend their life partying.
So, we can learn from our Gospel passage for today that we do not know when we may have to stand before Jesus; therefore, we must be dressed and ready for action, doing what Jesus wants us to be doing, and not becoming distracted by other things in life.
And the good news is that John 12:26 tells us that if we are ready and prepared, then we will be received into heaven with honour.