Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ready or Not, Here I Come!

Matthew 24:36-44, the gospel lesson appointed for the First Sunday of Advent, is a piece taken from Matthew's version of the Little Apocalypse, as recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Interestingly, this piece is not included in Mark's apocalypse at all, and it is included in Luke's gospel in chapters 17 and 12, not in the apocalyptic chapter. As a piece of this tradition, then, it is an outlier.  It fits very well with the Second Lesson for the day, Romans 13:11-14, where believers are exhorted to "put on Christ."

(The following questions are from a brief method to Law and Gospel preaching I outline in my recent book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  They are meant to be questions which get at some of the main issues for Law and Gospel preachers.  My book is available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The function of the text is clear - to warn, encourage and exhort believers to be prepared for the coming of the Lord.  My Bible entitles this passage "the necessity for watchfulness," which is apt.  The final sentence encapsulates this message:  "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The Word is not functioning here to bring the gospel; that is clear.  There is no attempt in this text to announce Christ's work on our behalf.  It also seems to be the case that the main work of this text is not to lift up our need for Christ, i.e. the Law.  This text is unusual in this regard - usually, either Law or Gospel is present.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Since it is always important to identify with those who are being addressed by the text, we must look back a few verses to see who Jesus' audience is.  It turns out that his audience is his disciples.  We then, who are spiritual descendants of these first listeners, are those to whom Jesus is speaking.  We are those who are likely ill-prepared for the Lord's return, and who need this exhortation and encouragement.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is always the text functioning to show us how to live in the wake of Christ's saving work on our behalf.  This text is exactly that.  It is wholly a call to obedience.  How should you live as Christ's disciples?  Answer: by staying awake and making preparations for the return of the Son of Man.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There is a clear couplet which comes to mind in reading this:  anxiety/certitude.  We might also term it worry/assurance.  It signals the move from fear to faith.

6.  Exegetical work:  The word translated as "coming" is a very rich word in the Greek language.  It is the word parousia.  "Coming" is a fine translation of this word, but it does not give the richness of meaning that is present here.  Parousia was a word used to announce the coming of a ruler.  In Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament there is a very helpful article about this word which lifts up the unique nature of this coming:  "The customary honours of the parousia of a ruler are:  flattering addresses, tributes, delicacies, asses to ride on and for baggage, improvement of streets, golden wreaths or money, and feeding of the sacred crocodiles." (TDNT, vol. V, p. 860)  Clearly then, the parousia of Christ about which Matthew speaks is not simply Christ's coming, in the sense of a person coming to visit, but his coming is an event for which one is necessarily very prepared.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  In looking at the archived examples on the Crossings Community website ( study), I note that there are several sermon designs posted for this text under "Year A Gospel" for the First Sunday of Advent.  One example from 2011 by Paul Jaster entitled "Christ's Advent, Catastrophe Averted" is a fine example of how this method can work.  He centers on the idea that an event is coming that will undo all the plans of humanity - a cataclysm, if you will - but then shows how the event that changes the world is the cross of Christ.  This is well worth seeking out in its entirety.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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