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Is there a reason why the kingdom of God seems to be hidden in such mystery? Jesus tells a parable about what it means for his followers to always be ready for a kingdom we don’t fully understand.

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Matthew 24:36–42 NIV
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
What does it look like to be ready? That’s hard to nail down because it means something different to everybody. If I am heading out somewhere for the evening, it doesn’t take much for me to get ready. Quite obviously, there is no fussing about how my hair looks. Also, since I am colorblind, I never have any idea if my clothes are matching or not. And I’ve pretty much taken the attitude of not caring about that. It’s only when Laura or one of the kids caches me and says, “You can’t go out looking like that.” But mostly I like the spontaneity of the moment. I’m okay leaving some of the details flexible to make up as we go along. There are other people who cannot rest until every single detail is planned and organized with exact specifications.
So, when we encounter the parables of Jesus that talk about being ready for the kingdom of God, we might all read them a little bit differently because we all have different ideas of what it means to be ready. And that’s not necessarily helpful. We ought to have some kind of agreement about what scripture is telling us in these readiness parables. That way the meaning of scripture does not bend toward what I think it means to be ready for God’s kingdom, or towards what you think it means to be ready for God’s kingdom, but rather towards what God says it means to be ready for his kingdom.
In this series on parables through the summer I have been working through a variety of principles that help us all to read and understand scripture. We have looked at common themes among parables such as audience and points of reference and kingdom ideas. We have looked at a few examples in which one parable shows up in more than one gospel, and how the story changes from one gospel writer to the next. Here in Matthew 24 we need to press into another indispensable principle for interpreting scripture. Specifically, we need to consider how the surrounding context of other scripture helps us interpret the meaning of particular passages. In this case we see a whole series of parables in Matthew 24 and 25 all having to do with being ready for the kingdom of God.
So, what’s going on in this story? Two men are in the field, one is taken and the other is left. Two women are working at the grain mill, one is taken and the other is left. There are some theologians who take this passage as some sort of prooftext for an event called the rapture. This is the idea that the faithful believers will be spared from a period of tribulation because God will pull them out of the world before the tribulation begins. It is a relatively recent idea that has no longstanding acceptance in the 2000-year history of Christian doctrine and teaching. Jesus did not tell this story as some sort of prophesy about an event known as the rapture. Jesus tells this story as an illustration of what it means to live as someone who is ready for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed. And to that end Jesus tells this story as an introduction to readiness.
Now, what follows after that are a series of four more parables that all expand upon this one central idea of readiness for the kingdom. So, for us to make any sense at all of these verses, we must also consider the expanding collection of parables in Matthew 24 and 25. We’re going to punch through these stories pretty quickly to see how they all weave together. I know that each one of these stories could be a sermon all by itself. In fact, one of these parables was a sermon from several weeks back. So, I admit there will be many questions left unanswered because we’re going to cruise over the top and grab out some nuggets of truth that all tie to the overarching theme of readiness for the kingdom. Let’s take a look.

Responsible - (24:45-51)

After the little story about the days of Noah, Matthew records the story Jesus tells in verses 45-51 about the wise and foolish servants. In this story the master goes away on a journey and leaves one servant in charge of the other servants of the household. What does this story have to say about readiness for the kingdom? It has to do with the responsibility that Jesus gives to his followers. The wise servant is the one who embraces the responsibility given to him even though the master goes away. He takes his responsibility seriously as though the master were right there…or could return at any moment.
The foolish servant thinks that all he has to do is kick it in gear right before the master returns. His attitude shows that he actually cares nothing about the responsibility of the task itself. Maybe he thinks there will be an announcement or some kind of forewarning before the master returns. Either way, he is not ready for the master because he let go of the responsibility that was given by the master.
Jesus says that our readiness of the kingdom of God includes a responsibility to be engaged in the ongoing care and flourishing of God’s shalom in this world even now. those who think they can put off the responsibility of discipleship will be caught unready when the kingdom of God is fully revealed.

Prepared - (25:1-13)

The next story is about preparation for the kingdom. Jesus tells the story of ten bridesmaids waiting for the arrival of the groom to begin the wedding feast. This was a common custom in the days of Jesus that women who were unmarried virgins would await the arrival of the wedding party in their village. Five of the women anticipate the coming groom with adequate preparation. And five other women do not make adequate preparation.
What does it mean to be a person who is prepared for the kingdom of God? We know that when God makes all things new he will establish a kingdom that is forever upon a foundation of his peace and his loving kindness. Those who are even now prepared for this kingdom live even now as people who seek peace and seek loving kindness even right here in this world as best we can. To be sure, we are sinful and broken people, so we cannot accomplish the flourishing of God’s shalom perfectly. But it is the anticipation of Jesus coming again to complete the flourishing of his perfect shalom which points the way for us to live as those prepared to usher in the bridegroom. And our anticipation of that return is what drives us to center our lives around the flourishing of shalom. And so, we live as people who prepare even now for the peace that comes with God’s kingdom.

Productive - (25:14-30)

But let’s keep going. Because this preparation for the flourishing of God’s shalom is not a preparation that sits idly just waiting. Jesus goes on to the story of the talents to show that there is already glimpses of his kingdom available to the world through the gifts given to his people even now.

Accountable - (25:31-46)

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