Why Weren’t We Ready For This?

Editor’s note: Peter Nafzger preached the following sermon on Matthew 24:36-51 in Concordia Seminary’s Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus on Thursday, November 12, 2020. Video of the sermon can be downloaded at: scholar.csl.edu/cs2021/41/.

Why Weren’t We Ready For This?

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Why weren’t we ready for this? People have been asking that question a lot this year. Back in April—which seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?—National Public Radio aired a podcast in which they tried to answer this question. Why weren’t we ready for this? “Again and again,” the host said, “the world was warned that it was not ready for a pandemic. Warned by the World Health Organization and the World Bank in a big study last year. Warned by research scholars and in long magazine articles. Warned even by Bill Gates in a famous TED Talk in 2015.” Whatever you think of the pandemic, the world was warned that something like this was going to happen.

Why weren’t we ready for this?

The podcast explored some of the reasons. One is economic efficiency. People have a hard time spending money on the potential for a disaster. Especially a disaster we haven’t experienced personally. How many airlines were cutting profits by installing bullet-proof cockpit doors on September 10th? Another reason is what’s known as optimism bias. Some of you don’t suffer from this because you are so pessimistic. But most of us, even if we know there’s a disaster on the way, don’t really think it will hurt us. This explains how most high school boys drive. Then there’s the herd mentality. When only a few people are worried, then we don’t tend to get too worked up. If everyone starts freaking out, then we’ll probably join in the frenzy. Did you try to buy toilet paper this last spring?

There are all sorts of reasons why we weren’t ready for this pandemic. But they all come down to one. We weren’t ready because we can’t see into the future. We plan, and we calculate, and we prepare contingencies. But if there’s one thing we’re learning right now, in real time, it’s that we don’t know what’s coming next.

Not Ready in Noah’s Day

This is nothing new, of course. In the days of Noah, the people didn’t see it coming. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They were living their lives, going about their business, oblivious to the storm that was gathering. Then came the rain. Then rose the waters. And unaware, unprepared, unsuspecting, they were swept away.

Except for Noah. Noah was prepared. Noah was ready. Not of his doing. But because the Lord had favor on him. The Lord let him in on the secret. God told Noah about the judgment, about the water, about the boat, about the salvation. Noah heard this from the Lord, and incredibly, he believed. Not because it was economically efficient. Can you imagine how wasteful he must have appeared? It wasn’t optimism bias. I can’t imagine Noah was a very happy person. What about the herd mentality? There was no herd! It was only crazy old Noah and his crazy wife and his crazy sons and their crazy wives. The herd was nowhere to be seen.

Noah simply had the word and promise of God. And he believed. His wife and his sons and their wives. They believed. And their belief spilled out into their lives. Their belief built that boat. And in that boat, built by their belief, they were safe. They were prepared. They were ready.

Jesus Readies His Disciples

Jesus brings up Noah in our reading from Matthew 24. It was days before his crucifixion. Jesus took the disciples out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. And there, in a private meeting, he let them in on the secret. He told them about his impending death. He told them about the destruction of Jerusalem that would come forty years later. He told them about his second coming. As it was in the days of Noah, he said, that’s how it will be with 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 working at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. See, I have told you. You know that it’s coming! So be ready.

Living Ready Today

He has let you in on the secret, too. Your Lord is coming back for you. Yes, he is coming back in judgment. But you have already been judged. You have already been drowned. You’ve already been buried with him in baptism. You have already been raised to life with him in his resurrection. Your Lord, who is coming, has already pulled you into the boat. He has already made you safe. You are ready!

And he has told you what is to come.

Richard John Neuhaus calls the church “a people ahead of time.” We are a people who live in the present knowing the future. We know how it will end. Not how the pandemic will end—whenever that might come. No, we know how all things will end. And that knowledge, that secret, that word and promise from the Lord spills out into our lives. It spills out into the way we interact with one another.

After telling the disciples to be prepared, Jesus asked them a question. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:45-46). Blessed is that servant who is doing what the master has given him to do when the Lord returns.

What has the master given you to do?

Has he given you to teach? Then teach well. Teach the truth. Teach with humility. Teach by example.

Has the master given you to learn? Then study. Study for the sake of those who are supporting you. Study for the sake of those who will depend on what you learn. Study with a teachable heart and a willing spirit.

Has the master given you a spouse or children? Then give yourself to your spouse. Give yourself for your children.

Has the master given you authority? Then exercise it with honor and integrity. Exercise authority above reproach.

Has the master given you a position under authority? Then receive it, as from the Lord. Honor your father and your mother, and all who are in authority over you.

Be Ready, and Rejoice

And in all things, rejoice. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talked about his struggles and difficulties. He was writing to Christians who also struggled, but who also had been let in on the secret. He called them to rejoice. Here’s how he put it: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” I have learned the secret of dealing with a pandemic, of dealing with frustration and exasperation and exhaustion. I have learned the secret of dealing with people who are so hard to deal with. “I can do all things”—I can endure all things—”through him who strengthens me.” Through him who has brought me in on the secret.

In just a moment there will be an extended period of silence. During that silence, imagine what it looks like in your life, in your specific circumstances, to “live ahead of time.” To live in the present with all of its struggles. But to live with the sure and certain hope that your Lord—the risen Lord—is coming back for you. And then, after that time of silence, I invite you to rejoice with me by singing these words:

“In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice. Look to God, do not be afraid. Lift up your voices, the Lord is near. Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”

In Jesus’ name. Amen.