One of my first jobs was working at a wood shop owned by my grandfather.
Because I only worked during school breaks, there was very little skilled work for me to do. Most of my time was spent sitting at the end of a conveyor belt stacking freshly painted pieces or standing at the back of a saw or molder stacking freshly cut wood.
Most of these jobs were dependent upon another employee who could set up and run the machines. Whenever the machines required maintenance, it would leave me without a clearly assigned task.
Early one morning, I arrived at work and none of the machines were ready to go. In my view, I had nothing to do. I grabbed a chair from the nearby break table, pulled it to my station and sat down to wait for something to do.
Within seconds, my grandfather exited the office and very robustly informed me that my chosen course of action was less than acceptable. I will spare you the details of the conversation that followed, but he made it clear that being his grandchild did not provide the right to slack off. Rather, it carried the responsibility to set an example for the other employees. If I was on the floor and we were between the bells for starting and quitting, I should be doing something productive.
I informed my grandfather that there was “nothing to do” at the moment. That was not the right answer. He impressed upon me that it is always the proper time to find something productive to do. He handed me a broom and instructed me to start sweeping sawdust off the shop floor, which he reminded me was always plentiful. Waiting is part of any job, but it is never a valid excuse for not working.
Waiting has been a part of faithfully following and worshiping God throughout the Bible. In Genesis, Abraham and Sarah were waiting for the birth of a promised child. In Exodus, the people of Israel were waiting for deliverance from slavery in Egypt and arrival in the promised land. Isaiah and many of the other prophets encouraged the people in their waiting for the arrival of the promised savior, whom we know to be Jesus. During Jesus’ lifetime, the disciples were waiting for Jesus to bring about his kingdom. Today, we are waiting for Jesus to return.
The original disciples asked many of the same questions we find ourselves asking today. It would be easy to overlay Matthew 24 onto our own experiences. The warnings and encouragements are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. The disciples, like many of us, were eager to know what would be the signs of the times. What would queue them in to Christ’s coming?
Christ never really answers their question, though. Instead, he warns them against being led astray by signs that aren’t so much signs of the arrival of the end as evidence that life is going on.
In Matthew 24:4-8, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you… You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come… All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
To put it another way, Jesus tells his disciples that these struggles are side effects of living life. Thinking back through history, we know this to be true. How may wars have taken place in the last 2,000 years? How many natural disasters have occurred? How many famines or plagues? And it might be easier to calculate the number of years of peace in the Middle East than to try to count the conflicts in the region through the centuries.
These are not necessarily signs of the end but signs that the world continues to spin out of control as we work to find a way to live through it all.
The signs were never intended to provide us with the time of the end. The day and hour when the end will come is none of our business. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus says, “But about that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the father.”
Jesus never intended to provide us with tools to pinpoint an exact date of the end of time. This is in part because it’s not our job to worry about end of time but to serve his purposes in our time. We are called to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” and “make disciples of all nations (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19).” Our business is to be about Christ’s business until he comes back.
Make no mistake, our world is a mess. I don’t know if it’s any better or worse than it’s ever been, but it is the world in which we must live. I also know that the return of Christ is imminent, meaning it could happen at any moment. I don’t need any signs to assure me of that truth. Jesus said so, and I trust him. We’ve been waiting for 2,000 years, and literally only God knows how much longer we’ll have to wait.
As we wait, may we not waste our time worrying about when the end will come. Rather, may we worry about ushering as many as possible into the beginning of new life through faith in Jesus. Waiting is part of the program for people of faith, but we have important work to do while we wait.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com.