Live Every Day as If It's the Last
[Jesus said,] “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:37–42).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A few years ago, Tim McGraw had a hit country song. It was about a man who received a disturbing diagnosis from his doctor. Realizing that he might not have much time left on this earth, the man decided to live his final days to their fullest. In addition to sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, and riding a bull named Fu Manchu, the man reconnected with his loved ones, read Scripture, and re-evaluated his life. For him it was such a life-changing experience that he said to his young friend: “Someday I hope you get a chance to live like you were dying.”
The last three Sundays of Pentecost, the constant theme of our Gospel lesson was you need to be prepared at all times, because Jesus is coming in glory to judge, and He’s coming at an unexpected time. And today, as Advent begins and we look forward to the coming of Jesus at Christmas, the message of our Gospel lesson is… you need to be prepared at all times, because Jesus is coming in glory to judge, and He’s coming at an unexpected time. Live every day as if it’s your last.
Once again, here in Matthew 24, our Lord tells us that He’s coming to judge, and you don’t know when it’s going to be. However, in this text Jesus tells you how it’s going to be: it’s going to be like the days of Noah.
Of the days of Noah, Genesis records that the wickedness of man had grown so great, and his thoughts were so continually evil, that the Lord was sorry for creating mankind. He therefore resolved to destroy man.
Let that sink in for a moment. Suppose your mother or father were so disappointed in you and your life that they told you: “I wish I had never brought you into this world. In fact, I’m so sorry that I feel it is my solemn duty to take you out of this world!” Then multiply that shame and disappointment by the millions of people who might have been alive at that time. That’s a disturbing thought, isn’t it?
And how was this wickedness and great evil reflected in the lives of the people? They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. It wasn’t necessarily daily drunken revelry as cartoons depict. It may have been an advanced society with all sorts of social programs to help the underprivileged, but the people had nearly all turned against God. At any rate, eating and drinking and getting married is not a description of people who are aware of great evil and impending doom. As far as they were concerned at the time, life couldn’t be better. Everything was okay. There was nothing out of the ordinary that would say otherwise.
Except, of course, for Noah. There was that one man, along with his three sons and their wives. He was building a boat. A big boat. And, for all we know, there wasn’t a large body of water anywhere close. He was a preacher of righteousness; and for the 80 years or so that it took to build the ark, he was preaching the Word of God and telling his neighbors to repent. He was warning that a flood was coming and the whole world would be destroyed.
So, look at this from the perspective of the unbeliever. Life was good, except for a nutcase building a giant boat in a world that had never known a drop of rain, much less a flood. Except for the seven others who believed the Word of God, everyone else was convinced that Noah was a fool. But God, praises Noah as a righteous man and a preacher of righteousness (Ezekiel 14:14; 2 Peter 2:5).
Keep another thing in mind: Noah preached God’s Word to his neighbors for eighty years; and after eighty years of ministry, he won not one convert from those around him. By the standards of those in our present time who measure the success of a church by statistics, he was a miserable failure; but God extols him as a faithful preacher of righteousness. Sometimes, the mission field is just that rocky.
Noah faithfully preached the Word and built that boat, while the world enjoyed itself and sensed no impending doom. In fact, Jesus says that the people around Noah had no idea anything bad was going to happen until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and took them all away. And that, says the Lord, is how the end of the world will be. The world will continue its merry way, with no idea whatsoever that God’s judgment is coming. But suddenly, that judgment will come and all who do not believe will be taken in judgment.
So, let’s take stock of the world today. The threat of terrorism and mass destruction remains, but otherwise life is good. Technology and sciences have made our lives easier and of higher quality for a long time. In many ways, it seems that we may be on our way to a utopian dream where all our problems are solved.
On the other hand, it’s legal to kill the unborn, and it’s getting to be legal to kill the elderly and disabled. The world demands that we tolerate all sorts of sexual immorality, even help fund it. We’re told that we can’t talk about God in society or have Him in public education, even as we’re told that we must talk positively about any other god. Rather than admit that it can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, popular science declares that we accidentally emerged over billions of years from primordial soup, cutting God out of the picture. Many have rejected the Word of God for false doctrines. In fact, society will tolerate just about anything except the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, while the world seems to be moving alone quite well, it’s ripe for judgment. The Lord could return at any time. Live everyday as if it’s your last.
Therefore, we heed Jesus words and make the following applications:
First: Don’t judge the state of the world by the world’s measures; measure the world by the Word of God. If God doesn’t exist, if Jesus isn’t coming back to judge, then this is a better time to live than any time in history; and the unbelieving world will do its best to convince you of that. And since the world has your own sinful flesh as its ally, it’s easy to believe that everything is good and getting better. Cling to the truth of God. Acknowledge the reality of evil, confess your sin, and rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness. In other words, live every day as if it’s your last.
Second: Don’t measure the Church by the world’s standards. It is a terrible, popular notion that a congregation that is blessed by God will automatically grow in numbers; and if it doesn’t, then there must be something wrong. Remember the days of Noah: after eighty years of preaching, there were only eight names in the church directory. In our business-oriented world, we’re accustomed to measuring everything by profit and growth; and it sure is a lot easier to measure a congregation by a couple of statistics than it is faithfully to study the Word of God. But if you are to accuse a congregation of error only because it doesn’t grow quickly, you must first believe that Noah was a rotten preacher. Then you must explain why the Lord is wrong when He calls Noah faithful and righteous.
Third: We take a moment here to condemn the notion of Dispensational Millenialism, a false teaching of the end times popularized by Tim LaHaye and his Left Behind series. Among its false teachings is the Rapture, a silly notion that before the end of the world all believers will suddenly disappear and be taken to heaven, while all unbelievers will be “left behind.” Among the verses you supposedly can find the Rapture is our text: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” “This proves that, one day, all Christians will disappear, while everyone else remains,” they say. You don’t want to be ‘left behind,” do you?”
But recall the days of Noah. When the Flood came, what happened? The unbelievers were all taken away; only those on the ark were left behind. Likewise, when the Lord returns in judgment. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken away in judgment, and the other left behind in God’s care. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken away in judgment, and the other left behind for eternal life. This text does not teach a Rapture of Christians 1000 years before the end of the world; it teaches the end will come suddenly and that it’s unbelievers who will be taken away. When the Lord returns, you want to be left behind.
Enough about the days of Noah as the days of judgment, and heed the warning well. The Lord could come back anytime—suddenly, without warning. Live everyday as if it is your last. But as you heed the warnings of God’s Law, do not despair. It can be easy to be discouraged and distressed about the condition of the world today—and for good reason. However, the days of Noah were not just days of judgment; they were also days of grace. Out of all the people in the world, only 8 were counted righteous. It would be easy to overlook 8 people among the masses of humanity at the time, but the Lord didn’t overlook them. Rather than wipe out the righteous with the unrighteous, He delivered all who trusted in Him.
As we begin this Advent season and prepare for Christmas, we give thanks that the Lord is faithful to His promises and delivers His people. Centuries after Noah, Jesus became flesh and was born of Mary to win redemption for the world. Instead of simply wiping you away with the rest of the sinful world, your loving Savior would rather endure scourge and cross and hell to save you.
The Lord remains that faithful now. Therefore, as you watch and remain ready by His grace for His return, you do so with the confidence that you are not forsaken. No matter how futile it looks to cling to the means of grace, and no matter how the Church will look in the world, the Lord is with you and promises to deliver you. He remembered Noah. He remembers you.
He remembers you because He put His name on you in Holy Baptism. Peter refers to Noah as he calls the Flood an antitype to Baptism; as the Flood destroyed the wicked and saved the righteous, so also Baptism drowns your old sinful nature and saves you. At your Baptism, Jesus declared “I have put My name on you, and I have brought you into the ark of My Church. No matter what the world says or the devil whispers, you belong to Me, and I will not forsake you.”
The Lord remembers you and still speaks His Word to you. The world will continue to reject the Word of God and insist on its own hopeless, killing ways and words instead. But you have this glad confidence: in the days of Noah, when there were only 8 righteous remaining, the Word of God still brought them grace and hope. Should the Church in this world be reduced to only 8 souls—or even only two or three!—you have the Lord’s promises: “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The Lord remembers you and feeds you. He provided for the eight on the ark, and He provides for you. The world goes on eating and drinking and giving in marriage unconcerned about judgment and eternity. But you have better eating, drinking, and marriage. Your Bridegroom comes to you that you may eat His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, so that you might be sure that you will be at the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven.
Thus sustained by the love of God in the work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, and in fervent faith in your Savior Christ, you live everyday as if it is the last, confident that whatever may happen, you will be with the Lord in His kingdom forever. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.