It’s no secret that I love football. Football is the one sport I’ll watch any two teams play. In the fall, I watch football all day Saturday and I nap to games on Sunday after church. And on Friday nights, I can usually be found at Thirlby Field here in Traverse City watching the Trojans or the Titans play. Well, a couple of years ago, I went up to Sterling’s room to see if he wanted to go to the game with me that night, and he was napping in his bed. By napping I mean every bit as soundly asleep as he is at 3 am.
Now, if you’ve lived in our house for any time at all, you’ve had a conversation with Sterling, a full conversation, including asking him questions and him giving answers, that he has absolutely no recollection of. You see, he’s a bit of a sleepwalker. It’s quite common for him to walk into the living room, looking all disheveled after a long nap, the kind teenage boys are famous for taking, and sit down and start talking to you. But then he’ll kind of nod off again, and an hour later he’ll wonder how he got down to the living room, because all he remembers is laying down in his bed.
So I was careful. I made sure that Sterling was fully awake. He sat up in bed, swing his legs off the side of the bed, and said, “Hi dad.” But he’d done that before, so I asked him, “Hey bud, are you really awake? Like really in there?” And he said, “Yeah” with some enthusiasm. So I told him I was leaving for the football game in about 10 minutes, that I’d buy him dinner at the game, and was wondering if he wanted to come with me. And he was like, “Sure! I’ll come.” And he got off his bed and started pulling on a shirt. I told him it was going to be cool, so make sure to dress warm, and I headed back downstairs to greet Becky, who had just gotten home.
So about 10 minutes later Becky and I are standing in the kitchen talking about our individual plans for the evening. I told her that I was coming to the game and that Sterling said he was coming too. And right on cue, we heard Sterling coming down the stairs from his room. And he’s dressed, but not overly warm. And then he opens a cupboard and gets a bowl, and goes to the pantry, and starts pouring himself a bowl of cereal. So I’m like, “Dude, put your cereal in a cup so you can eat it on the way to the game. I’m not waiting for you to eat a bowl of cereal.” Gotta get a good seat, you know? And he gives me this dumbfounded look that says, “Huh?” So I said, “You just told me you were coming to the game with me.” And he was like, “I’m not going to a game tonight.” I said, “You JUST told me you were. And I am sure you were awake.” And he just said “No I didn’t” and carried his bowl of cereal over to the bar in the kitchen and started eating.
He looked awake. He sounded awake. But he was still sleeping. He had no idea that we’d had a conversation, or that he’d told me he’d come with me, and he had no intentions of going to the game that night. So I went by myself and had a good old time. Becky was giggling in the kitchen when I left.
In Romans 13, Paul tells us that as followers of Christ, it’s time to wake up and pay attention to what is going on around us. He doesn’t want us sleepwalking through life. He wants us living with intention and enthusiasm. Turn with me to Romans 13:11-14.
Paul begins this paragraph by saying, “Besides this …” Which really isn’t a great translation of the Greek words he used here. A better translation would be something along the lines “And do this …” So V. 11 reads more like “And do this, because you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” But either way, it’s obvious that Paul is referring back to what he’s been talking about. And what has Paul been talking about? Love, right? Some of you less emotional folks are like, “Oh no. Here we go. Another lovey sermon.” But remember, love for the follower of Jesus isn’t just romantic or sentimental feelings. It’s an act of the will, a decision to say and do what is best for the other, whoever that other might be.
So what Paul is saying here is, “Love one another, love your neighbor, love your enemies, love the other, whomever that might be, BECAUSE you know what time we are living in. Love while you can.
Why? Because you understand the times. What does he mean by that? “You know, you understand the time. You know that it’s time to wake up and be active and involved. This isn’t the time for spiritual sleeping.” Why? Because Christ’s return is closer today than it was yesterday.
It’s been kinda popular in Christian circles over the past few decades to really focus on the end times, Christ’s return, and discerning the signs to point to his immanent return. Back in the late 90s the “Left Behind” series of books and movies were really popular. There were Christian TV shows that really focused on the return of Christ and reading the signs. And just this past spring there were some people worried that they might accidentally take the sign of the beast if they got the then-still forthcoming Covid vaccination. First of all, God is not now and never has been trying to trick his people into rejecting him. To believe in a God who would do that you have to believe in a malicious, untrustworthy heavenly father who looks a lot more like some earthly fathers than the heavenly father we see revealed in Jesus. The Bible does teach that God tests his people. But there aren’t trick questions on the test. God does not want his people to fail. And God is not reserving heaven only for the deserving. That’s the whole point of the Gospel – that God in Christ is reaching out to the undeserving, the unworthy, and making them worthy not through their own effort or getting the questions on the test right, but through the cross of Christ. Sure, there will be those who appear to be following Jesus but aren’t who might fall away, but that’s because of the pressure of persecution, not because somebody somewhere got tricked by God. Let’s put that view of God, that image of God, to rest.
What Jesus wants for us as his followers is to understand the times we are living in without obsessing about or trying to predict his return. In Mark 13:32, he said “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Even Jesus himself, the Son, does not know when he is returning. That is something only the Father knows. If Jesus doesn’t know, then I can promise you some TV evangelist making a prediction doesn’t know either.
In Acts 1:6-8, the disciples are concerned about when Jesus will establish God’s Kingdom in it’s fullness. This is after Good Friday. After the Resurrection. So now must be the time, right? No. “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So given what Jesus has said himself about his return, what is Paul getting at in Romans 13? Look again at Vv. 11 through the first part of V. 12. The resurrection of Jesus was the inauguration of the last days, the end times. We have been living in the “end times” for the last 2,000 or so years. The disciples fully expected Jesus to return during their lifetime, but they didn’t allow his delay to discourage them or deter them from the task at hand – living as faithful followers of Jesus every day of their lives here on this earth. And that has been the task of every generation of believers ever since. And that is exactly what Paul is saying here. Understand the times you are living in. Christ’s return, regardless of when it comes, is a day closer than it was yesterday, right? And it is 2,000 years closer than it was when Christ ascended to sit at the Father’s side. REGARDLESS of when he comes, his return is always closer now than it was then. So live like it.
During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives. One day in 1789, the sky of Hartford darkened ominously, and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand. Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, “The Day of Judgement is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.”
Rather than fearing what is to come, we are to be faithful till Christ returns. Instead of fearing the dark, we’re to be lights as we watch and wait. Look at the rest of V. 12 through V. 14. Awareness of the times we are living in leads to right living.
When people are asleep in the dark, they wear night clothes, right? But when they wake up to attack the day, they change their clothes into whatever is appropriate for their task, right? Well, usually. I think there are two kinds of people in the world, those who would wear their jammies all day every day if they could, and those who get up and get dressed. How many of you change into day clothes when you get up? How many stay in jammies as long as they can? How many of you have ever gone to Meijer in your jammies? Becky and I are kind of weird, because I’m much more likely than she is to sleep in, but she’s much more likely to stay in her jammies than I am. If I can, I’ll sleep in. But when I get up, I shower and change. For some reason, I’m not comfortable in jammies during the day, unless I’m sick or recovering from surgery or something. Even then, I’ll probably change my clothes. But Becky will stay in her jammies as long as she possibly can. And she’ll change into them as soon as she possibly can after she gets home from work. But she’s the early to bed and early to rise type, and I’m the stay up late and sleep in if possible type. We’re just weird that way.
But when there’s a task at hand, a job to do, we change into clothes suitable for the day and the job. Becky might like to wear her jammies, but she changes into professional, and I would say stunning outfits before going to work. St. Paul wants us to understand that it’s time to wake up, get out of bed, and change our clothes to attack the day, so to speak. In the Bible, the night often represents darkness and evil – our lives before Christ. And the day represents our lives now in Christ. We can’t live today for Christ if we’re still wearing the clothes of the night. Paul tells us to put on Christ, to put on the armor of light.
So why does Paul call it “armor”? Because this world is still in darkness, and those who follow Christ, living in these “end times” since the resurrection of Christ, are living in his light IN THIS DARK WORLD. That means sometimes we live differently than the world. We take a different perspective on things. Our actions and the decisions we make, the way we live, doesn’t always make sense to those still living in the darkness. So, like, feeding the hungry seems cool to pretty much everyone, but standing against abortion doesn’t. So sometimes people feel like they want to cheer, and other times they get angry and want to flip us off. That’s just kind of what it’s like to live as a follower of Christ in these times, which really have existed since the resurrection.
The problem is that too many followers of Jesus are sleepwalking through the day, wearing night clothes instead of putting on Christ. He says first of all to not walk “in orgies and drunkenness.” He’s referring to the custom of having celebrations to Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysius. Think Mardi Gras in New Orleans plus St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland plus Woodstock put together, but on steroids. Suffice it to say these were wine-soaked, rowdy, sensual affairs and sex with whomever else was there was a part of it. And these events were well-organized and regular in and close to Rome itself, which is where the recipients of this letter lived.
This is the tendency we all have to succumb to our culture. Paul isn’t talking about normal cultural accommodations but a fully compliant attitude toward the prevailing culture. In our culture we see it in the church’s relaxing attitude toward premarital sex and our long-standing acceptance of and approval of materialism and consumerism and our refusal to call out things like gluttony and greed. And he isn’t singling out drinking, he specifically says drunkenness. And he’s not talking about getting a little buzzed at a wedding or something. He’s talking about letting something other than God rule your life. Addictions of any kind, whether its an addiction to a substance or to spending or to jealousy or to food. He’s talking about the things, other than God, that rule us. As fully awake and dressed followers of Jesus, we look different than the culture around us, and we seek to root out the things that hold us captive.
Then he talks about sexual immorality and sensuality. Again, he isn’t condemning healthy, creative sexual expression and desire in marriage, because else where he tells couples not to forsake sex, to make sure you and your partner are both sexually satisfied, to avoid temptation. He’s talking about unhealthy sexual expressions. And although we’ve often complained that our culture is worse than ever in this regard, it really isn’t. Sensuality and sexuality have always been a major part of secular cultures. And they are a part of Christian culture too, but just like with every thing else, it looks different in the life of a Christ follower. Creativity and enjoyment within marriage, and respect and restraint outside of marriage.
But then he also mentions quarreling and jealousy. As always, we tend to view some expressions of sin as worse than others, and to some extent that’s ok. Murder is definitely worse than stealing a candy bar. But both are sin, and both separate us from God. And right up there with excessive cultural accommodation and sexual immorality he lists quarreling and jealousy – two things that can separate and divide the body of Christ. He is describing divisive people. People who are always negative and always complaining. People for whom nothing is ever good enough. People who find fault in everything. People who allow jealousy over how someone else looks or what someone else has or what someone else can do to produce bitterness in their hearts. When that happens, the body of Christ is divided and cannot function as it should in society.
Chad Walsh wrote an great book entitled Early Christians of the Twenty-First Century. In that book, he says this:
“Millions of Christians live in a sentimental haze of vague piety, with soft organ music trembling in the lovely light from stained-glass windows. Their religion is a pleasant thing of emotional quiver, divorced from the intellect, divorced from the will, and demanding little except lip service to a few harmless platitudes.
“I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert people to agnosticism. After all, if a person travels far enough away from Christianity, he or she is always in danger of seeing it in perspective and deciding that it is true. It is much safer, from Satan’s point of view, to vaccinate a person with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease.”[i]
Are we awake and dressed, or are we sleepwalking? It’s time to wake up. Let’s pray.
[i] Source: Howard Hendricks, “Faith in Tough Times,” Preaching Today, Tape 140.