Romans 13 v.11-14
How often do you look at your watch or phone during the day, just in case something needs attention urgently. Does time (or the lack of it) ever feel like a slave driver, heaping pressure on you to achieve more than you are able.
In the Revised Standard Version of our passage today, there is a heading “An Urgent Appeal”. Paul wants our attention and he wants it now. He says in v.11 “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” and then in v. 12 “the night is far gone, the day is near.”
Do we know what time and day he is talking about?
On Friday we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, we have been waiting for that moment during the four weeks of Advent, a word that comes from the Latin word adventus or coming/arrival. It is usually thought of as looking back to that moment when God himself entered into his creation as a tiny vulnerable human baby. Advent calendars, Advent candles, carol services all point backwards to that time. Or do they? Yes and No. Advent is also the anticipation of another event – the Day when Jesus will come again, not as a baby but in his divine glory to finish off what he started. The essence of Advent is really “He has come and He will come again”.
Paul says to us “Wake up!! He is coming again! The Day is almost here!”
Almost every book in the New Testament, and several in the Old Testament, talk about this Day. We don’t know when it will happen but we do know that it will happen. Don’t let him catch us sleeping!
The climax of history is almost here, when the whole of creation, will at last be restored to what God created it to be and we will see God’s final victory over everything which has affected it negatively including sin and death. When that final victory comes, good and evil will at last be separated even though for now they seem hopelessly intertwined.
That Day is going to put everything right, everything in this tired, old, distorted, corrupt creation that needs to be restored and renewed so that it becomes a dwelling place fit for God.
For now we are in what the Bible calls the Last Days, where two spiritual kingdoms overlap.
Firstly, the Kingdom of Darkness or Night: The power of Satan and the fallen state of humanity outside of Christ, in its ugly, sinful nature, with all its conflict, rebellion, sickness, pandemics, bondage, decay, greed and oppression.
Secondly, the Kingdom of Light or Day: The Power of God and the redeemed state of those now in Christ who have been saved by him and are being sanctified or made holy by him.
We all need to make sure that we are living in the Day and not holding onto the Night, nor living in a sort of twilight zone, trying to keep a foot in both camps. Jesus set us free from the power of Satan on the cross but as we know from Jesus’s parable of the strong man in Luke 11, the devil would love to entice us fully back into his kingdom again and it will be much easier for him to do so if he finds that we are still willing to mess around with the darkness.
The Day is coming when the Kingdom of God will be fully and completely established, forever. No wonder in Romans 8, Paul told us that the “whole of creation has been groaning in labour pains until now”. We should be groaning too, longing for that day to come. Counting the days until the next and final Advent of our Saviour.
Many of you will have met my husband John, who is American. A couple of months ago, after a very long wait, he became a British citizen and received his passport in the post. Not just a red European one like mine, but a very smart navy blue British one. He is British now. He can stop talking about tomatoes.
BUT! He still has to relinquish his American citizenship and he can’t do that until the US Embassy in London reopens since it closed at the beginning of the pandemic.
For now he has to remain with a foot in both camps – fully English and living in this country but also American and having to pay taxes there too. He is eagerly anticipating that day when he will be a citizen of just one country and hopefully by then we will be able to have a party to celebrate.
Are we ready to relinquish anything we are holding onto which belongs to the Night, and to take hold firmly, with both hands, of that which belongs to the Day?
Some of us we may feel caught between the two extremes of darkness and light, faith and unbelief. We would like to “have faith” but instead we are wrestling with doubt. How can we put our full weight on something when we are not sure it will hold us up?
There is room in the gospel for doubt. Salvation can only be received through faith in Jesus but it is also a process, a journey, it doesn’t all happen at once. I have been saved, I am being saved and I will be saved. All are true but in different ways. What matters now, is that each of us makes sure we are facing the right way and moving towards the light rather than retreating back into the dark.
When we think we can hear Jesus calling us, we need to let go of doubt and put our hand in his and allow him to lead us forward.
Don’t leave it till tomorrow if you know you have any business to do in this area.
Paul is saying “Now” is the time to wake up. The Day you have been waiting for is almost here. Get up, get dressed, and get going.
I wonder if you find that at this time of year you sleep for longer than in the summer? It becomes dark earlier and earlier in the afternoon and we draw the curtains and light the fire and then in the morning when the alarm goes off, it is hard to get out of bed, to shake off the drowsiness and get going with the day.
But when there is something special to look forward to that changes. The night before a holiday we stay up late packing and organising and then, in my case, wake up frequently in the night worried that we are going to sleep in and miss the plane. The feeling of urgency about going on holiday over-rules our normal winter hibernation instincts and gives us energy.
I expect most of you know that on Saturday last week, Alex and Lucy were able to celebrate the wedding of their daughter Marina to Hugo. Lucy and Marina have been in a whirl of preparation for months, literally counting off the days and then last Saturday morning, Lucy sent me a text saying:
“Still doing last minute things till nearly midnight! I can’t believe the day has arrived. No more sleeps!!! Here we go!”
I think that is the attitude Paul wanted us to have when he wrote these words. No more sleeps – here we go!
The Day is almost here. Are we ready?
We need to be the kind of people who can be part of God’s restored and renewed creation without messing it up. He won’t force us to change but nor will he allow us to ruin his creation.
If we are religious people it might be tempting to read v.13 where it talks about revelling, drunkenness and debauchery and think, “I am dressed appropriately already, this isn’t about me, I’m not much of a party person, I don’t drink to excess, I’m not even sure what debauchery and licentiousness are, I have never even had a speeding ticket.”
The trouble is that Jesus taught that what lives inside us is as bad as what we do outwardly, that attitudes are as important as actions.
We might not dabble in most of the things Paul lists here, but what about some of the other things he mentions in his letters – envy, rage, pride, slander, greed.
These hidden tendencies should be as shocking to us as the more obvious outward expressions of our waywardness and rebellion.
In v.14 Paul tells us not to make any provision for the flesh or to gratify its desires. Vaughan Roberts who is a vicar in Oxford has a good way of explaining this word “flesh”. He says if you remove the “h” and then spell it backwards, you discover the word “self”.
Our fallen, sinful nature is everything that stems from our self-ish desires. Everything internal or external, which we would be ashamed to wear on the day when Jesus returns. It all needs to go.
In place of the works of darkness, we are to put on the armour of light v.12, and instead of pleasing our own selfish desires, we are to put on or clothe ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ, v.14. We need this spiritual armour because a Christian’s life is not a sleep, it is a war, we live in enemy territory while we still have a foot in this evil age.
Our flesh is wilful, wayward and very skilled at leading us astray. We have to resist it, to fight the temptations when they come, to ask Jesus for help. We need the right sort of clothes, those that will protect us and keep us safe in the middle of the battle.
We don’t do any of this in order to be saved, to become acceptable to God. We do it because we are saved, we have been saved and made righteous by him and we want to live up to that salvation. He has already justified us, made us right with God.
Now it is about how we live, about making sure the outfit we wear fits with whom we now are. We belong to the day not the night, we are strangers and aliens now in this world, and we are not meant to be at home in it. We are being prepared to live in our real home but we are not ready yet.
What does this look like in practice?
Listening to a 15-minute talk in church is unlikely to change our lives however much time the speaker puts into their preparation. A good speaker might be able to craft their talk well or make it entertaining or intellectually stimulating but how much of what they say will you remember a week later, or a day, or after a good lunch?
Similarly, going through the motions of reading the bible or praying probably won’t change our lives. Jesus said in Matthew 4v.4 “man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
We need to take in his word, chew it over, meditate on it, wrestle with it, apply it to our lives, obey it, allow it to speak deep into our hearts and make it our own. Allow it to examine us as we examine it.
Use it like a mirror and over time as we do so, we will see more and more of Jesus reflected in the mirror too.
We tend to become more like the people we spend our time with. Hang out with gossips and you may become more prone to gossiping. Hang out with Jesus and we will pick up his ways too.
We find out many things when we put on the Lord Jesus Christ and one thing we discover is that he is the God of Hope. In chapter 15 of Romans Paul writes these words of encouragement. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
You may remember the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’s death, who said “They crucified Jesus, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.
How many of us have had disappointed hopes this year? For many this coming week will be acutely painful, especially after last night’s news broadcast. People like my mother who will spend the whole of Christmas on her own. Others will be mourning the loss of a loved one.
Maybe you are not going to be able to see people you love this Christmas. It is painful. It is disappointing. But the hope that Jesus offers us will not disappoint. He will come again and he will make everything right.
If Jesus did return tomorrow what would we wish we had done differently? What might we be embarrassed about? Which relationships would we wish we had sorted? Are there people you love who you would wish you had helped to prepare for his coming too?
The journalist, Matthew Parris is open about the fact that he is an agnostic or atheist. About 30 years ago he wrote an article in the Times, which I have kept. In it he said that if he did believe that God exists, that the gospel is true, that we can know God personally and have a relationship with him through his son, and that we are offered a prospect of eternal life starting in 30, 20, 10 years – perhaps tomorrow. He would drop his job, sell his house, throw away his possessions, set out into the world to know more, act upon it and tell others. The fact that most Christians do not do this is what stops him from believing that God is real. )
I wonder if any of you have read Charles Sheldon’s book “In His Steps”? It inspired the mnemonic: WWJD “What would Jesus do?” which some of us probably ask ourselves when faced with a decision, whether big or small.
We could add another slightly longer mnemonic: WDGCMTD. Any ideas what that might stand for? “What did God create me to do?”
What did he create you to do?
What are the unique things that you and I are on this earth to do and what are the resources that Jesus has given us to look after for him?
Thinking back to the beginning of today’s passage again. Paul made an urgent appeal. Wake up! Now is the time, the day is near. Are we ready? Are we longing for that moment to come?
We will soon be singing the hymn O come, O come Immanuel. Let’s sing it looking back to Jesus’s first coming and forward to his second and final coming.
As we do so let’s each make this song a personal invitation to Jesus to come into our hearts, our lives, our everything again this Christmas and to help us keep our eyes fixed on the Day that is to come when he will return in Glory
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 13:11–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.