SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
Hearing the Voice of the Spirit as we Prepare for a New Year (Cont'd)
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Sunday, December 23, 2012 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1613
Pastor Don Horban

Since Romans 12:1 Paul has been giving a list of moral imperatives to the Christian church. As in all Paul’s letters, he starts with the doctrinal content (chapters 1-11) and then moves on to the practical exhortations. He never begins with anything other than doctrine. He never just starts telling the church to love one another or to reach the lost or to exercise spiritual gifts or to pray.

But why? Because Paul knows Christian practice grows from Christian faith. And faith grows by learning of all God has done for us in Christ. Paul doesn’t want people trying to live better without first of all drawing close to Jesus Christ and His Cross and Resurrection. The Bible never offers the false hope of moral improvement as a means of gaining favor with God Almighty.

So Paul starts with God and what God has done. He never really starts with us at all. He gets to us eventually, but only in the light of the great truths of God he has already unfolded. There’s much to be learned from that approach. We see this incredible patience with Biblical truth. We learn it has to be planted before it can grow. There must be thought before we will see fruit. In other words, doctrine is impractical to the Christian in the same sense that sowing seed is impractical to the farmer.

But from Romans 12 to the point of our opening text it has all been practical. It has been all about not conforming to the world. It has been all about renewing our minds. It has been all about finding and exercising our gifts in the body of Christ. It has been all about not striking back when wronged, but leaving everything in God’s hands. It has been all about our relationship to government and those in authority over us. It has all been practical instruction.

Then we come to our text in 13:11-14, and especially verses 11-12, which we looked at two weeks ago. And quite suddenly we find Paul once again, not talking about doing something, but knowing something. Christian people are people who know the “night is far gone” and the “day is at hand” (12). And we saw in our last teaching in this series Paul tells them this to keep them from getting discouraged and to keep them from getting lazy - in that order.

They’re to fight discouragement by knowing the night is “far gone.” They are to know, however much they still groan, Satan is spending himself. He is like the batteries in a flashlight that has been left “on” overnight. So Paul comes to these people and urges them - “Don’t focus on how dark it is and how bad things are and how long it has seemed like night. Set your mind on the fact that the night is “far” gone! This isn’t going to last very much longer.”

This amazing truth is rarely noticed. But, when you look for it, it’s repeated over and over in the Scriptures. The Apostle John presses home the same idea as Paul in 1 John 2:8 - “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”

Back to Paul in Romans 13. After holding out comfort from the fact that the night is almost gone, he tells them to fight laziness by remembering “the day is at hand.” It’s like running harder because you can actually see the finish line. There is a rousing of the heart as faith begins - just begins - to turn to sight.

As you see the pale, pink dawn of Christ’s first coming, which is so much more than millions of seeking saints of the Old Testament ever saw, it raises the pulse and hope of excitement over the certainty of the full, blazing sunshine of Christ’s second coming. Once the dawn is coloring the sky, there is nothing on earth that can stop the day from arriving in full strength.

Everything we’ve said is compressed into Paul’s phrase at the beginning of verse 11 - “Besides this you know the time....” Everything hinges on knowing the time. You can’t do anything else right until you feel in your bones that the world is dark and asleep. Things aren’t normal. If you think they are normal - if you buy shares in this world as though it was normal - you are sleep-walking. And if you don’t see the dawning of the day in Christ Jesus - I mean if you don’t buy your shares in that coming day, instead of this fading one, you will be without Jesus Christ when that day arrives.

Today we will ponder two more truths about knowing the times:

1) THE CHRISTIAN IS CALLED TO BE AWAKE IN THE MIDST OF A SLEEPING WORLD

Romans 13:11 - “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

There is another text from the pen of Paul that parallels this one like the two rails of the train tracks - 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 - “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. [6] So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. [7] For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. [8] But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Both these passages are day/night passages. They divide and separate the people of earth into two groups. There are people who are asleep and people who are awake. There are people who are of the night and people who are of the day. The people of the night have no idea the night is almost gone. It’s “far spent,” in Paul’s words, but they don’t see the inevitable end coming.

Why? What keeps them from seeing clearly? Paul tells us they are asleep. They are like people whose plane is taking off at the airport but they’re still asleep in their hotel because their alarm didn’t go off. There is a real plane and there is a real airport and there is a real departure time. It’s not that these things aren’t happening. It’s that this dozer is asleep to their reality. When he wakes up he will realize he has missed it all. Only, in the context of our text, there will be no more flights.

This is the cause of Paul’s cry to the church. You can almost hear him yelling. You can see him waving his arms. “The hour has come for you to wake from your sleep!” Entertainment saturated people can’t be awake to Christ. Money saturated people can’t be awake to Christ. Sports-saturated people can’t be awake to Christ. Lust-saturated people can’t be awake to Christ. Leisure saturated people can’t be awake to Christ.

It’s day or night, light or darkness, awake or asleep. Everything that doesn’t awaken more faith and joy in Christ Jesus - anything that doesn’t rivet your attention more distinctly on Him - puts you to sleep. Notice, Paul doesn’t say that Jesus will awaken us from our sleep. He says it’s time for us to awaken from our sleep. It’s morning. It’s too late for sleep-walking. The call is to become freshly awake - freshly alert - to the reality of the passing of this age and the coming of another. And Paul thinks millions of church goers believe this to be so, but aren’t awake in their grasp of its urgency.

2) TO BE AWAKE IS TO BE AT WAR

This is made clear in verse 12 - “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Then he repeats this concept again, but in different words in verse 14 - “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Why does Paul change his words in these two verses? I think he wants to tell people about putting on the “Lord Jesus Christ”(14), but he wants to tell them this in a way that isn’t just religious talk. So he first describes putting on Christ as putting on “the armor of light”(12).

Paul knows how much we all talk about “putting on Christ,” and how we all say “Jesus is Lord,” and how we speak of having “Jesus in our heart.” But that can all become quite empty and trite. We all know the lingo. Talk to a thousand Christians and you know you’re reading the same script.

So Paul says, “I’m not talking about jargon. I’m talking about a whole different kind of putting on Christ. It’s really an alertness - an awakeness - to Christ that I’m talking about. I’m talking about “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” as a declaration of war - a declaration of war against empty, sleepy, verbal spirituality. In fact, the only way I can describe it is like putting on armor for war in hills of Afghanistan or Pakistan. This is not something to be done without a lot of concentration and effort. It’s not something you do casually, or ever get used to.”

So there’s the fundamental point. To be awake is to be conscious of the war. This is so important because in the next two verses Paul is going to give some instructions that people might interpret as being narrow and confining. But what he’s really doing is listing the kinds of things that keep people asleep and in the dark - “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. [14] But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”(13-14).

We’re going to examine the three groupings in these verses in two weeks - “orgies and drunkenness,” “sexual immorality and sensuality,” and “quarreling and jealousy.” These are the world’s sleeping pills. This is how Satan keeps brilliant people numb and dumb and asleep toward God - asleep toward the rapid close of the night and the sure and soon arrival of Christ’s dawn.

But the point right now is Paul doesn’t want anyone of us minimizing the importance of his warnings. He’s trying to head off at the pass any thought that his words are really only for preachers or missionaries or grandparents, or the super-spiritual.

We all know the church is growing huge crowds of people who carelessly neglect the warnings about the seriousness of these issues. But Paul isn’t exaggerating. He’s thinking clearly as he says,“If you don’t stop doing these kinds of things you just aren’t awake to God at all. You might be spitting out the right words, but you don’t get it. You’re still sound asleep spiritually.”

3) THE DEEPEST MEANING OF THIS PRESENT MOMENT

What is the call of the Spirit to our church from this text? We must not miss it. It is the call to sexual purity? No, that’s not it. Is it the call to peaceful unity without jealousy and quarreling? No, that’s not it either. Perhaps it’s the call away from substance abuse and drunkenness. Again, this is important, but misses Paul’s point.

The primary meaning of our lives in this moment is to all become more fully awake. Without this, what is the incentive to all the specific steps Paul gives in verses 13-14? No one will do all these things with any degree of consistency or joy unless he first becomes persuaded of the fading of the night and the arrival of the new dawn. The drive for “putting on Christ” must be internal. It can’t for long be enforced by preachers, parents, or youth pastors. You, each of you hearing these words, must “wake up” to the urgency of the times for yourself.

This is obviously what Paul intends because he is telling Christians to wake up. At first that seems odd, but we all, I think, know that awakening from sleep isn’t instantaneous. We all know the difference between that first moment of gaining consciousness and the effort required to rouse and rub the eyes and clear the throat and finally use your muscles to throw yourself over the edge of the bed, especially on early, cold, dark, winter mornings.

So don’t miss the obvious assumption Paul makes in our text. He knows there come times for major changes in the way we respond to our Lord. He assumes Christians settle and grow negligent. He feels free to summon followers of Christ to reassess and realign. In fact, he assumes this will be an urgent need in our lives.

Paul says we need to do this all the more as the night speeds to a close and the day gathers momentum. We are to be constantly taking off the pajamas of this world. This world saturates our minds with spiritual sleeping pills. To not be aware of this - to not be constantly fighting against this - is to be asleep already.

There isn’t much time to wake up. The night is far gone. The day is at hand. Salvation is much nearer to us now than when we first believed. Don’t let the lullaby of the spirit of the age take away your spiritual edge. Sing for joy. Look up at the brightening sky. And never stop for one minute putting on the armor of light.