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Sermon: Romans 13:11-14
Advent 1 – December 1, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

On a church sign some years ago I saw the thought-provoking statement, “The devil is always willing to rock the cradle of a sleeping Christian.” And how true that statement is. Satan is always glad when Christians, or anyone for that matter, are spiritually unaware or sluggish or apathetic. He will just do whatever he has to in order keep people in that spiritual sleepiness, rocking their cradles.

I believe we’re living in a time when Satan is rocking cradles more than ever. We see the success of his efforts in spiritual apathy and indifference, in people who just don’t care about God, don’t worship him, and indulge in immorality with little shame. I sometimes feel as if a whole dark cloud of Satan’s power and influence has descended on our society and the whole world.

There are Christians from every generation who probably would have said the same thing about the times in which they lived. The Apostle Paul was concerned about the spiritual sleepiness of people and their immoral behavior in his day 2000 years ago. He was so concerned that he wrote about it in his letter to the Romans, in the words of our text on this 1st Sunday of Advent.

He commanded the Roman Christians, and he’s commanding us today, to

WAKE UP AND BEHAVE DECENTLY

Paul was beginning to come to the end of his rather long letter to the Romans. He was concluding with a number of final exhortations. In chapter 13, just prior to our text, he encouraged his readers to love others. He writes a short summary of the second table of the law, commandments 4-10, dealing with our relationship with our neighbor. We love our neighbor, he said, by not stealing, committing adultery, murdering, or coveting.

And then Paul begins our text and writes, “Do this, [that is, love your neighbor and keep God’s commandments] understanding the present time.” What did Paul mean by the “present time”? There are some religious scholars who claim that the Apostle Paul and Christians of his day thought Jesus was going to come back very soon, literally any day. Certainly Paul knew that Jesus could have returned on any day, and he maybe thought the end was going to be very soon. He likely would have been surprised to know that Jesus’ return would not be for at least another 2000 years, but Paul did not teach with certainty that Jesus was coming any day. Paul definitely didn’t predict that Jesus was going to come on a certain date or in a certain year like Charles Russell the Jehovah’s Witness who prophesied that the world would end in 1914. Russell’s been wrong for 114 years!

By “present time” Paul meant these New Testament times in which the prophecies about the Savior have been fulfilled. Jesus has come, lived his life, died on the cross for the sins of the world, rose from the dead, and ascended back into heaven. From there he will come again. In other words Paul was saying, “We’re living in those times when Jesus can return any day and the final judgment will take place.

That’s why there was a sense of urgency in Paul’s words. So he uses expressions like “the hour has come,” “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” “the night is nearly over.” “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” especially illustrates Paul’s point that we are headed without hesitation or diversion toward Jesus’ second advent into this world. Every second, every hour, every day brings us just a little closer to the end of this world and the beginning of the glory of the eternal world to come.

Perhaps on a very long road trip in which you were anxious to get home you counted each one of the miles and kept thinking, “I’m one mile closer.” That’s what Paul was thinking. And just imagine! Now we’re 2000 years closer to Jesus’ return than Paul was when he wrote these words. He wrote this letter in A.D. 57 so we’re exactly 1962 years closer to Jesus’ return.

The point is that every Christian of every generation, including you and me, needs to be awake and aware and ready for Jesus’ return. He can come at any time, or your life or my life in this world can end at any time as well. Whatever the case, unlike Charles Russell, the Apostle Paul is right in his prophecy: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

So do you need to wake up, to wake up spiritually? Who does need to wake up? Estimates are that the world’s population is closing in on eight billion. That’s eight billion people who need to wake up because no one will escape the judgment. All are responsible to God. No one will have an excuse.
Of those eight billion perhaps three or four billion claim to be Christians or have some kind of family or cultural connection to Christianity. Reality is, however, that even with optimistic estimates, less than one billion of those eight billion are real Christians. The point is there are billions of non-Christians and people who think they’re Christians who need to wake up, to be serious about faith in Jesus, worship him, and live like Christians.

You and I are a part of that eight billion, and you and I need to wake up and be ready too. Today we hear a lot about people who are “woke,” that is, they believe they are politically and socially enlightened, they are very much awake and aware of what they believe to be politically and socially correct thought and behavior.

We’re not talking about that kind of “wokeness,” but we might borrow the world’s term and say we ought to be “woke” Christians, Christians who are keenly aware that they are believers in Jesus Christ, Christians whose faith in Jesus Christ is the most important thing in their life, Christians who are concerned that their faith affects how they think, speak, and act, Christians who worship regularly with other Christians, Christians who are spiritually awake. And if we’re not awake, or “woke,” then Paul says we better wake up.

And he says, “Let us behave decently.” There are way too many Christians today, or people who think and say they’re Christians, who are not behaving decently. They don’t worship God, they adopt the values and morals of our crumbling society, thoughtlessly and carelessly break God’s commandments, and are highly offended when they’re admonished by a fellow Christian or even a pastor. They don’t really fear God or the coming judgment.

There are way too many of these so-called Christians who don’t really behave decently, who don’t really live like Christians. And humility and honesty dictate that it’s very easy to be a Christian who doesn’t really live like a Christian. And that’s when Satan is really willing to rock our cradle.

Paul warns us, “Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” As we mentioned before Paul actually began this section of his letter by listing some of the commandments and that we need to love our neighbor by not sinning against him by breaking those commandments. He wrote, “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

We are a society and world that’s not doing a very good job of behaving decently. We are a society and world that need a good review and return to God’s Ten Commandments. And before we point the finger at the misbehaving society and world, we probably need to point the finger at ourselves and make sure we are striving to keep God’s commandments, that we first of all know what the commandments are and what they mean, and that we are Christians who are behaving decently.

That’s why Paul says, “Put on the armor of light. . . . Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of four weeks, four Sundays, that encourage us to repent of our sins and prepare ourselves to receive Jesus’ forgiveness as we celebrate Jesus’ birth and look forward to his second advent into this world. Paul’s words couldn’t be more appropriate for Advent, for any season or time of the year or of life.

Regularly repent of your sin. Find a time, hopefully each day, to say a prayer to God in which you confess you sins, your sinfulness, your original sin, your personal sins, sinful actions you’ve committed, good actions you’ve failed to do, how you have not worshiped or loved God, how you have not loved your neighbor. Use a book like Meditations to assist you if you like. Read a psalm each day. Read a Bible chapter a few times a week.

Most important of all turn to God for his forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Jesus died on a cross to atone for your sins and my sins. Your sins are forgiven. At your baptism God the Father adopted you as his child and put on you the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness. He has declared you righteous.

That’s why Paul says day after day continue to “put on the armor of light,” and to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s how we feed and strengthen and encourage our new born nature in Christ. The more we clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ the less often we will “look for ways to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

Wake up and behave decently. Those are some pretty practical words for Christians during Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Those are pretty practical words for any season, any day of the year or of life as we wait for Jesus’ return. “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Amen.