Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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Dressed for the Occasion

Matthew 24:36-44 and Romans 13:11-14

“No one knows the day or hour, not even the angels. No one except the Father in heaven.” Of course, that doesn’t stop people from guessing, right? Maybe the real issue is that watchfulness is hard. It’s hard to live in a state of readiness. So we’d rather know when Jesus will return.

But it’s not going to happen. Jesus tells us that it won’t be expected. So if someone tells you, “These are the last days,” maybe what you should do is to say, “Well, they can’t be. ‘Cause you expect them to be.” That’ll shut them up! Not likely.

Jesus says it will be like the days of Noah. In Hebrew tradition they had a lot more to say about the days of Noah than what’s actually recorded in the Bible. They had all kinds of traditions about all the wickedness of that time, about Noah testifying and trying to convince people to flee the wrath to come, and so on. But I think the basic image here is that the ark was a warning. How long did Noah work on the ark? One tradition says it was 100 years. Others say it was 70 years. Either way, it was a long time. And for all that time, the ark stood as a testimony that judgment was coming. It was not just a means of salvation, but also a warning of judgment. And, obviously, people ignored it.

Jesus’ prophesied return is also a warning. But since the day and hour are not known, we must be watchful at all times. “If the owner of the home knew when the burglar was coming, he would be awake and ready.” But of course, thieves don’t advertise that information. So we must be ready at all times.

In Romans 13, Paul says, “You know how late it is.” We can’t miss that the early Church expected the return of Christ to happen sooner rather than later. “Salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.” Well, I guess that’s true.

“So wake up!” The language of sleep was used in the New Testament to describe a person who was unaware, inattentive, not paying attention to spiritual things.

“The night is almost over.” Night is used here to describe this present age, the world as we know it. But it won’t endure. It will soon pass away and the “day,” the age to come, the new creation, will take its place. “So don’t live in the darkness.” Live in the light of the day to come and not the present order that is soon to pass away.

In the Greco-Roman understanding of time, time was either viewed as eternal and unchanging, or it was cyclical, things just went around and around. But in the Hebrew

understanding, time is building to something. There is a climax, a tipping point coming: The Day of the Lord. And before it comes, there will be a great battle in Hebrew thought. “So get rid of the deeds of darkness. Take them off like dirty clothes. And put on the armor of right living.”

The real enemy we face is the spirit of the age. It’s the temptation to go along with the world around us, to join in with the sins of the world. We put on the armor of right living by “being decent and true and not participating in wild parties, getting drunk, adultery, and immoral living.”

In the minds of first century Hebrew people, that’s what Gentile life was all about: drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual immorality. In the case of upper class Roman society, they really weren’t too far off the mark. When you talk about upper class Romans, you’re talking about people who were very wealthy, very powerful, and very bored. They were looking for something to alleviate the boredom, and in many cases, it was wild parties, drinking, eating, and promiscuous sex.

And it’s easy for us to condemn that. But notice the last two things that Paul addresses: Fighting and jealousy. Are we as quick to condemn those? Fighting and jealousy? Well, that’s pretty much America. We might be tempted to excuse those things. Fighting? You mean politics. Jealousy? Well, that’s the American dream; to have what others have.

Actions start with attitudes. Sexual sins begin with lust. Murder starts with anger and hatred. Theft starts with jealousy. It’s not enough just to be dressed rightly, just to have the outward appearance of righteousness. We need to be right through and through.

How do we get there? By “letting the Lord Jesus take control of you and not thinking of ways to indulge your desires.” We need Jesus to transform who we are on the inside. This is Romans 13. What did Paul say in Romans 12? “Give yourself to God as a living and holy sacrifice. Don’t copy the customs of the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is coming back; look busy!” I loved the humor of it, because I’m weird. But that’s not enough. It’s not enough to put on outward appearances. What we need is to be transformed by God, to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. And that can only happen when we invite Christ to transform us, inside and out. Only then can we hope to live a life of watchfulness.

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