December 26, 1999

TIME TO WAKE UP!

The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11

After marking the last Christmas of this millennium, the countdown continues to the year 2000.  How do you feel about that?  Some people are excited and have special plans to welcome the new millennium.  Others worry about the Y2K computer problem and fear something awful might happen to them.  Still others yawn at the whole thing.  They think the Y2K bug is much ado about nothing.  They see the new millennium as just a lot of hype and think of 2000 as just another number; nothing much will be different in the new year except the number on the calendar.  With such a variety of attitudes about the countdown to 2000, I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’m excited!

My excitement is stronger than any concern about the Y2K bug.  Nobody knows for sure the impact of Y2K, and my family has done a few things just in case Y2K causes problems, but it most likely won’t be all that serious.  The modest steps we’ve taken are just low-cost insurance in case there are a few bumps in the road.  We’re certainly not in panic mode, holed up in a remote bunker expecting worldwide disaster.  Even if some computers get confused, the world won’t fall apart.  I’m not going to let computer fears ruin my excitement about the year 2000.

Why am I excited?  Well, I see nothing magical about the number 2000.  Changing the calendar isn’t likely to change the world.  But I’m still excited, because every change of the calendar moves us closer to something that will change the world.  Y2K–the year 2000–brings us a big step closer to J2C–Jesus’ 2nd coming.

A Bright Future

The year 2000 means we’re two millennia closer to a perfect world than when Jesus first came to earth.  I don’t have a secret system for figuring out what day or year Jesus will return and make all things new.  Only God knows that, and he hasn’t told us.  The Bible doesn’t say anything that makes the year 2000 any more likely (or any less likely) than any other year for the Second Coming of Jesus or events leading up to it. But one thing the year 2000 means for sure: the world is 2,000 years closer to perfection than it was on the first Christmas. That’s exciting!

It’s not so exciting, of course, if you care more about short-term concerns than the world’s final destiny, or if you focus more on the end of this world than on the thrilling realities of the world to come.

Even if you’re not religious, even if you don’t believe in God at all, you probably still believe in the end of the world, but it doesn’t thrill you.  In the atheist view, human life on this planet could be snuffed out by nuclear war or a worldwide environmental catastrophe.  There’s a cartoon which shows a man with a beard and long hair holding up a sign saying, “The end is near.”  Another man walks up and says, “You religious fanatics are disgusting!”  The man with the sign says, “I’m not religious; I’m an environmentalist.”  In the last scene of the cartoon, both men are holding signs saying, “The end is near.”

Even if you think that only religious fanatics would believe Christ is coming again, you may still be quick to join alarmists who dread the end of the world.  You may fear that pollution or global warming or weapons of mass destruction–or even something as small as a computer glitch–might put an end to humanity.  You may be convinced that even if these other disasters don’t destroy humanity, the world will surely end when the sun dies out or when the solar system and the Milky Way galaxy vanish into a black hole.  You may agree that the end of the world is 2,000 years closer, but it’s a grim ending. (cf. George Will’s gloomy article)

Christians, on the other hand, know that the world won’t end because of war or some other kind of disaster.  It will end when the Son of God returns to earth with his angels.  We should try to prevent wars and environmental damage whenever we can, and we may have to face dreadful problems which we haven’t prevented, but no matter how great the upheavals, the world won’t end until Jesus Christ comes again in glory.

Still, even though Christians know this, some are far too grim when they look ahead.  Even if you believe in Jesus’ Second Coming, you may focus mostly on gloom and doom.  You think more about end of this old, broken world than about the dawning of a new and perfect world.  You focus on wars and disasters as signs of the times more than you focus on evidence of God’s kindness.  You read book after book and listen to program after program about what an awful place the world will be as history nears its end, but you seldom think of the perfect world God is planning.

Why be so alarmed about the end of the old when you should be looking forward to a glorious new beginning?  We may be 2000 years closer to some of the most awful times the world has ever seen, but the Bible calls Christians to look beyond those brief troubles to the triumph, beyond every crisis to Christ.  Jesus himself says, “When you see these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  Rather than fear the end of this age, Christians should be excited about the beginning of the joyous eternity where God will be all in all.  Rather than worry that tribulation is nearer than ever, Christians should rejoice that salvation is nearer than ever.  “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” says the Bible in Romans 13:11.  God has a bright future planned for his world and his people: a new creation with no sin or sadness but only unending, ever-increasing love and delight.  This bright future is closer than ever, and that’s exciting!

What Time Is It?

The Bible often speaks of the importance of understanding what time it is in relation to the world’s destiny.  How do we know what time it is?  Well, if you think of the future more in terms of grim tribulation than eternal salvation, you tend to measure the timing and nearness of the end in terms of how many wars, earthquakes, and other disasters are happening.  But Jesus says that although such things are unavoidable, they are not the main measurement on God’s timeline.  “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed,” says Jesus.  “There will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6-7).  But are these the signs of the end?  No, says Jesus, “such things must happen, but they do not mean that the end has come” (Matthew 24:6 TEV).  Although Jesus warns of terrible times and dreadful events, he insists that these are not the main things Christians should focus on, and they are not the main sign that the end is getting nearer.

What is the main sign that the end is getting nearer?  Jesus says, “This gospel of God’s kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).  That’s the main sign.  That’s the only thing the Lord is really waiting for–the spread of the gospel to every corner of the world.  The more the message of Christ spreads, the closer we are to Jesus’ Second Coming.

Over the past 2000 years, the gospel of Christ has been reaching more and more areas of the world.  More and more countries and tribal groups have heard the news of his salvation and authority.  When God is satisfied that the gospel has reached every place and people group, and when all whom God has determined to save have been brought to faith in Christ, “then the end will come.”  The Lord Jesus will return to judge the world, banish those who reject him to hell, and welcome into his new creation countless people from every part of the earth who have trusted him.  The timing of the Lord’s Second Coming doesn’t depend on any crisis or earthquake or war; the timing depends on God’s patience and his plan to save more and more people from every tribe and language and people group and nation and include them in his eternal kingdom of joy (Revelation 7:9).  We can be sure the time of Christ’s return is getting closer than ever, not just because 2000 years have passed since Jesus’ first coming, but also because throughout those two millennia the gospel has been spreading.

How do you know when sunrise is getting closer?  By the fact that the darkness is giving way to more and more light. Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and the Bible says that in Christ “the light shines in the darkness” (John 1:3).  Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, the coming of God’s Son into our world.  The beauty of Jesus’ perfect life and love, the truth of his teaching and preaching, the wonder of his marvels and miracles, the forgiving power of his death and the life-giving power of his resurrection–all these aspects of Christ’s first coming are rays of God’s light shining into our darkness.  With every new place and person reached by Christ’s gospel, a bit less darkness prevails and more light is evident.  “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”

When Jesus comes again, in glory, the rays of dawn will become a dazzling sunrise.  Darkness will be totally swallowed up in the full light of day.  The fact that two thousand years have now passed since the light of Christ first appeared in the world’s darkness, and the fact that beams of gospel light are reaching more and more places around the world–this means that the glorious sunrise of the perfect day is closer than ever.

In the years before Jesus, faith-filled people in Israel prayed for the first coming of the one the prophets called Immanuel, “God with us.”  Now those who trust Jesus pray eagerly for Immanuel’s second coming  Rejoice!  Immanuel, the Lord Jesus Christ, will come again.  And with the passing of another millennium, his coming is nearer than ever.

Waking Up and Getting Dressed

The Bible compares Jesus’ second coming to the sunrise of a new day.  How do you get ready for a new day?  By waking up and getting dressed.  If something big is coming up, if you have an important meeting or a job interview or a major test coming up the next day, you make sure you’re up on time and looking your best.  If you have a great vacation planned and you’re scheduled to be on a flight from the airport at sunrise, you don’t want to oversleep and miss your flight.  You get up early, you shower and get dressed, you make sure everything is packed and ready, and you make sure you’re at the airport well before sunrise, when the first rays of dawn have only begun to gleam.

Not all of us are morning people.  Not all of us like to get up early.  Maybe you’re the kind of person who’d rather stay in bed and go on sleeping.  If your alarm clock rings, you hit the snooze button again and again, rather than getting up.  You may feel as though you’d like to lie there forever.  But even if you’re a sleepyhead by nature, you get up and get ready anyway if you have a good reason.  You’re a lot better at getting up and getting ready if something big is coming up than if you had no good reason to wake up.  If you’ve been looking forward to something that’s coming up in the morning and don’t want to miss out on it, you may even wake up several times during the night just to check what time it is and see whether you need to get up yet.

Now, if it’s important to keep track of the time and wake up and get dressed for the events of a new day, then surely it’s important to know the time in relation to the new day of God’s perfect world.  In Romans 13 the Bible says that “understanding the present time” should affect all we do.  “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So 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.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:11-14).  This is a wakeup call for Christians who have lost track of the time and become lazy and sleepy and unprepared.  It’s also an urgent call to those who have never trusted and committed themselves to Christ at all.

What does it mean to wake up and get dressed spiritually?  Let’s find out from the experience of one of the greatest people in the last 2000 years, an African named Augustine.  Historians recognize Augustine as one of the great geniuses in the history of the world.  Aside from Christ and the apostles, Augustine may be the most influential person in the past two millennia.

As a young man Augustine was not a Christian.  Going against Christian morals, he enjoyed sexual relations with a live-in lover whom he hadn’t married.  He also experimented with different religious cults and beliefs.  Eventually, though, Augustine became convinced that Jesus is for real and that Christianity is true.  But he still didn’t change.  Even though he was sure of the truth, he didn’t reject his sins and become a Christian.  As Augustine later told the Lord in his Confessions,

I could see it perfectly clearly.  But I was still tied down to the earth and refused to take my place in your army…  This world was a kind of pleasant weight upon me, as happens in sleep, and the thoughts in which I meditated on you were like the efforts of someone who tries to get up but is so overcome with drowsiness that he sinks back again into sleep.  Of course no one wants to sleep forever, and everyone in his senses would agree that it is better to be awake; yet all the same, when we feel a sort of lethargy in our limbs, we often put off the moment of shaking off sleep, and, even though it is time to get up, we gladly take a little longer in bed, conscious though we may be that we should not be doing so.  In just that same way I was quite certain that it was better to give myself up to your love rather than give in to my own desires.

But though Augustine knew he should give himself to Christ, he continued to give himself to his sinful pleasures anyway.

I, convinced by the truth, could find nothing at all to say except lazy words spoken half asleep: “A minute,” “just a minute,” “just a little time longer.”  But there was no limit to the minutes, and the little time longer went a long way.

As more and more time passed, the Lord, in his kindness, made Augustine feel more and more uneasy.  It got harder and harder for him to be happy.  Finally the time came when God shook him out of his sleep completely.  Augustine was feeling miserable.  He sat under a tree, crying, and thought to himself, “Why not now?  Why not finish this very hour with my uncleanness?”

Suddenly a voice reaches my ears from a nearby house.  It is the voice of a boy or girl (I don’t know which) and in a kind of singsong, the words are constantly repeated: “Take and read.  Take and read.”

It may have been a child playing nearby, but, says Augustine,

I checked the force of my tears and rose to my feet, being quite certain that I must interpret this as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first passage which I should come upon.

Opening the Scripture, the first passage he saw was where Romans 13 says to wake up and get dressed.  He was struck by the words, “Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

“I had no wish to read further,” writes Augustine; “there was no need to.  For as soon as I reached the end of this sentence it was as though my heart was filled with a light of confidence and all the shadows of my doubt were swept away.”  He turned from his sin, surrendered to Christ, and devoted his life to bringing the light of Christ to others and waking them up.

Wake Up, Sleepyhead!

Maybe you’re like Augustine was.  You’re pretty sure God is real and Jesus is God in human form, but your life is unchanged.  You know Christ is the light of the world, but you prefer darkness.  You know the sunrise of Christ’s return is getting closer with each day and year, and you know you have to be dressed before sunrise, but you still go on lying in your bed of sin, half asleep.  You know you’re displeasing God, but you don’t want to get up and take off your dingy nightclothes.  You’re not eager to put on “the armor of light,” and “clothe yourself with Christ.”

Wake up, sleepyhead!  You can’t keep snoozing forever.  “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”  A splendid new world is coming, but you’re not going to be part of it if you’re caught napping and haven’t clothed yourself in Christ.  Jesus warns again and again in the Bible that we must be ready when he comes again. If you’re not ready for Y2K computer problems, it may not matter much; but if you’re not ready for J2C, Jesus’ 2nd coming, it will mean certain disaster.

Even if Jesus doesn’t return within the next few years, he may come for you this very day.  You may come face to face with him long before he appears to the whole world.  If you die in your sin, you will suffer forever in hell.  But if you wake up to his light, trust in his goodness credited to you, count on his blood to pay for your sins, and begin to live more and more like him, then you can look forward to a joyous meeting with him face to face, whether that comes at the moment of your death or when Christ comes again.

Even as I was preparing this program, I got a letter from a woman I’ve never met.  She said her son had died suddenly.  The reason she wrote me was that after her son died she had found in his Bible a printed copy of one of our programs.  It was a message of salvation through faith in Christ.  This dear woman was heartbroken by her son’s death, but she felt great comfort knowing her son died trusting in Jesus.

What if it had been you that died?  What if you had never made it to the new millennium?  Would you have been ready to meet Christ?  If not, it’s time to wake up!  It’s time to get dressed!  No more delay!  No more lazing about!  Let me remind you again: The world is 2000 years closer to Christ’s return, and the worldwide spread of his gospel shows that the night is nearly over and the day is getting closer and closer.  The Lord could well return in our lifetime.  The world’s final sequence of events could arrive any time, culminating in Christ’s coming.  What’s more, you could die and enter eternity at any moment.  So with all my heart I urge you: wake up, cast off your sin, and put on the clean clothing provided by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then you can join me and all Christians as we celebrate 2000 years of gospel light and rejoice that our salvation and the new creation are nearer than ever.  I’m excited!  Are you?

PRAYER

Eternal God, a millennium is a major milestone for us, but for you a thousand years are like a brief watch in the night.  Thank you for your patience which has given so many people time to learn of Christ and trust in him throughout these past two thousand years.  Thank you for shining your light into our darkness by sending Jesus and spreading his gospel to more and more places through the work of your Holy Spirit.  Please continue to shine and to save until you complete your salvation plan for this age.  Wake those who are sleeping and clothe them in Christ, that they may be ready to meet you face to face and delight forever in your new creation. Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.