Staying Awake

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 12:35-37

Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.

Luke 12:35-37 RSV

Our days on earth are numbered. I’m not speaking only of you and me, but of everyone else, too. The human race will not remain on this planet indefinitely. History, as we know it, has some end-point.

We’ve heard a good deal in our time about possible ways in which we could become extinct. Some day, we are told, the sun will become what we call a super nova, expanding in size enormously, burning to cinders everything on earth. Even if that does not happen, another finale is said to be certain. The fuel in the solar fires, though vast, is limited. The sun will blaze for so long and then burn out. Finally earth will be left in the frigid blackness of outer space. We can’t be sure, of course, that either of those two things will bring an end to our sojourn on this planet. It may happen long before anything like that. Some have predicted a nuclear holocaust destroying all human life. Some say that the eventual destruction of the ozone layer will expose us all to deadly radiation. Or, an asteroid colliding with the earth will cause the kind of climatic upheaval that once brought death to the dinosaurs. But none of those, of course, is guaranteed. No one can tell us with full assurance just what is ahead for humankind.

No one, that is, except God, the One who sees the end from the beginning, the sovereign Lord of history. The word of the Lord is that no one of these disasters will bring down the curtain on the human drama. Another event ordained by God will one day bring history to a sudden conclusion. Do you know what it is? It’s what we call the Second Coming, the return of the crucified, risen, reigning Jesus to earth. That’s what we confess in the Apostles Creed. “From thence He shall come, to judge the living and the dead.” This staggering event is either proclaimed or assumed in every book of the New Testament. It’s the one thing we know with absolute certainty about the future. Jesus is coming again.

I want to read you today some words of His about that future event and how it should affect us here and now. Listen. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 12, beginning at verse 35:

Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.

Now notice, Jesus talks about staying awake while we wait for His return. He doesn’t tell us to puzzle out and predict when the time will be. He doesn’t urge us to become experts in the sequence of events that may lead up to and follow His coming, interesting as those things may be. Jesus doesn’t encourage in the least our curiosity or speculation about them. He simply asks of us that we stay awake.

WHAT IS “STAYING AWAKE”?

Now what does that mean? It obviously can’t mean that we are never to sleep, or eat, or rest, or play. God knows our frame. He gave us our bodies. He understands far better than we do that we need rest and renewal. Angels may be able to get along without sleep, but we mortals can’t. The “staying awake” Jesus talks about has to do with the way we live when we’re not sleeping. It has at least four components. The first is readiness. “Let your loins be girded.” When I arrive at the tennis club on Wednesday afternoons, I’m not ready to play. I still have my business suit on, my coat and tie, my leather-soled shoes. But after I take all those clothes off, I’m not ready, either. Then I put on my tennis gear. There’s no unnecessary clothing, just enough to provide both support and freedom of action. Staying awake means being ready for the kind of movement and exertion needed to do what God calls us to do.

Staying awake means also alertness. “Let your lamps be burning.” Here’s an image of people able to see clearly what’s around them, men and women fully aware of what’s going on. When your lamp goes out, you haven’t a clue about your surroundings. You’re in total confusion. When our grandchildren visit our home, we always keep a night light on in the hall and in the bathroom, so that if they wake up in the middle of the night they won’t be disoriented. They’ll be able to see the direction to take if they need to use the bathroom or come to see us or even get out of the house. Staying awake means keeping the lights on, keeping alert.

Staying awake, as we await the Lord’s return, also involves an element of eagerness. “Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast.” The members of the household “can’t wait” for the master to return, for he has been the center of a happy feast. They want to see him and share his joy.

You know what it’s like when you have a surprise birthday party for someone. All the friends and family members have gathered. The refreshments are ready. Various ones are stationed at the windows to watch for the arrival of the honored guest. The atmosphere tingles with anticipation. Everyone is on tiptoe. Time seems to drag until he or she finally walks through the door to be hailed and surprised.

Jesus also implies that staying awake involves responsiveness: “so that they may open to him at once,” He says, “when he comes and knocks.” For people really awake to the fact that the Master is coming, there can be no delay. He’ll scarcely have His hand on the latch when they’ll be opening from within. When they hear the slightest sound outside, they leap to fling wide the door. So the ones whom the Master “finds awake” when He comes are those who are ready, alert, eager and responsive.

WHY SO VITAL?

Why do you suppose it’s important to Jesus that His people should be awake like that? Because their condition reveals how they really feel about Him. For one thing, staying awake shows that they believe what He says. I was studying in a Sunday school class just this past Lord’s Day Jesus’ prediction that He the Son of man must suffer and be delivered up to the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and be raised again the third day. How amazing and faith-quickening it was for the disciples to realize after the Resurrection that these things had happened just as Jesus said they would!

He was delivered into the hands of His enemies. He was rejected and crucified and on the third day He was raised from death. Jesus showed an unerring awareness of what would happen at the close of His ministry. Now that those events have occurred, we await a further prophecy of Jesus which has not yet been realized. He said things like this: “I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). When asked by the high priest if He was the Christ, the Son of the blessed, Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). He declared this under solemn oath. He would come again.

The people who stay awake then are those who take Him seriously. They expect that He will come as He said He would. And since they know that the exact time of that return is uncertain, they try to keep alert all the time.

The fact that they stay awake like this shows something else too. They not only expect Him to come back; but they want to see Him. Their desire for that event is a sign of their devotion.

Suppose that an American husband had gone to Saudi Arabia during the days of Desert Storm. He was away from home for several months in a situation where his life was daily at risk. Now finally, mission accomplished, he can return home. We would expect, wouldn’t we, we would hope, that his wife back at home has been eagerly counting the days, looking forward to the time when her husband would be home again? If she didn’t feel that way, it would seem unnatural. It might even indicate that in the meanwhile she had given her heart to someone else. The strength of her longing for her man to come back would be the measure of her love. In a similar way, Jesus prizes it when His people not only expect His return, but long and pray that it may come soon. They live for the day when they will behold Him face to face and be with Him forever.

Here’s how much it means to Jesus that we should stay awake in that way. Listen: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.” What a marvelous reversal of roles! The servants are eagerly awaiting their master’s return, wanting to see him, to celebrate with him, minister to him. But when he comes and finds them so eager and devoted, he turns things upside down. He has them recline at table. He makes them comfortable, maybe even washes their feet. He prepares food and brings it to them. He waits on them, responds to their wishes, cleans up after them. They have shown themselves to be good servants, faithful watchers, worthy of their calling. For them He, the Master, spares no attention. He spreads for them a feast.

HOW ARE WE DOING?

Now no one of us has yet been either alert or asleep, dull or eager for the Lord’s second advent, for His final return to earth. It hasn’t happened yet. But all of us characteristically have been awake or drowsy for thousands of the Lord’s intermediate comings, His visitations. Sometimes the Lord appears to us as a sufferer or a suppliant in the guise of afflicted brothers and sisters. We either ignore Him then or we reach out to Him.

Sometimes He calls us in His Word. Either we regularly open our Bibles or we leave them for the most part closed. Either we are there with God’s people when the gospel is preached or we’re somewhere else. And when the word is preached in our presence, we either listen or we wool gather. Our minds are focussed or they are wandering.

Sometimes the Lord comes to us in shattering events, in seasons of heartbreak. At such moments, we are either open to what He is saying to us or closed. We’re endlessly talking about it or listening for His still, small voice. In earthshaking world events, are we alert to pray, to search, to ponder what God is saying? When the Lord’s cause is on the line and He wants us to watch and pray, are we rousing ourselves for that or are we falling asleep?

Our pastor here in Michigan has a vision of his congregation being ceaselessly at prayer. We’ve begun a program now in which someone in the congregation is responsible to watch with the Lord for one hour every day and every night. The pastor wants to take seriously the Word of the Lord in Isaiah 62: “Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth” (vv. 6,7). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could keep that up until the Lord comes back, so that whether He comes in the second watch or in the third, in morning or the dead of night, some would be watching with Him, eagerly waiting for Him, praying “Come, Lord Jesus”?

Let me tell you about something that has happened for several years at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in our nation’s capital. The President of the United States comes to speak. By the time he arrives, everyone is seated. They’ve all come through the metal detectors at the doors. They left their baggage and equipment outside. They’ve come early, in keen anticipation. They’re conversing as they wait, but ready at any moment to look toward the door through which the president will enter. When the marine band strikes up “Hail to the Chief,” all conversation stops. All eyes are on the entrance. Then, when the president and his wife appear, everyone rises. Everyone applauds. As he begins to speak, their silence and eager attentiveness are broken only by bursts of appreciation. That’s a picture, isn’t it, of what it is to stay awake for the Lord’s return?

These are expressions of respect for a national president. But they provide only a hint, only a glimmer of what Christians are called to. Behind the alertness of believers is a supreme loyalty to their returning Master. They’re always so aware of His grace and His total claim on them that they hold themselves ready for His knock, His call. They have no pursuit so engrossing that they would not welcome Him in the midst of it.

When the king calls, we don’t put him on hold, do we? We don’t go on with what we’re doing. We don’t say, “We’ll greet you when it’s more convenient.” We live every day ready, alert, eager, responsive. That’s what it means to stay awake. And here’s the Lord’s thrilling word about it: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes!”