“Beat the Clock”
Text: Matthew 24:36-44
Many of us older folks remember Bud Collyer hosting the television game show “Beat the Clock.” There have been at least four attempts to revive this show – the latest airing in 2002-2003. Contestants were given tasks to perform within time limits as the clock ticked down. If they succeeded, they “beat the clock.” While this was very entertaining family fun in the 1950’s, I’m afraid too many of us live our lives – hoping to beat God’s clock. Those familiar with our text from Matthew 24 understand that the end of time as we know it will come without warning. The second coming of Christ cannot be predicted because only God the Father knows when it will occur. But Jesus was warning His disciples to live their lives in constant preparation for His return. Then He tells a series of parables to emphasize our need to always be ready for His return. Notice the end of our text: “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” I believe most of us intellectually understand this but live our lives hoping to beat the clock. What do I mean by this? We always plan to do more for the Lord and His church but…we’ll do it when the children grow up a little. We’ll do it when we retire. We’ll do it after this or after that but, truth be told, there’ll always be something that gets in the way. Many of us are trying to cram so many experiences into our lives that we scarcely have time to worship God. Has our bucket list become a higher priority than seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness? This has been a problem for disciples of Christ from the beginning. Remember the exchange in Luke 9:57-62? Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Following Jesus is often about making the tough choices. It may be between your child’s immediate happiness and Bible classes. It may be between a good paying job and a lesser paying one that allows you to attend worship services. It could be between letting your Prince Charming go and remaining chaste. It could be between improving your golf game and teaching an adult class. For the next few minutes, I want us to reflect on the way we’re living and the way God wants us to live. So, please open your Bibles to Romans 13:11-14 as we look at the importance of getting our lives ready for eternity.
In Romans 12-13, the inspired apostle Paul sets forth a practical guide to Christian living. As you know, he was writing to Christians – the saints in Rome. And, when he gets to verse 11 of chapter 13, Paul issues a wake-up call to all Christians for all time. We’re going to look quickly at these four verses and hopefully glean three points so let’s begin. Our first point this morning is to “wake up.” Most of us can remember being awakened in the mornings by our parents for school although we thought it was a military drill sergeant waking us up. Paul, like a loving father, is urging us to wake up. In fact, he expresses a sense of urgency understood in both Greek and English: "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand." When we say, “It is high time”, we mean it is either the appropriate time to do something or it is past time. Christians in the first century lived in anticipation of the Lord’s return. Now, some 2,000 years later, we should live with the same anticipation. Whether we became a Christian 75 years ago or two weeks ago, our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. This was true for first-century believers and it is still true for 21st century believers. I don’t know when the Lord is coming back to claim His own but it is almost two millennia nearer than when He ascended back to heaven. The clock is ticking and yet most of us believe we have plenty of time left on this earth to do all the things we want to do. Again, we intellectually as well as experientially know that we have no promise of tomorrow. We know what James 4:14 says: "whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." How can we know all of this and remain so apathetic? How can we possibly think that we can beat God’s clock? The apostle Paul issued a wake-up call to the church at Rome in our text and he’s issuing the same wake-up call to this church this morning! One of the first things parents tell their children after waking them up or that we do after getting out of bed is “get dressed.” We take off whatever we’ve been sleeping in and put on something appropriate for school or work or play. Isn’t this what Paul instructs us to do? "Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light." A lot of sins are committed under the cover of darkness and Paul tells us to get rid of these sins in our lives. Just as we must take off our pajamas and nightgowns when we get up, we must do the same with our works of darkness and then put on proper clothing. Again, I’m not telling you anything new. Look at Ephesians 4:22-24 – "that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness." Don’t miss the fact that Paul is writing to the saints – the church – in Ephesus. He does a similar thing as he writes to the brethren in Colossians 3:8-14. I hope you’ll turn there as we read this passage: "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection." Most of us are familiar with the armor of God as presented in Ephesians 6:11-17 so I won’t take time to read it. But, know this, the Lord has specified that we are to be clothed with light and not darkness. After telling us to wake up and get dressed, Paul tells us to "live as a Christian" – to walk properly or decently. The New Testament is replete with guidance on how we are to walk as Christians. One of my favorites is Ephesians 4:1-3 as Paul writes, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” But, here, Paul puts it very plainly: "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy." First of all, we are to live our lives to the glory of God – fully exposed to the pure light of the sun – not afraid or ashamed of what others may see. How many things are we hiding in our lives? My friends, we may hide it from others but it is not hidden from God. Maybe we’ll come back to these six things in another lesson because Paul uses some interesting language of what is forbidden. I’ll just say that drunkenness and sexual immorality should not be a part of a Christian’s life but sometimes it is. Paul says we’d better get rid of these sins. Sometimes we think these first four are the bad sins but notice Paul includes strife and envy on the same level. In case you have any doubts about my conclusions, turn over to Galatians 5:19-21 as Paul compiles a similar list guided by the Holy Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Folks, I believe in the grace of God but we can’t get away with living in darkness. After waking us up and telling us to get dressed and telling us to live as a Christian, Paul summarizes these last two points in verse 14: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." The armor of light is now the Lord Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:27 we read how we put on Christ: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Paul is reminding us whose we are. If Jesus is truly Lord of our lives, we’ll imitate Him in all that we do or say. On the other hand, we must get rid of the garbage in our lives to do this. Make no provision for the flesh. It’s hard to get drunk at home if you don’t buy alcohol. It’s hard to watch pornography if your computer is out in the open with safeguards in place. We have a responsibility to keep the devil away and we do that by resisting him – steadfast in the faith (1 Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7).
It is probably the intention of everyone here this morning to go to heaven – as I’m sure was true of the saints in Rome, Ephesus, Colosse and Galatia – but the clock is ticking away. It’s as the intro to the soap opera says, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” To all of us, Paul says: Wake up; get dressed; and live as a Christian. Where are we in this process today? Is this our wake-up call? Do we need to change our clothing – from the clothes of darkness to the armor of light? Do we need to start walking the walk instead of just talking the talk? God is so patient with us as we read from 2 Peter 3:9 – "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Maybe you need to put on Christ in baptism this morning. Maybe you just need to be honest with God this morning about how you’re living. I want to read one more passage this morning – from what is believed to be the first New Testament book written – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 – "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation." We’re 35 minutes closer to eternity than when the sermon began. Don’t let the clock beat you as we stand and sing!