Stay Alert and Awake!

But if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him … and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

~ Matthew 24:48-51

Lest [the master] come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.

~ Mark 13:36-37

Years ago, when I was in my teens, my parents had gone out of town. When they left, the house was in disarray. My mom sternly warned me that the house had better be straightened up by the time they returned—or else. At the time, I had the benefit of knowing when they would return, and I did make sure I had taken care of all the chores before their return.

Jesus has “gone out of town.” He has left His people with instructions: for the shepherds and teachers to lovingly guide, instruct, and equip His people in the ways of righteousness, and for His people to carry out His Great Commission.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)

Consider the One who has issued this commission. It is none other than Jesus, the Christians’ Savior, Lord, God, and King. Believers need to recapture the definition of these titles:

  • Savior – one who saves, rescues, or delivers from harm or oppression. Jesus saves/delivers His people from the tyranny and ultimate consequence of sin, the wrath of God, the devil, and hell.
  • Lord – one who has authority, a master. One who calls the shots and is to be obeyed.
  • God – the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth.
  • King – a sovereign ruler.

Are these the way Jesus is viewed and treated in many churches? Be honest, is sin recognized and handled as a real hazard, danger, and poison? Is Jesus approached with genuine reverence and treated as authentic royalty? Is He approached as persons would approach a king, with humility and loyalty? 

Many people and churches emphasize Jesus’ love to the point of exclusion of His other attributes and characteristics (holiness, justice, truth, and purity). However, we must understand the One who extends forgiveness and grace is also the one who commands us to repent and to sin no more. While Jesus promises a heaven for His people, He also promises a hell for the unrepentant and unbelieving. He, indeed, is the gracious Savior of all who turn to Him, but He is also the Judge who will condemn those who reject His light because of their love for the darkness.

Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Elsewhere, He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). How can Jesus be one’s Lord and King if what He says is dismissed?

On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:22-23)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

There are two kingdoms. Each of us is a citizen of one or the other, and our heart and loyalties are to whichever one we belong. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Granted, in context He is talking about money, but the principle certainly applies on a broader scale. These two kingdoms are diametrically opposed to the other. The one is a kingdom of light, holiness, love, purity, and truth. The other is a kingdom of darkness, evil, selfishness, immorality, and deception. Although the kingdom of light is the kingdom of the rightful King, the kingdom of darkness is ruled by a would-be king (Satan) who is in continual rebellion of the rightful King’s rule.

There are many who feign to be a part of the kingdom of light, yet their lives reveal love for the kingdom of darkness (this will be discussed further in chapter four). The Bible says:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. … And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:19-24) 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformative. When a person believes the Gospel and is born again by the Spirit of God (see John 3), he becomes a new creature. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The Bible tells us those who are born again become citizens of King Jesus’ kingdom.

Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:12-14)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3)

The genuine follower of Christ still battles an internal struggle with sin. He is made perfect positionally, but not experientially. Nevertheless, he is changed, and will continue to change.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)

John tells us that if we claim to have fellowship with God while walking in darkness, then we lie and are not practicing the truth. He goes on to explain that if we walk in the light, then we have fellowship with God, “and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Still, we cannot claim to be without sin, but “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness” (see 1 John 1:5-10).

Later in John’s letter, he encourages believers to abide in Christ, and when He appears, we will be like him. John then adds, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Then, in the next paragraph he writes, “No one who abides in [Christ] keeps on sinning … Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil … whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” (see 1 John 2:28-3:10).

In John’s Gospel, the apostle shares some of Jesus’ teachings about abiding in Him, loving/obeying, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus emphasizes our need to abide in Him, apart from which we cannot be nourished, grow, or bear fruit.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:1-6)

What does it mean to “abide” in Jesus? Jesus likens Himself to a vine and his followers as branches. The vine is the source of the roots and nourishment. If a branch is severed from the vine, it dies and withers. To abide in Christ means to stay connected and dependent on Him the same way a branch is connected and dependent on a vine. Disciples of Jesus Christ are to have this kind of relationship to Him.

In the previous chapter, Jesus explains to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15), and those who do He will send the Spirit of truth to live in them (vs. 17). Jesus goes on to promise them who love Him, who keep His commandments, will in turn be loved by Him and the Father. Furthermore, He will manifest Himself to them (vs. 21).

In chapter 16, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth—will guide His people “into all the truth,” “things that are to come,” and “take what is [Christ’s] and declare it to you.” In all this, the Holy Spirit’s intention is to glorify Christ (see vs. 12-15). If any words or activities do not truly honor Christ, His teachings, and redemptive work then one can be certain that these are not of the Holy Spirit of God.

What does walking in the light, abiding in Christ, loving and obeying Him, and the Holy Spirit have to do with staying alert and awake? Walking in the light gives evidence of a genuine relationship with God. Obeying Christ and keeping His commandments gives evidence to authentic love for Him. The Holy Spirit will reveal truth and things to come to those who love Jesus.

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells of some things to watch for concerning His coming and the end of the age. There are those who limit this discourse as meaning the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; however, this must include the future because Jesus has not yet returned. During this discourse, Jesus makes a distinction between wise servants and wicked servants. The wise servants continue to wait, serve, and expect the return of the Master. The wicked servants grow weary of waiting and begin to serve themselves. Jesus gives clear warning of the severe judgment of the wicked servants (vs. 45-51).

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable of ten virgins. Five of the virgins were wise, while the other five were foolish. The coming of the bridegroom was delayed. The wise had prepared and had gotten extra flasks of oil for their lamps. The foolish made no such preparations. The wise who had prepared were each welcomed to the wedding feast. The foolish ones, who were late in coming due to not being prepared, were prohibited from joining in the feast. They were told the horrifying words, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (see vs. 1-13).

Oil is often  used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returns, there will be many who are churchgoers but who are not born again. Therefore, they will not be filled with the Holy Spirit or genuine faith leading to salvation. Jesus warns in Matthew 24 of some whom He describes as wicked servants, although professing Him to be their “master,” go through the motions of religiosity but do not expect His return. These also become abusive toward His faithful servants while associating with the godless and adapting their ungodly ways.

For His faithful ones, Jesus does not simply leave them in the dark. Jesus had rebuked the religious leaders of the day, saying, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3). Yet, in answer to the disciples’ question, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3), Jesus gives various signs to watch for. Each is an indication that His return is drawing ever closer. Furthermore, throughout the New Testament we are given other things to watch for (we will consider some of these later). The question must be asked, would Jesus rebuke us today for not being able to interpret the times?

Jesus promised He would return when we least expect it; yet He expects His people to anticipate His return and be prepared. His return just might be closer than we think. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul notes, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (5:3). The apostle goes on to state matter-of-factly that such persons who live immorally, impurely, or covetous “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (vs. 5).

As Paul continues, he explains that we had once been a part of darkness, with all its shameful works; however, in Christ we have become children of light.

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:13-16)

Elsewhere, Paul writes on the similar theme:

 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. (1 Thes. 5:5-7)

Our Master has gone “out of town,” and He appears to be delaying; nevertheless, He is going to return. When He does, will He find us faithful in our service, anticipating His return? If He returned this week, would we be taken by surprise? We cannot be faithful and unfaithful at the same time. Which are you? May we take ever so seriously Jesus’ admonitions. He has given explicit warnings to the immoral, the hypocrites, and the apostates. May His words be inscribed in our minds, on our hearts, and the depths of our soul: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

~ from the book, Storm on the Horizen: Are We Approaching the End Times? by Geno Pyse, p. 11-26

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