Read Romans 13:11-14 to start.
11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
One of my favourite movies growing up was the 1960 Disney adaption of the Swiss Family Robinson. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is a rollicking adventure story of a family who is shipwrecked on an unoccupied island and who has to survive and indeed make a new life for themselves. This Disney adaptation features action, excitement, humour, and pirates. I call it an adaptation, because the movie is wildly different from the book. The aforementioned pirates, for example, who are a major plot point in the movie, are not even present in the book. In the movie, however, it was the pirates who drove the ship the family had been sailing on into the storm where they were shipwrecked. It was the pirates that the two older brothers encountered on the far side of the island, and from whom they rescued a prisoner. And it was in anticipation of those same pirates coming to retrieve the prisoner that provokes the family to prepare elaborate defenses.
That is the plot point I would consider relevant here. The family spent weeks, maybe a couple of months, preparing for the pirates to attack. They attempted to delay the pirates, for example they concealed their location by blowing up the remnants of their shipwrecked vessel, and thereby removing an obvious clue as to where they were. But stave it off as they tried, they were not entirely ready when the attack did come. It came on a day when they decided to take a break from building their defences. They were nearly overwhelmed, and certainly would have been defeated if not for the arrival of outside help. Although they had done much preparation, they were not truly ready. But they didn’t get any choice in the matter, they had to make do with what they had. There was no further time for them to prepare.
In the Christian life, we might be more like that fictional family than we may realize. No, we are not stranded on an island, although it might certainly feel like it some days in this province. We have challenges before us, and we may never feel entirely prepared for them. But we still need to deal with them, ready or not. We may not want to, but there isn’t always an option. Delay as we might, the time comes when we have to take action in one way or another.
We may have difficulties when it comes to sharing our faith, or even speaking up in the name of truth. We may have questions as to the very nature of what we believe, or even if we do believe at all. There are all manner of objections and hesitations that we may face. But the time to do something about it is now. As we read to start, it is high time to awake out of sleep.
I could state all sorts of clichés on the topic of avoiding delay and acting now. He who hesitates is lost. There’s no time like the present. Miss the day, miss the week. We’ve heard all that before, but still we are slow to act. We do not want to get up and get going, and so we procrastinate.
I remember when I was in high school, one of my teachers asked the class for a show of hands as to how many of them would procrastinate, and when some people had blank expressions, he explained that it meant to put things off. Every single person in the room put up their hand, except me. I said that I would put my hand up later. Yeah, I was that kid.
We laugh, but it’s not a laughing matter. The verse points out that our salvation is now closer than when we believed. And if we have not believed as of yet, then our doom is likewise closer. No one here knows how much time they have left on this planet. You will leave this Earth some day, in one way or another, but that time is surely coming. Will Christ return before the end of the sermon this morning? Or maybe tomorrow? Or next week? I don’t know, and neither do you. None of us do. Even if His return is still a long way off, even the youngest of us here only has so much life expectancy. Right now it’s the year 2019. The odds of more than a handful of us seeing the year 2100 is slim. It sounds like a long way off, but I remember as a kid watching movies set in the future, in such far-off dates as 2001, 2015, and 2019. Those years all felt like they were way ahead of us, but here we are. Time moves on steadily, and we only have so much of it, only so many opportunities. It is high time to wake up and follow where Christ leads. The time to follow and to serve Him is here and now.
I spoke earlier about objections. That’s actually sales terminology, for a number of years in the late 90s, early 2000s I worked in retail sales, at RadioShack as it happens, and from time to time they would give us all some sales training. One of the things that I remember from those days was the idea of overcoming customer objections. Customer comes into the store, looks a phone or a TV or whatever, maybe asks a question or two about it, and then you as a good salesperson ask them if they want to buy it, and the customer says nah.
We were trained to ask questions at this point to find out if the customer had specific objections, and how to deal with those. Because sometimes a customer really is just looking, but sometimes he does want to buy something, but it’s not that particular phone, or TV, and maybe there is a different one that would be better. Or maybe the price is too high, or maybe the colour is wrong, or maybe he has to discuss it with his wife first, or there is some other reason why he’s not buying the phone right now. As a salesperson, you uncover the objections, and then you try and resolve them. Well, there are all sorts of objections that people raise when it comes to following God, even though we all know that time is short, and time is in fact ticking.
What objections hold us back from serving God here and now? The first one that I’d like to talk about is the desire for something more. We often want more. More food, more money, more sleep, more time, more experience. More is more. Less is less. More is better, and twice as much is good too. It is human nature to want to have more of everything, and often we believe that we need to have more, that if we don’t have it, then we won’t be sufficient. We feel that maybe we can’t do our work adequately, or be the parent or sibling or friend or whatever we would like to be, unless we know more, or do more, or have more of something. Whatever we have now isn’t quite enough.
When we follow God, how often do we raise this very objection? Perhaps not consciously, but do we think that we need to have a better understanding of God’s Word, or more evangelism training, or more hands on experience, or similar, before we can share with others? Do we think that we need to study more before we can perhaps say something at the Lord’s Supper? Do we think that we need more faith before we can serve God at all? Do we let these concerns hold us back?
Understanding, study, experience, faith, all these things are useful and important. But how much do you need before you can do something? How much is enough? Obviously you are not about to go from doing nothing at all to being the primary speaker at the Easter Conference with no stops in between, but if we wait until we think we have enough of those things, we might well end up not doing anything at all.
Christ encountered this with His disciples, during the Upper Room discourse, in fact. In John chapter 14, I’ll read a few verses from there to illustrate what I am saying. 1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
At this point the disciples had spent roughly three years following Christ. They had heard the words He spoke, they had seen the miracles He performed. They had gone out and preached and taught themselves also. They were hardly newbies by this point. They had seen a lot, heard a lot, done a lot. Now Christ told them that He was leaving them, and they did not understand. They had spent years with Him, but they did not know Him, not really. They had been already given so much, but in verse 8, Philip asks for more. Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. That will be enough.
But it wasn’t going to be enough, was it? Because Philip, because all of them, had spent month after month with the Lord, and as we read in the next verse, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
The disciples had the very person of God become flesh with them, and still they asked for more. Because it is human nature to think that we don’t have enough, that there is something more that will make us better equipped. And yes, we can always be better equipped, better trained, more experienced. But we start with what we have available now. Doing something small now may lead to doing something big later. But doing nothing now, well, that doesn’t lead very far.
Maybe your objection is that you are too young. The more you require is simply age. No one is going to pay any attention to a child. Or a teenager. Or a young adult. Or whatever age you are now, when you’re older, then you’ll be better prepared. Well, maybe you will be. But again, the time to start is now. Being young is no excuse. Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17. John Quincy Adams, later sixth president of the US, accompanied his father as part of a diplomatic mission to France when he was ten years old, and three years later he was working as the secretary for a diplomat in Russia. Young people can do more than you would think.
In the book of 1 Timothy, chapter 4, Paul writes at verse 12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. It is important to remember that the word despise as we see translated in the KJV doesn’t mean to hate, but rather to think little of, or to dismiss. Don’t let anyone ignore or disregard you because you are young is what Paul is telling Timothy in this verse. Instead, be an example to those around you, in six different ways as listed in the verse.
It’s a commonplace thing for adults to be dismissive of children, or for that matter, for the more mature of us to put little value in the contributions of those who are younger. And you know what, at times the opposite is true, those who are younger sometimes don’t pay much attention to those who are older and hopefully much wiser. That is also a problem. But sometimes we are dismissive of ourselves. We think that because we are young, then we have nothing to contribute. And that is false. Young people here this morning, you all have something to contribute. Maybe not a whole lot right now, but you may still have something. I know that lot of the kids will help rearrange the chairs between the meetings on Sunday morning. That’s not a big thing, but it’s something. Half a dozen or more children moving chairs get it done a whole lot faster than two or three adults on their own. Kids, we appreciate that. We appreciate it when you pray out loud, whether that is at home before bed or before a meal, or in Sunday School, or wherever. We appreciate it, and we notice. These things may seem small right now, but they can be some of the first steps on the path to following where Christ would lead. Young or old, you need to start somewhere.
There’s a child sitting here this morning whom I happen to know came to the Lord not even two weeks ago. That’s exciting news. Is he young? Absolutely. But that is hardly a problem. It’s a good thing. Christ said to allow little children to come to Him, and not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. We have Sunday School, we have Awana, we are doing VBS later this month, in order that children will hear the gospel and believe. Better to do so when you are young, and avoid wasting years pursuing the pleasures of sin for a season. And if you start to serve God in smaller matters when you are younger, as you grow and mature you can be better prepared to serve in larger tasks. The time to follow is now.
That brings us to the next objection, that it is not a good time. In the book of Acts, chapter 24, we read of the Roman procurator Antonius Felix, who kept Paul as a prisoner in Caesarea for two years. Reading at verse 24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. 26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. 27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
For the record, Felix was not a nice guy. His term in office was marked by disorder and strife, which were put down with harsh reprisals. He personally was given to corruption and licentiousness. When Paul spoke to him of righteousness, temperance, and judgement, naturally Felix was troubled. Righteousness and temperance were not on his to-do list. But instead of doing something about his behaviour, Felix kicked the issue down the road. Go thy way, at least for now, and I’ll call you back when I have a convenient season.
The hymn “Almost Persuaded” contains a direct reference to this passage. Some more convenient day on thee I’ll call. We don’t know how frequently Felix called on Paul exactly, or how much he actually listened, but the convenient season presumably never came. For two years Felix had one of the apostles readily available, he had a minister of truth at his beck and call, and he did nothing useful about it. He tried to extract money from Paul instead. He kept one of the greatest gospel preachers of all time as a prisoner, and instead of listening to the good news, he tried to get a bribe.
Two years, and no convenient season came, not for Felix. He was replaced in his post and left Caesarea and Paul behind, and we have nothing to suggest that he ever repented of his evil ways. We don’t know how often his wife Drusilla may have come to hear Paul, but we do know what happened to her, she died at Pompeii in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. It seems unlikely that she ever found a convenient season of her own. And you know what? If you wait until it is convenient to follow God, you will wait forever. It’s never going to be convenient. It’s never going to be the easy option. The world will surely see to that.
It’s going to be convenient to sin, though. It’s going to be convenient to leave the things of God on the backburner. You can count on that. The things that this world directs you toward, the things that are easy, and obvious, and without much resistance, tend to lead us away from God and from His ways.
In fact, if you ever find yourself in a situation where the world around you is encouraging you to do something that it labels as “religious” or “spiritual” or “following a higher power” then alarm bells should probably go off. The world will not direct you toward God, it will not point you toward the Saviour. Not to say that individuals you may meet won’t steer you in the right direction, but the world, and the adversary, can be counted on to be opposed to Christ. If it seems convenient to do something that at first glance seems to be godly, you may want to look again.
It follows directly from this objection that sometimes things are not convenient because they do not mesh with our plans and goals. We make so many plans, some of them wise, some of them otherwise. Maybe we plan to do good things in the future, to serve God someday, such as when we are ready, or when we are older, or when it is more convenient. Sometimes we intend to follow the narrow path after we get some other things done.
In James chapter 4, we read at verse 13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. 16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. 17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
We make all sorts of grand plans. How often do we leave God out of our plans entirely, or relegate Him to the far corners? How often do we say “I’ll follow God when I get this or that finished. I’ll put more time into Christian service after I finish that course, or when school is done, or when I get that job, or when I get married, or after we get moved, or after I get that promotion at work, or when the kids are out of diapers, or when the kids are out of the house, or when I retire, or when the grandkids are a bit older.” The problem is obvious, isn’t it? Like the more convenient time which never comes, there is no end of our plans. We make one plan after another, moving to the next before the first is completed. We have good intentions for the future, but the future never seems to get here. This life may feel long when you are young and bored, but it feels much shorter and far faster as it moves forward.
Perhaps the worst part is that often we know what we should be doing, but we don’t do it. Sometimes this is simple laziness or negligence, which is of course wrong. But sometimes we have the best of intentions, but don’t actually follow through on them. We would like to serve God, we would like to follow, but we don’t get around to it, not like we should. We think that we will, but so often it slips down the list and the time is squandered and lost. We know to do good, but we don’t. And that is wrong. As it says at verse 17, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. That’s not something we can take lightly. The time and place to serve God, to walk as He would have us to walk, is here and now.
And time, that’s one thing we only have so much of. You can’t get more of it, and you don’t know how much of it you have. As we read from James 4 to start and as I talked about earlier, now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. How near we know not, but nearer than yesterday.
That is the final objection I’ll mention this morning, the idea that we have plenty of time. Maybe we do. But maybe we don’t. I don’t know. And neither do you. Time is uncertain, and measure it as we might, we know not when our time ends, when our opportunities to serve will be no more. The time to follow Christ is now.
In Luke chapter 13, the Lord related a parable to the people, we’ll read a few verses there, from verse 6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. 7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? 8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: 9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
Do these verses disturb you? That fig tree was minding its own business, not doing any harm apart from taking up space, but the owner of the vineyard was not impressed. He extended it a grace period, but that was not indefinite. If it remained unproductive, it would not be left untouched. The tree’s days were numbered.
You and I are not trees. But our days are likewise numbered. If we are not serving the purpose to which God has appointed us, then our days are being squandered. It was not my intention when I prepared today’s sermon, and it is was not my objective this morning to scare you. But sometimes we need to be nudged into moving forward. Sometimes we need to be shoved. If the thought that you might have more in common with that unproductive fig tree, if that thought scares you, then maybe it is high time for you to wake up. You only have so much time available in which you can serve God. If you know Him already, serve Him here and now. This is no time for objections or delay. If this morning you find yourself on the outside looking in, the time to step inside, and the place to do so, is likewise here and now.