Lessons: Jeremiah 23:5-8, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 21:1-9
Hymns: LSB 331, 332, 350, 335, 333
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
St. Paul declares it is now time for you to wake from sleep. The Lutheran question is “What does this mean?” Who is sleeping? And what does it mean to sleep?
It’s easy to say that the sleepers are unbelievers—the heathen—and pick on them. They’re not here. After all, we love using the Law in ways that don’t apply to us so we can smugly accuse those outside of our presence. It’s why we like to talk about people behind their backs and not to their faces to actually help them. It’s why we want preachers who will condemn all those bad people out there but won’t even hint at the sins we’re guilty of committing. It is true, though, that unbelievers need to wake up. Non-Christians need to care about matters pertaining to God and salvation. They need Jesus and His forgiveness. Otherwise, they will not be saved.
But if you think about it, Paul is not writing primarily to unbelievers. He’s writing to the saints—the Christians—in Rome. So, Paul is telling Christians to wake up. You see, many Christians slumber. They claim to believe in Jesus but produce few, if any, good works. They’ll try to prove their Christian faith, but you won’t see it by how they live their lives, nor will you see them truly trusting in Jesus for their salvation.
And so, St. Paul declares that the hour has come for us to wake up. The Bridegroom is coming. Jesus will return. He wants us to be prepared for His coming.
What a fitting theme as we enter a new Church Year! Just as Jesus enters Jerusalem as our King and makes His entrance among us this new year, so we also begin our new year waking up and following our Savior, Jesus. A new year means a new start—a fresh beginning. Through repentance, we put away this past years’ burden of sin and guilt, transgression and iniquity. We put on Christ as we cast off the works of darkness and awake from sleep.
When our Epistle instructs us to wake from sleep, we aren’t just told to wake up from a light slumber, but instead from a deep or hypnotic sleep. The Greek word here for sleep isn’t the typical one found in the New Testament. In fact, St. Paul uses this Greek word for sleep just once in his epistles and it is found just five times throughout the entire New Testament. It is hypnos, where we get the English word hypnotize. In modern usage, hypnosis is when a person may appear to be asleep but is awake and has no ability to control his actions.
Let me illustrate the occurrences of hypnos in the New Testament: When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he wanted to get out of their relationship. But he had a dream in which angel of the Lord told him to keep Mary as his wife because her Son is the promised Messiah who is to be born of a virgin. He then awoke from sleep (hypnos) (Matt. 1:18-25). About 30 years later, Peter, James, and John went with Jesus to the mount of Transfiguration. Luke reports they fell heavy with sleep (hypnos) and when they became fully awake they saw Jesus in His glory, and they saw Moses and Eljiah (Luke 9:28-36). Not long after this, Jesus told His disciples they must go to Bethany because Lazarus was asleep, which meant Lazarus had died. They thought Jesus meant Lazaurs was just sleeping (hypnos) (John 11:11-16). Fast forward another 25 years and St. Paul was preaching in Troas, intending to leave the next day as he engaged in his second missionary journey. So he preached past midnight. A young man named Eutychus was listening from a third story window. Luke reports that Eutychus “sank into a deep sleep [hypnos] as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep [hypnos], he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.” Paul then raised him from the dead (Acts 20:7-11).
In all these accounts, amazing works of God are taking place: Jesus is conceived, Jesus is transfigured, Jesus is raising Lazarus from the dead, and God raised Eutychus from the dead through Paul. Perhaps Paul is now suggesting in our Epistle that it is time for another miracle to happen. This miracle involves you. It is time to wake up, for salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
You see, it’s easy to let our faith lapse and for us to fall asleep. Those asleep are those who engage in works of darkness without giving it a thought or remorse. The examples St. Paul gives in our Epistle include orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, quarreling and jealousy. The temptations of the flesh are strong. It is nothing short of a miracle of God when His people cast off these works of darkness.
Many call themselves Christian and many are quite knowledgeable concerning the things of God, but they produce no fruit. They don’t take time each day in the Word and prayer. They don’t instill good habits in their children by training them in the Christian faith. They don’t give generously and cheerfully of their time, talents, and treasures back to God. They don’t serve their neighbors joyfully through their various vocations.
Sadly, many who consider themselves members of the Christian faith fall under this category. They are asleep. They suppose they are Christian because they say they believe in Jesus. They went through the rote motions of being Baptized and Confirmed. They don’t actually trust in Jesus, nor do their lives suggest faith in Christ.
Speaking to the seventy Jesus sent out to proclaim the Gospel, He said, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). If many won’t listen to the pastors Jesus sends today, how can they really be hearing and receiving Jesus? For Jesus sends pastors to counsel, comfort, and even admonish.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, declaring, “Do this in remembrance of Me” and yet many go months—even years—without receiving the Sacrament.
Jesus repeats the various commandments in His preaching and yet many dishonor their parents and others in authority, hurt others by their words or deeds, fornicate, cheat others of their property, gossip, covet, and so on. They call themselves Christian and have no remorse—no intention of amending their wicked ways.
Within our own congregation, we have many who appear to be sleeping. Of the 214 people on our membership roster, 102 have not been in our church during the last 12 months. A few months ago, we mailed letters to 28 families who don’t live nearby to learn if they joined a local church or if they attend a local church or if they want help finding a local church. Only 3 responded even though we included a stamped envelope and an easy form to fill out.
Repent. Cast off the works of darkness. Your identity is not with the devil or the world. Your identity is now found in Christ by virtue of your Baptism. He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person. He purchased and won you with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Jesus died for you to give you life. He rose from the grave to secure your eternal salvation.
This means Jesus has paid for the works of darkness you have committed. He has paid for your sin of sleeping through the Gospel.
In the last verse of our Epistle, St. Paul writes, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Putting on Christ is to be clothed with His righteousness. When we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, we are justified, our sin is cancelled out, we are seen by God as being saints, and the Father no longer sees our sin nor does He count them against us.
Since a new Church Year is beginning today, now is the time to recommit ourselves to Christ. Now is the time for us to each say, “Yes, I am a child of God. I will, in sincere repentance, cast off the works of darkness. I will walk as a child of light. I will gladly hear His Word and keep it. I will make faithful and frequent use of the Word and Sacrament. For through these means, God the Holy Spirit is working faith in me, and Jesus is forgiving me. I can see how generous He has been towards me spiritually and temporally. Therefore, I will be generous back to Him. I will faithfully serve my Lord, and I will serve my neighbor in love.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to see you with me in Heaven. I want you to rejoice in the Word of Christ. I want you to sing boldly His praises. I want you to be seen as little Christs to your neighbors, doing good to those whom God has placed in your lives.
These things only happen as you are in the Word of God. Therefore, read the Gospel of Matthew during this Advent season. Start today with chapter 1 and read one chapter a day. Read it aloud with your family. Also, I invite you to learn a Bible verse every week. This week’s verse is, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). And consider following the “Advent Devotions at the Family Table.” For there is nothing more important than being in the Word.
Our Lord Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem to die. He may have appeared lowly as He sat on that donkey. But He rode into Jerusalem to be our kinsman redeemer. He rode into Jerusalem to take our sins away. And He did just that. Your sins are fully atoned for. Christ Jesus died for you in your place. He rose from the dead to secure your own resurrection on the Last Day. Truly this is serious stuff which brings about glad tidings of great joy! He is your King. We have good reason to awake out of slumber and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen