WAKE UP! WAKE UP!
That’s something like how Mark 1:1-8 begins. Like an alarm clock ringing in the morning, John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness. WAKE UP! It is time to get prepared!
I don’t know about you, but I hate the sound of an alarm clock. That noise might be the most annoying noised ever created.
I had a friend tell me once that the most stressful time of their day is waking up in the morning. She had no problem admitting that when that alarm clock goes off in the morning, she just wants nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep.
Alarm clocks are annoying. They’re aggravating. They unrepentantly break you out of your comfort zone and push you into the world, eyes wide open. As soon as it goes off, we’re like… Pleeeease, just five more – I mean, ten more minutes.
Are you like that? Are there days when it’s just a struggle to get out of bed?
In first century Judea, John the Baptist is God’s Alarm Clock. WAKE UP! Jesus is coming. Wake up, people! Get prepared! Get cleaned up! Get straightened up before he comes. There is only one way to do it: get out of your comfort zones. Repent. Be baptized. Turn away from your sins.
“But John,” they probably thought, “I’m so comfortable here asleep in the comforts of the world. Just be quiet. Five more minutes… Maybe ten. Better make it fifteen. John, you’re so loud and obnoxious, and you smell bad. Just leave me alone.”
But our Christian wakeup call wouldn’t end with John the Baptist. It would be followed by a whole host of disciples. The Apostle John doesn’t back down one bit from John the Baptist’s sounding of the alarm; if anything, he amplifies it. In the Gospel of John, chapter 1 verse 8, he writes:
The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.
Tony Evans tells a story that puts this into perspective for us. One day, a man was on his way to catch a train. He had to get to work because he had an important meeting. He had to catch the 8:05 train. Now, it had rained the night before, and the man was rushing out the door. As he opened the door, there was his little son playing in the mud. His son was busy rubbing the mud on his face, mud on his arms, and just having a good old time playing in the mud. The father, intent on catching the 8:05, rushed out of the house, said goodbye, jumped over his son, and headed off to catch the train, but before he got very far he slipped and fell in the mud next to his son. So now, the father is in the mud and the son is in the mud. But, the father had to catch the 8:05. He had a place to go. Because of where he needed to go, he did not stay in the mud and play with his son. His son was enjoying playing in the mud and wasn’t trying to go anywhere. But the father had a train to catch. He jumped up out of the mud. Best as he could, he cleaned himself off and took off running because he had to catch the 8:05, and he knew that on that 8:05, there was going to be a restroom where he could clean off the mud.
Evans goes on to say that there are two kinds of people in the world today. There are some who are playing in the mud – in sin – and are not trying to go anywhere. There are other people who are in the mud but don’t want to be.
Maybe you’ve slipped in the mud, or maybe you’ve walked right into the mud, but now it’s dawned on you that you have a place to go. You’ve got a God to know, a life to live, experiences to have, and you want all that God has for you. Maybe you’ve decided to leave the mud, to repent, to turn, and to get on board with God because you know that, through the Holy Spirit, God can clean you up and transform you and take you to the Destination of God’s purpose for your life. Sin always has consequences, but the Good News is that grace is greater than sin.
In John the Baptist and John the Apostle’s day, this new message of Jesus was a wake-up call for people to turn their lives around. But many of the people who heard them then, just like today, thought that they already had it all figured out. They had their rituals set, and they had found a way to stay clean, or so they thought.
They were more like another story that I read about a man who prided himself on being exceedingly punctual. This man followed a very precise routine every morning. His alarm when off at 6:30am. He rose briskly, shaved, showered, ate his breakfast, brushed his teeth, picked up his briefcase, got in the car, drove to the nearby ferry landing…parked his car, rode the ferry across to the downtown business area, got off the ferry, walked briskly to his building, marched to the elevator, rode the elevator to the seventeenth floor, hung up his coat, opened his briefcase, spread his papers out on his desk, and sat down precisely in his chair at 8:00am. Every day. Not 8:01, not 7:59, ALWAYS at 8:00am
This man followed the same routine without variation for EIGHT years until the unthinkable happened: one morning, his alarm didn’t go off, and he overslept 15 minutes (oh no!). When he did wake, he was panic-stricken. He rushed though his shower, nicked himself while shaving, gulped down his breakfast, only half-brushed his teeth, grabbed his briefcase, jumped into his car, sped to the ferry landing, jumped out of his car, and looked for the ferry. There it was, out in the water a few feet from the dock. He said to himself, “I think I can make it,” and he ran down the dock towards the ferry at full speed. Reaching the edge of the pier, he leapt over the water and miraculously landed (face first, mind you) with a thud on the dirty, grimy deck of the ferry. He landed hard and it hurt! He was a mess…but he was still sticking to his rituals. The captain, seeing all of this transpire, rushed down to make sure he was alright.
The captain said, “Man, that was a tremendous leap, but if you would have just waited another minute, we would have reached the dock, and you could have just walked on.”
That guy was more of a mess than he needed to be because he was enslaved by a self-constructed legalism. And this was exactly kind of legalism that Jesus and his disciples encountered back in their day. Follow the letter of the law perfectly, or panic. This requirement created problems and, worse yet, cynicism.
The American humorist Jack Handey illustrates this kind of cynicism perfectly in his book Fuzzy Memories. He writes:
There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons. But then the karate lesson guy said I had to start paying him five dollars a lesson. So I went back to paying the bully.
This is essentially our temptation with sin, right? We want to overcome it. We know that it’s bad and that there is another, better, way in Jesus. But, the price is going to be costly, and it is going to take work. And because we know that it is going to be hard, we say, “Aww, to hell with it.” (Have you ever thought closely about what that phrase really means?) Or the other option is that we regiment our life and others’ lives so much that our inability to be patient strips us of the freedom to walk in God’s grace, and we end up hurting others or hurting ourselves.
There is a tension that we are supposed to live in in our faith. On one hand, we aren’t to be complacent. We are to put up a fight. But on the other hand, we are to be patient, hear God’s call, and go at Christ’s pace of redemption and sanctification, because God’s sanctification of each of us may come at different times. This is part of why we are called by Jesus “to love one another.”
God’s pace in working in people may be different. Like Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Because God has providential plans for us, and those plans are still in the works.
This is what Peter is getting at in 2 Peter 3:8-15. Yes, wake up! Get out of the mud and be patient…
I think particularly of verse 10 of that passage, which says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” That passage is pretty hard for us to understand at face value; because of the translation from the Greek, it is often tricky and misleading how it is interpreted. Most scholars agree that (Wright) “Peter is not saying that the present world of space, time and matter is going to be burned up or be destroyed.”
Does Peter really think that God is going to annihilate the world with fire and bring it to ashes? I’m not convinced he does. That isn’t consistent with the intent of his message or the rest of the New Testament, for that matter. Verse 10 in the older Greek manuscripts reads more like all the works on the Earth will be “found out,” or “revealed” or “disclosed.” The gist is that a monumental event is going to happen in all of creation, and everything is going to be revealed. This is important to us because we are to understand that when things are revealed, we need to have repented and been sanctified because God is renewing the Earth and all of Creation. Peter is talking about our and the world’s transformation, not our destruction. One scholar writes (The Interpreters Bible) “As the flood did not merely bring an end to the old, but was the occasion for a new beginning, so fire” (maybe of the Spirit) “may be God’s way of ending the old and bringing about God’s creative event which will purify and refine” and renew all of creation.
God has a providential plan for us. He is patient with us, and Peter tells us that this patience results in our salvation. So, WAKE UP! Get out of the mud, be patient, and allow God to transform us. Be perfected in God’s grace.
But, you might say, sometimes I feel so stuck in the mud that I don’t see a way out. Sometimes the church seems that way. When our circumstances seem so desperate how do we get unstuck?
Maybe think about it this way: there is an old fable that tells of the only survivor of a shipwreck washing up on a small, uninhabited island. The man cries out to God to save him, and every day he scans the horizon for help, but none seems forthcoming.
Exhausted, he eventually manages to build a rough hut and put his few possessions in it. One day, after hunting for food, he arrives home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened, and he is stung with grief and desperation.
Early the next day, a ship draws near to the island and rescues him. Amazed, he asks the crew, “How did you know I was here?” They reply, “We saw your smoke signal.”
The point is that just when you think everything has gone to ruin – just when you think all is lost – God is with you.
God always sends a sign – a rescue mission – and it’s crying out WAKE UP, get out of the mud, be patient. Because Jesus is coming to transform you and rescue you.
That is the hope and promise of Advent. That is our hope and promise in Christ for eternity.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. Why do you think that people tend to “sleep” on their spiritual growth?
2. In what ways are you being called to personally “wake up?”
3. What is one aspect of your life where increased patience would benefit your health?