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Stay Awake

December 3, 2023 |Stay Awake|1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

JD Cutler

For the sermon audio, click here 

If you have been here anytime in the last three weeks, the text we begin with this morning will be familiar to you. For the last three weeks we have been looking at Matthew chapter 25 where Jesus answer’s his disciples’ questions about what we now know to be his second coming. 

I will remind you that they essentially asked him when it would happen, and rather than answering that question, Jesus focused on their preparation for when it did happen.

We have looked at his parable of ten virgins in a wedding party, five who were foolish and five who were wise. 

We have looked at his parable of a master making his servants stewards of his possessions, who upon returning found two faithful and one wicked steward. 

We have looked at his description of that final day when he will separate all people into two categories, those blessed of the father who are welcomed in and those cursed who are told to depart. 

In the synoptic gospel of Mark, we find a similar encounter, but a much more condensed account of what Jesus says to his disciples. 

It reads much the same in terms of flow. Jesus, sitting on the Mount of Olives, responds to the disciples' questions by describing what are certainly the events surrounding the destruction of the temple in AD70 and then moving on to the final day of his coming, the day of the Lord. In both places he uses the picture of a fig tree and the idea that when you see it begin to put on leaves, you know that summer is close.   

Then he makes this statement, Mark 13:32 (ESV) 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. An identical statement to what we find in Matthew 24:36.

Over the last three weeks we have looked at the suddenness of his return, to which our text adds little to today. 

We will begin in Mark and move to 1st Thessalonians this morning if you want to turn to Mark 13 with me now. 

Mark 13:32-36 (ESV) 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.

Certainly this reinforces what we have been learning in Matthew 25. His return will be unexpectedly expected, he will return to hold his servants accountable, and you do not want to be caught unprepared. 

But what is unique about this particular text is found in verse 37. 

Mark 13:37 (ESV) 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Jesus plainly and directly says that these warnings are not just for his immediate disciples, but for all those that listen to him. 

Four times in this short passage Jesus issues commands.

Be on guard, keep awake, and then twice stay awake. 

Each of these three with a slightly different emphasis, but all of them present active imperatives. 

Present in the sense that they are ongoing actions. 

Active in the sense that the hearers of the command are responsible for the action. 

And imperative in the sense that Jesus is not making suggestions, but rather commands. 

Briefly, Jesus tells us to be on guard or take heed, that is to pay attention to what he is saying and carefully consider it. 

Keep awake, that is to exercise constant vigilance. Used together it seems that Jesus is telling us what to do, carefully consider and pay attention to what he is saying and how to do it, vigilantly. 

In the third command, repeated twice, he says stay awake- which is a good summary of the first two. Be actively cautious, aware of your surroundings, aware of your duties, ready at any time to be called into account by the master.  

This morning begins our advent season which is a season of expectation, a season of looking forward to Jesus' second coming. Having come to such a similar passage as what we have been studying, I was unsure of what direction to go in the sermon this morning. My mind was drawn to the last sentence where Jesus firmly places these commands on all of our shoulders as followers, but beyond that, what more can I say about the suddenness of his coming that we have not said in the last three weeks.

As I was studying and cross-referencing I came across a passage of Paul that made me laugh and then it all fit together. 

This morning I want to talk to you, as those who understand the fact that Jesus is coming again and who appreciate that it will be sudden, about what it looks like to stay awake. 

Turn with me to 1st Thessalonians chapter 5. 

Let’s read the first five verses together now. 

1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 (ESV) 1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

Paul says, listen, I have already taught you and you have already understood about the sudden return of the Lord. You know that the world will keep on going as in the days of Noah, unaware of the coming judgment, you know that it will be destruction for them and that there is no escape. You will not be surprised by this, because God has brought you into his glorious light. You are children of the light, children of the day. 

So then, notice the connective verse 6. So then, because that is true, because you know and you are…

1 Thessalonians 5:6-11 (ESV) 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 

Keep awake and be sober. Paul is echoing the same thing Jesus commanded in Mark 13. He is going to go on to describe what it looks like to be awake and to stay awake.

7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

What does it look like to stay awake for the Christian? Or maybe a better question; How do you know if you are being obedient to Jesus’ command to stay awake?

This morning I want to share with you four indications that you are awake. 

You will be clear about who you are.

4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

But you; Paul contrasts his readers with those who find themselves in sudden destruction, caught unprepared in the inescapable judgment of the Lord at his return. 

They are unaware, you are fully aware. They are saying peace and security, you know judgment is coming. They are in darkness.

But you. Who are the ‘you’ Paul is addressing?

1 Thessalonians 1:4-7 (ESV) 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (ESV) 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.

1 Thessalonians 5:1 (ESV) 1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

Chosen by God, received the word, displayers of sanctification through their imitation and obedience to the apostles, believing the message of the gospel as the word of God. 

He is talking to the church at Thessalonica, redeemed men and women who had been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is he doing here? He is reminding them of who they are. 

He uses two descriptions to differentiate them from the world at large. 

Those in the church of Christ are first children of light, not children of the darkness. 

They are children of the day, not children of the night. 

What does Paul mean when he calls them children or sons of the light and sons of the day?

Who is the light?

John 8:12 (ESV) 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 9:5 (ESV) 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

John 12:46 (ESV) 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Jesus is the light, to be a son of the light then is an indication of one’s relationship with Christ. 

What is the day? Besides the obvious contrast with the night, could Paul be saying more?

Notice what he has said so far in our short passage about the day. 

You are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come

Now, this is my own thoughts, so do with it what you will, but I think Paul is saying that on that day, on Christ’s day, when he comes to establish his day forever upon the new heaven and the new earth, we are children of that day, in that we will be welcomed into the inheritance prepared for us before the foundation of the world. 

If he is, then he is again reminding them that they belong to Christ and have nothing to fear on the day of his return. 

Here is the reality. If you are a Christian, if you have been born again, you have not merely added something to your life. 

Coming to Christ is not like joining a gym or graduating from school. You are not you plus something. 

According to scripture you have been fundamentally changed. You have moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from death to life, from bondage to freedom. Everything else that describes a child of light flows from this changed identity, not the other way around. We do not work to become new, we work from our newness that was given to us by his grace. 

To say it another way, if you are awake, it is because God has made you awake and if you are awake, you are a new creation.

This, we must be crystal clear about if we are going to live in obedience to our Lord, which is our next indication that we are awake.  

You will come out from among those who are not. 

Paul goes on from reminding them about who they are in Christ to what that should mean in their lives.

A changed life comes from a changed identity.  

6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

There are things that fit our old self that no longer fit with our new selves. 

We were once asleep, children of the night and we acted as children of the night. Paul says it in many ways in many places. 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV) 9 Or 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, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

You were this way, but now you are not.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

You were this way, but now you are not.

Ephesians 4:20-24 (ESV) 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

You were this way, but now you are not.

Paul sums it up here in 1 Thessalonians, when he says keep awake and be sober as opposed to asleep and drunk, both things he says that people do at night. Rather you are to not only put away those things but no longer associate with them. 

He expounds on it in his letter to the church at Ephesus when he says. 

Ephesians 5:7-14 (ESV) 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.

Partners means a co-participant. 

He says, as those who are in Christ, you should not be doing the things that people who are not in Christ do. Your life should be different. 

Now, when I say you should come out from among those who do these things, I am not advocating a monastic life. We are not called to withdraw so far from the world that we are no good for the kingdom. We are not called to only surround ourselves with fellow believers, otherwise our Lord would not have prayed in his great priestly prayer, John 17:15-19 (ESV) 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

But we are to withdraw from lifestyles that mirror the world. Paul uses two words to describe the lifestyle of the world, asleep to the things of God and drunk on the things of the world. 

Don’t make the mistake to think Paul is only addressing alcohol in this prohibition. 

Being intoxicated is being so influenced by a substance that you lose mental control and ability. Your faculties are greatly diminished. 

Some of you are drunk on entertainment. You are so consumed with binging your favorite shows, or enthralled with your favorite sports team that have functionally distracted yourself from the important things in life. 

Some of you are drunk on earning. You are so consumed with making more, to the neglect of your family, your mental and spiritual health that you are distracted from the important things in life. 

Some of you are drunk on consumption. You are so consumed with enjoying the things of life that you are distracted from the important things in life. 

Whatever your drug of choice is, the world makes it available. Paul is saying that this indulgent, self-centered, mind-numbing lifestyle is not consistent with who we were made to be in Christ. We do not watch the same things that the world watches, we do not enjoy the same things the world enjoys, we do not consume the same things the world consumes. 

Listen friend, if your life looks no different than your unsaved neighbors or your unsaved friends, you are in trouble.

Paul gives two pictures here, one of someone in bed with the tv on with a drink on the nightstand and a plate of food on the bed, completely absorbed with themselves and only concerned with what makes them feel good. 

The second picture is of a soldier, awake and prepared for battle. One who has put away the things that hinder them and put on the things that are fit for what they have been called to do. 

Sober, calm, collected.

He uses an illustration that he will flesh out later with the armor here, but in this letter he mentions only two pieces of armor. The breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of salvation. 

This is someone standing firmly in their faith, both covered and expressing the love of God, ready to march into battle secure in their salvation. 

When Brittany and I were in New York, we were going to go to the 9/11 memorial museum. What we did not realize is that to get there we would have to go through an indoor shopping center, on black friday, in new york. While we were there we saw two officers in complete gear, bulletproof vests, helmets, rifles, standing, observing, ready to act in the case of riots or looting which has been increasing in some places of businesses lately. All around them people were frivolously spending money, buying ice cream, shopping for things they didn't need with money they don't have, completely consumed with their own lives and their own goals. 

How weird would it have been to see these men in their gear doing the same things? 

Of course not, they had separated themselves from what was going on around them because they had a job to do, a task to fulfill. 

In the same way, as a believer, you have been called to live differently, to be engaged in the spiritual battle raging around you, to put away your old life and live in light of your calling. 

This lifestyle change is an indicator that you are awake and being obedient to our Lord’s command. But why do we do this? Why do we live differently? Because we are headed for a different destination than those who are children of the darkness, children of the night. The next indicator is…

You will embrace the assurance of your salvation.

9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 

Paul wanted these believers to understand that part of being awake, being sober, was understanding that this life is not it, this is not the end, that all of history is moving towards the day. 

There is a day coming that Jesus will return, he will come in glory, visibly, physically, and finally. 

This is the day we have been talking about over the last three weeks, it is the arrival of the bridegroom, it is the return of the master, it is the son of man coming with his angels to sit on his glorious throne. 

On that day there will be those who experience wrath and those who experience salvation.

What is the difference between those two groups?

Paul says God has destined us to obtain salvation THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ. 

In his opening statements, he says it this way, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (ESV) 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Who delivers us from the wrath to come? Jesus

How does he do it? Because he died for us. 

How do we know that his dying for us redeems us from wrath? Because God raised him from the dead. 

Therefore, we wait for his Son, Jesus, to come from heaven. Confident, assured.

Of what? Where does our assurance come from? The sincerity of our prayers, the works that we do, our membership at the right church?

No, it is the finished work of Christ that gives us assurance that we are not destined for wrath. It is God’s gracious choice to save us that gives us assurance that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

Why is this important? Two reasons come to mind. 

One, because it frees us to follow him not to earn our salvation on that day but to follow him out of our new identity as a child of God destined for salvation on that day. 

Two, because if we are heading for salvation on that day then it changes how we live now, as we wait for him to return. We are those who are attentive, ready, living for his return, not as though who are unaware and unconcerned about it. 

Embracing the assurance of our salvation does not mean that we simply consider it done and go on with our lives. I am not talking about the kind of assurance that comes with saying a prayer and getting a get out of hell free card. Never does the Bible describe salvation that way. I am talking about understanding that in trusting in Christ you have been made new and have been given a new eternal destination that absolutely and unequivocally changes your life. There is nothing you can do to lose it because there is nothing you did to earn it. It is fully resting in the finished work of Christ. 

To use Paul’s analogy it is the difference between being awake and asleep, sober and drunk, light and dark, day and night.

If embracing the assurance of your salvation leads to worldly living, you have either not understood salvation or you have put your assurance in the wrong place. Embracing the assurance of your salvation should motivate you to holy living through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the greatest indicators that you have been saved. 

Finally, and to deal with Paul’s last indicator, we see…

You will engage the Christians around you.

11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Therefore, because of these things. What things? Because of who you are as a child of the light, because you belong to the day, because you are destined for salvation through Christ Jesus, whether by the way, Paul says, you remain alive until he comes or you die before he does, since all of that is true, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 

Paul moves from who we are and how we are to be different from the world to how we should be interacting with one another as children of the light.  

He uses two words to describe our relationship with the Christians around us. 

Encourage and build up, both of which are commands. 

The word translated encourage shares a root word with the same word used of the Holy Spirit.

par-ak-al-eh'-o the act of coming alongside someone as comforter, encourager, as someone who exhorts. 

Used as a noun in John’s gospel par-ak'-lay-tos often translated as the comforter or advocate.

It’s interesting to me that Paul uses this language in talking about relating to one another in the church. We know the Holy Spirit operates internally in a believer, to convince, to convict, to encourage, to comfort, but Paul also puts emphasis on the fact that we are called to come alongside one another and at least in some sense perform a similar ministry towards one another. 

The other command is to build one another up. The idea here is ‘to promote growth in Christian wisdom, affection, grace, virtue, holiness, blessedness’. 

Obviously this is not the first time Paul has taught the Thessalonians about this, because they are already doing it, but he undergirds the commands by appealing first to who they are, second to their changed lives, and third by the assurance of their salvation. Christians, those who are awake, minister to one another by encouraging and building each other up. 

What’s the most obvious implication then? You have to show up in the lives of the believers you are connected with. This isn’t something that happens outside of meaningful relationships, which are cultivated by being together. Regularly, habitually. 

The author of Hebrews makes almost an identical point in Hebrews 10. 

Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV) 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Notice that he also connects their assembling together as an outworking of their belonging to Christ, and in the assembling of themselves together they are to spend time thinking about how to motivate one another to further maturity, in their regular assembly, and he uses the motivation of the quickly approaching day of our Lord as reason to be seriously engaged with the believers around you. 

We often hear this verse, do not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some. That is, there were some people who called themselves Christians that had made it their custom to not meet together with the church.

I’m going to ask this question and leave this particular point alone. 

How do you know if you are making it a habit to neglect the assembly of the church?

I would say there are two good tests to self-administer this morning. 

If you were to look over the last couple of months, have you gathered more than you have missed or missed more than you gathered?

But secondly, and more importantly, have you already decided in your heart that you will forsake the assembly the next time __________ happens. The next time there is a tournament, the next time there is an early cowboy’s game, the next time hunting season opens? Listen, don’t miss this. You have already decided there is something more important than the gathering of God’s people, of which you claim to be a part of. 

Why is this important for you? Because you have been commanded by the inerrant, infallible, trustworthy, authoritative word of God to be actively engaged in the lives of the Christians around you. The bare minimum that doing that requires you gathering for the purpose of worship with them on the Lord’s day. 

You want to know whether you are awake? Whether you are obedient to our Lord’s command to stay awake? Then are you engaging the brothers and sisters around you, for their good and their growth?

Jesus commands us to stay awake because he is coming again. 

We have asked the question this morning, how do I know I am awake and obedient to Christ’s command?

We have answered that question from Paul’s letter to a church he loved dearly by looking at four indicators Paul gives us. 

A Christian who is truly awake will be clear about who they are in Christ, they will have lives that are radically different than the world around them, they will have a deep assurance of their salvation rooted not in their works, but in Christ’s finished work, and they will be actively and regularly engaging with the faith community around them. 

When Jesus returns will he find you awake? That is, will he find you actively obeying him and joyfully expecting his return as one of his children or does your life paint a different picture than the one we find here?

This is the question we must ask ourselves this morning, for as Paul says in his letter to Romans. 

Romans 13:11-14 (ESV) 11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

This, my friends, is what it looks like to stay awake. 

Let me close with this illustration. 

A story just broke in the New York Times this week about what happened in Israel on October 7th. It details that Israel had knowledge of Hamas’ plan to attack in exactly the way that they did almost a year ago. They intercepted a forty page detailed plan that Hamas eventually carried out almost verbatim. 

If they knew about it, why were they not ready? 

They didn’t take it seriously, they dismissed the plans as a fantasy by Hamas, as aspirational at best. They believed they did not have the power or resources to pull it off. Even when one of their own analysts raised the alarm that Hamas was quickly closing the gap in terms of power and resources, she was dismissed. 

Listen friends, Jesus has told us exactly what is going to happen when he returns. He has commanded us to stay awake, to be ready, to not be caught unaware. I pray that you would not dismiss his warning this morning, and I pray that for those of you that believe what the bible says about that day would be living your lives in light of that truth. 

Let us pray.

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