A sermon preached at St Augustine’s Anglican Church, Neutral Bay.
Telling the Time
1. The promised time (Romans 1:1-2)
2. The fulfilled time (Romans 1:3-4)
3. It’s time to speak out (Romans 1:5-6)
4. Spending the time…
Telling the time
Almost 5 years ago, in our first winter in Durham, in the far North of England, it snowed outside our little terrace house. Not only did it snow. It snowed, and snowed and snowed. The temperature stayed below freezing for weeks. The snow turned to ice and compacted. One day in January, we woke up and saw the sun out. It was a Saturday. We were tired of being cooped up. So I decided to take everyone out for a walk. I knew there was a Botanic Gardens about 20 minutes’ walk away with a café. So I hatched a brilliant plan. Off we went, for a nice walk in the beautiful winter sun, to grab a bite to eat. With 3 small children, one in a stroller. With compacted ice on all the footpaths. Hard, slippery ice. Uphill.
It didn’t take us 20 minutes. After an hour or so of slipping and sliding we got to the Botanic Gardens on the outskirts of town. Late for lunch, with a hungry, tired, audibly disgruntled family (at least, the children were disgruntled).
But of course, it was winter. And the Botanic Gardens were closed.
The problem was, when I originally hatched my plan, I didn’t understand the time. Yes, I knew what the time was. But I didn’t understand the significance of the time. The implications of the season. It was deep winter. And if I really understood that I would have known it was not the time to go for a lovely stroll to a café.
It’s important to understand the time. I’m not just talking about philosophical musings on the nature of time (Augustine, Einstein, Stephen Hawking). No, what really matters in life is discerning what time you are living in. Because knowing what time it is tells you what you should be doing, doesn’t it? Is it time to work or rest? To sleep or wake up? To play cricket, or get your tax return in?
Does the Bible have anything to say about the time we live in? Yyes it does. It has a lot to say about time, and the times we are living in right now.
I’m not talking here about knowing exact apocalyptic timetables. I remember in 1992, a famous Korean cult was predicting that Jesus would definitely return the day before my first HSC exam. That is wrong: we don’t know the date on which Jesus will return—but still, the Bible says a lot of important things about the time we are living in. And so it tells us what we should be doing.
The promised time (Romans 1:1-2)
Our New Testament reading was from the first few verses of the apostle Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome. Paul is writing about the message he preaches, called “the gospel”. At the beginning of his letter, Paul reminds his readers that the gospel has to be understood according to God’s timetable. The gospel, Paul says, was something that has been a long time in planning. See verse 2: it was “Promised beforehand through his prophets”. The Old Testament prophets were like God’s project planning officers
In the church office right now there is a Gantt Chart. Down the side it lists all the tasks that need to happen for our church redevelopment. Along the top is a timeline. And on the chart there are horizontal bars showing how long each task should probably take. Now if we look back at the Old Testament prophets and psalms, we find a kind of project plan; not a timetable or a list of dates; but still a list of expectations, things that the prophets and psalms were expecting to happen. In this world full of misery and heartache, in this world where God does not seem to reign or be honoured, where God’s people suffer and sin, the prophets saw that God was going to do something about it all. And they wrote about their expectations. They expected, in particular:
The coming of a King
This King would be a good king, a powerful king. He would be called the “son”—the Son in two ways. Firstly, this king would be called the “Son of God”. Psalm 2:6-7 speaks of the King as the “Son of God”:
“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
He is the Son of God because he is established by God and he rules like God and for God.
The king would also be the “Son of David”; that is, he would come from the dynasty of Israel’s king David son of Jesse. Isaiah 11:1 says:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The work of the Spirit to equip the King
This King was not going to be like any other human king. Politicians of today so often seem to be either ineffective or corrupt, don’t they? Either they have no real clout, or they have no ethics. But this King, said the prophets, would be different. He would have God’s Holy Spirit to equip him, to enable the King—Son of David, Son of God—to work and rule powerfully and justly. Isa 11:2:
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
The “servant” who suffers for sins
Isaiah also looked forward to the coming of a figure called the “servant of the Lord”. The servant would be like the king in many ways. Indeed, the King and the Servant really seems to be the same person. The servant would rule and act fairly and justly. But in Isaiah 53[:5], we learn that the servant’s job, the servant-king’s job, will be to suffer in the place of God’s people, for their sins, to make his people free from sin and its guilt and penalty
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Furthermore, said the prophets,
The “servant” would be raised from the suffering of death
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied … because he poured out his life unto death.
This servant will pour out his life to death, then he will come to life again.
Now you might think this was just an expectation for the little nation of Israel. A great king who makes everything right in Israel, and making people in Israel right with God, a servant-ruler who even suffers to death so his people Israel can be forgiven. But that’s not the half of it. Ultimately
The “servant” would extend God’s salvation to the whole world!
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
God’s salvation, going to the whole world, making the world right for God, making people right with God.
And in fact, the prophets said,
The king will ultimately bring judgment and peace
In a world of injustice and sin, a world where the weak are abused and slaughtered, a world where people—each one of us—sins and is subject to the power and guily and penalty of our terrible rebellion against God, this king, this servant-king, will make it right. And he will make it right in two ways.
He will bring judgment against those who reject him and act wickedly
with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
And he will bring peace for those who trust him:
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
That’s a rough outline of God’s project plan, you see. The key tasks that need to happen to bring about God’s radical redevelopment project for the world and for people. That’s what the prophets promised.
The fulfilled time (Rom 1:3-4)
And that plan, says Paul, is what we need to understand if we’re going to know the times we’re living in. Because, in fact, we live in the time when much of this plan has already been fulfilled!
See Romans 1:3-4:
[The gospel] regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
The King has come
Jesus, the King, the Messiah, the Christ, the “Son of God”, descended from David. Has come in the flesh.
Jesus had God’s Holy Spirit
The Spirit who equipped him and gave him power
Jesus was the “servant” who suffered for sins
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus has brought forgiveness, he has taken all our sin and death and judgment on himself
And this suffering “servant” Jesus has been raised from the suffering of death
The ultimate demonstration of his power, and the Spirit’s power. His resurrection from the dead, seen by so many witnesses, announced and testified to by those witnesses that we can read about in the Bible. This shows him to be King, Son of God!
These are the things that have happened. We’re a long way along the Gantt chart…
So what is the time now?
It’s time to speak out (Rom 1:5-6)
This is the time when God’s “servant” is extending God’s salvation to the world. Paul is God’s servant too, but he’s just acting as a servant of the greater servant Jesus. And what’s his great task?
Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
This is what is happening right now. Paul realized that it was time to go out to all the nations, all the world, to tell the world that Jesus is risen, to proclaim the free forgiveness of sins, and to call people to trust and obey Jesus, the King, the Messiah, the Son of God.
And this is incredibly important. Why is that? Because this time we live in has an end-point
This king will bring judgment and peace
Judgment, Romans 2:16
This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. …
There will be a day when Jesus, the risen King, will return to judge. We don’t know the exact timetable. But we do know it’s the next thing in the project plan. He will call us to account, he will call you to account, for your life, for each deed, for the secret things, in your life, your mind, your heart. Ultimately, for how you have treated his Son.
And for those who submit to Jesus Christ, the King, by his Spirit, Romans 8:11:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
We will have life too, life with God, life forever.
But for now, what is the time?
This is the time when the gospel is going out to the world!
The Christians in Rome were among those people who were called, and so are we. This is the time we live in right now! The time of evangelism! Of the call to trust and obey this king. Nothing is more important, nothing is more urgent than this.
Spending the time …
Do you believe this?
Because if you do, it will have to affect how you live, won’t it?
In the busyness of the minutiae of life, it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it? We might spend our days, our weeks, our years, organising our time, trying to manage our time, wishing we had more time. But in all that, we can forget what time it actually is. It’s the time to call people to turn, to trust and obey Jesus. To call who? To call your friends, your family, the people who live and shop in Neutral Bay, everywhere, to escape the judgment that is coming next. We don’t know when, whether it’s in our lifetimes or not. With God a day is like a thousand years. It’s not the timetable that matters. But we do know that this judgment is what is coming next.
You might say, yes that’s true, but it doesn’t directly affect me, does it? I’m not Paul. I’m not an apostle. I’m not an evangelist. I’m not even very gifted at speaking. I’ve got other things in life to get on with. And anyway, it’s just a bit awkward actually talking about Jesus. Maybe I should just leave that stuff up to the experts. But—does that make sense, really?
In March 1980, after being dormant for 123 years, Mount Saint Helens in Washington State began some serious rumbling. Earthquakes. Venting steam. It was getting increasingly clear that something was going to blow. A man called Harry Randall Truman lived just below the treeline. And he became a minor celebrity for a short while, because he refused to leave. He didn’t think it mattered. He said to reporters “This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me… boy.” And yet almost everyone else begged him to go, with good reason. Scientists knew that it was dangerous and said so. The Governor ordered evacuation. State troopers in cars and helicopters urged him to leave. Media announcers interviewed him. Worried school children as far away as England wrote to him urging him to get out of there! And on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m., the deadliest, most destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States occurred. Harry’s house was flattened and he perished.
Do you think Harry’s friends and family and neigbours, or the school children writing in England, do you think they were particularly worried about whether they had the right talents or skill-set to speak or write persuasively? Do you think they were tempted to leave the warning to the experts? Do you think they felt a bit awkward raising the topic with Harry themselves? Of course not. They knew enough to know the volcano was dangerous, And they cared for Harry enough to tell him. They knew it was time to speak out.
We’ve had more than rumblings. We’ve had the Son of God come into the world. We’ve had Jesus the King die for our sins, raised from the dead, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. We’ve been told he will return to judge, and yet that he offers forgiveness and free pardon to everyone who comes and trusts in him. Jesus is Lord! And now it’s time to speak out! That message, that great message, that important message is going out to the world. That’s the time we live in.
If you see your life as just going on, day after day, you mightn’t think it’s urgent. But if you know what time we’re living in, and you love and care for those around you, you will desire for them to be saved, won’t you? Won’t you want to speak to them? At home, in the neighbourhood, at work? Yes, you’ll want to be sensitive, yes, you’ll want to be clear, yes, you’ll want to be appropriate in your behaviour and godly and all those things. And you’ll want to learn to speak better, won’t you? You’ll want to learn an outline of a gospel. Maybe to download that app I mentioned a month or so ago called Two Ways to Live. You’ll want to get to know people and build relationships and share your life.
But ultimately, you’ll want to speak the gospel, won’t you?
Because Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. And people need to be ready. And this is the time to tell them.
Speaking the gospel of Jesus: It’s not some command or law we have to grudgingly obey and feel guilty if we don’t. It’s just what you do when you realize that Jesus is Lord and king and judge and savior and people need to hear about him.
I’d like to finish with a cartoon from one of my favourite cartoonists, Adam4d. “This is it, son. It’s my time.” “I’m dying, I’m going to meet Jesus and to be with him forever.” “Come closer, my boy, for I must tell you my one … biggest … regret” “I wish …” “I hadn’t …” “Told so many people about Jesus.” “It got super awkward sometimes”. (Dies)
What a ridiculous way to think! This is the time we’re living in. God’s great news about his risen king and savior Jesus Christ is going out to the world. People are being called to put their trust in him!
So how are you going to spend the time?