Understanding the Times

A Reflection on Romans 13:11-12

When I was at school as a boy in England, there were two teaching brothers who, though unrelated, had the same Christian and family name. To us, they were both Brother Michael. But in every other aspect they were completely unalike. One was short, chunky, extrovert and taught us French; the other was tall, cadaverous, painfully solemn and introverted, and taught us Physics. These wonderful young men worked in a Catholic school run by a religious teaching order. Part of the discipline of piety at the time was to have a healthy appreciation for the fact that we are all mortal. So every month, the school would have the “happy death” exercise, which involved cleaning up our work space, tidying our rooms, doing special prayer liturgies and generally putting our affairs in order. At these times, the brothers would also go for long walks in the beautiful English countryside. On one occasion the cadaverous Brother Michael was out for his “happy death” walk accompanied by the other brothers, all looking quite crow-like in their black suits, ties and black Trilby hats. A farmer in the neighbouring field, who happened to be a good protestant, saw them pass by and asked, “What are you lads up to then?”

“We’re on our “happy death” walk,” explained Brother Michael.

“Happy what?”

“DEATH WALK!”

I suppose this seems very morbid to those of Reformed or Protestant heritage, or at least conjures up images of The Munsters and The Addams Family!  But believe it or not, I think there’s something to learn from this. Let’s begin by referring to Romans 13:11-14 which reads: “…Do (all) this, understanding the times, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep, for our salvation is nearer now than when we (first) believed. The night is far spent, and the day draws near. Let us put off the deeds of darkness and clothe ourselves in the weapons of light…” Paul was challenging the believers in Rome to “wake up and smell the coffee”, as we would say today. He wanted to leave them with the clear teaching that one day Jesus would return to judge the earth and that they should be ready for that “day”. You see, Paul understood that it is so easy for human beings to get wrapped up in this world and forget that we have a destiny in eternity. But more than that he wanted the believers to, “understand the times” they were living in. One day, those times would end. He told them that Jesus’ coming was closer than when they first believed.

If this were true of Paul’s day, then how much more is it valid today? I don’t want to don the prophet of doom status, but as I look at our world there are some very disquieting signs. In Europe and Asia, we see cynical, even ruthless leaders in influential countries that could tip the balance towards a global war. Technology has brought many advances towards our civilization, but it has also made us more efficient in killing each other. Combined with this, I see a lawlessness particularly in the West and a hatred for those that bear the name of Jesus, which makes me wonder that if we are not in the “end times”, we are at least drawing close. In Matthew 24:32-33, Jesus exhorts us to learn from the fig tree. “When its branch has already become tender and puts out its leaves, you know summer is close, so also when you see these things know that He is near, at the very door.” Wars, rumours of wars, lawlessness and lack of love are among the signs of the times mentioned earlier in Matthew 24.

But what does it mean to understand the times? Does it mean an intellectual chasing after sensational news like some super spiritual paparazzi? Clearly not! Paul’s exhortation to the Romans was to “Do this…” meaning continuing in love of God and of one’s neighbour. He also urged his listeners to follow through on their commitment to Jesus and resist temptations to immorality, strife and carousing; that we should put aside the deeds of darkness and live as if the day was upon us; in brief to put on Jesus Christ and make no plans for our sinful nature. It’s a question of being ready for His return. No one knows the hour or the minute of His arrival.

Understanding the times means to be ready for His coming in glory!

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