I. Alertness in Christ’s Return
When I first looked at this title, I asked myself, “what does this have to do with Christian character?” The dictionary indicates that this word means “awareness, watchfulness, careful attention.” In the light of the definition, the topic does reflect clear Scriptural teaching. For example, in Matthew 24, our Lord teaches about his return and urges His followers to be alert. In fact, in verse 42, He says, “therefore keep watch….” He continues in Matthew 25 and after telling a remarkable story about a sudden return, He again says, “Therefore keep watch”(v. 13). Paul writes on the same theme and urges his readers to not be surprised by the day of the Lord, saying, “let us be alert…” (I Thess. 5:6). Peter issues the same warning in his letter (II Peter 3:11-13). These verses all relate to the return of our Lord and indicate the need for careful and watchful attitudes. He indeed is coming back and we are to be ready; we prepare ourselves for readiness by being alert.
II. Alertness in Everyday Life
However, in addition to the pleas for attention to Jesus’ return, other places advise us on the need for alertness. When Paul writes to the Colossians he states, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (4:2). Back in the Old Testament, the Psalmist issues this plea: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (90:12). Ah, now we are getting to some real day-by-day practical application. We are called upon to daily be alert and watchful. We have an adversary and we need to walk carefully. We need to be aware of our enemy, of temptations, snares and traps—be alert. We are encouraged to carefully prepare, by putting on the whole armor of God, so that we can take our stand—stand our ground, so we may stand firm, and with this in mind, we are to be alert and keep on praying…(c.f. Eph 6:10-18).
III. Alertness as a Duty
“After their long and weary exile in Babylon the people of Israel were set free to return to their own land. Spurred on by Nehemiah, they began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This aroused the hostility of the pagans around them, who threatened to undo their work. The people of Israel took two essential steps: they prayed to God, and they posted a guard day and night. Even as they prayed for God’s protection and help, they did what they could. They knew that prayer is not a way to avoid responsibility, it’s not a shortcut to success without effort” (Ron Klug, “Bible Readings on Prayer,” Christianity Today: 30:6) We are challenged again and again: “Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord, and work” (Haggai 2:4). Watch and Pray!! Be on your guard and trust God!! Our world is dangerous and filled with temptation. We have a duty. I recall reading sometime ago a story about the early days of our country. (The story is attributed, by way of source, to many people, including President Kennedy.) In 1789, in Hartford, Connecticut, the House of Representatives was meeting, under the leadership of Col. Davenport. Suddenly the sky darkened ominously and some of the representatives feared it might be the end of the world, and they called for immediate adjournment. Davenport rose and stated, “The Day of Judgement is either approaching or it is not. If not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Bring in the candles.”
So alertness leads to duty and service for our Lord. He is returning and we need to be watchful—and stay busy and alert. The last words of Paul to his friends, the Ephesian elders, are significant: “So be on your guard” (Acts 20:31).
Dr. Paul E. Toms, Senior Pastor (Retired), Park Street Church, Boston, MA