Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
- Matthew 24:42 (ESV)
“Several years ago, Christian author Tim LaHaye wrote, ‘Christ could come today, and no prophecy of the end times necessary for His coming would go unfulfilled.’ In His discourse at the Mount of Olives, Jesus outlined many of the essentials that would precede His return – and He cautioned that the time would be soon. For over 2,000 years, believers have been asking, ‘How soon is soon?’ and the answer the Lord gives today is the same as it was then: ‘Stay awake!’
“A rehashing of the signs of the end times isn’t necessary – you are living it! Ready, on the other hand, does not seem to be an apt description of what was gloriously once called ‘Christian America.’ Readiness first requires repentance and faith…acknowledgment and sorrow for sin and belief that Jesus died and rose again to save sinners. Only then is a person positioned to go about the business of sharing the message of God’s love.
“Don’t be an asleep-in-your-comforts Christian. Stay watchful so as not to be deceived or robbed of your faith. But don’t be in a panic, either. Live out your salvation by pursuing the power of prayer for your family, friends, community, and national leaders…while ‘soon’ still delays.”
- Presidential Prayer Team Devotion
Okay, I could only find “stay awake” in the ESV. Most translations state something about being vigilant or being alert. Getting some sleep is necessary.
Jesus got upset with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane because He knew that His time with them was near its end. Jesus had told them so, and they still did not understand.
Jesus wanting his disciples to stay awake is like driving long distances. If you are like me, when you are the passenger, you can never go to sleep. But after 14-16 hours behind the wheel, just grabbing the steering wheel is all it takes to cause me to nod off. I have learned to stop early, before that happens.
That night after the Last Supper, it reminds me of sentry duty in the Army, standing all alone in the dark. No matter what method you used to try to stay awake, your eyes would flutter. Then, when I was an officer and on staff duty, a good NCO might allow the officer to sleep on the cot that was in the room. Some were that gracious, but most were not. I never slept. I was too wired. My insomnia kicked in and I was up. I let the NCO have his turn on the cot though.
For those who do not know about battalion staff duty, staff duty is an assigned duty, rotated through the officers and senior NCOs, to take the place of the battalion commander and the battalion Sgt. Major, while they sleep. During the night, if anything goes awry, the officer on staff duty acts in the capacity of commander until the battalion commander greets the staff duty officer and instructs him that he is relieved of his duty. The NCO does the same for the Sgt. Major.
One fateful night, I had staff duty, one of the many, many nights. The battalion was mostly asleep, a quiet night, as far as the soldiers were concerned. The brigade staff duty sent us several messages in code that night. They all seemed to be nuisance messages and the NCO and I wondered if our higher authority counterparts were coding stupid messages just to keep themselves awake. The fun started about 5:00AM that morning. I was called into the new Operations Officer’s office. He was not officially in that position, but the major was establishing a reputation early, a reputation that quickly earned him the nickname, Attila. I was his first victim.
I reported and saluted. He did not return the salute. I thought, ‘Oh, crap! I am in trouble with the third guy in line in the battalion (battalion commander, executive officer, and then operations officer).’ The major ripped me for the lack of cleanliness on one of my construction sites. He acted like I had no idea why there was dust everywhere – other than the fact that we were using sledge hammers to break out concrete walls, something that NEVER creates dust. The major told me that he would visit the site later that day, and he better be able to eat off the floor. A voice reminded him through the wall that he had not taken over the position yet. He had no authority – yet. So, he gave me one more day.
Then the major stared at me and yelled in my face, “I don’t like the look of your face, Lieutenant! I think you are thinking insubordinate thoughts! Get me Charlie Company commander so I can put this officer on report.” (In my defense, I had no insubordinate thoughts. I had been awake for over 24 hours. I was simply trying to stay awake for a few more, especially while being grilled. Collapsing onto the Major’s desk would not look good, and it might hurt.)
The voice (a master sergeant who I think was praying for me at the time) said, “Sir, you are talking to the Charlie Company commander. Lt. Rackley is on permanent orders as acting company commander, and the company commander went on leave two days ago.”
The major turned ten shades of red. “Then get me the battalion commander!”
The voice replied, “Unless the colonel (LTC) has shown up in the past five minutes, you are talking to him. Lt. Rackley is the battalion staff duty until relieved by the colonel.”
The major exploded with so many curse words that I would never be able to remember what he said. He threw me out of his office, demanding that the adjutant be placed on report for having me as a platoon leader, a company commander, and the battalion staff duty all at the same time. The master sergeant tried to explain that my company commander had left on leave unannounced and that the adjutant only had five active officers that were in town to choose from for staff duty. Tuesday night was Lt. Rackley’s night until some officers got back from construction projects. Oh, the joys of having one construction site, of many, just a few kilometers from my home.
Having gotten out of the portal to the netherworld, the major’s office, I ran down the hall and into the light colonel’s office to tell him about the nightly messages and be relieved of duty. I then ran to the company’s barracks and talked to the staff sergeant in charge of the construction project. He cancelled construction work for the day. The sergeant had experience with such idiotic requests, they cleaned the site, and set up a tarp, with sentries, so that when the major approached, the tarp was rolled up and the floor underneath was clean enough to eat from. All the dust was rolled inside the tarp. I would say that he never knew, but the major had been a lieutenant himself, in Vietnam. That might have been the reason for being such a pain in everyone’s side.
I then went home with a fever over 100F. I had not only been awake for 36 hours (by then), I had the flu. As an ill Army officer, you still went to work. You just placed a Do-Not-Disturb sign on your door. A sergeant who had just gotten over the flu became a courier between my office and the 160+ men working for me at the time – so I didn’t make anyone else sick. I too visited the construction site the next day, just missing the major.
That major never liked me. I was the personification of not being vigilant. If World War III had started that night, I would have to stay working as the battalion commander until the LTC got there. That would mean that Charlie company would have to prepare for war without a leader – until I was relieved at the battalion level. I trusted my men, but the major thought this might make the difference in life or death for the entire battalion – having a single weak link in Charlie Company. This does not even consider that my platoon would be a man down, since I was filling in for my vacationing commander. Truth is, the company executive officer was out on a construction site for about nine months, and I was filling in for him too.
In comparing this old military incident to our preparedness for Jesus’ return, I was awake as the ESV might suggest, but I was not prepared. Although the circumstances were out of my control, the major saw my face and was reminded of how the entire battalion would have been ill prepared for war.
The devotion does make a good point. We must be vigilant, but we need to sleep sometime. We must live our lives as if Jesus was coming with the morning sun. Each day should be a day of celebration and preparation.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.