“A Time To Wait, and A Time To Act” (Matthew 4:12-17 sermon)

Ecclesiastes 3 says:

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven:
A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.
… a time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”

One of the most beneficial skills we can learn in life is to tell what time it is; NOT the chronological time of the clock on the wall, but understanding God’s time; what He is doing in our lives, our family, our church, and in the world in which we live. In Matthew 3 we find that Jesus, at crucial junctures in His life, knew God’s timing. He knew both when to wait, and when to act. We can learn a lot from His example:
I. A Time To Wait

:12 “Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee.”

Why did Jesus leave the area of Jerusalem and the Jordan when He heard that John the Baptist had been arrested? It wasn’t because He was “afraid” of what might happen to Him there. Later we will see Him “set His face” to go to Jerusalem to face certain death, so that one of His disciples would say: “Let us go and die with Him.” No, Jesus had all the courage anyone ever needed. He didn’t withdraw from the area because He was afraid; He withdrew because He knew if He stayed there He would be arrested, but He had a lot to do first to fulfill God’s plans. It wasn’t His time yet. It was a time to wait.

So we see here in Jesus — and indeed all through the word of God — the importance of just the right timing in God’s plans:
— Galatians 4:4 says: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son …”. God didn’t just send Jesus to earth “any old time”; He sent Him “when the fullness of time came.” It was just the perfect moment in history, with the right scriptural prophecies, with just the right people on the scene for everything to be accomplished; with just the right language for the truth of scripture to be shared clearly, and the right Roman roads in place for the message to spread widely — everything was just right. God the Father sent Jesus in “the fullness of time.” Until then, it was a time to wait.

— Jesus Himself had that same awareness and sensitivity to God’s perfect timing. We see Him here withdrawing from Jerusalem because it wasn’t time for Him to be arrested.
Later in John 7, the time of year came for people to go to the Jewish Feast of Booths in Jerusalem, and Jesus’ brothers were telling Him that He should go down to Jerusalem so that everyone could see Him and the works He was doing. But :5 says that Jesus said to them: “My time is not yet here” and in :8 He said “My time has not yet fully come.” This was a time to wait.

We need that same patience and sensitivity to God’s timing that Jesus had. Sometimes we can be very impatient: with our spouses and kids, with other people, with our church or our ministry — even with ourselves! We want things to happen right now, or overnight — when God has a certain time schedule that He is working on, that may not match ours. Sometimes it is “a time to wait”, and if we try to act, when it is a time to wait, we can actually do more harm than good. The truth is, God often takes a lot longer to do things than we might — but He has His reasons for it.

I shared before about Dikkon Eberhart, the author of the book, “The Time Mom Met Hitler, Robert Frost Came To Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told”. Eberhart grew up in a non-Christian home. And as an adult, he began to seek what he was missing. First he became a liberal, Reformed Jew. Then some years later, tired of wondering why the liberal Jews accepted some scriptures and not others, he became a conservative, Orthodox Jew. Finally, never finding real forgiveness and peace from Judaism, he became a Christian. Eberhart was telling this whole story to Eric Metaxas on his radio show, and Metaxas made an observation about God’s TIMING in all of this: he noted that a lot of times we are in a rush to see something done: we want to see someone saved today; we want the prayer answered NOW; we want the project built yesterday! — but God has plans and timing that is often different than ours. He noted how God took all of Eberhart’s life — and through all those different stages — to slowly, finally, bring him to faith in Christ.
This is a good reminder to us that we need to be patient and understanding about God’s work. God may have different timing than we do. We need to pray, and seek Him, about whether this is the right time for a given thing to happen. We need to learn to be sensitive to God’s timing. There is a time to wait.

I love to cook out on the grill — or perhaps I should say I love to eat food cooked on the grill. I am not really very good at cooking it. I am getting a little better at it now, but I used to often burn the burgers or steaks, or get them too done on the outside and not enough on the inside. (I can still taste the charred bacon on some jalapeno poppers we had recently!) Now I know some of you guys might say: “Well pastor, I can help you with that. See, you have to wait on the charcoal, you have to let it burn down to where all the coals are grey, and not start cooking too early, and then you need to make sure you don’t try to cook the meat too fast; don’t be in a hurry — you have to be patient and cook it slowly and WAIT!”

And I understand that — but listen to me: there are some of you who know all about the perfect timing of when to place something on the grill and how to patiently cook it — but you do not exercise that same sensitivity with the more important issues of the timing of God’s will for your life, and the lives of those you care about! You haven’t learned the lesson of how to wait on things spiritually.

There are areas in your life that require sensitivity to God’s will and timing:
— Don’t be in a hurry to “rise to the top” — God may have plans for you that are going to take going through some experiences that will mature you, and make you a better person when He gets you where He wants you to be. Like Jesus did, be patient, and grow in the mean time, so you’ll be ready when God’s time for you comes.
— And exercise the same patience in other people, that you want for yourself. Listen, your kids, your spouse, your co-workers, just like you, they aren’t going to be able to change overnight. Be patient with them, and don’t push them too quickly.
— The same thing is true for our church, for our ministries. God often works in a different time table than what we have. We want to grow overnight; we want to see instant success — but often when that happens it is not for the better, and you see churches and ministries that are “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Or you see pastors and church members who end up compromising God’s word to get that “instant success” they think they just have to have. We need to learn to seek the Lord, and wait on Him, and not try to “push” things when it is time to wait, and seek God, who is the only One that real success in the church comes from!

In every area of life, We need to learn patience, and sensitivity to God’s will and timing, and not rush into things when God wants us to wait. Sometimes just like with food on the grill, when we try to “push” something too fast, we end up “burning it”, and doing more harm than good, because we haven’t learned to wait. We need to learn, like Jesus showed us here, that there is a time to wait.
II. A Time To Act

There was a time for Jesus to wait — and He did that very well. But He also knew that there was a time to ACT — and He did not hesitate when those moments came, to take decisive action. Jesus was very decisive when the time to do something came. We see this in a number of places in the Gospels:

— We see it here in this passage in Matthew 4:17 where it says: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'”
For years now — He was about 30 years old — Jesus had been waiting. On a human level, that might have been difficult. Other people were out working in their careers. Even His cousin, John the Baptist, had been out preaching while Jesus was still waiting. But it hadn’t been God’s time. As we saw, it had been “a time to wait.” But now it was time to act! “FROM THAT TIME”, the Bible says, Jesus began to preach and say “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” NOW Jesus public ministry really began. NOW it was time for Him to preach the gospel to the multitudes; and to call His disciples, to preach His first great sermon — and to kick off all the events that would lead to the ultimate reason for His coming to earth: His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead, which would bring about our salvation. NOW it was His time to act!

— Then just a few chapters later here in Matthew Chapter 9, Jesus met a synagogue official whose daughter had died. Jesus came to his house and He told all the people who were there that the girl had not died but was asleep. And the Bible says they started laughing at Him. But then it says He had them immediately put out of the house, then He took her by the hand and raised her up, alive. Jesus was decisive: He didn’t mess around. He ordered that crowd out; He raised her up. He knew when it was time to act!

— We see that same resolute spirit in Jesus when the time DID come for Him to go to Jerusalem to die on the cross. Luke 9:51 says “And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (KJV) Here in Matthew 4, Jesus withdrew from the area around Jerusalem; it was a time to wait. But now, in Luke 9, it was time, and the Bible says “He steadfastly SET HIS FACE to go to Jerusalem.” NOTHING was going to stop Him from going to Jerusalem now. Jesus knew that this was the time for Him to go. It was the time to act!

— In the opening words of His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed: “Father, the hour has come …”. Jesus knew that this was “the hour.” That expression “the hour” means “a strategic time.” He knew there was a time to wait, and there was a time to act, and this was that time to act — and He set Himself to go to the cross to die for our sins.

We need to realize too, that there are times when we are to wait — but there is also a time when we must ACT.

This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther was used by God to bring renewal to the church in Europe. In the early 1500’s, when Luther was growing up, the Catholic church had strayed from the true faith of Christ & the apostles. They were selling what they called “indulgences” — which means that if you paid a certain amount of money, you could buy for yourself (or a loved one) a certain number of years out of purgatory. The money went to finance the Pope’s pet construction projects in Rome. Obviously this was not scriptural, and Martin Luther as a young monk was bothered by it. He questioned that practice; he patiently consulted with various ministers about it for a number of years — but on October 31, 1517, he did something: he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg church, challenging the unbiblical practices of the church, and the Protestant Reformation had begun, which would bring us back to salvation by faith in Jesus alone, and the authority of the word of God and not church tradition, to rule in the churches. For Luther the time to wait was over; it was now the time to ACT. And God used his act of faith to bless millions of people with the true gospel.

There is a time to be patient & to wait, but we must also realize that there is a time to act: for Jesus, for Martin Luther — and for each of us. There are times when we must ACT, when to put something off any longer is not a virtue, but a sin.

In 1982 a Florida airways plane crashed into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. The waters were icy, and emergency workers were trying to rescue the people who were stranded on the plane or in the water. But there was one woman in the water who was in such shock that she couldn’t hold onto the line that the rescuers kept lowering down to her; she just kept slipping off. People began lining the roadway, watching the failed attempts to rescue her, but it was thought to be too icy for anyone to get in the water and help her. But as everyone stood by, the woman began to struggle badly; she was about to go under for the last time, when a government worker by the name of Lenny Skutnik suddenly ripped off his coat and jumped into the icy waters, put the rescue line around her and saved her. For Skutnik, as that woman was going under, it was no longer a time to watch & wait, it was a time to ACT!

Now you may think that you never have situations like that in your life, but the truth is, you do. They may not “seem” as dramatic as what Lenny Skutnik had, but you do. There are people around you who have needs, and when God nudges you to do something, it is important for you to act!

In Acts 8, the Lord told Philip to go down a desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and He showed him the Ethiopian official in a chariot, reading the Book of Isaiah. Verse 29 says the Spirit said to him; “Go up and join this chariot.” That was not a time to wait; that was a time to act. A few more minutes and that chariot and that man would have been gone, and the opportunity missed. History tells us that the whole country of Ethiopia was touched by that official who came to know Jesus because Philip shared with him that day. So it was important that Philip ACTED when God told him to go up and share. When God’s Spirit prompts your heart to witness, or minister, or give, we need to recognize that that is a time to act!

One of those times to act is in regard to salvation. When God knocks at the door of your heart, and gives you an opportunity to respond to Christ and receive Him as your Lord & Savior, you need to respond. That is a time to ACT! See, one of the foolish things people say is: “Well, I’ll come to the Lord later, when I am ready.” No you won’t. I just read this week in John 6:44 where Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Your mind and your will are held captive to sin, and you can’t even seek God unless He touches you first to illuminate your mind and make you open to receiving the gospel. And thank God that He DOES do that, through His Holy Sprit, whom Jesus said came to convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. It is an amazing thing; it is a glorious privilege, when God’s Spirit touches your life, and shows you the truth: that you are a sinner who has rebelled against Him, but He still loved you so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for your sins and bring you back to Him. And when He shows you that truth, the Bible says IT IS A TIME TO ACT! It is the time to turn back from your sins and follow Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Don’t take that opportunity for granted. Don’t put it off. Don’t think that you can just “conjure up that feeling” again next week or some other time. NO! The Bible says in II Corinthians 6:2, “NOW is the acceptable time; TODAY is the day of salvation.” If God is speaking to your heart it is not a time to wait, it is a time to ACT!

One of Satan’s best tools against people in whom God is working is just to get them to procrastinate; to put off what God says to do now. In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, a senior demon tells his junior protege to do whatever he can to make the human he was assigned to, just put off doing something. He said: “The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act.” Don’t let Satan’s schemes work on you; when God nudges your heart, it is time to ACT!
CONCLUSION: Discerning the Difference
How can we know when it is a time to wait, or a time to act? It takes some holy sensitivity to the will of God and to the leadership of His Holy Spirit. As we grow and mature as Christians we get better at discerning those times. But there are a couple of things that will help you:

— One is that you need to be led by the word of God. The Lord makes it very clear that there are some things which we are NOT to wait on — like salvation. When God’s word makes it clear to you in His word that you should act, then you should act. It is not a time to wait.

— And a second thing is to make sure that you spend time with the Lord every day in prayer, to get His leadership. Mark 1 describes how after Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law that people were lined up at the door of the house to get in to see Jesus. And :35 says that after that full day of ministry, Jesus got up early the next morning, while it was still dark, and went out to a lonely place to pray. And the next day His disciples told Him that everyone was looking for Him, but Jesus said: “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Jesus got His Father’s leadership for just what He was supposed to do that day, by spending time with Him in prayer in the morning.

We need to learn to do that same thing. When you walk with God daily in His word, He shows you the things He wants you to do — maybe some of things that are not to wait, but which you need to act on — AND as you spend time with Him in prayer, you get filled with His Holy Spirit — Who brings His fruit of patience into your life — so you’re ready to wait on those things you need to wait on.

So once again, we see that walking with the Lord daily in His word & prayer is not just a “religious routine” for us; but it is a key part of our relationship with Him, which will also help us to discern when it is the time to wait, and when it is the time to act.

I have no doubt that there are some of us here this morning who are dealing with things that you want to rush into; but God is telling you through His word today to be patient; to wait for His timing. Just like Jesus did, wait for “the fullness of time” in that issue in your life, your job, your church, your ministry, or the life of your loved one. Wait. And make sure you are walking with God every day, to get the patience you need from His Holy Spirit.

But there are others of us here today, to whom God is saying that it is not the time to wait any longer; it is the time to ACT. NOW is the time; TODAY is the day — especially if it’s about your salvation, don’t put it off. It is the time to act — right now!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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