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Online Text Sermon - The Sleep of Death, 1 Thessalonians ch.5 v.6

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Sleep of Death
Text1 Thessalonians ch.5 v.6
Sermon ID417

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"Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober" (1 Thessalonians 5, 6).

"Let us not sleep, as do others" (text).

1. What Does The Apostle Mean By 'Sleep'

2. Sleepiness In The Unconverted

3. Sleepiness In Professing Christians

One of the problems which is to be found in all churches, is the problem of people sitting for years and hearing dozens, even hundreds, of sermons over the years and yet, as far as one can see, learning more-or-less nothing from what they hear.


I put it to you as a question well worth discussion. What's going wrong when people sit in churches, even for years, after hearing many sermons, making, as afar as we can see, no progress? It would be well worth sitting down and writing down a few explanations as to why that should be. Part of the answer must be this, surely, that it is so easy to sit in church and, to all intents and purposes, to be asleep. Perhaps not literally asleep, but at least to let one's mind go fallow, so that we are really dreaming our own dreams and thinking our own thoughts. I am going to suggest ways in which we can overcome that to a certain extent. I'm not pretending for a moment that we haven't all of us at times been guilty of that very thing, but there are ways in which we can help ourselves.

One thing we should do, if at all possible, before we go to the house of God, is to try to rest and relax our minds and our bodies, so that we may be fresh for the worship of God. Another thing we can do is, we can make notes - either literally on paper, or if not on paper then mental notes - and write them down on the tables of our minds and memory. Every sermon has, or should have, a sort of structure to it. There should be main points: one and two and three, and certain subsidiary points which go underneath these main points. It is a mental exercise which helps us to follow the discourse if we make some sort of note. Another thing we can do, and possibly this is as profitable as anything to keep us from sleeping, is to get together with other friends and to go over some of the main points in a sermon so that we can, as it were, have a revision. We all miss much, and when we pool those things we do remember, we greatly increase one another's recollection and therefore, in that way we benefit.


The apostle Paul, as you see in my text, is talking about a related subject of verse six. "Let us not sleep." My first heading here is this: What does the apostle mean when he tells us that we are not to sleep, as do others? What does he mean?

The Bible uses the word 'sleep' in at least three different senses: in three different ways. Let me show you what these three ways are.


First of all, of course, the Bible talks about natural sleep. Natural sleep is a God-given gift. When God made the world He, very wonderfully, made it so that there would be a greater light to rule the day and a lesser light to rule the night. Our Maker, Who gave us our life, knew very well that we need more light in the daytime in order to work, but that we need less light at night to enable us the better to sleep. The Bible refers to sleep - natural sleep - in many ways, and on many occasions. I'm sure you can recall Jacob's very famous sleep. It was the sleep in which I believe he was converted. Do you remember his dream? He saw the ladder stretching up from earth to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. In his dream and sleep he saw what amounted to Christ and the glory of Christ and the way that Christ is a ladder for sinners to get to heaven on, as it were. When he woke up, he was a new man.

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself sometimes went to sleep - of course He did for He was a man like ourselves. On a notable occasion, you recall, He was in the stern of a boat as the disciples were rowing across the Sea of Galilee and our Lord fell asleep in the boat - His head on a cushion. He was exhausted with all His preaching and all His teaching and all the labours and travel in which He had to take part in His ministry. Our Lord fell asleep and He had to be roused, you remember, by the disciples. At least they did rouse Him in their fear that the ship might sink in the storm. Our Lord simply woke up and said, "Peace, be still" (Mark 4, 39). The waters became calm. So, that is what we mean by natural sleep. It is a blessing to sleep and it is an unhealthy thing when people cannot sleep. If ever you yourself find that you don't sleep regularly then you should take the matter seriously enough to find some way of relaxation.


The second kind of sleep is referred to in chapter four. Let me point you to two verses in chapter four, thirteen and fourteen, which we read together earlier. "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep." There it is, "asleep". Then at verse fourteen: "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." This is a second use of this word 'sleep'. It is not natural sleep any more. Sleep in this second sense refers to the state of a Christian after he has died: the state of a Christian's soul in death. Not the unbeliever but the believer. The soul is, as it were, in a kind of sleep - not a literal sleep. Don't confuse the first and the second sense. It means that the soul of a believer is now in glory, resting with God and with Christ.

The apostle tells us that there is no reason whatever why we should be concerned or upset overmuch, for those who have died in Christ. We are not to sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4, 13). Our dead, who have died in Christ, are perfectly safe and very soon, we who are Christians, will be with them. That is the second sense in which the Bible talks about 'sleep', or uses this term ''sleep': the state of death of a true believer. That is not, of course, true for the unbeliever. Just in the passing let me say that ministers must be very careful what they say at funerals because, whereas it is perfectly correct for ministers to say about professing Christians who have lived a godly life, "Our brother and sister are now in glory", we must never say that about everybody. That is misleading and there is a tendency in some places to do that.


In my text, there is still another sense in which this word 'sleep' is used by the writers' of the Bible. "Let us not sleep", he says, "as do others". Here is a third sense of the word 'sleep'. Not natural sleep and not the sleep of a Christian in death, but thirdly, this use of the word 'sleep' means spiritual death: spiritual death, or if you like, moral death. It refers to the condition of men and women who are out of Christ, who are not believers. It is the condition of their mind and heart and soul and life. You have an interesting word in 1 Timothy chapter five, verse 6. It speaks of a woman, or women, who are living for this world and yet they make some sort of show of religion. This is how the apostle puts it. He says "they are dead while they live". In other words, he is talking here about the state of the unconverted in this life. They are really, he says, asleep.

Let me prove that that is what he means, verse six. "Let us not sleep, as do others." Others! Then verse seven. "They that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night." It is very clear he's talking here about spiritual sleep: the condition of men and women in the world who are out of Christ. They are unconverted; they have no faith. They don't accept the teaching of the Gospel; they don't believe the words of the Bible. They are living, as we say, in cloud cuckoo land. They are living, as we say, in a fool's paradise: their whole world is a sort of false world; this is why the apostle uses this word 'sleep' about the state of a person who is not a Christian. It is because in sleep we get two things wrong.

Let me develop this and show you how it works. When we sleep and when we dream, we are wrong in two ways. Have you noticed? First of all, we are wrong in this sense that when we sleep and are dreaming, for one thing, we imagine things to be true that are not true. We have all had nightmares or dreams; children get them and wake up because a bear or a lion or something is chasing them. They wake up screaming. They have seen this in their dream. Of course, when they wake up mother comes rushing into the room - nothing wrong - they have just had a nightmare. They were chased by a bull, or a boar, or by some other wild beast. It was so real in the dream, but of course, it was a fantasy world.

Or again, sometimes in dreams, people fall out of windows in high buildings and they seem to fall and fall and fall and never seem to reach the ground. Then they wake up before they hit the ground. It was so real! They wake up in a lather of sweat. It was only a dream you understand; they were asleep. My point is this: In sleep, men and women imagine things to be true which are not true. So it is with the unconverted; they have no sense of what is real, or of what is valuable, or of what is important. That is the tragic condition of unconverted men and women.


Let me just show you why the apostle puts it like that. What is it that people, who are not Christians, are really living for in the world? In many cases, they are living for fashion and clothes. They have got to have the right designer label. You have got to have the right colour. You have got to be in the height of fashion. You have got to have your hair done in a certain way. You have got to do everything according to the pattern which the world counts proper and correct at that time. Of course, fashion is always changing - what's in today will be out tomorrow. What's out tomorrow will be in again the next year. People live for these things: money, business, getting on, popularity, sports and entertainment. If one of their favourite athletes or players damages an ankle, then all the newspapers have to spend many columns telling you this great tragedy which has befallen the human race: that a footballer has sprained his ankle. It is, of course, worth million of pounds. This is what they talk about, this is what they watch, and this is what they are interested in. The apostle would come to us here and he would say, "My very dear friends, don't you see, the world is living in a state in which they are really asleep, because these things don't matter at all in the end. Very soon these people who are shouting for their team or concerned about their clothes in an excessive way will be out of this world and in another world, where clothes and sports and entertainment and bank accounts, matter absolutely nothing, nothing at all." He says, sadly, that the world is asleep; it's the sleep of death. He says, therefore, to Christians, "Let us not sleep, as do others" (text).

That is only one way in which sleep affects the unconverted, only one way. It works the other way too. In sleep, not only do we imagine things to be true that aren't true, but on the other hand the reverse is so. We don't realise the things that are true; we don't realise what's going on all around us. When we are asleep, of course, we are oblivious to what's going on. Imagine this that you might have a person who's asleep in his bedroom; at the back door there is a thief with a screwdriver, busy trying to take the screws out of the lock to get in. He wants to steal the camera, the television, money and anything he can find lying about. Or, change the illustration. Someone's in bed asleep and they didn't realise when they were putting out their cigarette that they didn't put it out properly and it dropped on the floor. Now, the flames are going up the curtain, but they don't know because they are asleep. They are oblivious to, blind to and ignorant of the realities of their situation. They don't know there is a thief at the door; they don't know a fire is about to destroy the whole house. These things are commonplace; it happens every single week of life somewhere.

Just the other day we heard that somewhere near Dunfermline some dear, poor lady, lost almost all her family in just a fire of the kind we are talking about. Similar, you see. We are not talking about things that don't happen; this is what does happen. When people are asleep they don't know what the really important things are, do they? The apostle Paul would come and he would say - I'll tell you what the really important things are.


First, our soul. Where is our soul? Didn't Jesus our Lord put it like this, He said: "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul" (Mark 8, 36-37). Dear friend, no unconverted person knows how important his or her soul is. They don't think like that. You try talking to somebody who is not a Christian about their soul and you will soon see that either they have a smile on their face because they don't take you seriously, or else they will suddenly look at their watch and discover they have a very urgent appointment. They have to leave you on the spot. They don't want to know about the soul.

The soul is the most important thing a man, or woman, or child has. Your soul is going to spend eternity somewhere. That is not true of anything else you've got. You may have a fine motorcar but it is not going to be with you for many years. You may have a lovely house; you are not going to live in it for ever. The day is going to come when you will close the front door for the last time - you will never return to it. Or, maybe you have a handsome bank account - six rows of noughts after the first digit. You are a very wealthy person, not many are, but there are some like that; but they won't take one penny or one pound with them, of course, when they are called out of this world. So, the apostle would say to us: The really important thing is not what we've got; it's not fashion or sport or any of these things. The really important thing is our soul. Where is my soul and your soul going to spend eternity?

When people are asleep, they don't see the really serious things: the fire, the thief, the earthquake, or any of very many things. They don't know of it because they are asleep. Therefore, the apostle says to us, my friends, "Let us not sleep, as do others " (text). I can't understand professing Christians, and still more ministers, who seem to have infinite interest in golf and other things of this world. I just don't understand it; it doesn't make sense. It is a sign of terrible sleep. These things are all right, of course; a little bit of amateur sport is all right, to have a little exercise and get a little fresh air - perfectly legitimate. Knocking a ball round a golf course - perfectly legitimate - in it's place. When people are occupied and preoccupied, almost all the time, almost every day, with this and with the music and things of this world, it shows they are asleep.


I have to ask you therefore, my dear friends, are you asleep tonight? Are you conscious of the really important things in life? Do you realise that your soul and your sin, these are the two greatest and most important things of all, and these are the things of which you need to be conscious? What is going to happen to you, when you leave this world? What will happen to you in the light of your sin? Do you know how to get rid of your sin? Do you know the secret; do you know the way? Do you know the method that God has given us for dealing with sin? Would you know how to advise somebody who came to you and said, "I am very burdened about my sin. What shall I do?" Would you know what to say to them? If we are asleep, we will never know, but if we are awake then we shall understand.


I want to apply this first of all to Christians. My dear brethren in Christ, those of you who are Christians, I have to say to you honestly that there is a great deal of sleepiness, even amongst those who are professing Christians, in the world and in this country today. You know it as well as I do.

Let me give you, very quickly, four reasons why we live in such a sleepy age, when even Christians are in danger of nodding off. Christians are not fully asleep. Christians are never fully asleep, but they just, like an old man at times, nod off. But they are quickly roused and brought again to realise that they have dropped off. There are four things that seem to me to make this a very dangerous sleepy age. It is like the Cave of Morpheus, not in the Bible, but in Greek mythology. The Cave of Morpheus was the place where, when you walked into this cave you found yourself suddenly overcome, and you lay down: a place of dreams. This generation, in which we live, is a place of dreams. 'Morpheus' is on the throne today. People are in the cave of sleepiness, and I give you four reasons why.


The first one is this: we live in a sleepy age because, my very dear Christian friends, God is hiding His face from us as a nation just now; there is no doubt whatever about that. I say - God is hiding His face from us. Do you remember how Isaiah put it? "Your iniquities (sins)," he said, "have separated between you and your God" (Isaiah 59, 2). That's the trouble with Britain today. We must be deeply respectful to Her Majesty, and we are very loyal to her, but it would just be untrue to say that our nation is in a good way today. Our nation is suffering from profound religious sleepiness and one reason is, God is hiding His face. Let me prove it very quickly.

When did you ever hear of someone being converted today in this country? When did you last hear of it? Well, thank God, there are some. Thank God, there are some, but very, very few being converted to Christ today. If you went back fifty, sixty, or seventy years it would be commonplace for many people to be converted. Sometimes people were converted every time a minister preached. In the nineteen thirties and forties, good preaching was blessed to many in this country and it would be quite a common thing to see numbers of people, every communion, coming forward to profess faith in Christ. Does it happen today? It's because He is hiding His face. No wonder! The sins of the churches, the sins of the nation have driven Him away.


The second reason why the sleepiness is so deep is this: God's spirit is being withheld today in this country. Surely, that is the case. God's spirit is being withheld. Do you remember what was said just before the flood in Noah's time? This is what God said to the people living before the flood. He said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Genesis 6, 3). That is a very ominous thing. What does it mean "God's spirit shall not always strive with man"? Well, usually, when things are in a normal condition, there is so much of God's spirit abroad in the church, and even in society, that people at least, even if they are not converted, live a decent life and to a large extent, a regular life. Husbands are faithful to wives, wives to husbands. Children on the whole are reasonably, tolerably well behaved. Schools are reasonable places. The police don't have just too much to do. We mustn't idealise, of course; there has always been crime and so on.

When God's spirit is striving with society, there is a restraint and there is a decency and there are common levels of understanding of what is right and what is wrong. You don't get that today. Our nation is all at sea. Confusion is everywhere. They don't know what's right or what's wrong. Everything is breaking up and that is a sure sign that God's spirit is not striving with men.


Let me give a third reason. The third reason is this: I believe myself it's easy to show that, at the present moment in this country, God has pronounced a certain degree of reprobation upon us. What does that mean? Well it means that because people have turned away from the Bible, to a great extent, because people are not going any more to the house of God, God has effectively said this to society, "All right, you don't want Me; I'll just let you go on your way and see how you get on without Me." That's what God is saying to society. "If you think you can get on all right without God, then go, and discover how you do get on without Me." You see this in the Epistle to the Romans chapter 1. Let me remind you of this ominous refrain that comes up three times near the end. "God gave them up", and again "God gave them up", and a third time "God gave them over."

What does that mean, "God gave them up"? It means just as I have said. If they don't want God; they don't want conversion; they don't want Jesus Christ - people don't want the blessings that the Bible brings and the Christian faith brings - then, it so displeases God that He can be annoyed to this degree that He will say to society, "Very well, on you go without Me, and we'll see how you get on in the Day of Judgement and the day of death. Go on. If you don't want Me, off you go and try without Me and see how you'll manage in the end." That, I'm sure, is the explanation for why it is such a sleepy generation. Who cares about God today? Who thanks God for anything today, in public or in private?

Just this very morning, as an example, a detailed but a significant one, as I was coming round the little roundabout on the by-pass road, there was a man and his passenger who had fallen off their motorbike. Of course, like any other human being, I stopped the car and rolled the window down. "Are you all right? Can I help you?" What does he say? He lets out a terrible blasphemy: filthy language. How do you help people like that? What do you do? It's what is happening everywhere. Can you correct anyone today? If you speak a word to anyone, from a little child upwards, you get a mouthful of bad language. What do you do? That is the state we have come to; God is hiding His face, reprobating.


The fourth explanation and evidence is this that many Christians even, or at least professing Christians, are terribly out of order. Let me tell you what I mean. There are many Christians today, or professing Christians, who in their meetings and services, are busy laughing. That's what they want to do; they want to laugh. They give the impression that things are wonderful. Revivals are happening here, and there and everywhere else, and they are laughing, joking, jesting, and going on their way full of mirth. I have to say to you my friends, if ever there was a day when we should be weeping, and fasting, and mourning, and grieving, today is the day. This is no time for laughter for the Christian. It is a day when we are in danger of seeing the very Ark of God taken away by the Philistines. We are teetering on the brink of the loss of the Gospel itself. If there is any hope at all, it is in crying out to God that He will not go away from us. There's the prayer today, "O God, take not from us Thy Holy Spirit. Hide not Thy face any more from our land of Scotland, England and Wales. We have sinned, O God. Make not Thyself a stranger to us for ever." Yet, there isn't very much of that.

When do you hear people, of course, thank God, in this place we do, and in some other places they do, but in other places it's all laughter and mirth and jollity. Where is the seriousness? The apostle comes to us, and in just this very vein, he says to you and to me, "Let us not sleep, as do others" (text). It's a sign of sleepiness when people are in the wrong mood - when people are giddy, when people are laughing about triviality - when the call of the Providence of God is to solemnity and seriousness. It is a sign that we are fast asleep.


You heard of Nero, the Roman emperor who lived at the same time as the apostle Paul? Nero was a Roman emperor and a very terrible man, a persecutor. Indeed the apostle Paul died under Nero. It is Nero, we believe, who had him put to death in the end. Why do I mention Nero? Because there is a very famous thing said about Nero, which everybody ought to know. On one occasion, as emperor, he set fire to part of the city, the huge city of Rome. He had fire put to the buildings and these buildings, of course, were set alight and hundreds and hundreds of homes were burned and the people had to flee with what they could take with them. Then this emperor went up a hill. There are seven hills at Rome and he went up one of the hills and he took a violin, or some similar musical instrument, and started to play this instrument of music. We call it 'fiddling while Rome is burning'. That's what he did; he was fiddling while Rome was burning. My friends, there are many, many people who are doing the same today.

The thing, which is needed by this nation and by society, is not tinkering round the edges of the school system, the education system. The main problem is not more nurses and doctors. The problem is not how to put the economy right here and there. The problem is not Europe or anywhere else. The problem is, as a society, we have turned away from God; that's the problem. The only answer to the problems of this hour is to get back to God. If we don't, then we are in for real trouble. God Almighty knows how to deal with recalcitrant, disobedient, wicked, nations. The Bible gives us many examples as to how, when nations turn their back upon God, they reap bitter fruits, which they regret in the end.


So, my very dear Christian friends, I say, it's a message first of all here to us that we must not sleep as do others. We must recognise the truth of these things. Keep reading Isaiah. Keep reading Jeremiah. Keep reading Ezekiel. These books keep us awake because they are preaching in difficult, evil days and they show us how the prophets sought to keep the people of God awake in their dark and evil day.


I have a minute or two, and I must say before I close, that these words apply not only to Christians, but still more they apply to non-Christians. I want therefore to say just a little to those of you who are not Christians, those of you who are not professing Christians. Look at the apostle's words. He said, "Let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober" (text). My dear friend, if you're here tonight and you cannot say that Christ is your Saviour, then I'm afraid the great probability is you are totally asleep; you are sound asleep in your sins. It is no kindness for a minister to allow you to be asleep in your sins, without pointing out the danger of your condition. You must, my friend, you must realise the state you are in. You must.

When a person takes ill and goes to Raigmore hospital, if it is a very serious condition, what would you think of the doctor if he came along and gave you a few aspirins? You would say, "I've got a terrible pain here doctor; I've had it for days." "Oh," the doctor would say, "you'll be all right. Just take a few aspirins and it will set you on your feet again." Maybe there is some terrible growth or tumour. Aspirins are not going to do much for that, are they? I wouldn't be much of a doctor to you, my friends, if I said all you need is just to cheer up; that's not enough. What you need is nothing less than a complete change of heart, a complete change of life. You need to die to this world. You need to die to everything you have lived for. You need to turn right round and repent of everything you have been in the past and become what you have never been before. You need to give up the world and everything in it and you need to give your heart to God - to the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing less will do because you will be asleep as long as you live until Christ comes and wakens you up.

But, I have good news for you. He will give you life when you put your trust in Him. This doesn't happen without you praying. What you have to do is you have to go home, and you have to find a quiet spot in your bedroom, or somewhere else where nobody can hear you. On your knees you have to say, "Oh God, have mercy upon me. I have been asleep all my life. I have never yet woken up. I am living in this fool's paradise that I heard about in the Scriptures. Oh gracious God, give unto me a new heart, that I might wake up and recognise the truths as they are, and see the value of my own soul. That I might know the way for the forgiveness of my sins, which are great and black and wicked and mountainous, and infinite in their terrible animosity and enmity towards God." If you are sincere, and if you want it with all your heart, God, because He is gracious, will hear your prayer. When you look to Christ and to His cross, in some wonderful way that no man can explain, you will discover that your heart will melt and you will become a new creature in Christ Jesus. It will be to you like an alarm clock in the morning. You will wake up and the cockerel's crow, the cockerel's call will wake up your conscience as it woke up Peter's conscience. You will weep at the thought of all you have done wrong against God, but you will go in peace and you will be a true Christian, not a sleeping, dead, sinner, but one who lives now, henceforth and forever, to the glory of God.

Will you not therefore take these words to yourself and in doing so go home and seek the Lord until you find Him?

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