This year we are retracing John Wesley’s favorite texts, and this one was the grist for his sermon entitled, Awake, Thou That Sleepest!
…for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,
“Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.” Ephesians 5:14(NLT)
and Christ will give you light.” Ephesians 5:14(NLT)
Mr. Wesley presented this text under three headings:
1. He Described the Sleepers
2. He Enforced the Exhortation
3. He Explained the Promise made to those who awaken and arise.
I see no reason to attempt to improve on Mr. Wesley’s method here, but I will update the words a little. (Language has changed a little since 1742!)
More than 25 years ago George Barna wrote a book entitled The Frog in the Kettle which describes the church as a frog in a cooking pot. If the frog was thrown into boiling water he would jump out; however, in this scenario the water is “frog-body temperature” – frog-warm, if you will.
A frog in a comfortable situation will sit there indefinitely. And if you raise the temperature slowly, the frog will adjust to the increasing warmth, and still not move. Eventually when the water reaches boiling temperature, the frog will sit there and cook from lack of initiative to get out of the hot water.
George Barna describes the American church as having sat in the rising temperature of increasingly-more-comfort, leading to Godlessness, for many generations, and we are cooking – at this point in very imminent danger of going past well-done. We are sleeping while being cooked!
Wesley Described the Sleepers
I have to be careful here. I heard an exceptionally fine sermon by Bishop Claude Richard Alexander in Charlotte this past week which was entitled, They Rested! The sermon was on maintaining an appropriate rhythm of Sabbath instead of being a workaholic!
We don’t want to misrepresent, so please understand, we’re not talking about appropriate rest – this is about those who are somewhat comatose as far as spiritual living is concerned.
John Wesley described the frog asleep in the kettle – unbelievers, and believers who are sound asleep to their need of God’s grace. Without a clue, they are full of the sickness of sin – apathy towards God, no desire of new birth from above, having a godliness – a form of being a Christian – but unknowing – having no relationship with Christ. They even revile, or make fun of those who do walk with Jesus.
They may be nice people, great church members, moral and even kind and generous – but listen to how Mr. Wesley characterized them:
But know ye not, that, however highly esteemed among men such a Christian as this may be, he is an abomination in the sight of God, and an heir of every woe which the Son of God, yesterday, to-day, and forever, denounces against "scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites"? He hath "made clean the outside of the cup and the platter," but within is full of all filthiness. "An evil disease cleaveth still unto him, so that his inward parts are very wickedness." Our Lord fitly compares him to a "painted sepulchre," which "appears beautiful without;" but, nevertheless, is "full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."
The bones indeed are no longer dry; the sinews and flesh are come upon them, and the skin covers them above: but there is no breath in them, no Spirit of the living God. And, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."….He abides in death, though he knows it not. He is dead unto God, “dead in trespasses and sins.”
That’s the condition of the sleeper.
The word in Greek used for those who sleep indicates being “down” as in lying on the floor, being in the condition of ne-kros – a corpse! So this has nothing to do with physical rest; it has everything to do with spiritual, mortal necrosis – a sin-rotting of the soul.
There are many words offering different concepts of sin in human experience. There is the concept of transgression – where we know what is right and choose rebellion. There are sins of omission, where we forget to do what is right, or, worse, we remember, but are too lazy; we slip off the path, and miss the target of Christian living.
So the kind of sleep Paul is warning about is an echo from Isaiah(60:1) where the prophet passionately pleads for God’s people to wake up and shine the light of God for the nations. And Paul again echoes it in his letter to the Roman church telling them to come out of their apostate sleepiness:
This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11(NLT)
One author I read put it very well about the sleeping church members:
It is important that we understand that the water in which the frog is cooking is not the culture. The danger to the frog is not secularism, liberalism, or atheism. To believe this is to conclude that these worldviews are more powerful than the message of the cross.
I believe the water in which we are boiling is our own spiritual apathy, missional indifference, and prayerless irrelevance. In essence, the frog stands in danger of boiling in its own water. Just as Jesus warned some of the churches in Revelation chapters 2 & 3 about their precarious spiritual condition, we too must recognize our own need to take responsibility for the situation.
So, updating John Wesley’s language (quoting Paul the apostle), we have Exposed the Sleepers, and…
Mr. Wesley wanted to Enforce the Exhortation, meaning he wanted to highlight it, underline it, and make it bold type: RISE UP FROM THE DEAD! Of course Wesley was quoting Paul, who was quoting Isaiah, who got it right from God – who rather knows what He’s talking about when it comes to rising up from the dead!
The Greek word, again, is an·is·tay·mee, which means to rise up again. It is the same root word from which we translate “resurrection”.
Oswald Chambers pointed out in his book “My Utmost for His Highest” about the man Jesus encountered, who had a crippled and shriveled hand; Jesus told him:
Stretch out your hand (Matthew 12:13). As soon as the man did so, his hand was healed. But he had to take the initiative. If we will take the initiative to overcome, we will find that we have the inspiration of God, because He immediately gives us the power of life.
Some (many I fear) just won’t take the initiative – that first step – towards God. In Wesley’s sermon he posed the parable of the Prodigal Son, who was estranged from his family, particularly his father, and living in a land far away. He had run out of the inheritance money and was sitting in a pig pen of poverty and starvation. He finally came to himself, remembering how loved and well-cared-for he was at home. He literally ran home.
Mr. Wesley then asked the question if it could be that we, who are living in such spiritual death sleep, can finally awaken, but NOT run home to our heavenly Father? How insane is that?
America’s poet, Ralph Emerson said:
People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
I pray that if you are somewhat awakened, but have yet to arise out of your sleeping sickness that you will be unsettled entirely until you are moved by God’s Spirit to resurrect from the dead and run to your Father.
Exposing Sleepers, Encouraging Resurrection, and then…
Mr. Wesley said he would Explain the Promise which is given to those who awaken and arise from sleep – light!
Many have debated what, precisely the Bible means by that, and how Wesley saw it. In his sermon he said that no matter what your condition, spiritually-speaking (assuming you’re still drawing breath), this promise is for you, and it is very connected with seeing the One Who IS the light.
And seeing Jesus tends to change everything!
Jesus said: I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
This is resurrection language…the light that leads to life. That which leads is a pathway – a direction. Later Jesus explained fully to his disciples what that meant:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:6b(NLT)
In John Wesley’s thinking (which is Biblical thinking), this pathway begins at the moment of surrender to Christ. There is a promise of Jesus’ light which leads to the way, the truth, and the life…which is true relationship with God.
But that is a beginning; we are like newborn babes starting on the pathway of eternity, and in need of learning so much. It is like when you were in your mother’s womb; you had no cares, and no needs that amniotic fluid and your umbilical cord couldn’t supply. But the moment you made your entrance into this world everything changed.
The moment your eyes were assaulted by the light – and your behind by the doctor’s hand – it was such a rude awakening, and made you question if leaving that warm Momma-nest was such a grand idea.
But in all, you’ve come a long way, and God’s prevenient grace, including light from above, has been watching over you and changing you – helping you see the right pathway to a heavenly position as a child of the King.
In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, neurologist Oliver Sacks tells about Virgil, a man who had been blind from early childhood. When he was 50, Virgil underwent surgery and was given the gift of sight. But as he and Dr. Sacks found out, having the physical capacity for sight is not the same as seeing.
Virgil’s first experiences with sight were confusing. He was able to make out colors and movements, but arranging them into a coherent picture was more difficult. Over time he learned to identify various objects, but his habits—his behaviors—were still those of a blind man.
Dr. Sacks asserts, “One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person.
That warm nest of a womb you once occupied is similar to the cocoon of the frog’s kettle soup. It seems so much simpler to keep to the darkness – keep to our nice warm comfortable life.
And God, without having first consulted us, created us with a responsibility to awaken, arise and embrace the light of Christ. He bids us like the blind man near the pool of Siloam – you let me cover your spiritual eyes with the mud of creation – now go, wash and see. And when you see, you will then not be content to sit in that earthly pig pen of your comfortable yesterday; it will then be time to come, follow me.
Fellow amphibious kettle dwellers, frogs in the kettle, awaken….arise….let your light shine!
 Baker Books, June 1990
 Awake, Thou That Sleepest, John Wesley, 1872 Edition, I.7,8
 Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 4.
 John 8:12(NLT)
 Terry Seufferlein, Norman, Oklahoma. Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 1.