“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” [Rev. 16:15]
One of the main purposes of church is to keep us awake.
The African theologian Augustine talked of how difficult it is to escape spiritual sleep:
Thus with the baggage of this world was I held down… as in sleep; and my thoughts of You [Lord] were like the efforts of one who would awake but who is yet overcome with drowsiness and is again drenched in sleep. While in all men’s sober judgment waking is better than sleep, yet very often a man, feeling a heavy lethargy in all his limbs, defers to shake off sleep, and though half displeased to sleep on, yet… with pleasure yields to it… Though I was convicted of the truth I answered only with those dull and drowsy words, “Later, later,” and, “Leave me just a little longer.” [Augustine, Confessions, Book 8]
Spiritual sleep is a state of being anesthetized to spiritual reality – the huge realities that Jesus is risen and ruling and returning any day; that there is going to be a resurrection of the dead and everyone will stand before the awesome throne of Christ; that there are two great destinies, the New Creation enjoying the love of God and the lake of fire enduring the wrath of God; that the only way we are going to be safe on that Judgment Day is by hiding ourselves in the crucified Christ who took the wrath deserved by sinners; that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Nothing in the world is going to be reminding us of these realities. We are not seeing adverts and newspaper articles about the supremacy of Christ and the return of Christ and the joy of living in and for him. In fact everything in the world is drip feeding us with the lie that the ruler of this age is money, politics, information, sex, ego; that the world is going on forever; that you are going to live forever; that Christ and his church are marginal and irrelevant. The only way I’m going to be reminded of the great reality of Jesus and his coming is if other Christians remind me.
An old preacher, Richard Sibbes, said this is why we need the church:
It is one of the best fruits of the communion of saints… to keep one another awake. It is an unpleasing work on both sides. But we shall one day cry out against all them that have pleased themselves and us, in rocking us asleep, and thank those that have pulled us… out of the fire, though against our wills. [Richard Sibbes, Love of Christ, Sermon 4]
Isn’t that great! It’s an ‘unpleasant work on both sides.’ If you’ve had to wake up a teenager recently you may have experienced that. As Augustine said, the drowsy man just wants you to leave him alone. But this ministry of rousing one another is vitally necessary. If we don’t continually prod one another awake we will quickly succumb to spiritual slumber – walking comatose through life, drifting along as if the gospel is not true.
As it says in Hebrews we need to ‘encourage one another more and more as we see The Day approaching.’
Like the Thessalonians we need to encourage each other to not giving up waiting for ‘Jesus who saves us from the coming wrath.’
We need to say to each other, “Wake up of sleeper and Christ will shine on you!”
And we need to stir one another up to work and pray with great urgency for those who have never woken, who are not yet ready for Christ’s return, that they too would be awake and ready and waiting for Him.