Centuries ago, the sultans of the Ottoman Empire were uncommonly ruthless. If you were a commoner in this empire, your poverty was extreme, your life was short, and quality of life simply didn’t exist. Did the sultan care? No. And if you were a noble, at least you had food, clothing and shelter. But since most sultans were paranoid for power, many nobles wore the bulls-eye. A suspicious sultan quickly executed any noble, whether they deserved it or not.
One of the sultans charged one of his scribes to compile a short history of the human race. The scribe returned with, “They were born. They suffered. They died.”
Regardless of century or country, is there any significant difference to human history today? There isn’t, unless you’re a Christian. Christians can add a fourth sentence, “They live again.” That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote, “He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him (I Thessalonians 5:10).”
Why would Paul use the word “sleep” to describe a Christian’s death? One reason is because sleep also brings peace of mind. It brings coziness and calm. Who doesn’t enjoy crawling into bed and getting a good night’s sleep? When you’ve been exhausted by the busy-ness of life, and your head hits the pillow, there’s nothing better than to rest for a few hours and wake up refreshed.
How will the Christian be sure they’ll wake up from death’s sleep? How can death bring coziness and calm? Is that even possible? Isn’t death the unsolvable human problem? Not in Christ. The Christian is sure that they will wake up from death because of what Jesus has already done. Jesus was born. Jesus suffered. Jesus died. Jesus rose to life. Jesus lives in heaven. Jesus will never die again. And Jesus assures us that because he lives, you also will live! In heaven, with him, and you will never die again! What a gift that even when the Christian’s grave is staring at them with open eyes, even there they can sleep secure in Christ.
Prayer (from the hymn, “I Know of a Sleep in Jesus’ Name): I know of a sleep in Jesus’ name, a rest from all toil and sorrow. Earth folds in her arms my weary frame, and shelters it till the morrow. My soul is at home with God in heaven; my sorrows are past and over!
I know of a morning, bright and fair; when tidings of joy shall wake us, when songs from on high shall fill the air, and God to his glory take us; when Jesus shall bid us rise from sleep – how joyous that hour of waking!
O Jesus, draw near my dying bed, and take me into your keeping. And say when my spirit hence has fled, “This child is not dead, but sleeping.” And leave me not, Savior, till I rise – to praise you in life eternal. Amen.