Turn with me if you would to Jonah chapter 1, and our text this morning is verse 6, the verse that we finished on. You're all, I'm sure, most of you, familiar with the story of Jonah - it reaches the point where the storm is breaking up the boat, and the crew is calling upon their pagan gods to save them. Then in verse 6: "The shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not".
The thought that is in my mind this morning is: does the lost world not have the right to ask the same question of all of us as Christians today - 'What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not'. I just wonder would the shipmaster's mud of accusation stick to the church of Jesus Christ in some quarters today? When we consider for a moment that out of all those who were sailing on the ship, Jonah ought to have been the one who was most awake - yet not only was he sleeping, but the Bible says that he was fast asleep. The howling winds, treacherous breakers, and screaming sailors didn't arose him out of his blissful oblivious sleep to their awful reality.
Now if we see many things in the prophecy of Jonah, which we do, if we were to study the four chapters of this book, one thing that we can clearly see for sure - even only reading the first six verses of the first chapter - is the deadly effects of sin upon the life of the believer. In fact, there is no anaesthetic that can knock you out like sin. Jonah's sin was disobedience, that was his problem, and we read in verse 6 and see that that sin made him numb to the present need of those who were around him. It is a question worth pondering, whether Jonah ever slept as soundly as when he was on the boat to Tarshish. What I mean by that is: it's reasonably easy to stay awake spiritually when you're surrounded by God's people doing all the right things, but it's hard to resist slumbering and the deadening influences of the world around you when you exist in a purely secular realm.
I can't say this for Jonah, but I'm sure of it for the Western world today: wealth is a pillow which has cradled many of us into a spiritual doze. The materialistic comfort in which most of us live today in the West, the general affluence and lack of personal need in our own home and domestic situations, has turned, I believe, much of the Western church into a sleeping giant. We are fast asleep when we consider the world's need around us. It's no surprise that when we pamper the flesh, the body will fall asleep. You cannot be soft on the flesh and expect your spirit to be sharp. Of course we cannot ignore the fact that it's not just the church's fault, or believer's faults, but Satan has his own desire behind all of this - trying to hypnotise the church to the need that there is around in our world. Satan is directing behind the scenes, and he knows that a Christian unconsciously will not thrive, if he is asleep to the awful need of the world. If he can lull God's watchmen asleep, he will take the city with ease.
The fact of the matter is that the devil cannot send us to hell, we are saved for time and for eternity, he cannot have that - however, we are as good as dead if he can get us to fall fast asleep concerning the need of those around us. There can come a time when we are so numbed by the standards of the system around us, tempted by the comfort offered to the flesh and tantalised, perhaps, by the gifts that the devil would offer to us, that we find ourselves in a position of likewise being rebuked by the shipmaster of this world who, although he himself does not know God, knows better than we do the slumber that we have slipped into! He says to us: 'What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not'.
Let me leave three short thoughts with you concerning this verse, and the call of the world to all of us in the church, those especially who may be asleep. The first is this: we are generally asleep to the great need of the lost - we are generally asleep to the great need of the lost. Of course, the story goes that Jonah himself was asleep when all other hands were on deck - verse 5: 'Every man cried unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship to lighten it. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep'. When every man's hands were on deck, Jonah was asleep. When every other man was doing his best to lighten the ship, the one who was the very one who could solve the problem was asleep!
How like the church that is at times, when we consider those in the world who are unregenerate men, who perhaps have more compassion on the physical needs of the masses than we as believers in Jesus Christ have upon the spiritual needs of the souls that are around us who are lost and starving spiritually and on their way to hell. I thought about it for a moment this week: there are charities, volunteers, government agencies, who know nothing about the love of God in Christ, know nothing about the great eternity and hope of heaven, the horrors of hell - they don't even believe that there is an eternal soul living within the breast of a man, yet they would do more for a dying dog than some Christians would for those who are lost!
How is it that we are so careless about the souls of men and women? If, after the service, a young husband came running in through the back door crying: 'Fire! Fire!', and his house with his wife and child in it, consuming in the flames, would we not all to a man roll up our sleeves, grab anything that would hold water, and run to the need? If a starving family came to your door in real need, would you not give them so much as a sandwich or a glass of water or milk to quench their thirst? You mightn't be able to support them for a lifetime, but you would do what you could at that particular moment - what your hand found to do, you would do it with all your might, because you realise the need that there is! But why is it that many of us do not do this spiritually when we know the spiritual realities: we know of the love of God, we know of the great eternity, a hope of heaven and the horrors of hell, yet at times we sit ignorant to it all in our own selfish existence!
The people around us are not crying for physical water to quench their thirst, they may not even know that they need spiritual water - but the fact of the matter is that we are the ones that have that water, who have that bread of life, and who do not give it to them! C. H. Spurgeon said: 'O could you once see with your eyes a soul sinking into hell; it were such a spectacle that you would work night and day, and count your life too short and your hours too few, for the plucking of brands from the burning'. I wonder have you ever seen a drowning man? Have you ever seen a child caught in a house that was burning down? Have you seen a child mown down on the road? Have you ever seen a man shot dead on the street? I dare to say that if you've seen any of those things, you'll never ever forget them! Oh that we could just see, for one moment, a lost soul, and imagine what it is to stand being exposed to the wrath of Almighty God, to have the sweat of hell break upon your brow, to hear from the lips of Eternal Love: 'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire'.
Oh, that we could hear their cries just now, just at this moment in hell, the multitudes that fall into a bottomless pit - would it not awaken us? Would it not waken us out of any slumber that we may be in, whether it is the slumber of disobedience or any particular sin? Men are perishing, children are dying, hell is filling, yet you are sleeping! And I am sleeping. Let's put some figures to it to make it real for all of us, if it is not real already. The world population is impossible to equate, but yet scholars tell us that it comes to roughly today 6.204 billion people. Among those 6.204 billion people, there are 140,000 missionaries. 64,000 of those missionaries come from the United States. Foreign missions funds are distributed in this manner, and listen carefully: 87% goes for work among those who are already Christian countries, so-called, who have received the gospel - 87 percent! 12 percent of funds go for work among already evangelised but non-Christian nations, and 1 percent of the funds for missionary relief goes to work among still unevangelised people, unreached people groups. You can break it down even further to say that 74 percent of missionary funds and personnel goes among nominal Christians, Christian countries so-called; 8 percent among tribal areas; 6 percent among Muslims; 4 percent among nonreligious/atheists; 3 percent among Buddhists; 2 percent among Hindus; 2 percent among Chinese folk religions; and 1 percent among Jewish people.
I ask you: has the great commission not been turned on its head? The Lord Jesus Christ, as He was leaving His disciples and ascending to heaven in Acts chapter 1 and verse 8, said: 'But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth' - yet there is only 1 percent of missionary resources spent on the Jewish people. Staggering, isn't it? We could go on, and the facts of the matter would show us that the church at large in the West is generally asleep to the great need of those who are lost!
The second off-shot of that is that we have not yet arisen to meet the need. The shipmaster says: 'What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise' - get up! Get doing! Have we arisen to meet the need, not only in the world, but in the district that God has placed us? Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China, said these words - and I believe he was right - he was home on furlough and he was sharing a new revelation he believed that God had given to his heart concerning the great commission, it was simply this: that we should not here at home be seeking God as to whether His will is that we should go, but we should be seeking God as to whether His will is that we should stay! Because to stay is the exception, because Christ has told us all to go into all the world and preach the gospel! As one Christian singer put it: 'Jesus commands us to go, but we turn the other way'. Jesus said, in Matthew chapter 9 and verse 37, to his disciples: 'The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few' - there is so much work to be done! So many souls to be won! And the question that the shipmaster of the world asks us is: 'What are we doing?!'.
I could only get American statistics of those involved in missions who are senders, and there are a lot of people who should be involved in missions who are not, but of those who are involved: 98 percent are senders, and 2 percent go! It seems a little imbalanced, doesn't it? We often say, we qualify it, and have a little loophole and get out clause for we Christians who are fast asleep, and say: 'Well, you may not be able to go, but you can give and you can pray'. Isn't that what we say? But the question is: why can't you go? What is stopping you going? Some of you are retired, some of you are students and have the opportunity of a year out, some of you are in your middle-age and you're wondering what your existence here is all about - and I'll tell you, no-one but no-one at the judgment seat of Christ will regret laying down their lives that others should hear the gospel. The world cries in spirit to us: 'Arise!'.
I know that all cannot go, but I know that there's a lot can go and won't go. You don't have to go to darkest Africa, there is a district around us here that really needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was giving out tracts with some of the men at the 1st of July parade a couple of weeks ago. We were standing in an Open Air just after the tract distribution, and we watched the parade go by, and what an awful spectacle of sin and false religion it was. Hugh Martin, one of our oversight, turned to me and said: 'You know, this is our community' - this is our community. And I can honestly say, out of the majority of those folk, I didn't recognise one face because we are not touching them! I praise those who are involved in Open Air work, those who are involved - quite few in number - in door-to-door work, and I do not underestimate what you do, and God has blessed it recently, and thank you so much for all that effort. But for the majority, the large number of us, we are not touching those who need the gospel - we hardly even meet them! We are fast asleep in the bottom of our boats, blissfully oblivious to their pain, to their crying, to their torment!
What are we going to do for those who will move into the district around us? What are we doing now? How will we reach them? The Bible clearly teaches, as far as I can understand, in the New Testament that the work of atonement has already been done at Calvary - and that work has to be finished in the sense of the ingathering of souls. Although the atoning work is done, the ingathering work is not done, and it is our job to do it! Christ has provided the way, the salvation, the life, but we are to distribute it among the people. It is through us that the Holy Spirit will save men, we are His ordained method to go and preach the gospel. Preachers, evangelists, teachers, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, door-to-door visitors, children's workers, you could go on and on and on again and again - but if the medicine of the gospel is ready and made, it must be taken to those who need it! What is wrong if we, somehow, in some way, are unwilling to distribute it among those who are desperate and dying?
Now the conclusion of that is very simple: there should be none in any local church doing nothing. How could you possibly do nothing in the light of such need? There is nothing that will drag the work into the quagmire of inertia as much as hangers-on, who drain church energies and resources when there are dying souls around our doors that need Christ! It's time that we woke up, every one of us, to the great need - to hear them cry: 'Awake! Arise O sleeper, call upon thy God! Help us!'.
I read recently a sermon by T. Dwight Talmadge, who was said to be the American Spurgeon a couple of centuries ago now, and this sermon was on the text of Luke chapter 6 verse 17. It says of Jesus: 'He came down with them and stood in the plain'. He was using this as an analogy of how we need to come down off our high-brow mountains, and reach the people were they are on the plain. This is a few of the paragraphs from that sermon that I want you to listen to very carefully, he says: 'Is there not some way of bringing the church down out of the mountain of controversy and conventionalism, and to put it on the plain where Christ stands? The present attitude of things is like this: in a famine struck district, a table has been provided and it is loaded with food enough for all, the odours of the meat fill the air, everything is ready, the platters are full, the chalices are full, the baskets of fruit are full. Why not let the people in? The door is open, yes, but there is a cluster of wise men blocking off the door, discussing the contents of the caster standing mid-table. They are shaking their fists at each other. One says there is too much vinegar in the caster, and one says there is too much sweet oil, another says there is not the proper proportion of red pepper - and I say' - 200 years ago - 'Get out of the way and let the hungry people in! But the door is blocked up by controversies and men with whole libraries on their backs, disputing as to what proportion of sweet oil and cayenne pepper should make up the creed. I cry 'Get out of the way and let the hungry world come in!''.
Now listen, I'm standing here and I don't have all the answers. People are harder today, it would seem, than they have ever been - especially in this district. I don't know, don't come and ask me how to reach them, what we can do, I don't know what to do - but I'm sure that we need to start thinking, and after we start thinking we need to start doing - 'doing' being the imperative, because there are souls that are dying!
D. L. Moody was criticised in his day for his altar calls. One man came to him after the meeting and said: 'This is terrible, getting people to raise their hand and so on, it causes false professions'. D. L. Moody turned to him and said: 'Well, sir, I prefer the way I do it to the way you don't do it'. Wasn't that a good answer? Oh, we can criticise, can't we? But what are we doing to arise, to meet the need of those around? One thing we can be doing is in this text, and I don't have any answers really today, but what I have is found in this verse: 'What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not'. We need to sufficiently call upon our God to have mercy on us and those around us!
The tragedy of verse 5 was that every man cried to his own god, yet Jonah was the only one who had the true and living God yet he was silent in prayer - there wasn't a prayer uttering from the lips of God's prophet. Where are our prayers for the lost? Now listen, I'm not talking about prayers for the sick saints who are going to glory, I'm not talking about even our loved ones who are unsaved that mean so much to us, but what about the millions who are unknown to us in this world, who have never heard the name of Christ - who, even if we did know them, would be totally and utterly unlovable! What about their souls?
I know it's hard to pray for some folk, it's hard to pray for some places, some countries, even our own - but I just wonder are there any Abrahams left who will intercede for Sodom. Could there have been a more iniquitous city, and yet in Genesis 18 Sodom, the stench that was ascending unto God, God was going to come down and see what was going on among them and then judge the place, but there was a man of God on his knees pleading for Sodom. I know he was pleading for the righteous among Sodom, but yet he saved Sodom by his intercession. Jesus also said to His disciples: 'It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves'. I don't know what we can do, I have a few ideas, but I don't know what we can do at times to reach those who are lost in our world - but let's please do one thing, each one of us today make a covenant before God, and as a church, to get back to prayer. To arise and call upon our God, to arouse ourselves and rise to the work, there's no greater work that will send us out and send others out than the work of prayer. Jesus Himself said to His disciples: 'The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth labourers into His harvest field'. At least let us be asking the Lord: 'Lord, what can we do? Lead us, show us, guide us!'.
Can we all examine our hearts today, and ask ourselves: have we lost something? Whatever that thing may be, one thing I am sure of in my own heart and others is that we have somewhere along the way lost consciousness of the need of those who are lost. We've got so caught up in ourselves that we cannot see the need. Where and how we lost it, I don't know, but I'll tell you one thing: we need to get it back. If we are going to serve this generation well, and indeed survive to the next one, we need to hear the cry of those who are lost: 'Arise, call upon thy God'.
I'm going to finish by quoting an historian who was an historian of the early church, and he wrote expressing the common opinion of the Roman pagans concerning the followers of Jesus. Now this is in the early church, listen very carefully to their description of the situation that they saw among those who were newly saved in an environment of persecution and martyrdom. He writes: 'They were intensely propagandist. While ever unseen, they were at work. Every member was a missionary of the sect and lived mainly to propagate a doctrine for which they were ever ready to die. Thus the infection spread by a thousand unsuspecting channels, like a contagion propagated in the air it could penetrate, as it seemed, anywhere and everywhere. The meek and gentle slave that tends your children or attends you at table may be a Christian. The favourite daughter of your house who has endeared herself to you by a tenderness and grace peculiarly her own, and which seems to you as strange as it is captivating, turns out to be a Christian. The Captain of the guards, the legislator in the Senate house, may be a Christian'. Here he asks this question: 'In these circumstances, who or what is safe? What power can defend the laws and majesty of Rome and the peace of domestic life against an enemy like this?'.
A propagandist church, the church that is like an infection in its district and community in such an imperial city as Rome - a gospel that, even though the people had to hide for their lives, was like a contagion propagating the air; that was penetrating and smiting all those around in households, even right up to the very Palace of the Caesar! He asks rightly: in these circumstances who is safe? Who is safe from the gospel today? It seems nearly everybody! What power can defend the laws and majesty of Rome and the peace of domestic life against an enemy like this? Oh that we had such a bad reputation in our world today! But our reputation, perhaps, is bad because the world can justifiably say to us: 'What meanest thou O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not'.
Let us bow our heads: Our Father in heaven forgive us, forgive us for not hearing the need, for not feeling the pain, for being so caught up with ourselves that at times we are totally oblivious - even, God forgive us, even proud, looking down upon those who are not like us. But yet, Father, they need Christ - there may even be one in this place who needs Christ. Father, help us to do more to reach them, and we pray for guidance to know what to do in this age where people at times seem so unreachable, but yet perhaps the unreachableness is because of our unwillingness to reach out and touch them. Lord, we pray for every head bowed, maybe You're calling someone to the mission field; maybe You're calling someone out of inertia, out of a rut; maybe you're rekindling a flame in their heart that had gone out weeks, months, years ago. Lord, we pray that none of us would be like that crowd of old men standing at the door, preventing folk coming in to get the beautiful dish of the gospel that is prepared for all. Lord, if there are things in our hearts, on our minds, that have made us intransigent, that have brought us into the realm of disobedience and sin; Lord, let us not be like Jonah. O, our Father, help us, melt us, mould us, make us after Your will. Give us a burden, and help us, O God, to awake out of any sleep that we may be in - to arise, arouse ourselves, and first and foremost to call upon our God that no more should perish because of our inertia. Hear us, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "O Sleeper Arise" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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