Summary: 46th in a series from Ephesians. A wake up call to Christians to be light in a dark world.
[Video clip of “Cat Wake Up Call” - found on YouTube]
Unfortunately, too many of us are kind of like the man in that video clip. We need a wake-up call, but unfortunately we don’t pay attention to some of the more subtle ways that God tries to wake us up, so eventually he has to hit us over the head with a baseball bat. It seems that perhaps Paul’s readers had come to that place in their walk with God. Let’s continue our journey through the book of Ephesians this morning and read our passage out loud together.
And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you."
Ephesians 5:11-14 (NIV)
It is always essential to view any Bible passage in its proper context, but that is going to be particularly important this morning. If we don’t keep in mind that Paul is writing here to believers, it will be far too easy to dismiss these words as merely a warning to the world around us rather than a wake up call to those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. And without the proper context, it would be very easy to make some very erroneous applications of what Paul writes here as well.
Since verse 14 provides an important framework for the rest of the passage, let’s begin there this morning:
For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you."
While a few commentators have taken this passage as a warning to unbelievers to wake up and arise from the dead, the majority of them, correctly I believe, view this as a wake up call to believers.
When Paul uses the phrase, “it says”, he is implying that this saying is something that his readers would be familiar with. We saw Paul use those same words in Ephesians 4:8 when he quoted a passage from the Old Testament that would have been familiar to his readers.
In this case, the evidence suggests that this quote was likely a fragment from an early Christian hymn. And, if that is the case, the composition of that hymn was greatly influenced by Scripture, in much the same way that much of the music we sing today is based on Scripture. In particular, there seem to be two passages from Isaiah that either had a direct bearing on the composition of that early hymn or which Paul had in mind as he wrote:
But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
Isaiah 26:19 (NIV)
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Isaiah 60:1, 2 (NIV)
Both of those passages support the idea that Paul is writing here to believers, since they were addressed to God’s chosen people, and not to the surrounding nations.
Although many commentators believe that this hymn was connected with baptism, it seems more likely that it is associated with their conversion experience. By citing these words, Paul is reminding his readers of how they had been transformed from death and darkness into life by the transforming power of the light of the world, Jesus, who had shined His light upon them. This reminder of their conversion experience was to be a wake up call for Paul’s readers. By thinking back on their conversion experience, they are reminded that just as light and darkness are mutually exclusive, there is to be no middle ground or shade of gray for those who have the light of Christ in their lives. We would do well to heed that very same wake up call in our lives as well.
In just a moment, we’ll look at two important aspects of this wake up call. But before we do that, let’s look at two other New Testament passages that also command believers to wake up and see if they help shed some light on our Ephesians passage.
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.