A Wake-up Call from Death
Ephesians 5:8 - 14
Last week’s revival gathering was most extraordinary. The impression left by a speaker on each member of the audience cannot be the same. However, the spiritual impact felt by those who attended the gathering was very strong and deep. The stories of the first generation Korean Christians who possessed such pure and intense faith sounded like a trumpet call, waking us up from a deep sleep. I’d like to show you an excerpt of a letter written by a member of our congregation following the revival gathering:
“During the revival gathering, I felt like I was struck by a hammer. Retracing the footsteps of our Christian forefathers, I was proud to be a Christian from Korea; however, I was also humbled in my own faith. Thinking of the sisters and brothers in Christ in Sorok - Do, who tied spoons around their wrists and cut stones to build a church, I think of our church. I hope that our church will truly be one that God will deem ‘very good to see.’ Ours is a church that was granted to us in our lives so we can devote ourselves here. I dream of a community where we love each other with the love of Christ, where such love abounds, and where it is obvious to the world that we are the people of Christ.”
I believe that quite a few people can identify with the above letter. From the stories of our Christian forefathers in faith who walked the path of faith in difficult times, we reflected upon ourselves. From the stories of the first Korean Christians, we affirmed how polished and opulent our faith has become. However, such overt faith is without power. Upon hearing the stories of their sacred lives, we have affirmed how base and corrupt our own lives have become. From the stories of their lives where they embraced the whole of the Korean heritage, the humanity, and the Kingdom of God with all their heart, we realized how narrow our perspectives were, caring only about ourselves, our family, or our church.
Several years ago I published a book, which was a compilation of prayers of our Christian forefathers. I not only compiled prayers of spiritual giants produced by Western Christianity, but also compiled prayers written by the elders of Korean Christianity. In so doing, I had an opportunity to read first - hand some of their writings. They were quite moving. Although we are in possession of such treasures, the Korean Church unfailingly mentions only of Augustine, Francis, Calvin, John Wesley and the like. While it is worthwhile to learn of their lives and thoughts, we should not neglect to read also of the great historical thinkers of Korean Christian history. If reading Augustine can be compared to tasting well - aged cheese, reading the writings of Revered Yi Yong - do must be like tasting a well - fermented Korean bean paste.
Today’s verses - Ephesians 5:8 - 14 - which we read according to the liturgical calendar, were like a trumpet call waking us up from sleep. That trumpet call cries out in Verse 14.
You who sleep
Arise from the dead.
Will give you light.
The “sleep” mentioned here does not mean the sleep we take at night, nor does “death” mean the kind of death followed by a burial in the ground. Scholars speculate that this verse was read to people during their baptism. Therefore, “arise” here means to rise to true life by receiving baptism and accepting Jesus Christ as the Lord. Because being separated from God is the true death, when we are reunited with God through Jesus Christ, we can wake up to true life.
Why is separation from God referred to as death? There are two reasons.
First, living without “true life” and solely existing on “life” alone is as much as being dead. Life, as we know it, is an imitation of the true and eternal life. C.S. Lewis once said that everything we experience in this life is an imitation of something that is in the Kingdom of God. The love we experience in this life through our parents or spouse is the imitation of a love that is more complete and eternal, the love of God; the friendship we share on earth is the imitation of the eternal fellowship we will experience in the Kingdom of God. The banquet we enjoy on earth is the imitation of the eternal feast we will enjoy in the Kingdom of God. The leaders we encounter on earth are imitations of God, who is the true and only leader. We play with imitations on earth, waiting for the day when we will see the original versions. By the same token, our lives are mere imitations of our eternal lives within God. Therefore, if we sustain our lives without ever getting to know eternal life, we are the same as dead, even when we are alive.
Those, who are separated from God but value life on earth above everything, can be compared to a fish caught in a bucket. A passerby pokes a fish floating quietly in a bucket with his finger. The fish, seemingly dead, wriggles and splatters water everywhere. Taken aback, the passerby says, “I thought it was dead, but it is alive!”
This might be an adequate expression - but not entirely so. The fish is alive and probably will live for a few more hours; but, the moment the fish was separated from the sea, it was already the same as dead. Because it was separated from its origin of life, it was destined to die. Those who live away from God are like this. If we are separated from God, the origin of true life, we may still breathe, but we are not much different from being as dead as the fish that is separated from the sea.
Second, we cannot experience true life when we live away from God. When we cannot experience true life, even when we are alive, we are closer to being dead. Because we taste death every day, we can’t say we are alive. I am sure you know the taste of death from your experiences. Some of you might have experienced the fear of going to bed at night and waking up in the morning because of the ominous taste of death. Some of you may be passing through a dark tunnel at this very minute. (I pray that God will protect all of you.)
If so, what is the taste of true life? It is an overwhelming emotion that fills our hearts. It is the taste that makes us feel, “Oh, I am really alive! This is what it means to live! God, thank you so much for giving me this life!” It means the kind of experience that helps us see that our lives are so precious, the reason for living is so clear, and we should be grateful for everything given to us. I mean the kind of experience in which we feel that our lives, as unworthy as those of ephemerals, are lifted up to an eternal level. Then, we savor the taste of life.
The reason we struggle in this world is to taste this very life. Will I get to taste life if I have power? Will I be able to taste life if I make a fortune? Will I taste life if I have a good spouse and children? Will I taste life if I remain healthy? Will I taste life if I spend a lot of money to watch a Super Bowl live? Will I taste life if I watch an opera from the best seat at the Kennedy Center? Will I savor the taste if I am drunk? Will I taste life if I am high? Will I taste life if I am famous and recognized by people? Everyone struggles individually, in his or her own way, in order to savor the taste of true life.
Nevertheless, that taste can only be found in God, who is the origin of true life. Everything that is not God can satisfy our taste buds temporarily, but we will tire of it soon. Thus it is written in the Ecclesiastes as follows:
For like the cracking of thorns
Under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool. (7:6)
Have you ever burnt thorn brushes? I used to live in the countryside, so I burnt things often. If you burn thorn brushes, they make quite a noise, but the flame is weak and dissipates quickly. In the Book of Solomon, “a fool” means “a person who lives apart from God.” It points to a person struggling to quench his/her inner “thirst for life”, the result of his separation from God, through other means. He can taste fleeting happiness with the things he has in his hands; however, despite all that noise, such happiness disappears quickly, only to leave a greater desire, as when you burn thorn bushes.
To believe in Jesus Christ means to be connected to the source of true life. It is to be awakened to a life greater than our own lives, and to live experiencing that life in this world. As one’s physical life ends, he or she will be awakened anew in the true spiritual life. By living as one with the Lord, he or she will also experience true life that cannot be attained in the physical life, through physical capabilities or material possessions. This change will only occur by accepting Jesus Christ as the Lord, being restored as God’s children through Christ, and calling God the creator as “Abba” the father and engaging in deep fellowship with Him. This is what constitutes faith.
Let me extend the previous analogy a bit further. A fish formerly proving itself alive by fluttering in a bucket is now only moving its gills due to exhaustion. A passerby feels sorry for the fish and after staring at the fish for a moment, he picks up the fish and throws it into the sea. Startled by the sudden change of environment, the fish hesitates for a while then starts to swim away vigorously. The fish can finally breathe and regain a sense of living after hours of captivity. It is because of its return to its source of life that the fish experienced such a radical change. As such, those who are restored through Jesus Christ are like the fish thrown back into the sea. They are obtaining everlasting true life unlike the life that they have experienced in the past.
When we are spreading the gospel, we tend to say “Earn an eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ.” Some may be attracted to the concept of eternal life but others may not be interested in it at all. Some may loathe the idea of dying, but some are grateful for the life they have in this world and wish for nothing more. Some may even be thankful for it. To those people, the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ is not an effective form of spreading the gospel. They cannot understand nor accept the term ‘eternal life’. As a result, how can this form of spreading the gospel be successful?
“Living an eternal life” means to be connected to a more fundamental and everlasting life under God. We may physically die one day but our spiritual lives will never perish. As long as God exists, our spiritual lives will remain the same. Thus, being connected to God means being connected to the spiritual life, and once connected to this life, our existence becomes eternal. Even if we did not actively seek it out, just by our connection to an eternal God we are transferred into this dimension. Moreover, we are able to experience true life while living in this world. This is what it means to be living an eternal life. It is naturally what follows when we are connected to the source of true life.
Let’s get back to the wharf. The angler is dumbfounded and angry by the sudden turn of events. That fish was the only one that he’s caught after struggling for hours in the cold. He was even looking forward to making and sharing a fish stew with his family. But what just happened? He grabs the passerby’s collars and demands to know why he did it. “Why did you do this?” he asks. The passerby doesn’t respond and just leaves himself under the angler’s disposal. The passerby is brutally assaulted by the angler but he is still happy. He is happy because the fish is now free to swim and experience a newfound sense of life.
The angler reminds me of Jesus Christ. Who is the one to return to God all those that have left, forgotten, turned their backs, disobeyed and lived in the midst of death against God? Who will enlighten all those, who believe that the physical life is everything, of the realms of eternal life? Who is going to show the kingdom of God to those who believe that this world is everything? It is Jesus Christ. He faced denunciation, hatred and persecution on our behalf so that we may experience God’s grace. There are many that can benefit from our distancing ourselves from God. In their anger, these people crucified Jesus Christ. However, Jesus was happy even when subjected to such extreme hardship. It is because he was thinking about all those who will be awakened to the life of God through Him.
Therefore, the church shouted these words to those preparing for baptism:
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
My beloved sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ, doesn’t this calling sound like one directed at you? Have you truly been thrown into the sea of God’s life? Do you taste the bitterness of death every day even though you are alive? Are you living unconnected to God, the source of life, like a fish left ashore by a wave, even though you are going to church every Sunday? Today, the Holy Spirit calls upon you: “Stand Up! Be awakened! Come back to the land of life from the land of the death!”
This is what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. Believing in the Lord means to be connected to the source of life, taste true life on earth and earn eternal life after death. But you need to remember one thing. This is only the beginning of redemption. A true Christian cannot be content with just enjoying eternal life or finding happiness in life only for him/herself. After obtaining true life, one needs to grow until one bears fruit. Thus, today’s verse recommends the following:
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”
This means that those who believe in Jesus Christ dwell within Him, who has become the true light, and become light themselves through the Lord. When Jesus preached to his disciples on the mountain, he stated “You are the light of the world.” (Mark 5:14) He didn’t say that they will be the light in the future and he wasn’t talking about the possibility of them being the light of the world in the future either. He said they already were the light of the world. The only difference is in the brightness and intensity of the light. Some people emit enough light to brighten up a whole room; some produce just enough light to brighten their immediate surrounding; and some are like the dim flickering light of a kerosene lamp running out of oil. But there is no difference among them in that they have all been “previously” converted into lights.
Today’s verse is directed to those who have become light through believing in Jesus Christ.
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Who are the sleepers? They are those who do not acknowledge that they are the light even after accepting Jesus Christ as their savior. They are those who do not look after their light and let it die away.
Who are the sleepers? They are those who think that they have secured their ticket to heaven and have turned their backs to fulfilling their obligations as citizens of heaven on this earth. They are those that have grown complacent with their level of faith and make no further effort to improve on it.
Who are the sleepers? They are those who think they are believers but are not awakened to God’s kingdom and only live with concerns of this world. They are those who do not see the spiritual world and are only preoccupied by physical and materialistic assets. They are those who live only for themselves and their families without caring for their neighbors.
Who are the sleepers? They are those who only care about the grace they have received and will receive, but disregard the duties placed upon oneself. They are those who are only concerned about reaping the blessings of the life flowing out of God.
In today’s verse, Jesus cries out to them “Rise from the dead.” We may die if we continue to live like this. The spiritual sleep is a sleep leading to death. If we die spiritually, our entire existence will also perish.
What criterion, do you think, can be utilized to judge the depth of one’s faith? Is it the amount of time that he/she takes to pray? Those who possess strong faith have a tendency to pray for a long time, but not everyone who prays for an extended period of time possesses good faith. It is not uncommon for the length of the prayer to be directly proportional to the amount of greed that person retains.
Then, can faith be measured by the sheer amount of the offering? People who possess strong faith are not miserly in their offerings, but those who are extravagant in their offerings do not always possess strong faith. Sometimes there are ulterior motives to generous offerings such as; the anticipation of praise from others and the expectation of greater blessings in return for the offering.
Lastly, can one’s faith be measured by the blessings a person receives? It is true that people who possess strong faith are blessed, but the blessings do not always manifest themselves in materialistic means. Therefore, material prosperity is not always proportionate to a person’s level of faith.
Then, what can we use to measure one’s faith? Today’s scripture offers three very reliable criteria.
For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth. (verse 9)
This means that a person’s faith is ascertained by how kindly, righteously and truly a person lives. To believe in Jesus Christ is to be connected with God who is the embodiment of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Therefore, changes are supposed to occur and must occur. The stronger our faith, the more virtuous we are. The deeper our faith, the stronger our determination to follow the right path, although it may cause us harm. Finally, the deeper our faith, the more truthful we will be. These are the most reliable indications of the level of one’s faith.
People who do not believe in Jesus Christ can also be good, righteous, and truthful to a certain extent. However, there is a limit to the goodness, righteousness, and truth that one can attain through self-cultivation. Because of the depraved nature of men, it is hard to know true good, discern what is right, and difficult to arrive at the truth. Only when our depraved nature is cured within Jesus Christ, then, it is possible to be good, righteous, and truthful. However, one cannot reach a level of perfection all at once. It must grow in accordance with one’s level of faith.
The ultimate purpose of spiritual life is to enable the true good, righteousness, and truth inherent in Jesus Christ to overflow into us after becoming one with Jesus Christ. It is to let His light emanate inside of us more brightly. There is no completion in this task. It is something that we must start anew each day. In the spiritual sense, we must die and be reborn each day. As such, when we open up ourselves to His light, the light will illuminate inside of us, and spread through out the world through us.
Among the books that I have recently obtained, there is a small book titled “So-Rauk-Do”. Inside the book, there are several writings, written by Yun Il-sim, who was a patient of Hansen’s disease, that was published serially in the “Cho-sun Bible”. When he wrote these articles, he had been a Christian for approximately six years. His work, titled “Reflection”, is as follows,
I am a patch of land. A barren plot of land long abandoned and neglected where only thorny tickets and thistles dwell. Silent morning dew has fallen on me and the warm spring sun has also paid me a visit, and yet I still remain a barren plot, useless and never having borne any flowers or fruit. Ah, my lot, I am the farmer of this lot. I am the one that ought to work this land, and I am also the one that should remove its weeds. There is no other that will care for this land or deem it of any value. It has been six years since a single seed was sown in the barren plot and only yellow thistles and weeds stand in place of the intended plants. Ah, this lazy farmer! When was the last time you fertilized or weeded this land? Oh, forgive me overseer. This lazy farmer has finally come into realization. It is so. I now know that I have no other obligation other than to care for this land. I will now remove all the weeds and fertilize my land so grant me the blessing rain that will yield a harvest of a hundred-fold or even a thousand-fold. The day to hold the sickle to gather the harvest is not far behind. (p 80-81)
The last revival gathering was like a trumpet call awakening us from our sleep. If we were to summarize all that we’ve heard throughout the three days of revival into one phrase, it would be “Awake! Rise up!” It was a trumpet call to; awaken us to true faith, rise up to faith that transforms ourselves and the world, and wake up to faith that saves ourselves and the world. We hear the same trumpet call in today’s scriptures.
Is there anyone amongst you who still has not accepted Jesu
Christ and is satisfied with being a social or habitual churchgoer? I hope you can entrust yourself to Jesus Christ, to be thrown into the vastly wide sea of God. Like the fish out of water struggling to convey his predicament to a passerby, may you also be awake to call on the name of Jesus Christ and experience God’s kingdom through Him. I pray that the spiritual journey that you undergo during this Lent proves to be that kind of turning point for you.
For those of you who already accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord and have lived the life of believers, may you exert yourself further upon hearing the words spoken today. Let us not settle in being content with our current status, but reach for a deeper dimension, to better illuminate the light within us, and to more abundantly bear the fruit of light. To become good, more righteous, and more truthful, let us wake up and rise. Let us be more alert to grow spiritually. The Lord will be with us. The Lord will be pleased.
The Lord who is the origin of all goodness, righteousness, and truth,
Hold and bind us in the Lord
Help us to bear the fruit of goodness, righteousness, and truth.
Awaken us from spiritual slumber
Let us live as children of the Light.