God doesn’t sleep

Today I am sharing with you more of a devotional. Let’s begin by reading –

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Sleep . . .

– is an odd thing really. Have you ever thought about it? I think about it from time to time. Why did God make us so that we need to sleep? I’m assuming that God could have made us differently, but he didn’t.

  • We spend 1/3 of our lives asleep
  • So a person of 70 years has slept: 204,400 hours, or 23 years of their life.
  • This is for Sonja and Jeff, parents of a newborn child lose six months of sleep in the first two years of their child’s life.
  • The record for not sleeping is 11 days. Another person did this more recently, but he died from it. 

One statistic I don’t have is this: The average number of church goers who sleep during the sermon??? But seriously, we need our sleep. Without it we get sick, mentally ill and, as we saw, we can even die.

But my point today is that God doesn’t sleepThis comes from our Scripture reading – “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” – Psalm 121:3-4

Now false gods may sleep . . . in that they don’t answer or respond to people. Remember the story of Elijah? Where he challenged the priests of Baal and they all gathered together to see which god would answer by sending fire to consume the offerings? And when the priests of Baal called out nothing happened. And so Elijah taunted them saying of Baal, “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” – 1 Kings 18:27.

The true God may seem to be asleep . . . in that God doesn’t appear to hear us. As the Psalmist prays, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” – Psalm 44:23. And there are times when we struggle with God in prayer and with God’s will and timing. And we ask, “Is God really listening?!”

But, as our text tells us . . .

God doesn’t sleep!

God is always active and busy for our well being. God is awake and working, even while we sleep. So let’s look at what this means for us.

1. God watches over us as we sleep. When we sleep we are weak and vulnerable. So in Old Testament times you needed a watchman who stayed up during the night to look out for enemies and attack. Even if you lived in a walled city, there needed to be watchmen on the wall. The night is also a time of evil. We know that “darkness” is used as an image of evil in Scripture. And we know that we are more susceptible to fear of the demonic at night.

The point of Psalm 121 in saying that God will not slumber is that God is watching over us to protects us. God is our watchman. Six times Psalm 121 says, in one way or another, that God will “keep us.” This means that:

  • God will oversee us as we sleep and are vulnerable
  • God will protect us from any evil of the darkness

Because of this we do not need to fear, but can have peace as we sleep.

Psalm 91:5 says, “You will not fear the terror of the night . . ..” Why? Because God is our refuge and fortress; our shelter, the Psalm tells us. It’s like we are sleeping in God’s house.
Our own Psalm 121:6 says, “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” The moon here is seen as a sinister or even demonic power. But God is our protector.

So we can sleep peacefully knowing that God is protecting watching over us:

“I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” – Psalm 3:5. God kept the psalmist from danger.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” – Psalm 4:8.

2. God can minister to us in the night. We may be trying to rest, we might be asleep or half asleep, but God can do work in our lives.

Psalm 16:7 says, “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” Job 35:10 says, God gives “songs in the night.” And there are many examples in the Scriptures of how God speaks to us in dreams:

  • Think of Jacob and his dream of a ladder (Genesis 28).
  • Think of Joseph, Jacob’s son, who dreamed of his exaltation.
  • Think of Daniel, whom God spoke to in a dream and visions of the night (chapter 7).
  • Think of Joseph, Mary’s husband whom God spoke to several times in dreams (Matthew 1-2).
  • And think of Paul who was given direction on where to minister in a dream (Acts 16).

As Job 33:15-16 says, “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then God opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings.” And, of course, it doesn’t have to be terrifying.

3. God provides for our needs as we sleep. Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” This last phrase can be translated differently, as “he provides for his beloved during sleep.” This fits the context best. The point of the verse is that we don’t need to wear ourselves out with our work. God is busy providing for our needs, even while we sleep.

And beyond our work, we can let go of our burdens and anxieties for tomorrow and next week and next month. We can let go and rest because God is busy working on all this even as we rest. God is taking care of us 24/7 with no sleep, no breaks and no vacations.

The point of all this is to say that God is always there for us! Isn’t our God great in power that he needs no rest, easily doing what would kill us? And isn’t our God merciful to us, working on our behalf even as we sleep? Let us be thankful to the Lord. We serve a good and powerful God!

John the Baptist’s death. Mark 6:14-29

The literary structure of Mark 6:14-29

We’re in Mark 6:14-29 today, if you would like to turn there. Last time we saw how Jesus sent out the twelve to do the work of the kingdom: to preach repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. We also saw how they came back to report to Jesus and he called them to rest from their kingdom work.

Well, in between the beginning and the end of this story; the working and the resting – Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s death. And as I said last week, there’s a reason for this; there’s a link between these stories, which we’ll look at in a moment.

John raised from the dead?

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.

King Herod here refers to Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, the one who tried to kill Jesus as a baby. When Herod the Great died his territory was divided into four parts and four of his sons took over one part each. Herod Antipas was given rule over Galilee and Perea.

So in our verse we learn that Herod Antipas heard of the mission of the disciples. They went out in Jesus’ name and have now made him even more well known. As we’ve seen, Jesus’ fame has been increasing and here even the political leaders of the day have heard about him.

Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

This is the first indication in Mark that John has died. Last we heard back in 1:14 he had only been arrested.

Although not really plausible, since John and Jesus are about the same age and were together for a time, some think that Jesus is just John raised from the dead. And it’s because he’s raised that he now has these miraculous powers.

5But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

Elijah, or someone like him, was prophesied to return in Malachi (3:1; 4:5-6). But as we will learn later, Jesus identifies John as this Elijah (9:11-13).

Others thought Jesus was a significant prophet, since they compare him to prophets from the Old Testament.

16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Herod declares his opinion that Jesus is John raised from the dead. He here also confesses to killing John, “John, whom I beheaded.” And perhaps there’s a connection between his guilt over killing John and the fear that John has now come back with even more power to haunt him.

Having told us that he died, Mark now gives us a flashback and tells us –

How John was killed

17For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Herod Antipas was not known as a devout man by any stretch of the imagination. In this case, John has be criticizing his marriage to his second wife Herodias. She was previously married to Herod’s half-brother Philip.

So Herod married his brother’s wife, while his brother was still living. This is strictly forbidden in Scripture. In fact, it’s considered incest (Leviticus 18:16; 20:21). Herod and Herodias have broken a basic boundary that God has laid down for sexual relationships.

And this plays into why John was arrested. Apparently Herod didn’t care too much about it but arrested John “for the sake of Herodias.” And this makes sense. After all, John was calling into question her marriage and thus her power. So she would have wanted him silenced.

But not only this –

19And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.

Her response is straightforward and brutal.

But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

So even though Herod is not a devout man, who here flouts biblical teaching on incest, he’s still fascinated by John and is afraid to do more than arrest him. Indeed he protects John from his own wife. He even went to listen to him from time to time.

21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

Herod throws a birthday party for himself and all the bigwigs of Galilee and Perea are there. And no doubt it was a lavish event.

Herodias’s daughter, most likely from her first marriage, dances. And she does such a good job that Herod promises to give her anything. He even swears an oath to give her “up to half my kingdom.” (The word here in v. 23, sometime translated “vowed,” does mean he made an oath and not a vow.)

The phrase “up to half my kingdom” was a proverbial saying that just means – whatever you want (1 Kings 13:8; Esther 5:3, 6; 7:2). He couldn’t give his kingdom away even if he wanted. He was a client ruler under Rome’s power.

24And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

This was the moment Herodias was waiting for and she does not hesitate she wants John’s head. And notice her daughter’s grisly addition “on a platter.”

26And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.

It’s not that Herod is suddenly concerned about righteousness and keeping oaths, it’s that all the important people in his realm heard him and so he feels he has to come through on his foolish and rash oath. Even though he personally didn’t want to kill John.

27And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.

Herodias got what she wanted all along. Herod kills John, a person he knows to be “a righteous and holy man” – v. 20. A man about whom Jesus said, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” than John. And he was killed for the most petty of reasons, so that Herod could save face in front of his guests.

Notice the contrast in this story and Jesus calling the twelve to go out. The same word “sent” is used in both. Jesus sends out the twelve to preach and heal and cast out demons (v. 7). Herod sent to have John arrested (v. 17) and sent the executioner to kill him (v. 27). There is a contrast in kingship here between Jesus the true king and Herod the worldly king. Jesus bring peace and blessing. Herod kills the most righteous man up to that point in history. (Perhaps this is why Mark uses the language of “king” for Herod even though he was really only a tetrarch).

[There are some interesting parallels between this story and the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah. Except in this case “Jezebel” gets to kill God’s prophet]

29When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

The story begins with Herod hearing about Jesus’ disciples, and it ends with John’s disciples coming to honor their teacher by giving him a proper burial.

Let me end by highlighting three truths from this passage:

1. It’s not enough to hold Jesus in high regard. You can have a very high opinion of Jesus; that he’s a prophet – whether Elijah or John or another great prophet. And many people today do have a high regard for Jesus. If they don’t hold the church or Christians in high regard, and tragically too often with good reason, they do respect Jesus.

But Jesus is not just a prophet or a good man. He’s much more. Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. And it’s a faith in this Jesus, not in Jesus as a prophet or good man, that saves.

Jesus himself tells us that there will be many on the final day who even call Jesus “Lord” to whom he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Luke 13:27

2. God sets the boundaries for sex and marriage, not us.

The world says, as long as sex is adult and consensual – it’s fine; there’s no problem. But Herod and Herodias were both adults and their relationship was consensual and it was incest and it was wrong, as John the Baptist made clear. (See also 1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

Likewise a same sex sexual relationship can be adult and consensual. But it’s still wrong. And two people living together outside of marriage can have adult and consensual sex. But it’s still wrong. For Christians, God sets the boundaries, and those boundaries are found in Scripture.

Just like Herod and Herodias in their day, the world today can seek to silence us. But you know what? Even if it does, sexual sin is still sexual sin. And that’s because God sets the boundaries for sex and marriage, not us.

But certainly the main point of this story is that 3. Working for God’s kingdom will cost you. I believe this is why the story of Jesus sending out the disciples to do kingdom work and this story are intertwined in the way they are.

John’s death for his work of the kingdom forebodes the persecution and death that awaits Jesus and the apostles and even the opposition that awaits us – as we work for the kingdom. Are you ready for this?