The cardinal rule of preaching is “Never yawn during your own sermon.” My grandfather was a master of the art of sleeping in church. He was an elder in an Oklahoma congregation and felt it was his duty to set a good example for the flock. Each week, he would dutifully take his place on the first pew in front of the preacher. Unfortunately, PawPaw suffered from Parkinson’s disease and fell asleep whenever he sat down. This annoyed the preacher to no end!
The minister was a clever fellow, and he found an eight-year-old boy whom he hired to sit beside PawPaw and keep him awake. The preacher thought he had found a solution, but as soon as he began his lesson, PawPaw started to snore! As soon as the service was ended, the minister stormed down and seized the little boy. “I gave you a quarter to keep PawPaw awake,” he protested. “Yes,” junior replied, “but he gave me a dollar to let him sleep!”
The Bible is full of sleepers. The apostles fell asleep in the garden while Jesus prayed (Matthew 26). Eutychius fell asleep while Paul preached and fell out the window (Acts 20). Jesus’ letter to the church in Sardis warned them to “Wake up!” (Revelation 3:2) His commandment was especially appropriate for them. Every schoolchild knew the story.
Sardis was built on a hill surrounded on three sides by steep, almost inaccessible cliffs in the Hermus River valley. These 1,500 foot high cliffs gave the city its protection and made it a mighty fortress from which to control the surrounding region. Running below the town was the Pactolus River, whose gold-bearing sands gave the Sardinian kings their great wealth. In fact, King Gyges (687-652 B.C.) invented coinage!
Croesus, their most famous king, used his wealth to conquer the Greek coastal cities, including Ephesus. But, alas, after Croesus consulted the Delphic Oracle before going into battle with Cyrus, he lost his kingdom. Enraged, Croesus, in protest, returned to the oracle who had told him he “would destroy a great kingdom,” To which the prophet replied, “I didn’t say which kingdom.”
More to our point, Cyrus captured Sardis by stealth. It seems the king offered a great reward to any soldier who could find a way into the impregnable fortress. One of his men watched as a Sardinian guard accidentally dropped his helmet down the cliff, then slipped down a hidden path to retrieve it. Sardis fell that night when Cyrus’ men followed that path up and into the city (546 B.C.)
What is shocking is that the same thing happened two hundred years later when Antiochus the Great’s army did the same thing! Thus, the Lord’s injunction, ““Wake up! I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3).
PawPaw, the sermon is over. It’s time to eat lunch!