Sleep is an odd thing when you think about it. By day, we build skyscrapers, fly airplanes, write poetry, and blow things up. By night, we lie down unconscious for 8 hours. Our heart rate slows, our brain activity diminishes, our bodies lie still. Sometimes we drool.
It’s sort of undignified when you really let it sink in. Even in the city that claims to never sleep, people still sleep. Scripture likens death to sleep—and this makes sense. Sleep is a reminder of death because we can’t keep going on indefinitely. Our bodies and our minds start to fall apart if we spend too much time without sleep, much like they do when we get older. So we go find a nice, cushy surface and lie motionless and unconscious on it for a while.
When we sleep, we’re unproductive, barely conscious, defenseless, and all around unattractive. The alternative to sleep, though, is death—which is even worse. Most of us choose sleep.
In Psalm 3:5, David wrote:
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
David wrote this when he fled from Absalom, his son. This was after he had committed adultery and covered it up by murdering one of his mighty men. The enmity in his house was the result of his sin. The reason his life was in danger was because he had been unfaithful.
Later on in his life, David may have sung this Psalm in corporate worship. He would have sung and remembered the strife that God gave him, strife he had earned. He would also remember the grace that God gave him by preserving his life. Going to sleep is a lot like being dead, as Scripture points out, but God sustained David even at his weakest and even after his great sin.
Later on, all Israel sang this song in their corporate worship. The Psalter is Israel’s hymnbook and so at various times throughout the year, all Israel would attest in a loud voice that they laid down and slept, and that the Lord had sustained them. And He did sustain them—even in spite of all their unfaithfulness. He brought Israel through trials that made them fear death in their sleep, but He never cut off His covenant people entirely. They slept and appeared as dead, yet God sustained them.
Christians today might not sing the Psalms as we ought, but this verse is still true for us. Like David and like Israel, we sin everyday and God sustains us. We look like we’re dead for 8 hours each night, but we wake up because of God’s grace.
Even when we do finally die, death for us is merely a longer form of sleep (1 Thessalonians 4:14). We lie down and die, knowing that we will rise on the last day in Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life. In the resurrection, we will be able to sing this Psalm and refer to both our sleep in the body and our sleep out of the body.
We can sleep, rise, and sing of God’s sustaining us—not because of any merit of ours but because of God’s grace in Christ. We have never done anything to earn our wakefulness or our resurrection. In fact, we earn death everyday. You might earn a paycheck for working 40 hours a week, but the wages of our sin—which we labor in every hour of the week—is death. We’ve earned more death than we can hold, but we’re given life and new mercies every morning.
Jesus would have sung Psalm 3:5 with all Israel and He had never done anything to deserve death. He didn’t have the history that David, Israel, or you and I do. God had no reason to want Jesus dead. This was true, and Jesus could sing this Psalm right up until a Saturday morning about 2,000 years ago when Jesus didn’t get up.
The Resurrection and the Life died. The Son of God was forsaken by His Father. All His life, Jesus had spent every hour serving God and honoring His Law, but the paycheck He got was the death that we had earned. We often sleep presuming we’ll wake up. We often fail to thank God for the life He gives us. But God forsook the only One who never presumed and never failed to give thanks. Saturday morning came and Jesus stayed dead.
Turn the page.
We all know that the story does not end with Christ in the tomb. Jesus was forsaken, but God did not let His Holy One suffer decay. Christ died on Friday, stayed dead on the Sabbath, but was raised on Sunday. For Christ, the Sabbath was a day of rest in the grave. Israel was commanded to do no work on the Sabbath so that they could learn to depend on God. Christ depended on God even unto death, resting on the day of rest in the promise of resurrection.
If you are united to Christ, you will go to sleep tonight and not perish in your sleep because Christ slept that sleep of death for you. You’ll wake up on the first day of the week just like Jesus did because of His faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to Him.