TEXT: Revelation 3:1-6, NIV84
- This ends the reading of God’s Word.
- The Word of God for the People of God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
Almighty and Everlasting God, since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from Your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.
Pastor Donald Grey Barnhouse offered a scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”
Honestly, this is what some of us might want. We like the idea of clean streets, respectful children, and everyone being all clean and tidy.
After all, this is what we want, right? We want the nice, pristine picture of a simpler time when everyone was clean-cut, children who act like Beaver Cleaver.
“Big deal that Christ isn’t being preached in our churches, at least they’re not out in the streets listening to rock music and doing drugs, right? At least they’re in church, right?” That would be out rationale anyway.
This is the city of Sardis, this the condition of the church of Sardis. They’re having church every week. They’ve got programs for church members of all ages. They’ve got Bible studies and Sunday school classes. They’re doing all the busywork that makes them look very much alive.
- Do you know what busywork is? Back when I worked in the convenience store business, I was the master of busywork. Busywork is the kind of work you do when you want to look busy. There was always a spot on the counter at Exxon that was so shiny you could see your reflection in it because I wiped that thing down when I got done with everything else because I knew if I didn’t, my manager would feel the need to get up from his easy chair in his office and tell me to find something to do.
- This is what the Church of Sardis is doing! They look busy, they look alive, and Jesus says they’re dead as a doornail.
A Picture of Jesus
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”- Revelation 3:1a, NIV84
I mentioned last week that each of these pictures of Jesus that we see in these seven letters reflects the initial picture of Jesus that John saw in Revelation 1.
In Revelation 1:12-13, John sees Jesus walking through seven golden lampstands, and then John sees Him holding seven stars in Revelation 1:16, and then in Revelation 1:20, Jesus tells Him what these mean.
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
– Revelation 1:20, NIV84
Now, if we interpret Scripture with Scripture, and compare Revelation 1:20 to our text, then we see Jesus walking among seven lampstands, holding seven stars, and holds the seven spirits of God.
- Seven stars – Angels/Messengers/Pastors
- Seven lampstands – churches
- Seven spirits of God – a picture of the fullness of the Holy Spirit
Jesus gives both the Holy Spirit and the word to His messengers, (“to the angel of the church of _____ write…”) and His messengers give the word of God to the churches, and the churches relay the word of God to the world, and Jesus is the head of it all. Jesus is involved in all of it.
Jesus is the one who sees His church, and is walking among the churches. He is the One to whom we, as the church, must give an account.
The Problem of the Church
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”
– Revelation 3:1b-2, NIV84
Thom Rainer, a pastor and church revitalizer, wrote a book a couple of years ago called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Basically, this book is a compilation of the most common reasons he’s found as to why churches go under, and this written from 30+ years of ministry experience.
In his book he talked about a few things that contribute to the death of a church, and I’m just going to run through three of them, and then I want us to see the common thread that runs through all of these.
- The Past is the Hero – Churches that have the past as their hero are blind to the reality of the declining church. Areas that they cling to are:
worship styles, facilities, pastors of the past, our own needs rather than the needs of those without Christ, the way we have always done things so we are comfortable.
- Refusing to Look Like the Community – Losing the children and grandchildren of those in the church, when the church does reach out, they ask the community to come to them rather than the church going to the community, the church becomes a fortress, keeping people and possessions on the inside safe while keeping people on the other side out. The church stops reaching and caring for the community.
- Preference-Driven rather than a Gospel-Driven – Attitude is self-serving, self-giving, self-entitled. A church by definition is a body of believers who function for the greater good of the congregation. When church members increasingly demand their own preferences, the church is steadily not becoming the church. The church dies because its members refuse to be the church.
- Pastoral Tenure Decreases – The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. The cycle repeats.
Now, when we think of a dead church, we might think of one where the building is only open once a week for one hour on Sundays, and no programs, but there are many dying churches that have an abundance of programs, but it’s all busywork.
The common thread that runs through all of these is a lack of correct focus.
- A church should be more focused on whether or not they’re actually pleasing God in worship than whether or not the songs they’re singing is coming out of the hymnal.
- A church should be more focused on whether or not a family down the road might not have enough groceries to get through the week than whether or not they can build a new building or remodel their bathrooms.
There’s two passages of Scripture that really show us where our focus should be. I’m going to read these passages, and what I would encourage you to do is write these down or print them out somewhere where you can see this every day.
“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4, NKJV
When we talk about success we always think about it in terms of results – how much money we make, how big our building is, how nice of a job we have, but a truly successful life is made of you loving God, loving your neighbors, and putting other people’s interests ahead of yours, and I can guarantee you that that was the problem is Sardis. They weren’t successful in the things that mattered.
- You can’t love God, and love your neighbor and be a dead church. It’s impossible. So, if you’re Sardis, and Jesus says that you’re dead, then there’s something wrong with how you’re loving God and neighbor.
Part of the problem with Sardis is that they were really comfortable and secure.
The Church at Sardis didn’t suffer any persecution, and the reason for that is because there was a wealthy community of Jews in Sardis and Christians blended in so well that almost everyone outside of Sardis thought the church there was just a sect of Judaism.
- G.B. Caird called the church at Sardis “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity.”
- I wonder how many of our churches we could say that about today. I wonder how many of our lives might reflect that statement.
- “Jesus is Lord… but that’s just my opinion.” – This isn’t like our political opinions where we can just pick a side based on what think benefits us most, this is a matter of real truth.
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” – Revelation 3:2, NIV84
- The city was located on a hillside, and it had a big city wall around it so if you were an enemy and you wanted to take the city, it would be very difficult. You would have to scale the mountain, and then find a way up, over, or through the wall.
- Up to this point in the entire city’s history they had only been under siege twice, and both times it was because they got comfortable.
- They were not watching, they were not on guard, and they were not prepared for the enemy.
When the members of the church at Sardis would heard this letter they would know that Jesus is making a direct reference to them being overtaken, and what Jesus wants them to know and us to know is this: “If you think being overtaken by natural enemy is bad, it’s nothing compared to being overtaken by the devil.”
You heard me quote John 10:10 last week, and I’ll say it again: the devil’s job to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come that you might have life, and life more abundantly.
- So, what do you want? Do you want life or destruction?
If you want life, then run to Jesus, trust Jesus, sit at the feet of Jesus, and have an active and living faith in Jesus!
If you want destruction, then do what Sardis did:
- live off your reputation
- get comfortable in your pew
- Lose your edge
The reason G.B. Caird said that the church at Sardis is the perfect example of inoffensive Christianity is because according to the Apostle Paul, the preaching of the cross is offensive foolishness to those who are perishing.
- So, when the cross loses it’s offense, it’s because we’ve stopped preaching it properly.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV84
- When someone hears the Gospel and believes that they can stay the same afterward, it’s because they are perishing, but if they hear the Gospel and want to be changed, and they want the life that Jesus offers, it’s because they are being made alive!
The Solution Jesus Provides
And so, what does Jesus do? Is there any hope for Sardis?
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” – Revelation 3:3, NIV84
Now, if you remember, this is very similar to what Jesus told the church at Ephesus back in Revelation 2:5. Remember?
“Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV
This is almost the same threat. In Ephesus, He tells them that if they don’t repent He’ll remove their lampstand, and here in Sardis, He says that He’ll come like a thief. I think the message is clear.
Jesus is promising judgement to those who are not repentant.
Jesus is promising to judgement to people live off their reputation.
- “Well, I prayed the Sinner’s prayer once and signed the back of my Bible.”
- “I went to Vacation Bible School.”
Do you have an active faith in Christ now? I’m not asking if once had. I’m not asking if you prayed a prayer or became a member of the church. I’m not asking if you were baptized. I’m asking you right now, in this moment: can you look at Christ in faith and see Him as your Savior or do you see Him as your judge?
The question is very simple: are you alive? Is your faith alive?
- I’m not asking if your faith is strong, I’m asking if it’s there. You can have a weak and puny faith, but God can work with that.
- But if you have a dead faith, then you will come under the divine judgement of God unless you are made alive in Christ.
“Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” – Revelation 3:3-5, NIV84
If your faith is alive even if it’s puny, then there’s a reward for you because you’re holding on. And the reason you’re holding on is because God is holding on to you because Jesus says, on no uncertain terms, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life.”
- Hear me loudly and clearly: there is no possible way that you can twist this text to say that God will remove the names of His children from the Lamb’s book of life. If you’re a genuine believer with an active faith in Christ, then your name is there and it’s there to stay. Anything else is a lie from the pit of Hell and it smells like smoke.
- If you’re a faithful believer and you’re stuck in a church like Sardis, then this is what you need to hear from Jesus. You need to know that your perseverance in not in vain.
- You need to know that all those days you’ve spent believing in the Light in spite of the darkness around you isn’t for naught.
Jesus is saying, “Hold on, you can’t let go now! I’m going acknowledge you before my Father in Heaven.”
Do you realize the significance of that?
The end of verse 5 is a direct reference to Luke 9:26 when Jesus says, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father of the holy angels.”
This is right after Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
If you’re not ashamed of bearing the shame of the cross, then there’s a reward for you. This is exactly what we sing in The Old Rugged Cross.
To the old rugged cross/I will ever be true
It’s shame and reproach gladly bear/Then He’ll call me some day
To my home far away/Where His glory forever I’ll share
This kind of proclamation is strange to the world, but this is power for us. The proclamation of the cross is what causes us to see Jesus dealing with our sin by His death and resurrection.
- We can’t afford to blend in like Sardis and live off of our reputation.
- We can’t afford for the world to look at us and just assume we’re like everybody else.
We have to make our stance clear: we are a people that believe that Jesus has come in the flesh, Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, and He will return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.
Heavenly Father, we come before You, and our hearts are exposed. You see all of our faults, our failures, and our shortcomings. You see everything laid out before You. We ask You to forgive us. Cleanse us by Your blood, and make us new creatures. Grant us life and repentance, and it’s in the name and by the power of Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we pray these things. Amen.
- Horton, Michael Scott. Christless Christianity: the Alternative Gospel of the American Church. BakerBooks, 2012.