Church #5 - Sardis
Seven Churches of Revelation
October 30, 2002
Good evening. Tonight we are moving into Revelation Chapter 3 and we are going to study the 5th of the 7 seven churches, Sardis. Tonight we are going to examine a problem that exists far too often in today's church. We are going to study a church that on the outside appeared alive and vibrant. We are going to study the poster-child of churches. But the problem is, we are going to be studying a dying church.
We started this study a few weeks ago with a look back to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a large and impressive city with a large and impressive church. This was an active church that was standing firm in its doctrines and with its ministry. However, the church at Ephesus had forgotten its reason for existence. They had forgotten their true love for Christ. We then moved a few miles north to the church at Smyrna. Here again was a beautiful and thriving city that was truly pagan and centered on Roman worship. We learned about a strong and dedicated church that was praised for its strength and reminded that it would continue to face persecution. The church at Smyrna was only praised and comforted by Jesus. Something we need to keep in mind. We then moved a little further North as we studied the church at Pergamum. Here was a church that faced persecution like Smyrna had, but this church also had many of its members compromising to worldly ways. They were afraid of the persecution and instead of standing on Christ; they gave in to the temptations and allowed false doctrines and ideologies into their ranks. We then turned to Thyatira. Here we saw a church that was allowing a false prophet to infect its body with false doctrine and pagan worship. She was leading many of them to compromising lifestyles which lead to immoral living. Tonight we move to a church which, unlike Smyrna whose church Jesus only had goods things to say, Jesus only has rebukes and warnings for. Tonight we return to Sardis.
Sardis lay about 50 to the east of Ephesus at the junction of 5 main roads. As we have seen before, this meant commercial success for Sardis. Ancient Sardis was a rich and powerful city which was once capital of Lydia. All of the seven cities we are studying at one time recognized her king. Croesus became known around the world and became synonymous with wealth and prosperity. Sardis became famous for the silver and gold that was taken from a river flowing nearby. Sardis was actually the first city to mint gold and silver coins.
Sardis should have never fallen to an attacking army. The city was built on the Mount Tmolus. On three sides of the city, the rocky slope was nearly perpendicular for 1500 feet. The fourth side had a smoother and gentler slope and was guarded by the city wall and gate. But Sardis was an overconfident city and she never posted guards on the three steeped-wall sides. Over time, a small crevice formed on one of the sides which allowed a small group of Persian soldiers to climb up undetected and storm the city. This happened in 546BC. It wasn't very much later, in 133BC that the same exact thing happened and the city was overtaken by the Romans.
We don't know much about the religious or culture settings in Sardis. What we do know is that by the time this letter was written, this complacent and fool-hearted city was living on reputation alone. In 26AD, the cities of the Roman province we invited to compete for the honor to build a temple to Caesar. In this competition, the city of Ephesus talked about its commercial and culture success and importance. Smyrna bragged about loyalty and its long history of supporting Rome. Pergamum talked about her importance as the capital of Asia. When it was Sardis' turn, they mentioned nothing about the current state or strength of their city. They only bragged on past accomplishments and reveled in past glories. You see, the Sardis of Revelation was a sleepy, non-important town full of complacent people and unfinished projects, including a major temple that was never completed. Sardis was living on its name and reputation alone. It was becoming a dead town.
In front of us lies a city that is dying a slow death from its own complacent, lazy attitude. They had allowed themselves to be conquered twice, simply because they were overconfident in their walls and failed to offer themselves proper protection. They weren't growing and expanding. They were dead. Sir W. M. Ramsey said that "nowhere was there a greater example of the melancholy contrast between past splendor and present decay." As we continue through this study, Jesus reveals to us that the church in Sardis was living in quite the same way as the city. He shows us a church of reputation and fame, but that is actually spiritually dead. As we open our hearts this evening, don't forget our guiding question. "What would Jesus say to me?" "What would Jesus have John pen in a letter to this church?" How is your spiritual life? Is it alive and vibrant and growing daily? Or are we asleep at the wheel only pretending as we go about our lives remembering when things were great and remembering how Jesus worked in our lives long ago?
Read Rev 3:1a: And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars says these things.
Jesus begins His letter to Sardis with a glowing reminder of His power and glory. Most relate the seven spirits to the Holy Spirit. You see seven is the perfect number and we are told in several places that the Holy Spirit has several awesome qualities. We are told in Revelation alone several wonderful aspects of the Holy Spirit. In Rev 1:4 we are told that the Spirit provides "grace and peace"; 4:5 tells us that just like the angels, they stand before God as "blazing lamps"; and 5:6 confirms that the spirits "are sent out to all of the earth". You see, the Seven Spirits represent the whole and complete Spirit of God. And Jesus tells us that He has the Seven Spirits. This means He possesses the Holy Spirit. He is in charge and only through Christ can we as individual believers receive the Spirit. When we enter into that saving covenant with Jesus, He indwells us with the life and love of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus also tells us that he holds the seven stars. Earlier in Revelation we were told that the seven stars represented the seven churches. Here He is reasserting His authority over the church. He is at the same time reaffirming His love for the church and His desire to protect and strengthen the church.
We see in this introduction that Jesus is the giver of the Spirit and the protector of the church. As we have seen with each church, Jesus' introduction is key to the message He is bringing to the church. The fact that He possesses the Spirit and is the keeper of the churches means that He knows their true state and their true place in relation to Him. They would do well to listen to His warnings. So would we.
I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Outwardly, this was a power church. This church was a trend setter. I am sure that this church never went long without a Pastor. I would even bet that they hosted several training events and seminars. They knew how to get people in the door and how to keep them coming back. Church administrators often visited Sardis to learn all of the new tricks and the latest fads.
This was a popular church. Jesus says He knows about their "name". Walk around Sardis and ask for directions and everyone knew how to get there. All the preachers were talking about this church. This church's popularity was skyrocketing. Everyone in the country had probably heard about this church.
This church had personality. Each and every church has its own unique personality. Some are warm and loving, some cold and conventional. Some are compassionate and sharing, some are closed and complacent. Some are exciting and bubbling with joy, some are boring and act as nap times rather than worship times. This church had it all. They were personable and outgoing. They welcomed everybody who came through the door. They were the envy of the association.
This church had programs. The church at Sardis kept everybody going. They no doubt had programs for every age and for every desire. I bet the church was open every night and many programs probably had a waiting list. They knew how to entertain.
The possessions of this church were amazing. Bank accounts were overflowing. The offering plate was full at every service. The building was immaculate. This was a big, beautiful church. This was the first super church.
This is the church everyone was talking about. The music was second to none. All of the best preachers wanted to preach there. If there was a "how to pastor" school back then, Sardis would have been home to it. In every way, this church seemed alive and on fire. Every person on earth would say great things about this church. But earthly thoughts and Heavenly truths are two totally different things.
When the letter was delivered to them, I bet they were so excited. They probably called a special service and everyone showed up in their best dress and the place was packed. They just knew that Jesus was going to say such great things about them. But what do we read. "You have a name, but you are dead!"
Jesus calls them a dead church. Jesus tells them they have a name, but no life. They have a reputation, but are lacking a reality. They have a form, a mighty good form, but they have nothing behind it.
Dr. Vance Havner said that spiritual ministries often go through 4 stages: a man, a movement, a machine, a monument. Instead of being the Temple of the Living God, they were the morgue of the lifeless group. And they didn't even know it. Much like Sampson, they didn't even know that the Spirit had departed.
William James of Harvard once said," There are some people for whom religion was a dull habit, while to others, it was an acute fever." By outward appearance the church was alive and growing, but inwardly, the church was as dead as dead could be.
The wonderful and impressive prayers never made it through the ceiling. Angels were not dancing to the wonderful music. The great sermons were going in one ear and out the other. The members all had their name on the church roll, but few were in the Lambs Book of Life. THE CHURCH WAS DEAD!
To truly understand this, we must ask ourselves how did this happen? How is such a wonderful place being called dead? If we look at the words we see no mention of Roman persecution. We see no rebuke for heresy or false teaching. We see no Jewish uprising. Why not? Why did all of the other churches in Revelation face problems? Why did all of the other churches in Revelation get commended for fighting back and standing strong? The church at Sardis had died because they were never tried and they were never put through the righteous fires. But why? They were left alone because they were inoffensive, nonaggressive and weak. They never stood up in a synagogue and pushed the fact that "Jesus is God" or the Jews would have pushed back. They never challenged the Romans claim that Caesar is Lord with the truth that "Jesus is Lord" or the Romans would have persecuted them along with all of the other churches. They never spoke out against participation in sexually immoral pagan rituals or we would be reading about Nicolaitan heresy infecting the church. Matter-of-factly, this church was complacent, apathetic, indifferent and dead. The church felt secure and protected and felt it was okay to continue with the status quo.
See, a living and breathing church must not be a church of the comfortable pew. If a church is not making its members, and the world around it squirm from time to time, something is wrong. We all love to walk out of a service feely all warm and fuzzy, without a care in the world. But it can't be that way. We are sinners. We have fallen from glory and we need to hear the truth coming from our pulpits. We need to hear about our need to repent. We need to hear what's wrong in the world today. We need to be told that we must separate from the immorality that we live in. And when we hear these things, it is not always comfortable.
A true and committed church must rock the boat a little. To be truly alive, a church must clearly define its beliefs and its stance in the world and then it must stick to its guns. Someone said a few weeks ago we need fire and brimstone coming from our preaching. And that is absolutely right. We need it from our preaching and we need it from our members. Forget being a glowing light in our community, we need to be a burning fire, declaring the truth and standing strong in our convictions.
And so we stand here and we need to ask, are we too secure? Are we too sheltered? Are we depending on past glories? Are we comfortable?
Sardis was and look what happened. The giver of Life Himself called her dead. Let's not let that happen here. Let's live and burn for God. Let's rock the boat and make waves. Let's use the strength Jesus has given us.
Read Rev 3: 3:Remember then how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Jesus makes a call for Revival. We can relate this call to the one we saw made to Ephesus. They are called to Remember, Repent and Return. Jesus tells them that the coals are still smoldering, but they had better do some to get the flames burning again or else her would come and extinguish them forever.
There is an interesting fact in this call. The word translated Repent in Verse 3 is the same word that is translated for conversion. Wow! You would think that Jesus was talking to people outside of the church. It is amazing that members of a church have to be told to turn from evil and to turn towards God. The church in Sardis was in dire need of revival. Or were many of them in need of true salvation?
Jesus reminds them that He will come unexpectedly. Paul tells us that Jesus' second coming will be unexpected and that this unexpectedness is attributed to the lost. 1 Thess 5:4 says," But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that the Day should overtake you like a thief." You see, true believers will not be surprised or upset by the return of Christ. But Jesus warns them that they will be surprised. This can only mean that the church at Sardis was lost and dead. If they don't repent, or convert, they will be lost forever. Jesus will come and judge and the church will never know the true grace and mercy of salvation.
What are we to take from this? Anyone can be on a church role. Anyone can come to a building and sing and close there eyes during prayer. Anyone can give money and feel important. But as we have been saying all along, this Christian life is about one relationship. Not husband and wife. Not member and church. Not lay person and pastor. But it is about heavenly Father and child. A sinner and his savior. It is about you and Christ. Nothing more and nothing less. You must be right on the inside. Your heart must be home to Holy Spirit. Your soul must be a repentant and forgiven soul. We must acknowledge our sins and accept our savior. Only then will we be a living church.
JESUS' REMNANT NAD HIS PROMISES
Read Rev 3:4-5: Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
Jesus shows us here that there were those in the church that were truly saved and had their hearts in the right place. This is the Holy Remnant that Jesus will use to bring this church back to Him. These Remnants are seen throughout the entire bible. When God was ready to destroy the world, He had His holy follower Noah and His family. He used them to bring man back. When God was ready to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, even this city had a small remnant in Lot and his family. When Ahab and Jezebel had the nation of Israel turning towards pagan worship, God promised Elijah that there were still over 7,000 people who were faithful to Him. Throughout history, we have seen that God uses these remnants to bring about renewal and change. And Jesus was letting the church know that there were those who were clean and holy and that they were worthy of His grace and had received His spirit.
Jesus promises that those who overcome will be clothed in white and their names shall not be blotted out of the book of life. Two things we should note.
One, the thought of white robes is used throughout scripture to describe those that are pure and holy. When Jesus returns, He will dress all of His children in white robes because He will elevate us to true righteousness and holiness. He will bring us to His level and will reward us as we can never imagine.
Second, many people use this verse to back-up the doctrine of lost salvation. But we have already discussed the fact that this was a lost church. They had not known salvation, so how could they loose it? I relate it like this. Remember I like simple examples. When you are born, your name is written in pencil in the book of life. When you truly receive salvation and become one of God's children, your name is written over in pen and can never be erased. (Another way to think is that it is written over in the blood of Christ, and we all know that blood is impossible to get out.) However, if you die without knowing Christ, your name is erased from the book, because you do not have eternal life. You will not be with Jesus in heaven, so your name does not need to be in the book.
So as we look at these verses, Jesus is promising that those who repent and turn to Him will be clothed in righteousness and holiness and will not have their names erased, but will have them rewritten in His blood forevermore in His book.
Read Revelation 3:6: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
What should we hear from this letter? What should we take with us? Well, there are a couple of things.
First and foremost, we must be sure of our salvation. If your only memory of salvation is a walk down the aisle besides one of your friends when you were 8, then you need to take a hard look at yourself. If you don't truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then don't leave here tonight without setting the record straight. Most of you have been church members for many years and might be embarrassed or ashamed to admit that you are not saved. And I hope that all of you are saved. But if you are not, do not be afraid and do not be ashamed. There is not a soul in this room that won't shout praises to the Lord if someone here commits their life to the Lord.
Second, for those of you that are saved, you need to make sure that your relationship is in the right place. You need to be part of that holy remnant that Jesus wants to use. We must remain pure and we must continue to seek holiness.
Thirdly, we can not be a complacent, quiet church. We must preach and teach the truth and stand up to those whose say otherwise. We must not be a comfortable gathering place where we take a nap on Sunday mornings and gather for parties and fellowships every now and then. We must leave here after every meeting knowing we need to repent and knowing that we are sinners saved only by the grace of God. We must not be complacent and overconfident. We must continue to fight and to grow. We must continue to fan the flames of our fire and we must allow the spirit to lead our lives. We must turn our lives over to Christ and live as He calls us to live. We can not be spiritually dead. Or one day when we least expect it, Jesus will descend upon us and He won't be bringing us His Grace and Mercy, He will be passing His righteous judgment and then it will be too late.