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TEXT: Revelation 3:1-6
SUBJECT: Seven Churches #5: SardisFor forty years David McKenzie was a deacon in the First Presbyterian Church in Beverly Hills, California. When he retired from his work he had little money in the bank and no pension at all. The only asset he had was his home, which he had bought in the early sixties, and was now worth twenty times what he had paid for it. With a heavy heart, he sold his home and bought a cottage in a small village way up in northern Michigan. He liked the area very much and his neighbors were as kind as they could be. But Mr. McKenzie had a problem: he couldn't find a church. Oh, there were plenty of churches within driving distance, but he wasn't content with any of them.
One church had excellent preaching and teaching, but the people were cold and suspicious. His first week there, he was grilled by an elder to makes sure he was straight on his doctrine. No preaching was good enough to keep him in that church!
The next church he went to also had good teaching and a far more welcoming spirit. He would have gone there for sure, except it only had a dozen members, half of them didn't have jobs and nobody in town respected the church. So he kept looking.
The third church had its good points too, but some of the people were living ungodly lives and nothing was being done about it. David McKenzie was not going there.
And he sure wasn't going to the fourth church! His first Sunday there, the pastor preached on Why Sin Doesn't Matter to Christ. Not everyone said, Amen to the sermon, but most people nodded in agreement.
David McKenzie was discouraged. He loved going to church, but he couldn't find a place to settle down. Then a friend invited him to his church, Sardis Community Church it was called. By now, David wasn't looking for much, but-you know-the church was pretty good. It was a fairly large congregation, with a comfortable building, a big missions budget, sound teaching, no divisions, an upright membership, and plenty to do. Mr. McKenzie had found his church!
What do you think of David's choice? He knew Sardis Community Church wasn't perfect, but still, it was far better than any other he had visited. It was a viable church with a warm spirit, and no heresy or open ungodliness. Personally, I think he made the right choice-and I suspect you do too.
But Jesus Christ does not agree with us. There was a church back in the First Century and it was quite a bit like the church I just made up. It had no heresy or open ungodliness. It was a viable church with a warm spirit. It had none of the hardships facing the church in Smyrna, and none of the moral failings that stained the churches in Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira. Yet for all this, Sardis is the sickest church in Asia. In fact, it is worse than sick. The church is dead.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.
SARDISSardis was a once a great city, but had been in decline for many years. Three times it had been taken by foreign powers, and as late as 17 AD, it was destroyed by a major earthquake. But if Sardis was on its way down, no one had bothered to tell the people, who were still living on its past glories.
They prided themselves on two things: security and wealth. Built on a sheer cliff, they believed the city could not be taken. It had been taken, of course, but the people liked to remember things their own way.If the city was safe, it was also rich. It had once been the capital of the Lydian Empire and ruled by King Croesus, a man of legendary wealth. As if the real king were not enough, it also claimed to be home to the mythical King Midas, whom, they said, had lost his Golden Touch by washing his hands in its river. Most of its wealth had been carried away by the Persians long before and what little was left of it was being taxed away by the Romans every day.
While the rest of the world took Sardis for a hick town, the people who lived there thought it was the greatest city on earth! For them, there was a certain disconnect between what they thought they were and what they really were.
This spirit of the city crept into the church. But more on that later.
Like every other city in the Empire, Sardis was pagan, with its share of temples, priests, shrines, and images. Except for the Jews, everyone had to pay tribute to the Emperor, by tossing a pinch on incense on his altar and saying the magic words, Caesar is Lord. The pagans of Sardis, however, were a rather easy-going lot, and did not persecute the Church. And neither did the Jews. There was a sizable Jewish community in the town, but they pretty much let the church be.
Looked at from one angle, Sardis was the best place in the world to be a Christian. But this great blessing was not only a blessing. It was also a challenge. If too much persecution is bad for the church, too much comfort is worse.
CHRISTJesus Christ has something to say to the church in Sardis, but before He says it, He reminds them of who's saying it. He identifies Himself as
He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
So much for the scholarship (such as it is). What is our Lord getting at when He describes Himself as He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars?
The Spirit and the Word of God are the givers of life.Back in John's Gospel, our Lord says, It is the Spirit who quickens (or makes alive). A couple of lines down, He adds, The Words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life. This means, although things are very bad in Sardis, they're not quite hopeless. The church may be dead, but their Savior is alive and He wants to bring them back to life. And not only 'wants to', but is able to do it! After all, He Himself used to be dead, but isn't any more, but now lives forever! If a dead sinner has hope, so does a dead Christian. Let each put his hope on the Living Christ, and both of them shall live. Because I live, you will live!
JUDGMENTThe Judge, after describing Himself, now comes to the judgment-and it's not a good one.
I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
This means 'doing things' is not the same as 'life'. A church can have a full program of activities-from preschoolers to seniors-from street preaching to Bible studies to visiting the sick, and still be dead. Because 'life' is in Christ and not in our works!
How did the church die? It wasn't false teaching that killed the church or wicked leadership or scandalous living. No, it was a slow and painless death that overtook them-more like hypothermia than a gunshot. In a word, they drifted away from Christ, and in doing that, they drifted away from Life!
How do you drift away from Christ? You do it when you don't read the Bible regularly, when you forget to pray, when you hold on to petty grudges, when you skip church services for no good reason, when you avoid Christian company, when you blind your conscience to a favorite sin, when you don't do what you can do and know you ought to do.
Jesus Christ is a Person, and your relationship with Him is a personal one. Many friendships and marriages are lost by simple neglect. You stop opening doors for your wife; you lose interest in your husband's work, you don't call your friend any more. Without meaning to, you drift away from each other, and before long, the relationship is dead. This is what happened in Sardis. Year after year, the people inched away from their Life in Christ, and now, at last, they were dead.Sardis was not the only church to die this death. At the end of the Letter, our Lord commanded all His churches to hear what He said to one of them. Any church can die this way. Especially if things are going well for it. If no heresy is threatening the church; if no one is guilty of gross sin; if the authorities are not cracking down-it is then that we're most likely to
Have a name that [we] are alive, but [we] are dead.
ADVICEIf the church in Sardis is 'dead', you'd think the Lord would have no advice for it. Who ever heard of advising the dead? But He does just that-He speaks to a dead church and tells them what they must do to regain the life they used to have.
First, He says, Be watchful. This means, 'wake up' to their true condition. A church will never regain its life until they know they've lost it. This life cannot be equated with either 'doing a lot of things' or 'feeling really excited'. It means fellowship with Christ; it means seeking the Lord while He may be found, calling upon Him while He is near.
In the second place, He says, Strengthen the things that remain that are ready to die. What are these 'things'? They are the outward things they've been doing all along, their works, He calls them in v.1. The answer to 'dead Bible reading', let's say, is not 'no Bible reading', but 'live Bible reading'! Keep on doing the things you're doing, but breathe some life into them.
Thirdly, He tells them to Remember, to remember the life they used to have in Christ. For a long time now, their works have been empty routines. But they haven't always been this way. Recapture the old joy of worshiping and serving the Lord Jesus.
Finally, He says, Repent. To 'repent' means to change your mind. For some time, they have been content with going through the motions, quit thinking that way and start thinking the other way-the way of whole-hearted living for Christ.
This was good advice to the church in Sardis-and for every church. Just the other day, I was saying the church has grayed a lot in the twenty-plus years I've been here. This is neither good nor bad, for the Lord loves both the young and the not-so-young, and each has a ministry the other cannot do. But with the passing ofyears, the grooves of life become deeper and deeper. It becomes easy to read the Bible because you read the Bible, to go to church because that's what you do on Sundays. Nothing wrong with godly routines, of course. Unless they become forms of godliness without the power thereof.
If this is what our Christian-and church-lives have become, we must repent, repent now and keep on repenting until we enjoy the life in Christ we used to have.
WARNINGThe church ought to be wise enough to take the Lord's advice simply because it's His advice-and good advice. But He knows they're not so wise, and therefore, He warns them what He will do if they don't-
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.The Lord is patient with His church, but He's no fool. If they prefer 'death' to 'life', He'll give them all they want of it-and more. Without further warning, He will visit their stubborn disobedience with a final judgment. Some scholars take this for the Second Coming, while others place it elsewhere. To me, it doesn't matter, for the Timing of the Judgment is far less important than the Fact of the Judgment.
PROMISESThe warning is a solemn one, but it's not the last word. Our Lord wants them to repent and to help them do it, He makes a promise to everyone who does, in fact, three of them.
He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments.
I will not blot his name from the book of life.
I will confess His name before My Father and the angels.
CLOSEThe church in Sardis is dead, but, in fellowship with Christ, the dead will live. No one is past hope; no one is beyond the mercy of Christ. It is offered to all who want it, and you want it when you repent.
Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
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