Stephen Caswell © 2004
William Booth Saw It
General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said: I consider that the chief dangers which will confront the twentieth century will be: Religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, Forgiveness without Regeneration, Morality without God and Heaven without hell. This describes Church reputation without reality.
Remember the seven Churches represent 7 literal churches that were in Asia or modern day Turkey. They also represent 7 types of Churches and believers in any age. Churches are people, and human nature has not changed. Importantly the 7 Churches picture 7 Church Ages beginning with Ephesus and closing with Laodicea. Last week we saw the Church in the Dark Ages when it embraced false teaching, idolatry and immorality.
This morning we will look at Sardis, a Complacent Church. The Church had became ritualistic and dead. It operated without the power and life of the Holy Spirit. This pictures the Church at the end of the Dark Ages. Christ commands the Church to wake up to new life. He called people inside the Roman Church to return to the Bible. This was the beginning of the reformation. We’ll see 3 things, The Correspondent, The Condemnation, The Counsel.
Firstly, The Correspondent
Revelation 3:1: And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,
a. The City
· Ancient Sardis, the capital of Lydia, lay about fifty miles east of Ephesus.
· It was a most important city at the junction of 5 main roads; it was a center for trade.
· Sardis was 1,500 feet above the main roads, and really was an impregnable fortress.
· It became the center of the carpet industry and was noted for its wealth.
· Sardis was also known for its manufacture of woolen garments.
· The plain was well watered by the Pactolus River. Gold coins were first minted there.
· Croesus, King of Sardis was considered the wealthiest man in the world at this time.
· Sardis was very wealthy in 700 bc but declined because of its great love of pleasure.
· They worshipped Diana or Artemis goddess of the moon, and Apollo the sun god.
· This was one of the few double temples that you will find in the world.
b. The Church
· We don’t know how the Church began. Perhaps by Paul who walked these roads.
· The Church started well and quickly gained a reputation for being alive.
· Sadly, the Church at Sardis was a Church in decline. Yet, Christ offered them hope.
· There is no word of commendation for this Church, only to the small remnant in it.
· This pictures the Church Age from 1520 to 1750, or the time of the reformation.
· Christ called the remnant to repent and return to the truth and they did.
· The name Sardis, Σάρδεις, means those escaping, or renovation.
· This is fitting for the Church as it escaped the Dark Ages breaking away from Rome.
c. Jesus Christ
Revelation 3:1: And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars:
Firstly, Christ identifies Himself as the one Who has the seven Spirits of God. What does this refer to? The Holy Spirit. Isaiah 11:2: The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. Seven speaks of perfection, the fullness of God. The Holy Spirit is powerful and wise. He gives knowledge and strength to whoever He wants. The early Church was effective because it served God in the Holy Spirit’s power.
Secondly, Christ says that He also has possession of the seven stars or ministers. Jesus Christ has sovereign control over the pastors of the Churches. Pastors are God’s gift to the Church and subject to His will. Ephesians 4:11-12: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ controls the churches and their ministers.
Jesus Christ didn’t mince words with this Church. There is no commendation; He went straight to the problem; they needed the Holy Spirit’s fullness in their ministry. The early Church was mighty because they yielded to Holy Spirit’s leading. Sardis lacked here.
Secondly, The Condemnation
Revelation 3:1: These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
a. Past Reputation
Remote Control Car
Being a father of 4 children has many benefits. You get to play with your kids toys. What I really mean is I get to show them how they work! I have brought one along this morning. Would you like to see it? Who knows what this is? Doesn’t it look great. Do you like its bright red finish? This car is fitted with racing tyres and mag wheels. Do you think it can go fast? Would you like to see it go? It won’t work. What do you think is wrong with it? The battery is turned off. Without power this remote control car is useless. It can’t do what it was made to do. Even though it looks great, it’s useless! This Church rested on its past glory, past service and blessings. Christ said you are spiritually dead.
The Church at Sardis served the Lord faithfully for some time. They had gained a reputation for Christian ministry. All the other Churches thought that Sardis had an effective ministry. They were alive. What happened? They became complacent! 1 Corinthians 10:12: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. It doesn’t take long for a Church to die if believers don’t keep watch. Pride leads to a fall. The Church at Sardis needed to turn the power on again through prayer.
The Heavenly Man
Brother Yun author of the book The Heavenly Man said this: I believe the best way for the Chinese Church to remain strong is to keep it motivated to reach out to the nations of the world. When believers focus on serving the Lord and reaching the lost, God blesses them and the Church remains sharp. When we become self-centred and critical of each other, Satan has won already and the Church will become a blunt, useless instrument. 289
b. Present Reality
When Howard Carter and his associates found the tomb of King Tutankhamen, they opened up his casket and found another within it. They opened up the second, which was covered with gold leaf, and found a third. Inside the third casket was a fourth made of pure gold. The pharaoh’s body was in the fourth, wrapped in gold cloth with a gold face mask. But when the body was unwrapped, it was leathery and shriveled. Whether we are trying to cloak a dead spiritual life, or something else, in caskets of gold to impress others, the beauty of the exterior does not change the absence of life on the interior. A corpse is still a corpse no matter how pretty it looks.
Christ quickly stripped away their reputation of being alive by declaring, you are dead. A dead person doesn’t do anything. Why? He has no life! When an organism is alive, there is growth, repair, reproduction, and power; if these elements are lacking in a church, then that church is either dying or already dead. This described the Church at Sardis. There was reputation without reality, form without force. All of the church’s man-made programs can never bring life, any more than a circus can resurrect a corpse. The church was born when the Spirit of God descended on the Day of Pentecost and its life comes from the Spirit. A body without life is dead. And a Church without the Holy Spirit is dead. It may look good but its dead.
The problem with the Catholic Church is that all their saints are dead. They are made of stone or marble. None of the catholic saints are currently serving the Lord. None of them are winning others to Christ. None of them are revealing the Holy Spirit’s life and power to the world. In the panorama of church history, Sardis represents the Protestant church during the period between a.d. 1517 and approximately a.d. 1750. The Church had been dead for over 900 years. Then Christ began to wake it up.
He called a few men back to truth. Their ministry impacted others and new life entered the dead Church. John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and others called people back to God’s Word. The Gospel was preached again. The Holy Spirit started the Reformation and this moved into a great missionary movement later.
Tent Hill once had an impressive Youth Group. The Children’s Ministry reached many for Christ. Love and fellowship permeated the Church. Many folk attended the prayer meetings and Bible Studies. Mens & ladies choirs, ministering. Musicals, letterbox drops, Crusades. There were many baptisms. Youth services, evening services were on every week. Darren, Matt, Stewart, Merve Jessen, went into ministry. There were regular Mission Teams to the Northern Territory. RE camps. The Church was reaching into the community. All the while people were won to Christ. But things have changed. Why?
Did complacency creep in? Did we become proud of how God had used us? I tend to think that prayer & Bible study dropped off first. This would weaken the Church Spiritually. Would Christ say to us, you have a name for being alive but you are dead? What do you see when someone is spiritually alive? Firstly, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Secondly, a hunger for God’s Word and prayer. Thirdly, a desire to share our faith. Fourthly, a love for God and His people. Fifthly, generosity, a willingness to give and serve the Lord and people. Finally, a longing to see Christ. We look expectantly for His return. Only the Holy Spirit can give these desires to the Church. He is our Spiritual life.
Thirdly, The Counsel
1. Wake Up & Watch Out Revelation 3:2: Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
The Fall of Sardis
Christ told them to wake up and watch out. This had special meaning to the Church at Sardis. Sardis was an ideal fortress since it was on top of a plateau with steep cliff faces on 3 sides. It had only one entrance on the southern side. It was easily defended. Therefore, all that Sardis had to do was to put a detail at that one place to watch the city. But on 2 occasions in their history they had been invaded by their enemies. They felt secure, believing that the hill was impregnable the guard went to sleep on the job. In 549 b.c. the Median soldiers of Cyrus scaled the parapet, and then again in 218 b.c. Antiochus the Great captured Sardis because a Cretan slipped over the walls while the gaurds were asleep. Let’s wake up. To sleeping disciples Christ says watch and pray.
Firstly, Christ commanded the Church to be watchful. The word watchful, γρηγορέω, means to stay awake, be vigilant, to be on the alert, to remain fully alive. 1 Peter 5:8: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
It is when the church’s leaders and members get accustomed to their blessings and complacent about their ministry that the enemy finds his way in. Prayer had stopped and the Church went to sleep. Dr. Vance Havner said that spiritual ministries often go through 4 stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the monument stage, but there was still hope! There was hope because Christ was the Head of the church and He was able to bring new life through the Holy Spirit.
Remember how the wicked Queen put the Snow White into a deep sleep through a poisoned apple. She lay there dead to the world until Prince Charming gave her a kiss. So too Christ breathes the new life of the Spirit to the Church that wakes up to itself.
2. Strengthen Revelation 3:2: Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
The Church needed to strengthen what was left of their ministry. It was about to die. The word strengthen, στηρίζω, means to establish, confirm, to support something. But how can we be strong enough for ministry? The same Holy Spirit who gives life can also strengthen believers. Ephesians 6:10: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Zechariah 4:6: Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit says the Lord.
When the disciples were threatened and told not to preach Christ they prayed and the results were amazing. Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. The Church needs to stand together in prayer for Christ’s cause. Because of their weak state their testimony had slipped. If the Church didn’t strengthen their ministry through the Holy Spirit it would die.
The impression is that the assembly in Sardis was not at all aggressive in its witness to the city. There was no persecution because they didn’t attack the enemy’s territory. No friction usually means no motion! If our Church doesn’t support its ministries they die. Everyone should pray for the ministry here. Everyone should use their gifts where God leads. Jesus Christ said their works were not perfect. This meant they were incomplete before God. The Spirit of God had further service for them to do!
Charles Spurgeon's Power Room
Mr Spurgeon was showing someone around the Church premises before a service. He showed them many rooms set aside for particular ministries. Then he showed them the power room. He said it was the most important room in the church. The visitors were surprised when they looked in and found a number of people praying. Spurgeon always had people praying for him while he was preaching.
3. Remember & Retain Revelation 3:3: Remember therefore how you have received and heard; 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.
The Christians must remember God’s Word. The Scriptures had been forgotten too long. Remember, μνημονεύω means to keep thinking about, keep in mind, retain in one’s memory. They should remember the sound teaching that had been received from the apostles. Paul told Timothy to do this too. 2 Timothy 1:13-14: Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. The Catholic Church had locked the Bible up from the people.
It was time to bring the Bible out from under lock and key. The Church needed to study God’s Word and obey it once more. Christ told them to Remember His Word and then to Hold it Fast. The words hold fast, τηρέω, mean to retain in custody, keep watch over, guard, to continue, keep, hold, reserve, preserve. The Church was to defend God’s Word, declare it and obey it. For around 900 years in the Dark Ages God’s Word had been locked away. Now they must guard it with their very lives.
Buying a New Appliance
When you buy a new appliance do you need to read the manual? After all only ignorant people use them. Not experts like us. Right! Wrong. When we can’t get it to work we get the manual out. The manufacturer puts the instruction manual in the box so the consumer can get the most out of it and not have problems or breakages. To get the most out of life we must follow our Makers instructions. To obey God’s will for our lives we must prayerfully study our Bibles. Do you know your Bible? Do you attend a Bible Study?
Christ’s final command to the Church is to repent. The word repent, μετανοέω means to feel remorse, repent, be converted, to change one’s mind and life. To repent means to stop going our way and to turn around and walk God’s way. The first step toward renewal in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong. The Lord called them to acknowledge their sin and do something about it. Christ warned them to hold fast the sacred deposit of truth and to repent of their lifelessness. Unless they woke up, He would come unexpectedly and deal with them in judgment.
Christ now gives four Promises
Revelation 3:4-5: You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
1. Heaven’s Righteous Robes
Not all in Sardis had defiled their garments. A believers garments refers to his deeds. A few at Sardis were alive. The Holy Spirit was working through them. They were joyfully serving the Lord. The Lord usually has a faithful remnant. Christ promised these living saints that He would walk with them in white because they were worthy. Christ promises to give overcomers white new robes.
Weddings are wonderful occasions for many reasons. They testify of love, loyalty and life long commitment. In every wedding that I have seen the bride scrub ups really well. They are pure, beautiful, no radiant and excited. The bride is escorted own the isle by her father dressed in white. The groom watches and from the altar with expectation. Why does she wear a white wedding gown? White speaks of purity, innocence and chastity. The bride has kept herself for her husband. She is totally devoted to Him. Revelation 19:7-8: Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Paul also talks about this in Ephesians 5:25-27: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. I have just finished the book The Heavenly Man. We have nothing in Australia to compare with their dedication. Yet for all their labors and sacrifice they are joyful, not grumblers. These Chinese brothers will walk with Christ in white; they are worthy. As Christ’s bride we ought to be holy, pure, totally dedicated to Him.
2. Heaven’s Roll
The Book of Life contains the names of all the citizens of heaven. Some people have their name removed from the book. I believe that Christians are eternally secure. I personally feel everyones names are placed in the Book of Life at the beginning, but some are removed. On the basis of this some have considered the book of life not as the roll of those who are saved but rather a list of those for whom Christ died, that is, all humanity who have possessed physical life.
As they come to maturity and are faced with the responsibility of accepting or rejecting Christ, their names are blotted out if they fail to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. Whereas those who do accept Christ as Savior are confirmed in their position in the book of life. Christ will confess their names before the Father and the heavenly angels. A person’s lack of decision for or rejection of Christ causes his name to be removed at the time of death. At the end of time this book may change from the Book of Life to the Lamb’s Book of Life mentioned in Revelation 13:8.
Have you ever arranged a dinner party for 15 or 20 people. Firstly you make up a list and send out the invitations. Then you buy all the food for the guests and prepare the meal. But you only cater for those who say they are coming. Some cancellations are inevitable. You cross the cancellations off your list. Not everyone is able to come. Jesus Christ is preparing a wedding feast and everyone has been invited. Sadly many say that they can’t come. They are crossed off the list. Their names are blotted out of the Book of life.
Revelation 3:6: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The letter then concludes with an exhortation to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The letter to Sardis is a searching message to churches today that are full of activity and housed in beautiful buildings but are so often lacking in evidences of eternal life.
Ignorance of God’s Word, lack of prayer and resting on past blessings caused the Church at Sardis to die. There is only one hope for a dead Church; new life from the Holy Spirit. Therefore Christ tells them to wake up and watch out. They were to strengthen themselves in the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. The Church needed to remember the Word and hold it fast. They must also pray for God’s grace and power. If they did not repent Christ would come in judgment. Praise God that the reformation brought new life back to the Church. O how these same things are needed today. Let us repent of our complacency. Let us pray for revival that the Spirit might give us new life. Let us remember God’s Word and hold it fast! Are we listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches? Amen!!
Jude 24-25: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.