11th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon Series: “What a Revelation!”
August 28, 2022 Part 7, Rev. 3:1-6
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
The Apostle John was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos, left there to die because of his bold confession of Jesus Christ as the only Way, Truth & Life for all people. One Sunday, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Write on a scroll what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
Last Sunday we visited church #4: Thyatira. The problem in that city was that in order to run a successful business, you had to be part of the trade guilds, which practiced all kinds of ungodly & immoral things. Now, man’s culture has always been unholy. But the church there was in trouble because it was tolerating -in its own membership- those who openly denied that there is only one true God; they ignored parts of Scripture, and claimed their hybrid-version of the faith was better because it was more accepting of different gods & spiritual ideas; and they taught that it was okay for Christians to join in the drunken orgies in order to be accepted in the community.
There are many churches in our day that have those same ideas. For example: Why else would there be congregations that no longer hold to the Bible’s definition of marriage; they wrongly teach that there are many acceptable lifestyles & genders; they teach that this ‘more open’ Christianity is better than the old traditional kind. Practicing homosexuals preach from the pulpit and teach that ‘God is big enough to tolerate their kind of diversity.’ Jesus had John write condemning words to such false believers; and He promised that those who resist those errors, and stand firm on His Word will receive His inheritance.
For church #5, we travel 35 miles south of Thyatira to Sardis; the oldest city in Asia Minor. Sardis was in control of the Hermus Valley, which was an intersection of five roads which connected these seven cities of Asia Minor. So, it was a notable city, not by effort, but just by its location. Sardis was a wealthy community, but it produced nothing. It only collected tolls on those five intersecting roads. Also, the Pactolus River flowed passed the city, & out of it, people panned gold nuggets. The city had made itself a stamp, with a picture & its name, then flattened out those nuggets as coins and used them in its commercial trade.
Now, we’re are not rocket scientists, but we can guess what would happen when you mix man’s sinful nature, and a city of people that do not work to produce anything, & who get free money from tolls & gold. You get spoiled people who have no drive or purpose. Compare it to a person who inherits wealth rather than working hard for their money. Sardis was full of lazy people, who spent their time just seeking pleasure & luxuries, without real work or purpose. The city itself looked vibrant & living, but it was really rather dull & dead. And this rubbed off on the church.
To this city, the Lord of heaven & earth shouts: ‘wake up!’ From a physical standpoint, Sardis was in a very safe location, built on a high plateau = like a giant watchtower over the whole valley. An enemy could never sneak up & attack the city, …unless the city guards were lazy & sleeping. Guess what? The city was captured twice because of a failure to be awake and watchful. From a spiritual standpoint, the church has been called ‘the sleeping saints of Sardis.’ Just as the community was without a working purpose, and so decayed into low morals & values, so also the church had become lazy & sluggish in its purpose. It can happen that the local church takes on the characteristics of the surrounding community rather than being God’s strong light & leader in how the community should be.
So, this church was not threatened by forced Emperor worship, persecution, or even opposition or ridicule. But without those things, it had another problem: dry rot. It was floating along, at peace with itself, surrounded by a sea of laziness. Now, every church has a goal of peace. Some try to get it by ignoring & avoiding controversial things; some actively compromise the harder teachings of God’s Word so they won’t offend others; some church-groups just cut themselves off from the world rather than dealing with the hard work of being God’s light in the darkness.
The church at Sardis ‘felt’ peaceful. To them everything was going along good & smooth; no complaints & no conflicts. That’s the way Christianity should be ~ right? Just love & good-vibes. But when the Lord Jesus looked, He saw that the reason for their peace was that the church was in a coma; mostly dead.
Let’s listen to what Jesus had John write: Revelation 3:1-6 NIV
“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. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 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.
4 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. 5 He 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. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one thing different about this letter is that the Lord does not condemn the church because of its active sin; He speaks like a trumpet-blast for them to ‘wake up!’ They had a reputation for being alive, but in reality, they were dead. Since there was no outside threat and no real inside conflict, they may have been the popular church to belong to; the ‘Sardis community feel-good church’. They could afford all the best decorations & equipment;
they had pleasing social activities; but their purpose was so bland that no one had any reason to criticize or complain. They fit right into a lazy, dead world. But to The One who judges all things, it was all just appearance. It was also spiritual hypocrisy.
In Matt.15, Jesus says: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ In last Sunday’s gospel reading we heard Jesus say this: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, did we not speak in your name, and in your name do many good things?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!’
So the church in Sardis bore the name ‘Christian,’ but its Christian mission or purpose was dead. So, it shows Jesus’ great mercy that He sends them His Word to resurrect them. They were like a sinking ship, where the captain & crew are all drowsy; their eyes are shut & they don’t see the obvious, and soon it would be too late. ‘Wake up!’ he says. ‘I see that your works are not whole.’ No matter how many activities they had, they were not done with a clear spiritual purpose as a church with the one & only salvation message for souls.
Scripture teaches that our works are the evidence that faith is living; good trees produce good fruit. But our view is limited, and people can be hypocrites. Actions might look like good fruit when its only good on the surface. But God sees the heart. He knows the inner thoughts & motivations; and His sight is perfect, His judgment is final. We can be fooled; but no one can fool God.
Doing charity & good works is not always the same as living up to God’s expectations and supporting His Kingdom in its mission. As God’s salt & light for Jesus Christ, our works must surpass those done by unbelievers = not in size, but in righteousness. It’s one thing to give a cup of water to a thirsty person; but it is a better thing, says Mark 9, to give that water because we belong to Christ, or in His name & for His kingdom’s purpose. The Christians in Sardis were active without being purposeful.
And so, persecution for the faith is a danger because it makes some run away from the church; false teaching is worse because it deceives people away from true faith; but maybe worst of all is inner dry-rot, loss of purpose, laziness, or apathy. Things seem fine, & a person feels comfortable – all the way to the grave; & then it’s too late.
This may be the church with the problem WE are most hesitant to look at & talk about, because we might see ourselves. And we are prompted by Jesus to ask ourselves if our works are ‘complete’ or not. The Epistle of James is famous for connecting our works with our faith. James 1:27 says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
For the first part of that, we’ve let the gov’t agencies take over the care of the needy. (which can be okay, bec the gov’t can do more than we can.) But one result of that is that we can get lazy, we don’t feel responsible to care for people’s needs, and we will pass-by on the other side. The problem is that we lose out on the godly purpose of serving in the name of Christ. Caring for needs can be an open door for the sharing of our joy & peace, of the guidance & outlook & hope that is found in Christ Jesus alone.
The other part of that verse said that we need to remain unpolluted by the world. That means learning more of God’s Word, & growing in walking in His right ways.
Too many believers assume that, since they went to Sun.Sch & confirmation, that they don’t need more church or Bible study, & can live their lives just fine.
But that prompts Two Qs: 1st: Do you remember all the lessons you learned in SS, & all the doctrines you were taught in Confirmation? (not likely) And 2nd: has your life not changed since you were between 5 and 15 years old? Has life & the world not presented you with new problems, & sins, & challenges to your faith – that you need more guidance? The HSpirit says: ‘Wake up!’
If it seems like this life-of-faith is just smooth-sailing, & we’re floating along, at peace, is it because we’re half-asleep, going along with the flow of the world? Be honest with God about that; because He already knows whether your works are complete or not.
One thing these letters do is show us just how much our Lord demands of us – His people. He reminds us that when He shed His blood for us, it was not just a spiritual thing & for the future, but He has redeemed our bodies & lives for the present living, too. And if our body & life does not belong to Him now, our spirits will not live with Him later.
Thru Paul, the Spirit wrote: ‘present your bodies as living sacrifices; that is your spiritual worship.’ This Christian faith takes all that we are & all that we have; that’s what our Lord purchased with His work of the cross & tomb. So, IF we are withholding our time, talent or treasure from the Lord & from His church, WHY are we? Are the reasons honest & legitimate or are we just being lazy toward Him, and incomplete in our so-called ‘good works’? Do our good works meet His high expectations of people who have been blessed to serve others in His name right now; and do those works actually show that we have His holy purpose, and that we value -above all else- that eternal treasure in heaven more than anything on earth?
A sinking ship only stays up for so long; a spiritual coma will end in spiritual death. There is no city of Sardis today, just ruins; and there’s no Christian church there. It’s as quiet as a graveyard. In the letter to Sardis, Jesus gives the remedy for this lazy-faith. While our English says: ‘remember what your have received’, the Greek sense of it is: ‘Keep on remembering, and keep on receiving. Continue to repent, and continue to obey.’ And that’s why the Lord continues to call us together here -every week of our lives- …>
…> to learn His Word for this life, to have new guidance & fresh wisdom for true life; because our sinful nature is lazy = and only the HSpirit can overcome that.
Here, among His people, we come to receive the Living Word, the continuing new guidance, and the reminder of what we’ve forgotten. He gives us the opportunity to repent of having been soiled by the world, & to be forgiven in Jesus = again. He sends us on our way for another week of living this faith, walking with Him & dressed by Him in a white robe = that is, in righteous living.
Like those few in Sardis back then, we have His promise now that He will never blot out our names from His Book of Life. He makes that promise to all those Baptized in His name, who are washed in His blood, & clothed with this faith that is obedient, & producing real good fruit.
Wake up!, Jesus says. Shake off those sneaky enemies: /carelessness, /apathy, /avoiding His Word & His worship, /and going with the flow of the world = that all ends in spiritual death. Hear the word of your Lord & Savior. Continue to remember, & to repent; continue to obey His holy word & teachings, and serve others with the gospel’s purpose.
And rejoice as you are moving on to enter into His heavenly kingdom.