February 17, 2012
By John Barnett
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As we open to Revelation 3:1-6 we are opening to the only time that Jesus declares that a local church is dead, non-responsive to His plans, and non-functional for His purposes.
Look back over the text of the letter Christ wrote to them, which we read last time.
In those words we find in an event from Sardis’ past, a key that unlocks the message Jesus gave to the saints that were alive in Christ, and listening.
Follow along in v. 1-6, and I will emphasize the words that they would have clearly understood.
Christ says them twice.
Revelation 3:1-6 (NKJV) /“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: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 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. 4 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.
5 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.
6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’/
Many of the seven letters from Christ mention local events that those who lived in that city, and attended that fellowship, would understand.
Here in Sardis, it is the “watchfulness” allusion, that would ring in their minds.
They all knew that twice their city fell to the invading armies of enemies: because the soldiers who guarded them, had slept on the job.
Sardis was built upon a thousand foot high cliff, overlooking a fertile valley.
This mountaintop location provided such an apparently unscalable wall of protection, in the natural rock formations, that it seemed to be impregnable to any attack other than through the heavily fortified entrance gates.
Yet Sardis was captured twice in history, before this letter from Jesus arrived; and all the inhabitants knew why.
Both Cyrus the Persian (in 549 BC) and Antiochus the Greek (in 218 BC), were able to take the city almost without a fight: both times because of its slackness.
Each time Sardis fell, enemy troops had watched the guards on the cliff top, saw the hidden paths they used to get down to the valley, and used those same paths to creep up at night and take the city.
In each conquest, when the troops scaled the precipice by night, they found that the over-confident inhabitants of Sardis had either set no guard, or they were sleeping in the guardhouse.
Sleeping on the job was a physical sign of overconfidence for any soldier tasked with guard duty.
Sleeping spiritually, by not guarding against the wiles of the Devil, is a sign of overconfidence for any believer.
Jesus was warning them:
*Beware of Overconfidence*
There was a clear parallel that the believers in Sardis would have caught, and that all of us in the following generations of Christ’s church, should heed.
Thus we have the key that unlocks the meaning of Christ's words to Sardis.
Jesus points directly at their need for watchfulness, and ours.
Jesus often used this metaphor of watching, staying awake, and sleeping in His teaching.
He used it in several of His parables contrasting the good and bad servants.
Here are some of Christ’s key lessons in the Gospels:
*Christ’s Lesson 1: Believers are to stay vigilant so that nothing keeps them from living for Christ's coming.*
Matthew 24:36-44 (NKJV)
/“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.
41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
43 But know this: that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.
44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."/
Believers are asked to live every day as if it were our last.
*Christ’s Lesson 2: Salvation is personal and non-transferable; and believers are those always prepared for Christ's coming.*
Matthew 25:1-13 (NKJV)
/“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."/
The interpretation of this Parable:
Parables are not to be dissected, and have every point in them allegorized into some spiritual application.
Each parable has a central message and purpose that illustrates the truths Jesus was communicating.
Many parables are very hard to understand, and need careful interpretation.
This parable is a wedding scene everyone in Christ’s audience would have understood.
So the time, the number, the term virgins, and the sleeping details were all understood.
The lesson is that in this very common and well known scene, some had made the preparation for the wedding, and some had not.
In this parable the bridesmaids all looked alike, only their preparation differed.
Jesus was simply making the point that salvation not transferable, it is only personal.
Those who had oil were saved, and those without were not.
A time came when it was too late to get saved, and they missed out forever.
*Christ’s Lesson 3: Believers should go through life: always awaiting their Master’s return; and always doing what He left them to do.*
Mark 13:32-36 (NKJV)
/“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33 Take heed , watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
34 It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.
35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— 36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping."/
*Christ’s Lesson 4: Believers either watch out for the Devil’s temptations, or get devoured by yielding to them.*
Mark 14:34-38 (NKJV)
/Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.
Stay here and watch .”
35 He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. 36 And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.
Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
37 Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping?
Could you not watch one hour?
38 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”/
Now as we turn back to Revelation 3, do you remember how similar we are today to that church 2,000 years ago?
*We Are Exactly in the Same Place as Sardis*
The believers, who met in Sardis, and at each of the other six of the seven churches, were no longer taught and led by the personal Christ’s Apostles.
The churches no longer had that direct, personal touch with those who had known, seen, loved, touched, and heard Jesus Christ.
All of the seven churches were led and taught by second generation believer-leaders.
There were no primary, apostolic witness pastor-teachers left that still led the churches.
The last Apostle-Pastor-Teacher was John, and he was imprisoned on a maximum security prison camp, isolated from the world on an island 54 miles off from the coastal city of Ephesus.
The only way that all the second-generation churches of the 1st Century, and every generation since, heard from God was through His written Word.
There is the most striking truth from these seven letters.
Jesus Christ is showing how He communicated with us who are His children, and it is through His Word, written down.
Today, just like the day this letter arrived at Sardis, we are to hear the words that are read, and respond to them, just like it was Jesus Christ Himself, or one of His Apostles standing there and addressing His Church.
So, back to this letter in Revelation 3, think of:
*Lessons that They And Us Need to Heed*
Note that it was in v. 1a “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write”.
The saints in this local church needed to listen as their angel, their messenger that shared with them God’s Word, their teaching-pastor.
As he read this letter to them, they were being told by Christ that they had not been obedient to the clear commands God had already given them.
They had not responded to the teaching of the Apostles from the NT books and epistles, thus they were not pleasing Christ in their day-to-day behavior.
What had Jesus already asked for them to do, and taught them through their pastor’s ministry of the written and taught Word to them?
They knew that Jesus described true believers as those who are: Overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God.
John 7:37-39 (New King James Version) On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.
38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”