“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. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, 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. 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. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Use your imaginations and answer this question –
· if you could dream about having anything at all, what would that be?
· What comes to mind?
· What energizes your thoughts?
· Is it the availability of time to do whatever you want whenever you wanted to do it?
· Things such as sleeping-in, shopping in the middle of the day, golfing and fishing 3 times a week, leisurely taking a walk, pursuing a hobby, growing a garden, or how about being the first in line at your favorite restaurant before the crowds arrive? [Did I just describe early retirement?]
· Or maybe for you, your dream involves purchasing power, the ability to buy anything you desire - from a dream boat, to an exotic vacation, to box seats to watch your favorite sports team. For others it’s designer clothes and shoes, a Coach purse for each season, Pandora jewelry for each arm, the latest electronics, games and movies, a chef to fix dinner, a personal trainer to help trim the waistline, and certainly hiring someone else to do all of your yard and house work. Doesn’t sound too bad does it?
Of course these are just dreams, yet,
· what would happen if all those dreams and more were a reality?
· What do you think might happen to a person who gets too much of a good thing too quickly, who never has to wait but is immediately satisfied, who doesn’t learn to appreciate the value of hard work but has everything handed to them?
· What might happen to that person's relationship with the church, or for that matter, with the Lord if on the surface all of their needs were met?
· Would the person surrounded by luxury become soft?
· Would such an individual begin to drift away from God?
· Would they lose their ability to identify with the common person?
· Would their time be filled up with so many other things to do and places to go, that their spiritual life would get squeezed out and time to volunteer or invest in the lives of other people who need help - would become less and less?
It reminds me of the pluses and minuses of chocolate.
Have you ever eaten warm moist chocolate cake covered in thick chocolate sauce with layers of chocolate chunk ice cream in-between? For a true chocolate lover, that’s heaven.
But would it be as special if you ate it everyday?
And how healthy would that be?
What would your waistline look like?
It’s all about finding a balance isn’t it?
I have a point to all this bear with me.
· What would happen to a church if it essentially had all the money it needed to operate annually and do repairs and buy new equipment without any worries?
· What would happen to a church that looked very busy on the outside - whose religion was only external, but was devoid of any spiritual life or power or personal investment on the inside?
· What would happen to a church that became so comfortable operating the same way year after year, where it only cared about it’s own, and lost its zeal for reaching out to those who needed Christ?
When I look at the church at Sardis I see some of these things I just mentioned. Because I see a church which is not troubled by persecution, disturbed by heresy, nor distressed by Jewish opposition. Why?
Because the Gospel they lived out wasn’t a threat to anyone. What they professed did not make an impact in their community. Instead of influencing the culture and ruffling a few feathers along the way, the culture was influencing them. They had become comfortable with the world around them and very possibly looked to their past achievements instead of looking to God’s calling for the future.
Dangers of being complacent
Dangers of being complacent
Jesus has an issue with First Church Sardis. They have become complacent and apathetic. Jesus told them in name you are alive, but in reality you are spiritually dead.
They were like the famous Necropolis or cemetery that existed in Sardis. Pretty on the outside but filled with deadness. They had a form of godliness, but no power.
Jesus told them you carry the facade of religion and activity, but the hearts of your people are far from the truth. And we wonder - how did all of this happen? How does a church die that was once alive?
The church in Sardis was located in a city known for its luxurious, loose way of life. And, I am guessing that perhaps some of the cultural advantages and luxuries and security of the city crept their way into the church. The church looked alive on the outside, it was busy doing things. But on the inside, the life-giving Spirit had been replaced by a formal and external religion.
· The church had been lulled to sleep.
· It lost its mission to save souls,
· help the poor and marginalized,
· and make Jesus the Lord of their lives.
This is why Jesus tells the church to wake up.
Now those who lived in Sardis at this time, who remembered their history well, understood the wake-up call. They understood what it meant to be lulled to sleep and think all is well and secure and running smoothly, when disaster was really at the door.
· It is important to know the city of Sardis had
· two locations,
· one down in the valley,
· and one 1,500 ft. above as a fortified acropolis,
· with tremendously steep cliffs all around.
· Sardis was considered impregnable,
· because it had never been seized by a frontal attack.
· But twice, in its history, because of a lack of vigilance (lulled to sleep), it was taken by stealth.
One story we know from history relates to the greatest of the Sardian kings named Croesus. It was during his era of reign that the wealth of Sardis became legendary, it reached its zenith. But one of the short comings of Croesus and his people was their blind confidence that nothing was going to stop their splendor and luxurious lifestyle. During a battle with Persia, Croesus retreated to his impregnable city to recuperate thinking no one could fight him there. For 14 days the Persians could do nothing. Then a special reward was offered to anyone who could find an entry to the city.
A Persian soldier, noticed a Sardian soldier lose his helmet over the wall and climb down a crevasse to retrieve it. So it gave him an idea. That night, a small Persian unit made their way up the steep cliff where the crevasse was located, scaled the unguarded wall, and opened the city gates letting their army walk right in and take over.
So when Jesus says in verse 2: Church at Sardis - Wake up! I think Jesus was saying, what happened in your history is happening in the church today. All is not as well as you think.
· You cannot trust your outward prosperity and the externals of religious activity.
· You need to remember how it use to be in the early days when you understood your true mission as a church.
· You need to re-examine the words of our Lord and obediently follow Him, sharing the good news of the gospel with others who need to hear.
So what about the church today of 2011?
· Have we been lulled to sleep in any form because we reside in the best province and Country in the world?
· How blessed are we to live in this country compared to other nations?
· How many other places can you live where you have everything you need at your fingertips, 24 hours a day?
· We spend billions of dollars each year on entertainment while thousands of children each day in third world countries starve to death.
· How easy is it for a church in Canada to find a comfortable routine week after week?
Without persecution to challenge what we believe, without a vision or direction of where we are headed and why we exist, how easy is it for a church in Canada to become spiritually dead and apathetic?
Have we lost our evangelistic zeal, the purpose why we exist?
The story is told of a father who won a toy prize at a department store. He called his five children together when he got home and asked them. “Who should get this toy as a present? Who is obedient? Who never talks back to your mother? Who does everything she says?” Five small voices answered back in unison - “You play with it daddy!”
Yes, just like this father understood obedience, Jesus is looking for men and women who will faithfully submit their wills to God’s calling and their availability to serve where needed. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations for the transformation of the world.
The Purpose of Joy
The Purpose of Joy
In verse 3, Jesus tells His people: Remember the joy you first had when you realized your sins were forgiven. Remember the price I paid to get you there. Well, this good news you understood is not just for you to hold on to and keep to yourselves, because I want the whole world to know it as well. Continue to keep the commands of the gospel and of the Christian way of life. Repent, serve and obey My word. Because Jesus says to the church, if you do not wake up, I am coming like a thief, at an unexpected time, to bring My judgment.
William Barclay makes this statement regarding repentance, regarding turning things around and making a change for Christ:
“In the Christian life there must be a decisive moment, when a man decides to be done with the old way and to begin with the new.”
And I ask, what will it take for us in this Country to arrive at that decisive moment where we realize we need to change and get back on course?
In verse 4 Jesus compliments the few who have not soiled their garments, who have kept the faith, and are worthy of reward. You see, in ancient times, such as with Sardis, it was forbidden to approach the gods in the temples in garments that were soiled or stained. You could lose your citizenship with such an offense.
Well, Jesus tells the faithful, because they have not soiled their garments, that is, they have not been influenced by the secular culture of the day, they have maintained a moral lifestyle and have not committed any sins of adultery or idolatry, nor undermined the gospel with false teachings, they will walk with Christ in white, a symbol of purity and holiness. They will have the honor of standing before God’s presence as kingdom citizens, clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
But the final promise comes in verse 5 in three parts.
“He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.”
First Promise: White Garments
First Promise: White Garments
In ancient times, white garments also stood for victory. For example, in a Roman triumph, a victory parade was held over a defeated enemy. All citizens wore white, and the city on that day was called the “city in white.” Jesus says to those who overcome, they shall be rewarded for their victory in Christ, clothed with a resurrected body like that of Jesus.
A second promise the overcomer is given mentions their name will not be erased from the book of life. In the ancient world a king kept a register of his citizens until their death. So when someone passed away, their name was erased or marked out of the book of the living.
A second way a citizen could have their name removed was if they committed a crime against the state. That person’s name was removed as a citizen before they were executed.
Well, during the first century, Christians were often considered disloyal to the state because they maintained Jesus is Lord and not Caesar. However, Jesus was reminding the faithful, in God’s book of life your name will remain. Death has no power to erase your name and you shall be numbered among the faithful citizens of the kingdom of God for all eternity.
The last promise Jesus gives to those who overcome is His pledge to confess their name before His Father, and before the angels of heaven. Jesus will claim us as one of His own. To those who remain true and faithful to Christ, Jesus will return the honor.
Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10?
“Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (vv.32-3)
I want you to imagine standing before the judgment seat of Christ and the throne of God while millions or perhaps billions look on. And Jesus steps down, places a hand on your shoulder and announces publicly to all:
· this one remained true and faithful to me.
· This one confessed my name before men and women on earth.
· This one belongs to Me. And immediately a thunderous applause goes up as you are honored and rewarded with a new white robe.
In this world we can brag about all the things we have done in the past or are going to do in the future. But our boasting may be too premature like the two grandmothers who were bragging about their grandchildren and one, quite impressed, asked the other, “How old are your grandsons?” “Well,” she replied, “the doctor is 2 and the lawyer is 4.”
In this world we can never be quite sure of what tomorrow may bring. It’s what we do today for Christ that lasts, not good intentions of what we should have done or pledges of what we might do one day in the future.
However, God’s word tells a promise to each of these seven churches we are studying, a promise Jesus says we can bank on. To the one who overcomes all persecution and hardships, to the one who endures to the end and remains true, they shall receive an eternal reward as heavenly citizens, life everlasting in God’s kingdom.