Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Letter to the Church at Sardis: Appearing alive, but actually Dead

"No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.[a]" -John 5:44

"In an address I lately heard, the speaker said that the blessings of the higher Christian life were often like the objects exposed in a shop window, one could see them clearly and yet could not reach them. If told to stretch out his hand and take, a man would answer, I cannot; there is a thick pane of glass between them and me. And even so Christians may see clearly the blessed promises of perfect peace and rest, of overflowing love and joy, of abiding communion and fruitfulness, and yet feel that there was something between hindering the true possession, And what might that be? Nothing but pride." -Andrew Murray, Humility, p. 53

Sardis was a large and beautiful city in it’s time, with powerful defenses that made the residents over-confident in their ability to defend themselves from invading armies. Sardis was known for worship to the Greek god Artemis as well as roman emperor worship, but the city also had the largest Jewish synagogue in the ancient world apart from those in Israel itself. So there was a strong Jewish presence in this city as well.

Cyrus the greater conqueror had at one time attempted to conquer Sardis, but the fortifications on the great hills behind the city were too difficult to overcome. One night, a soldier on the battlements accidentally dropped his helmet over the side of the walls. So he snuck down and opened a secret passage to grab his helmet and come back. Unfortunately for him, this was noticed by Cyrus and his troops. They later attacked the other side of the city, and sent a group of soldiers to quietly break into the hidden doorway on the other side, and this helped them capture the city at last.

Coined money was apparently first developed in Sardis long long ago, when it was controlled by the Lydian empire. And the Lydian empire was known for being very wealthy. So we had a wealthy city, with powerful defenses, so this led to arrogance, overconfidence, and laziness. The city was captured by Cyrus, then later by the Roman empire, who controlled it during the time of the early church.

The church in this city apparently had a reputation of being a very active and spirit filled church. I’m sure in the past they had won many to Christ, and helped many people, and were growing and discipling, and spreading the word, and sending out missionaries. It was great. But, apparently this reputation over time, began to be something of the past, not the present.

They had been an active Spirit-filled church, but over the years, something had changed. Perhaps they had become lazy, complacent, and eventually, they were simply dead inside.

And I wonder if that’s true of some of us today, we used to be super active, we used to pray a lot, and read the Bible, but we’ve kind of settled back into complacency, kind of settled in and think well I’ll just show up to church and that’ll be enough.

But Jesus Christ our messiah, he sees the heart. And sitting back and going along to get along won’t be enough. It wasn’t enough for this church. Let’s look at what Jesus tells them.

He says in Revelation 3:1, “He who has [a]the seven spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, and yet you are dead.”

Jesus says I have the seven spirits of God, and I have the seven stars. We know the seven stars are the seven churches of Revelation. Good. But, what are the seven spirits of God?

I’ve often wondered that myself. What does Revelation mean by the 7 spirits of God? And it’s in the word. It’s actually apparently from a prophecy about the messiah in Isaiah chapter 11 verse two. It says this:

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

And [1] the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, [2] the spirit of wisdom and [3] understanding, [4] the spirit of counsel and [5] might, [6] the spirit of knowledge and of [7] the fear of the Lord;”

It’s been there all the time. All we had to do was look for it. And on a side note, I believe we as Christians can also have all of these seven spirits of God. Wisdom, understanding, counsel of God, the might of God, the knowledge of God, and the fear of the Lord. They are the hallmarks of a follower of Jesus.

But what does Jesus then tell them? Bad news. He says you are dead! Your reputation says you’re alive, but you’re actually dead. You’ve believed your own media. You’ve believed your reputation. But God sees past our reputation. He sees beyond how we portray ourselves. He sees who we really are.

My family growing up, was always about keeping up appearances. Everyone pretended to be good, ok, doing well. That’s not unique. I think most families are probably like that. But, sometimes something would sneak through, and we realize, oh they’re actually human too like the rest of us. We like to pretend to be perfect, but we aren’t. We like to enjoy a certain reputation.

First point today, God sees to the very heart of who we really are. He doesn’t care about our reputation. Or lack of reputation, in my case, in my past, everyone knew my dirty laundry, they kept publishing it in the newspaper. So, I had no reputation to guard. Everyone knew what I was.

But for you today, maybe you’ve got everyone fooled around you. But God isn’t fooled. He sees what you do in secret.

Next, the Messiah says, “2 Be constantly alert, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”

The Lord is giving instruction to this church, who is like the soldier on the wall who fell asleep. This church is like soldiers who are watching on the walls, but it gets late and they all fall asleep. Jesus says, wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, so Christ may shine on you!

Wake up! Get up! That’s point number two, first point was God sees who you really are, second point, therefore wake up, get back to work for God’s kingdom!

Return to a state of military alertness. On a navy worship the crew members and troops are at their various tasks and duties. But when the captain issues the order to come to a state of alertness, everyone rushes to their battle stations to be ready for combat. To be ready for action.

Jesus tells them, you can’t live on your past accomplishments. What if we at the salvation army here said well, back in 2020 we did some good things, we gave away Christmas toys, we did kettles bell ringing, but well, we haven’t done any of that since, we skipped it in 2021 and 2022. Because we already did that. Would that make sense? No.

We can’t live on past accomplishments. We keep serving. We keep setting new goals. We get deeper into the mission of preaching the gospel and meeting peoples needs.

Jesus tells them hey your deeds aren’t done yet, keep serving, stay active, wake up.

Then in verse 3, he continues along those lines. He says,

“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”

Point number 3, remember who you really are. Look to Jesus. Look back to what God did for you in the beginning. Look to the cross of Jesus Christ. Looks to Jesus’ perfect life, his miracles, his healing of the blind and bleeding, look to Jesus the pioneer of perfection, looks to Jesus the giver of the Holy Spirit, look to Jesus the one who washed away your sin and guilt and shame, and this looking will raise you from the dead. You will live by turning your eyes to Jesus, even though you’ve fallen asleep and become like one who is spiritually dead.

But Jesus also includes a warning, if you don’t repent, I will come like a thief when you don’t realize it. So Jesus says, look back, remember, what you received in your salvation from me. In so doing, I will revive you. They’ll wake up, rise again.

There’s a scripture in Ephesians that explains this concept well, of waking up.

From Ephesians 5:13-17 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”

15 So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Christ will shine on you again if you turn to Him. Then, be cautious how you’re living from now on, keep your focus on Jesus, laser focus, don’t move from it, because guess what, the days we live in are evil. And in so doing you’ll live in a way where you’ll know and follow God’s practical will for your life.

Lastly, Messiah Jesus says to them, “4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who overcomes will be clothed the same way, 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. 6 The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Fascinating, so, it is possible for a Christian to soil their garments. We each right now, are wearing a robe of righteousness. It’s the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Revelation also says the white linen is the righteous acts of the saints, which is interesting too.

But the reason we’re able to enter paradise after we die is because we are robed in the righteousness of Christ, which covers our sin, and makes us pure. But, apparently, like Sardis, it is possible to by sinning, by laziness, by spiritual death, to dirty our robes of righteousness, which disqualifies us from eternal life.

But Jesus says there are some who haven’t dirties their robes, and they will walk with Him it says, robed in white, and he won’t blot out their names from the book of life. Which also implies that a Christian by willful sinning or apostasy, have their name removed from the book of life. Very interesting.

An interesting side note, is that when archaeologists studied the remains of the synagogue that was in Sardis, they found that on the pillars for the jewish synagogue the jews had written their names into the stone. But their names were written in Greek. And when it says in verse 4, you have a few people the word there for people can also be rendered as “names.”

So Jesus says, there are some names that haven’t been blotted out, that haven’t been soiled, and they will walk with me, and I will speak up for them before my Father in heaven, and the angels. Because they are worthy.

The one who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Our final point today is to be an overcomer. Even if you’ve become stale in your walk with Christ, even if you’ve become lazy, worldly, if you’ve lost prayer, lost bible reading, lost an excitement for God and knowing Him, you can repent, and find Jesus again. He will shine on you, but you have to wake up. Wake up, and He will help you. But don’t think you can hide in your complacency and just hope that everything will work out. Jesus says no, I see the truth, and I can see that you’re dead, and I’ll remove you from the book of life if you stay the way you are. It’s a serious warning. So we should take it seriously. Some of us here I think have become a bit complacent. We aren’t as excited as we used to be. We need to turn again to Jesus. Let’s do that today. Start by getting on your knees and crying out to Jesus to wake you from the dead. He will help you!