Chapter 3: 1-6
“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. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 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.
“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. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the church.’”
The church at Thyatira was a church steeped in sexual immorality, and they had a woman called Jezebel by Jesus who had led them astray in their worship as the Jezebel of the Old Testament had done to Israel. Jesus still had some good words for these folks. They had done some good things and had been through some battles that made them strong, patient and loving. Their service was good and they were still growing in these graces.
God always judges faithfully; He sees the good and the bad that we do. He is always ready to acknowledge the good and is just as ready to deal with the bad. He exercises grace and kindness in all areas, and His judgment is always tempered with time to repent. We/I need to learn this with others, my kids especially. I need to see the good in them, be ready to deal with the bad, and temper every punishment with grace and the time to repent. Maybe, for all of us this is good advice in our lives.
Today we move on to the church at Sardis. This is probably the harshest of the assessments that Jesus makes of any of these churches. In verse 1 He states, “You are alive, but you are dead.” In other words, you look like you are moving, but in reality you are dead. This is the hardest church to deal with because there is plenty of activity. They are serving the Lord, doing mission work, handing out Bibles, preaching, teaching and doing the things that a ‘living’ church should be doing; BUT, they are dead.
The City of Sardis, verse 1
Like this church, the city of Sardis was itself operating as if it were alive; but it was, for the most part, dead. According to one of the writers that I looked at, the city of Sardis was already in decline. It had seen better days. You would not know it to see it at the time, but they were dying as a city. Heavily loaded with debt and having been invaded twice, they were for all intents and purposes dead.
They were an affluent city; the people were accustomed to a pampered lifestyle. The city itself was the chief city of Asia Minor. History tells us that this was the first city in Asia that had been converted under John’s preaching. So, this must have been a hard letter to write and to be aware of their decline.
The city was known for its luxury and softness. The people were busy and went about their business unaware that their city was, for the most part, dead. The city of Sardis had been invaded and conquered twice in the history leading up to this letter. It would appear that a sense of apathy had set in, and the city had stopped being watchful. As such, they were conquered and yet still they remained cushioned in their luxury. As long as they had the appearance of life, they could not understand that they were actually dead.
This is a hard situation to be in, like a chicken with its head cut off; there is an appearance of life as the body moves but the chicken is dead. I have seen this firsthand as a lad. One of my uncles was a Muslim, and he had to kill his own meat back home in Barbados. He would go to the market and get 6 or 7 chickens, then he would pray over them and kill them in the back yard. He would cut the heads off, but the chicken would still be moving. They were acting alive but were actually dead.
There are churches like this all the way through the church age. Obviously, some of the churches like this had repented, because we still have churches today that serve and love the Lord. But all was not yet lost in this church. Jesus, the righteous Judge, was going to give them some hope.
The Seven Spirits of God, verse 1
I remind you once again that the Revelation is about revealing Christ in all His glory, power and essence to us and the world around us. We have seen Him previously as the First and the Last; He has eyes of flames and feet of brass; He walks amongst the seven candle sticks; and He is the one who sees all that we do and judges even the intents of the heart.
Today we will see Him as “He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” There is only one Holy Spirit; He is God. But He operates in various fields, and He is the life blood of each New Testament church. It might appear that He is seven spirits, but He is just one who can be everywhere at once because He is God.
In the letter to the first church, Jesus addresses the elder as an “angel.” Here they are addressed as “stars.” There are seven stars to whom the Holy Spirit gives direction, and it is the pastor’s job to manage the local church and keep it in the right doctrine, the right purposes, and to judge its intents and actions. Maybe the pastor here had become apathetic as well; and as such, the church was following the leadership. Change would start from the leader and flow through the people.
I pastor a small church; we are not materially rich by any means. I often wonder if we are ‘poor’ because of my failings as a pastor. Trust me; I have failed. I told my wife when we began dating that all I have ever been good at was failing. I have to wonder if we are just going through the motions often or are we genuinely engaged to bring God the glory, and are we serving Him with all of our hearts, mind, body and strength.
I see our faithful few who have been with me for ages; they give beyond measure; they attend in rain, snow, sunshine and often in pain. Some work all night and then come to church in their work clothes. They are ready to share their goods as best they can, and they are ready to serve and meet the needs of a brother with what they have. I am blessed to serve them.
Jesus has perfect knowledge: “I know your works.” Jesus knows all about you and me. This should drive us and humble us. Sadly, many of us still look at the man in the mirror and forget that we are wretched and our only hope is in Jesus.
The city and it would appear the church at Sardis would not admit that they were in need of help. They looked in the mirror every day; they saw the cracks in their lives; they could see the results of death in their faces, and yet they walked out each day acting like they were alive. We live in a time much like this for the most part.
We live in a province in Ontario that has one of the largest debts for a non-nation. We spend billions more than we take in, and we continue to grow more and more debt. Our politicians promise free this and free that, but there is no such thing as free. Everything has to be paid for, if not now, then later; and it is the later that is killing us. I must admit that as a family we deal with debt; we have a mortgage, car payments and the like. For most of us, we see debt as a necessary evil; but it is not if we can learn to say no to ourselves.
The Bible allows for debt, and obviously even in Bible days people got into overwhelming debt that would cost them their lands and homes and maybe even their freedoms. But God established a Jubilee Year that allowed for all of the previous generation’s debt to be cancelled, and everyone started back where they were 50 years prior.
We may need to get to that in the near future. It is clear that the US cannot repay $21,000,000,000,000 in debt, Canada cannot repay its national debt, and for sure Ontario is struggling as well. But the banks that control our debts are not of a forgiving mind, and they would rather hold us ransom than forgive debt.
Sardis was not so blessed; they had racked up debts, and their society was falling apart even if it had the appearance of life. Jesus knew the truth. We CANNOT fool Jesus, we cannot pull the wool over His eyes, and He is not swayed by activity. He sees the emotion and motives as well.
My wife and I were talking just this morning about the ‘signs of the times.’ The players are all in the game. There is wickedness in the hearts of men continually, there is evil around us, and there is no more shame for sin. We live in a time when sin is celebrated and even legislated by law. Yet, the world around us goes on as if nothing and no One is to be feared; they have no fear of God and His judgment.
Like Lot, we watch; we fear God and understand that there is a great judgment coming; it will be fierce, swift and will cause such chaos and death like the world has never seen. And, if you tell people that what they are doing is an affront to a Holy God, they will scoff at you and maybe even try to silence you. We feel for them and we try to share the truth with the few who will listen, but it is hard and seemingly futile. However, there are still some to be saved.
Room to repent, verses 3
“Hold fast and repent” (verse 3). Stop the slide; don’t go back any further than where you are. “Hold fast” is a military term that when commanded simply means don’t move back and don’t give ground to the enemy. In Philippians 4:1, we are encouraged to “stand fast in the Lord.”
“Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”
To “stand fast” means to not be moved. But our power to stand fast must be in the Lord. The church at Sardis had moved back far enough; it was time to stop giving ground to the enemy, stop watering down the truth, stop going through the motions with no real commitment to the Lord, stop just acting like Christians and actually begin thinking like God’s people.
The folks at the church in Sardis had stopped trusting in the Lord; they had trusted in their luxuries and done their ‘duty’ but not to the Lord. They were not wholly invested mind, body and soul in the Kingdom. As such, they had compromised for the sake of comfort, the kind of comfort they were accustomed to in life.
Often, comfort is a cancer to Christianity. Churches only seem to thrive if they are going through tough times or are under persecution. Why is that?
Well, obviously, the first thing that happens is that the pretenders fall out. Those who are left are the ones that are the core of any growth. And this is where the church in Sardis had the opportunity to repent, “stand fast” stop the back-sliding, stop retreating on the truth, stop doing church and return to a real and intimate relationship with Jesus, and be the church. Jesus gives them room to repent, and He always gives us room to repent as well.
God loves to forgive; He loves to extend mercy and grace, and resorts to pain only when all attempts at grace, mercy and kindness have become futile.
We live in a time where the Lord’s churches need to “stand fast,” stand in the midst of the river of comfort that is plaguing the New Testament church. Too many have become comfortable with doing the acts of church and not being a church. Let me give you an example of how this might play out:
You are a church in a community, you serve an area of poorer people, and you try to serve them physically. You are blessed with material goods so you give of your food, clothing, goods, talents and the like, BUT never share the Gospel. You show no care for their eternal souls but you feed their bodies. This is an example of how a church can lose ground; it looks like they are doing church but they have forgotten their first calling – “make disciples.”
Our churches have a large group of ministries from youth camps to Emergency response teams, and we have a ministry that blitzes cities for four days at a time to share the love of Christ and win souls. That is the primary reason for any and all ministries. As we go about doing this ministry of making disciples, this will become an uphill battle sooner or later in North America, where we can do our ‘religion’ inside our homes but not be able to express our views outside our homes for fear of offending someone.
The Importance of Salvation, verses 4-5
Sadly, there were a lot of people in the church at Sardis who were not saved. They were part of the church, they may have served and worked, but there was no genuine salvation. This would explain one of the reasons for moving backwards as a church, away from the truth. We must be “born again.” This is a plague that has arisen in the Lord’s churches in our time as well – people who attend the church but are not saved, and as such, are not able to receive the spiritual food from the preaching.
We see that there were a few that were not involved in the fall of this church; they were truly saved; they had been washed and walked in white. They would have their names preserved in the Book of Life. Only Jesus could do this; notice “I will not blot them out.” Jesus is the only way to Heaven and to salvation.
Once of the hardest things to understand is that a person can pretend to be saved, but the truth will come out in the way that they ‘do church.’ It will show in the decisions that they make and the focus of their ‘ministry.’ Souls need to be saved, salvation needs to be preached, and being born again needs to be stressed in the Lord’s churches. All else is folly and a recipe for failure, and a lot of lost ‘church’ people. Lord, help us get back to the right way and to the business of winning souls for Him.
John 3: 1-5 “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
“Nicodemus saith unto him, how can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’”