September 6, 2015
Pastor Jeff Struecker
You will see that the book Revelation was written by Jesus. Revelation chapter three is Jesus’ words to a certain church in Asia minor. In order for us to understand this letter, we need to do a little bit of research about this church in a city called Sardis about 2000 years ago. The city of Sardis was very much like Columbus, Georgia today. In fact, the Bible scholar Alan Johnson describes the city for us. He says that the Greeks considered it the greatest city in the world. It had a location that was right along the Aegean trade route, which means that there was lots and lots of business that passed through the city of Sardis. It also had one of the famous Roman roads that passed through it. That Roman road went to the Hermes River Valley. Since there was this trade route at the same place that this massive military force converged you had this extremely influential city, though it wasn’t very large it was very, very influential. Sardis enjoyed prominence as a commercially prosperous and militarily strategic city throughout the entire world. There was this massive cemetery there called the Necropolis. The Necropolis could be seen from a distance because it was located on a hilltop and the mountains themselves were silhouetted along this hilltop. The mounds of the Necropolis were often referred to in the area as “a 1000 hills” because of all of those grave markers there at the top of the Necropolis. Sardis was wealthy. In fact, this is probably the first place on planet Earth that a coin was originally minted. This is a coin from the city of Sardis. Never before did we have money in the form of currency like coins until it was first minted in the city of Sardis. Sardis was extraordinarily well off as a city.
There was a church in the city of Sardis. This church had great prominence and even greater potential. The church also had a problem. Tonight we’re going try to figure out what that problem was. I want you to pay close attention to the pronouns that I’m going to use. We’re going to start big and work our way in as we look at this letter that Jesus gave to the church in Sardis and to the point that he’s talking to us. Let’s first hear Jesus’ words to his church, the church universal, not just the church at Sardis and not just the church in Columbus, Georgia but to his church all over the world. You’ll quickly notice that because these words are written in red this is Jesus doing the speaking so we should be paying very careful attention.
I. Hear Jesus’ word to his church
Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.
We are going to try to figure out what Jesus was talking about here when this church thinks they’re doing okay. Jesus says they’re not doing okay. In fact, they’re already dying or close to death. The words he used more than once in these verses is ‘wake-up’ church while you still can. Wake up and listen to what I’m telling you. Jesus is giving this impression that there is something very dangerous at work in the church and if they don’t pay attention they are about to cross over the edge and the point of no return.
Let’s go through a series of questions and answers to try to figure out what is it that Jesus is referring to in this church of Sardis. The first question is what’s the problem in this church? It is pretty obvious in verse one that the problem that Jesus is referring is that they think they’re alive but they’re really dead. They have a very brief opportunity to return, to revive, or to wake up again. Here’s a great question for every church in the world, not just in America. How can a church that still has the doors open, still has people coming, and still thinks they’re doing well be told by Jesus that they’re really dead? The answer is they’ve allowed other things to become more important than the main thing. Pretty soon they started only doing the other things and stopped doing the main thing. When they stopped doing the main thing, the church started to die. Jesus said if they don’t wake up he will come, take what little is left, and they won’t be a church anymore. Only one person can give life where there is death. Only one person can take what is dead and bring it back to life again. That person is Jesus. Jesus is saying we’ve got one chance and we better risk it all on him because if we don’t we’re headed to destruction.
The words that Jesus is speaking to his church in Revelation 3 can happen to any church in the world. It can happen in an instant and it’s very subtle. In fact, it’s extremely dangerous but often times the church doesn’t even see it coming. Sometimes unfortunately they don’t see it coming until it’s too late. Every church has to constantly be on guard against this sin. It’s the sin of self-sufficiency. It’s us doing what we do the way that we do it because we like to do it that way. We believe that by continuing to do it the way that we do it God will continue to bless it. The church that is desperately dependent on Jesus Christ still has hope. The church that starts to become dependent on themselves, their methods, and their programs are ultimately heading towards death and many of them don’t even know until it’s too late.
Let me tell you a couple of very interesting facts about this church in Sardis. The city of Sardis was considered invincible in their day. They had this massive structure that was on top of a hill. That hill contained a wall of about 800 feet of solid cliff. The cliff couldn’t be scaled because the cliff was made out of sandstone. Sardis was attacked repeatedly. Sardis was able to repel every attack, except for twice, because when the foreign armies tried to scale the 800-foot cliff the wall would just crumble around them. There was literally no way to get to the top of the cliff. There is a famous and true story about how the city of Sardis was once defeated. The acropolis, the structure at the top of this 800-foot hill in the city of Sardis, had guards along the top of that were supposed to keep watch all day and all night long. One of those guards dropped his helmet. It tumbled down to the bottom of this cliff. Late at night this guard, not wanting to get in trouble by his boss, meandered down an almost hidden path. It took him from the Acropolis to the bottom of the cliff where he picked up his helmet. He put it back on his head and he marched back up to the top of the cliff. The entire Persian army watched this one soldier as he moved his way back up this almost hidden path to the top of the hill. The entire Persian army then meandered along this almost invisible path until they got to the top of the hill and they defeated the Sardinian and they took the capital of the Acropolis at the top. The entire event happened once again a couple of hundred years later when a foreign army found this path and they made their way up the hill and they defeated the Acropolis.
I hope you can hear it because I can. There is an urgency in Jesus’ words in Revelation chapter three. The urgency is for that church in this very significant city of Sardis to pay close attention to his words and to do something about it because if they don’t it’s going to be too late. The title of my sermon tonight is Jesus’ words to this church. It’s time for them to repent again! It’s time for them to once again recognize their sin, admit their mistakes, and then turn. If they don’t turn and change it may be too late for their church and for their city. They still have an opportunity and that opportunity is to turn.
II. Heed Jesus’ words to our church
Let’s start to narrow it down just a little bit and heed Jesus’ words to Sardis and to Calvary Baptist Church. William Barclay wrote a book called Letters to the Seven Churches. In this book he says, “Sardis was a city of peace, not the peace won through battle but the peace of the man whose dreams are dead and whose mind is asleep, the peace of lethargy and apathy.” People just stopped caring. As a result, they really had nothing to live for. Sardis died a very slow very subtle death. It died from the inside. It died of decay from the heart out, not from battle that destroyed the city.
Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.
Sardis was a superstar among Greek cities. It was wildly rich and some of the money in the city of Sardis came from the wool industry. In fact, Sardis’ wool was considered in very high demand. You can almost hear when Jesus is writing this letter to his church how he’s using the language that they are familiar with. He says that they think their wool is bright, sparkling white but it’s really not. It’s actually stained with sin. It’s time for them to clean up that dirty linen. It’s time for them to make that wool bright again. Only Jesus can clean it up. This sounds an awful lot like the book of Leviticus. It sounds a lot like Zechariah when the priest’s garments were being described. It was supposed to be clean, pure and holy before the Lord. Basically Jesus was saying, “Sardis, my church, if you’re going to be my bride you’re going to show up with a clean white dress or else I’m not going to claim you as a bride before my Father.”
There were ancient rituals where a successful general would march his troops through the city streets. His troops would all wear white. The people in the city would throw roses and flowers at them to shower them with praise for their feats of battle. It was a giant processional that showed the world how these few men defeated an army and protected the people. Jesus is saying there’s still a few of them in the church at Sardis that he will declare before his Father because their names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life and he will not forget them. So, here’s the question for tonight. Can God turn a people around and cause of people to turn a church around? We’re asking this question about the church of Sardis. Can God turn a people around which will in turn turn a city around, that in turn can change an entire community, and can change the world? Is God big enough that he can do that with just a handful of people? The question is whatever happened to Sardis. Did they wake up? Or, did they die a terrible death? Watch this video made by a professor of New Testament. It’ll give you a lot more information about Sardis. It also answers the question, is God great enough that he can turn a people around, which will in turn change the church, which can in turn change the world? Watch this video clip
III. Honor Jesus’ words to me
We looked at Jesus’ words to his church universal. Then we started asking questions about Jesus’ words to this church. Now we’re asking a question about Jesus’ words to me. The last challenge for all of us is to stop and honor Jesus’ words to us. I want to personalize this for just a few moments. Since this letter was written to a church and a church consists of people, Jesus is ultimately calling a few people out and saying there is still hope. It’s not too late!
Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.
Jesus uses this exact same phrase at the end of each of his letters to each of the seven churches in Revelation. If you have ears to hear and eyes to see, then pay close attention to what these letters say so that you don’t end up personally so that your church doesn’t end up collectively in the exact same place that Sardis was. We don’t want to end up as a church that thinks we’re alive but in reality Jesus would say no we’re actually still dead. I’m absolutely convinced there’s a point of no return for churches. Some churches sense it and they make some major changes. Other churches don’t know until it’s too late. In the churches that don’t notice the point of no return until it’s too late there is nothing left for them to do but close the doors and to sell off the property. Listen to me carefully that is not where we’re at at Calvary Baptist Church. We have not reached the point of no return. That’s not what I’m saying to us today. I’m saying we can, if we are not careful, get to the point of no return.
So, what is it that was dead inside the church of Sardis that they thought they were still alive? Sardis probably had a lot of things going for them. They were doing a lot of good stuff. Sardis probably saw people come in through their doors and money was going through the offering plate. The church in the city of Sardis was probably trying to make an impact but an impact among themselves. Jesus said, “I want you to remember, Sardis, why your church began in the first place.” I think if Jesus were writing this letter to Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia he would say, “Calvary, I want you to go back to July 1908. I want you to go back and think about why Jordan City Baptist Church was created in July 1908 in the first place.” I can tell you it was created because godly men and women in Columbus, Georgia said they wanted to see men and women come to faith in Christ. As a result, they partnered together for the sake of the Gospel to change a city. It’s only by Jesus’ glory that Calvary Baptist Church continues to exist. I think Jesus would challenge us. It’s every church that has to go back and remember why they began in the first place and ask how important that is to them today. Have other things started to become more important than the main thing? When the main thing is no longer the main thing nothing else really matters.
Everywhere that I look I see lots of very encouraging things about what God is doing in Calvary Baptist Church except for one area. When I look at this area it devastates me and breaks my heart. I walk away concerned deeply about the future of our church. It’s what’s not on this baptism board that gives me great concern about whether or not Calvary Baptist Church will continue to exist five years or 55 years from now. Every church has a decision to make. The decision is are we pouring our resources into ourselves and doing our best to try to minister to ourselves or are we willing to get uncomfortable and get outside the walls of the church and make a difference in the city?
You don’t get a chance to see what I see because you aren’t in my membership class. Men and women who sit down in the class and say they love what God is doing here and are excited to partner with Calvary Baptist Church. Essentially the men and women that are joining our church are coming from another church. In other words, we’re building on the work that God has already done somewhere else. They’re not men and women that are coming to faith in Christ for the first time ever through this church. My challenge for us is to hear the words that the Spirit says to the churches and ask ourselves what have we personally done to change the way that that baptism board looks. Have you shared the Gospel with someone? Have you presented to them what Jesus has done for them on the cross? Have you invited them to respond to what Jesus has done for them on the cross and then just trusted the results to that in Jesus’ hands? You and I can’t convince somebody to give their soul to Jesus. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to be diligent to share the Gospel all over the Chattahoochee Valley. This church is in a strategic location in a city that can change the world. If we’re not careful, we will start the long slow process of dying because we’re taking care of ourselves and we’re attracting people who have already been attracted to Jesus not people who don’t know Jesus. I want to invite every one of you in this room to ask the question have you personally done anything to change the way that that baptism board looks in 2015? Truth is it’s not just my responsibility to see men and women come to faith and to follow Jesus in baptism. It’s not just the pastors of this church’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of people of the church. If we don’t do this, we start the dangerous process that can lead to the death of this church or any church.
- Tonight, I repent of living without concern for my neighbors that need Jesus.