If you think about it, there are several ways by which we can be awakened. When you are young, you are awakened by the sometimes gentle – sometimes not so gentle – voice of your father or mother. Some are awakened by the jangling of an alarm clock or the blare of the clock radio. Sometimes some are awakened by the preacher raising his voice. But perhaps the worst way to be awakened is by the ringing of the telephone in the middle of the night for it may bring bad news that interrupts our peaceful slumber with a harsh reality that we don’t want to hear.
This morning, we look at the message to the church in Sardis in which Christ calls on the Christians in that church to “wake up!” This isn’t a gentle stirring of a mother or father to a child. This is the urgent call of “wake up!” because there is imminent danger coming. The church in Sardis is resting very comfortably, far too comfortably, in their spiritual life. They are only going through the motions of the Christian faith and Christ warns them that if they don’t wake up, they may be swept away. Let’s read the message in Revelation 3:1-6.
I. First, let’s look at the setting of the church in Sardis.
However, the main element that gave them a great sense of security was their wealth. Sardis was located on several main trading routes which made for a booming local economy and which made all the citizens there very physically comfortable. And so Sardis was a city of people who felt no threats, no major difficulties and so were very comfortable because they were very secure in every way.
Christ gives his most severe denunciation of all the letters to this church. The church there too had thrived in this setting but they had absorbed the environment. Christianity ended up being a fringe benefit to a very comfortable life style. There is the story of the man who came down from the mountains, was all dressed up and carrying his Bible. A friend saw him and asked, “Elias, what’s happening? Where are you going all dressed up like that?” Elias said, “I’ve been hearing about New Orleans. I hear that there is a lot of liquor and a lot of gambling and a lot of real good naughty shows.” The friend looked him over and said, “But Elias, why are you carrying your Bible under your arm?” Elias said, “If it’s as good as they say it is, I might stay until Sunday.” That is an example of holding on to both worlds that Christ condemns.
Christ identifies himself as the one who holds the 7 spirits of God and the 7 stars. Christ holds the power of the Holy Spirit, the source of life for all Christians. Christ holds the whole church and rules over all the churches. Christ, not the environment in Sardis, is the One who rules and controls their lives.
What are the specific problems that the church in Sardis faced? They seemed to be alive and healthy but in fact they are really dead. Today we might say that the church programs are well-attended, there are programs for all ages, plenty of activities for all; everything appears great. But underneath all that healthy looking exterior, there is spiritual apathy.
More specifically, the problem is that their deeds are unfinished in the sight of God. They are going through the actions of being Christian, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t follow through. A small college town a tavern frequented by students ran the following ad in a campus paper just prior to Parents Weekend: “Bring Your Parents for Lunch Saturday. We’ll Pretend We Don’t Know You!” The college chaplain posted his version on the campus bulletin board: “Bring Your Parents to Chapel Sunday. We’ll Pretend We Know You!” Many Christians in Sardis acted like Christians on Sunday, but their faith had virtually no meaning on Monday through Saturday.
Their secure and comfortable environment had totally engulfed them. They were not facing any threat from persecution because their faith was so ineffective that it was not offensive. To be a Christian means that you will be offensive to some people. This doesn’t mean that we should deliberately go about offending people. However, if we are living the kind of life that Christ expects us to live, there will be some who won’t like it or like you. One gets the impression that these Christians didn’t have any problems because their faith and actions were so empty.
Christ says that if this church is to survive, it must do three things. First, the church must wake up and realize the danger they are in. This call would certainly get the attention of the people in Sardis. Twice in their history, enemies had somehow scaled those 1500 foot rock cliffs and had taken the city of Sardis without a fight. The soldiers had become so overconfident and comfortable in their position that they weren’t paying close attention to any possible threat. Christ says that this church must wake up or they too will lose what they have.
Second, Christ tells them to remember that they had accepted that faith into their lives when they heard the word of God. They are to return to the solid faith that they once had. Finally, the church there must repent and return to following Christ.
And if they do not wake up and repent, Christ issues a severe warning in verse 3. Christ will come to them like a thief in the night, when they don’t expect it. He will punish them for not being an effective lampstand for Christ. Their light is gone so there is no reason to have a lampstand there. Christ is warning them that they may lose their church if they don’t repent.
The warning is very clear and they must heed it before it is too late. Christians may ignore the warnings God’s Word gives them about self-centered living, but the time of judgment will come, Christ says, when we least expect it. Anglican W.R. Inge, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, once wrote, “The Church which is married to the Spirit of its Age will be a widow in the next.” That is the warning that Jesus is giving his church in Sardis.
III. What about the unsoiled minority?
There are a few who have not “soiled their clothes” and who have remained faithful. The term “soiled clothes” represents the sin of the people. The majority of Christians, by giving in to the culture in which they lived, had soiled their clothes and disqualified themselves from a relationship with God. Yet a few have remained true and faithful to God. These few are assured that they will walk with Christ dressed in white. Think about that! They will have the pleasure of walking with Christ just as the disciples did in Palestine as they walked and talked with Jesus. And as they do so they will be dressed in white. White was the color that represents sinlessness of the justified in Christ.
They have been faithful and forgiven servants. Though they are few in number and have little influence against the vast majority in Sardis, they have been faithfully showing that they are on the side of Christ. They have done all they could to prove their faithfulness. And to those in all the churches who will overcome, Christ gives three precious promises. They, like the faithful few in Sardis, will be dressed in white as the justified in Christ. They will be viewed as not guilty before God and justified in Christ’s blood. It means we can stand before God as if we had never ever sinned.
Second, their name will never be blotted out from the book of life. Ancient towns had official registers in which each person’s name was written. When a person moved or died, the person’s name was removed from the book because he or she was no longer there. Christ says that those who are faithful will always have their name in the book of life as being a citizen in the kingdom of heaven.
Finally, Jesus promises that he will acknowledge their name before the Father. Jesus will stand up for us on judgment day as we stand before God and will say, “Never mind all those awful, terrible things you have there. I died for this person’s sins; they are no longer held against him.”
All these things describe us having life and that should be greatly reassuring to us. Sixteen years ago I had surgery to remove a cancerous prostate. My doctor assured me that he was confident he got it all but he would keep checking me frequently to make sure. For years the fear of cancer returning was very real to me but it gradually lessened to the point where I felt that maybe my cancer was truly gone. Then last year my urologist said that I don’t need to come back anymore. After fifteen years, the cancer was officially gone and would not be back. Even though my fear had diminished, that meant it was over and done!
Jesus is promising that the sin we struggle with is over and gone forever! We will stand before God in heaven and we will be declared innocent and pure! But such promises are not for those who are taken over by sin in the world.
IV. So does the church need to wake up today?
First let’s recognize that we are living in a setting that is quite similar to that in Sardis. We are living in a great deal of security and comfort today. We don’t face persecution where physical harm is threatened. Most of us live in a great deal of comfort in that we live in a wealthy setting.
These factors were found in Sardis as well. It was precisely those things that lured them into a horrible state of complacency. At the very least, we must be alert to the potential of spiritual slumber and of being Christian in name only. Can people tell that we are followers of Christ by watching us or talking with us? Or do we very comfortably blend into the crowd so that we don’t offend anyone? We must remember that we are Christians not only during a worship service, not only on Sundays, but every day. When we are negotiating deals, doing our shopping and driving our cars. When we are talking with friends, co-workers and neighbors.
I challenge each of us to look at ourselves in light of the warning Christ gives. Are we finishing our deeds in God’s estimation? Do we say that we will pray more, but actually never do? Do say we will live our lives more for Christ, but always live for ourselves first? Are we following through on what we say we believe in every part of our lives or are we just going through the motions?
Another vital question again for Faith Church is this: “Are we being a lampstand?” Don’t ever be afraid of bringing the gospel to the people in our community. Are we so wrapped up in ourselves that we are forsaking the call to go into all the world, including our community, and preach the gospel? Is our Christianity fine-looking on the outside, but something else on the inside?
These are questions that we all know the right answers to. We can likely all spout off all the correct answers regarding discipleship, obedient living, faithfulness and the like. But the question that we must keep coming back to is: “Are we really living it? Are we finishing the deeds that God has set before us?”