A Church Called Sardis – Revelation 3:1-6

Posted by: cghearn | 11/09/2014 | 12:00 pm

Download: A Church Called Sardis – Revelation 3:1-6

Have you ever participated in something which everyone said was exciting, but then found out it was a let down?

The church in Sardis was facing a very difficult dilemma in that the church had a reputation for being a living church that was filled with the Spirit, but was actually close to being dead.

I can remember a time, probably about 2-3 years ago, when one of my deacons and me attended a particular congregation that some people had been telling us was pretty great. It had lively worship, dancing, and a lot of people attending every service. The people that we rode up to the service with sang the praises of the leader the entire time to the point where I was even a little excited to get there. When we got there and finally heard the teaching, however it was one verse taken out of context after another followed by vain speculations about the apocalypse. I’m not sure if the teacher said one concrete, useful thing the entire time we listened to him speak. He then spent the last half hour or so talking about money; giving thousands to the ministry. He did this while wearing an extremely expensive looking pin-stripe suit. Needless to say, the ride home was extremely awkward. This congregation had a reputation for being alive, but they were certainly dead.

Many of us in this room have experienced something that we thought was going to be the answer to all of our troubles, yet have found out that it was nothing more than a let-down. We’ve sought out many different religions without finding the answers we sought; we’ve sought out relationships that left us believing that hope itself was hopeless leaving us hollow, haunted, and helpless. Just as many in history have discovered there is a vast array of things that promise life but have instead dragged us further into the grave.

I often see that when people have built something up in their minds it’s because they need something. The greatest human need that I’ve ever seen is contentment. You could also call this “peace” and I truly believe that all mankind is looking for it but only one source offers it.

Doctrine of sermon:
Even the church that is dead may still have the opportunity to turn and live

Even a church that’s dead can have a reputation for being alive

The church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive among Christians, but Christ saw the heart of the church. The problem is not spoken of explicitly, but it was clearly there. In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes the pagan Greek poet Epimenides when he says, “In him we live and move and have our being.” He meant by this that we have our life source in God although the original author spoke of Zeus.

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one-
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Christ knew the church, he knew the hearts of those within the congregation, and he knew that they had become dead. Just as someone may look like a Christian, talk like a Christian, and behave like a Christian but ultimately only God can see the hearts of men. Christ wasn’t saying the church was dying, he was saying it was completely dead. The verb in this passage is a derivative of εἰμί and it’s very plain what the passage is saying: Sardis is completely dead.

How then can something that is dead, live?

Just because you cannot see the breeze doesn’t mean it doesn’t blow,
Because the river moves under ice does not mean it’s ceased to flow,
Just because it’s daytime doesn’t mean the stars have ceased to glow,
Just because you are unaware of something doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t know

Here’s where we have trouble understanding because it’s a miracle when something that is dead gets brought back to life. But if you’re a believer today, then you have to believe in Christ’s power over death including the death of several unnamed people in the gospels, a man by the name of Lazarus, and even himself. He is ultimately the one who will save you from death, even though he has already saved you from spiritual death.

Turn to Ephesians 2:1-6

Redemption:
Even when something appears as if it’s completely dead, God has the power to bring it back.

Even the church that is dead can be brought back to life

While the church was considered dead, Christ says that there are still a few things that they’ve done right and he invites them to return and finish what they started because their work was still unfinished.

When we cut things out and leave them incomplete, it can often leave room for interpretation or for another to finish our work that won’t honor it.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t [censored] her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he [censored] her very well.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.

The church of Sardis had left holes, they had left the work of the Lord unfinished which you can see can lead to misrepresentations and confusion (sometimes a bit of humor given the proper audience). Usually the outcome is bad even if the intentions were initially good. Sardis had intended good when they first started out, but had died out somewhere along the line and Christ promises that he will deal with those who have walked away from their work. At the root of the churches issues I think was that they had not counted the cost of following Christ.

There are some projects that stand as a monument those who didn’t finish:

1. In the 1920’s in Cincinnati, OH there was an underground subway system that was started, but never finished. The tunnels and system were about half way finished when the great depression hit. They lie underground as tombs. They’re titled as “the city’s greatest embarrassment.”
2. A Tale of Two Cities author Charles Dickens, at the time of his death in 1870, was perhaps the most celebrated writer in the English language. His final novel, a murder mystery titled, “Mystery of Edward Drood”, was nearing completion when Dickens died of a massive stroke after a long day of work spent on the novel, so it has never been found out who committed the murder in this work.

Church, it’s seldom ever too late to resume the work which you were once doing. It’s often not too late to turn around and do the good you were so adamant about previously. You can get that fire back that you used to have…it just takes hard work.

Three things are promised to those who do not give up:

1. A white robe-the white robe was meant to symbolize purity, particularly those who were to be baptized. In the ancient church people who were to be baptized were often clothed in white.

2. Name not blotted out of the book of life-This book is not the book of salvation rather it is the book of those who die. In the ancient times, people kept books with the names of the citizens of who lived there and when a citizen would die, they would erase that person’s name from the book. Jesus here is saying that those who turn and repent will go on living forever even if they die physically. Those whose names are erased will experience, not only physical death, but spiritual death as well which means that they will not be welcomed into heaven. Some say that this is a sign that you can lose your salvation, but their idea is skewed. This book is a metaphor for everyone who has ever lived and has their name written down in this book then the names are erased until only the elect remain. It’s not as if God is literally writing names in the book, then erasing them, and then re-writing them.

3. Jesus will confess your name before his Father and his angels-I want you to imagine that you are standing at judgment and your name is called to face God and his angels. You know that you have no defense and you stand condemned before God…but then a voice cries out “That one’s mine!” and you hear your name from the mouth of Christ. Nothing would be sweeter than the voice of the Messiah confessing my name before the Father… “This one’s mine”

Redemption:
Even the church or the person who appears dead in faith can be brought back.

Even the church that is dead may still have true believers in its membership

This is one of the main reasons that a church that appears dead is never truly dead unless those who are true believers leave.

There are churches and pastors all over this country that have fallen into extreme states of godlessness.

But, what is our duty to these churches? Should we ignore them, make fun of them, or is there another approach?

It was 324 A.D. and Constantine had become emperor of Rome. Persecution of Christians finally came to an end and it finally became socially acceptable to be a Christian in the Roman empire. The aristocracy of Rome came to the church in troves seeking to be baptized and welcomed into the fellowship of the same people who they had, just a few years earlier, been publicly persecuting. Christians weren’t sure how to react; some said that Constantine was God’s messenger, the savior of Christianity. Others said that the church became defiled and seeking to separate themselves from the perceived evil entering the church fled to the deserts and started “desert monasticism.” That is, they became monks, avoiding civilization entirely. I truly believe that the first party who praised Constantine even though Constantine did many wrongs within the church were so afraid of persecution that they were willing to nearly anything to stop the persecution from continuing…therefore many of them were cowards who were afraid to stand up to the emperor. This may sound harsh, but I’m equally as surly with the other party who fled from movement altogether and fled to the desert…who many of which were probably also cowards fleeing from their responsibilities to stand for truth in difficult times.

Why did the prophets remain in Israel even though there was idol worship, sexual promiscuity, and the people abandoned their obligations to God? Why was Jonah sent to Nineveh even though the city had become so evil? Why was Christ himself sent to Israel even though they ended up murdering him? We see in our culture today schisms within the church. Some say we must leave the church and make it smaller and that church can only be in houses, in essence, from my very humble point of view “flee from corruption into the desert.” Another party says that we should simply get along with the corruption that is present in the church and mold our theology to what is currently popular. I’m of a third party; I will not retreat from my responsibilities to the culture and hide away the church saying that true church can only take place in a home and that any other expression is sinful. Neither will I say that what we see in many of the larger churches today is a biblical expression of Christianity…therefore I will probably have enemies on either side. Rather, I will pray for the churches that are corrupted, I will confront doctrinal error in love, and probably suffer for it. I invite all of who are in the same boat to do the same: do not retreat and do not sign up.

Redemption:
Many churches that appear to be dead don’t need condemnation, rather prayer and a few in its midst who will speak the truth in love

Conclusion

Doctrine of sermon:
Even the church that is dead may still have the opportunity to turn and live

Illustration:
It was November the 9th, 1989. Can anyone tell me what today’s date is? The Soviet union had erected a massive wall between Eastern and Western Germany stating that Western Germany still wasn’t free from fascists from the Nazi party and that they needed to defend communism from the Nazis. This split families into two and people caught trying to go over the wall were shot on sight (think modern day North and South Korea). On November the 9th it was announced by Eastern German officials that Germans were now permitted to cross from East to West Germany freely. Thousands of Germans showed up along with others who wanted to witness history and began to tear down the wall which symbolized that the Soviet Union’s “iron curtain” had officially fallen. I have with me today a piece of the wall (show the piece of the wall).

Application:
We, just like the German people during this period, may sometimes lose hope. The world may become dark and desolate; this is true even within the church. I have noticed a habit that has become very popular within bible studies and conversations about the church in our present age. Whenever the church is brought up, even among those who go attend church services, it is popular to tear down and criticize. I have been guilty of this, too. When we speak about the bride of Christ, we’re often fairly critical about her, pointing out her flaws and making fun of her efforts to reach out into the world because some say she isn’t doing it right. Is this how Christ deals with his bride?

Turn to Ephesians 5:25-27