Summary: This is part six of an eight part message on the seven churches of Asia.
So, where were we? Oh yeah, Sardis. We’ve looked at Ephesus, Pergamum, Smyrna and Thyatira and now we are on Sardis, which is the fifth of the seven churches that the letter in the Revelation was addressed to.
If we pull up our trusty map we discover that Sardis was located in what we know as modern Turkey but 2000 years ago was the Roman Province of Asia. Again on the circular route Sardis was located about eighty kilometres from Thyatira. The city of Sardis had once been one of the richest and most powerful cities in the known world. 700 years before this letter was written Sardis was unsurpassed as a commercial and cultural centre. You ever stop to get your head around things like that. This letter was written 2000 years ago, at that point the city had been around for 700 years. 700 years, thing about it, 700 years ago there was no protestant church, people thought the world was flat and it would be another 100 years before Columbus was born, the hundred year war was just starting and the black plague was decimating Europe. And that was just seven hundred years ago, 2700 years ago when Sardis was at it’s peak our ancestors were still painting their bodies and worshipping trees in England.
Sardis was situated at the junction of five main trading routes and was a major commercial centre overlooking the Hermus Valley. It was a rich city that really hadn’t had to do much to achieve it’s prosperity. And it was this sense of ease and apathy that eventually led to the down fall of Sardis. The city was located on the top of a hill that was so steep that it’s defences seemed impregnable but twice in 549 bc and again 300 years latter it’s enemy scaled the steep cliffs to discover that the Sardians were so confident they hadn’t even posted a guard.
It’s interested how the first conqueror, Cyrus of Persia, assured that there would be rebellion or uprising in the city. No one in the city was allowed to possess a weapon, he prohibited the people for wearing sandals instead they had wear the soft slipper type footwear favoured by actors. And then he ordered that the boys of Sardis be instructed in music, song and dance. The result was that the city lost it’s spirit.
In 17 ad an earthquake did major damage but the city was rebuilt primarily through the generosity of the Emperor Tiberius. The city was known for two things, firstly we are told that it was in Sardis that the process for dyeing wool was first discovered and secondly Sardis was known for it’s worship of the goddess Artemis, and you will remember that the worship of this Greek deity was often accompanied by immorality. This is all that remains of what had been an incredible temple. But there was no indication that there was any persecution of the church from this quarter.
By the time John wrote this letter the city was wealthy but soft and degenerate and it would appear the church was much the same. There is no evidence to suspect that there was either heresy or persecution in this congregation. That is to say there was no threat from inside or outside the church. One commentator remarked that the reason the church in Sardis was left alone was it’s lack of aggressive and positive Christianity. Content with mediocrity lacking both the enthusiasm to entertain a heresy and the depth of conviction which provokes intolerance, it was too innocuous to be worthy of persecution. When I was in high school I remember taking a gal out one evening and she said that normally she had to be home by ten but that her father had decreed that since she was going to be with me she could stay out until midnight. I was impressed and said “Is that because he trust’s me?” and she responded “No, it’s because he thinks you are harmless.” There was no persecution of the church in Sardis because it was considered harmless.
And so sheltered and unthreatened the Sardis church gradually wilted until there was no substance to it. As Jesus said “you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead”
Prophetically we are told that the Sardis Church represents the period in time between 1500 and 1700. Those of you who know your church history are aware that 1517 is the year a 30 year old monk by the name of Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church and began we now know as the Reformation. Thus the beginning of the Sardis era in Church history coincides with the birth of the Protestant Church. This period in the history of the church may have been marked with proper theology but the works and service that make love and faith practical was missing from the early protestant church. We have to remember that although the Reformation was a divine movement, inspired by the God and directed by the Holy Spirit that the resulting institutions were man made and as such were flawed.