Summary: Are you in need of spiritual CPR?
Turn with me to Revelation 3
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor contained in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. After the Apostle John finished receiving this Revelation from Jesus on the island of Patmos, he wrote it down and sent it to each of those seven churches by a messenger. The messenger would have first stopped at the church of Ephesus since it was the closest. He would have stayed there while the letter was read publicly to the church. Then he would have left them a copy and headed on up the coast to Smyrna where he would have done the same thing. He would have repeated the same thing at each stop along the way—next at Pergamos, next at Thyatira. Then he would have gotten to the church that is addressed in the letter we just read. He would have gotten to the church of Sardis. The church of Sardis was probably a mission church that Paul started while he was in his two year long ministry at Ephesus. Paul planted the church at Ephesus and within two years, Acts 19:10 tells us they were planting churches all over Asia Minor. Sardis was probably one of those church plants.
The city itself was an old city. By the time of this letter, it was already almost 1300 years old. It had a glorious past. It had been a tremendously rich city. But all of that was back in the glory days. And by the time of this letter, the glory days were long past. The city wasn’t dead, but it was dying. All the money in town was old money. They had some industry, but it wasn’t thriving like some other places were. But why was that? Why had they lost their former glory? Because, over the years, they had been conquered and invaded twice. That doesn’t sound like a lot for a city that had been around for over 1000 years. But you have to understand that Sardis was thought to be completely secure. It was located on a hill that stood 1500 feet from the valley below. And there was only one way in and out. The other sides of the mountain were almost sheer cliffs. It got to the point that the people of Sardis felt so secure, they didn’t even post sentries anymore—except on the one entrance. They quit watching. And because they quit watching for danger, they died. They were conquered by enemies who climbed in on their blindside. They were conquered, their wealth was plundered and now they were just a shadow of their old selves. People could look from the outside and think they saw a thriving city. They saw beautiful old architecture, good infrastructure, and rich history. But it was dying on the inside. What a perfect picture of what was going on in that church when they received this letter. They hadn’t been watching for the enemy. They left their borders insecure. They hadn’t been doing the things that it takes to stay vibrant and alive. But instead, they had become distracted. They placed their emphasis on the wrong things. They lost their focus. And what happened? They died.
Oh, they looked like they were alive. In verse 1, Jesus tells them that they have a reputation of being alive. But just because someone can look around and see movement, doesn’t necessarily mean there is life. There was a movie out several years ago called Weekend at Bernie’s. It was a dumb comedy about two guys whose boss had died. The problem was, they had planned a big party at his condo on the beach and he needed to be there for them to use it. So, they dressed him up and carried him around like he was alive the whole weekend. One of the lines from the movie was, “Bernie may be dead, but he’s still the life of the party.” Well, that was the church at Sardis. They may have been dead, but everyone else thought they were the life of the party. They had plenty of people. They had plenty of programs. They had lots of flash and fun. But Jesus said they were dead. The question is, why? Why were they dead? Jesus tells them in verse 2. He said, “I have not found thy works perfect before God.” The original word that’s translated “perfect” here is used like an English teacher would talk about the perfect tense of a verb. It’s used to describe works that were started, but not completed. They didn’t finish what they had started. It was as if Jesus was giving them their report card and they weren’t even deserving of an F. Instead, all they could muster was an incomplete. They had quit doing what was supposed to keep them alive. Sure, verse 4 tells us that there were a handful who were still being faithful. But by and large, the church was dead. A big show on the outside. Full services, the latest programs, great facilities. But spiritually dead on the inside.