The Fifth Church of the Apocalypse - The Church at Sardis
We have been looking at the Churches of the Apocalypse during lockdown
Last week we looked at the fourth Church of the apocalypse - the Church of Thyatira.
Today we are looking today at the fifth Church of the Apocalypse - the church of Sardis
And the catchword here is
“Be alert and on your guard”
I think it would be good to have a quick recap of where we have got to in the Book of Revelation form the previous studies
The Book of Revelation was written in AD 95 or 96 probably by the Apostle John when banished to
the Island of Patmos.
The seven churches of Revelation are
1.) Ephesus Rev 2:1-7
2.) Smyrna Rev. 2:8-11
3.) Pergamum Rev. 2:12-17
4.) Thyatira (pronounced Thy'at'ira) Rev. 2:18-29
5.) Sardis Rev. 3:1-6
6.) Philadelphia Rev.3:7-13
7.) Laodicea Rev. 3:14-22
All the churches are in about a 100-mile radius of each other.
Why the number seven? The number seven was considered by the people of the time to be the perfect number.
John uses it 54 times in the Book of Revelation.
(William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Revised Edition Vol 1 page 28)
I believe that The Angel of the Church is the Bishop or the leader of the Church in the particular place.
And the Seven Lampstands refer to the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse
Five weeks ago we looked at the first Church of the Apocalypse - The Church of Ephesus and drew the lesson that we must come back to our first love.
It is good to have a Christian orthodoxy but in the end it the love of Christ that counts.
Ephesus was the church called back to its first love of Christ that it had lost
Four weeks ago we looked at the Church of Smyrna and drew the lesson that loyalty to Christ is important - even if it means we die.
And we have the example of Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna who died in the flames in AD 155 rather than compromise his faith
Three weeks ago we looked at the third church of the Apocalypse, the Church at Pergamum
And the catchword there was
“Caesar or Christ
There is no compromise”
Last week we looked at the Church of Thyatira
And the catchword for Thyatira was there can be
no compromise with false teaching within the church
Background to Sardis
Today we are looking at the Church of Sardis and the catchword for the Church at Sardis is
“Be alert and on your guard”
As in the previous letter, the background to the city in which the church finds itself is important.
Sir William Ramsay has said of Sardis “nowhere was there a greater example of the melancholy contrast between past splendour and present decay”
William Barclay says this about the geography and history of Sardis
“Sardis stood in the midst of the plain of the valley of the River Hermus. To the north of that plain rose the long ridge of Mount Tmolus; from the ridge a series of hills went out like spurns each forming a narrow plateau. On one of these spurs fifteen hundred feet up stood the original Sardis; and only where the spur met Mount Tmolus was there any possible approach into Sardis and even that was hard and steep. It has been said that Sardis stood like some gigantic watchtower guarding the Hermus valley.
The time came when the narrow space on the top of the plateau was too small for the expanding city and Sardis grew round the foot of the spur on which the citadel stood” (“The Daily Study Bible The Revelation of John Vol 1” p.113)
So, in actual fact, there were two cities of Sardis, the citadel and the town in the valley.
The city became prosperous and very rich, not least so legend hold that the River Pactolus that flows through Sardis in the valley is said to have gold bearing waters.
The most famous king of Lydia whose capital was Sardis was Croesus from whom we have the proverb: “As rich as Croesus” to define someone very rich.
For example, you might say that Bill Gates is as rich as Croesus
But Croesus was the downfall of Sardis.
He decided to take on Cyrus, King of Persia.
He consulted the Oracle at Delphi that told him if he went to war with Persia by crossing the Halys River “you will destroy a great empire”.
Croesus assumed that that meant the Persian Empire would fall, but in fact he was routed in battle and it was his great empire that fell.
The Oracle of Delphi was on a winner there.
Either the Lydian Empire or Persian Empire both great empires would fall if Croesus went out to battle with Cyrus the Persian King.
Croesus retreated to the citadel in Sardis to recuperate to fight again but Cyrus laid siege to the Citadel.
Now this is an interesting piece of the history of Sardis that has to go with the Church in Sardis
William Barclay describes the event like this:
“The rock on which Sardis was built was fiable – that is easily crumbled or pulverised- more closely packed mud than rock.
The nature of the rock meant it developed cracks.
A certain Mardian soldier (from Cyrus’ army) called Hyeroeades had seen a Sardian soldier accidentally drop his helmet over the battlements and then make his way down the precipice to retrieve it.
Hyeroeades knew there must be a crack in the rock there by means of which an agile man could climb up.
That night he led a party of Persian troops up by the fault in the rock.” (ibid p.114)
It is what happened next is what says a lot about the Sardian people.
When Hyeroeades got to the top he found no guards up there.
The Sardians had thought themselves so safe that they forgot one on the most important actions for those being besieged:
“Make sure you have a lookout everywhere”
Sardis fell to Cyrus the Persian in 546 BC.
Sardis then vanished from the scene under Persian rule.
And amazingly history repeated itself.
After Alexander the Great’s death, William Barclay records that
“Antiochus became the ruler of Sardis. He went to war against a rival for the city Ach/eus who sought refuge in the city.
For a year Antiochus besieged it and a man called Lagoras repeated the exploit of Hyer/o/eades. At night with a band of brave men, he climbed the steep cliffs. The Sardians had forgotten their history. There was no guard and once again Sardis fell because it had not been on watch (ibid 115)”
Sardis fell to Antiochus the Great in 214 BC.
I think the history lesson is important because it tells you something about the lackadaisical approach to life the Sardian people had.
It consequently tells us something about the Church in Sardis.
This would explain why Jesus says this to the Church in Sardis
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. (Rev. 3:1b and 2)
By time that Revelation was written Sardis was politically unimportant
And today it is a small village in Turkey called SART
So let us start with the Similarities of Church with City
1. Sardis rested on Old Glory.
1. The City by time of the writing of Revelation had been superceded by Smyrna politically.
But it was wealthy and degenerate.
As William Barclay put it:
“There was no life or spirit there. The Sardians were soft” (ibid p.114)
Sardis lived on its old reputation.
In the same way, the Church in Sardis had had reputation of Spirituality from earlier times.
But in Revelation it is known as the Dying Church.
2. The Church wasn't what it appeared to be.
The City appeared to be impregnable but was taken twice in 300 years, because the watchman wasn’t on watch.
The Church appeared spiritual and was not spiritual.
The leaders of the church had not been alert to what was going on in the Church and so had let the enemy Satan take the Church in Sardis.
Let us look in more detail into the Letter to the Church at Sardis.
1. INTRODUCTION OF THE WRITER
The way the Lord introduces himself tells us something about the Church He was speaking to.
The Lord introduces himself in a different aspect from that of the previous letters Thyatira, Pergamum or Smyrna.
But Jesus uses a similar introduction as he did in Ephesus when he says:
These are the words of Him who among other things holds the seven stars
Is there perhaps a link between Ephesus’s problem – the loss of their first love of Christ and Sardis’ degeneration?
What can we learn from this?
1. That a true Church does not come about by the will of man but by the Call of God.
He sends an Angel or Messenger to establish it.
2. Even when a Church loses its way, the Lord does not give up on it.
Even at 5 mins. before midnight He will try to save it.
3. Stars give light.
The Seven stars of which Christ is master is I believe as I mentioned above the seven churches of the Apocalypse
Jesus said in Matth.5:16
Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
The Church is to be a light.
Look at the early Jerusalem church
The Scriptures tell us that “they enjoyed the favour of the people.” (Acts 2:47)
2. THE REPRIMAND
I would like to focus on a few words:
i) I know your deeds.
As a friend of mine Catrin Backlund once said: “You can't hide anything from God.”
In three of the other letters to the seven Churches of the Apocalypse (Ephesus, Thyatira, Philadelphia) the rebuke is followed with a commendation.
Here - as in the last letter to the Church - in Laodicea, the Lord tells them basically that they stink!!
ii.) You are dead.
A corpse begins to smell after it has been so for a few days.
Indeed an ancient punishment for murder was the murderer to be chained to the rotting corpse of his or her victim.
A dead church in the Lord eyes is as REPELLANT as a rotting corpse.
BUT we are not helpless in this situation.
Jesus says Come to the living waters that HE OFFERS.
John 7.37 & 38
If any one is thirsty let him come to me and drink Whoever believes in me as the scripturehas said, Streams of Living Water will flow from within him.
iii) Christ gives them a Wake-Up call.
Was the watchman for the Church asleep?
Are we too often just complacent in our Christian Life?
iv.) Jesus goes on to say: Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent
v.3 reminds me of Jesus’ words about Christians needing to be alert.
Our Gospel reading in Luke 12 reminds us that
You Must Be Ready
35 Stay Dressed for action and keep your lamps burning action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him
at once when he comes and knocks.
37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.
Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.
38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!
39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not
have left his house to be broken into (Lk 12.35-39)
1. The Lord wants us to be ALERT
2. He will reward our WATCHFULNESS.
3. We will be alert IF WE REALLY love him
Jesus in John 14.15 says this:
If you love me you will obey that I command
It is a sign of God's Love that he reprimands us.
We read in Prov.3:12
The Lord disciplines those He loves as a father the son he delights in.
ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE FAITHFUL.
Faithfulness results in the fact that Jesus says that “I will never blot his name from the book of life. (Rev 3: v.5)
God always equips us to do his work.
Corrie ten Boon once told her father that she did not have the strength to suffer for God .
Her father said "When you go on a journey, when do I give you the ticket?"
Just before I get on. was the reply.
So it is with the Father He will give you the strength when you need it to go on.
The definition of a Christian should be:
A man or woman who does not know what God is not able to perform.
God wants us
i) to walk a HOLY LIFE,
ii) to OVERCOME sin,
iii) to WITNESS for Him with our lives, with our actions and with our words.
The catchword from the Church of Sardis is
“Be alert and on your guard”