Wake up and live your life in the power of God the Holy Spirit!
It’s always a challenge for me to come up with a sermon title – one that’s catchy, grabs our attention, yet captures the essence of what the message is about. Here are some possible sermon titles I considered: “A Morgue with a Steeple” “Tottering Timbers”
“A Decaying Church in a Degenerate City”
“Rumored Alive – Really Dead” “The Magnificent Mausoleum” “The Corpse That Works” “The Danger of Decay”
“The Dead Church”
Any of those would have pretty much worked for the message this morning. What we are looking at this morning is a message to a dead church – the church at Sardis.
The sin of Sardis was doing church without the power of God in their lives.
This was a church made up of living corpses.
Hollywood has given us a name for living corpses: “Zombies.” Now, I don’t watch any of those horror movies, it’s just not something that interests me. But in many horror movies, you’ll have “zombies.” Zombies are corpses that are alive. They walk around as if they are alive, but they are really dead. So, we’re looking at a letter to the First Zombie Church of Sardis! What does a zombie church look like? A zombie church meets for worship, they sing songs, they give, they teach, they pray, they talk, they fellowship, they have activities, they walk around as if they are alive...but they are really dead!
And don’t be too shocked, but this can and does happen in churches today. There are thousands of churches just like that in the world today. And churches like that are what turn people off to the church...and I don’t blame them! It turns me off too!
But it turns me on to realize what Christ really wants His church to be like...And we’re going to find out this morning.
Christ Himself will speak.
Let’s hear what He has to say...
Please turn to Revelation 3:1-6
Christ is speaking here. He’s the Correspondent to the church.
1. THE CORRESPONDENT TO THE CHURCH (v. 1a)
These are Christ’s words. Notice it says that Christ “holds the seven spirits (or the seven-fold Spirit) of God and the seven stars”
Who or what are the Seven Spirits and the Seven Stars?
7 Spirits = 7 fold ministry of God the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2).
Seven is a symbol and a reference to fullness and perfection.
In other words, Jesus is saying that He is the One who controls the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of that church.
And that’s the only thing that gives a church any kind of power. That’s the only thing that gives anyone any kind of power. Plus, Jesus is the one who holds the seven stars.
7 Stars = the seven leaders of the church (cp. Rev. 1:16; 2:1)
In other words, in Christ introducing Himself to the church, we find that the church in Sardis desperately needed the Holy Spirit in their church.
And they needed to remember that Jesus is the Lord of the church. Everything that is done, taught and considered by a church will not succeed unless it is done in the power of the Holy Spirit and under the authority of the Lord of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ!
This gives us a hint as to what one of the major problems was of this dead church. The Spirit of God was never consulted!
And that’s always the case in a dead church.
Christ is telling His church that He wants it controlled by His Spirit!
Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord”
The church at Sardis was a church that looked alive.
It had all kinds of activities, but it didn’t have the one thing it needed the most: the Holy Spirit.
No matter how much activity you have...
No matter how many programs you have...
If a church is not controlled by the Holy Spirit, it is a dead church!
And that’s exactly what we find in the church at Sardis...
2. THE CONDITION OF THE CHURCH (v. 1b)
Pretty strong words from Christ, huh?
Christ doesn’t mix any words. He doesn’t start out by any good news like He has done so far with the other churches.
Instead, what does He say? He says, “You’ve got a name all right. And I know all that you do. But you aren’t alive! You’re dead!”
Notice no threats of persecution here. Why?
Well, why persecute someone if they are no threat?
What would they be persecuted for? The church had become so much like the city that it had slowly died a slow death.
What was the city like anyway?
Let me tell you just a few things about the city of Sardis that will help you understand why Christ says some of the things He does to this church...
700 years before Christ, Sardis was one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the entire world.
Gold particles actually flowed in the river that ran near it.
It was in Sardis that the first gold and silver coins were minted.
The art of dying wool was first discovered here in this city.
Sardis was a city built on a mountain plateau, about 30 miles from Thyatira, the city we looked at last week. It was guarded on three sides by 1500 foot cliffs. The 4th side of the city had a gentle slope leading up to it, but it was well guarded by a huge city wall and a massive gate. Sardis was almost impossible to attack.
Guards were never posted on the 3 sides of the city guarded by the 1500 foot cliffs. So guess how the city was finally taken?
In 549 B.C. King Cyrus of Persia captured the city with a small group of soldiers that found a small crevice on one of the 1500 foot walls of the cliff and walked right into the city through an unguarded gate.
This background will become important as we see in a few minutes what Christ says to the church. But I hope it helps you see what the church was like. It was much like the city of Sardis. It had a reputation for being proud, complacent, and over-confident.
This church was not a threat. It was a dead church...like many churches today. What are some of the characteristics of a dead church? How can we recognize a dead church when we see one?
Signs of a dying or dead church:
1) No compassion
A dead person has no feelings. A dead person has no joy, no sorrow, no happiness, no anger...nothing!
A dead person is an apathetic person.
Sometimes we can get so depressed and so overwhelmed we say, “I don’t care about anything.” The truth is, we probably care too much about everything. Listen to the thoughts of one commentator about this:
“If the habits of that company in the Upper Room had been like the habits of many in our churches today… The meeting was called for the 1st day of the week, but so many things interfered that of the company of 120, only 40 could be present. Peter and his wife had bought a cottage on Lake Galilee and were away from the hot city over the weekend. Bartholomew had guests and of course could not come. Philip and his family had been up late the night before and overslept. Andrew had a business conference about a new fishing boat. James had to stay at home and cut the grass…”
Is that part of our problem today?
Do we care too much about everything?
Do we care so much about everything but the main thing?
The dead person, just plain doesn’t care.
And the dead church doesn’t care.
2) No warmth
A dead person’s body temperature is cold. It’s not 98.6!
A dead church is a cold church.
There’s no warmth. There’s no passion. There’s no worship.
There’s no love.
3) No movement
Ever notice how dead people don’t move? You might hear someone say at the funeral home, “Oh, they look so life like.”
No they don’t! They don’t because they aren’t moving.
Dead people don’t move and dead churches don’t move!
Oh, they offer up a lot of excuses as to why they don’t move:
“We’ve never done it that way before”
“Well, we’re a traditional church”
“We tried that once, and it didn’t work”
“But, how will that look?”
The truth is, if we aren’t moving ahead, then something is seriously wrong somewhere!
What worked 100 years ago, or 20 or 10 years ago, or even last year won’t necessarily work this year.
Businesses that refuse to change, update and modernize eventually fail.
And churches that refuse to change, update and modernize eventually die.
Now, please, please, please...don’t misunderstand me here.
I don’t mean that we change the message.
The message of salvation, the message of God’s Word is timeless.
But the way we deliver it needs to change if we are going to reach today’s generation!
Our proposed mission statement (this is what we are all about) is:
“To bring people to a devoted relationship with Jesus”
Are we serious about that? Do we really mean it?
If so, we must do all we can, with whatever means to introduce people to Jesus and help them see how fulfilling and rewarding that relationship can be.
If we’re not doing that, it’s really a sign that we are dead and dying. A dead church has no movement, no life.
How can you tell a dead church from a church that’s alive.
Listen how one pastor describes the difference...
[Read pp. 35-36 from “Words Aptly Spoken” by Bob Moorehead]
The sad thing is, so many dead churches don’t even know they’re dead. A church that is dead and without the power of the Holy Spirit reminds me of someone in the Old Testament with the same problem:
Most of us know about Samson. He was a champion, a hero, a very strong man. But eventually Samson lost contact with the source of his strength. How’d it happen?
“I know, it’s when his hair was cut.” Yes, but that only illustrated the fact that he was spiritually cut off from God.
Samson’s problem = involved with Delilah.
Samson tolerated sin in his life.
God specifically commanded the Israelites not to marry foreign women, but Samson rejected God’s commands and God’s will for his life. Remember what happened after his hair was cut?
Listen to Judges 16:20... “Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I’ll go out as before and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had left him.”
Isn’t that tragic?! Samson didn’t even know that the Lord had left him!
Samson was the same physically...his brain was the same, his biceps still measured the same...physically, he was the same man...
...But God wasn’t there.
And that’s what the dead church is like. The church that might have been alive and powerful at one time, but after tolerating sin...
...it becomes weak, blind, and finally...dies!
When a church or an individual gets to that point, what can be done? Well, Christ gives 5 commands to correct the problem...
3. THE COMMANDS TO THE CHURCH (vv. 2-3)
• Wake up! (v. 2a)
Get with it! Become alert! Wake up!
These were sharp words...kinda like a slap in the face.
How appropriate these words are to the church in Sardis, to those in a city who had been captured 2x because they weren’t alert. They didn’t think anyone could take the city.
Jesus is saying, “Wake up and honestly look at yourselves!
Feel the dullness of your services!
Smell the deadness of your programs!
Honestly ask yourselves these questions:
Ask yourself, “What’s gone wrong?”
“Why aren’t we introducing others to Jesus?”
“Why aren’t people coming to know the Savior?
This is a strong call to do something very serious.
It’s a strong call from Christ Himself to wake up and smell the coffee!
It’s a call to take an honest appraisal of both a church and a person’s individual faith.
The second command here from Jesus is to...
• Strengthen! (v. 2b)
“strengthen what remains...” This was directed to the few faithful ones still in the church. Christ acknowledges that this church had the right actions, but their motives were wrong.
What’s the problem? They were ignoring the power behind what they were doing!
2 Timothy 3:5 “...having a form of godliness but denying its power.” “having a form”= “having an outward shape.”
This church was a lot like hollow Easter Bunnies – nothing inside!
This church was doing all the right things...
They had the outward appearance of holiness...
...but they were actually denying that God had any power.
They weren’t operating under the power of God the Holy Spirit.
They were just going through the motions.
When we get to the point that we’re just going through the motions, then throw the dirt on us now because it’s just a matter of time!
It’s time for us to wake up and start living our lives under the power of the Holy Spirit!
This is God’s message to us today!
Please! Check your motives! You may be doing all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons!
Jesus has some things to say to you:
“Don’t worry about your reputation.
Don’t worry about what others might think.
Keep doing the good things you’re doing, but do those good things for the right reasons.
Do good because you’re sold out to ME, not because you want to impress someone.”
A 3rd command from Christ:
• Remember! (v. 3a)
Lit. “keep on remembering”
What is it they were to remember? Their salvation.
They were to keep on remembering what they had already learned. What is it they had received and heard?
They had heard the gospel. What’s the gospel?
The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for your sins on the cross so that you can have an intimate relationship with God.
He took away that barrier separating you from God.
He rose from the dead proving He is God.
He’s sent His Spirit to strengthen you, equip you, give you power to live your life.
They had heard all this. But they had forgotten.
They’d forgotten the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
How do you get the power of God in your life?
You need to wake up! Take an honest appraisal of your life.
Don’t just go through the motions.
Remember what you’ve learned already about what God can do in your life.
But there are a couple more things you must do.
It’s not enough to just remember. It’s got to go from your head to your heart and out to your hands and feet...
You’ve got to... (4th command given by Christ)
• Obey! (v. 3b)
Lit. “keep on obeying”
It’s not enough to just remember.
Take it to the next level and start putting it into practice.
The Lord of the church is calling Sardis back to obedience.
And He’s calling you and me back to obedience as well.
The other way to get the power of God’s Holy Spirit back into your life and church goes hand in hand with obedience to the Spirit of God....
• Repent! (v. 3c)
We’ve talked about repentance before, haven’t we?
We’ve seen this command from Christ before.
What is repentance?
Let me see if I can explain it this way:
Repentance is looking at yourself honestly through the glasses of God’s Word. What do you see?
If you see anything in your life that looks even remotely like wrong attitudes, impure motives, or a wrong appraisal of who you really are, then you need to confess it to God as sin, and...
...turn immediately around from it and go the other way.
You see, God will not tolerate sin and evil in the lives of His disciples! He will search it out, root it out, and boot it out!
We cannot experience the power of God in our lives until we come clean before God, and agree with Him about what He already knows: We are sinful and desperately need His forgiveness.
If we don’t wake up...
If we don’t trust in the power of the Spirit of God...
If we don’t follow His prompting and leadings in our lives...
If we refuse to repent...
God promises to come and do some serious work in our lives.
Look at the end of v. 3...
And I guarantee you that when the Lord of the church comes like a thief, it won’t be to reward you for dead works.
It will be to do some serious surgery to get rid of the dead spiritual tissue that you’ve allowed to accumulate in your life.
Folks this visitation from the Lord of the church is serious business. Wake Up! Listen to the Spirit of God! And Repent!
I’m so glad the message doesn’t end there, aren’t you?
The Lord of the church doesn’t leave things on a judgmental note. He gives a 3-fold promise in the remaining verses to those who remain faithful, even in dead churches...
4. THE COMFORT FOR THE CHURCH (vv. 4-5)
Who is this promise given to? Look at v. 5...
To those who overcome!
Who are the overcomers? 1 John 5:5 says, “Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” To the faithful ones who truly believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, Christ promises 3 things:
• Clothed in white (vv. 4-5a)
“dressed in white” What does that mean?
White is a color of purity. White is generally what a bride wears on her wedding day. The faithful in Christ Jesus have been purified, cleansed, and made spotless by the blood of Jesus Christ!
Isn’t that something?!
We are given Jesus’ own righteousness!
When God the Father looks at a true follower of Jesus Christ, He never sees that person’s sinfulness.
All God sees is the righteousness and purity of Jesus Christ.
When they stand before the Holy God of the universe, faithful followers of Jesus Christ are dressed in the white of righteousness earned by Jesus Christ!
I’m reminded of a verse in Isaiah 1:18. Listen as I read it...
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
We’ve already learned this in Romans, remember?
What a beautiful promise!
• Contained in the book of life (v. 5b)
The 2nd promise Jesus gives is, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life.”
Now, that promise has bothered a lot of people over the years.
It almost sounds like your name could be taken out of the book of life. In other words, you could lose your salvation if your life doesn’t quite match up to God’s standards.
But that’s not what it says here!
Jesus doesn’t say anything about anyone’s name being blotted out. His words are simply words of assurance that those who trust Him will never be blotted out.
I think He’s addressing some real fears of Christians who read this letter not only in the 1st century, but right on down to today.
Well, if this verse isn’t teaching you that you can lose your salvation, what is it teaching then?
To the people who read this in the 1st century, they would have known exactly what this meant. You see, in those days, the state kept a register, kind of like a census. If a person committed a crime against the state, his name was removed from the register and they were no longer considered a citizen.
So, do you see what Christ is saying here? He’s saying, “Someone might erase your name out of the books of the state, but I will never erase your name out of my book!”
He’s not saying that you can lose your salvation. He’s saying just the opposite! If you put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, He promises to not erase your name out of His book!
What a promise, huh?
It’s a promise given to those who are the overcomers...
...to those who remain faithful to Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Him.
• Confessed before God (v. 5c)
Jesus’ 3rd promise is that He will acknowledge you before the Father and angels in heaven.
When I get to heaven, Christ will stand before God the Father and say, “You know that guy LeRoy Redding over there? He belongs to Me! He’s mine!”
He’s going to tell the Father and the angels that I am His!
That is so fantastic! That is so overwhelming! What a promise!
What right do I have to be His? NONE!!!!!!
It’s only by God’s grace! Only because of what Christ has done for me! What a promise!
Imagine! Christ will claim you as His own!
Who is this a promise for?
Only for the overcomers.
Only for the faithful.
Only for those who’ve trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior & Lord. If so, Christ will say to the Father, “They are mine!”
How do you know for sure that you are His?
How do you know for sure that Jesus will say that you are His?
Listen to Christ’s words in Matthew 10:32...
Matthew 10:32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
Have you acknowledged publicly with your lips and your life that Jesus is your Savior and Lord?
If so, Christ will acknowledge you before God the Father in heaven. What a promise!
In verse 6, the Lord of the church ends this letter to Sardis like He does with every other letter, “Listen up. Examine your life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
5. THE CONCLUSION & APPLICATION (v. 6)
The Lord of the church is challenging you to come clean before Him today.
But, there might be some of you here this morning who have never really entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You don’t have any of the promises that I’ve just explained.
-complete forgiveness of your sin
-never having your name blotted out of the book of life
-having Jesus Christ claim you as His, in front of God the Father and all the angels of heaven.
How can you make these promises yours?
Only one thing can allow you to claim those promises as your own. It is following God’s one and only plan for salvation from your sin. It is something that has to be done individually.
Somebody else can’t do this for you. You have to do it yourself.
Your friends can’t do it for you.
Your parents can’t do it for you.
Your grandparents can’t do it for you.
Your boss can’t do it for you.
It is something only you can do yourself.
Jesus made a strong statement of exclusivity in John 14:6.
Listen to His words...
Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am THE way, THE truth, & THE life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
When Jesus said that, He was talking about an exclusive path to the promises we’ve looked at today. That path starts with...
A – Admit you are a sinner and that you deserve judgment
B – Believe that Jesus took your punishment for you by dying on the cross for your sins.
C – Commit your life to Him. Place your trust in Jesus and what He has done on your behalf on the cross, dying for your sins.
By committing your life to Him, by trusting in Him alone, you can have the slate wiped clean in your life! Though your sins are as dark and deep as scarlet, they can be as white as snow.
What a promise! What a promise! What a promise!
When will we wake up? When will we realize that it’s high time for us to begin to experience the power of God in our lives?