Summary: The letter to the church at Sardis.

AM Sermon preached at Central Christian Church October 29, 2006

"I See Dead People..." (The letter to the church at Sardis) Rev. 3:1-6


All I’ve seen of the movie, The Sixth Sense starring Bruce Willis are the clips they put in the television commercials which aired when the movie first came out about seven years ago. One of those clips seems to have etched itself into my memory. [SLIDE] It’s when a young boy whispers the words, "I see dead people." In a few moments it will be obvious why I used that line for my sermon title.

Now, we’ve been looking at the 7 letters to the 7 churches found in Revelation chapters 2 & 3. And last week I mentioned that the words "I know" appear in every one of them----the words "I know" describe the fact that nothing escapes the searching eye of Jesus---whether you’re talking public or private makes no difference....Jesus sees it all---He knows what’s going on and what’s not going on among His people. Today as we look into the fifth letter, Christ’s letter to the church at Sardis, we basically find Jesus saying "when I look at you...I see dead people."

Revelation 3:1-6 reads like this............. [SERMON SLIDES]

3:1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. 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 not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.

3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

There are five things this morning which I believe God wants me to share with you. Three are for the church as a whole and two are to each of us as individuals. [1ST SERMON POINT SLIDE] First to the church collectively God is saying, "Since reputation and reality don’t always agree---learn from both."

Jesus told the church at Sardis "you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." Now usually reputations are built upon something more substantial than air. For example--- Professional golfer Tommy Bolt has had the reputation for being the angriest golfer to ever play the game. One of the stories told about him is of a time when he giving a group lesson on how to hit a ball out of a sand trap. Tommy called his 11 year old son over and said to him “Show them what you’ve learned from your father to do when your shot lands in the sand.” At that his son picked up a wedge and threw it as high and as far as he could.

Another story told on Bolt had him dressing down a new caddy who had a reputation for being overly talkative. Bolt made it clear he wouldn’t put up with a bunch of chatter---he told the young man, “I don’t want you talking to me during the round. And when I ask you a question, you answer with a “yes or no” and nothing more---understood?” The caddy replied “yes, Mr. Bolt.”

Later during the round, Bolt found the ball next to a tree, where he had to hit under a branch, over a lake and onto the green. He got down on his knees and looked through the trees and sized up the shot.

“What do you think?” he asked the caddy. “Five-iron?”

“No, Mr. Bolt,” the caddy said.

“What do you mean, not a five-iron?” Bolt snorted. “Watch this shot.”

The caddy rolled his eyes. “No-o-o, Mr. Bolt.”

But Bolt hit it and the ball stopped about two feet from the hole. He turned to his caddy, handed him the five-iron and said, “Now what do you think about that? You can talk now.”

“Mr. Bolt,” the caddy said, “that wasn’t your ball.”

Like I said, reputations usually have behind them something of substance. Okay, okay, I know you bird fans are thinking it ---so this Cub fan will go ahead and say it. This year the St. Louis Cardinals had a reputation for being a good team but not World Series contenders. They proved the experts wrong and clinched the series in 5 games. Woo-hoo! Yeah, yeah I know. Getting back to Sardis--- what this stuff about reputation usually having some substance behind it means when we’re talking about Sardis is that probably there was a point in time when the church at Sardis was a growing, worshipping and happening church. And more than likely it was during the church’s hey days that its reputation for being a "live church" came to be. Now it appears that even though that booming period had probably long since passed, Sardis’ reputation of being a live church still lingered on in some hearts and minds. Jesus however says to those holding on to that past have a reputation for being alive but the reality is for the most part the light’s gone out of your church and your church is dead.

An illustration from the world of science kind of cues us in I think on where the church at Sardis was…

[SLIDE] Scientists have estimated that light travels at a speed of a little more than 186,000 miles per second---at that speed light can travel about 6 trillion miles in a year. [SLIDE] Now the distance from the sun to the earth is about 93 million miles and it takes light from the sun about 8 minutes to reach the earth. [SLIDE] After our sun, the next closest star is Proxima Centauri. It’s 25 trillion miles away and the light it sends our direction takes 4.3 years to get here. [SLIDE] Now if Proxima Centauri exploded into nothingness or burnt out 4 years ago, [SLIDE] we wouldn’t know it for almost another 3 months. Sardis’ light for Christ had all but burnt out, but the people didn’t realize it. [BLANK SLIDE] Like wax fruit and silk flowers, the church at Sardis appeared lifelike. They might have been like that church that called 911 because someone had died during the worship service. The paramedics were wheeling out a fifth body before anyone said anything. Sardis has a reputation for being alive but generally speaking it was dead.

Still Jesus sent this letter there because He wanted the small remnant of believers at Sardis to take note of what had happened and He wanted them to learn from it. Jesus was saying---think about how you got that good reputation. Think about what made you come alive….and think about what’s been killing you. Start doing again what made you alive and stop doing those things that have been draining the life out of your congregation.

Jesus comments to Sardis are alive with meaning for us today---they should make us wonder...what are we known for? And is what we’re known for, what Jesus wants us to be known for? Are we a church with a good reputation? A bad reputation? No reputation? Does our reputation, whatever it is, match up with reality? We ought to be asking what things can we do to improve our reputation? Even more importantly we ought to be asking, what can we do to improve our reality? That is to say what can we do to be more like Jesus wants us to be? Jesus wants us to examine our reputation and our reality and learn from both.


Secondly to the church as a whole, Christ is saying "Keep working, your job’s not done yet!" Jesus said to Sardis, "I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God." Every indication is that the church at Sardis started off well, but instead of staying with it and seeing things through to completion, they quit. This happens too often. Dr. Vance Havner reminds us that "spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument". For Sardis---most likely the man that started the fire was Paul. The movement began when a number of people responded to the life changing message of Christ Paul preached. Their efforts lead to a well oiled, efficiently ran church. But with the passing of time all that had changed. The spark was gone—the fuel tank all but empty. Sardis had entered into that last stage, they were on a fast track to becoming a monument. Now how they got there is uncertain. Was it persecution? After we’ve seen how most of the other churches were dealing with it. Well, there’s no mention anywhere in this letter that the people of Sardis were being persecuted. What about false teachers? Were they responsible for the church’s having become spiritually comatose? It doesn’t appear they were the problem. There’s no indication in this letter that false teachers had spread their poisons. The only thing mentioned is the simple fact they had a reputation they were no longer living up to.

Some say they grew comfortable. Others claim they grew complacent. Whatever the cause, they had lost focus and they were no longer doing the things that they should have been doing. It’s not that they were doing nothing…they had deeds---I imagine they were meeting each week for worship and going through the motions. They may have had small group fellowships and dinners and activities even on a daily basis. They had deeds---but their deeds were lacking. They must have become more of a social club than a church.

And that friends is probably why we don’t read about the church at Sardis being persecuted from the outside or their facing internal struggles with false teachers on the inside. I’d like to let you in on something personal, one of the main reasons I chose to become a minister. Some of you know, but many of you don’t, that during my first two years of college I struggled with my choice of vocation. I kept wavering between the idea of becoming a doctor and the idea of entering the ministry and becoming a preacher. The deciding factor came a few months after I began working with a small country church in Western Illinois. I was trying out the idea of preaching and had landed a weekend preaching position at Independence Christian Church near Pittsfield. Not long after I began with them, I started visiting homes close to the church building and inviting people to church. As a result---attendance began to swell so much so that the church grew from barely visible to really small. And the growth upset some people. A small contingency of men crawled out from behind the woodwork and attempted to douse my fire. Admittedly they set me back for a little while with their strict order to stop calling on and inviting the neighbors to church. But what they really succeeded in doing was to make me aware of just how spiritually sick churches can become. From that day forward I have always had a desire to help whatever church I’ve worked with to become more like the church Christ wants it to be. And I can assure you of this, it’s been a constant struggle.

Years ago when all I did was show up at church, goof off during Sunday School lessons and sigh through worship services I didn’t have to deal with what I deal with since I entered the ministry. When I was on the sidelines no one ever accused me of having too much power in the church or of stealing from the youth group fund. Back before I went to bat for God, no one from the local newspaper threatened me that if I tried to cross him he’d run me out of town. Before I began preaching no one wrote me critical notes about my being improperly dressed for church or claimed my sermons lacked scripture or got mad at me because I failed to visit their sick mother who I never knew was in the hospital. When all I cared about was me, when I gave no thought to those outside of the church and how to bring them in, when I didn’t attempt things for God or take the Great Commission seriously, I created no friction and felt no resistance. And that appears to be the case with the first century church at Sardis. Warren Wiersbe writes: Sardis was not aggressive in its witness to the city. There was no persecution because there was no invasion of the enemy’s territory. The city saw the church as a respectable group of people who were neither dangerous nor desirable. They were decent people with a dying witness and a decaying ministry.

Friends to the church as a whole, and to our congregation in particular Jesus is saying “I don’t want you to sit back and admire the trophies of your past. Don’t grow satisfied with where you’re at spiritually nor numerically. As long as I haven’t returned, as long as there’s still one unsaved person in the world, as long as there’s still one Christian who hasn’t matured to complete Christlikeness, your work is not done!” In short Jesus is saying about the spiritual battle we’re in.... it’s not over until it’s over!


I also believe through these verses that Jesus is saying to the church, "Be encouraged; God can use a few faithful followers to get things back on course." Imagine how discouraged the faithful few at Sardis must have been as they listened to the first part of Jesus’ letter to their home church? Imagine the thoughts that began to race through their minds---things like--- “I knew it wasn’t going good, but I had no idea it was this bad. Jesus says our church is dead. I guess that’s it. Time to close the doors and move on.” But then after hearing Jesus lower the boom on Sardis---before these faithful few really had time to sink into a total spiritual funk…Jesus goes on in this letter to share some wonderful words of encouragement. Jesus says to them... because you have not soiled your clothes, meaning---since you’ve been trying to live a holy and committed life before God--- and because you have continued to live for me even though others have fallen away, you will walk with me, dressed in white. Your name will never be blotted out from the book of life, and I will acknowledge you before my Father and his angels. Put another ways Jesus was saying, "I know the initial diagnosis sounds bad. But hang in there with me---all’s not lost! You who have been faithful will definitely receive your eternal reward. You’ll walk the streets of heaven with me regardless of what actually becomes of the First Church of Sardis. So take heart. And know this----together we just might wake up those who still have a trace of spiritual life left in them. Together we may turn things around at the church there in Sardis. I assure you, it’s happened before and it can happen again!"

Learning from reputation and reality…Continuing to work until the job’s done… Remembering how God often brings about BIG things from SMALL beginnings… These are the main messages to the church as a whole. But there are still two very important things that I feel Christ wants me to share with every individual here, [SLIDE WITH 4TH SERMON POINT] the first being that God’s heart breaks at the thought of losing you.

Christ gives this wake up call to the church at Sardis because He doesn’t want to lose any of the Christians there. [SCRIPTURE SLIDE] 1 Peter 5:8 reads, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." Friends you and I must not forget that there’s a spiritual war taking place and that now’s not the time for members of God’s army to be lounging around in their pajamas. [SLIDE WITH 4TH SERMON POINT] When we lay those words about the devil prowling about looking for someone to devour alongside this letter, we can better understand the passion and intensity of Jesus words. Jesus is saying to the spiritually sleepy in Sardis: "Don’t be falling asleep while you’re on watch duty. Show some self-control. Wake up and be alert! Otherwise the enemy might take you by surprise!"

Now if anybody knew the truth about being taken by surprise, it should have been the people of Sardis and here’s why… [SLIDE S-1] the people of Sardis had built a beautiful city. It had elaborate stonework in its temples [SLIDE S-2] and walls [SLIDE S-3]. It had a theater and a Roman bath and gym complex [SLIDE S-4]. It was built with a mountainous backdrop [SLIDE S-5]. On three sides surrounding the city were its walls ---represented here by the red lines--- [SLIDE S-6] on the fourth side were the mountains. These weren’t gentle rolling hills, they were huge steep mountains with treacherous sheer walls. [SLIDE S-7] Zooming in on this picture [SLIDE S-8] we get a better look at how rugged these mountains were. They posted guards on the three sides of the city with the man made walls. They believed those walls were easily defensible and they proved it on several occasions. But they took for granted that mountain side of the city. They didn’t think any enemy could ever manage to scale those cliffs and muster an attack, so they didn’t even keep a posted guard near them to watch their backside. And not once but twice their failure to keep an eye on those mountains proved to be their downfall. [BLANK SLIDE]

In this letter Jesus seems to be appealing to the people’s sense of loss from the past. He’s saying to them, you know you lost lives in the past because of your failure to keep watch. I don’t want there to be a loss of souls because of your failure to keep spiritually alert, so wake up! I don’t want to lose you. Remember how much I love you. I gave my own life so yours could be saved. Remember what you’ll receive if you are spiritually victorious. Remember what you’ll lose if spiritually speaking you throw in the towel! Please wake up!

[SLIDE WITH 5TH SERMON POINT] But listen friends, God’s heart not only aches for you, it aches for those around you. God doesn’t want to lose anyone. He wants everyone to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus through these ancient words to the church at Sardis calls for His church today to remain focused on doing what He designed her to do. Jesus wants to remind us of the fact that He not only loves us, He loves those around us too.

I want you to help me make a point this morning. I know that most of us have had someone tell us that we can insert our name into the words of John 3:16. For example I can read John 3:16 like this [SLIDE] “For God so loved Darren McCormick that He gave His one and only Son, and if Darren McCormick believes in him, Darren McCormick will not perish but will have eternal life.” Help me make a point, will you? I want us to all read John 3:16 in unison, inserting our own name into it. Are you ready? Okay. Let’s read it… [SLIDE]

Think about it. What you’ve just read is true. What the person sitting next to you just read is also true. And so is what the person behind you just read. In fact if we could get every living person in the world to read John 3:16 in unison and insert their names like we just have, every reading would be true. Yes, Jesus loves you. And yes, Jesus died to save you. But you don’t ever want to forget that Jesus died to save the people around you too.

This morning I want to issue a specific challenge to everyone here who has already accepted Christ. The challenge is to talk to at least one unsaved or unchurched person this week. Don’t take another week to think about doing it or to pray about it. As the Nike slogan put it, "just do it." Invite them to our worship service or invite them to a Christian activity in the area. Consider asking them if there’s something going on in their life that they would like for you to pray for. When you approach them, don’t badger them, but by all means let them know that you’re concerned about their soul and that if they don’t want to talk about it now but decide later they do want to talk ---that you’ll do your best to be there for them. And if at all possible do it before another week passes.

We don’t want to make the mistake so many at Sardis made. They let Satan lull them into a spiritual slumber. They drifted off as he rather hypnotically suggested to them, "there’s no hurry. there’s not hurry. Jesus is coming back, sure, but it’s a long way off. There’s no hurry. You don’t need to talk to your spouse, your child, your parent just yet. You don’t have to talk to your neighbor right now. You don’t need to speak to that co-worker today. There’s no hurry. You can always do it tomorrow or the day after that." "Maybe," he whispered to them their eyes began to droop and their breathing slowed, "maybe you can get around to it next week, next month, next year....that’s right sleep, sleep."

We need to let the words of Jesus break through. Wake up church, wake up! The fact is friends the opportunities we have today may not be there next year, next month, next week. They may not even be there tomorrow.

Please understand folks this is not some fanciful scheme to bulk up our attendance. It’s more of a wake up call. It’s an appeal to look around you again. Look with the eyes of Christ. And what you’ll see is a bunch of dead people. Not physically dead, but spiritually dead people. And the good news is that as long as they still have their physical breath, just like the church at Sardis, we find there’s still hope for them. The same Christ who brought us new life can bring them new life too. In fact that’s His specialty. That’s His delight, His desire, His dream. Somebody needs to tell them. Why not make that somebody you?

As we approach our hymn of decision I want to extend the following invitations...if you’d like to accept Christ in baptism you’re invited to come to the front as we stand and sing.... if you’re already an immersed believer and you’d like to become a member of this congregation you too are invited to come to the front.... and this morning, if God’s laid it upon you to speak to an unsaved or unchurched person this week and you would like for us to pray for you and that person you’ll be speaking to, you also are encouraged to come to the front as we stand and sing..........

NOTE TO THOSE WHO READ AND OR CHOOSE TO MAKE USE OF ANY OR ALL OF THIS SERMON: I am sharing this sermon with the hopes it will be an encouragement to others. I apologize for any blatant typing errors! If you find any I’d appreciate hearing from you so I can correct them. I try to give credit where credit is due, noting writers and or sources to the best of my ability. I have for years been drawing from a wealth of sources including this website. I recognize that my mind and writing processes are fallible. I may occasionally fail to properly identify a source. Please do not take offense if you see anything of this nature. I never intend to plagiarize. Having said that I want you to feel free to draw from my message. When appropriate I hope you will give credit as I do. But most of all I hope Christ will be lifted up and God will receive the glory in all things.