Summary: The mark of the church is reality. What is said and done is a true reflection of what they are inwardly.
President Harry Truman enjoyed telling the story about a man who was hit on the head at work. The blow was so severe that he was knocked unconscious for an extended period. His family was convinced that he was dead. The funeral home was called, and the undertaker picked him up at the hospital. Early the next morning, the man awoke and sat straight up in the coffin. Confused, he blinked several times and looked around trying to put the whole thing together.
He thought: “If I’m alive, what in the world am I doing in this soft, satin-filled box? If I’m dead, why do I have to go to the bathroom?”
The man showed signs of death though he was alive. The church at Sardis, in Revelation 3, showed signs of life but it was dead. If we were to approach these seven churches as a physician, we would diagnosis Ephesus with heart problems. They left their first love. Smyrna would have a strong, healthy knee jerk reflex. They responded obediently to the touch of the Lord though they were being kicked by persecution. The churches at Pergamum and Thyatira would be referred to as an internal specialist to deal with the false teachers and unholy practices within the church. However, the doctor would simply pull the sheet over the head of the church at Sardis. It may be the harshest rebuke of the seven churches. There is no compliment to this church from the Lord Jesus.
Sardis was located at the intersection of five major trade routes. This brought the city wealth. Even the mountains brought the city wealth as gold was swept out of the mountains by the river that ran through the center of the city. It was the home of the famous King Croesus (KREE sus). His wealth is legendary. He minted the first gold coins. Sardis was thought impregnable. Yet, twice it was conquered while the city slept.
Notice the message to the dead (v.1), the message to the dying (v. 2-3), and the message to the dedicated (v. 4-6). The mark of the church is reality. What is said and done is a true reflection of what they are inwardly.
Jesus says to the church at Sardis:
Write to the angel of the church in Sardis:
Thus says the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.
(2) Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before my God. (3) Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come upon you. (4) But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with me in white, because they are worthy.
(5) “In the same way, the one who conquers will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before my Father and before his angels.
(6) “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
I. THE MESSAGE TO THE DEAD (REVELATION 3:1)
Write to the angel of the church in Sardis: Thus says the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.
To understand the book of Revelation, the interpreter needs to understand the use of numbers. The number seven represents perfection. Jesus is not referring to seven spirits of God. He is referring to the One perfect Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, but he didn’t come alive until God breathed life into him. If this dead church is going to know life, it must have a work of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Carl Bates, a past preaching professor at SWBTS, said, “If the Holy Spirit were to somehow die, if that were possible, some churches would meet next Sunday and never know the difference.” This is the church at Sardis. The Holy Spirit has not died but the church has died to the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Cut the electricity to this building and much of what we are doing at this moment stops. This invisible force cools the home and cooks the food. It freezes the water and dry’s the clothes. Electricity has the power to turn darkness into light.
The Holy Spirit is the invisible and powerful presence of God in the life of a believer. John Stott said, “the greatest gift the Christian has ever received, ever will or could receive, is the Spirit of God himself. He enters our human personality and changes us from within. He fills us with love, joy, and peace. He subdues our passions and transforms our characters into the likeness of Christ. Today there is no man-made temple in which God dwells. Instead, his temple is his people. He inhabits both the individual believer and the Christian community.”