Summary: This is the sixth message in this series that looks at the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. This message examines the letter to the church at Sardis and how they were spiritually dead and didn't know it.
As depressing as it might be the opening passage of this letter sounds more like an obituary. The body of believers in Sardis is dead….well almost. Only faint life signs of a faithful remnant remain. For the majority there it was too late, their faith had already flat lined. What begins as a deathbed scene takes a sudden turn to become an emergency room drama. Rather than officiating over the funeral Christ makes a last ditch effort to revive the hearts of those in Sardis. Sardis was located about 30 miles south of Thyatira. Its location commanded the trade of the Aegean Islands, and the military road through the important Hermus River Valley. Sardis enjoyed the prominence as a commercially prosperous, and military strategic city throughout its history. The luxurious living of the Sardinians led to their rapid moral decline. This is one of the two most adverse reports sent by Jesus, the other being sent to Laodicea. Unlike the other letters we have looked at so far Jesus passes over any estimate of their deeds, and their reputation to give the bottom line: “You are dead!” As we read the words of this letter lets discover the lessons we can learn from the church at Sardis.
I. Putting the condition of the church at Sardis in perspective.
A. Persians, Greeks and Romans; Sardis had many conquerors, but none so devastating as the earthquake of the year 17 that literally leveled the city.
1. To help rebuild the city the Roman Emperor Tiberius remitted all taxes for 5 years and donated the equivalent of 2 million dollars in today’s money.
2. Sardis once again flourished as gold and silver coins once again changed hands in the marketplace.
3. The Greek Historian Herodotus tells us that the inhabitants of Sardis earned a reputation for lacking legal or moral restraints; especially: disregarding sexual restraints.
4. Economically the city of Sardis was rich but spiritually the city was bankrupt.
B. The church in Sardis sadly had nothing to offer the needy culture around them prompting Jesus to confront them.
1. To the Sardinians, Christ reveals himself as the one who controls the seven spirits of God.
2. Knowing this church’s deeds, Christ had nothing good to say.
3. The believers may have thought that they were a living, thriving and active congregation but they were dead.
4. Like the city itself, perhaps the church was trying to live on its reputation of past glory.
5. What Jesus leaves out in His introductory words to the church at Sardis is as telling as what He includes.
C. The church at Sardis had become so lazy and halfhearted that it was hard to find any signs of life in the church.
1. Although the congregation is not what the world would consider to be a dead church, Jesus pronounces this body of believers as being effectively dead.
2. The church at Sardis probably could be likened to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
3. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (Matthew 23:27—NIV 2011)
4. Did they offer prayers at Sardis? Yes. Did they sing songs of worship? Yes. Did they receive offerings and do good works? Yes and yes. Did they truly love Jesus? No.
5. Sardis’ reputation impressed only other people, not Jesus who saw beyond their religiosity to the heart which had stopped beating for Him.
II. Jesus issues some commands that lead to correction.
A. The command "Wake up!" is in the present tense and be better translated "Be constantly alert."
1. This is a call to reverse their attitudes radically.
2. The congregation must be alerted to the seriousness of the situation. Their complacency led them to give up their identification with Christ and their mission for him.
3. He wanted them to stop living on past experiences and to begin once again nurturing a growing relationship with Christ.
4. A growing relationship with Christ would help them guard against false teaching and compromise.
5. 13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. 14 And do everything with love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14—NLT)
B. Strengthen the remnant that still remains.
1. Jesus immediately turns His attention to that small flicker of life that still remains.
2. Keep what little you have left alive.
3. Nourish and imitate that faithful few so the church can become a healthy body once again.
C. The church needed to remember their purpose.
1. The Greek term used here literally means to keep remembering.
2. Like those in Ephesus, the Sardinians must remember what they "have received and heard." What they "received" was the apostolic tradition of the gospel; what they "heard" probably were the teachings of the apostles and prophets who brought the gospel to them.