Summary: can a church that was once so full of life become a white-washed tomb full of dead men’s bones and rotting corpses? That, my fellow investigators, is our job this morning as “Christian Soul Investigators.” Get it? “CSI”
God morning, brothers and sisters! Welcome to “CSI: Canton.”
For those of you who live in a cave and don’t have cable, “CSI” stands for “Crime Scene Investigation.”
Now, CSI started out as a weekly crime show that literally began at the turn of the century … in the year 2000 … on CBS. The “meta-narrative” or “running theme” for the series is the use of forensic science and techniques by a core of central characters who solve all kinds of bizarre, gruesome, and seemingly unsolvable crimes.
The popularity of the original CSI show gave rise to a number of spin-offs. There’s my parent’s favorite … NCIS … which stands for “Naval Criminal Investigative Service.” Then there’s was “CSI: New York” and “CSI: Miami.” And now … “CSI: Canton.”
So … are you ready for some forensic sleuthing? We’ve been assigned to investigate the death of a church in the beautiful fortress city of Sardis. Our principle or lead investigator in this case is Jesus Christ. His preliminary investigation reveals the possible cause of death as apathy and laziness due to over-confidence … a condition known to affect the city of Sardis as a whole.
Like Smyrna and Pergamum, the city of Sardis was built on a mountain spur about 1,500 feet above the valley floor. In its glory days, it was the former capitol of the ancient kingdom of Lydia and was considered to be one of the greatest cities in the world … but that was in her past.
Beside the protection of being built on a mountain ridge, the Patos River at the base of the mountain formed another natural barrier against possible invaders. The only way to approach the city was by an isthmus so narrow that a handful of men could actually defend it against an army of attackers. Because of its natural and man-made fortifications, Sardis was considered to be impregnable by its leaders and its citizens … and that was its downfall. Its strength was its weakness.
You see … the citizens of Sardis were so confident that their city could not be over-come that they failed to guard its walls or city adequately … a weakness that was exploited by the Persians in the 6th century BC. In the dead of night, a band of Persian soldiers found a way to climb up the sides of the ravine and enter the city … which, to their surprise, was not being guarded at all … even though a massive army had been camped out in the valley below the city for 14 days. The Sardians were so confident that their city was impregnable that they didn’t even post a single guard along the city wall or at the city gates. Unopposed, this small band of invaders simply opened the city gates and let the Persian army in.
And believe it or not … the same thing happened again 400 years later. The Roman General Antiochus sent a small band of soldiers up the ravine and … surprise, surprise … found no one guarding it … and, sadly, for the Sardians, history repeated itself.
Sardis was a city characterized by a complacent spirit … and that spirit of complacency had infected the church. In His official report, Jesus wrote: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive … but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Apparently there was a time when this church was very much alive and active … filled with people who knew the LORD and were committed to doing good works. Because of that, they had a good reputation within the city … but something changed along the way. They became, as one Bible scholar so poetically put it, “a mild-mannered people … meeting in mild-mannered ways … striving to become more mild-mannered.”
Do you remember what I said about Satan attacking churches last week? He only attacks the good ones, right? Well … he certainly doesn’t appear to be attacking the church at Sardis! There were no Jewish accusers of this church and no friction with the large Jewish population living in Sardis. They were either simply ignoring the Christians because they were of no consequence or they didn’t even know that they were there. There were no false apostles stirring up debate. There were no Nicolaitan trying to impose their doctrines on the Sardian church. There were no struggles … no attacks … nothing … nada … zip … which says a lot about the church and the Christian community in Sardis, doesn’t it? A once energetic, vibrant church had become “The First Zombie Church of Sardis.” … full of living Christian corpses … alive but with no spirit in them.
How can a church that was once so full of life become a white-washed tomb full of dead men’s bones and rotting corpses (Matthew 23:27)? That, my fellow investigators, is our job this morning as “Christian Soul Investigators.” Get it? “CSI” … “Christian Soul Investigators.” [Ba-ta-tump!]