Summary: A look at the 5th church, the 'dead' church in Sardis.
The Dead Church ~ Sardis
March 18, 2012
I want to warn you, for a moment I’m going to start out a little morbid. How do you know when a person is dead? This is not a trick question, it’s a serious question. We determine whether there is a heartbeat and whether there are brain waves. We can look at a person and determine if there is a pulse, we can even hold a mirror above their mouth to see if they are breathing. There are very specific medical means to determine this.
But, how do you determine when an organization is dead? That is a much more difficult and daunting challenge. Isn’t it? With regard to today’s passage, how do we specifically know when a church is dead, even though by all appearance it is seemingly alive and well.
The easiest answer would be that it is a church with a declining attendance. A church that is shrinking numerically, where the numbers shrink to the point that a for sale sign goes out in front of the church or the windows get boarded up.
But I think the deeper question goes to issues of spiritual vitality. Is a church that has been torn by controversy for years on end truly a living church? Or what about a church that is so comfortable in its current situation that there is no place for new people? What about a church that has completely lost its vision to reach people for Christ? If a church has no passion for those who don’t know Jesus, can it truly be called a “living” church of Jesus Christ?
Have you ever driven by a church and wondered, “I wonder if this church is alive or dead?” Have you ever wondered that about First Baptist Church? This is one of those questions which is much easier to ask than answer.
After all, if the church has a worship service (or two or three), a Sunday School, small groups, a choir or praise team, children’s and youth ministry — — does that mean it’s alive? Or can a seemingly alive church really be dead?
Again, it’s easier to ask than to answer. The only One who can really answer this one is Jesus.
This was the problem facing the church in Sardis. As we start to look at our fifth of 7 churches in Revelation, Jesus makes a very harsh diagnosis for this church ~ 1 You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
When you think about comments that Jesus may make about a church, this very well may the worse thing we could have said about us. We can assume from His comment “you have a reputation of being alive, that ~
. . . The church seemed alive and well.
. . . It had a good reputation in the community.
. . . It was evidently not on the brink of closing its doors.
. . . Others spoke well of the church.
Maybe they hosted a missions conference; and the pastor wrote books and traveled throughout Asia Minor, maybe they had the largest congregation, maybe they just bought a new building... All we know is that appearances can be deceiving.
Unlike the earlier letters we’ve looked at, Jesus doesn’t mention the fact ~
The church isn’t suffering from being persecution.
There isn’t a concern with false doctrine.
There is no idol worship going on.
There is no hint of sexual immorality in the church.
The church isn’t warned about losing its first love.
We really don’t know what was wrong in this church. All we know about Sardis is that things looked good on the outside, but they were dying on the inside.
Many years earlier, Sardis had been one of the most important cities of Asia Minor. When Persia controlled the region, Sardis was actually the capital city. But under the Romans it had faded into insignificance. It’s best days had come and gone. They were living off there reputation of past glory. Sardis was a town living in the past and on the past. It seems that the church of Sardis had taken on the character of the city itself.
One writer called the church at Sardis “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity." Evidently the Jews and the Romans didn’t bother the church because the church didn’t bother them. It was left alone because it lacked the conviction to stir the waters and make any waves. Ouch!! That’s a serious slap in the face. Although apparently active on the outside, on the inside it had become a “spiritual graveyard.”
Jesus can make this diagnosis because he can read the hearts and minds of those who worship there. Maybe that is why He is called the one who “holds the seven spirits of God" (v. 1), a reference to the Holy Spirit who sees all things and who searches every heart. Nothing is hidden from Him.