Summary: Sardis: The Church of Inanimate Spirituality
The Seven, part 11
Sardis: The Church of Inanimate Spirituality
July 28, 2013
I have said the Revelation was written to address specific issues with seven churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century yet they are as relevant to us today as they were to the church then. The letters have a consistent pattern that we are using as our outline – an introduction, an evaluation, an exhortation, and a benediction. Each church is given a diagnosis of their spiritual condition along with a prescription from the Great Physician as the antidote that will strengthen their witness in their city. Today Jesus diagnoses a comatose church who has so compromised with the surrounding culture they have lost any faithful and effective witness and need to desperately find their the way back.
This letter is the shortest and the sharpest because their light, their testimony and witness was barely smoldering. Smyrna was not experiencing any of the difficulties of the other churches: no persecution, no false teachers, no slander from Jews, were there any issues with the trade guilds or Rome. They had no conflicts with the unbelvieing world at all because they had so identitied with the surounding culture that everyone loved them; they had learned to get along with everyone. Sardis was located thirty five miles south of Thyatira. It had the reputation as the greatest city in the Ancient world. It was a great commercial city at the cross roads of five major trade routes. But by this time it had lost its luster and was living on its past glory and the church was mirroring this situation.
Jesus is described as having the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. If you remember, the seven spirits are symbolic for the fullness of the Spirit that is available to this church to regain an effective witness. Sardis desperately needed to hear this word from God and it desperately needed the Spirit to quicken it to them. Jesus also has the seven stars, symbolic for the seven churches. Remember the seven stars, like the seven lamp stands are the seven churches that he holds in his right hand. The Lord of the church loves his church, died for his church, and cares for his church. Jesus is all that this church needs to regain its effective testimony.
The evaluation is both sudden and severe. “I know your works, you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” They had the reputation as a thriving church in Sardis. Anybody who was somebody went there and they had something for everyone. The pastors would be writing books on church growth and be in demand on the conference circuit. But it was all show and no substance. The life station had become a club, a morgue with a steeple. It is like Jesus' statement about the Jews in Smyrna who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. They are not the people of God! Spiritual death is a spiritual condition that the indescriminate mistake for life. The same is true with churches that have become secular, just like the culture around them, relying on gimicks to draw and entertain people, giving away prizes to visitors, numbers and size are everything. The church in Sardis had so compromised with the culture that the offense of the gospel had lost its edge. The result was that they had no effective or definitive witness. The same can be said for christians in their neghborhood, christians on campus, christians in the work place, and christians at the coffee shop.
Here we have a beginning word and an ending word that is same word that are like two bookends defining the main point, wake up! “Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die because I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Jesus says they are dead and then what remains about to die. He is using hyperbole, overstatement, to stress the desperate situation demands that they act quickly. The exhortation has five commands that are meant to jolt the church out of their deadly slumber. Wake up is a verb in the present tense, meaning be spiritually vigilant, always watchful.
Next they are to strengthen what remains. That something remains means that they had started out as having a faithful and effective witness to the gospel but had lost it. This is why they are to strengthen it, regain it now. Why? Because Jesus has not found their works complete in the sight of God. Jesus has evaluated the church and they have not lived up to God's design, the task of being a lampstand, a faithful witness to the gospel.