Summary: Wake up from the hypnosis of hypocrisy and wake up to the greatness of Christ’s finery.
In 547 B.C., King Croesus of Sardis marched to fight King Cyrus of Persia. Croesus was defeated and retreated to his fortress-like city of Sardis where he thought he would be safe from further attacks. Even when the Persian army filled the valley below Croesus slept soundly thinking the enemy would never be able to scale the cliffs on which the city was built. Croesus woke up one morning, however, to find Persians in his bedroom. The enemy had scaled the wall and taken the city. If only Croesus would not have been overconfident in his city’s ability to repel attacks, he would have stayed awake and posted guards at every possible point of entry and would not have been so easily defeated. Some three hundred years later history repeated itself when Antiochus the Great scaled the cliffs of Sardis to take the surprised city once again.
If the Christians in Sardis knew their city’s history, they didn’t take it to heart for Jesus urged them: “Wake up!” The members of Sardis must have been surprised to hear Jesus say this for their congregation had the reputation of being alive. Maybe this meant they had a vibrant Mum & Me program, a weekly women’s Bible study, and a building committee looking at expansion. They at least didn’t seem to have problems with false prophets or outright immoral members as other congregations in the area had. Still, Jesus said: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:1-6).
Jesus’ wake-up call to the church in Sardis can be summarized like this: wake up from the hypnosis of hypocrisy, and wake up to the greatness of Christ’s finery. Let’s find out how this wake-up call still rings true for us today.
If a congregation’s vitality was measured by how many programs it ran or how large its worship attendance was, Sardis would have received nothing but praise from Jesus. As it was, Jesus said that they were dead. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t know what they were all doing. He saw their deeds but judged them to be lacking (Rev. 3:2). Their deeds were lacking because most of the members in Sardis had fallen under the hypnosis of hypocrisy. They figured that as long as they showed up to church, gave their offerings, and helped out with an outreach event every now and then they were being good Christians. The congregation, however, was only playing church. They were just going through the motions and not serving out of faith, that is, loving thankfulness for what Jesus had done for them. And the writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that “…without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6a).
Friends could it be that we too have fallen under the hypnosis of hypocrisy? Sure we are an active congregation but are we alive in God’s eyes? Ask yourself why you came to church this morning. Did you do so out of habit? Did you come only after complaining? Did you come because people are counting on you to teach Sunday School, hand out bulletins, or sing in the choir? If that is why we came, then we need to wake up! God is not pleased just because we show up at church and serve here. God is pleased only if we do these things out of thankful love for him.
So what’s the cure for hypocrisy? The cure is God’s Word. Jesus told the Christians in Sardis: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard” (Rev. 3:3a). Jesus wants us to get into the Word and see how serious the sin of hypocrisy is. Even though hypocrites do many things for the Lord, Jesus will say to them on Judgment Day: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23b) When we are tempted to take sinful pride in the things we have done for the Lord, we would do well to remember how Isaiah said that our “good deeds” are still really only filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6b). Like smelling salts waved under the nose, God’s Law jolts us awake and brings us to our senses when we start to take pride in our deeds.