Summary: We are studying the church at Sardis. How do you wake up a dead church or a dead believer? Learn how Christians and churches can fall into a coma and how important it is to stay awake in your relationship with Jesus.
I had a dream the other night. I was dreaming that I was asleep. Yes, I know that sounds very strange - but then my dreams often are very strange - perhaps an outgrowth of my personality. Anyway - I dreamed that I was asleep and that I at some point wished to wake up. That’s where the trouble started. Not only could I not wake up, I found that couldn’t move my arms or legs, and that as I became increasingly panicked I realized that I couldn’t breathe through my mouth - and I was starting to hyperventilate through my nose. It was so scary because I thought - is this what it’s like to die? I did manage to wake up eventually - much to my relief. I didn’t sleep much more that night.
My experience reminded me of the church of Sardis. Sardis is known as the dead church - or the nearly dead. It needs to wake up - desperately. The odd thing about Sardis is that if you asked someone in the community or even in the church - they would not describe it as being asleep and on the way to dieing completely. Just as while you are in a dream you really think that the dream is reality - so they too thought the illusion of life was life.
Sardis is an example of form over substance, and appearance over reality. It has application to churches today - and even sometimes to our lives, as we sometimes find ourselves relating to God by wrote - it becomes religion instead of relationship.
"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ’The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
"’I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ESV
Sardis is the next church to the south of Thyatira. John draws this circle - from Ephesus, the closest church to Patmos - and then up and around and down - ending at Laodicea. Sardis was a big lazy city living on past glory - on a mountain top, surrounded by cliffs on three sides. It was a city in decay. Sardis had been one of the powerful cities in the ancient world. It was here that gold and silver coins were first minted, and the dyeing of wool was invented. The city requested of Rome the right to build a temple to Caesar but that honor went instead of Smyrna. The city then began a moral decline into laziness and licentiousness. Sardis was also well known for its necropolis - with hundreds of grave mounds. It is into this rich imagery that John writes to a church which completely mirrors its’ culture.
7 Spirits - it is only the Holy Spirit that brings life to a church (represented by the 7 stars) - the church does not have life on it’s own. If the church is in our hands, not God’s, we are doomed. And that’s just what may have happened - a few believers started the church, but as it grew it attracted those who liked the form of having a church, but never made a commitment to the person of Jesus Christ - the head of the church.
This sounds bad - but Jesus actually saves the harshest rebuke for the luke-warm Laodicea. At least Sardis was nearly all the way dead. Jesus tells the Laodecieans that He’d rather they be hot or cold - so the cold body of Sardis at least might realize it’s state and repent.
This church had a reputation (or "name" in the KJV) for life - but it was a lie. In fact they were dead. It doesn’t mean that they were physically dead - nor does it mean that the whole lot of them were destined for hell - but without the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, they were as good as dead as a church. And it’s not like they could say "but Lord - look at all we’re doing!" because Jesus says "I know your works." No works count with God - the only one that makes a difference is the work of us bowing our knee to receive Him as Lord - then allowing His Holy Spirit access to rule our lives and change us into His image.