Summary: The church of Sardis reminds us of the imminence of Christ’s return, and calls us to be found ready at all times.
I read a story this week, from an old Reader’s Digest, about a cat was run over by a car. The cat belonged to 4-year-old Billy, and before he could find out about his cat’s death, his mother quickly disposed of the remains. After a few days, though, Billy finally asked about the cat.
“Billy, the cat died,” his mother explained. Then, in an attempt to comfort Billy, his mother said to him, “It’s all right. He’s up in heaven with God.”
Billy was puzzled by his mother’s statement. “What in the world would God want with a dead cat?”
Now, before I go on let me make it clear that I am not making a theological statement about the state of the dead. What I am doing, however, is making a strong statement about those whom God will take with Him to heaven when Jesus Christ returns to this earth. Will God be taking anyone dead to Heaven? No, of course not! The Scriptures make clear that when Jesus returns, the faithful dead will have life returned to them before He takes them to heaven. And, we are told in Revelation 21:4, death will not exist in heaven or on the new earth. After all, what in the world would God want with dead people?
God’s plan has never once involved that which is dead, but that which is alive. Even the crucifixion of Jesus would have been useless without His resurrection; for it is in the fact that He lives again that we gain our hope of eternity. And so, make no mistake about it: God has no use for that which is dead.
It is important to bear this in mind as we take a look at our letter of study this morning. Today, we will look at the letter written to the church of Sardis – the fifth church in our series on the seven churches of Revelation. So join me, please, as we hear the Word of God spoken from the 3rd chapter of Revelation, beginning at verse 1 (read vv. 1-6)….
As we read this letter, there are two things that stand out to me right away. The first thing I notice is that unlike any of the other churches we have studied thus far, Sardis has nothing good said about it. Did you notice that? Of all seven of the churches God writes to, Sardis is the only one for whom He has nothing to commend. In fact, the only thing that even comes close to a positive statement is found at the end of verse one, where Jesus says that this is a church that has a reputation for being a living church, even though it’s actually a dying church. This is a church that was obviously once very active, and had made a reputation for itself; but now that reputation – that reminiscence of the glory of days past – is all that is left. Resting on the laurels of their past accomplishments, they no longer feel the need to move forward, and as a result, begin to petrify.
The second thing that stands out to me is how Jesus recognises that this church is really dead. What did He say was the indicator? – what they were doing! “I know your works” He says to Sardis, “and it is your works that tell me you are not living but dead.” Now, the Scriptures tell us that salvation is a gift from God. “By grace are you saved by faith” we are told in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9. “It is not of yourself, but a gift from God. Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Let no one argue the concrete truth that salvation is a gift that cannot be earned. But here in our passage in Revelation, we discover that what God is doing is He is using the works as the indicator of just how saved the church really is – just how alive in the faith they really are.
You know, there are a lot of congregations, even today, even in the Seventh-day Adventist church, that would receive this same declaration from God. I’ve heard them referred to as the churches of the Frozen Chosen. You know what I’m talking about. The churches that come together for church each week and talk a lot about God’s salvation, but have lost their drive to do something with it. They talk a lot about what it was like to be saved, and the zeal they had once upon a time, but there is nothing new happening.
It reminds me of a small community that lived along the Atlantic coast. The weather was particularly turbulent in this area, and there was a reef that ran just a few miles off shore. Over the years, many ships had struck the reef in bad weather, and the community decided that it was necessary to form a search and rescue brigade. So they purchased some land and built an emergency shelter. They brought in specialists to train them in how to safely conduct rescue missions. They purchased the highest quality equipment. It was a significant investment of time and resources, but the community was finally able to serve in an emergency, and over the years the rescue brigade saved dozens of lives.