Summary: The fifth in a series of seven. This is an expository, alliterated sermon with practical application based on the letter to Sardis in Revelation. PowerPoint is avialable if you e-mail me.
You’ve Got Mail: Sardis
Scott Bayles, preacher
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL
From the manufacturing hub of Thyatira a first-century postman continued southward another forty miles until arriving at the acropolis of Sardis.
Sitting atop a steep hill roughly 1,500 feet above the main roads, Sardis’ location formed an almost impregnable fortress. The natural rock walls on the north, east and west slopes of this hill were almost completely vertical. The only access to the city was from a narrow path on the south slope. This made Sardis one of the most easily defensible cities of the ancient world. In fact, any attempt to capture the acropolis of Sardis was considered utterly impossible. So you can imagine the shockwaves that resonated throughout the known world when King Cyrus of Persia did the impossible.
More than five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the king of Lydia instigated an attack against Persia. He was thoroughly beaten and retreated to Sardis where he felt quite safe and secure. King Cyrus and his men surrounded the city and camped outside of it for days, but the people of Sardis still didn’t feel threatened. Sitting comfortably within their fortress the citizens of Sardis became overconfident and complacent. Cyrus sent a handful of men around to the north side of the acropolis, who then slowly and carefully scaled the rock wall which had been left completely unguarded. One by one the soldiers scaled the wall, entered the city and slaughtered its citizens in their sleep—a disaster that could have been easily avoided had they been alert. Three and a half centuries later, history repeated itself, when Antiochus the Great conquered Sardis using the exact same tactic.
I tell you that story because history was about to repeat itself, yet again. In many ways, the church in Sardis was plagued with the same problems as the city itself had been. Let’s look at what Jesus had to say to them:
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 3:1-6 NLT)
As always, before critiquing of the church, Jesus begins by giving his credentials.
In description of himself, Jesus says, “This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars” (vs. 1 NLT).
This sevenfold Spirit of God is, of course, the Holy Spirit of God. The “sevenfold Spirit” refers to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The number seven is used throughout Revelation to symbolize completeness and perfection. Also, these letters were, of course, sent out to seven churches and Holy Spirit is depicted as being present in each of them—thus we see a “sevenfold” Spirit.
Now, because the church in Sardis was on the verge of death, Jesus wanted to remind them that it is he—Jesus—who holds and who gives the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Holy Spirit who breathes life into his children and his church.
To a dying congregation, nothing could be more important than the Holy Spirit. Jesus said it himself: “It is the Spirit that gives life” (John 6:63 NKJV). Do you remember Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well? He told her, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:13-14 NLT). What is this water that Jesus was talking about? It was the Holy Spirit. A few chapters later this becomes much more obvious:
On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. (John 7:37-39 NLT)