Wake up! - Revelation 3:1-6
Over the past 2 weeks the world has been strangely gripped by continuous news coverage of the events in Iraq.
Many of us have been caught up in the almost intoxicating effects of the analysis of military attacks, the movements of troops, the assessment of so called 'friendly fire' & 'collateral damage'. In all the slightly unreal images coming at us in our front rooms it's easy to forget the grim realities of warfare.
This week we've heard of towns & cities being captured; Al Subia, Njaf, Nasiyria & the ongoing struggle for Basra & of course the capital Baghdad.
We have all become aware that there are a variety of factors at play in terms of the security of a City to an attacking or liberating army weather, availability of suitable military hardware, skill of the troops, strength & morale of the opposition & also the topographical & geographical position of the city in question.
Well with that in mind, picture with me a city on the same continent as Baghdad & Basra but in a different country & at its height in a different era.
Imagine a City comfortable in it's wealth a city famed as a trading centre, a city with gold in its river beds & lucrative fertile fields.
Imagine a City that is supremely secure. To the south it is protected by a mountainous ridge, on 3 sides it is surrounded by perpendicular cliffs. And the settlement itself is inaccessibly high on a hilltop. When threatened by attack the inhabitants of this City knew they lived in an impregnable fortress.
Such a City was Sardis in the 1st Century AD. Sardis had a church community & it was to them that the 5th of the 7 letters from the risen & glorified Jesus in the book of Revelation, is addressed.
As we resume our learning from these 7 letters this evening, we find as we have found before & will see again that the church in the City in question has become in some ways like the city itself.
Rather than the church being a light to the world of what it means to belong to Christ, the world has got into the church & caused serious problems.
The Christians in Sardis have taken on the attitudes of the people around them. They have become falsely secure. They are complacent & comfortable & have been knocked off the course of living for Christ.
Do turn to p1235 if haven't alreadysee from the sermon outline, 1stly;
1.The problem Dying Spiritually by failing to stand up for Christ.
The risen & glorified Jesus in heaven sends his message. It is devastatingly clear v1 'I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.'
This church family has a 'reputation'. They have a 'name' in the area, & perhaps particularly amongst the other churches in the region, for being alive.
'The church in Sardis that's where the action is!' 'Do you know how many go to church in Sardis?' 'Those Christians in Sardis they've raised 1000s.' 'We're all going to the service in Sardis the singing is so moving, the preaching is so exciting.'
It makes us ask what really is a 'lively' church do we measure it in size of the congregation? By impressive Financial resources? By the moving emotional impact of services? Maybe such things could have been said of the church in Sardis. Yet Jesus' verdict is quite the opposite of what they were known for.
Have you seen those yellow signs on power line poles or electricity sub stations? There's a cartoon figure looking like they've been struck by lightening & the stark message 'Danger of death!'
This is Jesus' message to his church 'Danger of death! What appears on the surface, is not reality from my point of view.'
What on earth has caused this spiritual decline that can even be called, 'death'?
Well Jesus tells the church in v2 'Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.'
Jesus has already reminded them of his perfect knowledge, so v1 he 'Knows' their deeds (or 'works'), but now he tells them they are 'incomplete' in the sight of God they are unfulfilled as far as God is concerned.
Somewhere along the line these believers have begun to fall away from Jesus. Much still looks OK on the surface, but the fruit of the salvation they have been given through the undeserved love of God is not being produced. The evidence of their rescue, working out in practical action is deficient. 'I have not found your deeds complete.'
But what in particular have they failed to do? What deeds are incomplete before God?
They must have been doing something or the facade of spiritual life would not have been maintained what specifically is wrong?
Jesus doesn't directly name their shortcomings. So what can help us see what they were lacking?
Tying to work this out illustrates some important things about interpreting the Bible that's it's worth being reminded of, particularly the basic truth that we need to read a Bible passage in its context. That means the context of the immediate passage, the context of the letter or book in which we find the words & the context of the NT & the whole Bible. The Bible is consistent & we can expect to get at the meaning this way.
Looking at the other churches Jesus addresses here in the 7 letters of Revelation (taking the context of the book & section of the book) Jesus commends the churches for certain 'deeds' eg the Ephesians (2:2,3) have done well in 'hard work, perseverance, their intolerance of wicked people, their testing of false teachers. They had endured hardships & not given way'.
The Christians in Thyatira were encouraged for their deeds of 'love & faith, service & perseverance'.
Could it be these qualities & actions are what is missing in Sardis? Well probably & it is confirmed in what Jesus says at the end of his short letter (the immediate context). V5 'He who overcomes will, like them (the faithful members of the church), 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.'
Does that ring any bells with anyone? Jesus says something very similar in the gospels (context of the NT). Eg Mk8:38 'If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.'
Then there are the words Tina read for us from Matt 10 (cf Lk12;8). Jesus has just sent out his 12 disciples to evangelize he warns them they will be opposed, but encourages them not to be afraid. v30 'And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.' Then he gives a further promise & warning; v32'Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.' Do you see the obvious parallel with v5?
Here then it appears, in Sardis is a church that is failing to stand up for Jesus, failing to acknowledge Jesus before their contemporaries & so dying spiritually.
Life was generally easy there seems to have been no opposition certainly no opposition like the Christians in Smyrna faced opposition which lead some to die for Christ.
There seems to have been no heretical false teaching such as the church in Pergamum had to oppose. Lack of opposition combined with a good reputation lead to a false sense of security.
Comfortable & complacent, safe & secure, like City, like Church. The Christians don't seem to have noticed that they were dying.
Isn't this often the danger we face?
A city threatened by B52 Bombers dropping tons of explosive knows it's under attack. But the quiet, covet, undercover operation by special forces is a subtler danger.
Any church is threatened by the values & attitudes of the world around them. The question is are we aware of them or do we complacently think things are going fine & fail to realise that we are just going along with the flow & consequently not standing up for Jesus in our situation?
In our superficially tolerant society that's a great threat isn't it? It's much easier not to bother standing up for Jesus & his words & acknowledging him at work or school or university 'keep your head down, you don't want to be thought of as a Bible basher' we say to ourselves - & then we never even let on we're Christians or talk honestly about what we do or think is important.
'We mustn't impose our views on others in society' we might find people turning against us if we're not careful!' we think When we need to stand up & be counted in influencing laws before all our rich Christian & Biblical heritage is eroded away. (Christian Institute needs people to write & stand up for righteousness literature at back)
We feel more secure when in the wider church, leaders promote immorality & false teaching, & we, to avoid the accusation of rocking the boat, succumb to the voice of complacency which whispers to us 'Well they do believe in God & talk about the Bible after all things are not too bad just let the fuss die down & things will be OK!'
How easy it is to be like the church in Sardis - a satisfied church, a self satisfied Church, a church that is not prepared to stand up & be counted for Christ, a complacent people who aren't prepared to stick their heads above the parapet for the sake of Jesus.
And there is a sobering warning from Jesus with
his rebuke v3b '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.' Jesus will come in judgement if they do not respond to his word.
Perhaps this is the judgement at the end of time or maybe in some other way earlier but it will be sudden 'I will come like a thief.' This is another way of saying what we read in Matt 10 33 'But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.' (p)
'I know your deeds' says Jesus; 'you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.' 'You are dying spiritually by failing to stand up for me.'
But there is 2ndly ;
2.The solution Remember the Gospel
There is hope despite the blunt rebuke of Jesus to his people in Sardis hope in that they are encouraged v2 to ' Wake Up! Strengthen what remains and is about to dieAll is not yet lost. They are about to die, the body is in intensive care but life is not yet fully extinct.
What does a church need to do when it realizes it is dying by failing to stand up for Jesus?
v3 'Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.'
Remember the gospel & respond to it afresh! (p)
Before Jesus gives the messages contained in the 7 letters the book begins with a vivid presentation of the gospel message the message which the Christians in Sardis had 'received and heard' v3. We read them earlier in the service.
Jesus is the one who brings God's grace; his generous, undeserved love. He is the one who bears witness to the truth, he is 'the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.' Jesus loves us & has freed us from the penalty of our rebelliousness by his blood shed on the cross. Jesus who as a result makes us children of God's Kingdom, Jesus who will appear on earth in glory for all to see, fulfilling the work of salvation guaranteed by his death & resurrection.
This is what this dying Church is to remember & respond to again. 'Remember the truth you were rescued through, obey it (literally 'hold it fast', 'keep it') & repent; turn back from the wrong direction of complacency, compromise & false security & turn afresh to a life of standing up for Christ.
Are you failing to stand up for Jesus? Is the danger of spiritual death only round the corner?
Remember the gospel! Hold onto the gospel! Turn again to Jesus who has done so much for us through his gospel. (p)
Have you ever thought why it is that virtually every sermon or Bible study is really a variation on one theme - the gospel? We need to keep hearing, to remember & to continue to respond in holding fast the gospel word & turning back to the Lord of the gospel.
I have to say there have been times in my Christian life times of perplexity & struggle - when if it wasn't for being called back to this wonderful gospel I don't think humanly I would have survived.
We need the gospel to be brought to Christ, we need the gospel to be restored to Christ & we need the gospel to continue with Christ. 'Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.'
Here in this letter to Sardis there's also, briefly
3. The encouragement A wonderful future is promised.
The majority in the church in Sardis it seems have compromised in their complacency. Yet v4 'you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.'
There are some who have not defiled themselves by their spiritual & moral compromise, by their failure to stand up for Jesus & acknowledge him before people. To such there is a promise 'They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.' Full, unhindered relationship with Jesus & a share in the righteousness of Christ won for them on the cross will be their reward. The faithful will stand in the worthiness of Christ's purity for ever.
And 'like them' v5 'He who overcomes willdressed in white.'
Those who overcome the temptations in the world temptations to disown Jesus in life & word & those who through his grace, realise their defilement & turn back & stand for Christ - They will share this wonderful future of eternity with Christ.
This is a promise underlined by the assurance 'I will never blot out his name from the book of life,' But rather, in fulfillment of the promise we have seen in the gospels, 'will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels'.
The last few days have seen significant advances by the coalition troops in Iraq. But I'm sure they don't need to be reminded that complacency could be very costly.
It seems however that Churches & Christians do need to be warned in this way.
There's a clear challenge before us tonight as a local church like the church in Sardis 2000 years ago.
Danger of death! Don't be complacent, don't trust in a false security & a supposed success.
Don't forget the lessons of the Sermon of the Mount we've been considering over recent weeks be different for Jesus' sake, stand up for Jesus & don't fail to acknowledge him before people.
But let's remember who it is who speaks these words to us It is of course, Jesus, who in the words of (Rev 1:18) is the living one who was dead but is now alive for ever & it is the Jesus in particular who introduces himself to us in v1 of our reading 'These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits (or 7 fold spirit) of God and the seven stars.'
We know from ch 1 that the seven stars are the local churches.
Here is Jesus who holds his churches in his hands If we face the danger of a false sense of security here is the right place to have our security in Jesus the master over life & death, the sovereign ruler, the one wholly worthy of our confidence & the only foundation for our confidence.
And he is Jesus who 3;1 'holds the seven spirits of God.' Ch 1 of Rev & some OT background (1:4, Isa 11;2) shows this is a reference to the Holy Spirit the Spirit of God in his divine completeness & perfection. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to his people the Spirit who equips Christ's people to speak of him under pressure (Mt 10: 20), the Spirit of life who can bring life to what appear to be dry, dead bones (Ezk 37).
In our weakness & need as we cry out to Jesus rightly responding to his gospel again, he answers our prayers in the strengthening, equipping, Christ-glorifying help of his Holy Spirit.
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