I talked to a friend of mine recently. He lives in Alabama. Sadly, I learned the congregation he attended lost their preacher, and about 45 members. Problems have arisen in the church. There were challenges with the elders and decision making regarding COVID. It’s a sad story.
While I don’t know all the details, the members do, and so does Jesus! In fact, Jesus knows what happens in every church. This is most seen in the book of Revelation.
The messages Jesus gives to the seven churches in Asia Minor serve as a reminder for us. Jesus knows who we are. He knows the good and the bad. He sees all. What He sees really matters to Him. Therefore, it should matter to us who we are as His people and His church. This morning, I want us to consider a congregation called Sardis. What can we learn from them?
Background Information about Sardis The following information is from Homer Hailey’s Commentary on the book of Revelation.
Understanding the background will give us some insight on what Jesus says. Sardis was the capital city of ancient Lydia. About 30 miles south-southeast of Thyatira.
It was one of the most renowned cities of Asia Minor (which is now modern Turkey).
The city was built on a smooth, almost perpendicular rock hill that provided a natural citadel, inaccessible from three sides and easily protected on the fourth.
Rising 1500 ft. from the plain below, the hill overlooked the wide and fertile Hermus Valley
Sardis had long been a capital city; the kings who ruled from it were noted for their life of wealth, splendor, and luxury.
The city was also known to become soft and weak. It was more a robber’s stronghold than an abode of civilized men.
“In 549 B.C. tradition says that a soldier found a crevice in the rock hill up which he led a band of soldiers to the summit, taking the city by surprise. About 330 years later (218 B.C.), Antiochus the Great took the city in the same way; thus the city had twice been surprised and taken as ‘a thief in the night.’”
Sardis was destroyed by a terrible earthquake in A.D. 17. It was rebuilt with help from Emperor Tiberius, of Rome, who contributed heavily out of the nationally treasury, and remitted taxes for five years according to Tacitus.
By the time this letter was written Sardis was a city with a past but no future.
Understanding this background will give us a better understanding of what Jesus says.
Considering the church of Sardis: Revelation 3: 1-6
Unlike the other churches there didn’t seem to be persecution, but rather peace. Peace is a good thing, but not when it comes to being lazy or apathetic. They were dead. It’s been said, “The most peaceful place is a cemetery.” That’s not the kind of peace we want.
Verse 1: To the angel of the church in Sardis.
In Revelation 1:19-20, Jesus instructed John to write. In verse 12,16 , John had seen the 7 golden lampstands. An explanation is given. The lampstands are the 7 churches. Who or what are the seven stars? Several possible answers have been given. They are listed below.
Men sent to John to inquire of his state.
Angels who stand for and are responsible for the church’s spiritual state.
Chief Pastor, bishop, or the entire eldership of the church.
Powers, characters, the history and life of the church.
The heavenly counterpart of the church, the spiritual counterpart of human individuals.
The spiritual character, inward state, or prevailing spirit of the church itself. Messengers representing the very spirit of the churches to the Son of man.
The seven Spirits (1:4, 4:5) of God refers to the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
I know: Jesus knew the members in Sardis. He knew more than everyone else. They had a reputation of being alive (influential, sound, warm, welcoming, wealth). Having a name among men is not the goal. Being faithful to God is the GOAL!
Verse 2: The warning: WAKE UP! They were weak (just like the city in times past) that needed to be strengthened (to bring to completion, finish something already begun). They began to build, but never finished. They were near death (spiritually). Jesus saw their deeds were not yet complete in the sight of His God. Their faith was lacking.
Verse 3: Jesus told them to repent (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 13:3-5). They were to remember what they had received (salvation in Him).He mentions “wake up” a second time (see verse 1). Otherwise (Jesus gave them to repent) He would come like a thief. The city Sardis had been destroyed like as how a thief comes in the night. Judgment would come upon them. Before we think immediately of the final judgment, we should also consider Jesus coming in judgment “upon the enemies, or for discipline of or aid to the particular church. In the final judgment, Jesus is coming whether anyone is watching and repenting.” They needed to see the handwriting on the wall and what would be revealed later in the book.
Verse 4: A contrast is made. There’s good news. There were a few in the church who had not soiled their garments. This soiling of garments points to the immorality some were involved in (Jude 23; James 1:27). Those who had not soiled their garments worthy in His eyes and would walk with Him in white (see Revelation 4:4, 6:9-11, 7:9) (in fellowship with Him). The white robes represent purity, cleansing, end-time victory. When it comes to judgment, all of us will be judged individually. This shows us that in a church there are those who may be near death and those who are not. This should give us assurance! This doesn’t give us license to align ourselves with error.
Verse 5: Those who walked with Jesus would be blessed! This church could be revived if they were willing. Heaven was at stake! The Jews seemed to have kept a register of their citizens, which was a book of the living, Isaiah 4:3. This imagery is used to encourage them to remain faithful, Luke 10:20; Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3. The spiritually dead will not be in this book. Sardis needed to take heed!
Verse 6: The church needed to listen carefully. Jesus gave them a choice. So do we! What are we to learn from this messenger?
Application for us
What can we learn from this congregation?
Jesus knows. People can be fooled, but God can’t.
Repentance should be a message we hear often!
We will individually be judged.
A few will go a long way!
How we listen matters.
How are you listening?