“‘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.’” Revelation 3:1-6
Phillip Power, in his book entitled, “A Book of Comfort for Those In Sickness” says, “I should be sorry if, when I saw a man or woman in suffering, I did not feel something.”
By saying that he should be sorry, Power’s is saying:
he ought to feel distress, anguish and concern over seeing someone who is suffering.
He ought to seek to understand, to feel sympathy for, and to be sensitive to someone else’s misfortune.
If Power’s were to see suffering and not feel anything he ought to be overcome by a feeling of regret, misgiving, heartbreak, anguish.
In Luke 10:25-37 we read of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story Jesus is asked a question by a religious lawyer seeking to justify himself before God. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?” (29)
To answer this question, Jesus says that a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers. They stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. (30)
A priest and a Levite came by and saw him, they passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan came upon the half-dead man and he had compassion and responded in four ways.
He went to him
bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
He set him on his animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day he paid the innkeeper saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
Jesus then asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Our text today gives us an opportunity to see a church which is almost dead.
This church has a reputation for being alive but they are dying. There is no spiritual life in them.
The community looks upon them and has nothing bad to say about them. In fact, they often speak well of them.
All of the other churches look at the church in Sardis and believe it to be one of the best churches. There are lots of people and it is prospering. But Jesus comes to this church and says, “I know your works. You have the reputation for being alive, but you are dead.” (3:1)
Imagine the shock, anger and disbelief this congregation might feel when they hear these words. [A politician this week got very angry when they were asked if they hated someone. The response of this person was “As a Catholic I cannot hate anyone. How quickly we can get angry when our self-righteousness is attacked.]
If Jesus were there He would say, “I know your works”, and then pause for a moment. Long enough for them to consider their works and to presume that they are about to receive praise from Jesus. Long enough for their pride to rise to the surface.
Then Jesus would say, “You have the reputation for being alive.”. He would pause long enough for their hearts to be filled with delight, pleasure, and self-confidence. They would say to themselves,
“We have worked hard for this reputation”,
“We have a good reputation both inside this church and out in our community”,
“We will protect this reputation at all costs!
We have protected our reputation from those few among us who try to trouble us.”
Then Jesus would say these words, “But you are dead”.
If we could peer into their hearts in this moment we would see disbelief and anger at the words of Jesus. They would say to themselves, “How dare Jesus say such a thing! Are we not prophesying in your name, casting out demons in your name, and doing mighty works in your name?”
Matthew 7:22-23 - “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
This church was busy doing religious things.
They did all these things in Jesus’ name; Yet, Jesus says to them, ‘I never knew you’.
Dr. Micahael Reeves warns us with these words, “Today, Christians still display some sort of strong gravitational pull away from knowing God. We can believe and proclaim some message called the gospel, we can hold a high view of the bible, we can go to church and live what we think is a holy life and still not really know God. Our gospel can be a get out of hell free card that we have signed. But knowing Christ is not essential and our holiness is some sort of self-dependent morality. This is what sin does in us, it draws us away from loving the Lord our God. And this is so important for us to consider today.”
The church in Sardis is like the story that Bill Yudchitz has told me concerning one of his friends who had a heart attack on Thursday and continued to work the rest of the day. He did not go to the doctor on Friday but continued to work even though he did not feel well. He should have gone to the doctor but he convinced himself that he would wait till after the Packer game on Sunday and then go if he still wasn’t feeling well. This man never saw the game because he died.
We can respond to this text in two specific ways.
First, we can respond like the good Samaritan did. We have an opportunity before us today to see suffering, to feel something, and to have our hearts overflow with compassion.
This sermon should be thought about, discussed and responded too; not quickly forgotten.
With the time that we have left this morning let me address the following things:
First, this church needs to be revived by the Spirit of God.
Secondly, this church needs to respond to the Spirit of God.
Third, this church needs to recognize the few among them who have not soiled themselves.
Point #1 – This church needs to be revived by the Spirit of God.
This church had a reputation for being alive but it was devoid of the life of the Spirit.
Sermons may have been preached without prayer.
Actions were done without the activity and of the Spirit of God.
Plans were set forth without the presence of the Spirit.
Things were begun but nothing was ever completed or finished.
Their desired outcomes were achieved but the Spirit did not accomplish the work in the heart.
Things were done but the Spirit did not do the impossible in them, among them or around them.
The pews were filled with bodies that were empty shell.
This church needs to receive these words as the one who has the “seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” - The fullness and completeness of God to all the churches.
Jesus says to them, ‘I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God’ (2). What does Jesus mean when he says, ‘...in the sight of My God?’
Revelation 1:1 states, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His servants...” In this book, Jesus is relating to us the mind and heart of the Father to the churches.
Also reminds the church that we ought to always look to God for our reputation and standing and not to men. The standard is not in what we hear from men but we look to God.
Christianity is not to be characterized by what we pursue but never complete. Rather, in some way it is about what is completed and finished. Far to many of my years as a young believer Christianity became to me about a carrot that I was to pursue but could never actually grab hold of and enjoy. It was before me to motivate me to action and work but not to enjoy. This is fundamentally wrong.
Sardis is not the only church who has needed to recover their dependence upon the life of the Spirit.
Dr. Michael Reeves speaks of this time when he ways, “There was really nothing for the Spirit to do. And in many ways, the reformation as a whole would be a fight for that line in the Nicene Creed, ‘And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life’. We do not have life in ourselves. Therefore, we need more than a bit of enabling grace. We need life (from the Spirit of God).”
Point #2 – The church needs to respond to the Spirit of God
Let us look at two translations of Revelation 3:3.
“Remember, then, what you have received and heard.” (ESV)
“Remember, then, how you have received and heard.” (KJV)
Which of these translations is the best?
How exactly are we to respond?
Are not both of these things important important?
Consider the Galatians 1:6 and we will see the importance of ‘what’ we receive. Paul said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” (Gal. 1:6)
Hebrews describes the importance of ‘how’ the Word is received. We read, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Acts 17:11 reflects both of the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. It states, “Now these Jews were more noble (kingdom minded) than those in Thessalonica (earthly minded); they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
The church also needs to respond in other was.
This church is to wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die by remembering what they had received and heard (the apostolic teaching).
They are to return to the gospel, keep it, apply it, defend it.
They are to repent. This is a past tense imperative which speaks of a decisive moment when a person changes the course of their life and goes another way. There is a moment when a person is done with the old life and begins anew.
They are to watch for Christ’s return. Dr. Barclay says, “He who walks hand-in-hand with Christ cannot be taken unawares by his coming.” The apostle Paul says it this way in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are children of the light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”
Does it seem odd that Christ would bend over a sick and dying church and ask them to respond in so many ways by asking them to wake up, to watch, to receive, to repent, to keep, to hear and to remember? Are they capable of doing such a thing?
Let’s look at four reasons to consider that they can indeed respond to these commands.
1) These are the life giving words of Jesus who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The Spirit of the Lord gives life to dead people; so how much more will His words give health to a sick church. Consider Proverbs 4: 20-22, “My son, be attentive (watchful) to my words; incline your ear to my sayings (repent and strengthen). Let them not escape from your sight (remember); keep them (keep and obey) within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh (strengthen).”
2) P.B. Powers, when addressing physical sickness says something that could be an encouragement in this context as well. He says, “Perhaps our pain may be so sharp, or may have worn us down so much that we cannot get the mind to work actively; we cannot have the idea of pleasing God strong before us. Under these circumstances it is a comfort to think that God does not require of us what we cannot do. He is no hard taskmaster. He only wills us to resign ourselves into his hands. We may do that.”
3) Consider the story of the Good Samaritan again. Is not Jesus here coming close to the dying. Christ comes as the Good Samaritan to help them live.
4) Consider how fast faith can progress to more Christ-likeness. One act of faithful obedience to Christ’s words will lead to more and more health. Consider 1 Peter 1:3-8, “His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Point #3 – Christ recognizes a few who have not soiled themselves and they will be saved.
This sermon began with a quote from P.B. Powers, “I should be sorry if, when I saw a person suffering, I did not feel something.” It could also be said, ‘We should be sorry if, we see a person saved by grace and kept by God’s power, and we did not feel something and respond appropriately.’
Shane Westphal, who is a paramedic says, “The feeling you get when you have resuscitated somebody, and you know that they are going to survive, is extremely hard to explain.”
Our text today shows us that Jesus saves people. He spends three of our six verses in this text explaining this to us. He says, “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. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
We have a choice to make. We can easily be a church like Sardis who became complacent, lax, and man-centered.
Or we can be a Christ-centered, gospel focused, Spirit-filled, and Kingdom-minded church who receives promises such as these and is used in powerful eternal ways and who experiences a personal relationship with the Lord. Let us seek to do the latter.