Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 15 What will Jesus say about our church? . Sardis - The dead and dying church

. Sardis - The dead and dying church

SARDIS - THE DEAD AND DYING CHURCH

Revelation 3:1-6 (ESV) 1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘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.

Introduction:

In Afrikaans we had a comical saying in the years gone by. “Wat is die trappe van vergelyking van dood? The answer that was then given was: “Dood, morsdood, gevrek.” I will not try and translate that. I did once, and said it is “Dead, Deader, Christian,” as we are dead in Christ, aren’t we?

On Wednesday past there was a headline on News24 entitled: “Why South Africa needs a reputation reset.”  The church in Sardis was such a church. They needed a reputation reset. Verse 1 says: “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Rather have a reputation of being dead, but being alive. The following statement maybe best explains this church we will look at today. Somebody once said: “nowadays butter is fatless, coffee is caffeineless, sweetners are sugarless, roads are dustless, and Christianity is Godless.”

 

The church of Sardis was located 56 kilometres Southeast of Thyatira and 80 km east of Smyrna. Sardis was built in two sections. Part of the city was built on top of the mountain Timolus which was app. 500 meters high. The other part was in the valley next to the Hermus River. It was a pagan city with many major temples, one of them dedicated to Artemis (Diana) and the another to Cybelle who was their local ‘god of nature,’ and yet another to Caesar and so forth.  Sardis as a city was rich and Sardis was sinful. It was the ancient capital of the Lydian kingdom, going all the way back to 1,200 years before Christ. It was rich in gold and rich in silver. There are some historical indications that it might have been the first place where gold and silver were minted into coins. Because of its wealth, it was a city that endured many wars, but they were usually victorious because of their geographic location. They had unlimited luxury and wealth which are key indicators for a society and sadly also the church to turn away from God.

 

The church, by definition, is to be alive. It is a place where God lives, where Christ lives, where the Holy Spirit lives, where believers are alive. They’ve been given life. A church is to be the fellowship of those who possess eternal life. Sadly, this church was dead. We could say that the congregation in Sardis was the very reverse of the congregation in Smyrna. Smyrna was being put to death and yet lived. Sardis appeared to be alive; it was dead.

 

The Lord introduces Himself to this church in a very interesting way. Here our Lord identifies Himself with chapter 1, verse 4. He calls Himself “the one who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” Now remember that all of the introductions to the churches are from chapter 1.

 

What does “the seven Spirits of God” mean? This statement appears several times in the book of Revelation. It appears in chapter 4:5; chapter 5:6 and is implied at other places. God is identified in chapters 4 and 5 in a heavenly scene as possessing the seven Spirits of God. When you think of Christ who has the seven Spirits we are mindful of Isaiah 11:2 (ESV) 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”


So, when the Bible talks about the seven spirits, it’s talking about the seven-fold spirit. It would have been helpful if translators had stated it that way. So, the one writing to the church is the one who literally possesses the Holy Spirit. It was the Son who sent the Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.

The seven stars part I am not going to explain in detail as we dealt with that before but just to mention again that they are the leaders of the church. So, the one who has the fulness of the Spirit and holds the leaders in His hands, is the one who is speaking.

 

Why does Christ identify Himself in such a way? I believe it is because this church failed in both those areas. They were dead, simply because the Spirit of God was not functioning in their church and their leaders were not functioning under Christ but were hopeless. Remember that it is the Spirit that gives life (Romans 8:9); that lives in believers (1 Corinthians 6:19); that leads believers (Romans 8:14); that produces Spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-25); that gives gifts to the church (1 Corinthians 12:11) and promotes unity in the body (Ephesians 4:3). Sadly, they have forfeited the Holy Spirit and faithful leadership.

2. The condemnation.

This church is the first church commended for nothing. Jesus says that: ‘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.’

We know very little about this church. In studying this church here and in historical records, there is no mention of persecution against this church. There’s no mention of bad theology. There’s no mention of any false teachers. There’s no mention of any compromise with the world. There’s no mention of any sin. But the church must have imbibed all of that because it was dead – there was no spiritual life.

This is so sad, as the church is so young. It came to life and died a period shorter than what I have been in the ministry. This church is so defiled it is dead. It is decayed on the inside. It is disintegrated; it is dry rot. It is like any liberal church that denies the Bible, denies Christ, denies the gospel: it’s dead. It is like any church that has all the programmes and all the bells and whistles and all the façade, and spiritual performances, which is the very reason it had a reputation of being alive. From human perspective, it was growing, and actually a WOW church, but Christ says that their reputation is unfounded as they are dead.

Church family, there is a warning for us. Any church is in danger of dying when it gets caught up in the world, tolerates sins, abandons its first love – there’s a progression here. You can tell a dead church. It’s concerned with tradition. It’s concerned with form. It’s concerned with liturgy. It’s concerned with welfare. It’s concerned with social ills. It’s concerned with tolerance of sin. It’s preoccupied with systems. It’s concerned with material things, not spiritual things. It doesn’t proclaim the gospel. It doesn’t uphold the Scripture. It doesn’t pursue holiness. It accepts unbelievers in the church and in positions of leadership which grips the church by the neck and kills it.

 

A Church may be socially distinguished, may have the best programmes and ministries, but it’s a spiritual graveyard, and its works are grave clothes: a poor disguise for an ecclesiastical corpse.  So many churches are like that. South Africa and the world is covered with them – dressed up, organised – but the whole congregation is blind and dead.

 

We must never forget that the church of Christ is made up of living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5), that in each of the churches dwells the Living God (2 Corinthians 6:16), and their source of life is the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:19-20). The church should not be dead, but many times churches are so dead, that the only thing alive is the Ivy growing up against the outside wall.

Is there a solution. Yes, there is. Let me present us with a six-point survival plan.

 

3. Six-point survival plan.

In spite of this church being dead, it is Christ’s church and He cares for it and wants to see it come to life again. There is a little bit of life in the church because verse 4 says that there are a few people in the church who did not soil their garments. Praise God for that few.

So, we see a five-point survival plan in the words: 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.

 

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.


These verses are opposite to modern day church growth and church health movements. You will often hear the comment that the 7 words of a dying church are “we’ve never tried to do it this way before.” So, all we need to do is to change our programme and do a few new things. All we need to do is to make the church seeker sensitive, so that we can draw the unbelievers in. And so more and more error creeps into the church. So, what are the six points?

 

3.1 Wake-up.

The first one is in verses 2 and 3: “Wake up.” What does that mean? Assess your condition; look around you. Wake up. Be alert; watch. Why? Go to verse 3, it explains it: “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come against you.” Whenever the Lord talk about coming like a thief, it’s in judgment. This is consistent through the New Testament; it’s really consistent in fact. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (ESV) 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Christ is coming, not as a thief to the believer. We welcome His coming. We open the doors for Him to come. We say with John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” He’s coming to us as a welcome Lord, and we want Him to come – the sooner, the better.

 

But to unbelievers, this is a dire reality, a dire reality. He is coming in judgment. He is coming like a thief comes to kill and destroy and steal. That’s the picture in the New Testament. So, the first command then is to the nonbelievers in the congregation: “Wake up before judgment comes. Wake up. Wake up before judgment comes.”

There is a challenge to believers as well to wake up. Ephesians 5:13-14 (ESV) 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”


3.2 Strengthen what remains.

The second word is “strengthen.” “Strengthen the things that remain which were about to die.” This would be to the believers. “Rescue what is left. There’s still some hope.” You would say that to a person in a church like that, “If there’s anything that hasn’t died, if there’s any truth, if there’s any virtue, if there’s any purity anywhere, rescue that. Do what you can to rescue that.” That’s the reformation. That’s the revival.

 

3.3 Remember what you have heard.

And then in verse 3: “Remember what you have received and heard;” I think, again, this is directed at believers: “Remember the truth that you received and heard, hold onto it, and repent of any sin.”


To the remaining believers: “Strengthen what is still alive, even if it’s barely alive. Remember what you received and heard from the apostles, of course, from the Lord. Hold it and repent, wherever repentance is near, wherever it’s available. Wherever it’s possible: repent, turn. And if you don’t do these things, I will come to destroy you.” Some of these churches have been destroyed, but they still go through motions.

 

3.4 Keep it or obey it.

“Keep it.”

Knowledge of the Word of God alone will never bring life, Only, in keeping it will we see life promoted. They needed to learn from the church of Philadelphia where the Lord says in Revelation 3:8 (ESV) 8 “you have kept my word and have not denied my name…..” We will look at this next week, so I will not elaborate further, but to remind you that he who hears the word and keeps it is like the man who builds his house on the rock.

 

3.5 Repent.

‘Repenting’ is simply to change course. You have reached a point of no return, but by the grace of God He allows you to change course and go the other way. The Greek word here is Metanoeo {met-an-o-eh'-o} that means to change one's mind, or to change direction. It literally means that if you were desirous of living right and glorifying Christ, you need to keep in step with Him, by keeping in step with His Spirit. Now, Christ is not going the way you are, so turn around and follow in His footsteps.

 

3.6 Conquer or overcome.

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.

How do you overcome? John gives us some clue in 1 John 5:5 (ESV) 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

So, to those who are believers, those of you who are already believers, and those of you who wake up and repent. To those of you who overcome the world, you will be clothed in white garments. And what He means by that is the garments of righteousness that we mentioned earlier, and ultimately, Revelation, chapter 19, “the garments of glory.” We saw it in the previous churches, where white is very much heavens colour. I gave you references. It stands for purity, it is a reminder that we are washed with the blood of the Lamb. It is the brilliance of Glory.

 

There is a promise for conquerors: “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.”

How would they have understood it. They were familiar with their own society.

 

First of all, rulers of cities had a census; they had the name of all the citizens. Your name could be erased, and it would be erased two ways basically. One: if you died, your name would be erased. Two: if you committed some crime against the state, you would lose your citizenship. Your name would be erased.

But God will never erase the name of His own out of the Book of Life even if you died and committed sin. For a child of God there is no condemnation.  Be an overcomer; put your trust in Christ. Believe in Christ Jesus as the Son of God and you will be eternally clothed in white garments; and even when you die, your name will never be erased from the Book of Life.

 

God basically says: “Under no circumstances would I erase your name. Petty kings might do that; I would never do it.” However, to prove that you are in God’s book, you need to believe, but more than that you need to conquer. When you are in Christ you have life. You cannot claim the life of Christ and be dead.

Revelation 20:12 (ESV) 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

The dead, unconverted, are judged by books that keep a record of their sin. But our names are in the Book of Life. Of those who are alive Jesus says: “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

In Matthew 10:32, Jesus said this: Matthew 10:32 (ESV) “32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,” Genuine faith in Christ means that we receive all these promises: eternal life, never to be removed, and to be confessed as Christ’s own before His Father, before the holy angels.

3.7 Closing remark.

Revelation 3:6 (ESV) 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The same words are uttered to every church and every church member.  “Are you listening?” That’s how each of these ends – as you glance back, you can see it. “Are you listening? If you are dead in trespasses and sins, wake up and repent and come to Christ. If you are saved, but sleeping and lethargic and indifferent and worldly, remember and hold fast and strengthen. And if you are vibrant and alive, count your blessings and your eternal promises that await you.”

Oh, I pray today that Logos will not be a church with a reputation that we are alive but are dead. I am sure that we will always have one or two people who are dead, but may it never be a blanket judgment over us. If you are convicted by the Holy Spirit today that you are dead, there is one message for you, and that is “wake up”.

And then there are those that are alive but barely: indifferent, cold, in danger of leaving their first love, compromising with the world, tolerating sin. They need to strengthen and repent.

And then there are the great numbers of faithful people who define the church, who define what it is by their life. I’m so grateful that the Lord didn’t put me somewhere in the world where all I had was a Sardis church. There are those here who dearly have a love for the Lord, and I am sure that there are those who do not know the Lord, and then there are those who need to strengthen what is about to die. I hope you have that same gratitude for God’s goodness to all of us here.

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: 29 July 2018