A Dying Church
One of the most fascinating passage of Scripture is the Church of Sardis where Jesus is seen asking to come inside. This church in some strange manner has left its first love and continued to function as an empty religious institution. The church at Sardis is the fifth of the seven churches listed in Revelation 2:1 & 3:22, and Jesus has placed a fear-provoking name upon it as being a dead church.
God’s Word is seen transcending space and time as the Apostle John is told to categories the book of Revelation (1:19) into three eras, "Therefore write … the things which thou hast seen” [chapter 1] “and the things which are” [chapters 2 and 3] “and the things which shall be hereafter” [chapters 4 through 22] The seven churches were actual historical churches; there actually was a church in Sardis in Asia Minor. It’s also symbolic of different types of churches there are Sardis-type churches throughout church history as there are dead churches in existence today. Finally, Sardis represents types of individual Christians throughout the ages.
The name Sardis means, “remnant or escaped.” As for those who escaped the Church of Rome. Chronologically this places the church around 1300-1700 what is called the Reformation Period. Where God use men like John Wycliffe a professor in Oxford University who opposed the Church position on Transubstantiation, and the sales of indulgences. And Martin Luther an Augustinian monk who when he was told to read the book of Habakkuk because Luther punished himself because of his lack of worthiness (Habakkuk means to wrestle) Luther when he read Chapter 2:4 “the just shall live by faith” came to a deeper understanding of God’s Grace. Therefore became the father of the Reformation Period in Church History. Also Men like John Calvin 1509 in France, John Knox 1514 in Scotland, Ulrich Zwingli 1484 in Switzerland. This period in time was a great in clearing out the heresies of the Catholic Church, but not too soon after fell into a cold deep sleep that our Lord is good to address here in the Church of Sardis.
Jesus interesting enough calls Sardis a dead church in verse one…what will we determine if an autopsy is preformed on this dead church? What will we decide is the cause of death? Let us now examine the church of Sardis and conclude what the cause of her terminal condition.
Revelation 3 Verse 1 - to the angel, Aggelo - messenger, pastor. This is very encouraging that God looks at the messenger of His Word as an angel, because today minister are called all sorts of things rather than an angel.
Verse 1a- write, Imperative- word of command conveying a sense of urgency and importance.
Verse 1b- He who holds, is very comforting to know that Jesus holds us in His Hands and no one could pluck us away from Him (John 10:28)
Verse 1c- Spirit and stars, these are the same as in chapter 1. They key word is the number seven (7) illustrating to us the complete or perfect Holy Spirit in all His Fullness as seen in Isaiah 11:2. And stars are the messengers (1:20) this is also alluding to the work of the Holy Spirit in the 7 churches.
* Notice! There is no commendation or congratulations given to this church from our Lord. There is no praise at all!
Verse 1d- I know your works, God took notice of all the hard work it took to stand up for the Word of God and escape the Dark Age under the rule of the Church of Rome.
Verse 1e- you have a name, interesting word in the Greek "onoma" (on'-om-ah); which means you are called rendered in the KJV where we get the word Denomination. I am a Baptist, I am a Lutheran, I am a Presbyterian, I am a Methodist, etc... Jesus says you have a name that you are alive, But!
Verse 1f- you are dead, from the Greek word "nekros" (nek-ros'); one that has breathed his last, lifeless, destitute of force or power, inactive, rendered inoperative. Spiritually dead!
Verse 2- be watchful and strengthen, in the Greek "gregoreuo" (gray-gor-yoo'-o) means to keep awake, watch, KJV to be vigilant, wake, Wake Up! As one who is shot and is falling into a deep sleep and the paramedic is saying snap out of it! You can’t fall asleep; you’ll never come out of it!
Verse 2b- your works are not perfect, The reformation period brought out the truth of God’s Word to the people and gave them liberty, but soon they slowly drifted away from God’s love. It has been well said that many churches begins with a man, reaches out with a mission, becomes a movement, but ends up a monument. This is a very polite way of saying many churches begins with life but ends in death.
Chuck Swindoll once said: The church of Sardis was a morgue with a steeple!
The prophet Jeremiah herald: For My people (God’s people) have committed two evils: "They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water." (Jer 2:13) This message continues to echo till today.
The Apostle Paul when he traveled into Ephesus, he ran across a very strange group of Christians… something was missing! “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." (Acts 19:1-2) The Apostle Paul realized that being filled with the Spirit is an experience for all Christians, for without the Spirit’s indwelling, we cannot truly serve God as we should.
The Prophet Ezekiel stated: "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
The Lord first gave the promise I will cleanse you, and then the second promise, I will put My Spirit in you. The Holy Spirit cannot fill the heart and continue to dwell in it unless a complete cleansing first takes place within you.
I find it very fascinating that in many Denominational Churches have great choirs, big building, and all sorts of programs. They have a form that they are alive, but as Jesus said: you are dead! The majority of them have rejected the work of the Holy Spirit in their Churches, and we find gay ministers both male and female, ministers who do not believe in the inerrant Word of God. In fact, today the World Council of Churches is looking for those crazy Bible believing churches that are causing division. Those people who believe that Jesus is coming soon; who are gay phobic and who believe in a literal Hell.
A great Old Testament illustration of the church living apart from the Spirit is the life of Samson, (Judge 14-16) who was the charming, lovable hero of Israel. He arrived in the dark days of their history to become a great champion of freedom. His name is a byword for champion. He performed many feats of heroic strength that no man could ever equal.
But Samson eventually lost touch with the source of his strength. He was cut off from God. Someone might say, "That happened because his hair was cut." No, the cutting of his hair only illustrated the much deeper fact that he had been spiritually cut off from God. Samson should never have been involved with Delilah. God had told Israel to stay away from foreign women because He wanted Israel to be pure. He didn't want them intermarrying. But Samson rejected God's law and will for his life. The cutting of his hair only illustrated that he was cut off from spiritual power and he didn't even know it.
When he woke up after having his hair cut, and tried to meet the danger that had confronted Him, the Bible records these sad words: " But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him. “ (Judges 16:20) what a tragic declaration! Samson was the same… his biceps measured the same, his brain hadn't changed, and his name was the same, but God wasn't there. As a result, Samson was defeated, imprisoned, and blinded. No matter how glorified Samson was in the Old Testament, I always think of him as a pitiful blind giant tied to a prison mill with two brass chains. He was there because of his sin. God had left him.
The Sardian church, once alive and powerful began to harbor sin. As a result, it became weak, blind, and dead. Sardis became bound in brass chains, grinding the grain of sin's prison. It probably didn't realize that God was no longer around. I wonder how many churches that are dressed up and organized really have a congregation that is blind, weak, and dead like Samson a corpse grinding away at the prison mill.
What are the signs of a dying church?
- A dying church rests on its past accomplishments and is satisfied with its presence state.
- A dying church is more concerned about their rituals and their formalities than they are
- A dying church is more concerned about social change than they are about seeing people changed by the power of God.
- A dying church is more concerned with material growth than it is with spiritual growth.
- A dying church is more concerned with pleasing men that it is with pleasing God.
- A dying church clings more tightly to its creeds and confessions that it does to the Word of God.
- A dying church is one that loses its conviction that the Bible is the Word of God.
The city of Sardis was located 50 miles from Ephesus, and about 30 miles from Thyatira on the 10000 ft slopes of Mt Tmolus which made it a natural fortress. The city was located 5 major trade routes making Sardis very wealthy city and prestige with a very large Temple dedicated to Artemis (Diana) her local name in Sardis was Cybele. It was believed that she had power to give life to the dead!
This well fortified city fell twice in history in 546 BC to Cyrus and in 17 AD to Antiochus III, both times due to careless on the part of its guards. Sardis guards became arrogant because of her location and great wealth and thought they were safe, but due to carelessness she fell twice.
Hegel was right when he said: We learn from history that we do not learn from history.
Verse 3- Remember therefore, that God is love and forgiving able to breath back life to those who are dying. Resurrection (John 11:25) is His business. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Verse 3a- repent, metanoeo- to change one's mind (heart), that is, to repent, to change one's mind (heart) for the better, to amend heartily with abhorrence of one's past sins.
Verse 3b- come as a thief, Samson was not paying attention to what he was called to be a Nazirite priest, and was not aware that the Lord’s Spirit had left him.
Verse 4- a few names, God throughout the Bible and history always had a remnant, that’s where we get the name of Sardis. That has not bowed their knees to Baal, and defiled their garments and stayed their course. As there are a few today that have not bowed to the liberal theology in the church.
Verse 4a- walk with Me, Just as Enoch walked with God. (Gen 5:22-24) The word walk "peripateo" (per-ee-pat-eh'-o) in the Greek means be occupied with, to have fellowship, walk as a companion or votary.
Verse 4b- in white, we are promised His purity in His righteousness, Paul states: For He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21) Today is the day of salvation and be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. For there is coming a time when the door is going to be closed as in the days of Noah, and God’s judgment will fall. Then to be dressed in a white garment you will have to loose you head, it will cost you your life, because they failed to receive the love of the truth that they may be saved. This is seen (Rev 6:11 & 7:13-15) as those who come out of the great tribulation, they also will be wearing white.
Verse 5- He who overcomes, this is the Biblical position of a believer, we are over comers, because of what Christ did for us on Calvary. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Christ. (Matt 16:18)
Verse 5a- will not blot out, we are promised His protection. The word “Not” in the Greek no, not lest, uses a double negative implying God forbid, neither, never. This is not a warning, but a promise that it will never happen. (Ex 32:32-33) for the first idea of a divine ledger.
The 3 views for this verse are:
1, loss of salvation.
2, all are in the book of life and only those who die without Christ are removed.
3, Promise not a warning.
* Historical background to Sardis: The people’s names were removed from the city’s ledger for crimes, or death.
Verse 5b- I will confess his name, Jesus said: “if you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father in Heaven.” (Matt 10:32) Jesus will say to the Father Tony belongs to Me… and to the angels I knew Tony was going to make it!
Verse 6- He who has an ear, Are you listening church?