Uncertain Times…Christ-Centered Churches – Rev 3 – Sardis
When was the last time you were so tired-you thought you could literally fall asleep standing up? I Googled whether this was actually possible-we know horses can fall asleep standing up so can other animals, but can humans do it? Turns out there was an article just published by the BBC News on July 28th of 2020 that said it is possible for humans to fall asleep standing up-but as the article said-it’s just not always comfortable. Really? Whoever says-I could sure you use a good power nap, let me stand here awhile! But the article talked about people who trained themselves to sleep standing upright-and 5 hours was generally the limit. So there’s something good we’ve learned in 2020! Try going to sleep tonight standing in your bedroom! But I’m sure we’ve all been so tired we thought we could fall asleep standing up! Ask yourself the question-where do you get the most sleepy or find yourself drifting off? Where is it that you just can’t keep your eyes open? There’s all sorts of pics of this online-pillow crate, library, kids in kitchen, kid on shelf, kid in the bathroom, guy under desk, new intern at work. But who doesn’t struggle with this one-that middle of the afternoon slump after you had a big lunch that’s now sitting heavy-falling asleep is inevitable! Or maybe it’s school-listening to you teacher lecture. What about studying? Who hasn’t tried pulling that all-nighter and fell asleep with their head in their books. Driving is another one. On a long road trip I’m sure we’ll all battled sleepiness at the wheel when your eyes are super heavy! Usually a can of Red Bull and a bag of Twizzlers powers me through. Maybe you easily fall asleep reading a book or watching tv at night-you can hardly stay awake. But what about this one-sleeping at church. Anybody battle this? Obviously not here-no one falls asleep here-but I’ve heard it happens at other churches! There’s an old comedy sketch from Mr. Bean trying to stay awake at church-pic. I like his approach of forcing his eyes open! But that’s what we’re talking about this morning-sleeping at church. As we continue our series on the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Revelation-this next church was sound asleep; they were snoring away in a deep slumber. Now they weren’t necessarily asleep during worship services or because of a boring sermon-but they were asleep in who they were as a church.
So open up your Bibles to Rev 3-or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 3:1a. And again this is the same formula we’ve seen each week for these letters. Jesus introduces the name of the church and then says something about Himself. So first off the next church we’re examining is in the city of Sardis. Not sardines-this city wasn’t named after little fish-instead it was a strong fortress sitting high on a plateau protected by mountains ridges 1500 ft high. Here’s a pic-and you can see the ridges invaders would have needed to scale in order to attack the city. So it was well protected. Those columns are from the temple to Artemis that once stood there. And as an interesting sidetone-those columns have stood intact all this time and never been restored-architecture back then was strong. But the city thought it was strong-no one could reach us. Here’s an arial view-and you can see those mountains invaders would have needed to cross. So they felt very safe. No one will conquer us-and yet it happened-twice. In 549 BC Persian soldiers figured out how to climb that highest ridge and launch a surprise attack on the city, and then 300 years later the Syrians did the same thing. So this was a city that had literally fallen asleep at the wheel-or fallen asleep in guarding itself so that they were open to invasion and attack, nearly being destroyed twice. And while that happened historically to the city, Jesus is going to remind the church that they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel spiritually and are open to invasion and being destroyed in their witness. So back to His intro-Rev 3:1a. And if you remember from our first week in Revelation-the seven stars are the leaders of these 7 churches. He holds them in His hand-meaning Jesus has authority over those leaders. They are the under-shepherds of the church as He is the chief shepherd. But the 7 spirits of God aren’t 7 different floating spirits or angels-they’re the complete and perfect Holy Spirit in all His fulness, as 7 was that Biblical number of fulness. And this is really important because the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the church alive, He’s the one who makes believers alive. The Holy Spirit is the one who regenerates our hearts so that we’re born again in Christ, raised from death to life in order to serve Him. Without the Spirit we’re in a state of lifelessness and death-which was the case with this church-Rev 3:1.
And notice those two sharp contrasts-a reputation of being alive-but actually dead inside! The church in Sardis had a great past, they had created a good reputation for themselves. People in the community recognized the church, probably thought good things about the church. Great people go there. But somewhere along the way being alive for Christ became more of a reputation than an actual reality. That somehow they had stopped living by the Spirit, stopped being led by the Spirit, and somehow led themselves which brought them to the verge of death as a church. Look at-Rom 8:13-14. The Holy Spirit is the one who fills believers and brings life-but somehow a lot of people in this church weren’t living by the Spirit but living according to their sinful nature. They were resisting the Spirit’s work-and that led them to death. So this morning we’re going to begin by identifying the problem-and it’s not just something they dealt with back then-but a problem for us to consider today. Pt1:Slumbering: Remembering the past, but asleep in the present; a good reputation, but a sad reality. Or I like how one author phrased it-Sardis had lots to look at in the showroom, but nothing actually in stock! Which would be rather pointless. Look at all you can buy here-but we don’t really have any of it. That’s who they were as a church. They may have looked good on the outside-even Jesus says I know your deeds, but underneath the hood, digging below the surface revealed something different. Instead of being alive for Christ and eagerly serving Him, they had landed in a place of complacency and were on the verge of death. What brought them to this point? We don’t know. Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t elaborate on the details-but the key is found in what they seemed to be relying on. Back to Rev 3:1. Most likely, the people in the church were relying on their reputation from the past to be sufficient for the present. Remember all we used to do? Remember the things we accomplished as a church-all our hard work and efforts-those things were something, weren’t they? We were really on fire then. And maybe they were-but in our walks with the Lord-what happened then is never sufficient for now. Jesus doesn’t say a good reputation from the past or a good bunch of memories is fine. He wants His people, His church, walking with Him now just as much as then.
In fact, being a follower of Christ is a life of increasing dependance on Him, not decreasing. That the longer you’re a follower the more you realize how much more you need Him, not less. Look at Gal 5:25. This is talking about an ongoing activity, a continual walk. It didn’t describe life in the Spirit as standing still or staying put, this is talking about moving forward. That if the Holy Spirit is cruising along at a fast pace, you’re keeping up, keeping in step-not lagging behind or remembering how you used to walk with Him. The Christian life is one of moving forward, it’s never about stalling out and resting on a good reputation. That word complacency is so crucial, because it’s defined as being satisfied right where we’re at without feeling any need to continue on or keep growing. Complacency says I’m fine right here. That was the church in Sardis back then, and maybe that’s you today. You’ve found yourself saying-I’m good right here, this is fine. No need for further effort or work, the Lord knows I’ve done a lot in the past. My record speaks for itself. I did so much years ago. But now I’m weary so I’ll settle in right here and put my spiritual engines on idle. But that’s the very thing you can’t do. In the Christian life, sitting idle doesn’t exist. You’re either growing in the Lord and keeping in step with the Spirit, or else you’re drifting away from the Lord and falling behind, basically falling asleep. But sitting idle never happens. Back to the problem-Pt1. Would that describe your walk with the Lord right now? That people see a good reputation as a follower of Christ, that you’re known as someone faithful and dedicated, but if they peered below the surface or looked deeper into your heart they’d see that things are rather lifeless and dead? That the fervor and faith you once possessed has now become sleepy and stagnant? That was true of this church-how about you?
It’s an important question to reflect on-because look at what Jesus says in light of this problem-Rev 3:2. He’s saying the time for sleeping is over-this is your wake-up call. No more snoozing or napping or spiritual slumber. It’s time for action! I want to take a little survey-who gets up right away when your alarm goes off? No hesitation, you’re up and at ‘em, ready to embrace the day? Who hits snooze and takes their time getting up? In fact, who hits snooze multiple times until it’s absolutely essential to get up because there isn’t any more time and you’re going to be late? Who hasn’t used an alarm since March when Coronavirus arrived and all sense of time flew out the window? As Jesus speaks to the church-there isn’t any time to hit the snooze button. This is the final wake-up call. No more room for spiritual complacency or sleeping-the believers in Sardis need to act. And remember what we said earlier-as a city they had grown complacent about being a strong fortress tucked behind that mountainous ridge-they had fallen asleep in guarding themselves until it was too late and they were attacked. Jesus is saying the same thing is about to happen spiritually-Rev 3:2. So there’s still hope, there’s still time to act-all is not lost, the church isn’t dead yet. But time is of the essence, there is still work to be done-your deeds are not yet complete. And I’m reminded of what it says in-Eph 2:10. That’s one of the best descriptions of what life in Christ is all about. It’s that ongoing, continuous action of doing the good works God calls us to do-and there’s nothing stated there about growing sleepy or taking a break from it or falling back on your good reputation from the past. Doing those good works is exactly what we’re created for as the verse says, it’s what the church is created for-and that’s what Jesus wants us to remember-Rev 3:2-3. Again, just like their city was caught off-guard, so the church will be caught off-guard by Jesus if they don’t wake-up and keep on doing what they were created to do. And that brings us to the Wake-up Call:Remembering the gospel-what have you forgotten?
That’s what Jesus is telling them to do first and foremost. In order to wake-up, they have to know what they’re waking up to-and that’s the gospel-that message they received and heard which is the most glorious, amazing, transforming, destiny-altering message around! To wake-up to the fact that because of Jesus everything is different-and it’s the same message for us. Maybe you received and heard the gospel years ago but it’s something you haven’t thought about in a long time. Or maybe you’ve thought about it-but it really hasn’t sunk into your soul. That you’ve ignored it or sort of hit the snooze button on the gospel. But that’s what you can’t do. The gospel isn’t just the message you’ve heard that gets you into heaven-and then you’re done with it-time to move on to more advanced Bible topics. The gospel is what sustains you and strengthens your soul everyday throughout all of life. It’s the message that reminds you that it’s not based on you and your performance. That your salvation, your right standing with God, the forgiveness you so desperately need, the hope you so deeply want, and the eternal destiny you’re so eagerly anticipating are all based on what Jesus has done for you. That despite all your mistakes and blunders and errors-of which we all have plenty-you are still forever loved by your Savior-and He is in the process of transforming you until one day you’ll be at home in His presence forever transformed with all your brothers and sisters in Christ. Waking up from spiritual slumber begins by remembering the gospel. Each morning you have to pry open your eyes-the Lord wants our eyes to see that good news. Look at Eph 1:18-19a. We sang that song-open the eyes of my heart Lord-that’s where the wake-up call begins. Have you opened your eyes to the truth of the gospel?
But there’s another part to the wake-up call-back to Rev 3:3. And it’s not enough just to remember the message-Jesus is saying that it has to result in action, it has to bring change to your life. That’s the whole point of it. Wake-up Call:Repenting of sin and sleepiness-where do you need to change?. And this follows directly from last week in looking at the church in Thyatira. They also needed to be a church of repentance. And we defined the word as a change of mind resulting in a change of attitude or action. And there’s capital R repentance which is a one-time event when you turn from your sins and you’re saved, but then there’s lower r repentance which is an ongoing activity of consistently turning back to the Lord while turning away from the things that cause you to stumble and fall. And in the case of Sardis, to repent of their spiritually sleepiness and apathy-and that might be the very thing you need to repent of today. To say-Lord, I’ve grown sluggish in my walk with you. As your follower, I’ve fallen asleep on the job and abandoned my post. I’ve let things slide that I shouldn’t. I’ve grown apathetic in my faith and tired in my service to you and your people. Let that not be the case any longer. Because that’s the heart of what repenting is-it’s not just words you say, it’s change that results. And that’s the heart of every one of these letter from Jesus we’ve looked at. They’re not written to tell these churches-You’re done, game over, time to board up shop, I’ll go find better churches. Jesus is writing these letter so that these churches-despite all their flaws and struggles and challenges-will change. And it’s the same for us. Being a follower of Christ means that He will change you. You won’t stay the same as you walk with Him-staying the same isn’t an option. Now that’s what many of us try to do-let me follow you Lord, but stay exactly the same way that I am-I don’t want you turning my life upside down and doing anything too radical. But the mere fact that you’ve repented and put your trust in the Lord means that you will change, that you’re now on the road of transformation-to made more like Christ because that’s your destiny as a follower of Christ-and it’s never too late to let that happen.
I go back to how Jesus started this letter-Rev 3:1b-2a. This church wasn’t in a good place. From Jesus’ own mouth this church was about to die. They were at the verge of game over, time to board up shop and call it quits-but what does God do with things that are dead? What did God do with you and me when we were dead in our sins? He raised us up to new life in Him-Eph 2:4-5. God is in the resurrection business. He specializes in taking dead things and bringing them back to life-whether dead churches, dead ministries or dead people. As one book I read this week said-When things appear their worst, our Savior is at His best. And that’s the last part of our Wake-up Call:Being resurrected by our God-where do you need new life? What parts of your life are in danger of dying? Where is your faith flat-lining? Where are you ready just to bury it and say forget it? Maybe you were so faithful in the past, just like this church, but in recent days you’ve lost steam, you’ve lost energy and feel like you’re dying a slow death. All is not lost. If there’s one thing this letter to a dying church tells us-it’s that it’s never too late to turn to the Lord. Never too late to repent, never too late to let His transforming power get to work in your heart. He takes what is dead and breathes new life into it. Look at what it says in Rom 8:10-11. As a believer the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit within you-and that’s where Jesus began this letter-that He’s the one who holds the seven spirits, meaning the Holy Spirit. So let the Spirit bring new life to you. Because where does this end-Rev 3:5-6. As the Spirit brings new life to you now-your name is written in the Book of Life-the book that records the names of all those who’ve saved, all those who’ve been raised from death to life. Is your name written there? It’s the only book that matter. And if it is-are you experiencing that new life now? You should-because our God specializes in the resurrection business. Swindoll, Exposition, 86.