Series on Revelation, I The Vision, D The Perseverance, 5 The Thoughtless Church, Text: 3:1-6, Title: Listen, Look, and Love


Sardis was the capital of the Roman province of Lydia. It was another church on the Roman postal route in Asia Minor. It was the capital where the celebrated Croesus, proverbial for his wealth, reigned. It was taken by Cyrus, in 548 BC when Croesus was king, and was at that time one of the most splendid and opulent cities of the East. In Greek and Persian cultures the name of Croesus became a synonym for a wealthy man. Croesus' wealth remained proverbial beyond classical antiquity. Croesus is credited with issuing the first true gold coins with a standardized purity for general circulation. Sardis subsequently passed into the hands of the Romans, and under them sank rapidly in wealth and importance. In the time of Tiberius it was destroyed by an earthquake, but was rebuilt by order of the emperor. The inhabitants of Sardis bore an ill repute among the ancients for their voluptuous modes of life. Consequently, there is nothing to commend here. There are some who insist on living true lives, but they are a scanty scattered few, not enough to count; ragged remnants of good, but even these are sickly and nearly dead. Sardis has an ill placed pride in its invincibility because the city consisted of two parts and the one was elevated on a high rock that seemed incapable of being scaled and impregnable. However it was conquered first by the Persians under Cyrus, then by the Greeks, and then by the Romans. The inhabitants of Sardis should have heard the warning of Proverbs 16:18,  Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall, and Proverbs 29:23, A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor. They were an intense disappointment to Jesus as His words indicate and we shall consider today what Jesus expects of His people in the light of the failures in Sardis. Jesus expects us to be alive, awake, aware, and admired.

I Alive

Jesus immediately addresses the problem in verse 1 declaring the hypocrisy of their self-sufficiency, To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. The Lord expected them to be alive because He is the living one who holds all things in His hands. He is the essence, and the source of life, and they were dead.   Jesus holds the Holy Spirit and the stars. Jesus is the center of all life and hope. Through his life-giving Spirit Jesus is able and willing to revive the church. The seven stars in his right hand are his messengers appointed to proclaim the Word of God that generates new life within the church. Jesus gives these bearers of the good news both authority and protection to deliver not their own but God’s life-giving message to the people. Jesus says in verse 2 that their works are incomplete. Works are incomplete when they have the outward appearance of conforming to God’s law but they are not done out of love for God or for His glory. The church in Sardis needs new life. Jesus is fully aware of their works, but he is unable to enumerate them because they are defective in God’s sight. God is not interested in halfhearted attempts to serve him. The summary of his law is,  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Men look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart. Prosperity engenders pride in those who are really spiritually poor. In the western world we tend to measure success by big budgets and full churches, but they are not the real evidence of life. In the United States we think of churches that have not grown to huge congregations as failures. A Christian physician was once ministering to a dying man who was a churchman, but uncertain of his salvation. He didn’t know what to tell him. Suddenly there was persistent scratching at the door and the doctor realized he had left his car window open, and his little dog had jumped out. With the patient's permission he let in his pet poodle who leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.  In a flash the doctor's mind was awakened to a scriptural truth he had never before put into words.  Turning to the sick man, he said, "Did you see how my dog acted?  He's never been in this room before.  He had no idea what was inside; yet when I opened the door, he sprang in without fear, for he knew his master was here!” As Christians we have many questions about the other side of death,  But one thing we do know; our Master is there, and that is enough! That is what it means to love God with all your heart. That is life. That is living religion no matter what it looks like on the outside.

II Awake

Jesus also expects His people to be awake as he says in verses 2 and 3, Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. There is a sense of urgency in Jesus plea which is like coming into someone’s bedroom at the eleventh hour and saying wake up, you’re going to be late for work, or school. It is like a manager coming to an employee who has been assigned a task and it is not finished. We call this being asleep at the switch, or asleep at the wheel. It means they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities very carefully. The remedy is to wake up. The time in Sardis is probably the last decade of the first century. This means that the gospel arrived there 40 years earlier. A new generation has taken over and while the first generation was wide awake, their kids have fallen asleep and they need to remember and repent and obey. And as we said before the obedience that Jesus seeks starts in the heart. In Romans 12:1 and 2 Paul writes, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Many then and now have forgotten that the sacrifice needs to be pleasing to God. Preaching that is not Biblical, worship that is not regulated by Scripture, and service that is half hearted are unacceptable to God. Listen to what God says to His people in Isaiah 1:10-16, Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats...I cannot bear your evil assemblies...They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them...Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong. God speaks in Leviticus 22:21, When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable. God cares about the form of worship, but not only must the form be acceptable the attitude of the heart and the obedience must be acceptable too. In  Sardis it had been, and now it was not, so God says wake up, repent, and return. In our days this means that the church needs to return to its Reformation roots with the zeal of service and the perfection of offerings that once was. We need to stop being concerned with what men think and focus on what Jesus thinks.

III Aware

People who are awake are also alert and aware. Jesus says, But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. God told Israel to watch, Jesus told His disciples to watch, and the Apostles told the believers to watch.  In Matthew 24 Jesus is talking about the fact that no one knows the day or hour of His return and he says Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. People who are sleeping are unaware of the judgment of the Lord whether it is near or far off. When I was a boy in the Methodist church we used to sing a rousing hymn that went like this, “Truehearted, wholehearted, faithful; and loyal, King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be; Under the standard exalted and royal, strong in Thy strength we will battle for thee, Peal out the watchword! Silence it never! Song of our spirits, rejoicing and free; Peal out the watchword! Loyal forever! King of our lives, By Thy grace we will be” As the lyrics would indicate, nobody slept through that song. We are all familiar with the idea of watching for Jesus final return at the end of the age. However we need to be aware that He is watching us now as He was watching in Sardis. And it is true that some judgments wait, but sometimes they do not. These letters are full of threats that were carried out in the first century. He was coming as a thief quickly in judgment to remove candlesticks, to fight enemies, to kill the followers of Jezebel, and to chasten the lukewarm. In September, 1985, the camera-equipped Argo robot submarine of the USA-France expedition photographed the wreckage of the Titanic resting 13,120 feet down on the ocean floor. In its day, the Titanic was the world's largest ship, weighing 46,328 tons, 882 1/2 ft long with 3 anchors weighing more than 10 tons each. It employed a crew of 400, a hotel staff of 518 and could carry 2,433 passengers. The 159 furnaces burned 650 tons of coal a day. The ship had a complete gymnasium, heated pool, squash court and the first miniature golf course -- all below deck. It had opulent dining rooms with 24-hour service, orchestra on the promenade deck, palm courts and gilded turkish baths.    Several millionaires were on the passenger list. But, on April 14, 1912, the "unthinkable" happened to the "unsinkable".  Near midnight, the Titanic struck an iceberg, ripping a 300 ft hole through 5 of its 16 watertight compartments.  It sank in 2 1/2 hours killing 1,513 people. The crew disregarded the danger of the weather, there were not enough lifeboats on board, and the radio operator of the nearby California was off duty, i.e. asleep at the switch. Will the bridegroom come and the "unthinkable" happen to you, unaware of your peril? Be aware!

IV Admired

Jesus expresses his admiration for those who have stayed awake and of course for those who wake up before it is too late they are only a few in number but His promise to them is one of great blessing. So we read in verses 4-6, Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The few that have remained faithful will walk with Jesus in white. Having unsoiled garments is not equivalent to sinlessness. Rather it means that they are truly trusting in Jesus who provides for them a cloak and covering of His own righteousness. These people are justified. Jesus became sin for them that they might be made the righteousness of God in Him as Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:21. Jesus says they are worthy, but we must understand with Thomas Watson that, “God does not justify us because we are worthy, but by justifying us makes us worthy.” As William Barclay writes, “To say that God justifies the ungodly means quite simply that God in his amazing love treats the sinner as if he was a good man.” But this promise is also for those who Jesus found wanting, those whom he urged to wake up. If they do they will be included in the number that walk with Him in white. The most precious thing about this is not being dressed in white, but walking with Jesus and having your name in the Book of Life, and being acknowledged by Him before the Father as one of His own for whom he died and rose again. The church in Sardis and the Church today needs to hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:32, Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.