Introduction: Continuing our series called “Can you hear Me?”
(Matthew 7:21; Mark 7:6-7; Titus 1:16; Ezekiel 33:31-32)
This series’ subtitle, Letters from God, refers to the messages Jesus sent through John to the 7
churches in Asia Minor, found in Revelation chapters 2-3. (HANDOUTS)
- In these letters, Jesus examined each church, encouraged their strengths, but also pointed out weaknesses that needed improvement to prepare them for coming persecution.
- God hasn’t changed and neither has human nature; opposition to true Christianity is rising in our land, so what Jesus said to these churches potentially applies to us as well!
- This message, God’s Letter to the Lifeless, was addressed to the church at Sardis.
- Theme verse: Matthew 7:21 (NLT)—“Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter.” [Matthew 7:22-23: These people had prophesied, cast out demons and performed miracles in Jesus’ name, but Jesus’ reply was that He never knew them.]
- This letter warns Sardis—and us—to carefully assess the spiritual life of the church.
- : Do you sense the Spirit’s work in our church? Are you involved in His efforts?
The Message to the Church in Sardis: (Revelation 3:1-6)
Begins with a…
#1 - Greeting (Revelation 3:1a-b; C/R: Isaiah 11:2; John 16:13-14; Revelation 1:4,20)
- Revelation 3:1a (NLT)—“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis.”
- Sardis was a great city located about 50 miles east of Ephesus and 30 miles south of Thyatira, at the junction of five main roads, so it was a center for trade.
- The church was likely another outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus during his third missionary journey (Acts19:10).
- The city was also a military center with a fortress located 1500 feet above the main roads, on an almost inaccessible plateau.
- The main religion in the city was the worship of Artemis, referred to as Cybele in Sardis, one of the “nature cults” that built on the idea of death and rebirth.
- Sardis was known for its manufacture of woolen garments (discovered how to dye wool) and also mining and refining gold (minted the first gold and silver coins).
- Revelation 3:1b (NLT)—“This is the message from the One who has the sevenfold Spirit of God [also at Revelation 1:4] and the seven stars [also Revelation 1:20]:”
- The sevenfold Spirit represents the Holy Spirit’s fullness and completeness, but is also likely a reference to the Spirit’s Presence representing Jesus in the seven churches.
- The seven stars represents the seven angels (or messengers), who were the elders or pastors of each of the churches who received these letters. [also Revelation 1:20]
Jesus then expressed…
#2 - Concern (Revelation 3:1c-2; C/R: Ephesians 2:1-2; Colossians 2:13; 1 Timothy 5:6)
- Revelation 3:1c (NLT)—“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.”
- This church was thought well of by observers, but Jesus knew the church was lifeless.
- This letter does not mention persecution (why would Satan persecute a dead church), false teachers or corrupt living—but some of those factors killed the church at Sardis.
- The church would have been better off if there had been some persecution that required faith to persevere, for it had grown comfortable, content, and complacent.
- A church is in danger whenever it relies on what it has done in the past; when it focuses on current social problems instead of changing people’s hearts through the gospel; when it is more concerned with material growth (numbers, buildings, programs) than spiritual growth (which is more difficult to count); when it is more concerned with what people in the culture think than what God thinks; when it loses its conviction that the Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative over our lives.
- Revelation 3:2 (NLT)—"Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of My God.”
- There were some Christians remaining in the church, but they needed to wake up, cast off complacency, eliminate indifference and fan into flame the dying embers of faith that were smoldering, and about to go out entirely, in the church.
- The church at Sardis was still performing deeds—good deeds—but their efforts did not satisfy God, because apparently, the people were not changing lives through the gospel.
- The unsaved in Sardis saw the church as a respectable group of people who were neither dangerous nor desirable; decent people with a dying witness and a decaying ministry.
- When Christians become complacent about spiritual priorities, practices and pursuits—the enemy comes in, introducing shallow, superficial, “spirituality” to substitute for dynamic, Spirit-led living!
- The Spirit of God birthed the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and her life comes from the Spirit!
- Music, preaching, programs, and works of service—are all good—but don’t provide spiritual life to a church, only the Holy Spirit imparts life to a church. (APP.: That’s why we pray on Sunday mornings, asking God to intervene and inspire our efforts.)
- : Do you pray and prepare spiritually for God to work in our services?
Jesus then issued a…
#3 - Challenge (Revelation 3:3a; C/R: Romans 13:11-14; 1 Timothy 6:20; Hebrews 10:29-30; 2 Peter 3:15-16)
- Revelation 3:3a (NLT)—“Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to Me again….”
- The believing remnant needed to return to believing and practicing the truths of the Scripture (the rest of the New Testament had been written by then).
- Christians needed to reaffirm the truths about Christ, sin, salvation and sanctification.
- They had to re-establish a solid doctrinal foundation to serve as a basis for renewal.
- After returning to the Scripture and hold[ing] to it firmly; they needed to repent, to turn away from sin and return to an intimate relationship with Jesus.
- Spiritual death in the church, and in our lives individually, is always caused by sin.
- When sin is confessed and people repent, the Spirit infuses new life—revival occurs!
- : Are you holding on to God’s Word, continually repenting and returning to Him?
#4 - Consequences (Revelation 3:3b; C/R: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15)
- Revelation 3:3b (NLT)—“…If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.”
- The image of Jesus coming as a thief always carries the idea of imminent judgment.
- This threat is not related to Jesus’ second coming, but rather, that the Lord would come to destroy the Sardis church (and any other church), if there was no revival.
Jesus also offered…
#5 - Affirmation (Revelation 3:4; C/R: Revelation 6:11; 7:9,14; 19:6-9)
- Revelation 3:4a (NLT)—“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil.”
- The word translated, soiled, is a Greek word which means “to stain, defile or pollute;” which would have been familiar in Sardis because of the city’s wool dying industry.
- After expressing stern warnings, Jesus affirmed that there were some in the church who knew Him and had not engaged in sin—a remnant existed even in this dead church.
- Revelation 3:4b (NLT)—“They will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”
- This group of faithful people would come into God’s Presence, would relate to Him, and be adorned in a white robe that He would provide.
- In ancient times, such garments were worn for festivals and celebrations like weddings.
- These people kept themselves unstained with sin, so Jesus would replace their humanly-preserved clean lives with white robes of perfect holiness and purity in heaven.
#6 - Rewards (Revelation 3:5; C/R: Matthew 10:32; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 13:8; 20:12,15)
- Revelation 3:5a (NLT)—“All who are victorious will be clothed in white.”
- To encourage the believers remaining in the church, Jesus described the rewards awaiting those who participated in the revival.
- White robes were also worn by those celebrating victory in battle; all true Christians are victorious through Christ over sin, death and Satan.
- The white garments represent purity and holiness which Christ promises to clothe Christians in the brilliance of eternal purity and holiness.
- Revelation 3:5b (NLT)—“I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before My Father and His angels that they are Mine.” [Written in the Book of Life before the world was made. Revelation 18:8; 17:8]
- When we appear before God in heaven, Jesus will say to the Father that we belong to Him. (APP.: Will Jesus step forward and speak for you?)
#7 - Closing (Revelation 3:6)
- Revelation 3:6 (NLT)—“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches.”
- This letter, like the others, ends with an encouragement to hear and heed the counsel, commands and promises it contains.
- : Can you hear? God gifts us with ears to hear and eyes to see (Proverbs 20:12), so ask!