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To the Church in Sardis

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. ‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:1-6)

Background

Sardis today is called Sart and was the capital of the province of Lydia. Sardis is located 40 Kilometers southwest of Thyatira. Sardis was located on a hill and at the foot of that hill were the temples of Artemis and Zeus. In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth. Zeus is the “Father of Gods and men” who rules the Olympians of Mount Olympus, according to the ancient Greek religion. He is the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. Zeus is etymologically cognate with and, under Hellenic influence, became particularly closely identified with Roman Jupiter. (Wikipedia)

Sardis being located on a hill the city had natural protections and the people of Sardis considered the city impregnable. Because of this felling their guard was not always prepared in times of crisis. The city of Sardis was conquered without resistance by Cyrus and Antiochus. These events point to the spiritual lesson of the opening address in which we read, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1) The Lord was watching the Church of Sardis and therefore He knew what they were doing. They may have been busy doing good works and deeds but they were not doing them to please the Lord but to please the world around them. They may have been busy about going through the motions and caring for their appearance. They were busy lifting up their spiritual appearance but in truth they lacked the Spirit of Truth within them. They may have been so busy trying to convince each other that they were good to realize that they were actually dead. All of the outward manifestations from their activity was in effort to satisfy themselves but they were dead because they lacked measuring up to God’s standard of holiness. It may even be that their preaching had been watered down from being focused on God and repentance into a social gospel that was appealing to the contemporary order of their day. We see this kind of problem in many Churches today in that they are fit to the society around them and not separate unto God. These Churches are dead because they are no more than a social club unable to feed the truth that the spirit is dying to hear.

The meaning of the name Sardis is remnant. As the Lord had distinguished in the Letter to Thyatira between the lost and the saved, here the Church in Sardis is representative of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and others of his day led the Church away from Catholicism. It was their search for truth that motivated the movement. The leadership of the Catholic Church had distorted the Word of God into something that it was not ever meant to be. The Catholics had added to the Scriptures and required spiritual burdens upon its followers. I am reminded of the problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees along these same lines. The call of the reformation was “Sola fides (only through faith), sola gratia (Only by grace), solus Christus (only with Christ), and sola Scriptura (Only His Word).”

Title

“He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this.” Jesus is here reminding the Church of Sardis who is writing this letter to them. It is the Lord who prayed to the Father that the Holy Spirit should come after Him. (John 14:16) Our Lord is the giver of the Holy Spirit and He is the guardian of the angel of the Church who shepherds the sheep.

Criticism

“I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” God is Spirit and people must worship God in the spirit. This is the message that Jesus told the Samaritan at the well in John 4:24. We must worship God in Spirit and Truth. This presented a problem with the Protestant Reformation in that with their quest for truth they neglected the things of the Spirit. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” For several hundred years the reformed never heard the Ruach Elohim. Ruach Elohim is a Hebrew name for God. It means “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” This word is commonly used in Scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit. The first uses of this word appear in Genesis. Genesis 1:2 say that the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) Again in Genesis 6:17, “Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” “breath of life,” (Ruach Elohim) and in Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.” “wind (Ruach Elohim) This Hebrew word is found almost 400 times in the Old Testament. The reformers were worshiping in Truth but not in the Spirit. Again Jesus said we must worship God in “Spirit and Truth.” Jesus is the Truth and He is the giver of the Spirit. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

During the Great Awakening of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the Gifts of the Spirit came again to the forefront and mainline Protestants denied their legitimacy. This caused many of the mainline Protestant denominations to fall away and form the Pentecostal Charismatic movements.

Admonition

“Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.” Adding to these movements was the German School of Higher Criticism which invaded the protestant seminaries with godless theories that questioned who was the real author of the Bible and also the Modern Rationalists. They in their deliberations explained away the miracles of the Scriptures and there was no Spiritual discernment at the time to resist them. As a result of the earlier rejection of the Spirit the Church had now lost the Truth as well.

Call

“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. ‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” These problems persist to this day in the Church. Far too many professing Christians have worked hard to make God small enough to fit into their finite minds. As a result they now find God too small to meet their needs. As the End Times events soon unfold they will be surprised to find themselves left behind. Still there remains a remnant that are saved, those who get it and worship God in Spirit and Truth.

Promise

“He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” To those who remain true in their worship in the Spirit of Truth, the Lord will give them white robes of righteousness that comes through our faith. Neither will the Lord deny them before the Father nor will they not be admitted as members of God’s Eternal Family.

Challenge

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We find that in Christianity today there have become two far extremes. The dead orthodoxy of main line Protestantism, who can’t hear the Spirit and whose watered down gospel is powerless to save, is on one end of the spectrum. The “zeal without knowledge” of Charismatics who all too often ignore the admonitions of His word and permit the most outrageous excesses of spiritualism, is on the other. We’re told to worship God in Spirit and in Truth, but too great a focus on either can cause the loss of both.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, December 28, 2014

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