Message to Sardis

“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.” (Revelation 3:2-3)

The City of Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. Lydia was an important city in the Persian Empire. In the time of the Roman Empire Sardis became the seat of the proconsul. In the later times Sardis became a thriving metropolis of Lydia in the Roman in the Byzantine times. Its importance was first due to its military strength and secondly was is situation of a highway leading from the interior to the Aegean coast. Lastly its importance was that it commanded a wide and fertile plain of the Gediz River.

The City of Sardis was captured by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC and by the Persians in the 6th century BC. In the 5th century BC. It was captured by the Athenians and held until Antiochus captured it in the 3rd century. During the Persian reign under Cyrus the Great Sardis become the end station of the Persian Royal Road which began at the capital of Persia. During the Ionian revolt the Athenians burnt the city down but it remained under Persian control until in 334 BC Alexander the Great. In 17 AD while under the Roman Emperor Tiberius the city was destroyed by an earthquake but it was once again rebuilt. Sardis became one of the great cities of western Asia Minor until the later Byzantine period.

Sardis was a chief city and well advanced in the industrial arts in the Lydian kingdom. It was important in the manufacture of dyeing and produced delicate woolen carpets. The stream of Pactolus flows through Sardis and carried golden sands and gold dust from Mount Timolus and became a source of great wealth. The city may have been mentioned by the Prophet Obadiah as the Hebrew Sepharad as the City of Sardis may have been one and the same. “And the exiles of this host of the sons of Israel, Who are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath, And the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad Will possess the cities of the Negev.” (Obadiah 1:20)

The Church in Sardis appeared to be a vibrant Church. The Church had a good reputation for being a congregation that was alive in Christ. From all appearances on the outside it was a Church that was vibrant in the community. But in reality the Church was spiritually lifeless. In verse Revelation 3:1 Jesus describe the Church as dead. It was then and as many Churches today, Christian in name only. In view of this fault we recall the rebuke that Jesus gave to the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew. Outwardly they looked pious and worshipful but on the inside, their hearts, were dead spiritually. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

G.R. Beasley-Murray is quoted as saying this about the Church of Sardis. “The appearance [of the Sardis church] is that of a beautifully adorned corpse in a funeral parlor, and the Lord is not deceived.” The Church needed to stir up the Spirit of God and be filled by His Spirit to be directed in the way that they should go.

We must wonder what was dead about the Church and what needed reviving? We see in this letter no signs of trouble from outside of the Church and we hear of no problems or heresy from within. In comparison to some of the other Churches they were surrounded in a peaceful setting. There was no persecution to strengthen their faith. Perhaps it was a situation that was too good to be true. It may be that in their outward appearance they had compromised with the pagan world about them and become tolerant of the evil society around them and compromised the truth in exchange for peace. G.B. Caird says this about the Church in Sardis. It was, “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity.”

The whole point of Jesus’ coming to live amongst men is that the world is in opposition with the righteousness of God. The Christian is not to be of the world but to be a light unto the world of righteous living. The Church is not to be a hidden community living in obscurity but a light of truth shining brightly on the hill for all to see. A Church that is busy living its religious life within the walls of the Church building and not evangelizing the world about them is devoid of spiritual power and life. George Eldon said this of Sardis, “a picture of nominal Christianity, outwardly prosperous, busy with the externals of religious activity, but devoid of spiritual life and power”

These are the professed Christians that go through their religious traditions but deny God’s power in their life. Paul addressed this to his son in the faith Timothy. “Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

If the Church denies the power of God and goes off to do their ministry within their own power they will fail to be ineffective ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our adversary will easily distract the flesh and pull is away from the narrow path we are to follow. We are to keep watch and be aware of the schemes of Satan and to pray that we do not fall into his trap. “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

We are not only to pray for ourselves but for our brothers and sister in the faith who make up the whole body of the Church that we may all be strong and able to follow our Lord. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) Jesus is the head of the Church, His bride for which He gave His life and He stands in the midst of His Church to empower it for the good works that must be done for the love of our neighbors. “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” (Revelation1:12-13 KJV)

The Lord warns the Church to strengthen that which remains, as these things are ready to die. The warning is clear that the Christian can lose that which he spiritually has if it is not used for the purposes of God. We are to be about the good work which we have been commissioned to do, we are to produce spiritual fruit for the Kingdom. A branch in the orchard cannot produce fruit if it is apart from the vine. In the Gospel of John Jesus used this analogy of His disciples and He in this way. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (John 15:4-6) If the Christian does not abide in the Lord then they can be thrown away, as they are not worthy of their calling. I do not mean that they can lose their salvation but they can lose the joy of the Lord and their reward will suffer.

Those in the Church that confess the name of Jesus as the Son of God shall remain secure but if they are not walking in His Spirit they will not be able to produce fruitful works. Dead works are not perfect works. Imperfect works are those that are done through the flesh, have fleshly motives of self-glory, pride and lustful intentions. The only good spiritual fruit is produced by the Holy Spirit for only He has the power to change hearts. Only the fruit of the Spirit does the Lord consider perfect. The Christian, the follower of Christ, allows the Spirit to live through Him. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47) The Church of Sardis was trying to do the work of the Lord in the flesh and not in His Spirit. Therefore, they were spiritually dead.

Those who have become followers of Jesus have heard the Word of God and received it as the Word of God, not that of some preacher. “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

There is nothing we can do to please God without faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Our faith becomes alive when we have received His Word and believe, and trust, and walk in His Word in faith. Faith comes by hearing His Word. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

If we did not need the Word of God to lead us, the power of the Holy Spirit, and if we did not need the power of God, then what would we need, would we need God at all? How could we find salvation, can anyone live a righteous life? The flesh is weak, it constantly stumbles and falls, and it will some day pass away. But the spirit goes on and must be covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ or forever perish without the love of God. It is the Spirit that sanctifies us and it is the Spirt that we must walk in. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:3-7)

Once we are followers of Jesus we must hold fast to the things that Spirit led believers must be doing. What fills your mind as you travel along in the wilderness. The Apostle explains what the mind should be dwelling upon. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

The Christian must hold fast to the rock of our salvation and build upon in with the Word of God. We must hold fast to it, never loosen our grip upon it, pray over it, meditate upon it, and preach it to one another, least it drift away from us. “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)

As with the Church in Ephesus the Church of Sardis was to hold fast to the things which they had been taught. Jesus told the Church in Ephesus to remember from where they had fallen. (Revelation 2:5) The Church of Sardis was to repent, turn away from the futile efforts in the flesh and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, May 12, 2016

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