Week Commencing 4th March 2018 With a PDF found here
Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Revelation 3:1-6, “To the church in Sardis.”
A reminder that we see a predictable pattern and outline in these letters, with a few exceptions. Here’s the typical pattern – here with a reminder of how we’ve been presenting this in our sermons:
- Recap – why does Jesus have the authority to speak?
- Commendation – what’s good in this church?
- Admonishment – what’s not (so good)?
- Exhortation – what’s the call to action?
- Promise – what encouragement is offered in for those who overcome or are victorious in the challenges presented in the letter?
DAY 1: Read Revelation 3:1-6
“The road from Pergamum proceeds through Thyatira about 50 kilometres to Sardis. This important city was at the junction of 5 roads: to the north west to Pergamum, to the west 80 kilometres to Philadelphia and due east into the centre of Phrygia and beyond. The city’s wealth and historical importance was due to its central location and to the general fertility of the region. The city was built on the high point of a mountainous ridge, giving it control over the whole surrounding region. In the distant past major battles had been fought in and near Sardis. Sardis was the eastern extremity of Hellenised (Greek) civilisation; beyond lay the wilds of Lydia.
“In the more recent past, in 17AD, Sardis had been severely damaged by a major earthquake. The city regained its former grandeur as a result of the generous benefaction of the Emperor Tiberius.” (Paul Barnett).
As fascinating as that background is however, it does not take us to the standout aspect of this letter. Had you noticed? There’s no commendation. In fact, “no church is so sharply rebuked as the church in Sardis. Despite their reputation for being alive, the reality was that they were dead (verse 1). The members are called on to wake up, to strengthen what remains, to repent (verses 2-3).
Tomorrow I want as to ask the question, “what does a church look like, which has a reputation for being alive, but is in reality, dead?” Perhaps you might give some thought to that now. I wonder if this could be said of you – that as a Christian – you have a reputation of being alive, but behind the scenes, your relationship with God is not so real – not so good.
DAY 2: Read Revelation 3:1-6
You may remember from yesterday, that there was nothing Jesus could see to commend in the church at Sardis; just these sobering words of rebuke: I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Can you imagine? Everyone talked about the church at Sardis. “Oh, that’s a lively church – there is a lot going on down there.” “Now there’s a church that has really got it.” “Great church at Sardis”. But the reality was something entirely different. It was actually dead.
I wonder what a ‘dead’ church looks like? Packed full of lively emotion, great music, beautiful worship; a superficial good ‘feel’ about it; but perhaps that was it. Scratch beneath the surface a little and people whipped up in a frenzy of emotion on Sunday, but mid-week they are half hearted, unmotivated, unmoved, unloving. No life. No growth. No one being transformed. No one being led to give their lives to Jesus. No new disciples. No radical discipleship.
Brothers and sisters, only giving thanks to God, do I say – I don’t think this is us. I see great signs of life. Life because there is transformation, change because there is growth, life because there is increase in size, life because people are wanting to do more and more – and know more and more. 150 people in 15 connect groups does not indicate a dead church.
Yet it is a sobering warning isn’t it? That it is in fact possible for churches to have a reputation for being alive, but in reality, they are dead. We ought not to think we are immune to this possibility.
How do you think a church should guard themselves against this possibility? In your own life, how do go about ensuring that it could never be said of you that your reputation is that of being alive, but in reality, you’re dying inside?
DAY 3: Read Revelation 3:1-6
How do you recover from having the reputation of being alive, but being dead? Jesus tells the church at Sardis (vv2-3) to Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die; then in v3 to remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.
Jesus makes a generous assumption: there is still sufficient spark there to be fanned into flame. Whatever is good – whatever IS still alive – strengthen it. Build it back up. That will involve going back to basics: remembering what they received and heard, obeying that and repenting.
Sometimes churches need to go back to basics. To recover or rediscover the simple gospel itself. It’s possible for churches to become so focused on music or emotion or social justice or liturgy or the elaborate robes etc, that they lose sight of they were actually meant to be doing!
“We exist to glorify God by making disciples as we love and serve Noosa.” May we never lose sight of this. We can get distracted by all manner of things which may in themselves be good but end up distracting us from – or keeping us from – making disciples.
DAY 4: Read Revelation 3:1-6
In v4, there is a commendation of sorts. Missing from where we’ve come to expect it in the other letters, and not exactly brimming with enthusiasm: Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. Of course, this has nothing to do with the laundry! Jesus means that although in general, the church may be described as ‘dead’, there are still some individuals who have remained true to the Lord Jesus. They will wear the garment of righteousness Jesus gives to all those who follow him. And so will all those at Sardis who are able to turn their lives around, repent, get back to basics; and make the main thing the main thing.
The wonderful promise at the end should warm your heart and cause you to rejoice: that those who stay true and those who repent from having not remained loyal – their names will never be blotted out from the book of life. This is Jesus’ glorious promise to those who wake up and to those who hang on!!
References: Paul Barnett: “Apocalypse Now and Then: Reading Revelation Today”;
ESV Study Bible notes.