The Church of Sardis
The message of this letter ought to send chills down our back. Jesus says in verse 1, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” This church appears alive but Jesus says it is actually dead. This reminds me of the movie, Weekend at Bernies. Bernie was dead but those with him dressed him and moved him around so it appeared that he was alive. So how does a church appear alive but actually be dead?
In the present day, this would probably be a church that has a lot of programs and activities. They are busy, their doors are always open and their parking lots are always full. They have softball teams, feeding the homeless programs, Bible studies morning and night, children’s programs, mens groups, women’s groups, possibly several Sunday services, visitation programs, lots of committees, many board meetings etc… Now here’s the danger, lots of activity does not equate to positive spiritual health. Perhaps people are involved in the church because it is socially acceptable, because they want to appear good, or perhaps they think by their works they are earning their way into heaven (or at least a more desirous position before Jesus). Now don’t get me wrong, we are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). The church is to be a busy people. But, are busyness must not come from a heart that wants to be made right before God, but from a heart that has been made right before God. We do not work for our salvation but from our salvation.
This letter ought to cause us all to pause and ask the questions, “why I am doing what I am dong?” “Am I doing it for the glory of God or for some other reason?”
In this letter, Jesus is described as having the 7 spirits of God and the 7 stars. Remember the 7 Spirits represent the Holy Spirit (1:4) and the 7 stars represent the angels of the 7 churches (1:20, angels are heavenly beings that also represent the church). So what does this mean? It means, Jesus knows exactly what is happening in His church. It is His Spirit that is being quenched and neglected. Jesus is not making a mistake when He calls this church dead. And we should not think that we can fool Jesus into thinking we are alive if in fact we are dead.
So what does Jesus call this church to do? Jesus gives this church several commands, “wake up…strengthen…remember…repent.” This church is to remember the grace they received in Jesus and begin living for Jesus. They are to repent of their “soiled garments” and begin live pure and faithful lives to Jesus. But, if they do not repent, then Jesus will come like a thief in the night and come against this church. Once again, we are reminded that Jesus is not some cute painting we place over our mantles. Jesus is the lover of His church and if HIs church is unfaithful, He will come against it.
Interestingly we are not told what exactly has plagued Sardis. We don’t know exactly where or how they began to slip into this spiritual slumbering death. And perhaps that is good for us. It prevents us from thinking that spiritual death only comes in one shape.
In verse 4 we see that not all those in Sardis have soiled their garments. Some have remained faithful and have not compromised their faith. Isn’t this good news? Jesus knows exactly who truly believes in Him and are living faithfully. The sinfulness of the the church in Sardis has not skewed Jesus’ vision so that He sees nothing good. He perfectly sees and knows those who follow Him. Be encouraged, you might be living in the place that Satan dwells (2:13) but Jesus sees you and loves you.
So what it is the hope that Jesus gives this church if they repent?
He promises to clothe those who conquer in white garments and He will never blot their names from the book of life. He will also confess their names before His Father and the angels. Jesus promises ETERNAL LIFE with Him. Jesus says, you look dead right now, but if you repent, you will enjoy eternal life with Me. Jesus says, I will make you clean with pure white wedding garments (19:8). Death does not have to be the final verdict of this church. They can experience eternal life with their King through repentance and faith in Him.
I hope you are encouraged by this letter. Be encouraged, no matter what condition your church is in right now, there is always hope. Pray for your church, pray for your leadership, pray for your church to practice regular repentance and to faithfully live for Jesus, our King.