When I think of stars, I think of them shining in the dark night sky. I don’t typically think of them as shining during the daylight.
Astronomers tell us that even though light travels 186,000 miles per second, or 5,878,499,817 miles per year, the light from stars takes many, many years to reach earth. This means that the stars we see tonight could have been extinguished years ago but we wouldn’t know it yet. Tonight those stars could shine in the sky as brightly as if nothing had happened, but they could actually be dead.
Does this have any bearing on Jesus’ next words – “thou art dead”? – v.1
The church at Sardis, had a reputation for being spiritually alive. But that wasn’t true. Their rep was leftover luminescence from a brilliant past. It was spiritually dead.
At one time it had been a strong, vibrant, Christ-honoring congregation. They still called themselves Christians. But their spiritual life was gone. They were merely going through the motions of religion – just like many churches today. At some point in its existence, the spiritual light in Sardis, had been extinguished. In the present it was dead. So Jesus, Who is the Truth spoke the truth: “you have a name that you are alive, and you are dead.”
Ouch! I often worry about this on a personal level for myself. I worry about this for my congregation. I don’t want us to be spiritually dead & not know it. I don’t want us to be like Samson, from whom the Lord departed but “he wist not” [Judges 16:20].
This church might have been doing a great number of good works. They were surely doing works on some level because Jesus said that He knew their works. But then Jesus adds that although this church appeared to have spiritual life, in actuality it is spiritually dead.
When the world sees a church filled with programs that help with the social problems that plague people, the world deems that church to be spiritually fruitful. But God sees things differently.
This is not an injunction against the Church doing works that help people with earthly problems. The Church should be helping people. But the primary mission of the Church is to share the Gospel. If the Church neglects its primary mission for the sake of providing social services, it becomes no different than any other philanthropic organization.
We as the people of God have the deposit of the Holy Spirit within us. We have been tasked with sharing the truth of eternal life with an unsaved world. How much more valuable is this than any amount or type of earthly social work!?!
Eternal life is something for which all people are looking. Anti-aging tactics, creams, medications, health foods, gym memberships, the Fountain of Youth… you name it & the world is doing it for the sake of staying alive – all to no avail. Everyone will one day “go the way of all the earth” & physically die unless they are taken from earth in the Rapture.
Into this life-seeking world the Church has been planted with the answer. Eternal life! We have what everyone is seeking, and we were commissioned by Jesus to offer this free gift to every creature & to all nations.
The problem is that we are human. The Bible calls us “earthen vessels.”
Spiritual Evaluation Time
Though our message is directly from Heaven, the problem is that we are “EARTHen vessels” & not HEAVENLY vessels. This includes the brains in which our knowledge & understanding of the Gospel resides.
As our hearts grow more like Jesus’ heart & we begin to love the world as He does — “not willing that any should, perish but that all should come to repentance” [2Peter 3:9] — our earthen-vessel-thinking leads us to do good, but less-than-eternal-life-giving things as we try to help people with the problem issues with which they struggle. Social work. Good works. But earthly – not works that lead to eternal life.
Sitting on a plateau, Sardis, was virtually impregnable. But twice in its history the city fell. Once when Cyrus the Persian conquered the city in 549 BC, his men scaled a crack in the cliff wall by night – entering on a wall where there was no guard posted. The 2nd time was the army of Antiochus the Great, which used Cyrus’ strategy to take the city.
So when Jesus said, “Watch,” the people in Sardis knew exactly what He meant. On both occasions an enemy had snuck in.
“Be watchful. Keep your eyes open. Look out. Don’t think that just because you have all the right doctrines that you are safe. Don’t rest on your past accomplishments. Strengthen the things that are about to die. I have not found your works perfect before God.”
Oh how different the advice of Jesus is from that of the devil! When we are finally aware that we have drifted away from the passion of our early lives as new believers we are filled with remorse. Into the darkness of this emotion the prince of darkness comes & whispers, “You’ve blown it. You might as well quit being a Christian. You can’t hack it. You’re not worthy to continue in the ministry. You’re not worthy to witness to the lost. You’re a loser. You were never really a Christian. etc, etc, etc.”
Since we as believers know that we are unworthy, these things feed our remorse & can turn us towards long periods of gloomy & dark thinking, freeze us in our spiritual tracks or even drive us into depression where we might experience suicidal thoughts.
Rebuke those thoughts. Then do what Jesus says here is the remedy. “Remember…hold fast…repent.” This remedy is the same for all believers who have drifted from the vibrant & passionate love that characterizes the new birth in Christ. Just as He said in the letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus exhorted the church in Sardis, to remember back to an earlier time in their relationship with Him when their love was fervent & their communion with Him was open, child-like & intuitive.
You might think that “repent” should be first on the list. But you cannot repent until you remember. You cannot repent if you do not know that you are doing something wrong or wrong in not doing something which the Lord has commanded.
You must recall what things were like in the past in order to know how far you have drifted here in the present. Think back…take stock. Once this happens, remember that you ‘RECEIVED’ – you didn’t earn or purchase these things on your own. All are gifts from God.
“Remember therefore HOW you have received…” – v.3
Not only remember THAT you received, but remember HOW you received. How? Freely & with joy. How? By faith.
Following the Dark Ages, the Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of men like Wycliffe, Luther, Latimer, Zwingli & Knox. During the Reformation, Protestants recovered the authority of the Word of God & the doctrines of the total depravity of man & justification by faith.
But today many churches & entire denominations champion things from homosexuality to a woman’s right to kill her own unborn child. Yet they have lost the authority of the Word of God. They have turned their backs on repentance from sin — something they don’t even mention for fear of offending — teaching instead psychology & education as the cure for man’s evil. They have exchanged the doctrine of justification by faith for ‘community service’ in order to reach heaven.
We must remember. One thing about humans is that even though we are “earthen vessels” and are weak in many ways, we tend to remember our own stories.
When you are faced with the truth that you’ve reached a point in your walk with Jesus where you have become dry & spiritually dead, think back to the time when you were first born-again. Remember the joy that came from having the burden of your sins rolled off of your heart. Recall the sweetness of the fellowship with the Lord in those early days. Remember how you were so attentive to His voice & responsive to His direction. Then hold onto the memory of you as that person. Childlike. Trusting regardless of the circumstances.
Then repent. Turn from whatever it is you are doing in the flesh — the work of an “earthen vessel” — & rekindle those things in your life that still retain a spark of those early days with Christ.
Jesus hasn’t changed. He’s the same “yesterday & today & forever.” In practicing those things that still have a spark of spiritual life in them you are fanning that spark & helping it grow into the flame it once was – and which can be again!
But don’t miss that this is tied to watching for the soon return of the Lord. “If therefore you shall not watch, I will come on you as a thief…”
Have you given any thought lately to the promise Jesus made about returning to earth?
No man knows the day or the hour. But those who are in close, heartfelt fellowship with Christ, whose love for Him has not grown cold, who are doing their spiritual best to serve Him in a childlike manner, will not be surprised when He arrives because their eyes are open. They are aware of the events which signify His return. More than that, because their hearts are focused on Christ, they yearn more to be with Him than to be in this world.
This is the remedy for religious routine & spiritual lethargy is to become reawakened to the nearness of Jesus’ return. Long before this time Jesus, told His disciples:
Matt 24:42 “Watch therefore: for you do not know what hour your Lord does come.”
As time goes on the probability that Jesus will return becomes greater. Therefore the urgency to be watchful intensifies.
Individual believers & churches that are almost dead must remember that He promised to return, then look back to their own conversions when they walked in newness of relationship with Him, repenting of their indifference.
Are we in danger of catching the “Sardis Syndrome?” Could even modern, unconventional churches relax into ritualistic religion? Is it possible that we, either as a church or as individuals, could rest on past accomplishments & live on old reputations yet become spiritually dead? Are we in jeopardy?
Yes. It can happen to us just as it happened to Sardis.
In His Hands, Pastor Fran