Faithlife Sermons

A Morgue with a Steeple

Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →

Revelation 3:1-6

If you were to take your next vacation in London, and you could visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle… The tour guide would tell you that this is the place that the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to preach. He would tell you that the 5,000 seat auditorium there was never large enough…they packed it to overflowing Sunday after Sunday in Spurgeon’s day.  He would tell you how on Sunday nights, they would actually ask church members to stay home because so many visitors wanted to come and fill the building.

Today, that church is only a shadow of what it used to be. If you were to visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle, basically what you would hear would be  wonderful stories of “the way it used to be.” The good ole days…

Friend… CRCC could be the very same way.  The oldest of the Christian Churches in the State of Washington…157 years old. This congregation has outlived many, many others… In the years that this congregation has been in existence, literally thousands of people have been influenced to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior through the various ministries right here in Castle Rock; Through the missionaries who have gone out directly and influenced people for Christ; Through individuals who have shared their faith; Through the years of doing Sonlight, Good News and Pioneer Club, The hundreds of kids who have been in our Youth Groups and some even going on into Ministries of their own, The dozens of kids we have sent on Missionary trips through the Academy of Teen Mania…What about the people who have been touched by those who have gone to Honduras, India, China, Egypt and other countries….How about the people that are touched every other  week at the Villager and the monthly trips that are spent preparing and serving food at Community House?

And now I have even heard of several who listen to these sermon messages over the internet from our web page.…but that is no reason to sit and soak up our past or even our “present”.

Such is the case with the church at Sardis in Rev. 3. At one time they had a reputation for being exciting, alive, and vibrant / on fire for God! When our Lord, Jesus writes to this church in Sardis, they were all reputation …and no reality. They were all form, and no force. They were glorying in past splendor, and ignoring their present state. They focused on Past Reputation, rather than Present Reality.  v.1 NIV  I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.[1]

Do you see what the Lord is saying to this church? He is saying, you have a reputation for being alive, on fire for God, your past has some high marks…but I know the truth…you’re dead as a doorknob!

Looking at church history, in correspondence to the seven churches we now coming to the Reformation. The age of when Medieval Catholicism became so dark that when Sergius III became Pope in the 900s (A.D. 904–A.D. 967), he ushered in what history calls the Rule of Harlots, during which time his mistress publicly accompanied him to the papal palace.

Sergius’ grandson, John X, continued this legacy until he was actually murdered in his own bedroom while committing adultery. (WOW…What a legacy for a Pope!)

Next came Benedict IX, who assumed the position of Pope at the age of 12 through the practice of simony—the selling of positions within the church to the highest bidder. Benedict IX was so corrupt that the citizens of Rome drove him out of the city, replacing him with Clement III, who was appointed by Henry III. Clement III was not a Roman because, in the words of Henry III: “I appoint no one from Rome because no priest can be found in this city who is free from the pollution of fornication and simony.”

The times were dark, diabolical, and depressing—which caused some stirring to take place in the hearts of good Catholic people.

In 1330, a giant of the faith named John Wycliffe was born in England. As an Oxford scholar and Catholic priest, he began to write about the need to get away from papal edicts and get back to the Bible. He began to publicly question doctrines such as transubstantiation and continual sacrifice so much so that he was excommunicated by the powers in Rome. Although he himself was safe at Oxford, his disciples—men like John Hus and Hugh Latimer—were burned at the stake.

But their deaths caused a spark of Reformation that would burn throughout England. A glorious move took place, culminating in the year 1483 in Saxon Germany, when a coal miner and his wife gave birth to a baby boy they named Martin. “This boy is not to follow me into the mineshafts,” said Martin’s father.

So, Martin enrolled in the university to study law. While walking on campus one day,

a thunderstorm arose unlike anything he had ever seen. Petrified, Martin cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of coal miners, “If you save me from this lightning, I will become a monk.” Spared, and true to his word, Martin Luther enrolled in seminary.

After 2 years, he earned his Doctorate, but the more he studied theology, the more he knew he could never be righteous enough to earn God’s favor. Because of this belief, he regularly beat himself… slept outside in freezing temperatures… and fasted for long periods. Still not experiencing the reality of God in his life, he decided to take a journey to Rome for an audience with the Pope. On his way to Rome, however, he contracted a dangerous fever. While recovering in an Alpine monastery, one of the monks, sensing Luther’s struggle, told him to read the Book of Habakkuk.  Why Habakkuk? Habakkuk was also one who wrestled with issues. Luther took his advice and when he came to the 4th  verse of the 2nd  chapter,

Habakkuk 2:4, The just shall live by faith”“  —he finally understood.  “That’s it!” he cried. “If I’m going to be just, it’s not because of what I do or who I am, but by faith in what God has already done and who He is.”

Let me just back up for just a moment and read to you what it says in the book of Habakkuk.  This will blow your sox off…Who says prophecy doesn’t work?

Habakkuk 2:3-4

Then the Lord replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain… [who does that remind you of?]

“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; It speaks of the end And will not prove false.

Though it linger, wait for it;  It will certainly come and will not delay.  4 See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-but the righteous will live by his faith… NIV

Well… upon arriving in Rome, with his heart full of excitement, Luther was shocked by the abuses and hypocrisy he found there.  Returning to Germany, he realized he had to take a stand. So in 1517, he nailed a parchment poster,  containing 95 theses or statements challenging the Pope to the university door in Wittenberg.

Three and a half years later, Rome answered back, “Retract or die.” After burning this response, Luther was summoned to Rome. In 1521, the Diet of Worms was convened, at which the Roman Catholic Church realized, that due to his popularity, they had a problem in Luther.

“We’re giving you a second opportunity to recant,” they said—to which Martin Luther gave his classic reply: “Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.” Luther’s stand gave rise to the birth of the Jesuits—a Catholic Order dedicated to enforcing papal power no matter the cost. Meanwhile, the Reformation swept across Europe. Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Knox in Scotland all of which called for a return to the Bible—which strengthened the determination of the Jesuits to stand by the Pope and stem the tide of what they perceived to be heresy.…Of the 4 million people living in Bohemia in 1600, 80 % were “Protestants sympathizers” of the Reformation. 2 years later, the population of Bohemia numbered a mere 800 thousand. Austria and Hungary were also early hotbeds of the Reformation.

Today, when we think of these countries, we think … Catholic.  Why? Because the worst bloodshed in history took place in the wake of the Reformation—even worse than the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperors and the holocaust of Nazi Germany under Hitler. This upheaval and bloodshed was so far-reaching that the seeds of the events in Bosnia and Northern Ireland today have their roots in those terrible, brutal times. [2]

Even our roots within the Christian Churches beginning in the early 1800’s with Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, men who saw the sectarian, non-biblical approach to Christianity founded in the Presbyterian Church at that time were forced to re-think the Bible and begin a Christian Movement call the “RESTORATION MOVEMENT.”  A movement of people and thought that was to call all Christians back to unity.  Barton Stone would say… “Let every Christian begin the work of unity in himself.”  Thomas Campbell would say about the Church itself… “The church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.” And “Where the scriptures speak, we speak.  Where the scriptures are silent, we are silent.” 

These men and many others since…  have struggled to help shape men and women’s minds to be as committed to Christ and His Church as much as possible. But just as the Reformers of Luther and Calvin and others so also I believe is the fate of the Campbells and Stone.  These men were great beacon-lights during their time, but men and women grow tired of hearing the truth …so they take steps to create mis-truth (as our media puts it).  And factions begin, squabbles start, petty nit-pickers begin to pick their nits.  And you end up with a Church like Sardis.

The situation is nothing new.  The Church has faced secularization centuries before the 1800’s, 1700’s or even 1600’s.  It all happened in Sardis.  But in Sardis, no one rose up to confront it.  Jesus Christ Himself had to meet it head-on, and He did so in His letter to that church.  His words to the Christians Believers in Revelation 2 and 3 apply just as much now to those congregations and individuals who appear to be spiritually alive, but inside are spiritually dead.

So, let’s turn to the Bible and see what Jesus had to say to the believers in this rich, prosperous, yet problem- plagued city.

What’s the Problem?

I.  The Problem 3:1

Notice the text in this letter is different from all of the other letters we have looked at so far.  In this letter there is NO COMMENDATION.  Jesus has NOTHING GOOD TO SAY—he begins with the bad news, the problem, the weakness, and then moves to  the fatal flaw! Their reputation was superficial.  They appeared to be alive but they were dead.  Not dying, not sick, not ill, not weak--they are… DEAD!!! 

For all of their money, their fancy city, their comfortable, self-indulgent lifestyle—they were dead.  Have you ever seen something that looked like something it was not?  I read a number of years ago in a National Geographic magazine about Korea about  the south side, allied side, of the city. It was beautiful, with fancy sky scrapers, lights, modern facilities, the whole works.  The other side, the communist side was drab, bleak, dark, run-down, in poor condition, yet the communist government did not want to appear to be out done by the capitalist neighbors so they built facades, fake building fronts and modern structures with nothing behind them.  It appeared to be something it was not!  That was the problem of Sardis. 

Now friends, that is very real today.  Both churches and individuals throughout history have hidden signs of death, but appeared to be alive! Sardis had an excellent reputation for activity.  The services were well attended and properly conducted. They had committees all over the place…Committees for anniversary celebrations as well as Crusade Task Forces. They looked like a thriving ministry… With a vibrant looking TV ministry, satellite TV, internet ministry, campus with phone banks all over the city taking your calls to help the hurting and to collect your giving to the Sardis Ministry.  Buildings were full of food for the poor and destitute, a ministry for every conceivable addiction. But with all of the activity, Sardis could have been a great congregation for the Lord… but IT WAS DEAD!!  Ceremonies and activities and committees are not bad in and of themselves but they must express the purpose and power of God or they are just like the communist facade—appearing to be something they are not! 

The world is not blind to dead churches.  They realize when we are no threat to their lives of sin and have no power or ability to make a difference in their life.  Sardis had ceased to matter—it wasn’t even worth attacking anymore.  It was so lazy and lethargic it had no positive impact on the world at all.

What about the Castle Rock Christian Church?  Are we just a facade, with the appearance of being alive but really being dead?  I don’t think we should ever stop asking ourselves that question!  IT IS A HEALTHY QUESTION to ask!  We should never take our “aliveness” for granted.  We can not coast on our tradition, we cannot be inflexible and resist  positive change, we cannot loose our evangelistic- missionary fervor—because … when and if we do…WE ARE DEAD!

I found this Newsletter article many years ago.  I can’t remember if I have used it here or not, but it is worth sharing again… It tells how to tell

A LIVE church from a DEAD church. 

There are eleven indicators.  I want to share those with you this morning.  Think of Castle Rock Christian Church and evaluate yourself.  We must never be too afraid…  too in love and helpless, to critically evaluate what we do here and see how we can improve.

            1.  Live churches have many people who bring their Bibles, and use them. 

Dead churches do not.

            2.  Live churches usually have parking problems. 

Dead churches never have to worry about this.

            3.  Live churches are filled with praise, and sounds of joy and thanksgiving. 

Dead churches are apathetic and lifeless.

            4.  Live churches are moving out by “faith.” 

Dead churches creep along by sight.

            5.  Live churches have lots of children and young people and “noise”. 

Dead churches are quiet as tombs.

            6.  Live churches center on serving people. 

Dead churches focus mainly on “problems”.

            7.  Live churches are filled with a spirit of love for each other. 

Dead churches are filled with suspicious, critical, and bickering people.

            8.  Live churches are always emphasizing evangelism, discipleship, and involvement. 

Dead churches ask for little commitment -- and get it.

            9.  Live churches have many sacrificial givers. 

Dead churches have people who only “tip” the Lord.

            10.  Live churches are always growing. 

Dead churches are plateaued or declining.

            11.  Live churches are stretched financially. 

Dead churches have lots of money.

I think those are fairly accurate signs of a living and dead church.  I believe, to be honest, crcc in most areas is very much alive, and in other areas we need a resurrection. Jesus gave 5 commands to correct the problem in Sardis that fit any congregation today.

What’s the Solution?

II. The Solution (3:2-3)

Identifying the problem is the first step toward solving it.  The problem with the church at Sardis is simple…SHE WAS DEAD!  But as hopeless as that sounds, all was not lost.  Jesus is the chief among those who Resurrect from the dead—since He’s the only one who can. Jesus saw the glow of small embers among the ashes and challenged the believers in Sardis to fan the flame with renewed commitment to Him.  How?...What steps were there to be taken?  Christ gave them 5 directives that, if obeyed, would burn new life into their church and into their life.

Here we find 5 imperative—commands.  These are not 5 suggestions, Nor 5 helpful hints—they are 5 commands that Sardis needed to obey if they would ever overcome their deadness and be effective for the Lord once again.


Literally, “keep on waking up.” 

To put it another way:  “Get with it; become alert!”  Open up your eyes, slap your face with some ice water…And look alive! Friends, we must be alert.

Christians TODAY are commanded to do the same thing.  The word “watch” is one of the most frequent commands in the New Testament.  It should be a constant attitude of the Christian-life today! 

Deut. 5:15  “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully.[3]

Ps 141:3 “Set a guard O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! [4]

Matt 6:6 “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”[5]

Matt 25:13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour [6]

Mt 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”[7]

Rom 16:17  watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. [8]

If the church of Sardis would have known even a few of these “watches” it would have most likely been a lot better off and it would hardly have been pronounced D.O.A.[DEAD On Arrival]  by their Lord.

(2nd Command)


Literally in the Greek, “keep on strengthening”. 

Specifically, strengthen the things that remain.  There apparently were a few in Sardis that were alive and attentive to Christ.  They had maintained the sharp edge in their spiritual walk. They had been able to shake loose from the impending death trap around them. The very name Sardis means “remnant,” Sardis is a fitting name. Built on a 1,000-foot bluff, Sardis was an extremely wealthy city that seemed invincible—until the year 549 B.C. when Cyrus, conqueror of the city of Babylon, also conquered Sardis. Sardis was conquered again 300 years later, a fact to which Jesus alludes to later.…[9]  Strengthen the things that remain. 

(3rd Command)


“Literally, keep on remembering.” Christ called their attention to two things worthy of remembering.


Such as eternal life, faith, spiritual gifts, forgiveness, and Holy Spirit—to name a few.


They had been exposed to God’s truth, its application, and its impact.  I like that.  Do You know what Jesus is saying here?  The messages that you hear from this pulpit should affect your life!  What a responsibility for both YOU and ME!  Remember what you hear! For many of my early years in ministry I was totally discouraged  because I took to heart Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians,/ God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe./[10]

I was discouraged because,  even though I knew that God wanted me to continue to preach, I could not see any valid reason in my own eyes for what the outcome of that preaching would be.


Several years ago there was a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital.  She received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child.  She took the boy’s name and room number and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, “we’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class right now.  I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn’t fall behind the others.” 

It wasn’t until the visiting teacher got outside the boy’s room that she realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit.  No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain.  She felt that she couldn’t just turn around and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you…. with your nouns and adverb.”

The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” Before she could finish a profusion of apologies, the nurse interrupted her:  “you don’t understand.  We’ve been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed.  He’s fighting back, responding to treatment…It’s as though he’s decided to live.”  The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher.  It all changed when he came to a simple realization.  He said it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”

( 4th Command) 


Literally keep on keeping the truth.  The people of Sardis were to personally and specifically to weave the truth of God throughout their lives, putting it into practice, which results in godly action and habits.  How much good does it do you to go on a diet for a month or two and then resume the same eating habits you had before your weight loss?  Well, from personal testimony, [I would rather plead the 5th!  To this more than obvious answer! ) 

How much good does it do the alcoholic to quit drinking for one year and then slowly begin “social drinking” once again?  How much good does it do to come down the isle, commit your life to Jesus, begin the Christian life and then give it up?  The answer to all of those examples is—NONE!!! 

Consistency, KEEP ON ---KEEPING ON is the key to success in whatever you undertake …and your walk with the Lord is no different!  I’ll tell you the truth about preaching here… (Not that I wouldn’t tell you the truth… Its just a cliché) The reason, I share so much personal illustration, personal experience, personal testimony in my preaching is not because I want you to know more about me.  Not at all, because I really am a very private person and it is not in my personal comfort zone to reveal that much about myself, but just like the people of Sardis were to personally and specifically to weave the truth of God throughout their lives, putting it into practice, which results in godly action and habit, I want you to do the same as they were commanded to do.  And one of the ways to encourage you to do that is to see how I do that in my life, either by good example or by missing the mark and not getting it right but learning from the experience.


This is the last command, but it’s the one that sets the other 4 in motion.  Without individuals changing their minds and hearts—choosing to recommit themselves to a Christ-centered living—the church is doomed.  But with repentance, new life can be seen in the church again.  Are you suffering from the “Sardian plague”? 

REPENT…”Do it Now!”

You might think…Well I am only one person at Castle Rock Christian Church.  What great and profound purpose is there for me to Repent?  Much…You are part of the whole Church.  You might be visiting for the first time today…   Do you think that God is not concerned with a little bit of sin among us?

Let me remind you of an instance to refresh your fading memory….In Acts 5 there is the occurrence of a husband by the name of named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira who had decided to keep back some of their offering from the sale of their property that they were going to give to the church.  Now…  as Ananias brought the gift to the church and presented it.  On his way out the door, Peter confronted him, trying to get him to tell the truth about how much the sale of their property was, but he lied.  He died right there in the church isle.  Later his wife came in, Peter confronted her, trying to get her to tell the truth…  So Peter told her that the men who were coming back from  burying her husband for lying to the Holy Spirit are now coming back to take you to be buried as well.  And she died.

Jesus’ warning here shows us that we dare not take Him for granted.  He loves His own people so intensely that He will do whatever it takes to uproot sin from our lives.  Are you harboring impurities?  Listen to Christ’s warning; remember that as the Hebrew writer has written…

Hebrews 10:31 (NLT)

What’s The Promise?

III. The Promise 3:4-6

Verse 4 is the place where the letter changes to a more positive format (thankfully) instead of the predominately negative one that has been evident so far.  Christ switches to the positive here, when he says that there are a few people in Sardis who have not defiled themselves. As in most dead congregations, there are always a few faithful and

who would join in the over-coming with Jesus.  To those gracious saints… 

Christ offers 3 promises:

A.  You will be Clothed in White Garments—

A promise of eternal life and righteousness.  In the Ancient World-White robes stood for Victory!

2nd promise

B.  Your Name Will Not Be Erased from Book of Life—

A promise of a place in heaven.  In the ancient world a king kept a register of his citizens.  When a man committed a crime against the state, or when he died, his name was erased from that register.  To have one’s name written in the book of life is to be numbered among the faithful citizens of the Kingdom of God.

3rd Promise

C.  Christ will Confess his Name Before The Father and the Angels! 

A promise of personal representation.  Jesus Christ is forever true to the person who is true to Him!  What better defense attorney should you want in heaven but Jesus the Christ, on your side.


Sardis, what a church!  Sardis was going downhill quick…, yet there was a chance for it to recover if it was willing to try. Christ had not given up on them.  There was still hope for a resurrection with the few who had managed to keep themselves pure in a very tough situation.  They would be victorious because of this. Does this give you hope?  I hope so.  Maybe you are sitting here and you are thinking… Man… My life is a Sardis Life!  I look like “Abundant Life” on the outside. I can stand, walk, run, jump up and down and even laugh, sit up and take nourishment, But on the inside I feel dead.  I feel like a corpse on the inside.  My life doesn’t feel like I have much to offer anyone anymore, especially to God.

My dear friend… Sardis is your life-line…Your Phone a Friend, Your official Shout-Out.Sardis is your answer because Christ knew that this Church in Sardis was nothing more than a Morgue with a Steeple on top.  It looked good on the outside, but was dead and cold on the inside. What this church needed was a genuine Resurrection.  What some of you need is a genuine Resurrection.  If that is true… You’ve come to the right place, if you are coming the foot of the Cross… To the Feet of Jesus… To the touch the hem of his robe.  He is here this morning to pronounce you ALIVE and not DEAD.

We need to examine the areas where we are dead and dying and Wake Up, Strengthen, Remember, Keep the truth and Repent!  We need to find those areas that remain and strengthen them to make them better.  Really this sermon calls for a congregational analysis and recommendation… each of us resolving to take a look at our own lives and see how we compare. 

Friend… It starts with you!  Are you dead …or alive?  Are you dead in your sins?  If so, you can be made alive in Jesus Christ this very morning, today, by burying that old sinful self and the Bible says, rising to walk in a new life!  That is exciting!  Come, be made new in Jesus! Today.

WE are going to sing a song right now that is an invitation for you to turn your sorry dead life….Into an Abundant New Life in Christ.  If that is what you want in your life Than I invite you to walk up here and share that fact during this song.  Come up and share with me that you want to made alive in Christ Jesus.  It is not I that will make you alive… but Jesus Christ will make you very alive… [12]Because He is the power of the Resurrection and the Life.


[1]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Re 3:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson's Application Commentary (1679). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[3]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 4:15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ps 141:3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 16:5-6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 25:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 26:41). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ro 16:17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson's Application Commentary (1680). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[10]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (1 Co 1:21). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[11]  Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (2nd ed.). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

Related Media
Related Sermons