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Revelation 3:1-6

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complacency, falling away

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In the past few years, the entertainment industry has been fascinated with zombies. (The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Shawn of the Dead, I Am Legend)
Very loosely defined, zombies are a fictitious creature or monster that started as a human being who has died, but somehow has become re-animated. It’s single motivation is to seek out the living, kill, and make other zombies. The zombie isn’t alive, but somehow not dead. They are walking dead.
Why in the world is that applicable to the church in Sardis? It is because Jesus essentially calls them...

Spiritual zombies.

Jesus is telling the church there that they have had a reputation of being a church that was active and alive, but that’s all it is, a reputation. In reality the church is dead, it’s sleeping, and it needs to wake up. We read:
Revelation 3:1 NIV
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Some details about Sardis. Sardis was an ancient city with a famous past. However, at the time of Jesus, the city had lost some of its influence. It was not nearly as important as Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum.
It had some of the typical things that we’ve heard about from the other cities. It had large temples devoted to Artemis as well as to emperor worship.
Some unique things that Sardis was known for was that it had an acropolis or an upper city that was believed to be unconquerable. (show picture)
However, there were two times that the acropolis was conquered in the past and for a reason that has some clear connections with the text.
Without going into all the historical story, there were to times where rulers sought refuge from foreign armies on the acropolis. Believing that the acropolis was unconquerable, they did not guard the the parts of the wall that were part of the cliff face, believing that no one would attack from the place.
In both cases, the sieging armies sent up a small group of soldiers who climbed over the wall and were able to open the front gate, allowing the invading army in.
They thought that they were invincible, but they were lazy—even asleep—to the threats of the enemy.
How does that happen? It happens when Christians for one reason or another stop being active critics of the world around us and instead let ourselves be absorbed by the culture around us. What is it that makes us distinctively Christian?
Jesus writes the church and says in vs 2-3
We must
Revelation 3:2–3 NIV
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Revelation 3:2 NIV
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
Let’s step back from the text and look at its structure again. Using the framework we’ve introduced in the other letters we remember the:
Christ Title
Commendation
Complaint
Correction
Consequence
Jesus is the one holds the seven spirits—representation of the Holy Spirit. The seven stars—aren’t so clear—are they guardian angels, or are they messengers or leaders of those churches. Either way Jesus holds them in his hand, representing his authority.
So, Jesus, ultimately is the one whose authority matters.
Secondly, the commendation. Find a place where Jesus commends the church in Sardis. The closest thing that Jesus says that resembles a commendation is in vs. 4.
Revelation 3:4 NIV
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
Yet, this is more of a an observation of a small group rather than a commendation of the whole.
Only two churches in these letters do not receive commendation—this church in Sardis and then later in Laodicea.
So, what is the complaint? The people are spiritual zombies, going through the motions, but they aren’t spiritually alive.
How do they correct it?
Revelation 4:3
Revelation 3:3 NIV
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Revelation 4:3 NIV
And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.
Here’s the connection to the famous acropolis in Sardis. The church there is comfortable. There is no mention of persecution either from the Romans or the Jews. In fact, there was a large Jewish population in Sardis.
There are the ruins of a Jewish synagogue in Sardis. Archaeologists believe that it could hold up to a 1000 people. Across the street was a pagan temple. Is it possible that the Jewish population and then later, the early Christians had so blended in with the pagan society that they weren’t viewed as a threat or inconvenience to the surrounding culture? Had they lost their distinctiveness?
The same can be said for us? Are we distinctive in our faith? What separates us? The Barna institute which studies trends in Christianity says this when they are working to define who an “active Christian” is.
“When a self-identified Christian attends a religious service at least once a month and says their faith is very important in their life, Barna considers that person a ‘practicing Christian.’” (https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/
Is that the standard with which we are satisfied? Church attendance isn’t the be all and end all, but it is a pretty good indicator about how seriously we take our faith.
Are we receiving and hearing? Are we holding fast to truth and repenting of sin? When have you made a counter cultural decision because of your faith in Christ? By counter cultural—what trends or practices our culture endorses or criticizes that we have, because of our faith, gone the opposite way.
What are things are culture says, “yes” to, that as believers we flee from? What are the things our culture resists, that we affirm and practice, even though the world around us believes it to be foolish or maybe even offensive?
If we find nothing to critique about the culture around us, we need to ask, did Jesus endorse all of the culture in which he lived?
The danger is that we become so complacent and have such a false sense of security that we think that we can live and make decisions as we see fit even though we know that God has called us to live otherwise. When we get sucked into that complacency, Jesus will come like a thief...
1 Thessalonians 5:2 NIV
for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
The problem of the church in Sardis was not persecution from the outside. The problem was not false teaching or heresy from the inside. The threat to this church was themselves and their complacency. We cannot rest on the faithfulness of those who have gone on before us and we cannot take for granted that faith “just happens” without us being spiritually awake, growing and vigilant.
What is the correction? We must....
What is the correction? We must....

Dress for success.

Revelation 3:4 NIV
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
Wake up. Strengthen what remains. Remember what you have received. Practice your faith. Live your faith. Remember the reason we live and have life. Remember that our desire is not simply to receive what we can get out of this life, but we have hope for eternal life.
The consequence of not changing is that Jesus, the conqueror is coming. But, the consequence for those who are faithful will be that they are dressed in white. Live in purity and holiness. Live as those who remember that their victory is found in Jesus Christ.
If we are faithful, we remember that....

Our names are written in permanent ink.

Revelation 3:5 NIV
The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.
We will join the triumphal procession of Jesus and our names will be written in the Book of Life.
In my study, once connection is that in the ancient world, cities maintained a list of citizens contained in a public register. If a person committed a serious crime, that person’s name was blotted out from the register.
When we strive to remain faithful, when we live in the world, but not of the world, when we are spiritually awake and alive—tuned in to our Savior—we are affirmed that we are held by God, and written in the book of life.
Let us be people of whom Jesus said,
Matthew 10:32 NIV
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.
Matthew
Let us wake up! Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
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