How To Save a Dead Church
How to save a dying Church
You think that you are alive, but you are dead. A conundrum. Something that is very difficult to understand. How could something be dead, but think that it is still alive? This reminds me of this TV show that I used to watch. Basically, the main character woke up from a coma in a hospital bed. He got out of bed and immediately started searching for other people. He was searching for some other life around him, and as he searched and searched he got very sad because he did not find any other humans around in this hospital. He finally found his way outside of the hospital and to his dismay he ran into some people who were dead, but thought they were alive. He had actually woken up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. These zombies were dead, but they were acting as if they were alive.
So this leads me to Sardis in the text. See Jesus tells the people of Sardis that they are acting similarly to the people in this TV show. The people in Sardis are professing to be Christians, but really they are acting more like zombies than Christians. The Church of Sardis had made a name for themselves as being a Christian Church. They had gone out and done Bible studies. They had fed the poor. They had preached weeks of prayers and hosted camp meetings with tents pitched. They had been itching to tell the entire world about Jesus. Key word in those statements is that they had been doing these things. Unknown to themselves, they were no longer doing these things. The Church of Sardis stopped influencing the communities around them, and therefore, they were acting more like zombies, believing that they were alive, rather than Christians who were alive in Christ. They had become Christians in name only and no longer in action or in faith!
How many times have we been just like the Church of Sardis? We plan weeks of prayer and revivals and all these other great programs, but we only seem to attract the people who are already within our walls. We bring in great speakers and wonderful singers to attract people from outside our walls, but we end up attracting the same kinds of people every time; people who are already in the church and people who already know Jesus. The Church of Sardis started as a great Church who continuously attracted people to a saving relationship with Christ, but now they are just a former shell of who they once were. Likewise, we are not bringing people to Christ like we used to do.
Jesus is telling the Church of Sardis that He knows of their former glory as great Christians, who were willing to go out into the trenches to save even one soul, but now Jesus is telling them that they have become lackluster in their efforts and therefore, they are only Christians in name. A scholar explains that the stars referenced in verse 1 attest to the cities former glory as the chief city of Lydia. In that same verse Christ exposes a key point on their condition that they had not realized. He tells them that He owns these past glories. This means that in the past, when they were fruitful and multiplying and saving souls daily, Christ was the focus of their work. He was the one holding them up and sustaining their missionary efforts. Christ was the one that gave them the Spirit that they needed to do the good works that He instructed them to do. Now, Christ is letting them know that they have tried to do the same thing without Him and that is why they are failing. This Church was so hung up on their past glories, that they were unable to see that they were dead, and they thought that they were still alive. It took an intervention by Jesus Himself to change their minds.
Transition 1: There are three key things that Christ told this church that they needed to change if they were to become alive again.
Point 1: They need to change their state of slumber! They need to wake up!
This Church was spiritually asleep. They had almost clocked out from the work of the Spirit. So much so that one commentator even said that the Church in Sardis was not blamed for any specific sin or heresy, but for being lifeless. This shows that these Christians were in need of a wake up call! Something that would get their attention and make them recognize what they have been doing wrong for so long. The Greek word translated as wake up was meant to convey the idea of being constantly ready and alert. Jesus is telling this Church to be constantly alert in the presence of adversaries who are constantly ready and alert. The significance of this word signaled constant alertness especially while in prayer. It potentially signals that the Church of Sardis had ceased in this important action. That they were once alert and ready against the enemy because they were constantly and consistently in prayer, but now they have lost their zeal in prayer and most likely have done away with the practice altogether!
How many times do we fall short and forget to pray? There are mornings that we wake up late and we have to move some things over so that we can get ready and make it to work on time. Or there are evenings we get caught up with family and friends and we forget to pray. This Church’s first problem was that they forgot what it looked like to be in constant communication with Jesus. When we lack communication with Jesus, we open ourselves up to the attacks of the enemy!
One of the main issues that was facing Sardis was that the Christians in the Church were as morally corrupt as the people who were on the streets. A commentator explained that most believers in Sardis had compromised with their pagan environment and because of this, had lost their loyalty to Christ and that’s why they were in a spiritual sleep, being Christians in name and not deed. These people were dead because they chose to live in sin, rather than to live in Christ! Christ tells them that their works are not complete before God. The Greek word for complete means “with rich fullness.” Their works for Jesus had stopped and therefore they were at the point of death. The work that was dying was the work of intercession. The work of praying for one another in the Spirit. The work of praying and having communion with God. The Sardians had lost their power because they had lost their prayer. The death referenced here is not a physical death, but a spiritual, transcendent death. This death is the loss of eternal life. Simply translated, THE LACK OF PRAYER EQUALS THE LOSS OF ETERNAL LIFE!
Jesus tells them to strengthen those who are left still alive. How do we strengthen those who are still alive you might be wondering? Jesus tells them to do two things. Firstly, He tells them to remember what they have heard and received and keep these things in the forefront of their minds; this being the Gospel of Christ Jesus and their first love of Christ. A commentator explains that they have not forgotten these things, but that they need to keep remembering these things and never allow themselves to forget their first love for Christ and their former devotion to Him. Simply having memory of such things is not enough, but continuous remembering means more than simply recalling the past. It means keeping these memories fresh in your mind and replaying these memories daily.
1. It means taking an hour a day to meditate on the Crucifixion story and to meditate on the love required to willingly go to a cross.
2. It means remembering daily the love that Christ has for you and developing a love back for Him and for others.
3. It means remembering what Jesus has done for you and applying it daily to your life.
The second thing that Jesus tells them to do is to repent. The Greek word used here means to feel remorse and be convicted. Furthermore, it means to repent with a sincere heart and take counsel with yourself. Jesus expects them to turn from the sin that they are currently committing. He wants them to forsake the Pagan influence that has been destroying them morally. A commentator explained that this was a decisive turning around. Jesus wants them to come to repentance so that He can restore them to their former glory!
Point 2: They need to change the focus of their waiting! Christ is coming back!
As we have seen, the Church of Sardis is living as if they do not believe that Christ is coming back. When a Church loses its focus on Christ, especially His soon return, they start to compromise on their beliefs and actions. Christ had a few choice words to say to this Church and Churches that are suffering from this condition.
Christ reminds them of His swift return. He uses the idea of coming like a thief. This was extremely significant to the Church in Sardis because it had historical significance. See Sardis was built on a hill so steep that it was considered a natural citadel, and its defenses seemed secure. The location of the city made the citizens overconfident; as a result, the city walls were carelessly guarded. The city was captured twice by surprise, first by Cyrus the Persian (549 B.C.) and later by Antiochus (218 B.C.). On both occasions, enemy troops climbed the precipice by night and found that the Sardians had set no guard. The city was captured and destroyed because of the overconfidence of the citizens and the failure of the guards to watch. Similarly, the church was bringing this same lackluster guarding into their watching for Christ. This had a huge impact on the Christians in Sardis because they have already had an experience of people coming in the night and taking over their city. Likewise, Christ is telling them that He will come at night and this would have sparked an emotional response within the citizens.
Christ confirmed two key things in this message. The first is that He is definitely coming back. Christ return can be interpreted through two lenses. The first is a negative lens in which Christ returns and leaves the Christians of Sardis who are not ready for His return. The second way to interpret it is that Christ is coming back! Those who are not ready for His return would dread the fact that He is coming back so soon, but those who are ready would be overjoyed by the fact that Christ is coming back!
Secondly, they do not know when He is coming. The Bible tells us that no man knows the day or the hour of Christ return. Christ is not subject to man’s timing. He is not waiting for our approval. Christ is delaying His return because His people are not ready for Him as of yet. This message is not a message of when Christ will come, but it is a message pointing back to what He has already said. GET READY! WAKE UP! And make sure that you and I are in constant connection!
The Christians in Sardis became complacent because they felt comfortable that the walls that were around them would protect them the enemies around them and even the friend who is seeking after them. How many times do we stand behind the walls of Adventism? The walls of regional conferences and state conferences? The walls of depression? The walls of mobility? The walls of whatever is keeping you from Jesus? We need to overcome these walls by our anticipation of Christ’s coming!
Jesus uses the imagery of coming like a thief to make the citizens of Sardis watch and be on guard in anticipation of this coming. This coming like a thief was supposed to show them that something unexpected was about to happen. Jesus wants them to expect the unexpected because if they do not, they will be lost!
It almost reminds me of a game of hide and seek. I used to be a very good hider and whenever people would try and find me, I would be two and three steps ahead of them. Every time someone would walk past a place that I was hiding, I would watch out for them coming. I would always make sure that I knew where the person who was looking for me, seeking after me was. There are two key things you can take from this. Firstly, you need to know who is looking for you, and where they are and secondly you need to always remember that there is someone looking for you. Jesus is always looking for you! He is always playing a spiritual game of hide and seek with you and it’s your job to ensure that you know where He is so that He can find you!
Point 3: They need to change their example!
The text tells me that these Christians have not defiled their garments. These Christians have stood firm and not compromised with their Pagan environment. They have continued to keep their connection strong with Christ and Christ recognizes their constant communion with Him. These few names are in contrast with the majority who are “dead.” These are distinctly different from the Christians who have soiled their garments because the Greek word translated soiled means to stain something with the result of it being impure. It also gives light to the fact that the unsoiled Christians are this way because unsoiled garments are a sign of a spotless life. These Christians are the example that the dead Christians are to follow.
These Christians are the ones who are constantly looking over the wall and watching for Christ’ return. These are the Christians who are unafraid of the returning of Christ because they are ready for Him. The text tells me that these Christians are continuously walking with Jesus. The key thing that sets these living Christians apart from the dead Christians is the fact that they are worthy. The Greek shows that they are currently worthy, and because of this they will receive the future right to walk with Christ. These Christians are worthy because the act of watching for Christ currently, is the same very act that is purifying them. Actively watching for Christ is making them get on their P’s and Q’s. The active anticipation for Christ’ return is the active sanctification of the believers who are watching! The future outcome is conditional upon the present actions and the present character of the believers.
Another distinction is that the righteous Christians will wear white garments. This is significant for two reasons. Firstly’ which garments symbolized purity. The second reason is that these people are already living their lives with the anticipation of receiving this white robe. These people are already living as if they have their white garments.
1. I’m gonna wear my long white robe
2. I’m gonna fly from planet to planet
3. I’m gonna feast on milk and honey
4. I’m gonna walk and talk with Jesus one of these days
These people are living with the expectancy that one day these things will come to fruition!
The third distinction that I realized is that these Christians currently have their names written in the book of life. Christ explains that He will never blot out their names. This signifies that they have no chance of turning away from the purity that they live in. They refuse to let anyone defile their worthy moral character. And Christ has acknowledged their character by never erasing their names from the heavenly book that is a register of righteous people on earth.
Notice with me the way that Christ words this message. Never once does Christ say that more cannot come into the fold and have their names written in the book of life. Christ is offering every dead Christian in Sardis the opportunity to be revived with His heavenly revival skills. This is a supernatural CPR. A divine defibrillator. A blessed breath of fresh air. This is the restoration of the relationship between a dead man and His savior.
1. If my Jesus can do it for Lazarus.
2. If He can do it for the son of the widow of Nain.
3. If He can do it for the daughter of Jairus.
4. And most of all if He can do it for Himself, what makes you think that He can’t do it for you?
The final distinction that is made between the dead and the alive in Christ is that the dead will rise again. On that great getting up morning. When Jesus breaks the clouds. The dead in Christ shall rise first and then those who are alive will be called up to meet Him in the air. And this is where the end of verse 5 comes into play.
1. On that great day, where there will be no more tears.
2. On that great day when there will be no more pain.
3. On that great day where there will be no more arthritis.
4. On that great day when there will be no more broken bones or broken hearts.
On that great day, Jesus will confess in front of His father and all the angels every name that is worthy of eternal life. It’s significant that Jesus the Son is the one to confess us before His father. In the Greco-Roman world it was very common for families to have one child, especially if their first born was a son. This first-born son was to receive all the inheritance from the father and was supposed to carry on the legacy of the father. In Jewish customs, the sons were to honor their father in every way and try their best not to dishonor the family. This being said, the son would not bring anyone to the father that would bring dishonor on his name or his families name. So, for Jesus to bring us before His father, we must be blameless in His sight, lest we dishonor Him and his father!
Jesus went to the cross, so that we could have access to the Father. Jesus hung nailed to a tree so that we could escape from this spiritual deadness that plagues the Church of Sardis. Because of Jesus sacrifice, we don’t have to walk around like the zombies in the walking dead; thinking that we are alive while stinking up everywhere that we go. We can now walk in the newness of life, never to see eternal death and loss of eternal life again, because Jesus loved us enough to die, close the gates of hell and snatch the keys so that we would never have to see it again. Because of Christ we can stop being the walking dead and start our eternal life in Him!
Transition: Today I have three appeals.
1. This first appeal is for those people who need to wake up.
2. This second appeal is for those people who need to change their focus.
3. This final appeal is for those who need to change their example.