Seven Churches - Part 5

Series: SEVEN

February 12, 2017
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Intro: Sardis, the city, had a glorious past. She was once the capital of a great and wealthy kingdom. Croesus, her king, was perhaps the wealthiest man ever to sit upon a throne. His name became synonymous with opulence and riches. In fact, to this day you might hear someone use the phrase “as rich as King Croesus.”

Sardis had also been known for being impenetrable because she sat high atop a stone pillar. In fact, in ancient times when someone achieved the seemingly impossible it was said of them they “captured the city of Sardis” because no army had ever managed to do it. The people felt safe and probably smug. They were confident no army ever would.

That was their downfall. Twice, they were overcome with surprise invasions, the last one leading to their downfall. By the time of John’s writing, Sardis was a shadow of her former self. 

Let’s visit the church there this morning...

Revelation 3:1a (ESV)

1“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “

Jesus, as with every letter, began with his credentials. I’m going to hold off on talking about this until a little later because, perhaps more so than the other letters, it tells us what was going on with the church at Sardis.

So Jesus introduced himself and then, normally, we’d move to the commendation. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira all received praise at this point. But Sardis was one of two churches in the seven who didn’t receive a commendation. Christ had nothing to commend them for, but He did have a word of criticism (remember, he above all is qualified to give both)…

Revelation 3:1b (ESV)

‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

This must have shocked the hearers as they all gathered together to hear John’s letter read out loud. Jesus himself declared their church “dead.” 

Now I’ve got to stop a minute and get something off my chest. Remember how Jezebel was so associated with wickedness that to this day, thousands of years later, you hardly ever meet a lady named Jezebel. Now you’d think the same would hold true for naming a church after the city of Sardis, right? I mean, surely there’s no Sardis Baptist Church? OH, there’s more than just one…

Cullman, AL

Rockford, AL

Boaz, AL

Thomaston, AL

There are 36 Sardis Baptist churches in all. Most are in AL. There’s even a Sardis Baptist Church #2 in Addison, AL.

What were they thinking? Didn’t somebody in that first meeting where they voted on the name have a Bible?

What did Jesus mean when he said they had a reputation of being alive but they were dead?

Sardis the church, like Sardis the city, looked impressive in the present but in truth it was all just leftovers from the past. They must have done some pretty big things for God to make a name for themselves, to have a reputation for being alive (maybe their motto was “a church alive is worth the drive”). 

But when you looked beneath the surface you discovered there wasn’t much substance to them anymore. They weren’t making an impact.The past was all they had because the only thing that lingers after death is memories. 

One pastor wisely observed: “You do not move ahead by constantly looking in a rearview mirror. The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you. We must learn from the past but not live in the past.” Another said, "A church is in danger of death when it begins to worship its own past, when it is more concerned with forms than with life; when it is more concerned with material than it is with spiritual things (Dr. William Barclay)."

Jesus said you are dead. That says a lot. But sometimes what you don’t say says a lot to.

I think it’s very significant that Jesus didn’t mention persecution of any kind. He did with all the others churches so far, either directly or indirectly.

Archaeology may tell us why.

Sardis the city was unusual in the Roman Empire in that even though it was purely pagan with emperor worship and the whole shebang, there was a big and very influential population of Jews there. One of the biggest synagogues ever discovered was unearthed in Sardis (it was almost the size of a football field). That was unheard of. For some reason the pagans and Jews in this city got along.

But what’s even more strange is that the Jews and Christians must have gotten along also. There’s archaeological evidence that Jews and Christians lived side-by-side in Sardis.

Now this could mean that the Jews there were noble and open minded, like the Jews of Berea mentioned in the book of Acts who searched the Scriptures to see if what the apostles taught was true. But they were the exception rather than the rule.

Most times, the Jews were vocal, violent, and ruthless enemies of Christians. Jesus even mentioned the Jews of Smyrna being of the synagogue of Satan probably because they turned in Christians for not burning incense on the emperor’s altar.

No, I think the reason the Jews peacefully coexisted with the Christians was because of what Jesus said: they were dead.

If the gospel had been transforming lives in Sardis like it had at Ephesus where people got saved and starting changing how they lived, there would have been confrontation of some kind. Remember at Ephesus how so many Ephesians got saved the people who made the little idols the goddess Artemis rioted because they were afraid they’d go out of business?

If the gospel had been engaging the culture like it had at Smyrna, somebody would would have been persecuted for their faith (a pastor was actually martyred there).

If the church is truly living out its faith, there will be conflict. Now some hear that and they think, “Oh, yeah. Like what’s happening right now in ‘Merica cause we have turned back to God.” No, I’m not talking about the kind of conflict where Christians yell and scream and post snarky memes and rude comments on Facebook. 

I’m talking about the kind of conflict where abortion providers want the church to be quiet because the gospel we preach, that teaches how we all bear the image of God, and the lives we live, loving and serving others, demonstrates the truth so powerfully, women come to us instead for help. They want to shut down the church because the gospel shuts them down and they can’t make any more money.

I’m talking about the kind of conflict where Muslims and Hindus and the like tell their followers to run from Christians because we so boldly and lovingly live out our faith, we win them over left and right. Like what happened with JD Greear and his church in N.C.

I’m talking about the kind of conflict where LGBTQ activists rage against the church NOT because they say we preach hate but because so many of their community are turning to Christ as a result of Christians having loved and reached out to the marginalized while sharing the truth. They’ve listened to and believed our message because our witness backs it up.

The right kind of conflict isn’t bad, folks. Never forget that a complete absence of conflict is death. And in that regard Sardis was dead.

There’s something else Jesus didn’t say that says a lot, I think.

It’s also very telling that Jesus didn't mention false teachings.

In these letters Jesus made a big deal out of churches giving in to false teaching in his condemnations. Jesus also made a big deal out of churches not giving in to false teaching in his commendations.

It’s hard to argue from silence, but I think the fact that Jesus doesn’t say a word about it means they were doctrinally pure. They held to the truth.

Their doctrine was on point, yet they were dead. Which takes me back to something I’ve talked about before.

There’s a way of thinking in the church today which goes something like this: all God wants from us is faithfulness. If we are faithful, if we maintain the purity of the Word, then God is happy.

That is only half true. God wants us to be faithful and fruitful. Faith without fruit is dead.

John 15:5 (ESV) — 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Which leads me to something else here that tells us ultimately what was going on at Sardis. Now let’s look back at the way Jesus introduced himself.

Revelation 3:1a (ESV)

1“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “

All the introductions to the churches were drawn from the vision John had in chapter one.

Revelation 1:4 (ESV) — 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

That refers back to…

Isaiah 11:2 (ESV) — 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

The seven spirits of God is another way of saying the Holy Spirit. Now go back to the vision in chapter one of Revelation…

Revelation 1:12–13 (ESV) — 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.

That parallels a vision the prophet Zechariah had…

Zechariah 4:1–6 (ESV) — 1 And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. 2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3 And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” 4 And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

The two olive trees provided the lamps with an endless supply of oil. The olive trees and the oil were symbolic of the Holy Spirit (v. 6).

The lampstands in Revelation and the lamps on them represented the churches. So Sardis had a lamsptand. In order to give off light there had to be oil in the lamps.

Put all this together and you see why Jesus introduced himself to Sardis as the one who has the seven spirits of God. They didn’t have oil in their lamp, or if they did it was low.

The church of the living dead’s problem was, at it’s core, this:

Sardis had quenched the Spirit of God. 

You can be faithful but in order to be fruitful you must have the power of God’s Spirit at work in your life, or church.

Just as Israel could not be light to the nations or live out her purpose as God’s chosen nation in her own might or power but by God’s Spirit, so it is with the church of today.

A dead church can do impressive things, but it’s still dead because it’s doing it in it’s own power.

A Christian from Africa visiting America was asked what he thought of the American church. He said, “It amazing what you have done apart from the Spirit of God.”

Next Christ gave His correction and judgment…

Revelation 3:2–3 (ESV) — 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

Wake up – become aware of their condition and be watchful. Have you ever just wanted to yell at someone, “Wake up and smell the coffee!” “Stop being blind to yourself.” Dead churches and dead Christians don’t know they are dead. That’s a great fear of mine. The next is…

Strengthen what is left

Because it was about to die

Because their deeds were incomplete

Remember the Gospel

Keep the Gospel

Repent – turn around

Christ warned Sardis that if they didn't wake up from their slumber of death He would come and judge them, catching them completely unaware, like a thief in the night. That is, by the way, how He will return at the second coming!

Which would have reminded everyone sitting there that Sardis the city had fallen hundreds of years earlier because invaders snuck in like thieves while they slept smugly in their beds.

Finally this morning we have Christ’s comfort…

Revelation 3:4–6 (ESV) — 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, 

White garments represent the righteousness of those who have overcome, but it's a righteousness not their own.

Philippians 3:8–11 (ESV) — 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

To soil their garments means, I believe, to rely on their own earned righteousness instead of Jesus’ imparted righteousness. 

For the one whose righteousness is imparted and not earned, he can be assured that…

and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Conclusion: An oxymoron is two words that seem to be contradictory, but are joined together. They are terms that shouldn’t fit together, but they do – words like Jumbo shrimp, ill health, freezer burn, old news, and pretty ugly. Could there be any greater oxymoron than “dead church”?


Of all the churches, we are in the most danger of becoming this one. As Christian we are all in danger of quenching the Spirit in our lives.

Church, Christian, friend, heed the words of Christ…

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church