(These are the notes I worked off from for my sermon this morning at The Well. Here is the link for the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWlgwJxSGys)
Joshua as of last Sunday has ably led us through the first two of the 22 chapters of the book of Revelation.
Today we jump into the third chapter – hoping to learn some helpful things from Jesus’s letter to the church in Sardis. Sardis was an important commercial city located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira. The city was very wealthy and was a center of pagan worship, having a temple of the false god Artemis in its midst.
Jesus’s letter to the church in Sardis is the 5th of the seven letters to the churches
It has at least 8 things in common with all 7 churches:
- All of them are addressed to the angel of a church in a city – starting with the church in Ephesus and ending with the letter to the church in Laodecia.
- Some unique revelation of Christ – for instance in the letter to the church in Smyrna Jesus is revealed as “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life”
- Each after the revelation of Christ, has this phrase “says this” as we will see in a moment
- Some commendation or affirmation and reminder that He knows unique and even hidden details about us
- Some exhortation or correction or rebuke
- Some promise for those who overcome
- Concluding exhortation to listen/hear what the Spirit is saying
Things in common for 5 of the 7:
- Command to repent including the church in Sardis that we will be reading about in a minute
Pray and Read the Passage – 3:1-6
We are going to try to cover seven major truths or topics from this letter. The first
I. Its Revelation of Christ – vs. 1
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars
Rev. 1:4 – “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,”; 3:1 - “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God ….” ; 4:5 – “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” , 5:6 – “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.”
Gen – Rev. only One Spirit
7 number of completion or perfection often used by John
Best to see it as the Holy Spirit of God
Seven stars - the angels or messengers of the seven churches; some think angels; some think pastors; possibly apostles since letters are to the whole church in a city and not just to an individual congregation and a true apostle cares about the spiritual well being and health of the whole city. Because most of the authors of commentaries of the book of Revelation don’t believe in modern day apostles, I’ve yet to see this option suggested.
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit and Jesus sends anointed leaders to help His church appropriately respond to His words and the Holy Spirit’s words. He is highly strategic in the way He does this.
He has some powerful weapons or instruments in His arsenal. His hand is not too short to deliver as He said through the prophet Isaiah.
That’s a little about who Christ is from this letter; now let’s look at What Christ knows about this church
II. What Christ knows – vs. 1 – “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Message Trans. = “I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone dead.” In the eyes of men, and in their own eyes they were a happening church. But their true state - - God’s assessment - as contrasted to theirs based on what men think/say of or about them is that they are in fact spiritually dead. Not alive to God, not responsive to God, not living solely to know and follow and please and glorify Him. Serving Him they thought, but not out of an intimate walk with Him, nor out of dependence upon the Holy Spirit, but rather out of their own fleshly wisdom and fleshly efforts.
III. It’s Exhortation to spiritually dead believers – vs. 2,3 5 exhortations or commands
A. Wake up – vs. 2 Significance of first exhortation. It is of the first order!
Spiritual progress cannot be made if we are spiritually asleep. You and I cannot be appropriately responsive to the Living God who is constantly moving and speaking if we are spiritually dead. No amount of good works or religious busyness will turn this around. Our spiritual state or inner condition must be changed from outside of us.
Question: So what is this spiritual slumber that Jesus exposed in the church in Sardis? Spiritual slumber is the condition of one’s spiritual life that causes him/her or in this case a church to be dull, un-responsive, deceived, unaware, oblivious to God’s voice and moving, oblivious to their need for God to speak and move and change them and empower them, etc.
How does spiritual slumber develop? How can an active busy church be spiritually dead? 1. By wrongly assessing our spiritual state as a church. We assume if God is blessing our church with people and prosperity and enthusiasm of the masses or attendees that God Himself is pleased. We assume if people speak well of us God feels the same way. We assume that if our church website displays us to the cyber world as happy people worshipping the Lord with raised hands and who are active in serving Him in various ways that that image is real and is something God is pleased with and agrees with.
The Apostle Paul
Rom. 13:11 – 14“Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
So the first exhortation is to wake up! The second is to -
B. Strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die – vs. 2
It appears there was some flicker of life somewhere among these people. So Jesus says – start there and strengthen it. Perhaps they had one prayer meeting each week attended by the faithful few. So if that was the case, perhaps He wanted them to make involvement in that a greater priority. Maybe even the leaders needed to attend!
Reason – “for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God”
A spiritually dead church starts things but doesn’t finish them and strengthen them and build on them. They are satisfied with bandaids and quick fixes instead of truly setting the captives free and getting to the roots of things.
C. Remember what you have received and heard – vs. 3
This takes some concerted and consistent reflection. The Holy Spirit is glad and great at helping with this if we rely on Him to do so.
D. Keep it - vs. 3
The importance of obedience; finishing and fulfilling what God has spoken and directed
“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who love Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” John 14:21
E. Repent – vs. 3
More than saying I’m sorry or confessing my sins as sin though it starts there.
Turning from sin patterns fully and completely. Turning from unrighteousness to righteousness. A total change of mind and heart.
Warning re: not waking up – vs. 3b “Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” Jesus often spoke to this danger as seen in the four gospels.
IV. It’s Commendation/Affirmation of Some of the Believers – vs. 4
A. Out of all of those who gathered in the various expressions of Christ’s church in Sardis – Jesus said, “a few…. have not soiled their garments”
Does this mean these few have not sinned?
No it most likely means these folk, what some would call a remnant, have learned to come to Christ as a way of life to be sprinkled and washed by His blood; and have learned by the Holy Spirit’s power and instruction to kill and put to death sin and not just manage it. They have learned to “put on the new and put off the old” as a way of life. They have learned by the power of the Holy Spirit to walk out the righteousness of Christ, which He imparts to us by faith.
Promise for them: “they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” Interesting that Jesus would say they are worthy. Every other occurrence of this word or concept of being worthy in the book of Revelation pertains to Jesus Himself as worthy of our praise and the only One worthy to break the seals, which we will get to later on in chapter 5.
Jesus said in Luke 17:10 to those who would follow Him as disciples these words, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”
One thing we must never confuse as believers is while we are unworthy of all of the grace and mercy He has poured out on us, our worth is incalculable. The very Son of God suffered and died a horrible death on a cross because of how much He loved us. No one can put a price tag on our worth.
But our worthiness comes from Christ by grace through faith. And yet there is a since where we are commanded several times in the epistles to walk in a manner worthy of His great name.
Is this a promise for now or the future? I think it is a wonderful promise for intimacy with Him in the now and it is tied to those who have not soiled their garments, which is another way of saying – they refused to be corrupted and defiled by the world; these believers learned to hate the things He hates and love the things He loves by His power and grace.
Just as James said in ch. 4 of his epistle that “friendship with the world is hostility towards God”;
John is saying that an ongoing refusal to be stained by the world is an open door to intimacy with God.
He expands that promise in vs. 5
V. It’s Promise for Overcomers – vs. 5
Issue of the book of life erasure. This is not a warning, but a promise for overcomers. The only place in scripture where the word “erase” in connection with the Lamb’s book of life occurs is here.
Jesus delights in overcomers! At the end of every one of these seven letters He offers or gives wonderful promises to those who as a way of life – from beginning to end – overcome difficulties, tribulations, persecutions, satanic oppression and temptation, the snares and lures of the world, etc.
VI. It’s Exhortation to Listen/Hear the Spirit’s message – vs. 6
This letter is from Jesus – every word. But at the end of every letter to these seven churches Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” A. W. Tozer
You know in each of these seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation – they begin with a revelation of Jesus Christ – who He is – and each one is different. I believe the reason the letter to the church in Sardis reveals Jesus as the One who has the seven Spirits of God - - is because while Jesus can be ruthlessly straightforward in His rebukes for our spiritual slumber, He gladly sends us the solution for our slumber in the person of the Holy Spirit if we ask. His solution is the Holy Spirit in all of His holiness and in all of His power not a program.
The Holy Spirit is the One who teaches us how to strengthen ourselves in the inner man.
He is the One who helps us remember the things we have forgotten and overlooked.
He is the One who teaches us how to obey in the little things and in the big things.
He is the One who teaches us how to repent, how to put off the old and put on the new, how to kill sin and not just manage or band aid it.
Only the Holy Spirit can help we believers understand and properly respond to these letters.
Only the Holy Spirit can help we believers hear and heed His voice.
Only the Holy Spirit can help us pursue holiness and godliness and righteousness as a way of life without becoming self righteous and unrighteously judgmental of others.
Only the Holy Spirit can help us avoid just going through the motions and leaning on programs and gimmicks like so many in the church in Sardis were doing and like so many are doing today.
Only the Holy Spirit can teach us to pray so that His life can pulsate through us day in and day out until our Lord returns for us. In my judgment, it is a devotion to prayer that more than anything else determines whether we live this life in the Spirit or in the flesh.
Samuel Chadwick was one of the greatest Methodist preachers and pastors ever raised up by God in England back in the 1800’s. His flame never went out until his dying breath. He said once,
“The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”
Elsewhere concerning the glorious life of the Spirit in the church he said,
“Confusion and impotence are the inevitable results when the wisdom and resources of the world are substituted for the presence and power of the Spirit.” – Samuel Chadwick
The very first thing Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church wanted the mostly dead church in the city of Sardis to know was that He had the seven Spirits of God. Or He accomplished His grand and glorious purposes on the earth through the Holy Spirit whom He gladly gives without measure to those who increasingly desperately ask for Him.
This is why He spoke so much to His disciples about the Holy Spirit in those last hours before He was arrested as can be seen in John chps. 14 & 16.
This is why the very last words He said before He ascended to be with the Father were, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Prayer for the lost
Prayer for the saved