Pastor Scott Andrews | July 10, 2022
Many of you remember the movie, The Sixth Sense. I’m not recommending the movie – but it fits for our purposes. It was written by M. Night Shyamalan, so you know it was weird with a shocking ending. Spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen the movie, well, it came out in ‘99, so you’ve had 23 years. Bruce Willis was Dr. Malcom Crowe, a child psychologist. Early in the movie, we find Dr. Crowe was shot by a former child patient. After spending time in the hospital, he goes back to his practice – but for some reason, his wife has left him.
He gets a new patient – 9-year-old Cole played by Haley Osment. We find out the challenge with this child is he says he can see ghosts and talk to the dead. The famous line, I see dead people. You see, the sixth sense refers to ESP or extrasensory perception. But, fast forward and Dr. Crowe finds it’s true, Cole can talk to dead people to help them on their way to the nether land. And so together they use Cole’s gift to help the departed. Time for the plot twist – we get to the end of the movie and find out Dr. Crowe actually didn’t survive the gunshot – he’s dead – he just didn’t know it. And 9-year-old Cole was actually helping Dr. Crowe pass on.
Weird – but here’s the point – the main character thought he was alive, but he was dead. He didn’t know he was dead, but dead he was. While the movie had an okay ending, the truth is, if you’re not prepared to be dead, that’s actually not good news. Can that be true of professing Christians – they think they’re spiritually alive, but in truth, they are dead? Not prepared to be dead. That’s not good news. Let’s read, then, the fifth of John’s seven letters to the church in Sardis. Revelation 3:1-6.
We’ve seen these letters, while addressing actual churches in John’s day, are applicable to all churches of all time. Which is why each letter ends with, he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches – plural. All seven churches? Sure. All churches? Potentially. It’s sad to say, but most churches have a lifecycle. Many churches are planted with a commitment to biblical faithfulness. A desire to reach the lost, to grow together in fellowship, to grow in discipleship in the Word, and before you know it, no love, no life, no Christ. It just becomes a social club.
How do you know if you’re doing good things, but have no love? How do you know if you’ve slipped into the cultural norms of sexual immorality? How do you know if you think you’re spiritually alive, but you’re really dead?
This is a sobering letter. Is it possible the church of Jesus Christ has dead people – more tares than wheat, more wolves than sheep, more dead than alive, more professors than possessors? A sobering letter – with eternity at stake.
I know that as I speak today, many of you are in fact alive – but we must be awakened to the cultural drift around us, even in the church. Who would have thought, fifty years ago, twenty years ago, the church would be where she is? You see, some of you are dead, and you don’t know it. My prayer is God will awaken you by His Spirit. I cannot. I’m not going to say to dead people this morning, wake up. I can’t awaken the dead. I can spit and scream and holler – but it will take the Spirit of God to make you alive to gospel truth.
One of the greatest challenges of living in the Bible belt South is many of you have been raised in church – you can’t remember not believing. (Resume – Christian since birth) My questions are – are you truly alive in Christ? Are you a Christ-following Christian or a cultural Christian? Let me ask it this way – if you didn’t come to church on Sundays, would that be the only real difference in your life? My friends, you were born dead – and if you’ve never been born again, you’re still dead. I’m concerned about that today.
Well, Jesus doesn’t really have much good to say about this church – really more correction than commendation. In fact, here’s the outline:
- The Angel of the Church of Sardis (1)
- The Self-description of Christ (1)
- Again, no commendation, but rather, The Correction of the Church (1)
- The Call to Repentance (2-3) with a threat of judgment
- The Promise to the Overcomers (4-5)
- The Call to Hear the Spirit (6)
I, too, will finish with a call to hear the Spirit – to be awakened to cultural and sinful drift, or to be awakened to life.
Let’s start with a look at Sardis. Located on that circular route, it’s about 30 miles south-southeast of Thyatira. It’s an ancient city with an incredible past. In fact, the history of this city speaks to the condition of the church. Those of us who grew up on the 50s, 60s even 70s used to think of the US as invincible. Now, in the 2020s, we’re finding out, we’re not. The truth is, we’re destroying ourselves from the inside. Incidentally, the earliest known commentary of the book of Revelation was written by Melito, the bishop of Sardis in the late second century.
The city was founded about 1200 BC and was considered one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It was extremely wealthy under the Lydian kingdom. In fact, the kingdom’s most famous king was Croesus, from which comes the saying, “As rich as Croesus.” And it was a rich city. Legend said that Midas left his gold in a nearby reiver. Indeed, much gold came from that river, and archeologists have discovered hundreds of crucibles in the Sardis ruins used for refining gold. It is said that gold and silver coins were first minted in Sardis.
Now, the city was located on the western end of a royal road that led to Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire. It was on or near several important trade routes, making it a commercial city. It was also a center of wool production. They claimed to be the first know how to dye wool.
This is important. Geographically, the city was built on an acropolis from a spur off Mt. Tmolus. The acropolis was 1500 feet high – surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, with only the south side allowing approach on a very steep and windy road. It was easily defensible, and made the city almost impregnable. Almost. You see, the seemingly impregnable location caused the people of Sardis to become overconfident, complacent, asleep, which eventually led to its downfall.
In 549 BC, the Persian King Cyrus captured the city – how? Well, Cyrus was at war with Croesus, but Croesus felt secure in his mountain fortress. They carefully guarded the southern approach. So, one night the Persians scaled the unwatched, unguarded, steep cliffs and conquered the city. History repeated itself some 220 years later when Antiochus the Great conquered the city in much the same way – a mountain climber ascended the steep cliffs and opened the city gates to the opposing army. The saying arose, “to capture the acropolis of Sardis,” meant, “to do the impossible.”
Well, eventually Sardis came under Roman rule in 133 BC. Later, the city faced a catastrophic earthquake in 17 AD, but with a generous donation from Emperor Tiberius, the city was rebuilt. So, much indebted to Tiberius, the people of Sardis built a temple for him. But the city’s primary object of worship was the goddess Cybele – the same goddess the Ephesians worshiped named Artemis. Interestingly, they built a huge temple to Cybele, but never completed it. Remember that, too. Further, there were hot springs close to the city, which were rumored to give life to the dead.
Well, in His letter, Jesus draws on many parallels of the city that the church of Sardis would have noted right away. Look at the self-description of Christ in verse 1. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven stars are the seven angels of the church, which simply speaks of the truth that Jesus holds the angel responsible for the church in His hands. He is firmly in control.
But now, don’t miss the first description – He is the One who has the seven Spirits of God. Back in chapter 1, Jesus is not described specifically that way, but we were introduced to the seven Spirits who are before the throne. There we found this is a clear reference to the perfect Holy Spirit, and further, that God would rebuild His temple back in Zechariah’s day, and build His people in John’s day by the same perfect Spirit. Remember God said to Zechariah, not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord. By saying, I am the One who has the Spirit, Jesus is saying, you need life, and the only way you’ll get life is through the Spirit, which I have. I said it earlier – no amount of pleading on my part will give you life – only the Spirit can.
Now, why did they need the Spirit? Because, there was a significant correction needed at the end of verse 2. I know your deeds – and usually Jesus follows that with some commendation – I know your deeds, and you’re doing some good things – to Ephesus, you have good works and you toil and persevere, and you don’t tolerate evil people. To the church at Smyrna, I know the tribulation and poverty and blasphemy you endure, but you’ve persevered. To Pergamum, I know where you dwell, where’s Satan’s throne is, but you hold fast to My name. To Thyatira, I know your love and faith and service and perseverance.
But to Sardis, I know your deeds – then doesn’t list any. I know that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Can you think of anything worse to be said to a church? Obviously, Jesus is not talking about physical life and death – like The Sixth Sense. No, He’s talking about spiritual life and spiritual death. You see, the truth is, all people are born dead in trespasses and sin. All are therefore children of wrath. But the good news is, through the death and resurrection of Christ – by grace through faith – we can be born again. Brought from spiritual death to spiritual life.
And these people had thought that true of them. You have a name that you are alive. That you’ve been born again. How would they have that reputation? Perhaps because they did some good things. They continued to meet, whatever that looked like. Maybe they had some really good programs. Active in the community. Maybe they even took care of people. And their reputation outside the church was solid. They had a good name. You can’t help but think of what Jesus said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
We can do good things, even have a good reputation. But if we do not know Jesus, and He does not know us, then we are lost and without hope. How many churches in our culture meet, have good fellowship, good programs, maybe even good social programs, but don’t know Jesus? Four kinds of people in this world:
- People who neither profess Jesus nor do what He says.
- People who profess Jesus, but do not do what He says.
- People who do not profess Jesus, but do some of what He says.
- People who both profess Jesus and do what He says.
Only the last are Christians. If people do some good things, but don’t know Jesus, they aren’t Christians. If you say you know Jesus but don’t do what He says, you’re not a Christian. It’s only those who know Jesus and prove it by doing what He says who are Christians. Which one are you?
The church of Sardis thought themselves alive, others thought them alive, but they were dead in trespasses and sins. And they will hear the words of Jesus, depart from Me – I never knew you. By the way, notice – not I knew you and you left Me – I never knew you. They didn’t lose their salvation – they never had it.
So, having identified their need, Jesus calls them to repentance by giving them five commands in verses 2 and 3. First, He says you need to wake up. That could be translated, be watchful. Don’t continue in complacency. Remember the well-known history of this city? They thought themselves safe and secure – and the enemy was right outside the gate. Wake up – you don’t even know you’ve been lulled to sleep. Church in America, you don’t even know the enemy is within the gates.
Now here’s a question – who needs to wake up – the dead? Or those who were being lulled to complacency and compromise by the dead? Listen, a corpse cannot hear, and cannot awaken. Jesus is not talking to the dead here – He’s talking to those in danger of going the way of the rest. We must be aware of the dangers of complacency and compromise that exist all around us. Wake up.
Second, He says, strengthen the things that remain. This is actually an encouraging command – there were at least some things that remained. Wake up, and strengthen those gospel truths and corresponding actions that are growing faint and feeble. They are gasping for air. Notice, they are about to die. Wake up.
For I have not found your deeds completed or perfected in the sight of My God. Don’t be bothered by Jesus calling the Father, My God. It is simply an acknowledgement of the divine nature of His Father. The Son is eternally begotten of His Father – three persons, with the Holy Spirit, one God.
I have not found your deeds completed. Remember the temple to Cybele they never completed? It would have been a visible reminder of what Jesus accuses them of – you haven’t completed or perfected the works required. You made a good start, but you’ve stopped. Wake up.
So, command number 3 – remember. Remember what you have received and heard. Don’t ever leave the gospel – that you were dead in your sins, and you were made you alive in Christ. Preach the gospel to yourself every day. And having remembered what you’ve received by hearing – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ – having received, allow it to continually change your life. How many of you made a good start, but you’ve gotten lethargic in your Christian life? Maybe you’ve been distracted. Maybe you’re on autopilot. Maybe you think you’ve done enough, and you want to coast to the finish line. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith – and continue faithfully. That’s the fourth command – remember what you’ve received and keep it – surrender daily to the sanctifying work of the Spirit in your life. Keep – do what He says.
Some of you can remember days when you were more faithful, more active in the things of Christ. Do you remember how meaningful that was – how life changing it was, how fulfilling it was? Are you tired? Ask God to give the strength to continue in His Word. Think about it, what could we do here for the cause of Christ if we all gave all we had for Him? If we didn’t grow weary – if we didn’t stop because we’re successful – if we remained faithful.
Last command – a familiar one – repent. It supersedes all others. If you’ve become lethargic in your faith, repent. Turn from the distractions and neglect, and follow Him all the way to the celestial city. That’s where we’re headed. Keep going, don’t give up.
There is a warning or threat of judgment if you carry on the way you’re going. Notice the end of verse 3. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief – that is, when you least expect it – and you will not know the hour I will come. These thief in the night passages usually refer to the Second Coming – and they are typically directed toward unbelievers. Remember when Jesus said (Matthew 24):
42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.
43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.
44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
So be on the alert. The truth is, we can be ready. As I said, these thief in the night passages are generally directed at unbelievers or sleeping, unprepared believers. Don’t be that way. We can actually be looking and prepared. One of my favorite passages is I Thessalonians 5:
2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;
5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;
6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
Do not sleep as others do – be on the alert. Wake up. Jesus is coming again. Be ready.
Verse 4 is another encouraging verse – you have a few people – it’s only a few, a remnant – a few in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. Remember, the people of Sardis were known for producing wool with the ability to dye it. Clean, white wool would have been much in demand. Those who have not soiled their garments – they’ve kept them clean, they’ve faithfully walked in purity and holiness, they will walk with Me in white. To be clothed in white throughout the NT speaks of purity – it speaks of justification – that we have been cleansed of our sins, washed white – though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, having received the righteousness of Christ. We have been made worthy not by our own works, but by the work of Christ. And we walk now in purity.
Bringing us to the promise to the overcomers in verse 5. Let this wash over you – let this encourage you. He who overcomes – that is, those believers who have not been distracted and affected by the culture and even the dead in the church – those who wake up and strengthen what remains, and remembers what they received, keep it, and repent – they will thus be clothed in white garments. Again, this is a description of the redeemed – those who have been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life – who have had sins removed. I will clothe them in white.
In the book of Revelation, we see several clothed in white. The 24 elders seated around the throne in chapter 4; the martyrs under the altar who are waiting for their deaths to be avenged in chapter 6; the armies of heaven following Jesus in chapter 19. But I want to draw your attention to those so clothed in chapter 7:
9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;
10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
12 saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?”
14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
16 “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;
17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
For those who believe – clothed in white. Does that sound good? I want to remind you, this is what awaits those who know Him. And if you don’t, I want to invite you to trust in Him for your salvation today.
And if you do, know this – the second promise to the believer in verse 5 is this, He will not – better – He will never erase your name from the book of life. Don’t take this positive statement and make it negative. See, some say, your name can be erased from the book of life. That’s not what it says – it says, He will never erase your name. That’s encouraging.
What is the book of life? Chapter 20 tells us it is those who have been justified by the work of Christ – those who have received eternal life by trusting in Christ. They will not be judged by their works – they will be judged by His work. And they will not taste the second death, which is the lake of fire. And they will enjoy eternal life with Him.
Finally, the last promise, at the end of verse 5, Jesus says, “and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Jesus had promised that in Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8, “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before [My Father who in in heaven – Matthew] the angels of God.” Notice – we confess Him, because we’re not ashamed of Christ – we live for Christ – and therefore, He will not be ashamed of us.
Verse 6, he who has an ear, let him hear with the Spirit says to the churches. Are you listening this morning? Believers, have you been distracted, lulled to sleep, neglecting your spiritual life? Jesus says to you this morning, wake up. Unbelievers, cultural Christians not truly born again, only the Spirit of life can awaken you. Do you hear His call? Invitation.