Can a church die? Yes they can, we can see their carcases around the city, empty buildings, locked doors, for sale signs. The buildings still stand but the life has gone, the spirit has departed. Many of us here this morning have memories of churches that are no more.
Some buildings still have the sound of worship, but are dead none the less –this was the case with the church in Sardis, the fifth of the seven churches of Revelation.
It looked the picture of health but it was dead. It was like an empty promise – it promised much but when you stepped into it there was nothing. Think of it like a man in the desert, he is dying of thirst, and he sees a sign pointing to a well – just a few miles ahead. He gathers the last of his strength and struggles on those last few miles, and finds the well. His hope rises, he drops the bucket in but instead of a splash he hears a thud!
It promised much but had nothing – like so many churches are like today – instead of the waters of life they give out the dry dust of this world These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 3:1
A Church that reflected the world in which it lived
Founded about 1,200 BC, Sardis was the capital city of Lydia. A city that had known great wealth and prestige. At one time, it had been one of the greatest cities in the world. You perhaps have heard of ‘Aesop’s Fables’ – Aesop was employed by King Croesus, the greatest of it’s kings. It had been conquered by the Persians, by Alexander the great and by the Romans. It was famous for the industries that operated there. Carpet, wool and dyed cloth were their primary products. It is said that the art of dyeing was invented at Sardis.
By the apostle John’s day, it was just a shell of what it had been. The people had grown lazy, degenerate, immoral and complacent. A city dying through apathy and indifference. Proud of its past; Proud of its reputation. But, its reputation was all it had left. For all intents and purposes, it was dead, even while it lived.
And the problem was that the Church in Sardis reflected the condition of the city - I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Just as the city was a hive of activity and was dead so to was the church in the city. Instead of revealing the life of Christ it mirrored the lack of life that hung over the city.
What we have here in this letter to the church in Sardis is
An Autopsy of a Dead Church.
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 3:1
Cause of death - Now you and I will have our own opinions on the churches we know, and if we were to share those opinions with others, some would agree with us and some would disagree – but when it comes to the Lord of the church making a statement about a church then there is no room for any dissension. There was to be no quibbling amongst the Christians in Sardis - These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: This autopsy is not open for debate, not open to be challenged by some other expert, there is to be no second opinion
The “seven Spirits of God” refer to the Holy Spirit in His complete ministry. The seven-fold ministry of the Spirit is defined in Isaiah 11:2 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 of the fear of the LORD. Why mention this? What has this to do with the condition of the church?
Everything! – for the Holy Spirit is the source of life for the believer and the Church – remember this is a church that is suffering from deadness, it needs life and life is found only in Christ and Christ has given His Spirit to the church. We see this in the next part of the statement:-
These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: these stars remember are teachers of the Church – add these together and we are being told that the spiritual life of the church is to be revived.
Churches are to operate, not under the power of human skill, leadership and organization, but under the awesome power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is saying to this lifeless church that He has everything it needs to live and work and minister, The power of the church is Christ not methodolgy.
Men are trying every method under the sun to reach sinners, and to do the work of the church. But, all the power we need is found in the fullness of the Holy Ghost and in the Word of God. What we need is not a new method; but a new desire to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit and do everything according to the teachings of the Word of God.
Evidence of Death – “I know your works”. He comes as One Who sees all and knows all. He does not commend their works and He does not condemn their works. He merely tells them that He knows everything they are doing.
He knows everything we are doing too! He sees it all, along with the motives that drive us to do what we do, He sees us as a whole, and He sees the individual as well. He knows your heart. He knows everything you do and He knows why you do it. That is a sobering thought.
They still looked like they were alive. They have a reputation for being alive - a busy, working church with a great reputation among men. From all outward appearances, this church was everything a church ought to be. They believed the right things and they were busy doing good all over the community.
Everyone who saw them looked at them and said, “That church is on fire!” It had all the appearances of life.
BUT, things were not as they seemed! The Lord of the Church looked for life and found none! No matter what others thought, Jesus knew the truth.
They were dead! There was activity, but it was not spiritual in nature. There was business, but they were bringing nothing eternal to pass. Everyone looked at them and spoke of their life. Jesus, the One Who knew then better than anyone, looked at them and pronounced them dead!
Looks are deceiving! These flowers on this table have all the appearance of life. They are beautiful; they are filled with colour and fragrance; but they are dead! They have been severed from the roots that gave them life. It won’t be many days until their colours fade; their blooms wilt; their leaves turn brown and they will be taken and thrown away. They look alive, but they are dead!
What of us – are we dead? What is the source of the life that we lead? What is the power that carries us through each day, what is the hope on which we stand? Life is only to be had in Christ, if we seek life anywhere else then we are dead.
“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 3:1. If the Lord Jesus Christ was to come to you this morning, look you in the eye and say these words to you, how would you feel? I would be devastated, terrified – cast down in spirit to the very depths!
You are dead
I thank God that this letter to the church of Sardis doesn’t finish with these words, I thank God that His grace brings hope into this situation and also into our own.
There is still hope – look at v2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Something remains that is alive!
GLIMMER OF LIFE
All is not lost a spark of life remains, that life must be nurtured, strengthened.
Be watchful – this is a Greek word that speaks of someone who had been sleeping and is now aroused – in other words the Lord is arousing the church – and it is to continue in this wakefulness – wake and see the terrible state your church is in, wake and see the signs of decay and death, Wake up before it is too late, the last vestiges of life are spluttering to extinction, Wake up before it’s too late and death is complete.
Strengthen - take strong, immediate and effective measures! Picture a ship that is sinking, the sea is crashing of the deck, the plunge to the depths is imminent, but the crew are too caught up in their problems and plans to even see their plight – they must wake up to the situation, they must do so immediately.
for I have not found your works perfect before God. Another way of translating this is – for I have not found your works as having been filled full in the sight of God - The Lord is not saying that they didn’t do enough works, they were engaged in works! No what Jesus is saying is that their works were empty. The people went to church and did many other things, but the faith, the love and the spiritual life that should have filled all their works had been growing less and less – they have become more and more formal, empty and hallow. Like the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned they had their reward – the praise of men.
They were singing, praying, preaching and giving, but their works were not reaching Heaven. They were accomplishing nothing of eternal value. They were a dead people doing dead works. it is possible to be busy in the things of God and yet to be doing nothing for God. Unless our works are complete, they will never reach Heaven, and there will be no glory for God in the church.
Remember – Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.- Remember what the Lord has done for them. Remember when they served the Lord out of a glad heart and wanted more than anything to do His will! Remember where they had fallen to and hold fast to live that Christ is once more breathing into them. They are to resolve before the Lord that they will not allow those things to die as well.
Repent – turn from the death they have been dwelling in to the life that God is calling them to – immediate action is required. No dilly dallying, prompt acknowledgement of the sin that has emptied their service of the Lord of any value.
When there is sin in the life of an individual, there must be repentance before there can be restoration and revival. The same is true for a church. When a church has allowed itself to be lulled into a state of slumber, their only hope is to repent!
What does it mean to repent? It means that we come to a place where we experience a change of mind about our sins that results in a change of direction. We turn from our sins and we turn toward God. Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action!
if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. the Lord Himself will come into their midst and take away the things that remain alive and that church will be totally and fully dead.
I gaze out upon this land and I churches that are in this state, refusing to listen, refusing to repent – continuing in their death throes. They function the same way they always have! They have services, preaching. But, they are dead! Merely going through the motions! There is no life in their midst. Jesus has pulled the plug and pronounced them dead! The Lord has written “Ichabod” over the door and no one is aware of it. The Glory has gone.
A Word of Comfort
You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. – only few! Who had led true, clean Christian lives – only a few, how sad is this – it’s not that they were sinless, but they strived to live Christ honouring lives. – they shall walk with me – a challenge to wake up!
they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. White is the symbol of holiness - these faithful lived in the grace of God, they grew in grace – kept it sound and clean.
Move on to v5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, - enveloped, the white garments shall be thrown around them – The Lord Himself will enfold or clothe them with perfect holiness.
Sardis didn’t suffer persecution as the other churches did – so what was it they had to overcome? There are other dangers to face than persecution that threaten our spiritual life directly – carelessness, indifference, laziness, forgetfulness in keeping and continuing in repentance and avoiding the ways of the world. – these are enemies that creep in unaware and wound us
There was but few in Sardis who stood against these things, to them is the Lord’s promise that they will walk with Him in white. They have lived out the truth in this world, and they can be confident that they will share His glory in that world.
I will not blot out his name out of the book of life The book of Life – an intriguing thought - a topic for another sermon – contrary to what some say this doe not imply that a Christian can lose his salvation, be blotted out – these are words of hope and assurance and security - It simply says to the one who is in the book and who conquers in faith: I will never wipe out your name. In other words, being erased is a fearful prospect which I will not allow to happen. I will keep you safe in the book. It does not say that those who fail to conquer and fall away from Christ were written in the book and got erased. If you belong to Christ, nothing can take you from Him! Rev.13:8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (see also Rev.17:8)
To have your name written in the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world guarantees that you will not worship or marvel at the beast. John does not say, “If you worship the beast, your name is erased.” He says, “If your name is written, you will not worship the beast.”
I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels” - Someday, Jesus will usher His redeemed ones into the presence of the hosts of Heaven and say, “This is one of Mine! He was not ashamed of me and I am not ashamed of him!”
There is always the danger that any church can die. I wonder what the Lord would say about this church and this people?