The Church in Sardis (Part 1)

Many years ago I read a story where a pastor placed a coffin in the front of his church near the pulpit. He was a new kid on the block and could not get through to his people. They came to church because they always did, as did their parents. So, with the coffin in the church, he left the lid open and placed a mirror where the corpse would be placed. His congregation never sat in the front pews of the church. This was a back chair congregation. So, the pastor advertised that on the next Sunday morning they would be having a funeral service. As usual the congregation sat at the back of the church. The coffin’s lid was open. After a few introductory matters the pastor invited the people to come to the front for a glimpse into the coffin. The congregation looked around and could not see anyone missing. To their knowledge no one in the community had died. They filed up the isle one by one reaching the coffin and looking inside. Each turned around in horror and with head hanging return to his or her pew. The coffin represents death and as they saw their faces in the mirror the message was clear. The sermon was preached. The lesson was taught. The heart was stabbed. They were spiritually dead … and this new pastor managed to shock these people into reality. They were spiritually dead! Many congregations are like this. They come to church because it’s expected. It is what happens every Sunday from 9am to 10.15am and then they go home. If their pastor had the courage … they too would be seeing their face in the mirror place in the coffin in the front of their church. Such a church has ceased to be church. Spiritually they are dead. Such a church is meaningless. How tragic! As you read through the letter to the pastor and his congregation at Sardis, that is the impression you get.

Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Sardis used to be the capital of the Lydian Kingdom reaching her pinnacle in the sixth century BC. She continued to flourish under the Persians, but then went into decline and into obscurity. An earthquake in AD 17 saw the Roman Emperor assist the city to rebuild and regain some of her lost prestige. It does seem as though the city’s history, glory and decline existed in this church. Did you see that as you read the very first verse? … You are dead. Sardis was built on a mountain which seemed impregnable yet on two occasions she was conquered … unaware of the enemy who captured her. The church lacked vigilance to the point where judgment was about to fall on her! She was dead! Sardis was a huge commercial center for wool products and boosted about her wool dyeing skills. Maybe the Lord Jesus took this into consideration when He spoke of the “few people” in the church who had not soiled their “clothes”, dressed in white and will never have their names “blotted” out of the Book of Life. The similarities between the city and the church, life and death, glory and decay are alarming.

1) Jesus presents Himself as omnipotent and powerful. These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The ‘seven spirits” here represent the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord Jesus sent to the Seven Churches in all fullness.

Jn 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit teaches and reminds. No church and no pastor can operate for the Lord Jesus without the enabling of the Holy Spirit. He teaches one to understand the Word of God that He authored and He reminds one of the Word and the Gospel and what God expects from His people.

Ac 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

One of the pastor and church’s main functions is evangelism. To do this they need enabling from the Holy Spirit. The “power” in this verse is exclusively for preaching the gospel and leading people into the portals of glory. It not only gives authority, it gives courage, wisdom and guts to stand for Jesus in all circumstances, braving the giants, enemies and especially the lost sinners. What is so glorious is that not only does Jesus “hold” the Seven Spirits (Holy Spirit), giving power and resources to the Churches … He holds the Churches (the seven stars). The Church, which is the people, belongs to Jesus. The Church is His and as He said, “He will build His Church” … so He makes it possible for the True Church to flourish. This does not mean the True Church is numerically strong … but she is definitely solid and secure in the hands of the Lord Jesus. I sincerely hope that if you are a pastor, a church leader, a spiritual worker or a member of the church you get this … the Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to His Church because He is concerned for the care and protection of His Church. Another important feature that we will consider is that like the city there was good and bad. The Church was spiritually dead, yet there were those in the Church who were spiritually alive. The Lord looks after His Church who are the people. Not all of the people in the Church are His people. Is it possible that you need to reflect upon whether you are in the invisible Church of Jesus or just the physical building?

Lord Jesus, Your love is what counts. Amen.

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