Sardis: A Lifeless Church (Rev. 3:1-6)

Publié le 8 août 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Samuel Niblack

As the proverb goes, « You have to start by putting your own house in order. » That is what Jesus does in this letter of Revelation. It’s true that this book will describe the final judgment, but his own churches are judged first. Jesus cannot be blamed for not putting his own house in order first.

And the fact that the book of Revelation begins this way shows that Jesus has built into his church a capacity for questioning, repentance, reformation, self-correction. It is true that the history of Christianity has not always been brilliant, but it is also true that the Church is not in constant decline.  On the contrary, it is the story of reforms, revivals, awakenings, of rediscovering the Bible, and the Gospel.  This is what this church in Sardis is called to live. 

1 The problem of Sardis

2 Jesus’ solution

3 Reasons to follow Jesus’ solution 

  1. The problem of Sardis

Revelation 3:1  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. You call yourself alive, but I call you dead. There is an appearance of religious life, of spiritual activity, but it is not authentic. The facade is pretty but the inside is empty. 

This is a danger that all churches face, especially as they get older and more established, as time goes by.  

Jesus continues to describe the problem in v2 : I have not found your works perfect (in French) (or complete) before my God. No human work is perfect. If the only way to serve Jesus is to do something perfectly, there is no hope for our church. Does he mean no false notes in the musicians, no glitches in the sound system, no errors in grammar or pronunciation in the preacher, no imperfections in the organization? Perfect – complete, whole. 

No, incomplete works are things we do that lack the motivation of faith and love. They lack sincerity. Lots of religious behavior and Christian activity can be fake, superficial. It’s when we do things to look good, to be seen by others. For Sardis, reputation and appearance was the most important thing. Some of us live the Christian life the same way: we want the outside to look good, but we wouldn‘t want our brothers and sisters to really know what is on the inside.  

Outwardly, Sardis was a faithful church, Jesus does not reproach this church with heretical doctrine, idolatrous practices, like some of the churches. But they managed to create a church culture where the reputation of being seen as good Christians was paramount. 

“We are a church with a beautiful building, beautiful steeple!” “We are a church with a great gospel choir!”, “We are a church with a large humanitarian/social ministry!”, “We are a church with an illustrious protestant heritage!” However, Jesus can look deeper, and he says, “But you are dead”.

  1. Jesus’ solution

v2; Be vigilant! Wake up! v3: If you do not watch, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come and surprise you. This call to spiritual vigilance fits well with a well-known story in Sardis’ history : 

King Cyrus with his army was besieging the city of Sardis, but the city of Sardis had managed to repel the assault, being well guarded and protected. A whole part of the city was protected by very steep rocks which made it easier to defend. Cyrus promised his soldiers a reward to the one who would find the way to climb the walls and enter. One day, one of his soldiers, Hyroeades, saw one of the defending soldiers near the cliffs who dropped his helmet and climbed down to get it, and then climbed back up. That gave Hyroeades the idea he could do the same, and so managed to pass through a place that the city of Sardis believed impregnable. 

So Jesus’ words to Sardes are especially significant.  The church in Sardis might have prided themselves in thinking : we are faithfully guarding against the blatant immorality and idolatry of the Nicolaitans, Balaam and Jezebel. We have the reputation of being a biblical church… but perhaps they forgot to defend against other threats, like pride and hypocrisy. They are asleep.

What are some signs that we are asleep, or that we have let down our guard? 

  • No more struggle against sin
  • No spiritual progress, little thirst for the Bible. 
  • Appearance has become more important than real communion with God, with brothers and sisters.
  • We function mainly by habit, tradition, routine
  • The truths of the gospel have become boring. 

Look at Jesus’ solution: Remember how you received and heard the word.  Jesus’s solution is to wake up to gospel truths, to come back to the Word. As Christians, how did we initially receive and hear the Word? When we first woke up to spiritual realities, we were amazed by the love of Jesus, the beauty of the cross. He died for me! He forgives me! It’s always a joy and privilege to walk with new believers, like those preparing for baptism, for example. They study the Bible every week with a group of people, they are ready to stand here in front of everyone and talk about Jesus, not for the sake of a reputation. Growing in Christian maturity is reliving and rediscovering those same things in new, fresh ways. 

III. Reasons to take the solution of Jesus

Jesus gives three encouragements, promises for those who strive to be spiritually awake, who pursue authentic, living faith, not just an appearance :

  • They will walk with me in white clothes.  
  • I will not erase his name from the book of life
  • I will confess his name before my Father and the angels.

All these images, these rewards revolve around the same idea: reputation. This was the great concern of Sardis, you give yourself the name of living. It was by focusing mainly on appearance that the church had fallen asleep and become spiritually lifeless. But Jesus offers more than just the appearance of life, he offers us justice.

White garments: For a church that puts a lot of emphasis on appearance, this is an amazing promise! You shall walk with me in white garments. Many think this refers to the fact that walking in a triumphal procession with white clothes was part of the honors the Romans gave to the victors. Everyone would like to be seen like that! In the Bible, white clothes are also symbolic of being covered by purity, justice, the victory of Christ. In Christ, I no longer need to pretend to be a good person. My reputation is already made, already successful in Christ. No more pressure to wear a mask, the spiritual facade. 

It is the same idea of the name. The word « name » comes up 4 times in this text: (you give yourself the name, you have a few names. I will not erase his name, confess his name). In those days, cities kept registers of citizens, if your name was written in the book, you had all the rights and honors due to your citizenship. That’s what Jesus offers eternally, in heaven.

Or again, he says, I will confess his name before the Father, before the angels. In front of the jury, in front of the heavenly court of opinion, Jesus himself defends our reputation; no need to make a name for yourself, no need to fake religious piety. How liberating!

May God awaken us to the reality that Jesus sees all, knows all, and yet loves us, covering us with his justice. Which means we can be honest with God, honest with ourselves, honest with others.