AGCC Sun. a.m. 11/3/91
#5 (Book of Revelation Series-Addition messages on the 7 Churches)
TEXT: Rev. 3:1-6
INTRO: Leonardo Da Vinci painted the masterpiece, "THE LAST SUPPER". He sought long for one to model for Christ. From one of the churches in Rome, he located a chorister with lovely features; a man who he thought was the perfect picture of Jesus, the young man's name was PIETRO BANDINELLI.
After many years the painting was still unfinished. All the disciples had been portrayed except one; Judas. A beggar from the streets of Rome was brought in, he had a face so villainous that one shuttered when one saw him. Leonardo felt he would be perfect to represent Judas. After completing the painting, before dismissing the villainous bum, Da Vinci asked the beggar his name ... to everyone's shock the beggar responded, "My name is PIETRO BANDINELLI!"
What had happened in the intervening years? This man had experienced a slow spiritual death, from a faithful churchman to a gutter bum. The degrading power of sin had gradually taken its toll, from the likeness of Jesus to that of Judas!
TRANS. SENT: Our commitment to God's Word and His ways must be a continual process, even repetitious if we are to avoid the gradual effects and erosion of sin in our lives. We cannot afford to be off guard for a moment, lest sin's influence begins to erode our perception of sin. It can happen to anyone spiritually sleeping, this is the story of the Church in SARDIS!
PROP. SENT: This text will teach us that we must be always awake and on guard against an ungodly culture slowly wearing away our vigilance against sin, even the most faithful saint can slowly lose their sensitivity to sin if they fail to keep a clear understanding of righteousness.
I. NAME OF THE CHURCH 3:1
A. False Security 3:la
1. Sardis (name may mean "Remnant" ) was a horribly ungodly and immoral city!
a. The city boasted of its city goddess Cybele, a mother goddess that included some of the most immoral and perverted practices, many can't even be mentioned without great embarrassment!
b. A large temple dedicated to Artemis (Diana) was also found in the area. Ironically, recent archeological digs have discovered that the CHURCH in Sardis was built adjacent to this Temple! Their Church building then abutted the Temple to Artemis ... wonder how the constant displays of orgies and immorality that was practiced at the temple influenced this Church?
c. Sardis was built on a steep hill, making the city almost impregnable. So secure was the feeling of its citizens that they often were lax in placing guards around the town, they didn't believe it was possible for any enemy to overtake them!
(1. ironically however their history records at least 2 major invasions that were successful, all because of their failure to place guards around the city, their security was really a false security!
(2. Their great sense of security had created a mentality of looseness, their efforts were spent on pleasures rather than on safety.
d. It was a very wealthy city, much gold & silver was discovered here, in fact they were the first city to mint gold and silver coins.
e. The industries of the city were textiles, especially white clothe used for the temple participants! Worshipping at the temples included the necessary white garment, if it was soiled you were expelled from the Temple and excluded from any participation in the pagan rites!
f. The steep hilly area was a famous hangout for thieves, helps to explain Jesus' warning about "coming as a thief" (not a reference to 2nd coming here.)
g. One telling sign on how bad the Church had gotten was the fact that there was no sign of persecution of this Church by any parties within Sardis! (While most of the other 6 Churches mentioned were experiencing tough times from the local citizens the Church in Sardis seems to have no persecution from any source ... a good indication that they were not oppos-ing the local immorality)
2. it seems the carefree attitude and the false sense of security of the citizens had also invaded the Church, they were concerned with having a "good time"
3. It is also quite possible that the Church was living off the "reputation" of the previous godly generation, but were not engaging the issues now in its own day, "… you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead!"
a. This Church had a powerful reputation among the other Churches ...
b. but its present membership was nothing like the previous generation!
4. The same "false security" of the city now existed in the Church, they had let their guard down!
B. False Spirituality 3: lb
1. Their "deeds" were pathetic, ungodly! They were DEAD!
a. This was God's description, not man's!
b. They had gradually lost their way through a generation.
c. Their forefathers, the founders of the Church, had created a reputation of real godliness but now godlessness was ruling!
2. They fully expected God's blessings to rest on them on the basis of reputation, not on righteous living!
3. Like many people today in Churches across America, they thought they will get to heaven on the reputation of a godly parent or godly leader.
a. There are those today who think this way too, they get baptized and associate with a denomination noted for being Christian and thinks this will get them to heaven …
b. But the reality of their own experience is void of any serious commitment to a Christian lifestyle!
c. The appearance of being a Christian isn't the same as being one!
ILLUS:Several years ago the FBI was sent into a town to investigate the work of what appeared to be a sharpshooter on the loose in this town. They were amazed to find all over town many bull's eyes drawn around town, with bullets that had penetrated the exact center of each target! When they finally found the "Sharpshooter" they asked him about the technique he used to attain such accuracy. The answer was simple, he said, "I shoot the bullet first, then draw the bull's eye later"! He had the appearance of being a sharpshooter but not the skills of one!
4. The Church in Sardis was living a false spirituality, reputation instead of righteousness.
a. they had gradually decayed through the years.
b. like aging, it had happened so gradually that they were unaware of how far they had declined!
II. NEED OF THE CHURCH 3:2-3
A. Faithless Sleepers! 3:2
1. They had so relaxed themselves spiritually they were asleep!!
a. so the first words of correction from Jesus is in the imperative: "WAKE UP!"
b. The easy way out had made them lazy & sleepy, they needed to be startled awake!
ILLUS:For many days an old farmer had been plowing with an ox & mule together, working them quite hard! Back in the barn that night the ox said to the mule, "Let's play sick tomorrow and so get a day of rest in!" The old mule replied however, "No, we need to get the work done, the season is short." The next morning the farmer came to get the pair but the ox played sick, so the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable, then left with the mule to do the work. That night when the mule returned the ox asked him, "how did it go?" "We didn't get much done with just me ... I am exhausted and so was the farmer." The ox then asked, "Did the farmer say anything about me?" "Nothing" said the mule.
The next day the ox decided he had a good thing going and so he played sick again. Sure enough the farmer catered to him and took the mule out again for a workout! Again that night when the mule returned exhausted the ox asked him, "How did it go today?" "o.k." said the mule, "we still aren't getting much done, but some." The ox then asked, "Did the farmer say anything about me today?" "Nothing to me" said the mule, "But he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher." WAKE UP!
2. These Christians needed a good shake-up! Very little good was still going on in the Church ... they had become inactive in ministry, going only through the motions!
ILLUS:The story is told about Oliver Cromwell, who when faced with a shortage of precious metal for coins, sent his troops out to find some. They returned and reported that the only precious metal to be found was in the statues of saints standing in the corners of churches. Cromwell responded, "Well, melt down the saints and put them in circulation!"
3. The expression in this verse, "l have not found your deeds complete..." in the Greek means "NOT FULFILLED"... they didn't finish what they started ... possibly they were good at coming up with ideas but didn't carry them out.
a. Like many Christians today, they might complain about this or that in the Church but are themselves unwilling to do anything about those issues or needs!
b. It is not enough to perceive truth ... it must also be practiced!
c. they really needed to WAKE UP!
B. False Safety 3:3
1. Like the city itself the Church failed to remember past invasions of enemies and so thought it was invincible, this Church needed to remember their past and repeat it!
2. In a reference they might understand, Jesus warns them that if they persist in believing that they are so safe that they take no precautions against thieves ... He Himself will descend upon them: "I will come like a thief!"
a. this is not a reference to the 2nd coming analogy used elsewhere ...
b. it was a warning of judgment to come upon them suddenly if they failed to repent, to change their ways, and soon!
c. The city's failure to place guards due to their feelings of invincibility had allowed for the many thieves who hid in the hills to plunder houses from time to time.
3. Just because their Church had been founded by godly men did not mean that they would not be dealt with by God, they were nothing like their fathers!
4. They needed to wake up!
ILLUS:The rugged New England individualist Henry Thoreau once went to jail rather than pay the poll tax to a state that supported slavery. Thoreau's good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson hurried to visit him in jail, and peering through the bars at Henry he said, "Why, Henry, what are you doing in there." The quick witted Thoreau replied, "Nay Ralph, the question is, What are you doing out there!"?
III. NOTICE OF THE COMMITTED 3:4-6
A. Faithful Service 3:4
1. "There are a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes..."
a. obviously a reference to the common practice of forbidding entrance to one of the local temples by anyone who tried to enter with soiled garments on!
b. If the local pagan temples excluded anyone with soiled white garments ... how much more the REAL God would exclude those who tried to enter with FILTHY RAGS OF SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS!
c. The emphasis here was not the concept of "Justification" but the responsibility of the believer to take the necessary steps to keep clean! The human factor in Sanctification!
2. It is a sad testimony that there were but a "few" left in the Church that had not soiled their walk with God!
a. This Church was the opposite of most of the others ... in the others God warns of going the wrong way by an emerging minority within those Churches, here however, the minority was the godly group!
b. This was a sad commentary on how far from their reputation they had drifted!
3. For those faithful the promise is of white garments and the privilege of walking with God, His presence in their daily walk!
4. There were some in this Church that had refused to walk the EASY path and were willing to stay on course no matter what!
ILLUS:A mission society once wrote the famous and great missionairy David Livingstone: "Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you." Livingstone wrote back, "If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don't want them! I want men who will come if there is no road AT ALL!"
5. Unfortunately ... there are too few willing to respond to this kind of challenge anymore! Yet a few existed in the Church in Sardis who were men & women of God
a. I wonder how God would view our Church today!?
b. Would the godly in our Church be the exception or the rule?
c. Are we satisfied living off the reputation of the early years of our Church?
d. ARE we willing to have the same self-sacrificing courage & vision to reach out now? We are certainly more comfortable now than in the beginning, but are we as much committed?
B. Fellowship Secured! 3:5-6
1. To those who accept the challenge to live out their reputation God promises 2 things:
a. "dressed in white" -- acceptance by God in HIS Temple!
b. "to never have blotted out their name in the book of life"
2. This second promise is interesting: Is it possible that all men & women are listed in the book of life and are only blotted out if they fail to respond to Christ's invitation instead of the way we have commonly thought this out ... that of being written in when we believe?
a. Perhaps this sheds light on the statement in Scripture: "Christ is not willing that any should perish ..."
b. that the sacrifice of Jesus was really for all ... but failure to respond then forces their name to be blotted out!
3. Whatever, the promise is REAL SECURITY: to never be blotted out!
4. Our name will be acknowledged by Jesus to the Father for those who are faithful!
5. For those who were living off false security this was a real promise of real security!
It is not known whether this Church responded or not: Historically this Church in Sardis existed until around 1402 when the old city was completely destroyed. The Church however was never very prominent within this city as far as we know.
CONCLUSION: It is never good enough for any Church to exist off the past reputation of men and women of God! A Church must ever keep its vision clear, and its commitment hot! We cannot be God's Church vicariously through the faith and godliness of others! We need a present experience ... and a present commitment to be a present witness!