Wake up and watch out!

By Res Spears

Message delivered December 2, 2018 at Liberty Spring Christian Church

One of the benefits of being an only child is that I never had to compete with brothers or sisters for attention or for seconds at the dinner table or for anything, really.

Some people would say that the atmosphere tends to create spoiled children who grow up to be spoiled adults.

Whatever. They’re just jealous.

Anyway, since I never had to worry about brothers and sisters beating me to the presents on Christmas morning, I was never in a huge hurry to open them.

I wasn’t one of those kids shaking my parents awake at 4 a.m. so see what was under the Christmas tree. I knew they weren’t going to start without me, and that meant I could get a little more sleep. Usually on Christmas morning, like every other morning, someone was dragging me out of bed.

Some things never change.

I loved Christmas as much as the next spoiled American kid, and I had surely waited with great hope and anticipation for the time of opening presents, but that anticipation did not grip me hard enough to cause a change in my routine.

In some ways, I think that’s a picture of the woman in the skit we just watched. The lyrics of this song speak of Jesus calling the church to wake up and see what’s happening around it, to see the need of those around it and to respond.

But the sad fact is that the church — represented in our skit by the woman in her rocking chair — sometimes seems too comfortable in its slumber to be bothered, even when the Kingdom of God presents itself at her very door.

Sometimes we’re so busy waiting on Jesus to return that we miss Him standing at our very door wearing the tattered rags of the homeless, carrying the empty plate of poverty or walking with the weary gait of a refugee.

We hear Jesus make this very point in Matthew 25, when He describes the scene at the foot of the throne of judgment, where He will separate the sheep from the goats.

The righteous who cared for “the least of these” in His name will inherit the kingdom of Heaven, he says, but for the goats — those whose lack of works is evidence of a sham faith, the end is a terrible one.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;

Matthew 25:41

for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

Matthew 25:42-43

“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’

Matthew 25:44

And here’s the key verse in this passage:

“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Matthew 25:45

As we serve “the least of these” in the name of Jesus, we serve Him. And as we turn away from them, we turn away from Him.

James tells us that faith without works is dead faith, and that’s the situation at the church that we’re studying today in Christ’s letters to the churches.

Turn with me to Revelation, Chapter 3, and we’ll take a look today at the church in Sardis. The New King James Version refers to this as “The Dead Church” in the section header at the beginning of this passage.

Now understand that section headers, like chapter and verse divisions, are not inspired by God. They’re just the version editors’ additions to make the text more accessible. But in this case, I think the heading is an accurate reading of this church’s problem. In fact, we see that Jesus Himself describes the church that way.

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

Revelation 3:1

This church had a fine reputation in the community — it had a great name — but Jesus knows its heart. It’s a dead church.

In fact, we see in verse two that even the things that are alive in this church were nearly dead:

‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.

Rev. 3:2

This verse also gives us a clue about what Jesus means when He says the church is dead.

The evidence He gives is that the church’s deeds are not completed; they have not fulfilled the deeds they should have been doing as those who have been saved by grace.

Here’s what Warren Wiersbe says about them:

“The unsaved in Sardis saw the church as a respectable group of people who were neither dangerous nor desirable. They were decent people with a dying witness and a decaying ministry.”[1]

They looked healthy on the outside, but inside there was sickness and death.

Compare this to what Jesus said in the book of Matthew about the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:27-28

Now, Sardis was a very wealthy place. It was located at the intersection of five major roads and was therefore a major place of trade in this part of Asia Minor.

There was even a stream that carried gold running through its marketplace.

These folks were very comfortable.

In fact, we don’t see any reference in this letter to either persecution or false teachers.

‘Content with mediocrity, lacking both the enthusiasm to entertain a heresy and the depth of conviction which provokes intolerance, it was too innocuous to be worth persecuting.’[2]

In fact, I think there’s a reasonable case to be made in light of what James wrote about faith being demonstrated in works that the dead in this church were the many who were still dead in their trespasses, those who, perhaps, had made an emotional commitment to Christ without really giving their hearts to him.

There’s a word for people like that: LOST.

Now, those of you who were here last week heard me give one of my most evangelically based sermons yet.

I was not certain why God led me to do that on communion Sunday, but as I read this passage again this week, two things occurred to me.

First, I think it’s very likely that every person in the congregation here last week — and perhaps every person here today — would call himself or herself a Christian.

Most of you grew up in church — many of you in THIS church. I think it would be a safe bet that everyone here has made a profession of faith at some point.

But here is the second thing that came to mind as I re-read this passage: It would be almost as safe a bet that there is someone here (and maybe a few people) whose confessions of faith were simply emotional reactions to some message of eternal damnation.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Eternal damnation — eternity in hell, separated from God — is the very real and terrifying end for those who die in their sins.

But real sanctification, real regeneration, real salvation comes from something greater than our emotions. And it surely isn’t the result of some sort of cultural Christianity that we inherit by virtue of being raised in the Bible Belt.

Real salvation comes when we recognize that we are sinners without hope apart from Jesus Christ. Real salvation comes when we confess that our sins make us unworthy to stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God, that they earn us the penalty of hell, and when we cry out to Jesus, who paid that penalty for us on the cross. Real salvation comes when we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus.

When we repent of our sins and turn ourselves over to Jesus as our Lord, our Savior, our Master, then we are saved.

One of the lessons from Sardis is that simply being part of a church — that simply calling ourselves Christians —doesn’t make us alive in Christ.

Nominal Christians are not among the sheep who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. They are among the goats, the “accursed ones” who will be sent into the eternal fires of hell. Their names will not appear in the Book of Life that Jesus refers to in Verse 5.

These nominal Christians in Sardis had received the message of the Gospel — they had heard it — but they still needed to repent. They needed to wake up.

‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

Revelation 3:3

This verse should remind us of Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins from Matthew 25. They all went out to meet the bridegroom, but only five of them took oil for their lamps with them.

They all fell asleep, and when the bridegroom appeared at midnight and called them out to him, only the five who were prepared were ready and were invited in to join the wedding feast.

We do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, so we cannot afford to put off answering the question that Jesus asked Peter: “But who do YOU say that I am?”

But this verse also speaks to those of the true church, those who have taken hold of the salvation that Jesus offers from the cross.

We who follow Jesus Christ cannot allow ourselves to be comfortable in our salvation, asleep to the suffering of those whom Jesus loves.

Sardis was located at the top of a steep hill, and the city’s leaders had thought it unconquerable.

But two different times in its history, the city had been attacked and overrun. Both times, the invaders had scaled the hill and found that the city leaders had not even set a guard. They were asleep at the wheel, lazy and negligent in regards to the responsibility they had to their city.

Here is Warren Wiersbe again: “The warning here is that we not grow comfortable in our churches, lest we find ourselves slowly dying.”[3]

Now, I’ve done some research on the attendance at this church, and Wiersbe’s comment here frightens me, considering what I found.

There was a time when this sanctuary would have been full — or almost full.

We can all point to a lot of reasons why it’s not full today, but I wonder how much of it has to do with our having become too comfortable here. I wonder if Liberty Spring Christian Church might have been like I was on Christmas morning as a child — I saw no reason to hurry down to the tree, so I just pulled up the covers and turned over to get a little more sleep.

In light of Christ’s statement that he will come like a thief, we should be very concerned if we’re a sleeping church.

But there is a word of encouragement:

‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

Revelation 3:4

Even in Sardis, there was a remnant of true Jesus followers who sought after God. They would not only walk with Jesus in heaven, they would also strengthen the things that remained in their church.

And it seems to have worked out just that way in Sardis — at least for a while.

According to historians writing about the early church, a man named Melito was bishop of Sardis in the second century and was known for his piety and learning, suggesting that this text, given to John at least 100 years earlier, had been effective as a warning to Sardis.

Sadly, though, the church is no longer there.

In fact, Sardis is now known as Sart, and it consists of a small village with a few huts and some of the most beautiful archeological remains around. In fact, archeologists have unearthed the remains of the building where the church met.

The church at Sardis exists today only as architectural archeology.

I can think of nothing sadder.

This church was just what its community wanted, and now the community and church are both gone. Archeologists say the church was not in use after the 7th century AD. All that’s left of it are the bones of the structure where it met.

We are not called to be the church that our culture wants us to be. What our culture wants is for us to meet here once a week or so, to pray and sing and get all this God-stuff out of our systems so we can then go to work or to the gym or wherever we go on Monday and look just like the rest of the culture.

But Jesus calls us to do something radically different. Jesus calls us to do things that our culture would consider crazy — things that might even cause folks to get riled up at us.

  • Things like serving immigrants — legal or illegal.
  • Things like ministering to prisoners.
  • Things like inviting exotic dancers to come and join the women’s fellowship, where they can be loved and taught about the Jesus who showed tenderness to the woman caught in adultery.
  • Things like setting aside our right to be angry and offended at the slights we have experienced in order to show the grace and mercy we have been given in Jesus Christ.

Do you want a life application from this message? There’s four of them right there.

Your works will not save you, but your faith is dead if it doesn’t manifest itself in works.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

James 2:14

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

James 2:15-16

Our Christian-y words to those who are hurting are worthless. It is our actions that will help them, and it is our actions that prove our faith.

I told you all when I started here that I intended to make you uncomfortable. And I hope that’s what I’m doing right now.

Because a comfortable church is in dangerous territory.

That’s the lesson of this comfortable church in Sardis.

One hundred years from now, we will all be gone. The question we have to answer as a church is whether we will be content for this building to be a beautiful archeological treasure or if we want it to still be a place where the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed.

Wake up, church! Wake up. Don’t make me drag you out of the bed.

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 577.

[2] (Caird). (Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 79.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 578.

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