Sermon # 1217 Series: Revelation
Title: Christ’s Letter To The Church At Sardis
Text: Revelation 3:1-6
Reading: Psalm 27:1-14
Subject: Spiritual deadness in the church
Date: Sunday Morning - January 14, 1996
Tape # S-13
In ancient times Sardis was the capital of Lydia. Its people were proud, arrogant, over-confident. It was a relatively small city, but it was rich and strong, situated on what was thought to be an inaccessible hill, and protected by what was thought to be an impregnable fortress. But it had one unobserved, unguarded weak point, a small crack in the rock wall that surrounded the city. One night, in an unsuspecting hour, the enemy came as a thief in the night, and Sardis was conquered. Later the city was partially destroyed by an earthquake. And by the time John wrote the Book of Revelation, Sardis was in decay, experiencing a slow but sure death.
The condition of the city was a vivid picture of the spiritual condition of the church in Sardis - proud, but decaying. The church at Sardis was proud, arrogant, over-confident. The enemy had come, and by degrees had silently destroyed the life of this once magnificent church. The church existed in peace. Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles bothered the church at Sardis, because the church at Sardis did not bother them. There was no persecution in Sardis. The church enjoyed great peace. But it was the peace of a cemetery. The church was dead. Here our Lord calls for Sardis to remember the past, and recall their former vitality, faith, obedience, and zeal. And he calls for them to return, to strengthen the things that remain, to hold fast that which they had, and to repent. If they refused, he would come upon them as a thief in the night to destroy them.
How descriptive this letter is of the condition of Christ’s church at the hour! In general, the church of Christ appears to be in a state of decay. But remember, this letter is not just addressed to the church in general. It is addressed specifically to each local church. Its message is to us. May God give us the wisdom to apply it directly to our own hearts as individuals as well. The epistle to Sardis is a letter of reproof and warning. Let it be read with weeping eyes and received with broken hearts. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Spiritual decay is the forerunner of spiritual death, total apostasy, and eternal ruin.
I am going to present the message of this letter to you under four points:
1. A prevailing reproach
2. A plain recommendation
3. A precious remnant
4. A promised reward
I. Our Lord rebukes us and lays at our door the charge of a prevailing reproach.
The corruption at Sardis was a general corruption. In Pergamos a few of the congregation had followed the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. In Thyatira a few had followed Jezebel. But in Sardis the congregation as a whole was corrupt, and only a few were faithful.
The church was sinking into a spiritual stupor. Therefore, Christ describes himself as “He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.” He is able to revive the dead church. He has the Spirit of life and he can cause the angel of the church to preach the gospel with renewed power and fervency.
The reproach of this church was fourfold. Christ charges them with four faults.
A. The first charge is this: They had a name that they lived, but they were dead (v. 1).
Sardis had a good reputation. They were admired and applauded by many. But it was a reputation which they did not deserve. “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” They were big on profession, but little in possession. They were long in ceremony, but short in commitment. They were precise in doctrine, but negligent in devotion. They had great activity, but little worship. Shall I be thought harsh and uncharitable if I say, “This is the deplorable condition of the church today?” I travel almost every week up and down the country, preaching somewhere almost every night. And if I were to describe the condition of the churches I preach in honestly, I would have to use these words - “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” And these are the best of churches, the most orthodox, the most well-grounded, well-disciplined, and well-instructed churches in the country. God have mercy upon us, when it must be said of these churches, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead!” We have a form of godliness. But where is the power?
I seldom ever meet a man who is not religious, who does not profess to be a Christian; but I seldom ever meet a man who is committed to Christ! By-in-large, even in our churches, I see nothing but deadness.
· Our meetings are poorly attended.
· The Word of God is seldom studied, or even read.
· Prayer is seldom heard.
· Our religion is a convenience.
· “Ichabod” might be written on the doors of most of our church buildings.
B. The next charge against Sardis is this: They were negligent in the most important matters (v. 2).
Sardis should have been a lighthouse. It should have been a beacon. It should have been a pillar and ground of the truth. But they failed in the most important matters. And those things that remained were ready to die.
Like the others, this letter was addressed first and foremost to the pastor, the angel of the church. And usually, not always, but usually, the church is but a reflection of her pastor. The pulpit is the greatest strength, or the greatest weakness in the church. And here the pastor was negligent, the elders were negligent, the deacons were negligent, and the people were negligent. No one was watchful for the faith, earnestly contending for it, wrestling against the wicked one, laboring for the souls of men, and laboring for the spread of the gospel. Christ saw in this church nothing but slothfulness, coldness, lethargy, and death. Is it not so today?
· Where are those men who have hazarded their lives for the gospel?
· Where is the man who counts not his life dear unto himself, so that he may finish his course with joy?
· Where is the man whose heart burns with zeal for Christ?
1. Truth had fallen in the streets, but Sardis did not care.
2. Chrsit’s lambs were starving for lack of bread, but Sardis did not care.
C. The third charge against Sardis is this: They were formalists, ritualists, ceremonialists, and no more.
They had many works, but Christ says, “I have not found thy works perfect before God.” The forms were there. The religious customs were there. The ceremonies were kept up. The religious traditions were maintained. The services were there. But the essence was lacking! There was no genuine, sincere love, faith, and hope. There was lots of activity, but no faith, lots of parade but no power. In the sight of other people Sardis was a splendid, prosperous church, but in the eyes of Christ it was an empty corpse.
D. The fourth charge against Sardis was this: They were careless about the things they had heard.
The Lord called for them to “Remember how they had received and heard” the gospel (v. 3). If I am wrong about other things, I am sure that the evil of the church in this age is impurity of doctrine and laxity with regard to the truth of God. Today, we are expected to accept any religion as long as it is sincere. We are supposed to believe that everyone is right, no matter what they believe. And if one dares to assert that there is a real difference between the truth of God and the lies of hell, he is branded a bigot, a fanatic, a narrow minded, hard hearted instigator of strife. My friend, there can be no alliance between truth and error.
· Those who preach divine sovereignty and those who deny it are not brethren.
· Those who preach electing love and those who denounce it are not companions.
· Those who preach effectual redemption and those who despise it are not friends.
· Those who preach salvation by grace and those who preach salvation by works are not children of the same household and the same family.
II. Secondly, in order for Sardis to recover from her terrible condition, our Lord gives a plain recommendation.
- “Be watchful” - Over your own souls.
- “Strengthen the things that remain” - The people of God.
- “Remember” - The past.
- “Hold fast” - The truth (Jer. 6:16).
- “Repent_ - Turn to Christ.
“If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” - Apostasy will bring judgment!
· Isaiah 63:9-10
III. But then, our Lord graciously calls our attention to a precious remnant.
“Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments.” Blessed be God, there is always a remnant according to the election of grace!
A. They were a few.
B. But they were known of God.
C. They had not defiled their garments...
· By departing from Christ.
· By licentious behavior.
· By embracing false doctrine.
IV. Fourthly, to those few who persevere in the faith of the gospel, Christ gives a promised reward (vv. 4-5).
A. “They shall walk with me in white.”
- Joy (Eccles. 9:7-8).
B. “For they are worthy” - Made worthy by grace (Col. 1:12)
C. Those who persevere and overcome at the last shall live forever (v. 5).
- “They shall be clothed in white raiment.”
- “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.”
- “I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.”
Here is a point of examination.
· Are you among the many who have a name to live but are dead? (Rom. 13:11)
· Are you among the few who have not defiled their garments? (II Tim. 1:13)
· Are you yet without Christ? (Isa. 55:6)
 Also preached Sunday evening, October 26, 1986