An Awakened Community
The letter is making its way around Asia. We now come to Sardis. Sardis itself, at one point was a city of great significance, but its glory was in its past. In the sixth century it was the capital city of the Lydian Kingdom and later would become the center of Persian government. It was a city built on a mountain cliff and was impenetrable. “Capturing Sardis” became a Greek saying for accomplishing the impossible. The city was very secure and very prosperous. However, two times in the cities history, intruders had scaled the cliffs and captured the city during a lapse of attentiveness by the watchmen of the city. That history is going to play into the words that Jesus speaks to them.
The condition of the Church: Reputation exceeded reality. The story of the city was being played out in the Church, a church with a glorious past that had become very inconsequential. They were going through motions but were lifeless and had no impact. Dead on the inside. 2Tim 3:5 appearance of godliness but denied its power; Is 29.13 “And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,” Illus: Wedding Vows and Honeymoon. The Church of Sardis and Jesus’ words to it are the most disturbing for me because it asks me, “Where is your heart?” Not, what do I profess with my lips; but, what do I prove with my life? Is my heart close to Jesus or far from Jesus? Jesus is asking these people to take their pulse and see that they have lost their spiritual vitality and attentiveness. They have fallen asleep. They are sleepwalking, going through motions without reality. Illus: Spiritual Inventory A life that is marked by religious activity without true substance and vitality is an inconsequential life. This Church never faces persecution, never experiences spiritual attack, never sees great numbers of people come to faith in Jesus and join His movement. It brings nothing to the city. It is at ease; it is asleep.
The Call to the Church: Wake Up. Jesus says, you are sleepwalkers, going through motions but not really awake to God. Wake Up! Literally, “show yourselves to be watchful, attentive.” Snap out of this spiritual slumber. Arouse yourself to the life that God is calling you to. Realize there is more to this life of faith that what you are currently experiencing. The Warning and Promise: If they don’t wake up, He will come against them and bring judgment upon them. Wake up or I will come and overtake you and wake you up. If we refuse to arouse ourselves from this spiritual slumber, he will. But there is a promise. If you overcome this spiritual slumber and live awakened, you have great assurance of your salvation. He promises you will wear white (you will celebrate in His victory); you will not have name blotted out from the book of life. This is a reference to city rolls that had the names of citizens recorded in them. If a citizen was guilty of a crime, that citizen could be deleted from the city rolls, blotted out. This is a promise of eternal life, of belonging to God’s Kingdom forever. KEY: we do not gain salvation with our works, but we do gain assurance with our works. When we live alive to God, with spiritual vitality and hearts that are close to him, we know that we are not a fake. Our hearts truly belong to Jesus. We are moving toward him and authentically living for him. We have assurance that we are indeed awake. If we don’t live awake to God with vibrant devotion to Jesus, we cannot be assured of eternal life. We are NOT saved by works; we are assured by them. Assurance of our salvation comes from the fruit of our lives. So, we are commanded to wake up. How do we wake up?
Plead for Jesus to pour out his Spirit on you. Jesus’ experience of the Spirit (conceived, anointed, empowered, raised) Jesus has the Spirit. The Church was dead; The Spirit gives life. Jesus pours out the Spirit upon his Church (Acts 1 and 2). That is not a one-time pouring. He longs to give us greater experiences of His Spirit, bringing new life and new power to us. When the Spirit comes upon his people, their love for Jesus is renewed, their passion to glorify Jesus with their lives is renewed, their appetite for holiness and the things of God is awakened; they experience a new boldness and giftings and power to love and serve and live on mission. Are you experiencing the Spirit in tangible ways in your life? If the Spirit were to leave your life for a day, would you miss His presence? When Jesus addresses the Churches in Revelation, He introduces himself as the one who was dead but lives. Jesus conquered death and can give life to what is dead. It is his life giving spirit, the same spirit that raised him from the dead that can raise us from the dead. He has the fullness of the Spirit, and he pours the Spirit out upon his people to awaken and revive them.
Repent of all known sin in your life. Persistent and unconfessed sin hinders our fellowship with God (Ps 66:18 – if I cherished sin in my heart…). It quenches the fire of His HS in our hearts and robs us of spiritual vitality. We need to pray with the Psalmists, (139.23-24) “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24) And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” If you want to get to a better place with God, start with repentance. We have to submit to the process of allowing God to examine us, to hold our lives up to Jesus’ life and acknowledge where we have failed to be like Him. And repent. Application: What is the one thing the Holy Spirit is putting his finger on in your life right now and saying, “That has to go. If you want to know more of my presence in your life, you have to make room for it by removing that thing.” Name it before Him and forsake it. Be specific. And where you have sinned against others, confess your sins to them and seek their forgiveness. Jesus says to the Church, Repent.
Rejoice in the Gospel. Remember what you have received. What has been received is the Gospel. Remember that Jesus has been crucified for you; that you were under the wrath of God because of your sin and rebellion. But He has sent Jesus to shelter you from His wrath. Jesus who alone possesses perfect righteousness has died for the unrighteous. He has fully satisfied the Father’s wrath against your sin so that you might be forgiven of all guilt and be adopted as a son or daughter. The Gospel is Imputation: your sin imputed to him; his righteousness imputed to you received by faith. Acknowledging our sin without the hope of the Gospel would not be life, only death. Pleading guilty without the hope of pardon does not bring liberty and joy, only fear. The Gospel says you are pardoned. Your confession is met with forgiveness and renewed intimacy with God.
Arise my soul Arise by Charles Wesley
Arise, my soul, arise; Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice, In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands, My name is written on His hands.
Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, oh, forgive,” they cry, “Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
To God I’m reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh, And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.
Application: Focus on the familiar. If you are a Christian but feel far from God and don’t sense his presence and working in your life; you don’t hear his voice. You don’t need something new; you need to be thrilled by the familiar. Radical Attention to the Familiar. Meditate on the simple Gospel. Open your bible and read the verses you have highlighted, that have stirred your affections in the past. Start with the familiar and ask God to warm your heart with what you have. Remember what you received. My story: Heart warmed by God’s election and adoption of me; Keith Green.
Commit to Complete Obedience. Sardis is rebuked because their works were incomplete before God. They were writing checks with their mouths their bodies weren’t cashing. They had good intentions but little action. He says, remember what you received and keep it. The verb means to observe something diligently, to pay attention, to persist in obedience. Jesus calls them to complete obedience, full surrender to his ways. Jesus is saying, I want you to wake up and be vigilant to obeying my words wholeheartedly. Jesus does not want selective obedience, but complete obedience; to give ourselves fully to his desires for us.
What would happen if we as a community gave ourselves to this? AW Tozer, “Revival: No limit to what God can do.” In that article he wrote:
There is no limit to what God could do in our world if we would dare to surrender before Him with a commitment like this: “Oh God, I hereby give myself to You. I give my family. I give my business. I give all I possess. Take all of it, Lord-and take me! I give myself in such measure that if it is necessary that I lose everything for your sake, let me lose it. I will not ask what the price is. I will ask only that I may be all that I ought to be as a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.” If even 300 of God's people became that serious, our world would never hear the last of it!