Let's turn to Revelation chapter three this morning. We've made it to the third chapter and we're at the fifth letter that Jesus writes to the seven churches. When we first started on Sunday mornings, we had church services in a local theatre which was interesting. We moved from there to a small building which became later on a paramilitary store. Then we moved to a strip mall down the street, I think it was a grocery store. Then we moved into this sports arena, it was a soccer field and tennis courts before that in here and we've always had interesting remarks because of the places that we've met. When I was a brand-new believer, one of the places that we met I will never forget was a mortuary. And we met there for obvious reasons. Sunday morning it wasn't being used so we rented the chapel out for church services. We'd set up a PA system, put microphones in, pulpit, have the band set up and we'd just go to town. And we used to say, you know for a dead place, this place comes alive on Sunday morning. And of course being in a mortuary lends itself to all sorts of jokes that went around. We'd say, people are just dying to get to this church and it's a grave situation on Sunday mornings and things like that. But it really did come alive. We had great times of praise and worship in a mortuary. There were others, however, who were in that mortuary in the back rooms. They were the temporary residents. They were being prepared for burial. They were also there, but they, of course, didn't join in the worship services. They couldn't. They had no capacity. No form of stimulation at all would make any difference. They were totally insensate to what was going on. They could not be involved.
A few years ago, a movie came out, it's sort of become a classic of modern times. It's a fairy tale made into a modern movie. It's called The Princess Bride. It's about a hero, the good guy against the bad guys, and the girl that he gets at the end. But there's a place in the movie where the hero is captured and is tortured and is presumed dead. And so his two friends take him to Miracle Max and they bring his body and they lay it on the table and say, you've got to help our friend, he's dead! And Max looks at him and says, he's not dead, he's mostly dead. And they said, what do you mean? He said, there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. And he gets revived. The church at Sardis, beginning in chapter three verse one through six, was a church that on one hand was dead, and the divine coroner Jesus Christ pronounces it so. But there were still some among that group that were not all dead, they were mostly dead. They have a chance for revival. A miracle could happen. But for the most part, this church was a morgue with a steeple. People gathered, people sang, people knew Scripture, people read Scripture, people had all sorts of activities, spiritually they were flat-liners as they just went through the motions.
As we said, it's the fifth of the seven churches. The postman, if he would have gone in order, would have made an oval in Asia Minor. That's sort of like a capital D--you'd go up in a straight line and then make sort of a curve and you would make your circuit to the seven churches. As we've said, they're seven local churches with seven real conditions. But we also know that seven is a number often used in Revelation, it is not the number of perfection, it is the number of completion. Even as there are seven notes on a scale, seven days in a week, seven colors in the spectrum, seven represents completion. So we have a complete, or composite, picture of the church. Number one, throughout history we see stages of church growth and decline. But also individually I think every single congregation this group this morning, notwithstanding, there are conditions of all of these seven represented here. In other words, some of you are like the church of Ephesus this morning. You are busy, you are discerning, but that spark of love for Jesus Christ isn't what it used to be. Others of you are more like the church at Smyrna. You've been suffering persecution because you're so bold in your faith, but you're wondering, can I endure it? Can I hang on? Others of you are like the church of Pergamos. You are Christians but you have compromised in certain areas. You've tolerated false doctrines in the name of toleration and openness. Some of you are more like the church of Thyatira. A little bit loose and lax spiritually, even morally. Now Jesus comes to this church as the divine physician to heal and as the divine coroner to pronounce dead.
"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
This is the spiritual assessment that Jesus gives. He looks at the church, assesses it in one word: you're dead. Reading this letter we see that it's different right off the bat. The last letter was a little more harsh and severe; it was stern. But at least Jesus had a few good things to say about the church in Thyatira. However, here Jesus has nothing good to say as He assesses this church. He jumps right in with warning and exhortation. Nothing is known about how this church started. We couldn't tell you who started it, when, how, who went there. We know nothing of its development. We only know that it existed because we read about it here and we know a little bit about the city itself. Sardis was one of the most important of the ancient cities in Asia Minor. It was at the junction of the road whereby those that lived in Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamos would go inland and connect all of inland Asia Minor with these cities. It was the imperial highway. It was a wealthy city. Some of the earliest coins minted were minted in this city. It was the center of the carpet industry and of the wool industry; garments were made in this city. Also there were two topographical features about this city that made it different from all others. Number one, it had an acropolis which almost every city had, that's not that notable. But the second one is very notable--it was a necropolis. That's a graveyard. It was called the Cemetery of One Thousand Hills because seven miles away you could see not only this huge acropolis that jetted up out of the landscape on which stood the temple of Diana, or Artemis, but there was this cemetery where there were hundreds of mounds filled with tombstones that you could see on the vista, the horizon, seven miles away. So death was a preoccupation. They were known nationally in that area for it. You might say literally people were dying to get there because of the amount of graves that they had in that place.
It's significant then that Jesus, when He assesses this church, says, 'You are dead.' As a church in the city of Sardis with a necropolis, you have a name that you're alive, but My assessment is that you are dead. In other words, you have outward manifestations of life, people in the region would know you for life, vitality. You go through the motions, you sing the songs, you've got your Bible, you attend regularly, but you are dead. Quite an assessment. It's exactly the same assessment that Jesus gave to the religious leaders of His day. The Pharisees who would dress up and paint their faces to look really holy because if you looked like you hadn't eaten for days, people would take pity on you and think you're holier than everybody so they would disfigure their faces and do everything outwardly. And Jesus said, 'Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs that indeed appear beautiful outwardly but inside you are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.' In other words, this was a church full of hypocrites. The words of Paul to Timothy would describe them. He said that they have a form of godliness but they are denying the power thereof.
About a hundred years ago, a ship was found in the Arctic Ocean floating among the icebergs. The crew was still aboard, frozen to death, the captain was still aboard and they found the captain as if he was making an entry in the log book. Obviously, his last. The crew was found in their hammocks, some were found in the cabin. But looking at the date of the last entry in the log book, it was obvious that for thirteen years they'd been drifting as a ship among the icebergs in the ocean. The little story that I read about it said this ship was a drifting sepulcher manned by a frozen crew. Now how much of Christendom does that ship describe? A drifting sepulcher manned by a frozen crew. Many churches, organizations, many individual Christians have been chilled by formalism, by just putting in their time and status quo. Vance Havner, who was once the chaplain to the United States Senate, said that most denominations, organizations, Christian movements, revivals, whatever you want to call or attach yourself to, follow a progression, a downward progression. The four stages are a man, a movement, a machine, finally, a monument. All that's left is statues and little sayings and we remember when. Sardis was already in the monument stage.
Now there's a lot of examples about this even in modern times. We could look at the church in England and I'm not pointing the finger overseas because it's easier to do that, we could point the finger anywhere around the United States as well. But the Church of England is a classic example because the great missionary endeavors to evangelize Africa, India, the Far East sprung out of England. They sent people all over the world, even here, to preach the gospel. But things have changed in England. Many churches close every year and the church building is turned into a mosque. In fact, since 1974, an average of 85 churches are closed every year in England. And the furnishings of these churches are now popular items for sale. For instance, people love to buy the little baptismal fonts found in the front of the church. People use them for birdbaths at home. The pews are being sold for little seats in people's gardens. One British author said the word Christian has become one of the vaguest words in the English language.
The church of Sardis lacked the one thing that they needed the most, that Jesus has when He introduces Himself, and that is the Holy Spirit. Jesus introduces Himself as He who has the seven Spirits of God. Some translations call it the seven-fold Spirit of God. I believe that it's simply speaking about the Holy Spirit, that it's an idiom borrowed out of Isaiah chapter eleven, mentioned a few other places, the seven-fold Spirit or the complete fullness of the Holy Spirit. A dead church needs the infusion of the seven-fold Spirit of God. A dead individual needs the infusion of the Spirit of God. I found a little poem that describes this condition. It was written by a British author. It says, 'A city full of churches, great preacher, lettered men, grand music, choirs and organs, if all these fail, what then? Good workers eager, honest who labor hour by hour but where, oh where, my brother is God's almighty power? Refinement, education, they want the very best. Their plans and schemes are perfect. They give themselves no rest. They get the best of talent, they try their uttermost, but what they need, my brother, is God the Holy Ghost.'
We think we need methods. We need a five-year strategy plan. No we don't. We just need men and women filled with the Holy Spirit. Period. Why is it that we think if we get this expert from out of town who will show us how to have a large this and an exciting that, we need to be more seeker-sensitive, seeker-friendly. You know, be hipper than thou. So all of the hip heathens can come to church and go, 'They're as hip as I am! I can feel hip around here because they're so seeker-friendly.' Well the church of Sardis had become so much like the world around them that they could no longer confront their society around them. And that's what spiritually dead means. They'd become so much like society they could no longer confront their society. A.W. Tozer, I love him, he's always challenging, wrote in one of his books, 'It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God's professed children are bored with Him for they must be wooed to meetings with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games, and refreshments.' That cuts to the quick, doesn't it?
That is Sardis and if you were to peg Sardis at a point in church history and say, well, okay, Thyatira represents when the church got involved in the Roman system, the hierarchal system, and the church and the state were married, well then Sardis is dead Protestanism. After Martin Luther put his 95 theses to the door on Wittenberg castle and after there was that great revival, soon Protestanism itself became a dead form and could fit during this period. Let's look now at an autopsy, a spiritual autopsy. There are three factors that contributed to this assessment of Jesus when He said they are dead. Before we get into these three, let me just say this, if a church is dead it's because individuals are dead. Because a church is only comprised of people. So if you've got a dead group, a dead church, a dead organization, it's because there's lots of dead individuals that love to be dead together. They're very comfortable in their deadness and they kind of feed off each other's death. There was a little town where a pastor was summoned to take over a church that was sort of known for its decay. He came and tried everything and he tried to be enthusiastic and preached the Word and so forth. And there were people who didn't want to hear it and nothing really happened. After several months, he finally stood up before this lethargic group and he said, 'This church is dead! And today at 2:00 we will have a proper burial for it.' Not only did the people in the church that were left attend, news got around and almost this whole little town assembled at the church to see this funeral service. The minister stood up behind the pulpit and said, 'We're here today to pay our last respects to the church that once stood here.' And there was even a casket up front. And at the end of his little message and music, he said, 'I'd like to all to come forward and pay your respects to the dead.' They came forward and this clever pastor had placed a mirror in the casket. So everyone as they came forward saw himself or herself in the casket.
Let's look at this autopsy and see why the church of Sardis was dead. The first reason is they relied on their past successes. Notice Jesus says, 'I know your works.' He alludes to their past accomplishments, those things that gave them the name or the reputation that they were alive. A sure sign of death is when a church worships its past, its history, its traditions. Don't pour new wine in this place, they would say. We've always done it that way. This way. Don't change things. We love this status quo. We remember back when. It's always life lived in the past tense. There was a woman that Jesus approached at the well in Samaria and He was talking about spiritual things and she said, 'Our fathers have always worshiped on this mountain and You Jews say Jerusalem is the place to worship.' We've always worshiped here. We've always done it this way. So what? Do you presently now worship? Is there life presently now or are you always looking back to spiritual heritage? Doctor Len Brotin tells us of a church whose pastor wrote a report to its association, the yearly report read as follows: 'Members received: None. Members dismissed: None. Members died: None. Members married: None. Amount given to missions during the year: Nothing.' And then he concluded with his statement in his report, 'Brethren, pray for us that during the next year we may hold our own.' There's only one way to go and that's up, from that point.
So they relied on their past successes. Secondly this church is Sardis lived life on the surface. Surface Christianity is what they loved. Notice Jesus said, 'You have a name' some of your translations put it better, 'You have a reputation that you are alive but you are dead.' This church was content with its reputation. That mattered to them. Not reality, the reality was death, but the reputation. Hey, people in the area think we're awesome! So they cared about the reputation not the reality. That's living on the surface. Be careful if you're the kind of person who is really worried and concerned about what other people think about you. It's a dangerous place to live. Well what would they say if they...? That's really not important when you think about, what does God think of me? Where do I find it in God's way of seeing things? Reputation and character are two vitally different things. Look in verse four for just a moment. There's a little clue; a hint about this condition. 'You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments.' If there were a few people who didn't defile their garments, that's in contrast to a whole bunch in the church of Sardis who did defile their garments. In other words, this church at Sardis had a great exterior, had a great reputation, but there was a filth underneath, a spiritual death. It was simply a beautiful burial garment. That's all it was.
According to one historian, Heroditus was his name, he said that eventually the church in Sardis became lax and loose in its moral standards and open in licentiousness. It just sort of became very, very much like the world. They became so concerned with their reputation that they lost all of their character. Let's get back to this idea of reputation versus character. Reputation is what people think of you; character is what you really are when nobody's looking. Reputation is what you are perceived as; character is what you really are living your life as. In other words, this church was a church filled with nominal Christians in name only. I heard about the Italian Riviera. I've never been there, but I've heard that in the Italian Riviera to have a balcony, an outside balcony, is so important a feature in the home that those people that can't afford them get them painted on the outside. The flat exterior surface. Some will even put a railing and the family laundry painted on the balcony because it looks so realistic. It's the semblance of life. They're out there working and the laundry's out. But it's simply only a façade. So they live life on the surface.
The third thing in this spiritual autopsy is they were satisfied with aimless activity. Notice Jesus says, 'I have not found your works perfect before God.' I haven't found your works. Now you have works, but they're not perfect or literally, complete. A better word, fulfilled. In other words, they're works but they're empty--there's no life in them. It's aimless, lifeless activity. Dead routines. Notice it says 'before God.' I haven't found your works complete before God. Now before men they were great. They had the reputation. Men thought, 'What an awesome, lively, great, vibrant church. You're so lucky to live in Sardis to go to that place.' But before God, the works themselves had only a shell, but no life within them. Do you remember the words that God told the prophet Samuel when he came to find a king for Israel? And he went to Jesse's house and he saw all of these boys. One was real handsome and tall and he thought, 'That is king material.' And God said to him, 'The Lord does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.' So the church of Sardis had many irons in the fire but none of them were hot. It was aimless activity.
Now thirdly, let's look at the answer that is given or you might say, the antidote. The spiritual answer that is mandated. 'Be watchful,' verse two, 'And strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die for I have not found your works complete before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch I will come upon you as a thief and you will not know what hour I will come to you.' Five short little staccato-like imperatives are given. Five little things to do. Who are they written to? If the coroner says, 'You're dead,' and yet he says, 'Here's the antidote,' who's he speaking to? Those who are mostly dead. Verse four, 'You have a few names.' Jesus was writing this letter to the few people who would listen. The few people, the remnant in this city. Oh, what God can do through just a few people. We think, 'No, we have to rally and we have to get lots of people on our side.' No you don't. You just need a few. Jesus took a few loaves and fishes and fed a multitude. He took twelve disciples, fishermen, they had no degrees in anything except how to scale and cut up a fish. And He told these guys, 'Go out and change the world. Preach the gospel to every living creature.' Noah and his family were eight people and God used them to propagate the earth. Elijah was one of 7,000 others compared to a whole nation that had fallen away from God and yet this small remnant stood their ground. So He tells this small group, number one, 'Wake up.' That's found in verse two. 'Be watchful.'
The first step towards spiritual renewal is to realize something is wrong. Wake up! Because if you don't wake up, there are times when falling asleep is deadly. I drove one time to my parent's house. It was a Friday evening, I was at college, I wanted my laundry done, to be honest with you and I wanted a good meal. Oh, yes, I wanted to see my folks, as well. It was late in the evening and I was driving to their house and I was tired, put in a long week. And I don't do well driving at night. And so I started just getting a little bit droopy-eyed and I decided to put up the headrest. And I'm not going to sleep; I'll just kind of lay my head against it so I can perch my head this way and I don't want to use the muscles or anything but I'll just look that way. And I dozed off and I heard those blessed little bumps that highway department has put on the shoulder of the road so that if people like me do what I just did they would wake up. And I woke up and I saw my almost fate. There was an eighty foot drop to the oncoming traffic because we were in a canyon. I came real close to death. Or the time when my family was on vacation and we were going through Reno, Nevada. We were going around a curve on a freeway, not knowing that there was a guy in a car who was in our lane coming head-on. He had had too much to drink, he had fallen asleep at the wheel, and there was 120mph impact. My mother was put in the hospital for massive hip surgery, broke her leg. My dad broke his leg, broke his arm, cut his face. The other guy in the car was instantly decapitated. Falling asleep brought death. So Jesus tells this church the few that are mostly are dead: wake up! See that there's something that is wrong. I think that this command to wake up is also noteworthy in speaking to people that lived in the city of Sardis. Because did you know that Sardis had a reputation that nobody could defeat it? It was impregnable because it stood among the mountains. And so people said, 'We don't even need to post guards in our city. Nobody can get in!' They never watched the city. Until it was broken into twice. Once by Cyrus the Persian in a massive invasion and number two by Antiochas, who stormed the city and took it. And so here's this church, 'We're in this church. We've got the reputation. The walls of our reputation.' Jesus says, 'Wake up!'
Second of all, He says, 'Strengthen what is weak,' verse two. Strengthen the things that remain. The word means stabilize that which is weak. It's the word that Paul used on his third missionary journey going through Galatia. He said, 'I'm going to go and strengthen the brothers.' Those were the baby believers that just made a commitment to Christ. He wanted to go back, strengthen them lest they fall away. New Christians are weak; they're babes in Christ. And what they need is more mature believers. Do you consider yourself a more mature believer? You've walked with Christ for some time? Well then we ought to be about the business of strengthening those who are younger. Adding spiritual stability to their lives. Find those people. Find them. Find those people who have a real heart for God. Yes, I know. In any church you're going to have onlookers, complainers who do nothing at all but just look and complain. They're bystanders; they're pew-potatoes. But you will always find some people in every church that have an intense, burning heart after the things of God. You find those people and disciple those people and turn those people loose and you will strengthen the things that remain. You'll have an awesome revival. A heart that pants after God.
Third, they are to call to memory the basics. 'Remember how you have received and heard.' Now we don't know what that is; we can only assume that they received things like the gospel, the Holy Spirit, those are givens. That they heard the truth as it was taught by whoever started this church and maintained it. And so Jesus says, 'Remember those things.' It's sort of interesting, isn't it, that on one hand He chides them for living in the past, then He turns around and He says, 'Get in touch with your past'? In other words, look to your past, get in touch with your heritage, the things that made you great, but don't let your past be a hitching post, but a guidepost. Remember the things you heard. Every church, every organization, every denomination would do well to go back through its annals, through its history, and look at all the great revivals that made them a movement.