I thank Dean for lighting our menorah this morning. You will be able to tell that we are on the fifth church in our series on the Seven Churches, the lampstands. Jesus walks among His churches. Oliver Wendell Holmes told this story: One night in 1883, the weary editor of The New England Farmer's Almanac closed his desk and prepared to leave. He had been working hard predicting the weather conditions for every day of the coming year so that farmers would know what to expect. Well, the deadline was not for a couple of days and he had only one day left that he had not predicted: July 13, and that could be filled in the next morning.
That evening an agitated office boy arrived at his house and pounded on the door, and said, "The printer's deadline has changed. Your Almanac needs to be on the next train so that it can be printed on time." The editor did not want to be bothered. He said, "Go back. It's on my desk. Open up my desk. There's only one thing I haven't done: the weather for July 13. But whatever sounds good, put in something suitable for July 13 and get it on the train. But don't bother me."
Finished copies had been distributed when the editor, worrying a little bit about sales because his margin of profit was small, happened to notice the prediction for July 13 that this boy had put for July 13. It read: "Wind, Hail and Snow."
Livid with rage, he summoned the office boy. "What were you thinking?! The lad stammered, "Well, you know, a little cool weather would be nice in the middle of July." In despair, the editor resigned himself to bankruptcy. His reputation would be shot. It was so far fetched, there was no way.
But on the morning of July 13, 1884, the editor woke up and looked out his window. Rain turned to hail and turned to snow. Interesting weather for New England for July. By this one prediction, the almanac became both famous and prosperous all because of an office boy's farfetched prophecy.
Here's the question: Will there be snow on May 3, 2003? That's today. The folks on the church camp-out would be excited, wouldn't they. Will people look at you after church today and wonder where the blizzard was? You've seen a car come down the interstate that has three inches of snow on it and you say, "Where are they from?" Is that what people are going to say when you leave church today? "Where wee you that you are white as snow?" I hope so!
Isaiah 1:18 says: "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow..." So, it's possible to leave here today as white as snow.
Will you leave here today covered in white or will your same-old- self be what walks out the door? A serious question. Do you realize that today as we are in this building, as we hear the gospel we are in judgment. That's sobering. The question God is going to ask before you leave today is, "When you heard the gospel preached did it make a difference in your life, or are you the same old self?" When I think about it, it terrifies me. I think, "you know, as the gospel is presented today, this may be the last time somebody here hears it. What decision will they make?" And that terrifies me. Sometimes as I'm writing a sermon, I start to shake a little bit, think of what this means. Will people see Jesus in what is said today? Will it make a difference in somebody's life at the right time? Or will they be the same old self when they go out the door? This was the question that faced the fifth church of Revelation, Sardis.
Let's turn to Revelation 3. You'll notice that the message to this church is basically empty of praise. You know, the other churches, He almost sounded tactful. Jesus said in the message, "You're doing pretty good in here but you need a little help there." You know, when you're criticizing someone, it's always good to compliment them first. But here there's a difference. It seems like as the churches go, they get progressively further and further from Jesus. It seems that as we go through these seven churches that they have greater and greater problems to deal with. Yet we must be reminded that these churches do not belong to the people, they belong to Jesus. Because, you remember in Revelation 1, we talked about those churches being in the hand of Jesus. Jesus is found walking among the seven candle sticks. He is tending the flames. His love and concern for each flickering light is evident. The first verse of His message to His church called Sardis bears this out.
Revelation 3:1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars...." See what I mean? We are held in His hand! It's nice to be loved, isn't it. It's a lot of fun to be loved. But there's a responsibility that comes with love. When somebody loves you, that's when you also listen to their correction. Do you love Jesus? Are you willing to listen to correction from Him? True love doesn't just put up with everything. It can be unconditional, but it also seeks to change. But we are also found wanting.
Verse 1 continues: "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." Harsh words. So we find Jesus holding a church, in His loving hand, that is dead. You might be tempted to look at that and say, "But you're dead. I'm angry with you!" But we don't find that. We're in the loving hand of God. He's looking at us and saying, "Why did you die? I miss you. Why did you let your flame go out?" And the church doesn't even know the flame is out. The church does not realize that it is dead, but it is. The church has a reputation for being very much alive and active, but it is dead. Fortunately, though the flame may be out, but Jesus notices a few embers, and He begins to blow on them trying to rekindle and reignite the church, to resurrect it from the dead.
Here is a church that is relying upon its past love of Jesus and its past deeds. But we find that the past is not enough. When the Spirit guides a church, it guides it forward. It does not stay put. When we ask for the Spirit to lead, we are not asking to be led in circles, we are desiring to be led forward, continually progressing in our quest to be ever nearer and closer to Jesus.
Over the years, I have often heard the phrase, "We just need to get back to traditional Adventism." Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that? After hearing this a number of times, I have asked, "What do you mean by that?" The number of different responses equals the number of different people who say this. It's always different. From this, I have concluded that "Traditional Adventism" means "The way the church was when I joined it." Or, "The way the church was when I was born into it." "The way the church was when I was baptized into it." This is a dangerous theology. This is the theology of the Sardis church. This is a theology that tells the Holy Spirit that our past is good enough for the present. Stop leading us because we are dead. We cannot be content with past accomplishments.
For instance, look at evangelism. I remember the first evangelistic crusade I ever worked for. It was under a canvas tent with a sawdust trail. Folding chairs, and it worked! People were drawn and found Jesus. You don't see too many tents any more. Times have changed. And then we got into the Revelation Seminars. They worked very well in very many places. Many people found Jesus.
There was a retired minister in one of my churches that had had great success with Revelation Seminars. Year after year he kept holding them. And I would support him. But after a while, nobody came anymore. But he kept holding them. And finally I said, "Why do you these?" And he said, "Well, I had five baptisms from one of these one time." I said, "When was that?" "It was twelve years ago." It was something then that wasn't working in that community now. The book Evangelism says, "We should use the latest methods for reaching souls." And that's what we do. Satellite evangelism has been working. Internet evangelism, very prominent in our McDonald Road Church. We've done DVD evangelism, all different methods to meet the times but not to change the message. The message is the same year after year. The gospel is the gospel. The standards are the same year after year. The principles of Scripture, but the methods of presenting them change.
But you have to watch out for that, too. The gospel may not change, but I hope your understanding of the gospel changes day by day. Every time I read the gospels, I find out something I didn't know about Jesus. I change in my understanding of the everlasting gospel.
The people of Sardis may have been content, but Jesus was not. He gives the church of Sardis a multi-step cure for their resurrection as a church. After all, Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
Verse 2, He starts out with two great words: "If you're dead, Wake Up!" I like that. A simple remedy. "Wake up!" These are the words that Jesus spoke to Lazarus. These are the words that caused physically dead people to come back to life. These words can cause spiritually dead people to find new life! The first step is to be willing to change, or at least be willing to be made willing through the Holy Spirit. I'll be honest; sometimes I don't want to change. But I know I need to. And I prayed the prayer, "God, help because I don't want to do this. I want You to make me want to do it. Please do that much. Help me to take that first step, if you'll do it." That's all He needs is just one inroad into your life to begin to make those changes.
I am also reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son as he returns home to his father in the book of Luke, 15. What does his father say? Luke 15:24, "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." I like the next few words of that verse: "So they began to celebrate." So, there's hope of coming back to life.
Do you know what happens in heaven when we are resurrected from being spiritually dead? They celebrate. And that's what we should do when somebody walks through those doors that hasn't been within this sanctuary in years. We should celebrate. I don't care what they're wearing, what they smell like, what they look like, when they come through those doors we need to throw a party. We need to celebrate for that person being here. Oh, they might clean themselves up later with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to welcome them back. I love hearing stories of people that are coming to church and even though they do something wrong in the... people love them. Put their arms around them and bring them in. It's time to celebrate.
Revelation 3:2 continues with the remedies: "Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God." Sardis is advised to take what remains of their relationship with Jesus and to build that up first before it also dies. So wherever you find your relationship with Jesus is the strongest, work on that. Build it up to make it even stronger. If you have a prayer life that is still there, hold onto that prayer life. Enjoy studying Scripture? build on studying Scripture. It'll add to your prayer life. When you start with what is already there, it will spread to other areas.
Revelation 3:3. "Remember, therefore what you have received and heard;..." Step three in this resurrection process is to remember the ways that God has led you in the past. Over and over I've heard the same story. People I've never met before coming through those doors with a child in hand. And I'll go up there and greet them and find out something about them. And, you know what their story is? "Well, when he was born, I started remembering the way I was raised. And I want him to have Sabbath School." Isn't it nice? Remembering the way we were led in the past can lead us to a relationship with God in the future. Dwelling upon the positive guidance of God helps to shut out our own failures which try to hold us back. We are also to remember the instruction that we have heard from God. Not just to keep record of it, but as Jesus continues in Verse 3; "Obey it,..."
It is not enough to remember what the Spirit has said, we must do something about it, or, as the Greek word used here for obey means, continually do something about it. Continually obey. Obey today, obey tomorrow, forget about yesterday, yesterday is past. Start fresh today. Pray that you will be able to do it tomorrow, continuously.
Starting to obey again is not enough. The next step is also found in Verse 3; "Repent."
Many try to live "Christianized" versions of their old lives. They haven't repented, they just made some changes. Our old lives need to be left behind. The way this Greek word is used means a decisive action at a point in time. Repent now. We must consciously, decisively repent with a true desire for life to be totally different.
Verse 3 continues "But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you."
This verse would have had great significance for the people of the city of Sardis. Sardis was a very proud place. They were the inventors of coins. They perfected the dying of wool. They were known throughout the land for their king's vast wealth. They were a city that felt unconquerable. Sardis was built on top of a 1000 foot high hill with steep cliffs on all sides and only one way up. This way was easily defendable. A couple of people could defend that way and no army could approach. There was a self-confidence there that lulled them to sleep in their watchfulness. During the reign of Croesus, the city of Sardis was captured by Cyrus, 549 BC One of Cyrus's Soldiers, in response to a reward offered by Cyrus for anyone who could find a way into the city, scaled the rock on a dark night when the guards were not watching. He climbed the wall because nobody was watching. Entering the city, he opened the gates from within because nobody was watching. And Cyrus' Persian army was waiting to walk right in without a fight and Sardis fell. Not just once, the same thing happened again in the days of Antiochus the Great in 213 BC A soldier snuck up over the wall and opened the gates and in came the invading army with no fight. The people of Sardis were greatly shamed by this trick happening twice in their history.
Yet, Jesus is warning the church in Sardis that this is about to happen again to them. Jesus is going to come and sneak up on you. He is advising them to be watchful and ready for His coming at any time.
Jennifer's Daddy was trying to teach his little girl the rules of Hide-and-Seek. He taught her that he would close his eyes and count and she was to run and hide. Then he would sneak around until he found her. But when he had counted to 20, he opened his eyes only to find Jennifer standing by his leg. "Why didn't you hide," he asked. "Because I didn't want you sneaking up on me!"
Someone once said that Jesus walks so quietly that you need to stay with Him at all times so that He can't sneak up on you. If we stay beside Jesus, it will be no surprise when He comes! We need to be right beside Jesus, not because we're afraid of Him sneaking up on us, but because we love Him and want to be with Him just like Jennifer loved her daddy. She didn't want to be separated from him, wondering when he would come. She wanted to be right there with him. I want to be beside the leg of Jesus, don't you? I want to be ready when he comes because I know He's coming.
Revelation 3:4 "Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy." These are the glowing embers that we were talking about. There were still people in this dead church who were shining for Jesus. They had not followed the example of their fellow church members by relying upon their past righteousness. They were covered in white, the white of Christ's righteousness. This is what made them worthy.
Verse 5 "He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life,..."
In preparing this sermon, I read some interesting commentaries about this verse. Some were from organizations that espouse the doctrine of "Once saved, always saved, no matter what." The honesty in these commentaries was refreshing. They admitted that this belief could not stand in light of this verse or in the light of the whole message to Sardis. It is obvious that to not do these things is to run the risk of having your name erased from the Book of Life where it once was written. Our relationship with Jesus cannot be allowed to die! There's no safety in that.
Ten or twelve years ago, I found out that the grown son of one of my church members had died of liver disease. He was a member of a church of another denomination and I had never met him. He lived in another town. But I went to his mother's house to pray with her and show my concern. The funeral was to be at one o'clock Sunday afternoon. I planned on attending, along with other members of my church, to be supportive of this man's mother through such a difficult time.
Sunday morning, I awoke with a strange feeling. I called the funeral home and made sure of the time of the service. Then it struck me, who is doing this service? So I asked, "By the way, who's doing the service? What's the pastor's name?" "Somebody by the name of Kent Crutcher." I had never been asked by any family member to do the service. And you know what happens in these times. Thing sometimes get out of hand. I didn't fell it was time to quibble over such an oversight. So, I sat down at the desk and quickly tried to produce a sermon for a funeral of a man that I had never met. I arrived at the funeral home which was packed with people that were strangers to me. As I walked down the aisle, a man came out of the pew and stood in front of me and looked down at my Bible and looked at me and said, "You the preacher?" "Yessir." "I know that Johnny died from drinking, but he was saved on September 1975. I want you to mention that in your sermon." Well, the topic never came up in my sermon because I preached what the Bible says and not what man says. The Bible says that our relationship with Jesus needs to be continual. I can't judge what your relationship is nor can you judge what mine is with Jesus. He cannot have a relationship with a church or a person who is spiritually dead.
Revelation 3:5 continues, "I will never blot his name out of the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels."
We have here a picture of the judgement. Jesus is promising to be our personal attorney before the Judge, His Father. For once the good old boy system works. It is all in who you know. Do you know Jesus? Jesus covers us with the robe of His righteousness and tells the courts of Heaven that we are worthy because He is worthy! When the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus covering for us. He sees purity, white as snow.
Do you want to be covered in Heavenly snow? Do you want to leave your old self behind? Leave it sitting here in the pew as you leave. It's not worth anything. Leave it behind with a greater understanding of the love of Jesus, of the gospel. Leave her covered in snow. Then have faith in the resurrecting power of Jesus and as it says in Verse 6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Sources: God Cares, Vol 2. by C. Mervyn Maxwell Unfolding the Revelation by Roy Allan Anderson
Hymn of Praise: #227, Jesus Shall Reign Scripture: Revelation 3:5,6 Hymn of Response: #608, Faith is the Victory
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last updated 5/5/2003 by Bob Beckett.