Now let's turn together to Revelation chapter 3, as we read those verses from verse 1 to 6 concerning Sardis, which we have entitled 'The Dead Church'.
Verse 1: "And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. 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. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches".
With minor exceptions, we have noticed as we have studied these churches thus far that there is a pattern in how the Lord Jesus addresses each of them. First and foremost He is revealed to each assembly with particular characteristics that are fitting for that assembly. For instance, here in chapter 3 verse 1, the Lord Jesus is revealed to Sardis as 'the one who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars'. Of course, we saw that each of these characteristics is derived from the vision that we have in chapter 1 of the glorified, risen Lord Jesus, as the Great High Priest and Judge of the church. Of course, we see in chapter 1 verse 16 that the Lord Jesus is seen there as having the seven stars in His right hand. We also see in chapter 1 verse 4 that the seven Spirits of God are described as being before the throne of God.
So the characteristic of how Christ is revealed to Sardis is particularly fitting to their need. They are, of course, as we shall see in great detail tonight, 'the dead church'; and Christ is revealed to them as the one who has the life-giving Spirit, the seven Spirits of God depicting the perfection and completion of God's Spirit - He having all that we need to succeed and triumph as Christians and as the church. Sardis is lifeless, and Christ is the one who has the life-giving Spirit. Now, if these seven stars are angels - as I believed them to be several weeks ago - or indeed if they are elders and overseers of this assembly, it doesn't really matter: these seven stars seem to represent God's administrative control in the church. So I believe Christ is being revealed here as the one who has the seven Spirits of God, possessing the seven stars, as the answer to Sardis' problem of lifelessness. What is the answer? The answer is spiritual ministry and spiritual leadership in this church. That might seem to be a strange answer for deadness, and we will tease that out a little bit later on - but it is clearly how Christ is revealed to them: they needed spiritual ministry and spiritual leadership.
Then secondly in each of these churches we found a commendation - however, there is no commendation to the church at Sardis, except perhaps in verse 4 where we read that there are a few names where a few people have been faithful and not defiled their garments. That's the only thing that Christ can find to commend in this church in Sardis. Thirdly we have found that each of these churches, except of course Smyrna and Philadelphia - the persecuted church, Smyrna, the faithful church, Philadelphia - we have found in the others a criticism or a condemnation. Here we have it in Sardis in verse 1, at the end of the verse, 'I know', Christ says, 'thy works, that thou hast a name', or 'you have a reputation that you live, and are dead'. Then we see in verse 2, the second part, another criticism: 'I have not found thy works perfect', or complete, 'before God'. So Christ is accusing them of having a name that they live, and yet they were dead, of being a superficial church. Their beauty, in other words, was only skin deep. He also accuses them of having much activity, 'I know thy works', and yet they were falling short of what Christ really wanted for them. Their works were not found perfect, or they were imperfect in the sight of God.
Then fourthly we find in this church a corrective command. If you look at verse 2, at the beginning of the verse, the Lord Jesus tells Sardis: 'Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die'. Then in verse 3, at the beginning of it, He tells them to 'Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent'. Now in verse 2, if you look at that phrase 'Be watchful', it literally could be translated 'Waken up!'. Then in verse 3, after they are told to strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die, they are told to remember what they had received and heard. Now that word 'remember' is in the present imperative, which literally means 'keep on remembering what you have heard and learned'. There is great danger, isn't there, that we forget what we already know. Then they are told to hold fast to those things, and again that is in the present imperative, 'keep on holding fast to the things that you can remember and have learned'. Then their third instruction is 'Repent', now that is in a different tense, the aorist imperative, which literally can be translated 'Repent now, once and for all, make a new start, a new beginning'.
By the end of the studies of these seven churches we will have seen that only two churches are not called upon to repent, the other five are. The two that aren't are the church at Smyrna, the persecuted church, and the church at Philadelphia, the faithful church that we will look at next week. Every other one is commanded to repent! Keeping in mind that what we have here in these seven churches is a depiction of the church age in general, we can see clearly that there is a need, a great need right throughout the existence and history of the church, for the church to keep repenting. I will spend time on that later on.
The consequences of not repenting are found in verse 3, the second half: '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'. Now many believe that this is speaking of the return of the Lord Jesus, because of the similar phraseology used, but I do not believe that is what it means. I believe, like the other churches preceding it, this is speaking of the Lord Jesus coming as the Great High Priest Judge to this church, and dealing with their problems personally Himself. Then fifthly, as with the other churches, we find in verse 5 a commitment that is given to those who overcome the conditions that prevail: 'He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels'.
Now in chapter 1 verse 17 we have a divinely inspired outline of the book of Revelation, and we see that we find ourselves in chapters 2 and 3 dealing with the things that were in John's day - as it says, 'the things that are'. But we also see that there were seven churches - and there were many more of course in Asia Minor - but Christ picks out seven as representative churches, we believe, to depict the whole of the church age from the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and the birth of the church at Pentecost, right to the second coming of our Saviour. So we have here in these seven churches a divine revelation concerning the whole period of the church age, a complete picture, if you like, of the moral and spiritual history of the church.
Now that can be understood, as we have seen, in three ways. Let me remind you of those: first of all, that can be understood literally, and it must be understood as literal churches - seven in total - in Asia Minor...tonight's is Sardis. It was a literal church, in a literal geographic location, with literal Christians in it, with these literal circumstances prevailing. Secondly these seven churches can be understood universally, that meaning that they are illustrations, if you like, of good and bad conditions in the church, and churches everywhere in every age during the church period. The conditions are similar to those found in the seven mystery kingdom parables of Matthew 13, traits that will be in every church through every age of this dispensation. Thirdly these seven churches can be understood prophetically. We saw in our first study of the first church at Ephesus, which we entitled 'The Loveless Church', that that spoke in a very graphic way of the post-apostolic church, the church just after the apostles that was beginning to lose its first love. They were quite sound in doctrine, though there was a little departure already entering in, and yet they had lost the things they loved at the beginning, and they needed to do those first works again.
We saw secondly that the church at Smyrna, which we called 'The Persecuted Church', very graphically painted a picture for us of the church between the first and the fourth century, the church that underwent various persecutions from various Roman emperors. The third church, Pergamos, 'The Compromising Church', Pergamos meaning 'married', spoke to us of the church that had lost its fidelity and had become married and allied to the world. We learnt there that the church during the fourth and fifth century was recognized by the Emperor Constantine, and after his spurious conversion he eventually, when he came into greater power, made Christianity the state religion in AD 313. Then we found that after that event the church entered, prophetically, the Thyatira period, 'The Corrupt Church' - paganism was married to Christianity through its recognition and patronage by the Emperor. Of course, Thyatira meant - you remember, I hope - 'continual sacrifice', and it spoke very graphically of the church of the sixth and seventh century, what we know today as Roman Catholicism, right through to the church of the 16th century where there was a schism during the Reformation.
Now tonight we arrive at Sardis, and Sardis we have entitled 'The Dead Church', and Sardis literally means 'those escaping' or 'the remnant'. Now that should become evident to you what it depicts prophetically, it depicts that Reformation church that came out of the Roman Catholic Church, the Thyatira period. So, if you're wanting to look and study this particular church in Sardis prophetically, we would call it the post-Reformation church, the church just after the period of reform. Now, I do believe that the Reformation was a divine act of God. Through the translation of the Scriptures, men and women rediscovered the truth of justification by faith, and the truth that salvation is by grace in Christ alone. The Reformation, I believe, was of God; and yet we must say that many of the ecclesiastical systems that evolved out of the Reformation were established by men. Not long after the Reformation we see that the Protestant church became formal, ritualistic, even worldly and political. After the rise of Protestantism during the Thyatira period, prophetically speaking, it's not long before there is a declension in this Sardis period - in many ways, we have to say that today in Protestantism there is much deadness. The life has gone from many of the denominations that came out of the Protestant Reformation, and often their 'protest' has gone as well.
Can I just say in passing - and I don't want to spend much time on this prophetic element, I haven't done during these studies - but we hear a clarion cry, and have done for several years now in evangelicalism, that we need to get back to the period of the Reformation. I believe that that is to look at that period somewhat with rose-tinted glasses - thank God for the Reformation, as I said, I believe it was an act of God, and I believe that we ought to have no regrets for it. But we must say that the Reformation did not go far enough! We do not need to get back to the Reformation, on the contrary we need to get back to the New Testament! Let us go further back, to the teaching of the apostles' doctrine, and the power of the Spirit of God - that was the instruction that was given to this church by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, let's leave that and turn to the interpretation that I want to major on tonight, that being the literal. This church is a literal church, with literal Christians, with literal problems, with literal answers - and there is also of course, as there is every week, a personal application. We find it in verse 6: 'Let the one who has ears to hear, hear, and apply personally these truths to their own life'.
Now each week we have looked first of all at the city in which the church was found, and this is the city of Sardis. If you look at the map on the screen you will see that Sardis was approximately 27 miles south of Thyatira. It is today the modern Turkish city of Sart, which is only a small village. But Sardis, in its heyday, was one of the oldest and greatest cities of Western Asia. It was, indeed, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. It was the city of the wealthy King Croesus, his wealth became proverbial - and I'm sure some of you have heard that saying: 'To be as rich as Croesus'. It was a boom town economically, it was situated at a junction of five main roads, and therefore inevitably became a trade centre. It flourished with a carpet industry, and a woollen industry that I think the Lord alludes to in speaking of these white garments. You could actually pan for gold in the streams within the city limits of Sardis. Some historians believe that gold and silver coins were first minted in the city of Sardis, and so inevitably, because of its wealth and economic success, it became a playground for the rich and famous. It was a city with a name.
However, this great city - partly through military conquest and particularly through its own complacency - lost its former glory. Now the patron deity of this city was Cybele. Her form was often found on the coins of this town and district, and she was supposed to have power to restore the dead to life again. Yet Cybele was unable to bring this city, Sardis, back to its former glory. Now, you can see of course, obviously, the imagery that our Lord Jesus is picking up on concerning this geographical city. Sadly the church in Sardis had become like its city - alive only in name! It had died, and there was no sign of a resurrection!
Now we are not told anywhere in the Scriptures where or when this church came into being - but we do know that, like the city of Sardis, the church of Sardis had an illustrious past, and a grand reputation in the eyes of many. Indeed, one of the famous names associated with this church was a man called Mileto of Sardis, who was an apologist bishop in the late second century, a great defender of the faith who came from this church. But whatever Christians and outsiders thought of the church at Sardis, whatever reputation and name it had, as ever: the only opinion that really mattered was the Lord's. In verse 1 we find His words concerning Sardis: 'Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead'. It had a name that it was alive, it had much activity, a great reputation, a magnificent history - yet Christ said: 'It's dead'.
What do we know about dead churches? Do you feel you belong to one? Do you feel like a dead Christian? A little boy on one occasion was travelling to church as per usual on a Sunday evening with his father, and he sat beside him there on the pew, and the service - as usual for him - seemed extremely boring and dull. He could predict everything that was coming next, because the routine was rigid and repetitive, it never ever varied. Finally the benediction startled the young lad into consciousness, and he sighed in relief and moved toward the door with his father. There on the wall hung a beautifully embossed bronze plaque, and the little lad often wondered what it was for. This time he plucked up the courage to ask his dad what it was all about, and proudly his dad told him that it was in memory of those who died in the services. Immediately the innocent boy replied: 'Which one? Was it the morning or the evening service?'.
The New Testament teaches us that the Church of Jesus Christ is the body of Christ, a living body made up of living stones. It is an organism with life and vitality pulsating through it. Yet here we have in Sardis a church that has a name that it lives, and it is dead! Have you ever considered that there is such a thing as a dead assembly? It might still have Christians belonging to it, but Christ speaks to us tonight, concerning Sardis, of a dead church. Theirs was a name without life, a form without power, a facade without any reality - what do we know of that today? How it reflected the city where it was found, and characteristically how the Lord reveals Himself to this church again enforces the fact that it is a corpse as a church. Look at verse 1 again, He reveals Himself as the one who has the seven Spirits of God, and seven stars. Now, if I was to gather some of you men, perhaps, here for a moment and ask you the very pointed question: what advice would you give to this church regarding how they could fan the flames afire again, the dying embers that need to be roused, what should they do to make a dead church live again? I don't know what you would say, but what the Holy Spirit knew they needed was a vision of Christ - that's what we need, that's what every dying church and every dying Christian needs to see: a vision of the risen and glorified Lord.
Now this is a twofold vision that Sardis receives. First of all He is seen as the Christ who possesses the Spirit, the sevenfold Spirit - seven being the number of perfection or completeness. So this is speaking of the perfect, complete power of the Holy Spirit supplying everything that the church and the Christian needs. Now we saw in one of the weeks near the start of our study that this phrase 'the seven Spirits of God' relates to Isaiah 11, where the seven characteristics of the Holy Spirit are depicted as resting upon the Messiah, of course prophetically speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now in chapter 1 of Revelation verse 4, as I've already alluded to, we see the seven Spirits of God there before the throne, speaking of the executive authority of the Holy Spirit in relation to the church at large. We're going to see later on in chapter 5 and verse 6 that the seven Spirits of God are seen there going into all the earth, and that speaks of the universal impact of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But here this sevenfold Spirit is depicted as being possessed by Christ Himself; and Sardis, this church who is dead, needed to see Christ as the possessor of the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit!
Then secondly He is revealed as having the seven stars in His possession also. If these stars are angels or if they're elders, they represent God's administrative control in the assembly. Now putting those two things together, what is the point of how Christ is revealed to Sardis? The message is: only the Holy Spirit of the living God can adequately control and guide a church! Have you got it? Only the Holy Spirit can control and guide a church. So, as I've already said, they needed a spiritual ministry, and they needed spiritual leadership.
Now here's a truth that has been lost to Christianity today, I believe, generally speaking, and it's one I want to bring to your attention. The New Testament teaches something called 'the presidency of the Holy Spirit', or to put it in another term, 'the executive authority of the Holy Spirit'. Now what is that? We ought to believe, as New Testament Christians, that the Church is run not by men but by the Holy Spirit of the living God. Now He might use men as His instruments, but He is the President, He is the one who is the Vicar of Christ, the representative of Christ on earth, ruling Christ's rule and administration in His church. So the question, practically, that obviously evolves from such a truth is: is the Holy Spirit ruling our churches today? Who rules your church? Who rules this church? Think about our meetings - and I'll look at this in more detail on the Lord's Day, when we consider again 'The Lord's Supper' - but who presides in authority over our gatherings? Is it the Holy Spirit of God?
Now, some of you might say: 'Well, this is all very idealistic and quite mysterious in fact, but put this in black and white terms for us - how is it possible for the Holy Spirit to preside, to be in charge, to rule, to administer in the church today?'. Well, here's the answer and it's inherently simple, it's found in Ephesians 5 and verse 18, we read these words: 'Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be being filled continually with the Holy Spirit'. You say: 'Well, you're misapplying that verse, that's to individual Christians'. Well, I know it is to individual Christians, and that's exactly my point - because the lesson is that if any assembly, if any church is dead, it is only because Christians are dead! If any church does not experience the presidency and administration of the Holy Spirit in its meetings and its affairs, it's only because the Christians belonging to that assembly are not controlled personally by the Holy Spirit. It naturally follows: if churches are to be alive, they must be filled with Spirit-filled Christians. Are you filled with the Holy Spirit?
We all have heard the saying, haven't we, that if we point one finger there are three more pointing back at us - it's so true, isn't it? Many of us, including myself, can complain about our own assemblies - what is being done that shouldn't be, and what is not being done that ought to be - and yet at the end of the day, if we have dead churches and dead assemblies, we must first look at ourselves and ask: are we dead as Christians? Quite an eccentric preacher on one occasion on a Sunday morning told his congregation that he believed that his church was dead. Now you can imagine the murmurs from the pews when he said: 'Come back tonight, and I'm going to preach the funeral service of this church'. The members were shocked and they couldn't believe their ears - needless to say, it was the greatest turnout they had in a long time on a Sunday night. In front of the pews was a casket, and as the people sat down stunned in silence, the preacher delivered his message. After the benediction he said: 'Now some of you may not agree with me that this church is dead, and so that you might be convinced I'm going to ask you to view the remains. I want you to file by the casket one by one and see who is dead'. In preparation for that unorthodox presentation, the preacher had placed a mirror in the bottom of the casket. Who did they see when they came to view the corpse? Themselves!
Churches are made up of people. This church is made up of you people. Whatever church you belong to, we've all got a responsibility. I'm not saying everything is my fault, or everything is your fault, but our first responsibility as the Lord said to Peter: 'What is that to thee, what someone else does? Follow thou me!'. They needed to recognize the control of the Holy Spirit over them, and they needed to experience what it was to be filled - that's what that verse means, 'be continually controlled by the Holy Spirit'. If there were Spirit-controlled Christians in our churches, meetings would be controlled by the Spirit - that's the answer.
Thirdly we see the criticism: 'Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead', that is the first criticism. Because they were not filled with the Holy Spirit as individuals and as a church, they were living on a past name, a heritage of history. They had a past to be proud of, but they had a present to be pitied. Does that describe your church tonight, or even this church? Sometimes our churches become shrines to the good old days, to better times, and we're living down memory lane as Christians - and, I say it reverently, you'd think the Holy Spirit had gone back to heaven! You'd think Jesus Christ was not the same yesterday, today, and for ever. I know things might be pitiable in the Western church, but Christ has not changed, and His Spirit is still with us! John MacArthur, speaking of the church at Sardis, says: 'It was a museum in which stuffed animals were exhibited in their natural habitats. Everything appears to be normal, but nothing is alive'. Our churches can be like that, can't they? We're going through the motions, we look the part, we do the right things, say the right words in the right places, turn up at the right gatherings at the specified time - and yet our Church could be like Sardis: a well kept mausoleum! A dead church! It describes many churches today: cold and dead. They had a reputation, they had a history, they had big names connected to them, but they were dead!
The second criticism is found if you look down at verse 2, the second half: 'I have not found thy works perfect before God'. In other words, your works are incomplete. Now please see the picture: they carried on great activity without the power of God infusing it - as 2 Timothy puts it, 'They had a form of godliness, but denying the power'. Let me ask you a question, I hope you'll not mind me saying it, it's not meant to be irreverent - but imagine the Holy Spirit went back to heaven on Saturday evening at 12 o'clock, would anything change in your church or mine at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning? Would we miss the Holy Spirit? Would things just carry on as normal, because we have learned to operate in our lives without His control personally, and therefore we have learned to operate without Him in the church.
Their works were incomplete. Now how do we know, how do we know if our works are incomplete? How do we know today? Well, one preacher put it like this: first of all you'll not have any love for the lost; and the knock-on effect of that will be that people will not be getting saved. Are people getting saved in our churches? Sometimes, not often. Do we have a love for lost people? Sometimes, not often. A second work that will not be incomplete is we will be growing as Christians, and our knowledge will be increasing of Christ as the saints of God - is that happening? A third thing will be that we will each individually be developing further into more Christ-likeness - is that what is happening? Fourthly, we will immediately experience warmth of fellowship when we enter in with God's people in our gatherings. Fifthly, there will be the production of spiritual gifts, because the Holy Spirit is the one who gives them, and there will be the exercise of those gifts within local assemblies to the glory of God. Sixthly, there will be sacrificial giving - not just of money, but of time, resources and energies to the cause of God and the gospel. We could go on - that's how you know whether or not works, as a church, are incomplete. Can I just say to you tonight - and this is a terribly sobering thought - the Lord Jesus Christ says in verse 2: 'I have not found thy works perfect before God', before God! You see, some people get a 'B' in their bonnet, and a twist on, and they say: 'I'm going to do nothing in this church because of the elders, or because of the pastor, or because of that deacon who offended me, or because of that decision that was taken'. Listen! It's not about the elders! It's not about the deacons! It's not about members! This business of church life in the assembly is before God! Serious stuff. That's the only time the Godhead is mentioned in these seven churches, and its in association with how the assembly operates - it's got to do with God.
Sardis had begun as a spiritual movement, we don't know how, but people were saved and they formed an assembly - but now we see it is ending as a monument to an outdated bygone day. Vance Havner is very helpful concerning this, he points out how spiritual ministries often go through four stages, and they all begin with 'M'. First there is a man - you can think of him - there is a man. Then there is a movement, then that movement becomes a mechanism - and before long that mechanism becomes a monument, devoid of life, devoid of power. Sardis was that monument to a bygone age. They had had a reputation, but now they were dead!
But praise God, for a church even as dead as Sardis, there was still hope. So we have a corrective command from the Lord, and Charles Swindoll says: 'What begins as a deathbed scene, however, suddenly shifts to an emergency room drama'. In verse 2 this command is given: 'Be watchful', literally 'Waken up!'. 'Strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die', verse 3, 'Remember therefore...hold fast...repent'. Now what the Lord is doing here is, He's attempting to shock them into life again. They had gone asleep. Twice in Sardian history the city had been invaded because of complacency. You saw in that depiction the great hill that the city was found on, and they thought that it was impregnable, and because of that presumption they didn't guard themselves - and so twice they were attacked. Yes, Sardis was a materialistic place, Sardis was a worldly place, Sardis was an idolatrous place, but perhaps the greatest problem for these believers was their complacency. They had not been on their guard, they had not watched, they had not remembered, they had not held on to those truths, and they had stopped repenting - and because of that they were overcome.
They were overcome by materialism, they were overcome by worldliness, they were overcome by idolatry - but the primary reason why they were overcome was: they stopped watching! They needed to remember, present imperative, keep on remembering. They needed to hold fast, present imperative, keep on holding fast. They needed to repent, aorist imperative, repent now once and for all, make a new start! I'll tell you: if ever there was a message, a one word message that the church of Jesus Christ needs to hear right throughout her whole history, it is a message to repent. Every believer needs to repent daily - but how often do churches repent? When was the last time Sardis repented? Christ said: 'If you don't, there are consequences' - the end of verse 3, 'I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee'.
Do you know what I believe? I believe this church, and every church, needs folk within it who will say: 'Things can't go on like this any longer, let's stop and make a new start'. Now that's biblical: repent, aorist imperative. Stop what you're doing now, repent now and make a new beginning. Now ideally those people, surely, first of all should be overseers in the assembly - but if they don't do it, people who have an exercise ought to do it. Individually, will you do it? Maybe you're not allowing the Holy Spirit to control your life personally? Then there are those who come, and they gather with us, and they never ever contribute to anything. I'm not just talking of practical matters, I'm even talking about praying. We could spend the whole night on this itself, and I know certain people have certain problems at certain times, but at the end of the day we all need to ask ourselves: if we are withholding something from the assembly, why is it? Why don't you tonight decide: 'Things can't go on like this any more, I'm going to stop and make a new start. I'm going to waken up!'? Some of you men need to waken up. In many assemblies around our land women are taking on the role of men, and one of the reasons why it's happening is because the men won't be men. I pity some of you sisters at times, what you have to listen to and go through. Do you see when you're praying? Pray for the men, that they'll be men, and that they'll be exercised, and that they'll be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that they'll allow God's Spirit to use the gifts that He has promised to give to the church, that they might be wakened up!
I don't know how our Lord comes in such circumstances today, but I know this much from Sardis: that churches who never repent, and never make new starts, die. When was the last time we repented as a church? When was the last time your church repented? When was the last time you, as a believer, repented? There is a commitment to those who will, verses 4 and 5. There was a remnant, even in Sardis, which had not lost their Christian testimony, and these believers had not defiled their garments with worldliness. They would therefore walk with Christ in white, they had not defiled or soiled their garments. 'True religion undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affection, and to keep himself unspotted from the world'. Because of that, they had overcome - now here's my question: who will overcome today in Sardis-like dead churches? Will you? Who is overcoming? Is it those who are troubled about the conditions? Surely we need more people who are grieved because the Spirit is grieved, but that's not enough. Those who overcome don't just have bad feelings about the conditions that prevail, but they are resolved to do something about it, to change their mind and allow the Holy Spirit to change their heart and their life! It is those people who one day will find themselves walking in white with Christ.
I tell you, it's not easy to be an overcomer in this day and age in which we live. It's not easy in the church to be alive and vibrant and buoyant with the Spirit's power - but I'll tell you this: on that day no one will regret it, for on that day they will walk in white with Christ. I think that speaks of a special fellowship: they will be glad that on earth they repented and made a new start. In verse 5 we read that the overcomer as a true child of God will never have their name blotted out of the book of life. Then this address ends in verse 6 with a simple call to a simple act, that this church would hear and respond - and it's seldom heeded.
Now let's recap. If a church is dead, it's because the Christians in it are dead - because you are dead. Ask yourself: 'Am I dead? I might be saved, but is my vibrancy and my vitality as a Christian, is it dead?'. All the man made programmes in the world can never bring a Christian or a church to life again, that must come from the Lord who has the sevenfold Spirit of God. He is the source! It's not going to church growth gurus, or the latest vogue way or principle or program or practice - it's going back to Christ who has the Spirit! The church was born in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit descended. Life, spiritual regeneration, comes from the Spirit - but when the Spirit is grieved, the church begins to lose its life and its power, as does the Christian. But when we stop, and when we say: 'Enough is enough! Things cannot go on like that any longer!', and we change our mind about our ways and about the claims of Christ on us, and we confess our sins before God, and put things right with members of the church...when we do God's will found in His word, the Spirit infuses new life again and what is dead becomes alive. Do you know what that is called? Revival!
Let me finish with this story: Peter Brandon tells the story of how in 1958 he spoke to the late W.W. Faraday who some of you will be familiar with because of his writings. When he spoke to him, it was just before he died and went home to be with the Lord, and Faraday spoke to Brandon about the mighty manifestations of the power of God in some of those meetings he had been in in the early Victorian period. He told that on Sunday morning after they broke bread around the table, invariably a soul would be saved - at the table! Many came in to see a meeting that was controlled by the Holy Spirit - in those days, he told Brandon, we had no fixed gospel meetings - that's interesting, isn't it? We would say they were backsliders today! Do you know what they did? After they broke bread in the morning, they all bowed their heads and asked God for direction. He said: 'We would hire a town hall or a theatre, and some Sunday nights we had up to 200 people converted!'. The Spirit of God was mightily at work, God was moving in power - but Faraday said that when it came near to the beginning of the 20th century many of the Christian periodicals and magazines were encouraging the Lord's people to repent and to humble themselves, but they didn't. These are Faraday's words: 'Slowly and insidiously we declined, until we moved from the organic to a mechanical movement'. From the organic, life-pulsating power of the Spirit in the church, to a mechanical movement - and then the old man, nearly 99, by this time blind, looked into Brandon's face and said these words: 'If the Lord doesn't come in your lifetime, and you live to be a mature man, you will see many assemblies closing'. Then he stopped and added these words: 'Don't worry. You will have to start all over again, just as we did, and recover the truth, and rediscover the power of the Spirit, and God will multiply you'.
Can I tell you something? If I have a conviction about anything in these days, it is that. There is a decline, but if we would but repent and start all over again as they did, the dead would live again. May God bless His word to every heart.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "Sardis, The Dead Church" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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