In our study of Revelation chapter three, we continue with our look at God's letters to the early church and discuss their relevance to the church of today.
"'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. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.'" NIV translation
Sardis (located in what is now the southwestern part of Turkey) was the chief city of the Lydian Empire and was famous for arts and crafts. It was the first city to produce gold and silver coins and one of its kings (Croesus) is famous for his wealth as well as his pride. It is also known for one of the largest synagogues excavated from that period therefore it would have looked like a thriving place of worship to God.
The church in the city was not persecuted because they were the perfect model of an inoffensive church (they did not even attempt to affect the city around them). Jesus begins the letter to this church by reminding them that he has all power and that it is His message that counts.
He then reminds them that, by that power, He knows all of their deeds and that He sees the truth about them and not just what is presented to the outside world. They had a reputation of being Christians but they were not lead by the Holy Spirit.
It is sad to say but many of the "churches" of today are the same way as they are lead by men instead of the Spirit of God. It is usually very easy to spot them as they have the fanciest of buildings and a large staff of "pastors" but they do not serve the people around them as Jesus did. They attend the latest leadership training seminar and try the latest program for church growth instead of simply praying and listening for God's leadership. They look good on the outside but inside they are dead.
"'Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.'" NIV translation
In verse 1, Jesus identified the majority of the people in the church at Sardis as being dead referring to the fact that they do not have the Spirit of God living in them. In this verse, Jesus addresses the second group of people in this church which are those who are asleep. He tells them to "Wake up!" as they are not being influenced by the city around them but they are basically sleepwalking in their walk with the Lord. They attend the services and perform the regular routine worship, but they are not living out their faith. He warns them that this is a dangerous place to be as their faith is "about to die". The same can be said of many in the local churches today as they show up on Sunday and go through the routine but do not live their faith.
"'Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent. 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.'" NIV translation
In the first part of this verse, Jesus is calling the group of believers in Sardis to remember that we are called to be disciples. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, he also becomes our Lord and we are to be his disciples. A disciple is one who follows the teachings of the master. On our own, we cannot closely follow Jesus but we have also been given a gift called the Holy Spirit to give us the power to follow. Jesus is calling them and us as well to let the very Spirit of God help us and lead us. In the last part of the verse, Jesus reminds them that he is coming back to judge everyone and everything.