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March 21, 2010
Waking the Dead – Part 1
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Revelation 3: 1-6

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This series provides insight into Jesus' master plan for the church today. We cannot afford to ignore what Jesus thinks of the church. You've Got Mail will help deepen your understanding of the church and the essential elements necessary to remain healthy, holy, and faithful in today's society.

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Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Revelation 3. Yes, we’re done with the church at Thyatira. Don’t look so happy. Revelation 3: 1-6, as we begin a two-part sermon on the church at Sardis. I promise, I promise. Revelation 3: 1. “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 it 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.”
When the noted Scottish port Robert Burns was buried, a problem arose because of his notoriety and popularity. Everybody in the community wanted to be buried in the graveyard where his remains lay. And so seeking to deal with the problem, the church and its officers are reported to have posted a sign on the gates of the cemetery which read, “This cemetery is reserved for the dead now living in this church.” That could be misread, couldn’t it? More than we might want to think, the church is often composed of the dead now living in it. In fact, Robert Burns himself visited a church one Sunday. He was not impressed by what he saw, what he heard or what he felt, and he wrote in the fly leaf of a hymnal, quote, “As cold a wind as ever blew, a colder church and in it but few as cold a minister as ever speak, you’ll all be hot or I come back.
More than we want to think, the church is often composed of the dead now living in it. Spiritual pretenders, people who are in church but not in Christ. People who have the word of God in their hand but not the word of God in their hearts. People who sing hymns but don’t make melody in their hearts to the Lord. People who dress well but who are not clothed with humility or power. People who love God or at least profess, but on a weekly basis, they don’t love their nearby nor their enemy. No, too often the church is composed of dead wood rather than living stones. That’s how the church is described in 1 Peter 2: 4-5. “It’s an edifice, a building made up of living stones. The church is not a building or a box. It’s people who are alive to God, who have been made alive through Jesus Christ having been once dead in their sins.”
But too often churches are composed of dead wood, not living stones, and that’s something you and I need to be on the guard against. A Christian must always be on the lookout for fakery, for formalism creeping into their walk with God, of trying to look better than they are. Christians must ever guard against living behind some kind of religious front that belies a lack of authenticity and authority. You know what? You and I can pray prayers without authenticity. That is the Pharisees did out of pretense. Jesus says in Matthew 23:14, “They prayed long prayers. They prayed not so that God would hear them, but that man would see them.” Can you imagine worshiping God in love with yourself? That was the mistake the Pharisees made and Jesus saw through it. Our prayers can be without authenticity.
Our prayers can be without authenticity. Jesus said of those in his own day, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” There was motion without emotion, there was worship without reality. Even our pity can be without authenticity. John tells us doesn’t he, in his first letter, Chapter 3:18 of this possibility. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Even our compassion can be without authenticity because more often than not, it’s more words than it is action. Fakery and formalism is a curse on the church and it is abhorrent to Christ. I don’t want to spend a lot of time here, but I want to put you in the direction of this thought.
Have you ever noticed or ever thought about the fact that Jesus’ greatest anger and greatest angst was directed towards the religious hypocrites who made a pretense of loving God while all the time, loving themselves, who used the kingdom of God for self promotion? In Matthew 23, at times Jesus pours out white hot scorn on religious hypocrites who were pretending to be something they were not. You’ve got that graphic, dramatic depiction, don’t you of them? Where Jesus said, “They’re like the white sepulchers, the graves outside of Jerusalem. If you’ve been to Israel, you’ve probably seen them and they’re painted white, but inside are the bones of dead men. Jesus reminds us that he would rather deal with a real sinner than a fake saint. Jesus would rather deal with a real sinner than a fake saint.
That’s the hot button issue here. As Jesus addresses the church at Sardis, this was a church where the reality was nowhere near as good as the reputation. “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’re alive.” Looking at this church, it looked vibrant, it looked viable, but Jesus gets behind the curtain. Jesus tears off the veneer of religious activity and beneath, he finds deadness and dullness. “You have a name that you’re alive, but you are dead.” This was a church where the press was good, but the performance not so good.
This was a church with a padded spiritual resume, and to be frank about it, both the city and the church were living on past glories. This church had seen better days. Their worship was sweeter, their walk was stronger in a bygone time. They’d seen better days. They were a mere shadow of their former selves, but they had settled into mediocrity. They were content to put up their feet and watch reruns of what once was. What was true of the city seems to be true of the church. In fact, Sardis, according to Beasley Murray and its common in Revelations, was a city of past glories. Sardis was once a place of great importance geopolitically. It was a commercial crossroads. It was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydian.
It reached its pinnacle in the sixth century before Christ. It even flourished under its Persian conquerors sometime later, but since then, it was on a decline. This decline was also aggravated by a devastating earthquake in A.D. 17, described by Pliny the Roman historian as one of the greatest disasters of that time. So this was a city on the slide. This was a city with a great past. This was a city with a great reputation, but if you’d have visited that city in Jesus’ day, it was nothing like its former self, and what was true of the city was true of the church. In fact, on the doors of the church and on the gates of the city, there hung a sign that nobody noticed but God, “Do not disturb.”
Now let’s stop and make a point just for a moment. Someone has said this. “When the present quarrels with the past, there is no future.” Every church and every Christian needs to guard against glorying in the past, going back to the past. And what’s true for Christians is true for churches. If a church keeps looking over its shoulder, it will walk past a God-promised future without noticing it. The past is the past. You and I this morning, both as individual Christians and as a church, we need to draw a line under the past and say it’s done, and move on to what God has yet for us to do and that which he has yet for us to possess. The past is a good thing if it acts as a rudder directing you forward, but it’s a bad thing if it’s an anchor holding you back. “Well, we never did it this way before or we have never done it this way before. You know what? I remember.”
Those are all nails in the coffin of Christian testimony and church vitality. “You have a name that you’re alive, but your dead,” says Jesus. When the present quarrels with the past, there is no future. The afterglow of yesterday is nothing to bask in. Certainly something to give thanks to God for, but our love and our labor for God must be new and fresh every single day. We must not make the mistake of Sampson, who presumed on God’s past action despite his present inaction. Sampson had stopped obeying God, but he got up one day according to Judges 16:20, “And in the face of his enemy he went out as at other times, but he knew not that the Lord was not with him.” There was a presumption. There was a pretense that was going to be found out, and Sampson like the church of Sardis was living off his reputation and past glory, but he was spiritually hollow.
And I think one of the challenges of this letter to all the churches that have read it since this church read it is that it’s time to forget those things which are behind and to press forward. Every Christian and every church needs to be seized with a holy dissatisfaction. Maturity and ministry are a moving target, and when you and I rest on our laurels, when you and I spend some time soaking in the sun of a former glory, we do ourselves a great disservice and we certainly render the kingdom of God impotent. Someone has said of Paul’s words in Philippines 3:13 the following, “Paul understood that past successes or recent failures are incidental to what God is doing now.” A painter was once asked what he thought and what he considered to be his great painting. He replied, “The next one.” It’s not a good perspective, not only on painting but on life, not only on life, but on ministry. Not only in ministry, but on marriage. The next one, tomorrow.
So let’s look at this letter. As we find it before us, there’s three things I want to say. Number one, I want us to consider the impeachment. Number two, I want us to consider the imperatives and number three, I want us to consider the impetus. The impeachment we find in verse one, “To the angel of the church at Sardis write, These things says Christ who has the seven spirits of God and the seven churches, I know your works, that you have a name, that you are alive but you are dead.” Here’s the impeachment. Christ wastes no time in challenging this church, charging this church with misconduct. Christ was not as impressed with them as they were with themselves. Isn’t that a scary thought? Christ was not as impressed with them as they were with themselves because they were living off a phony repetition and their works were incomplete.
We read about that in verse two. “Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, the things you’re ready to die for. I have not found your works perfect before God.” There is still more to do. There’s a better way to do it. There’s a better motive to do it with. Their character was stained and smudged with worldliness because, “There was a few,” Jesus says in verse four, “Whose garments were not defiled,” but that was the few. That was the minority. The majority of this church, again, their lives had been smudged by worldliness. So Jesus looks at this church and it was offensive to him, and the amazing thing was it was inoffensive to the world. It was offensive to Christ and inoffensive to the world, and that’s not where you want to be as a church. Let me just unpack that very quickly.
Did you notice that this letter has very little by way of commendation? Sardis and Laodicea are in a category all of their own. There is little endorsement and little encouragement. In fact, a letter to the church of Sardis is the shortest and one of the severest of the seven. There’s an elephant in the room and Christ’s not going to get involved in small talk. Christ isn’t trying to butter them up in any degree. “Hey, I hear you have a name and they’re talking about you at the denominational headquarters and the visitors like what they see, but I don’t like what I see, and what I’m about to tell you, you don’t want to hear. You have a name that you’re alive, but when you pull the veneer off, you’ve got a spiritual coronary going on. You’re dying. You’re breathless, spiritually speaking.”
They were an offense to Christ and they were inoffensive to the world. Remember we saw in some of the earlier letters, some of the persecution that was going on at Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death.” There was that real possibility. In another letter we read about how, “Antipas, my faithful servant, died,” but you don’t read anything about that in the letter to the church at Sardis. They were facing no pressure from within, no persecution from without. They weren’t being haggled by the Jews, they weren’t being hounded by the Greeks. Theirs was a brand of Christianity that was so inoffensive and innocuous that the world left them alone and Satan paid them attention. Okay? I think it was D.L. Moody that said, “Satan doesn’t kick a dead horse,” and this church was a dead horse. The world didn’t bother with it and it wasn’t on hell’s radar screen.
Everybody spoke well of them, even the world. But when a church ceases to be an irritant to the world and when the church ceases to be a threat to the kingdom of darkness, it ceases to be a viable ministry. Isn’t that a thought? In fact, just this week I was going back over the biography of a famous northern Irish evangelist by the name of W.P. Nicholson. He was called the vulgar evangelist. He was rough in his methods, but greatly used of God. People got saved in their droves in the early part of the 20th century. And in the book, he relates how at one particular prayer meeting, as they continued to pray for the spread of God’s work, a man stood up and said, “Oh Lord, give me a good reputation in hell and with the old devil.”
Everybody started to snicker under their breath, some even laughed out loud, and meeting was done, Nicholson took the young convert aside and said, “You know what? You shouldn’t pray prayers that disturb the meeting or you shouldn’t pray prayers that cause others to laugh.” The young convert said, “Mr. Nicholson, I didn’t intend to disturb anyone. In fact, I was reading this week in my Bible in Acts 19:13-15 of how some Jewish exorcists tried to cast out a demon much like Paul had done in the city of Ephesus. And you know what? The demons of hell, they said to those Jewish exorcists, “Jesus we know, Paul we know, but who are you?” And he said, “Mr. Nicholson, I want to be known in hell.” Isn’t that a great thought?
And yet, here’s a church that had no reputation in heaven or hell. They had a reputation, but Jesus said it was all smoke and mirrors, and a church that is not persecuted by the world and a church that is not hounded by hell or the devil is a church that’s headed for the judgment of Christ because that’s what happens here. What do we read in verse three? “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 are, I will come upon you.”If the church on Earth feels in its purpose and ceases to justify its existence, Jesus will attempt to close its doors. They will remain maybe in business, but it won’t be business that God underwrites.
The laxity and the lapses of this assembly were so serious that Jesus threatens to come in unexpected judgment. Now, when you read those words, “I’ll come upon you as a thief,” you immediately associate that with a second coming where Jesus talks in Matthew 24 and Paul talks in his letter to Thessalonians about how Jesus is going to come like a thief, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jesus here is talking about the second coming because if you read the verse correctly, you’ll see that if they’ll watch, if they’ll repent, if they’ll get back to where they once were, that they can avoid this judgment. And what’s true of Jesus coming in judgment is not true of Jesus coming at the end of history in the second advent.
We can’t do anything to put that off. There’s an hour and there’s a day, and only the Father knows it. So it seems clear that Jesus here is threatening this church with judgment and he wants them to get serious about the things he’s sharing with them, which brings us to consider those things. I want you to see the announcement and I want you to see the denouncement as we look at this impeachment. Christ is impeaching this church with false advertising, with a padded resume. And we begin with the announcement, “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.” Christ announces himself as the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Remember, this is a form of biblical Pictionary.
Remember the portrait we have back in Revelations 1? Jesus has taken elements of that portrait and he uses elements of that portrait to convey certain things to a church, whether by way of comfort or conviction. And in the case of Sardis, it seems to be conviction, given the absence of commendation. And I think the point that Jesus is making here, “I possess what you do not have because this is a church that is dead.” This is a church that’s going astray. This is a church that at this time in its history is not under spirit-filled leadership. Jesus said he holds the seven spirits of God. Are there seven spirits of God. That was a trap that Benny Hinn fell into one time writing a book, lacking theological perception.
But the number seven in the Bible speaks of fullness or completeness and Jesus is saying, “Look, I’m the one who sends the Holy Spirit,” we learned that from the upper room discourse, “And the Holy Spirit is sent by Christ and proceeds from the Father,” and he comes in his manifold ministry to convict the lost, to strengthen the believer, to spread the gospel. And I think that’s what Jesus is saying here. He’s speaking about the fullness and the abundance of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of the church. In fact, we could think of the spirit’s baptism. We could think of the spirit’s gifting. We could think of the spirit’s indwelling. We could think of the spirit’s illumination. We could think of the spirit’s ceiling and filling and earnest just name seven of the ways in which the Holy Spirit aids and abets those who come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The spirit of God brings man to Christ and the spirit of God brings Christ to man. He is sent by Jesus, he proceeds from the Father and he inflames hearts. He infuses strength, he inspires worship. He implants faith, he imparts repentance. No church can live apart from his life coursing through its body life. Spurgeon is right, “Without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. We are ships without wind, chariots without horses.” Now, this was a dead church. The letter of the law kills, but the spirit brings life. Christ says, “I have what you need. I hold the seven spirits. You need a fresh outpouring of the spirit of God upon you and among you, working again through you.” We’ve got the seven spirits, we’ve got the seven stars.
Remember back to a earlier study, the seven stars are mentioned in Revelations 1:20, and they’re identified for us. They’re the angels of the seven churches. Is that an angelic being or it is it a physical person? It can be read both ways. The word angel can mean messenger, and I take it to mean those who carried this message to the church, to whom it was addressed. Likely, pastors are definitely spiritual leaders and Christ is saying, “I hold them in my right hand,” which speaks of accountability, which speaks of authority, which speaks of ability. Every pastor, every spiritual leader must minister under the lordship of Jesus Christ, must recognize that without him they can do nothing, but they must be bold because they speak on his behalf. They have his authority as he gives them his ability.
And the church lives or dies by God anointed, God appointed messengers, bringing the word of the living God about a living hope centered upon a risen savior. Spurgeon again, If there were only one prayer that I might pray,” now think about that. This is the great English pastor and preacher Spurgeon. He says, “As I’ve thought about it, if I hold only one prayer to pray before I died, I would pray this. Lord send thy church man filled with the Holy Spirit on fire.” Seems to be what Jesus is going for here. “Okay, I know your works. You’re not what you once were. You’re not certainly what I want you to be. I hold the seven spirits and the seven stars. I have which you have not. The beginning point of revival in this church. The beginning point of renewal in this church begins at the leadership level, man filled with the spirit to become an inlet and a outlet for the spirit’s work.”
We could say more, but we won’t. Let’s move on to the denouncement. We’ve already touched on this, but I want to take it in a slightly different direction. The denouncement begins with these things, “Says he who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars,” here’s the denouncement. “I know your works,” but he says here at the end of verse two, “And those works I find I perfect and incomplete. You have really nothing to celebrate, but you are celebrating any way. I know your works, that you have a name, that you’re alive, but you’re dead.” Christ criticizes them for being nothing more than painted fire. He knows. he sees through the sham and the false advertising, and he notes that this church is a well-dressed corpse. We’ll get back to that thought in a minute, but have that image in your mind. This is a well-dressed corpse.
This is the church of the living dead. Remember the announcement on the gates of the church where Robert Burns is buried? “This cemetery is reserved for the dead now living in this parish.” This church was full of the dead now living in this parish, and Jesus recognizes that and he challenges them about living in a world of spiritual make-believe. They were trafficking in unlived truths. You might want to write this down. Reputation is what people think you are, character is what God knows you to be, and there is a complete difference between those two things. And Jesus says here, “You have a reputation before man, but you have none before God because you’re lacking in spiritual character and vibrancy.”
They prayed without expectation. They sang without passion. They served without sacrifice, they attended without commitment. They gave their money without cost. Oh, they did all the right things, but were they done right? Doesn’t look like it. “Your works are incomplete.” There’s a lackluster about this ministry. There’s a laziness that’s beginning to creep in. There’s a looking back that’s stalling the future. There’s a deadness and a dullness that’s bringing spiritual rigor mortis to the soul of these saints. Jesus steps in, “Hey, you better do something about it soon or I’m going to come upon you like a thief.” But there are a few, and I want to begin with those few get to that next time.
But here’s the point. The scary thing about this whole matter is that they were dead, right? Jesus says they’re dead, so I want to believe him. They’re dead, but they didn’t know it and others didn’t see it. Is that not scary, upsetting, challenging this morning? They were dead but didn’t know it. To visit that church, the music was good, all the component parts of ministry were up and running efficiently. The budget was good, the building was nice, the numbers were increasing, and you’d have to conclude this is the kind of church we want our church to be like. This is the kind of church that Jesus builds. And the amazing thing is Jesus says, “No, it’s not,” which warns us about how we measure success and significance in the ministry. It may be a warning seen as not necessarily believing when it comes to looking at churches that have got big budgets and big buildings and big numbers. It could all be a smoke screen.
And the second thought that would come from that is that that spiritual death takes place by degrees at times and is not easily detected at the beginning. This church was a well-dressed corpse. It was dead, but the interesting thing, I wasn’t rotting. It was dead, but it wasn’t rotting. And so you had come away with a good impression because those who die, and if you look at them immediately, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they’re dead or sleeping. In fact, have you ever noticed that Jesus brought three different people to life in the gospels? Let me dredge your memory. Remember Lazarus, Jesus’ friend? He dies, Martha and Mary are heartbroken. They send for Jesus. Jesus delays coming for the purpose of not healing a sick man, but for raising a dead man to the glory of God.
God’s delays are not God’s denials, but when Jesus gets there, it’s three days. And what do we read about Lazarus? Because Jesus says, “Hey, open the grave and let him come out,” and what do they say? “He stinks. He’s rotten. Decay has sat in, Lord. It’s not going to be a pretty sight or a pretty smell.” Now that’s one stage of death, and you can tell it right away. You can tell. Those who have been on the battlefield or been to some of the war-torn pieces of the world, you can smell the stench of death and that’s the case with [inaudible 00:34:17]. And some churches are like that. They are so rotten, so liberal, so void of the gospel, you can smell them a street away.
But Jesus then raises another man from the dead, the son of the widow of Nain. Read about it in Luke’s gospel. We don’t know how long he was dead. The Jews tend to bury pretty quickly, so maybe hours or maybe one day. He’s in the casket, they’re carrying the casket out. Jesus stops the funeral procession and raises the son of the widow of Nain. He was dead, more dead than Lazarus in one sense, no more dead than Lazarus in another sense because when you’re dead, you’re dead. You’re dead. All right? Once you cross that line, there’s no coming back. He didn’t look just as bad as Lazarus. He didn’t smell as bad, but he was lifeless. And there are churches like that where they’re not outrageously defined the gospel, but at the same time, spirits of rigor mortis is setting in. There’s a creeping deadness.
But then there’s the third person. Jesus raises from the dead. Remember the daughter of Jairus in Luke 8? Jesus gets to the house and she’s lying there, pretty little girl, fair features. Her skin was still beautiful to behold. She lay there as if she was sleeping, but she was dead, dead, dead. But to look at her, you would’ve thought she was merely asleep. And is that not the subtle danger? On the one end, you may have the liberal apostate church that denies the fundamentals of the faith and hasn’t been visited by the Holy Spirit in centuries, but you can have the evangelical church, not unlike this church, and all the component parts of biblical ministry are there, our preaching and worship and fellowship, but we can be dead. We just don’t look as dead as the other church, but we become careless and prayerless.
In a former generation, they didn’t like to talk about the facts of life, but in our generation we don’t like to talk about the facts of death. Is that not true? Ours is a generation that’s uncomfortable with death. That’s because we’re in a world without windows. We deny the eternal. We’re driven by human reason and rationality, therefore this is it, and therefore death is very uncomfortable because there’s nothing beyond it. It’s the end. It’s hopeless, it’s cold, it’s empty, so let’s not talk about death. Now, that’s not true for the Christian. For me to live as Christ, to die, again, we live in a world with windows. We look to another world, a better world, a greater world, a happier world, a healthier world, a holier world, so it’s interesting, you see.
The Victorian age was a spiritual age. They were happy to talk about death, but not about the facts of life. Ours is a post-modern culture, a post-Christian society. We’re happy to talk about the facts of life, but not death. We’re even trying to make the dead look good. Have you ever noticed that? John Mitford wrote an hilarious scathing book called The American Way of Death, how we have tried to leach the presence of death from our everyday lives in every possible way. The largest service provider in the death care industry noticed in a recent manual quote, “Certain words and phrases long-associated with cemeteries sometimes increase seals resistance because they suggest images negative, morbid and depressing in nature.”
And so the cemetery is no longer the cemetery, right? What is it? It’s the memorial park. The undertaker is no longer the undertaker, he’s the funeral director. You’re not handed a death certificate anymore, you’re handed a vital information card. Good night. In fact, if a loved one is cremated, you’re no longer given ashes, you’re given cremains, whatever that means. Cremains. And because of this, we are, we’re seeing a vast increase in what’s called… listen to this. Talk about an oxymoron, like military intelligence. No, no, I better not go there… an oxymoron, death cosmology. That’s an oxymoron. In fact, cosmetology is the word, actually. It’s a huge industry.
In fact, the one president of Dinair Airbrush Systems believes that there’d be less cremations and more traditional funerals if the dead didn’t look as bad as they do. Listen to his words. We need to help loved ones have their loved ones look better. If people didn’t look so dead and more alive, I think we’d have less cremations and more traditional funerals. She cited a survey that said that 75% of mortuary customers were unhappy with the appearance of the deceased. Maybe because they’re dead? It makes you wonder about the 25% that we’re happy with how the deceased look. We’re trying to make death look good. You’ve been there, I have. I’ve been there probably more than you have as a pastor. You’re standing there, and maybe somebody’s had a recent funeral and I hope this isn’t opening up unnecessary wounds, but we’ve all been there. “He looks good, doesn’t he?” What do you say? He may look good, but he’s dead. She’s dead. She’s lifeless, she’s gone.
And it’s hard to dress death up, but we do it. I don’t wear makeup and probably when I die, I’ll look probably better than I’ve ever looked before. It’ll be the first time I’ll have worn makeup up. And Jesus is warning this church of trying to dress death up, of making death look good. Jesus is having none of it. He says, “Look, I know your works. You have a name that you’re alive, but you’re dead. All this religious cosmetics and veneer, I see through it all. You’re just mouthing words. You’re going through the routine and there’s no heart, there’s no soul. There’s no reality there,” and that’s challenging, isn’t it? Remember what I said earlier? Jesus would rather deal with real sinners than fake saints. You’ve got permission from Christ to drop your mask, to come out and share where you’re struggling or why you’re not praying or why the word of God seems dull. Better to address those issues, to talk about how unreal God seems at times to you than to act and to play at church. That’s a deadly game. Jesus doesn’t allow it.
One thought we’ll leave off this morning. Look at not only the impeachment, but the imperatives. Following the impeachment comes the imperatives. Jesus addresses this problem, boom, boom, boom, boom with five verbs, five imperative commands in the Greek text. Jesus writes this dying church a prescription for health and holiness. First of all, he says in verse two, “Be watchful.” We’re going to see, they needed to reawake, they needed to reinforce. They needed to remember, they needed to remain. They needed to repent. Just one thought, they needed to reawake. Be watchful is the first verb. Become watchful, remain watchful. This church needed to get exercised about the danger that they were in, for they were foolishly presuming upon their future.
What did the Bible say in Proverbs 24:30 following, “A little folding of the arms, a little sleep,” and the man comes to poverty. Speaking about the slothful man, the lazy man who doesn’t provide for his home, who doesn’t make as much of his business as his business could make because he’s lazy and indolent, but what’s true physically is true spiritually. A little folding of the arms, a little sleep and then will come ruin either through the discipline of Jesus Christ or through the entrapment of the world. They had folded their arms in contentment. They were coasting, and maybe you’re coasting this morning. Let me tell you, you can only continue to coast one way, downhill. There’s only way you can coast is downhill.
And if you and I are coasting, we’re moving in the wrong direction. We’ve got to stir ourselves up. We’ve got to watch under prayer, right? Jesus said to his own disciples, “Watch and pray lest you come into temptation.” We’ve got to watch for the rapture and the second coming of Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 4:7, “We have got to watch for false teaching and spiritual wolves that can come in and destroy a flock of God’s people.” That was Paul’s warning to the elders at Ephesus. We have got to watch against pretense. Jesus told his own disciples to watch against those who like to stand at the street corner and make long prayers.
Are you sleepwalking? If you go into the history of this church, you’ll realize that this very warning of Jesus carries some special weight at Sardis because this city was taken twice. It fell militarily twice. It was built and perched on a high mountain and it had some natural defenses, some sheer cliffs to a number of its sides, and it made it complacent and content. And they were breached twice, 549 B.C. by Cyrus when a number of his man climbed the perpendicular walls and over the fortress walls. Antiochus the Great captured the city in 218 B.C. when 15 of his men sneaked over the wall and up the cliff and opened the doors. Remember, what was going on in the city is being repeated in the church. They were looking to past glories and they were becoming content and complacent. Jesus warns them to wake up.
One of the great dangers, as the team comes forward and we prepare ourselves to close, one of the great dangers in the Christian life is sheer neglect. How many times have you heard the verse Hebrews 2:3 quoted to those who don’t know Christ? “How shall you escape if you neglect so great a salvation?” But that was actually addressed to believers who were being told to recognize that God’s work in the world had moved from old covenant to the new covenant, and they must neglect the fulfillment that was now centered in Jesus Christ. He’s the great high priest. He’s the one sacrificed. He’s the best way to God. And if they neglect that, if they go back to the old system, they’re neglecting so great a salvation that now has come in Jesus Christ.
One of the great dangers of the Christian life is just sheer neglect. Coasting, taking things for granted, praying when you feel like it. Coming to church one week and skipping church the next, not disciplining yourself in daily devotional. Not being real and authentic in accountability groups with other Christians, putting on a mask, neglecting to be real. Neglecting the means of grace by which you can grow and Jesus can bring to bear upon your life the seven spirits of God, the manifold ministry of the Holy Spirit. You think maybe you can take time off. You can sit on the bench and then come back to your faith and find it intact? No way, Jose. No way. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic essayist and a contemporary of C.S. Lewis decided as a young man to put his religion in the drawer for a while and have a good time. He would remember where he put it and when he was in the mood for it, he’d go back to it and reclaim it. Years later, he went back for it. He opened the drawer, but it was empty. It’s the way it works. You can’t park your faith. You can’t idle your walk with God. You can’t put into neutral your worship of God. If you neglect it, you’ll lose it. And how will you escape if you neglect so great a salvation? Wake up. This is a heavy message. I think the Lord’s telling kindred to wake up. The past is the past. The future will only be as good as our obedience in the present is real.
We can’t park our faith. We can’t put up with mediocrity. We can’t get by with this little thing and that little thing. We have all got a role to play. We’ve got to give. We’ve got to come. We’ve got to serve, we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to be filled by the spirit in the giving and in the doing and in the coming. There was a novel some years ago, a best-selling novel that began with these words. “The courthouse clock struck 12:00 and the church in the corner gave up its dead.” Sadly, that is not nonfiction, that’s the reality of where many churches and many Christians are today. May that not be true of us today, may that not be true of us tomorrow. May we heed these imperatives beginning with this first one, wake up. The night is far spent.
The day is at hand and your complete salvation is nearer than when you first. Therefore, do not neglect so great a salvation. Don’t neglect the means by which you can build your faith. And if you’re here this morning and you don’t know Christ as your own and personal savior, and maybe one of the reasons that you have put off putting your faith in him, because you’ve been exposed to exposed to dead and dulled Christians. I would say this to you, just because you can go to a soccer game or a football game and it not be an end to end thriller, it may be something you yawn at, it doesn’t mean that football’s dead or soccer’s not worth watching.
And just because you meet one dead church or one dead Christian doesn’t mean that the living God is not alive in Christians today. He is. There are those that love him, there are those who are loved by him, and there are those who love to love him. We’re not offering you Christians today. We’re offering you Christ. I’m sorry for those that have given Christ a bad testimony. I’m sorry for those that are a bad advertisement, but look past them. Even Jesus acknowledges there are a few that haven’t had their garments soiled. Come to Christ today, despite Christians. Come and be a great Christian yourself.
Let’s pray. Oh God, we look to you this day. We feel that this has been a cup of cold water thrown in our face. And God, we feel drowsy and dull at times at Christians. We know we’re not what we once were. We thank you for that. But we do realize we’re not what we are yet to become. We’re not what we could yet be. Oh Lord, help us to wake up and move on in our walk with you. Help us indeed, Lord, to tear off the veneer. Help us to get real about our repentance and real about our commitment and real about taking up our cross. Lord, to those that are still dead in their sin, bring them to life in Jesus Christ today. Help them to look past that which is a pale reflection of true Christianity. Help them to become real in Christ and really Christs, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.