May 2, 2010
Waking the Dead – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Revelation 3: 1-6

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Let’s take our Bibles for a few moments this morning and turn over to Revelation 3. I want to look briefly at another part of this letter. We’re working our way through here, the letter to the church at Sardis. Our time is compressed this morning. We want to move into a celebration of our Lord’s love for us and the commemoration of his death for us around the Lord’s table. I want to limit my comments, but I did want to make some more progress here in the letter to the church at Sardis, and we’ll pick the rest of this up and finish it next Sunday morning.
We’ve given the sermon a title, Waking the Dead, because that’s the task that Jesus has here before him in 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.
Did you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die. For I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember, therefore, how you have received and heard. Hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names, even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”
If you remember back to January of this year, we were visited by Mark Hitchcock, teacher at Dallas Seminary, a pastor in Oklahoma. As him and I were talking during a couple of days here, he was asking me what I was preaching through. I was telling him I was working my way through the churches in the book of Revelation. He said, “I have a great story for you when you get to the church at Sardis.” He says, “It actually relates to a pastor by the name of Bill Alexander in the state of Oklahoma.” He had gone to a church with high hopes of reviving it, bringing it back to a state of holiness and health, but that proved a lot harder than he expected, and so one Sunday morning he pronounced the death of the church.
He announced he was going to hold the following Sunday, a funeral service for the church. He invited the church to come back and to bring friends and family to pay their respects. As you can imagine, this created quite a stir. The next Sunday morning the church building was packed. The people had come out of the woodwork to see what was going on. As they said in their seats, they were struck that at the front of the auditorium was a casket closed, smothered in flowers.
As the service get underway, pastor Bill Alexander give a eulogy about the church’s history its past, but its present state of prayerlessness and powerlessness. When he was done, he invited all those in the congregation to file by the casket and pay their respects. So one by one the people got up and as they came by the casket, which by now he had opened up, they looked inside to see the remains of this dead church. As they looked inside, they found a large mirror. They saw reflections of themselves.
There was one pastor’s poignant way of reminding this people that the church had died because they had died. As we come, the church at Sardis, the Lord Jesus Christ is warning that if something isn’t done soon, this church too will be paying its respects to itself, because Jesus tells us here that he knows their works, that they have a name, that they’re alive, but they’re dead. He encourages them to be watchful and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die, for He hadn’t found their works perfect before God.
As we started to look at this letter, we noticed first of all the impeachment. This letter, unlike some of the others, is without commendation. This church had a failing grade in the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ reminds them that reputation is what men think they are, but character is what God knows them to be.
As God looked at this church from the outside in, he saw a deadness, a spiritual lethargy and lifelessness. They prayed without expectation. They sang without passion. They served without sacrifice. They gave without cost. They attended without commitment. The Lord Jesus Christ indicts this church and warns them that if they don’t do something soon, the casket will close on this church’s history and the epitaph will be written by heaven itself. Dead.
The indictment is followed by the imperatives. This is where we left off. The Lord Jesus Christ here, following the impeachment, gives a series of imperatives. He not only diagnoses their problem, He writes them a prescription for spiritual health and holiness. He wants them to get back onto a path of health and strength. He sets before them a series of clear steps that come in the form of five imperatives.
Number of years ago when I was at Moody Pastor’s Conference, I went to a lecture by Erwin Lutzer, who was the pastor then of the Moody Church and still is to this day. He urged us as preachers to look for the imperatives, the commands, the action statements in any passage and build your sermon around the imperatives, the commands.
That’s what I want to do for the remainder of this morning and then next Sunday morning, because Jesus gives this church five things to do. He commands them to arise themselves and renew themselves. They’re in a state of spiritual [inaudible 00:07:21] and the first thing we saw was they needed to reawake.
Verse two, “Be watchful.” Be watchful. They needed to chase the sleep from their eyes. That’s kind of the picture that’s behind this Greek verb. They were falling asleep, they were becoming complicit. They were coasting down hill into spiritual deadness and death. Jesus calls them to watch their prayer lives, to watch their walk in the spirit, and that’s the first thing any of us would have to do if we’re going to wake out of any kind of spiritual sleep or slumber, that we may be falling into.
It’s so easy, isn’t it? A classic example would be the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Matthew 26:36 following, it’s the last week of our Lord’s life. Along with His disciples, He’s come to the garden of Gethsemane, which is a place where olives would be pressed for their oil. It was an olive grove. High fitting because soon enough, the Lord Jesus would be crushed between the upper and lower millstones of God’s holy wrath given against our sin.
The Lord Jesus Christ anticipates what was around the corner. His mind is troubled. His soul is in anguish. Soon enough, his body will be in convulsions at the thought of being made sin for us. He who knew no sin. What an hour as our Lord Jesus Christ goes a little further, having brought James and John and Peter with Him, He leaves him and says, “Hey, would you watch and pray? Would you think about me?” He goes a little further and you know that conflict that goes on in His heart and soul. “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass,” but that is not what happens.
On a couple of occasions He comes back and He finds the disciples. What? Sleep. It says their eyes were heavy with sleep. The same kind of idea here in Revelation 2. They needed to chase the sleep from them. They needed to become conscious of what was going on in that hour and He says this to them, “Could you not watch for one hour?” What an hour it was. It was the hour of his sorrow of soul. It was the hour that the enemy was coming and Judas would plant that kiss of betrayal upon his lovely cheek. It was the hour upon which history was turning.
Spiritual tardiness is a real danger, isn’t it? Jesus says to this church, as He said to His disciples, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” William S. Plumber said this, “The calm which puts us to sleep may be more fatal than the storm that keeps us awake.” That’s a good quote.
Do you need and do I need to rub some sleep from our eyes this morning? We’re becoming complacent about the means of grace, about the importance of body life in the church, about prayer and Bible study, about repenting from our sin, about walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. One of the great dangers of the Christian life is just sheer neglect.
It was written to Christians. Hebrews 2:3, “How shall you escape if you neglect so great a salvation?” We can neglect church attendance. We can neglect that family altar. We can neglect that time before God in prayer and the study of His word on a daily basis. We can neglect building biblical sanctifying, satisfying friendships. We can neglect worshiping God and being given a perspective on eternity.
Second imperative, they needed to reinforce. They not only needed to reawake, they needed to reinforce. Here’s the second imperative, be watchful, that’s number one, and strengthen, that’s number two. The things which remain and are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” The church was to wake up, chase to sleep from their eyes. They were like a long haul truck driver in the middle of the night, or a soldier on century duty. Their eyes were beginning to close and they needed to shake themselves awake, lest they fall into a spiritual slumber that would lead to deadness and death.
They needed to wake up and get out of their spiritual rocking chair, for there was work to do, there were things to be strengthened, the things that remained, the things that were on the edge and brink of extinction. They needed the fan into a flame the dying embers of devotion and duty to the Lord Jesus Christ. The situation was precarious. That’s the case, isn’t it? I know your works that you have a name, that you’re alive, but you’re dead, but you’ve padded your resume. It’s not as good as others think. I’m seeing through it all. Waken up and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die.
The door on this church’s witness to the world was closing and Christ was shutting it with His own hand, if this church didn’t wake up. Remember He said to them, “I’m come to you as a thief.” We reminded himself, this isn’t a reference to the second coming. It speaks of His discipline. He’s already told one church in Ephesus, “I’ll blow the lamp out,: and he’s saying to this church, “Hey, I’ll conduct your funeral unless you reawake and reinforce.”
Thankfully things were not at a loss. Things were serious, but they weren’t hopeless. I like the story I came across of Winston Churchill some time ago, when he was in a meeting with the President of the Irish Republic. Churchill said concerning things in the United Kingdom, “You know what? Things here are serious, but they’re not hopeless.” The Prime Minister of the Irish Republic replied, “You know what, in Ireland, things are hopeless, but they’re not serious.”
That doesn’t make sense, right? When they’re hopeless, it is serious, but things were serious here, but not hopeless. Jesus is saying, “Hey, there’s a new chapter to write. There’s a new day that can dawn here if you’ll follow these imperatives.” The things that needed to be strengthened are not mentioned, but one would assume that there are the things that are commanded in the other letters that are not commanded in this letter.
Remember what we said, “There’s no commendation.” This is a failing grade that Jesus is giving this church, so one would expect or assume that what’s absent here should be present. We don’t have time, but if you look at the other letters, they were commended for their faithfulness, their orthodoxy, their love, their service, their obedience, their bold evangelism in Jesus’ name.
Evidently that wasn’t in this church to the same measure it was in other churches. Oh, there were a few stalwart sins here, according to Jesus. “You have a few names,” verse four, “In Sardis, who have not defiled their garments, who walk with me and who will walk with me in white,” but that wasn’t true of the majority, and so evidently there were a few, but the few needed to become the many.
What’s going on here? If I was to apply this, and this is probably where we’ll just finish out this morning, on the whole this church was mired in mediocrity. That’s the issue here. That’s why it’s dying. It’s dying by degrees of mediocrity. “Be watchful and strengthen the things which for me and which are ready to die.” Look at the end of that verse, “For I have not found your works perfect.” Their works were incomplete. They lacked fulfillment. They were not perfect before God.
Jesus examines the activities of this church in Sardis as God awarded Belteshazzar, remember that back in the prophecy of Daniel? On the scales and what was said of Belteshazzar, that he was found wanting. That’s what Jesus is saying of this church. He doesn’t just want quantity. I know your works. He wants quality. Oh, there was work going on here. There was service being rendered. They meant to worship. They meant to do this. They meant to do that, but there was something missing. There was an ingredient missing, excellence and commitment and blood earnestness.
Every time they met without commitment and blood earnestness, there was one more nail getting hammered into the lid of the coffin of this church. Nothing was being done with completeness or with competency. What they started, they never finished. What they finished, they never did with a whole heart. That’s challenging, isn’t it? No Israelite could offer a blemished animal to the Lord under the old covenant. That’s one of the issues, isn’t it, in Malachi? When they’re taken to task for bringing these lame lambs, these blemished animals? They wouldn’t do that at the governor’s mansion says Malachi, but you do it in the house of the Lord.
Even when a thing was done, it wasn’t done well. They were offering these blemished things, incompleteness, mediocrity, lack of enthusiasm. Halfheartedness is unbecoming of a Christian. Wouldn’t you agree? Now, you don’t want to be a mediocre Christian, do you? I’ll tell you why you don’t want to be mediocre in anything, let alone your Christian life, because if you’re mediocre, you’re the worst of the best and you’re the best of the worst. You’re lost in the middle. You’re just as close to the devil as you are to God. That’s not where any of us want to be, right? Lost or stuck in the middle. We don’t want mediocre marriages. We don’t want mediocre ministries. We don’t want to live a half-hearted life.
We want to fall breathless over the finish line in the AM to the glory of God, having done all the stand in an evil day, running so as to win, not beating the air. No, that’s not the way any one of us want to live. Write this down and think about it. “Mediocrity is a curse word in the Christian Church.” That’s a curse word. It’s a bad word. How can we be mediocre? How can we offer God that which is blemished with the lack of heart, lack of commitment, the lack of cost.
We can do that. We need to strengthen the things which for remain and that are ready to die. For I have not found your works perfect before God. We can’t be mediocre before God, because there’s nothing mediocre about God or anything that he does. What about the blazing glory of God? What about the no holds barred love of God? What about the finished work of Christ in all its perfection? He finished the work, He finished it perfectly.
What about the expanse of eternity? What about the realities of heaven and hell? What about the judgment seat of Christ? What about the greatness of our salvation? I could go on and on. In the light of all of those things, how can you and I yawn our way through the Christian life? It’s impossible. Everything about God, His glory, His grace should draw us to a hold nothing back kind of commitment.
Didn’t Paul say that in Acts 20:20? He can look the elders at Ephesus in the eye as he’s about to leave them. It’s a very emotional scene. Towards the end of the chapter, they’ll fall down on his neck. A bit like what we’re dealing with today with Shehan and Melissa. There’s a parting that’s taking place and Paul was able to say this, “I held nothing back.” Paul, why? Well, I was dealing with the church of Jesus Christ bought by the blood of God. This is a glorious thing. This is a magnificent ministry. How can I hold something back in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ where God spared not his own son?
God didn’t spare anything. God didn’t hold out. God didn’t keep back. He held nothing back. Heaven gave its best for us. We must give our best for heaven. Let that mark this ministry from ushering to media, to children’s ministry, to youth ministry. Nothing should be held back. We should spare no expense, spare, no energy, giving ourselves to ministry. That ought to be excellent.
But hey, we’re a young church. We’re a church that’s going through change and transition. Our works are not yet perfect and we need to keep striving for greater maturity, better ministries. Let’s not take our foot off the gas pedal, so to speak, as it relates to life and ministry. The Christian is to leave it all on the field. All on the field.
The word enthusiasm is a word that comes from two Greek words. Did you know this? The first word is N meaning in or within, and the second word is theos and theos, enthusiasm. What’s the second word mean? Theos God, who ought to be the most enthusiastic people on planet Earth. Those who have God within, those who are in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ in them. God has given himself completely for us in Christ and completely to us in the Holy Spirit. We must therefore give ourselves to God without reserve, without retreat, since God has given himself completely for us, that’s the case.
That’s why we need to strengthen the things that remain. We are complete in Christ and therefore our lives and works should be complete. All that we need to do that all that God asks is ours in Jesus Christ. Did you realize that? We won’t go to Colossians 2:1-10, but there’s a whole argument going on there where the Colossians are being duped by some false teachers, who may be the precursor to full-blown gnosticism, but they’re kind of saying there’s something more beyond Jesus Christ. He didn’t have it all. There’s a fullness beyond him and Paul says, “Hold on, let, you’re going to get robbed here. You’re going to get hoodwinked here.” He uses a word spoiler, robbed.
Don’t get robbed. “When you got Jesus Christ,” Paul says, “You got someone in whom dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” He uses the same word that these gnostics may have used. There’s no fullness outside of Jesus Christ. There’s fullness inside of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine this? All the fullness of God in him and nay since His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, He’s in you. The hope of glory, the fullness is in you. That’s a sermon in itself, but the point is this, why are we hobbling through life? Why are our marriages miss firing? Why are our ministries incomplete? They don’t have to be like that.
Because if we’re completing Him, then all that He has given us to do, we can complete. We can live selflessly and love sacrificially one person for our whole lives. We can build churches that can stand up against the gates of hell and survive and thrive until Jesus comes. We can raise a generation of young people who will get through secular university without tossing their faith to the side. We are complete in him. We have received grace upon grace as John of his fullness. We have received it.
John 1:16, pleroma in the Greek. It’s the same kind of word that the gnostic false teachers would use. It’s a word that carried the idea of a ship that was being raided for the sea and before it set sail, there had to be an adequate crew. The cargo had to include sufficient food and drink and medical supplies, everything that was necessary for that vessel to be seaworthy and the completed journey was in this word play, roma. Fullness ship was now ready. It was full of its crew, full of its cargo, and it was now ready to set sail of his fullness. We have received all that’s necessary for life and godliness.
You and I, myself included, if we’re not careful, we can slip in the spiritual sleep and slumber. We need to waken up and we need to look at our life and the things that need strengthened this week we need to start strengthening them, in his strength. We can do it. Some of you have come in and you may be wondering, “You know what? Are we going to make it in ministry? Are we going to make it in marriage? Are we going to make it in life? Is our budget going to hold out? Is our business going to be alive six months from now?”
I don’t know all the answers to all the questions that all those things read, but I know this of his fullness. You can receive grace upon grace upon grace. You can strengthen that which remains. It doesn’t need to die, and you can indeed be more than a conqueror. As the team comes up and we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s table, I think I’ve told you this story before, maybe not, but I went back over it this week. The story of William Borden. William Borden, he was a blue blood, born into a rich family in Chicago. He was the heir to a multimillion dollar dairy business.
As a prize for graduating from school, His family sent them around the world and William Borden was given a vision for world missions, but this stage he was a believer and he decided to turn his back on the easy life, the comfortable life. He could have lived the life of the silver spoon in his mouth quite easily, but he decided God wanted him to go to China as a missionary to the Muslims. His friends thought he was nuts. His family was bemused and befuddled turning his back and all this, what a waste. That doesn’t make sense, but you see, William Borden understood about the glory of God and expansive eternity and the finished work of Christ and the need to give himself to that which was of great magnitude and meaning.
He leaves the United States against the Council of many on his way to China he stops in Egypt, contracts viral meningitis and dies before he even gets to the field. The Monday morning quarter back are all saying, “We told you what a waste. What a waste of a fortune, what a waste of a life,” but it was no waste, and certainly William Borden didn’t think it was a waste because when they got his Bible home and they opened it to the flyleaf, he had kind of chronicled those turning points in his life that led him to the mission field right up into the moment where he was lying on his deathbed.
He wrote these words on the fly leaf of his Bible. “No reserves, no retreats and no regrets.” That’s the way it ought to be for you and me. The things that are ready to die don’t need to die. We don’t need to live a life of defeat and discouragement. We can come back to life. Our marriages can find a second wind. Our church can mature and continue to mature, if you and I will wake up and give ourselves to strengthening the things that remain and the making present the things that are absent to play our part in making it happen and to do it with this sense. You know what? No reserve, no retreat, no regrets. Heaven gave its best for me. I will give my best to heaven.
Let’s pray. Lord, as we transition to the Lord’s table, we thank you for the Lord Jesus Christ and His complete work, finished work. Although His life was short, it was finished. Sadly, many of our lives are long and finished. Will God help us to reflect on the perfection of His work, to take great refuge and rest in the knowledge that our sins have been completely covered and fully paid for in the blood of Jesus Christ. To rest there, to know that our relationship with you is secure, our position with you is safe and signed, but oh God, there is an unfinished work as Jesus builds his church.
In the light of his complete work, we, Lord, are challenged by our incompleteness, our incompetency, our casualness, our carelessness about our Christian life and walk. Lord, help us indeed not to be party to the death of any church by our own spiritual, slumber or sleep. Lord, help us to sound the alarm in the light of Jesus’ return, in the light of the lateness of the hour, in the light of time already wasted. Help us to set the alarm and wake up and strengthen the things in our life and our homes and our church that needs to be made more complete. For we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.