Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 February 14, 2021
We continue today to listen, through the reading and preaching of God’s Word, for what the Spirit says to the Church. We gain our fifth message of seven from the Lord today as we continue our series from Revelation 2-3. Let’s recall our earlier messages from the Lord in His Word. We learned from Ephesus to recover our first love, from Smyrna to fear not and to be faithful, and from both Pergamum and Thyatira not to tolerate what God abhors. Today, the Sardis church, and our church, and the Church hear, “Wake up!” Give ye ear, one and all, to the reading and proclamation of the Word of God once again in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Let’s meet once again the correspondents. First, we meet again the Sender: the risen, ascending, glorified Lord Jesus Christ, Who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. That is, Jesus has the Holy Spirit of God without measure in Himself, and he has the messengers of God—His angels, His heralds, etc.—in His strong hand. Second, we meet today’s recipient: the church at Sardis, via its angel, or messenger. The church is on the southeast, inland road from Thyatira en route to Philadelphia and Laodicea. According to Matthew Henry, Sardis is the first city converted to Christ at the preaching of the Apostle John—and maybe the first to decline from first love engendered by that preaching. Albert Barnes, another Presbyterian commentator, notes that Sardis once was a wealthy city, but it fortunes declined noticeably under Roman rule. This is the original recipient of Jesus’ message under examination today. Now let’s turn to examine this message.
For the first time in these messages, a church receives no commendation. The message proper to Sardis begins with reproof. Jesus tells the church, through its angel, that though the church has a reputation for being alive, actually is dead. The dead church has no mind, heart, soul, or strength engagement with the living God. These are true in private and public worship, in works attempted, and in relationships with fellow believers at church. Moreover, they cannot respond in themselves to the gracious prompting of the Holy Spirit. They merely go through the motions and mouth the words. They are not alive in any significant sense.
Jesus prescribes the remedy for the church at Sardis. Simply, the church must wake up—it literally must stay awake or become alert (Greek gregoreo [grhgorew]). The church must be alert both to her true condition and her true situation—and Jesus, no doubt, will help her with this. The other prescriptions flow from this fundamental call to wakeful alertness. The church must strengthen that which is about to die. She must feed her the inner life through the means of grace, and she must exercise the little-used (or unused) spiritual fibers—or, at least, little-used of late. The church at Sardis must also remember the things received and heard in times past from the Lord. She also must keep, or guard, these; she must put these things received and heard into practice. The final part of the prescription is what we expect: a call to repent. Repentance, once again, involves agreeing with God that He is right and we are wrong when our conduct or view conforms not to His will for us—and it also involves turning from that wrong to the right that God intends for us.
The church at Sardis must comply with each directive from her Lord. Failure to comply, alas, will result in a surprise visit from the Lord—and the surprise visit will not be a welcome one. There will be painful, grievous, and otherwise unwelcome results for the church should it fail to heed Jesus’ words. Yet there is a better way, and to it Jesus (and we) now turns.
Note the unfailing promise of God in Christ to the few who have not sullied themselves, who shall walk in white, together with all who repent. They, at Sardis ca. A. D. 95 and in every place and age, will receive white clothing—clothing that symbolizes cleanliness, purity, and the like. They also, to their great delight, will see their names inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life. Furthermore, the ones made faithful by the secret work of the Spirit will hear Jesus confess them as His before His Father. Is there anything better than this? Indeed, there is not. Consequently, both to those who need more repentance and to those who need comparatively less, Jesus utters His final exhortation: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.
It is easy for a church to become drowsy. If conditions are not too difficult in the life of the church, and if circumstances change not too much, then drowsiness all too easily descends upon a church. Yet this drowsiness is not the will of God for us. We must wake up, stay awake, and remain alert. After all, our conditions, even in the American church, are harder that we prefer to admit—and, as we all know, and as many of us lament, our circumstances change ever more rapidly as time passes. These facts conduce to our heightened awareness of our internal condition and external circumstance—but our alertness and guard must remain high even if these improve. Even in the most peaceful and otherwise blessed of circumstances and conditions, Lord, let us be awake and vigilant by Thy Spirit’s gracious aid.
The rebuke at Sardis appears to have borne fruit, for the church flourished in the second century under their learned and Godly bishop, Melito. May the same be said in Jesus’ church on earth today—especially at the blue church on the hill. The Lord says to us, today, either, “Wake up,” if the case applies, or, “Stay awake and remain alert,” for this case surely applies.
 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible.