Sun, Feb 20, 2000

The Dead Church: Revelation 3:1-6

Ministry of Pastor Joe Guglielmo teachings through the Bible, verse by verse for a better understanding of Gods Word.



We remember hearing a leader of one of the great Evangelical Missionary societies commenting on what seems to be the natural development of many an organization. He said, there is a man. The man creates a movement or a mission. The mission gradually becomes a machine. Finally the machine ends up being a monument. Only the power of God can prevent a Christian organization from becoming a monument to the man who under God brought it into being.

- Prairie Overcomer

As we study the letter Jesus wrote to the church in Sardis, that is the thought, the dead church. A man or woman was moved by God and a movement began. But soon God is being prepackaged and you have the movement become a machine. And within a short period of time this movement becomes a monument to a man, it is dead! So lets go through this letter that Jesus wrote to these churches in the Roman province of Asia, specifically the church of Sardis this morning, and we are going to begin reading in Revelation chapter 3, beginning in verse 1. (Read Revelation 3:1-6).

And once again, as with the previous letters we have looked at, we are going to look at 7 key principles or elements found in this letter. We will look at the DESTINATION of this letter, theTITLE or DESCRIPTION OF JESUS, the COMMENDATION, the REBUKE, theEXHORTATION, the WARNING, and finally the PROMISE to this church. And so, with that in mind, lets look at little closer at the verses we have already read this morning and see what the Lord has for us.



The DESTINATION of this letter is Sardis. This church was located some 50 miles east of Smyrna and 30 miles south of Thyatira. And this city was very wealthy and a very active commercial center. The city itself was built upon a 1500 foot plateau, and thus, they felt very secure to the point of being complacent.

Barclay put it this way in regards to the attitudes of the people of Sardis. He said that "Sardis was a city of peace, not the peace won through battle, but the peace of the man whose dreams are dead and whose mind is asleep, the peace of lethargy and evasion." That was their weakness!

Because of this lethargy and complacency, the city was overtaken two times. In 549 BC the Persians, under Cyrus their king, came and captured the city. Also, in 218 BC Antiochus the Great was also able to capture this city. The sad indictment against the people of Sardis was that on both occasions, when Cyrus and Antiochus attacked them, their troops were able to scale the hill by night, and the over confident people of Sardis had no guard to watch out for this enemy. Because of this apathy, they were overtaken.

Also, in 17 AD a catastrophic earthquake destroyed the city of Sardis. But, with the help of Emperor Tiberius, who gave them a generous financial assistance, they were able to rebuild the city.

The morals of this city were not much to brag about. Herodotus, the Greek historian, said that the citizens of Sardis had a reputation for lax moral standards and open licentiousness. They also worshiped the god Artemis, besides other gods. And Artemis was a nature cult that carried with it the idea of death and rebirth. But all that remains today of this city is a small Muslim city, there is no Christian church there at all! You see, there is no rebirth outside of Christ!

Now prophetically speaking, we have seen the Ephesian church represent the apostolic church of the first century who left their first love. From around 100 AD to around 312 AD the church of Smyrna is represented or the persecuted church. And this church was pure, it was strong, it emanated the fragrance of Jesus as they were being crushed for their faith. From there we go to Pergamos or the compromising church, where we saw Constantine try to marry the church to the world. What persecution couldn’t do, weaken the church, this compromise did, and it led into the church of Thyatira or the corrupt church, which was represented in church history from around 590 AD to 1517 AD, and was known as the dark ages.

But as evil as the dark ages were, there were those who held onto the truths of God. And the dark ages moved into a period of time known as the Renaissance which literally means "rebirth." It is the name given to the Great Awakening of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, culminating with the sixteenth-century reformation in Europe, as we shall see.

Martin Luther, educated as a loyal member of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, became both a monk and a priest. But Luther was disillusioned with the teachings of the church. As indulgences increased within the church, the more Luther was troubled. One writer said, "Some of those who sold indulgences encouraged people to believe that they were actually buying forgiveness of sins for themselves or for others when they bought an indulgence."

One day in 1508, while reading the book of Romans, Luther saw these words, "The just shall live by faith." He saw that our salvation was to be gained by a trust in God through Jesus Christ. It was not the rituals, sacraments, or even the indulgences put forth by the church. And so, on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted on the church door in Wittenberg Germany his 95 theses, which nearly all related to indulgences and struck at the authority of the Pope. And this reformation spread like wildfire across Europe! And so, prophetically speaking, this reformation covered a period of time from 1517 to 1750 AD.

Now the DESCRIPTION OF JESUS taken from Revelation chapter 1, is once again very significant to this church. Jesus is described as the one having "the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars." As we have said, the seven Spirits of God speak of the complete work or the manifold working of the Holy Spirit. The seven stars represent the pastors of these churches, and specifically here, the pastor of the church of Sardis. Thus, the thought here is the Spirit of God is the one who gives life to this church, for without the Spirit of God moving, the church is dead!

If there is a COMMENDATION for this church, it is their work, but Jesus does not elaborate on that point. He says He knows the work they do, and that is true of anything and everything we do - He is omniscient or all-knowing. So I doubt if there is a commendation for this church.

The REBUKE against this church was they are dead! Yes, some saw life, but it is just the flicker of what burned brightly at one time, there is no life anymore! Now this is interesting to me. There was no persecution from outside the church that killed it. There was no false doctrine coming from within the church that killed it. But the church died a slow, agonizing death that was secondary to apathy. All that is left is an empty shell of what it once was. And you can go throughout Europe today and see beautiful church buildings that are empty, just a shell. The only people that visit them are the tour groups. There is no life in them anymore. In fact, in Sweden, Denmark and Norway there is only an estimated 3% of the population that attend church each week!

What happened? I think Barclay sums it up very nice for us when he says, the church "is in danger when it begins to worship its own past...When it is more concerned with forms than with life...When it loves systems more than it loves Jesus Christ...When it is more concerned with material things than spiritual things." The Protestant Reformation was a great move of God that was badly needed, but it became stalled because of tradition and apathy. They came out of a corrupt system, but never far enough. You see, it did begin with a man who had a vision. That led to a great movement. But tragically, like many good movements, they became very mechanical, like a machine where they prepackaged God. And it all turned into a monument, hard, cold and lifeless!

You see, they still had a name that gave the indication that they were alive, and some may have saw some light and thought they were alive, but Jesus gives them the two thumbs down and tells them they are dead. This church did shine brightly at one time, it had a brilliant past, but now it is only a reflected light of what it once was. Without God’s Spirit, all you have is a name, and you might as well call yourself "the church of the living dead!"

Apathy is a dangerous thing, not only in the church, but in our own lives. I have known people that have become apathetic in their relationship with God, and you look at their lives and they are dead, there is no life in them. Folks, the only way to prevent this from happening on a personal level and in the church, is to allow the Holy Spirit to fill you, to guide you, and that will only happen as you spend time with Him.

One last thing before we move on. Any move of God can turn into stone when it becomes rigid in tradition and unyielding to the Holy Spirit. God is showing us by His Spirit how to reach people here in Manitowoc. If we, as part of Calvary Chapel, depended upon what was done in the past to reach people, we would be in trouble. You see, in the 1970's Calvary Chapel reached out to the hippies, and thousands upon thousands got saved! Now what if we took that same formula, and tried to reach the hippies of today. That would be a machine, following a way, and we would become dead because how many hippies do you see living in Manitowoc? I don’t think they are around any more. Thus, God will give to us fresh ways to minister to people and show them the love of Jesus. But if you become rigid, unyielding to God’s Spirit, hard like a stone and stepped in tradition, you won’t go anywhere. I have never seen a monument move or walk on its own! Have you? Of course not, we need to be alive in Christ and as we are people will be drawn to Him.


Here is the EXHORTATION, and it is a five-fold exhortation. First of all, to this church that was spiritually dead, Jesus tells them to WAKE-UP! They were spiritually snoozing, coming to church, hearing the Words of God, and yet it did not impact their life. And think about it, try talking to a dead person, you don’t get a response from them, your words just go in one ear and out the other, they are lifeless. And these people came out of church as they went in, unchanged!

Paul, in Romans 13:11-12 admonishes us by saying, "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when wefirst believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the worksof darkness, and let us put on the armor of light." And in Ephesians 5:14-16 Paul says,"Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give youlight.’ See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time,because the days are evil."

Secondly, they are to STRENGTHEN THOSE THINGS THAT REMAIN, because they too are ready to die. Do you see what those steps backward can do in your Christian walk? They were unaware of how serious a condition this was. Don’t let those embers go completely out, fan them so they may ignite in your life.

The third exhortation is they are to REMEMBER WHERE THEY CAME FROM, remember the joy in your heart and the fire in your life when you first got saved. Go back to what you did in the beginning. If you lost that fire, remember what it cost Jesus for you to stand where you are today - it cost Him His life! And if you have to reach back to the past for a thrill in the present, the way it was back then, that means you have nothing going for you right now -you are dead! Don’t allow what God has started in your life to become mechanical in worship and praise and service. May there be a joy in serving Him and praising Him. Remember what it was like as a springboard to get you back on track!

The fourth point that Jesus gives to this church is to HOLD FAST. Get back into the Word and hold onto those truths of God. Right now you know many precious promises that God has given to us, hold on to them, apply the Word of God to your life. Believe in them or you will slowly die of apathy.

And the fifth exhortation is for them to REPENT, that is a change of mind that leads to a change in your behavior. Jesus wants us to do a reality check of where we are at in our relationship with Him. And if we are not where we should be, His Words should drive us back into His loving arms as we repent of our sin. It is time to wake-up!

The WARNING is simple. If you refuse to do these things He will come and judge you because you are not ready. And the words that are used seem to speak of His return for His bride, the church, at the time of the rapture, just prior to the start of the tribulation period. And Jesus is saying that He will come and you will be totally unprepared because you are insensitive to the things of God. As Christians, we look for this day. In fact, in Titus 2:13-15 we read, "looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you."

Interestingly enough, when Cyrus and the Persians invaded Sardis they did so under the cover of night. Climbing up to the top of that 1500 foot hill and reaching the plateau, and the city, they encountered no resistance because there was no one guarding the way. Their complacency, their lethargy, allowed the Persian army to walk into the city before anyone knew what was happening. It is said of Cyrus and his army that their invasion came like a "Thief in the night, before anyone had time to put his shoes on."

Jesus wants us to be on guard. He wants us to be looking for His return. And I truly believe that if you are walking with the Lord, there is a joy in your heart and an anticipation in your soul of His return. This day will not overtake us, but to those who are spiritually dead, even though they may be in the church, they will be unaware, they will not be ready because they will not be looking! And like the church of Thyatira, this church will also go through the tribulation period if they do not repent of their sins and get right with God. So this church is also in existence in the last days!

That is Paul’s point in I Thessalonians 5:1-11. He said "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say,‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon apregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let uswatch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing."


Even within this dead church, there are some who are alive and are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Their garments are white, as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:8-9, "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ andbe found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith." It is not our righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us by faith. And thePROMISE to them is they will walk with Jesus because their names are written in the Book of Life.

In the ancient world a king kept a register of his citizens. When a man would commit a crime against the state or when he died, his name would be removed or blotted from the register. I believe every persons name is written in the Book of Life. All have the same chance of entering the kingdom of God. No one is refused as long as they are wearing white garments, obtained through Jesus Christ. If you try to enter any other way or dressed in any other garment than the white robes of righteousness that Christ gives to us, then you will be rejected from entering in. Your name will be blotted out of the Book of Life or erased from the Book of Life.

It is as Kenneth Wuest put it, "Your names have been written in heaven and are on permanent record there." What a joy that should bring to each of us. What a joy that Jesus, our Advocate, will go before the Father and tell Him we are one of His, purchased by His blood!


The call to this church was to wake-up, strengthen what little fire they had, remember the joy they once had and hold onto the truths of God, repenting of their sins. And the call that Jesus makes here is to all those that can hear this message, to respond to what the Spirit of God is saying. To leave not as you came in, unchanged, but transformed by the power of God!

As important and needed as the Protestant Reformation was, it fizzled out. It began with life and light but it soon began to be steeped in tradition and it became a dead church. And as many as love to hold onto dead orthodoxy, dead tradition, remember, Jesus had nothing good to say about this church! A sad ending to a movement whose beginning was so powerful.

Life only comes when you are filled with the Living Water. As the Holy Spirit permeates your life. Don’t have a heart that is dying through apathy and indifference. Allow that ember to be fanned by God’s Spirit and ignite it into a ragging fire inside of you that touches the lives of others. Think of it this way. If we set ourselves on fire for Jesus Christ, you know what will happen? People will come to watch us burn! Think about it. You see a fire and what happens is people come to watch. The same is true in your spiritual life. If your dead , not many are going to come to watch you lay there, but if you are on fire, they will come to watch you burn and you can point them to Jesus.

The church in Sardis had a name, but that was all that was left, a NAME! They kept looking back at their past glory of this city instead of living in the present and reaching ahead into the future. And this city was dead because of apathy and indifference, just like many in the church today. We must forge ahead as Paul said in Philippians 3:12-14, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to haveapprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reachingforward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of theupward call of God in Christ Jesus." KEEP PRESSING ON!

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