Book Of Hope – Study Series Chapter – 5 – The Dead Church


Welcome back. After a short gap we  are   back with the    Book of Revelation. Today we are  studying the message to the church in Sardis, the fifth church  out of seven   mentioned by name. Sardis was  an important city and  commercial centre in the  ancient  Lydian empire. It was  famous for its wealth. Tradition says that  the entrepreneurs of Sardis were experts in  extracting pure gold and silver, the quality of which   none other  in those days could achieve.. History supports this view to a certain extent and  some scholars credit Sardis for minting coins in pure gold and  silver  for the first time. It is  a settled fact that  Sardis was  a rich city.  Croesus, the king of  Lydia in  6th century BC was  famous for his wealth to the  extent that   a  phrase ‘as rich as  Croesus’  is used even now.

The king and people of Sardis thought   their  city  was well protected because of  its  geographical location. Yet it had to  suffer  many attacks during its long history.  Security is different from the  false notion of  being secure. Today, but for the reference in the Book of  Revelation, nobody remembers Sardis. The remnants of  this  once prosperous  city can be  seen at  Sart, a small town  off the Ankara- Izmir  highway in  western Turkey.

When  we studied  about the churches in  Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and  Thyatira, we noticed that  Jesus Christ never hesitated to   appreciate them for the good works they have  done.  But when it comes to Sardis, Jesus is silent. He does not   comment  on anything  good that he saw in Sardis. Because he could not find anything worth appreciating there! Instead what he saw was a church that  deserved admonishment  and the Lord does not mince his words. ‘I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up,  and  strengthen what remains  and is on the point of death, for I have not  found your works perfect in the  sight of my God’ (Rev 3:1-2).

These days we see a number of dead churches  around us. The common thread  connecting all of them is that  they have a  name of being alive. But in fact,  they are dead, though they do not know it.  It is  quite natural because a dead man   knows nothing. Looking from a distance, some Churches and communities seem to be   highly  dynamic and  bustling with activity.  It is true that they are  doing   so many things for the  welfare of their members and  for the common good of the society.  They are active in  humanitarian aid, in  environmental protection, in supporting   migrants and in  adapting the  church to the needs of  a modern world.  Looking at them Jesus says; ‘I know your  works’.  You think that  yours is a lively church, but  Jesus Christ knows everything. What is visible externally may  not be  a  true reflection of things lying underneath.

You have earned a good name for your social service and works of  mercy. You rate yourselves as a vibrant, living church. But Jesus knows everything. Jesus judges our works not with our yardstick.  He has the  measuring rod of God with him.  If our  works are  not perfect in the sight of God, we too should expect harsh words from the Lord.

The people of  Sardis thought that their immense wealth would  make them  happy. It indeed made them happy, but  it did not last long.  God is  interested  not in our happiness, but in our holiness. The degeneration of Sardis from  a lively church to a dead one has  many parallels in history, the most striking one being  the fall of their city from a place of prominence into  an  obscure village over  centuries.

After a stinging rebuke as introduction, Jesus  gives the dead church  in Sardis a ray of hope.  There is still the possibility  of revival. God can  raise even the dead.  God can  heal those at the point of death.  We need to do only one thing. Strengthen what remains with us.  A little faith, a little hope, a little love is all that   God wants  to revive us.  If Jesus could multiply  five loaves of  bread to feed five thousand,  he can  rekindle the  little flame of  faith in us. He can  replenish our wine of hope and our oil of love.  Jesus’ call to Sardis is   a wake up call, an urgent one indeed, because   revival is possible  only as long as the embers  are intact. This is why  Jesus advises them to  strengthen  what remained and was on the  point of death.

In fact the church in  Sardis was a community comprising three different  categories of believers. Every  church does have these three distinct  groups among them, for that  matter.    First  category is the dead, with  no scope of revival. It is not because God  cannot  raise them, but they prefer   death to life. Second category is those at the point of death of whom we  shared some thoughts now. Third category are those  believers who  hold fast to the faith even in a dead church. Sardis  also  had their share of such  believers of whom Jesus says; “Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4). They are  the remnant! They are worthy to  walk with the Lord.

To become a part of that  remnant in a fast degenerating  church is the true call of  every believer. We are built  for this moment. To be the remnant! To be  one among those  seven thousand, ‘God has kept for himself and who have not bowed the knee  to Baal’. Blessed are they and may  their numbers  go up.

For the  rest of us, who  are  either dead or at the point of death,  the writing  on the  wall is very clear.  ‘Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not  wake up, I will come  like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you’ (Rev 3:3). We are warned sufficiently early. It is a call to  repent and  cleanse our  clothes, the white cloth  of grace  that we  received at the  time of  baptism.  Jesus knows that a big fight is   awaiting   those who take this call to  repentance seriously.  To fight and conquer is  our duty and  Jesus is waiting  at the finishing point  with his reward.

And the  reward? It is   the same for those  who are  going to  conquer and  those who have  already conquered. ‘If you conquer,  you will be  clothed like them  in white robes, and I will not blot  your name  out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and  before his angels’ (Rev 3:5).

Let us  not be  under the  false impression that  everything is fine with us.  We may not  know  the decay and degeneration that has crept into our   churches as well as  our own lives.  But  Jesus  knows everything.  This is the time to   shun  death  and   embrace life. For that, the  ember  of  faith  within us  should be rekindled.

 Let us  pray to the Holy Spirit   to strengthen  us in faith so that we  may be found worthy to  receive those white robes  Jesus has  prepared for  us.