Alive?

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Wake up from our spiritual coma.

Revelation(41) (Part of the Jesus Unveiled(40) series)
by Stuart Johns(56) on April 15, 2018 (Sunday Morning(69))

Alive(1), Remember(1), Repentance(4), Spiritually dead(1)

Jesus Unveiled

Alive?

(Revelation 3:1-6)

 

INTRODUCTION

In the September 20, 2004, issue of MacLean's magazine, Lianne George recounts this tragic story:

 

One November day in 2002, Jim Sulkers, a 53-year-old retired municipal worker from Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada), climbed into bed, pulled the covers up, and died. Nearly two years later, on August 25, 2004, police who had been called by concerned relatives entered Sulkers' apartment and found his body in a mummified state. Everything else in his tidy one-bedroom apartment was intact, although the food in his fridge was spoiled and his wall calendar was two years out of date.

 

Mr. Sulkers' death went undiscovered for several reasons: he was reclusive, estranged from family members, and had a medical condition that prevented his body from decomposing and emitting odors. In addition, automatic banking deposited his disability pension and withdrew utilities and other expenses as they came due.

 

Terence Moran, who along with Neil Postman co-founded the Media Ecology program at New York University, said, "For many practical purposes, this man was virtually alive throughout that time. This man's life was extended for two years by the technology he used. Postman would have said that what you have here is a lack of community."

 

Lianne George, "A High-Tech Ghost Story," MacLean's (9-20-04); submitted by Daren Wride, Lake Country, British Columbia, Canada

 

[http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2004/october/15591.html].

 

The church can look like it’s alive and yet be dead. ​​ Akin says, “It is now a zombie church, a church of the living dead. ​​ There are live bodies walking around with dead souls on the inside.” ​​ [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, Revelation, 80]

 

In Thom Rainer’s book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, he gives several fatal causes that move a church from being alive to being dead:

  • Treating the past as the hero;

  • Refusing to adapt to the needs of the present community;

  • Moving the focus of the budget inward;

  • Allowing the Great Commission to become the Great Omission;

  • Letting the church become preference-driven out of selfishness and personal agendas;

  • Seeing the tenure of the pastors decreasing;

  • Failing to have regular, corporate prayer;

  • Having no clear purpose or vision; and

  • Obsessing over the facilities.

 

Stevan Manely in his article “When Does My Church Need Revival?” highlights six tell-tale signs of a church standing at death’s door:

  • The church is plagued with disagreements.

  • The preaching is ineffective.

  • Few can remember when a person was last saved.

  • God’s supernatural power is never seen.

  • God is not praised regularly.

  • No one is being called into God’s work. (Herald)

[Akin, 79-80]

 

Have you ever done something without thinking about it?

 

BODY

  • ME

    • Flagger outside of Mt. Holly Springs

        • I was returning from running errands to Carlisle

        • I had passed the road construction crew on my way into Carlisle, with the flaggers and everything

        • The road was down to one lane

        • On my return trip, I saw the signs telling me there was a one lane road ahead with flaggers

        • I was thinking about something else at the time and even though I saw the signs, I didn’t slow down like I should have when approaching the flaggers

        • Fortunately, I was able to stop before I got up to the flaggers

        • One of the flaggers came up to my car and asked me what I was doing and if I had seen the signs

        • I told him I was thinking about something else

        • I was able to drive my car without putting too much effort or thought into it

    • Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night

        • As I’ve gotten older, I can’t make it through the night without getting up once to go to the bathroom

        • When I get up, I don’t put my glasses on – I’m not even sure I open my eyes

        • I have a mental map in my mind and my body knows exactly where to go

        • There have been a few nights when we have returned from a trip and I’ve left something on the floor right in the path of my mental map – that is never fun to stumble over in the middle of the night, especially with your eyes closed

        • I can do all of that without really thinking about it

 

  • WE

    • Driving somewhere without thinking about it (school, college, work, etc.) – may not remember exits, turns, landmarks, etc.

    • Sleep walking

    • Any rote activity we do at work or school

    • Singing hymns or worship songs at church (it can be done without really thinking about the words or without allowing those words to impact our lives)

 

It could be said of the church at Sardis that they were simply going through the motions without even thinking about what they were doing or the meaning behind why they were doing it

 

Jesus wants us to understand from the letter to the believers at Sardis that we need to . . .

 

BIG IDEA – Wake up from our spiritual coma.

 

Let’s pray

 

  • GOD (Revelation 3:1-6)

    • Sardis

        • It was located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and about 50 miles east of Ephesus

        • It was on the junction of five main roads, which made it a key location for trade – this is partly where their wealth came from

        • The gold dust found in the springs of Pactolus, which ran through the city, was the other source of their wealth

        • It was the first city to mint gold and silver coins

        • The city was built on the northern spur of Mt. Tmolus

          • It looked down over the fertile Hermus plain

          • The city was almost impenetrable, because three of the four sides had nearly perpendicular rock walls that climbed some 1,500 feet

          • The south side provided the only sane assent to this city

          • It was a natural citadel on the top of this hill

          • While it seemed impenetrable, it was defeated twice

            • Both times the same tactic was used

            • In the first defeat a single soldier scaled one of the rock walls and opened the gates allowing the attacking army to enter

            • In the second defeat, a group of soldiers climbed the rock wall and again opened the gates

        • “In the sixth century B.C. Sardis was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world. ​​ Yet by the Roman period it had declined to the point that Ramsay could describe it as ‘a relic of the period of barbaric warfare, which lived rather on its ancient prestige than on its suitability to present conditions.’” ​​ [Mounce, New International Commentary on the New Testament, 91]

          • An earthquake in AD 17 virtually destroyed it, but it was rebuilt with help from Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37)

          • It is interesting that the church in Sardis reflected the city so closely – it was resting on its reputation from the past, but was not suitable for the present conditions

          • There didn’t seem to be any opposition from outside the church and it didn’t appear as though they were dealing with any heresy inside the church, and if they were, they weren’t concerned about it

          • They had embraced the pagan environment around them so completely that they were not seen as a threat by the unbelievers in the city or by Satan

          • The community saw that there was activity going on in the church, which made it look alive, but it was spiritually dead

    • Characteristic of the Sender (v. 1a)

        • Jesus is characterized as holding two things

          • The Greek word for “holds” connotes divine control [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 173]

          • The King James Version translates it as “has” instead of “holds”

            • This is perhaps a better translation, since it would difficult to see Jesus holding the Holy Spirit

            • The term “has” gives the idea of a relational connection

          • Jesus is aware of the condition of the church in Sardis and is using His relational connections to help wake this church up from their spiritual coma

        • Two relational connections

          • Seven spirits of God

            • We first saw this reference to the Holy Spirit in Revelation 1:4

            • We know from other passages of Scripture that there aren’t seven actual spirits

            • It is probably a reference to the sevenfold Holy Spirit

            • The number seven in Scripture is used for completion and/or perfection

            • So, it seems to indicate here the complete work of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers in Sardis

            • The Holy Spirit will be an important component in the revival of this church

          • Seven stars

            • This reference first appeared in Revelation 1:16

            • We learned from Revelation 1:20 that the seven stars represented the angels of the seven churches, which many believe represent seven pastors or leaders within those churches

        • Jesus has the power to use His relational connections with the Holy Spirit and the leader of the church in Sardis to bring it back from the dead

    • Criticism of the Recipients (v. 1b)

        • Reputation

          • Jesus has some difficult words for the church in Sardis

          • He does not have anything to commend them for (the church in Laodicea is the only other church that Jesus does not commend of the seven addressed here in Revelation)

          • “It is a sad thing when the only accomplishment (“deed”) of a church is what it names itself, especially if the reality shows that name to be a lie, as here. ​​ Their past deeds gave them a reputation among other churches for being alive for Christ, but their present deeds show a quite different picture (in accordance with their city’s history) . . . Just outside their city was a famous necropolis, or cemetery, with the graves of long-dead kings. ​​ The assembly at Sardis represented that cemetery more than a living church.” ​​ [Osborne, 174]

        • Reality

          • The reality for Sardis was much different than their reputation

          • Jesus says they are dead

          • There were some believers in Sardis whose reputation and reality matched, but the vast majority had compromised with the pagan culture around them [Mounce, 93]

          • They were “nominal” Christians – they were simply going through the motions without thinking or being intentional about their relationship with Jesus Christ

            • They weren’t reaching out to the lost in their city and sharing the life giving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

            • The fact that they had a reputation of being alive means that they had actively shared the Gospel at some point in the past

          • Chuck Swindoll characterized them as “a morgue with a steeple.” ​​ [Akin, 82]

          • Vance Havner expresses their current condition this way, “She had it all in the show window but nothing in stock.” ​​ [Akin, 82]

        • Since their reality did not match their reputation, Jesus gives the church at Sardis five imperative commands

    • Command to the Recipients (vv. 2-3)

        • As we look at these five imperatives, I want us to think about the story of Snow White

          • We’re going to draw some comparisons from what happened to her and the church at Sardis

          • She was alive, but in a deep sleep and not active

        • Five imperatives

          • Wake up

            • This verb can also be translated “be watchful” or “show yourself to be watchful”

            • Twice the city watchmen were proven not to be watchful (they had perhaps not worried about the three sides that had shear rock walls) and Sardis fell, because of individuals who had climbed the rock wall and opened the gates for the attacking army

              • While this happened long ago, it can very easily happen to us as a church today

              • We can become comfortable with where we are, which can lead to complacency

              • We can feel secure in what we’ve done in the past and not remain alert to changes that need to take place in order to continue to reach our community with the Gospel and to be relevant for the next generation

            • Snow White did not see where her demise was coming from

              • The witch came dressed in a disguise

              • She hid the poison in an apple that looked appealing

              • It was this poison apple that caused Snow White to fall into this deep sleep, like a coma

            • Satan had used the same tactics to defeat the church

              • He probably sent an individual or group that infiltrated the church when they were not being watchful

              • He had this individual or group approach from an angle or direction the church was not expecting

              • They didn’t see it coming and eventually compromised with their culture

              • They went from being spiritually alive to being in a spiritual coma

            • Fortunately, there was still some life in the church, unlike Jim Sulkers in the introduction, and Jesus recognized that they could again be spiritually alive

              • Snow White

                • There was nothing the Seven Dwarfs could do to revive Snow White

                • It was going to require an outside force, true loves kiss, from Prince Charming to break the spell that kept her in this deep sleep

              • The church

                • The only thing that would revive the church at Sardis or any church that is experiencing a spiritual coma is an outside force

                • The Holy Spirit is that outside force that has to take over in the lives of the believers

                • “Church revitalization will always begin in heaven with the glorified Christ who longs to raise to new life a church where ‘rigor mortis [has] set in’ (Swindoll, Insights, 64).” ​​ [Akin, 81]

            • The Holy Spirit through Christ’s power will help any church to strengthen what remains

          • Strengthen what remains

            • The original Greek is helpful here in understanding that what needs to be strengthened in not only the people, but also the spiritual characteristics/issues in the church [Osborne, 174-75]

              • As we’ll see in the next imperative, they had to remember what they received and heard – those were the characteristics they needed to strengthened

              • “The verb itself means to ‘support’ or ‘stand something on its feet’ and has the idea of establishing a thing by making it strong.” ​​ [Osborne, 175]

              • What remained, needed to be built back up

              • “Their faith was not radical; it was almost invisible. ​​ The lost among whom they lived, worked, and played saw nothing different or unique about them. ​​ The culture did not oppose them; it simply ignored them as of not real consequence or significance.” ​​ [Akin, 84]

              • There is a statement that has been circulating recently throughout the church community (I’m going to personalize it for us), “If Idaville UB Church shut its doors tomorrow, would the community even miss us?”

              • We have to ask ourselves that question, and if the answer is no, then we need to make some changes

              • For the church in Sardis, the answer would probably be, No!

              • They had to strengthen themselves and the spiritual characteristics in their church, because even what remained was about to die

              • The sad part about many churches today is that they don’t recognize they’re dead, so they don’t strengthen what remains and the community doesn’t even realize when the doors shut for good

              • We see the reason why they needed to strengthen what remains

            • Their deeds were not complete

              • PRINCINPLE – God is displeased when His church is filled with nominal, incomplete, and imperfect deeds.

              • God looked down from heaven at what they were doing and found their deeds lacking

              • Their deeds were nominal, incomplete, and imperfect

              • An interesting fact about Sardis was that the temple to Artemis remained unfinished and incomplete (perhaps Jesus was comparing the deeds of the church to this incomplete temple)

              • I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers in his first letter to them

              • 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. ​​ But each one should be careful how he builds. ​​ For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. ​​ If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. ​​ It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. ​​ If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. ​​ If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

              • If the church in Sardis was even building, they were using wood, hay, and straw

            • Application

              • Is God looking down from heaven and saying that our deeds are not complete in His eyes?

              • What materials are we using to build the kingdom of God with here in the greater Idaville area?

              • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Ask the Lord to help me work for Him in such a way that my deeds will be complete in His eyes.

                • Perhaps your service in the church is simply nominal at this point – you feel obligated to serve instead of serving with joy and expectation at what God will do

                • Maybe you’ve stopped serving in the church all together and you realize you need to begin serving again

                • We always have to remember whom we are serving (Jesus), because it’s easy to focus in the wrong place or direction

            • Part of strengthening what remains has to do with remembering what they had received and heard

          • Remember

            • The verb “remember” is in the present imperative form, which means an ongoing action

              • They were to continue recall and put in to practice the truths of the Gospel they had received and heard

              • They had to remember what it was like when they first received Jesus Christ as their Savior – there was joy, enthusiasm, excitement, a burning desire to share with others the transformation that had taken place

            • Received

              • They had received the good news of the Gospel from the apostles

              • They were to continue to remember the truths of the Gospel they had received

            • Heard

              • This represents the teaching of the church they had received after the apostles were gone

              • It was the continual process of passing on the truths of the Gospel

            • Strengthening what remains wasn’t just about remembering, but also obeying

          • Obey

            • It has also been translated as “keeping”

            • It is again in the present imperative, which represents a continual action

            • Since they had forgotten the truths of the Gospel, they obviously weren’t obeying them in their own lives or sharing them with others

            • After they continue to remember and continue to obey, then they have to repent

            • PRINCIPLE – God’s desire for His church is that they remember and obey His Word.

            • Repentance will be a natural outflow of remembering and obeying God’s Word

          • Repent

            • This again is changing our minds, attitudes, and actions

            • We can no longer rest on our past victories of sharing the Gospel

            • We have to wake up from our spiritual comas and begin to do the things we once did to reach the greater Idaville area with the Gospel

        • Warning of judgement

          • Jesus warns them that if they don’t wake up from their spiritual coma, He will come to them when they aren’t expecting it and judge them

          • Most of the time a visit from Jesus would be a welcomed event, but not so with this visit

          • It is not referring to His second coming, but rather a visit, from Him, prior to His second coming

          • The concept of Jesus coming like a thief in the night is found throughout Scripture

            • Matthew writes about it in Matthew 24:42-44

            • Paul references it in his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)

            • Peter also writes about in his epistle (2 Peter 3:10)

            • The difference between these references and the one found here to the church in Sardis is that all of the other references are to Jesus’ second coming

          • Not knowing the time

            • This is an important concept

            • In Matthew 24:42-44 it mentions that if the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming, he would have been ready for him and not allowed him to steal from him

            • Judy was substitute teaching this past Monday and had an individual come in to observe one child, but they didn’t tell this child or the other children what was happening

              • They wanted to be able to see how this child acted, reacted, and interacted with the other children

              • If they had told the children what was happening, they would probably act differently

            • When we know the big boss is coming we prepare and we act differently than when they aren’t there

              • Some people like second and third shift better, because most of the management is gone for the day and they are able to work without being interrupted

              • I remember working for Chick-fil-A in Birmingham, AL when S. Truett Cathy stopped by our store

                • He had been in Birmingham for a wedding and was wearing a tuxedo with the fancy handkerchief (I though he dressed this way all the time)

                • One of our Managers was sitting in the office in the back with his legs on the desk, counting money

                • He spilled the one register till on the floor and jumped in to action, giving all of the employees jobs to accomplish

                • S. Truett Cathy showed up unannounced so he could see the actual workings of the unit there at Century Plaza

        • After Jesus finishes His commands and warning for the church is Sardis, He shares some promises and commitments for them

    • Commitment to all who Overcome (vv. 4-6)

        • Worthy

          • There were a few people in Sardis who had not been walking around like spiritual zombies

          • They were probably doing what Jesus complimented the believers in Thyatira for doing (loving others through their service and expressing their faith in Jesus through perseverance)

          • Soiled clothes

            • To have soiled garments meant they were unwashed

            • Spiritually it meant they were defiled

            • “In temples of Asia and elsewhere, worshipers dared not approach deities with soiled clothes; the normal apparel for approaching the gods in temples was white or linen.” ​​ [Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 144]

            • The believers in Sardis had contaminated themselves by not setting themselves apart from the pagan culture

            • Jesus shared the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14 to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like

              • When it was time for the wedding guests to come, they all refused, so he invited those from the street corners to fill the wedding hall

              • Matthew 22:11, “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.

              • The guest who was not wearing the appropriate clothes was thrown outside, into the darkness

            • The few who had not soiled their clothes were going to be able to walk with Jesus while dressed in white (the proper clothing for the wedding feast of the Lamb)

              • They are worthy because they have remained pure

              • Their works and/or deeds were complete in the eyes of God

              • “In Revelation 7 the great multitude wearing white robes (vv. 9-10) is led by the Lamb to springs of living water (v. 17), and in chapter 14 the 144,000 ‘follow the Lamb wherever he goes’ (v. 4) . . . it would appear that walking ‘in white’ is a way of describing those who are justified.” ​​ [Mounce, 95]

          • Those who are worthy and those who overcome are both going to be able to participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb, because they have the proper clothing

        • Overcomers

          • Dressed in white

            • They have remained pure during external pressures from their society and internal pressures from false teachers

            • These individuals will participate in the victorious procession during the eschaton, when Jesus returns

          • Never have name blotted out

            • The second promise is that their names will never be blotted out of the book of life

              • The idea of having their name removed from a register would have been easily understood by the church in Sardis

              • Sardis had been the capital of the Persian and Seleucid empires for many years and therefore would have housed the records of those who were citizens

              • Jewish and Hellenistic cultures both had the practice of removing names, which meant that an individual could no longer participate in the commonwealth or community [Osborne, 180]

              • “When Greeks were convicted of a serious crime, their names were removed from the civic register.” ​​ [Osborne, 180]

              • In our country the right to vote is suspended for those who have been convicted of a felony

                • Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow individuals to vote who are incarcerated for a felony

                • Every state is different when it comes to those who have been released from prison

                • Some states do not restore voting rights until after the individual has completed their probation or parole

                • In Pennsylvania voting rights are restored automatically upon release from prison [https://www.nonprofitvote.org/voting-in-your-state/special-circumstances/voting-as-an-ex-offender/]

            • This is in no way talking about an individual losing their salvation

            • There are many ways of saying the same thing – eternal security, assurance of salvation, etc.

            • “It would appear that God’s ‘Book of Life’ contains the names of all the living, the wicked as well as the righteous (Ps. 69:28) . . . as unbelievers die, their names are removed from the book; thus, at the final judgment, the book contains only the names of believers (Rev. 20:12-15). ​​ It then becomes ‘the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27), because only those saved by the Lord Jesus Christ have their names in it. ​​ All the others have been blotted out, something God would never do for any true child of God (see Ex. 32:32; Rom. 9:3). ​​ It is the book of life, and lost sinners are dead (Eph. 2:1).” ​​ [Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Volume 2, 577-78]

            • Those who have remained watchful and have not fallen into a spiritual coma will experience eternal life

          • Jesus will acknowledge them before God and His angels

        • We are to pay attention to what the Spirit says to us as the church

 

  • YOU

    • Jesus wants more than the status quo from us

        • Perhaps you’re in a spiritual coma today – it’s time to wake up!

        • Maybe you need to strengthen what remains, but is about to die

        • It could be that you need to remember your conversion experience and the truths you’ve been taught from God’s Word

        • For some of you, it may be that you remember the truths of God’s Word, but you aren’t being obedient to them

        • Finally, you may need to repent of your lethargy

    • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Be honest with myself about where I am spiritually and make the necessary changes to wake up from my spiritual coma.

 

  • WE

    • As a church we have to do the same thing. ​​ We have to be honest about where we are spiritually and make the necessary changes so that we are not alive in name only

 

CONCLUSION

“When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the late 1940s, made a public profession of faith in Christ, his new Christian friends were elated. ​​ But as time passed, they began to wonder why he did not leave his gangster lifestyle. ​​ When they confronted him concerning this question, however, he protested, ‘You never told me I had to give up my career. ​​ You never told me that I had to give up my friends. ​​ There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. ​​ So what’s the matter with being a Christian gangster? ​​ If I have to give up all that – if that’s Christianity – count me out.’ ​​ Cohen gradually drifted away from Christian circles and ultimately died lonely and forgotten. ​​ As Chuck Colson notes:

Cohen was echoing the millions of professing Christians who, though unwilling to admit it, through their very lives pose the same question. ​​ Not about being Christian gangsters, but about being Christianized versions of whatever they already are – and are determined to remain.”

 

[Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 147-48]

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