Wake Up! (Revelation 3:1-6)
A parable is told of two angels travelling on the Lord’s business. They sought shelter for the night and, seeing two cities on a plain, noted that one of the cities was watched over by a demon, the other by a legion of demons. The less experienced angel suggested they stay in the first but the more experienced angel insisted on staying at the second. Surprised, the young angel asked why his companion wanted to stay where there were so many demons and the older angel explained that the righteousness of that city was great, as evidenced by the fact that so many demons were trying to corrupt it, while the other city was so spiritually complacent that it took but one demon to hold demonic sway. This describes somewhat the city of Sardis.
Complacency was endemic in Sardis and was to be its downfall on more than one occasion. It was a wealthy commercial centre and at one time the capital of Croesus, last king of Lydia (560-546 BC), who was so rich and powerful that his name became proverbial for wealth – “As rich as Croesus”. He was finally overthrown by Cyrus of Persia (2 Chr.36:22). Built on a hill that seemed impregnable and enjoying fabulous wealth, its citizens appear to have entertained an overconfidence that was to be their downfall, being conquered in 549 BC by Cyrus and again in 218 BC by Antiochus.
It is a pity that there are Christians who convince themselves that, in the new life they have in Christ they remain untouched by zeitgeist, or the general spirit of the society and age in which they live. That was the trouble at Sardis. John does not mention anything like the persecutions and error typical of other of his letters, giving the impression that the church had not suffered such disturbances. Rather, the problems appear to have stemmed from within, from their sheltered and relatively safe lives. The Christians of Sardis were typical of the citizens of Sardis!
You can see how people in such circumstances might be very busy, managing their church, enjoying fellowship, congratulating each other on how the Lord is surely blessing their lives, but John writes:
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!”
There was no shortage of ‘stuff going on’ and Jesus saw this activity, but he was not to be fooled. Christians here were slack – “I have not found your works complete” - and, what was worse, the majority fell into this category. John writes, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.” This was a reference to an ancient belief that dirty clothing was held to dishonour the deity. These people “will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy”. This does not mean that they have merited justification but that they have walked according to the justification they have in Christ. What does that walk look like? This is vital because Jesus promises, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.”
It is popular these days to think that such a church needs a ‘shot in the arm’, a ‘blessing’, a ‘revival preacher’ to bring ‘refreshing’. John’s prescription for this church is somewhat more – basic. There are three things prescribed in John’s letter for those whose faith is complacent and whose walk is incomplete:
1. “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard”
This means ‘bear in mind’ rather than ‘recall’. They hadn’t forgotten so much as failed to keep in mind the things of God, how they had heard the good news and from whom these things had come. If you have ever questioned the worth of regular Bible reading, Christian fellowship and mutual encouragement consider how God directed the church in Sardis.
2. “Obey it”
This is more in the sense of ‘keep’, making it a continuing activity; a constancy in attending to the things of God. Novelty is no solution to complacency but faithfulness.
There is an urgency in this word and we can see why when we read, “Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are ‘in the faith’. Such self-examination will make us aware of where we need to strengthen what we have.
It is easy when involved in ‘doing good’, running programmes, doing ‘deeds’ to forget why we are doing it and what we have heard and received; to have the appearance of life while being close to death, and sometimes it is good to be challenged to “Wake up!” Only those who pay attention to such things will be acknowledged by Jesus before the Father and his angels and only those who know this are truly equipped to reach out to the lost.