One spring day in 2004, I was invited to bring a group of High School football players to an elite Nike Sports combine. I was one of the coaches of Dunbar Senior High School, a powerhouse football program, in Washington, D.C. We brought four athletes that were in the top 100 recruits in the nation. At twenty-four, I thought I had all the energy in the world. We left Friday after school, drove 4 hours to Penn State University, crashed in a hotel before walking up at 6 to register at 7:30 am. I coached the camp for 2 hours and ran the combine for 2 more ate lunch and then hit the road. After the combine, we all piled in my car to go home.
We all jumped in my car exhausted. We started are four-hour trek back to the national’s capitol. Twenty minutes later, I woke up rumbling through the grass in the median at 70 miles and away, with big 6’7 320 pound Kevin Wiggins, looking at me saying in a calm and collected voice, “Coach Kiehn, you alright?” I was obviously not alright. I feel asleep and was driving in the median. Kevin’s words saved my life and the lives of everyone’s in the car. I jerked the car back on to the highway and was finally awake. It took someone else’s words to wake me up.
There are many Christian churches who are so busy living life and immersed in the secular culture that their spiritually “asleep at the wheel.” I hope to help you as Kevin Wiggins helped me that fateful day 13 years ago by asking, “Friend, you alright?” And if you are spiritually sleeping at the wheel that today you would wake up and turn to Christ.
The Spirit of Church
Sardis was once a powerful city established around 1200 B.C. It was wealthy and strong. It was situated on a cliff making it a strongly defensible city. Because of the city’s great military position, the Greeks had a saying, “capturing Sardis” as a way to communicate doing the impossible. Although it appeared impregnable due to its superior military position, it was captured several times because the watchman neglected to guard the gate. It was once a prominent, powerful city, but at the time Jesus spoke to the church it was a shadow of its former self. It was living off the prosperity of years. Jesus begins his rebuke to Sardis, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The seven stars are representative of the seven churches. In the vision of Revelation 1, Jesus is seen holding the seven stars in his right hand. He is one who has control and authority over all the churches. Jesus reminds the church of his sovereignty over the affairs of the church of Sardis.
The “seven spirits of God” is most likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. We see the same term, “seven spirits” in chapter 1 in the trinitarian formula at the opening of the book. The imagery of the seven spirits is taken from the Zechariah’s prophecy. The Holy Spirit is the agent that brings life to church and completes the work of Christ. Jesus is speaking to this sleeping, almost completely dead church, reminding them that it is only the Holy Spirit who can wake them up from their spiritual slumber.
The church was created and sustained by the Holy Spirit of God. As we moved throughout this letter, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide and illumine our hearts. It is very easy to think that this letter is written for “those churches,” but this letter has application for our church and for your heart. Let us be ready to hear what the Spirit says to our church.
The Sin of the Church
Jesus continues by identifying the sin of the church. He says, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” The church of Sardis was like the city of Sardis. It once was powerful, but now it is living off the fruitfulness of ages past. They have the reputation of being “Christians” but their Christianity was in name only. They were nominal believers because their church was undistinguishable from the world. Jesus is not fooled by their worldly reputation for he knows their works.
Friend, Jesus is not fooled by your outward appearance, he knows the works of your heart. He knows what lies in the corners and the crevices of your life. Before we get to the solution of sin, we must first identify the sinful areas of our life. Where are you sleeping in your faith? In what areas do you need to hear, “friend, are you alright?”
Friend, are you alright with your finances? Are you spending your money to the glory of God? Are you giving your resources to Christ? Are you spending your money without regard for the lost? Are you generous with yourself and stingy with others?
Friend, are you alright with your entertainment? Are you watching TV shows that would make Jesus cringe? Are you spending more time looking at screen or your Bible? Do your entertainment choices reflect your relationship with Christ? Do your entertainment choices reveal idols in your heart?
Friend, are you alright with your words? Do your words encourage or tear down? Is your humor used to spread love or boast? Are you quick to speak or quick to listen? Do your words reflect a life submitted to Christ?
Friend, are you alright? We all have blind spots in our life and we all have strengths in our life. One of the blessings of the church is that our strengths help to reveal the weaknesses of others as the strengths of others help to reveal our weaknesses. We need each other in the body of Christ. The only way in which we will be sharpen and help sharpen others is if we are in relationship with each other.
The Solution of the Church
Jesus gives the solution for our sinful sleeping in five imperatives. Imperatives are not suggestions, but commands given to us by the sovereign Savior of our souls. Revelation 3:2-3,
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come against you.
Sardis fell twice because their watchmen did not protect their gates. The church is now likewise being called to renew their vigilance to Christ.
We are called to wake up. There is an urgency here. Imagine you hear sirens of a fire truck. The sirens are called to alert you to danger. We often hear those sirens and they become background noise, but what if those sirens where in our drive way to alert us that the fire was in our home. There would be a different level of urgency. The fire of destruction is coming to the church. We cannot sleep any longer, but must wake up! The church does an excellent job critiquing our secular culture. The church does an excellent job critiquing other churches. The fire is not in “out there,” it is in here.
After we wake up, then we strengthen what remains. To strengthen is to stand up on its feet. Think of paralyzed man in Mark 2, who was stood up and walked. The church of Sardis had a reputation of being alive. They were doing alright by the world’s standards, but their works were not complete in the sight of God. The quantity of their works as well as the quality of their works were left lacking. If they did not strengthen what they had, even that would not remain.
Verse three has the essential marks of the entire of Christian life. “Remember, then, what you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” We remember what we have received and heard. We have heard the gospel and received salvation. Friend, the first step in being alright with God is understanding that you may not be alright with God. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of his glory. And because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath against our sin. We deserve to go hell for our disobedience against a holy God. The first step towards God is a realization that we are apart from him. It is only when we realize we are sinners that we recognize our need for a Savior. God sent Jesus Christ, his Son, to be our substitute. Jesus died for all those who would repent and believe in Him. He died to pay our penalty. And God accepted his sacrifice on our behalf, by raising him from the dead. Jesus is now at God’s right hand holding the seven stars with the seven spirits of God. Have you ever heard that gospel? We are sinners and that God sent Jesus to die for our us and to be raised for us.
If Jesus died for us, we would do well to remember. The church at Sardis was living on past grace. Friend, the grace of Jesus is an everyday reality. Our salvation is not only a one-time reception, but daily process. We are saved, are being saved and will be saved. We must keep what we have received. We must hold fast to Christ as He holds fast to us. And every time we realize we are asleep at the wheel of our Christian life, we repent.
If you haven’t read your bible in a month, repent and pick up today. If you have lusted with your eyes and heart, repent today. If you have withheld your giving, repent today. If you have spoken unkindly, repent today. Friend, are you alright? If you are not, repent. Turn from your sins and be saved. Turn from your sins and return to your salvation.
There are serious dangers if we do not repent. God offers grace today in repentance, but if you do not repent, he will come in like a thief in the night. It will be unexpected and terrible. God will not be mocked. Hear Jesus words, if we do not repent, the sovereign Lord of lords and King of kings, who holds the seven stars with the seven spirits of God says, “I will come against you.” Friend, do not stay in a spiritual slumber. Wake up! Remember the gospel and the grace of Christ. Remain in Christ.
The Saved of the Church
The church should be full of saved people, but many are self-deceived. They have reputation of life, but they dead. And yet, even in a spiritually diseased church there are those who remain faithful. Every true church has true believers. Jesus says, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” They are worthy not because of what they have done, but because they have remained with Christ. They have continued to walk with Christ.
The image of clothing as a representative of the Christian life is woven throughout the Scriptures. From the priestly attire in the temple to the robe of prodigal to the clothes needed for the wedding banquet, the image of having the proper attire for the proper occasion is part of the ancient world. The ones who remain true to the gospel will walk in white with Christ is probably a metaphor for the white worn by the Roman citizens to celebrate military conquest. For a city known for losing decisive battles, the promise of being with Christ at the final victory would have resonated with the church. As Christ comes in the final victory, his followers will walk with him in the triumphal procession.
Jesus continues his exhortation to follow him by promising, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” We bring soiled, dirty garments to Christ, but he cleanses us and gives us white garments. We who were unholy become pure and blameless with Him. We are no longer identified with our sin, but with our sinless Savior. We were once defiled, but will be pure. Jesus will never blot out our names from the book of life. Our names are only in the book, because we have been given new clothes. We no longer wear our filthy rags, but the righteous robes of Christ.
As a former capitol city, Sardis would have been home to all the records of the empire. In that culture, if one committed a serious crime, their names were removed from the book. In the Old Testament, a removal of a name meant capital punishment. Even in the New Testament, a removal from the church was a sign that one’s name was not written in the book of life. The modern-day concept of membership and being on a church roll is viewed as legalistic and unnecessary. Although it seems unnecessary, it is a helpful practice to remind us that our names must be written in the book of life. And it is clear throughout Scripture that there was a clearly defined number in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 5/2 Cor 2).
Church membership rolls should reflect the book of life. The church should be full of saved people whose names are in the book. We should keep accurate records so if we believe someone’s name is not in God’s book, we can warn them that Jesus will come like a thief in the night. As a congregational church, every member is responsible for that roll. If someone is on our church membership roll, what we are saying is that we believe that they have not soiled their garments and will walk with Christ in white and whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The Supper of the Church
The last promise that God gives his church is that he will confess our names before the Father and his angels. Jesus is the final arbiter of our salvation. When we stand before God in judgment, surrounded by his mighty messengers, our only home is Jesus confessing our names as forgiven and redeemed. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is heaven.” How do we acknowledge Jesus before men?
Although we acknowledge Jesus by living for him in every area of our lives, he gives us two specific ways to acknowledge him: baptism and the Lord Supper. When we are baptized we confess that we believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as our only hope for salvation. And every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim our trust in name of Christ crucified and risen again. Jesus said that every time we take the Lord’s Supper, we do so in remembrance of him. Jesus calls us in Revelation 3:4 to remember what we have received and heard. God in his kindness gives us the Table to help us remember and to give us an opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes.
The Supper is also a visual reminder for us to wake up from our slumber. The Apostle Paul says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” We should not come to the table if we are not trusting in Christ. The table is for sinners but for a certain kind of sinner: a repentant sinner. If you are a baptized believer and a member of good standing of a church of like faith and order, you are welcome to the table. But if you know you are spiritually asleep and are not trusting in Christ, let the bread and the cup pass. If you are Christian who has been walking in sin, see this table as an invitation to return to Christ. Come to the table and confess the name of Christ. Proclaim his death again until he comes.
I hope that every time we approach that table we are reminded of our oneness with Christ and our oneness with one another. Today, is especially important as this is the first official gathering of Fellowship Baptist and Park Baptist as one congregation. We come to this table together as one body. As we come to the table, I would like all of us to take a few moments and remember the covenant we make with one another as members together of Christ’s church. I want us to stand and read our church covenant together. And as we read, I want you to repurpose in your heart to commit yourself to these promises. If you are guest with us, I would invite you to see our commitment to each other and find a church where you can carry out the spirit of these commands:
Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.
We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.
We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.
We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.
We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.
Please be seated. As the deacons come and prepare the table, please take the next few moments to prepare your own heart before the Lord.