The Church of the Living Dead — Sardis

Sermon Series in Revelation # 07 Revelation 3:1-6 

1    “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. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

2    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.

3    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 at what hour I will come against you.

4    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.

5    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.

6    He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’[1]

Gospel passions build great organizations, but carelessness let’s them slide into Christian obscurity and Kingdom irrelevance.

Consider the Kingdom Mission of Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale. Gospel passion made them grow, but carelessness left them useless for the Kingdom of Christ. The current fight within the ARP over Erskine is a work of sweat and prayer to keep our Denominational College and Seminary off the list of the spiritually irrelevant.

The Church at Sardis was fast becoming irrelevant to Christ’s Kingdom.

Evangelistic zeal had dried up. Fervent prayer was marginalized. A commitment to discipleship was replaced with commitments to programs and fruitless busy-ness.

Most importantly, the anointing of the Spirit of God was not sought. The Church no longer fervently begged before the throne of God for the illumination of the spirit in worship, for the grace of the spirit for godly living or the power of the spirit for evangelism.

We are alive spiritually when we are in fellowship with God through daily prayer, obedience to His word and in communion with the saints.

None of these things were concerns for the Church at Sardis. They had become content with previous spiritual victories. They made their boast in their glorious history and lost Christ’s vision for their community.

They looked alive, but Jesus said they were dead. They had a reputation for being alive, but they were spiritually dead. They were the church of the living dead.

Their status paralleled the city of Sardis which had been one of the greatest cities in the ancient world. 1,200 years before Christ the city served the capital of the kingdom of Lydia.

On three sides of the city are natural rock walls that stand 1,500 feet above the lower valley. Sardis was an impregnable fortress. Or so their pride made them believe. The soldiers didn’t watch the three cliff walls of the city because they were assumed to be impregnable.

Their carelessness left the city defenseless more than once. In the 6th century BC, under the daring leadership of Cyrus, soldiers climbed one by one up the rock cliffs in the middle of the night like a thief. The city fell and their freedoms were stolen because of their carelessness.

With this in mind, let us look at Jesus’ Relevant Introduction to the Church at Sardis.

1 “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. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

Jesus can send a fresh anointing of the Spirit. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Jesus can send the fullness as reflected in the number seven. He won’t keep any of the Spirit for Himself. He is ascended and can pour out all the powers of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

Jesus holds the Seven Stars. Stars are fixed points in the heavens which guide sailors during the night to safe harbor. Jesus is speaking words of light which can guide us to eternal safety.

And Jesus has a Critical Evaluation for this Church. You might notice there’s no praise. The diagnosis is grim.

Before we look at the critical evaluation, let me remind you not to criticize the doctor. Don’t judge Jesus for His assessment. Don’t argue with the diagnosis. Jesus alone can see the difference between wheat and tares. Jesus knows the sheep from the goats. Jesus can see the interior motives of the heart.

Jesus knows the whole story. His assessment isn’t lacking key information. Jesus has all the facts and He labels the church as dead. This is metaphorically speaking. This is not a statement of theological precision regarding their eternal destiny. Jesus is not speaking to the inability of the spirit to respond in faith without an elect regenerative work of God.

Jesus is speaking with satirical wit and using a bit of hyperbole.

The Church was living in the past; making their boast in their Glory Days.

It’s reminds me of a Bruce Springsteen Song.

I had a friend was a big baseball player, back in high school,
He could throw that speedball by you, Make you look like a fool boy,
Saw him the other night . . . but all he kept talking about was

Glory days, well they’ll pass you by,

Glory days . . . Glory days, glory days.

The Sardis Church was dead. How do we determine if a church is dead?

When I worship with my parents at Andy Stanley’s church I get the impression that being alive is defined as being electrified: super loud electric guitars, a roaring bass and screaming vocals. If you prefer that style of worship then our reverent worship would be considered dead.

When Presbyterians from Africa visit popular American churches they label the loud mega church worship as dead. For them, being alive is clapping and jumping. I can attest that most mega churches have little crowd participation. They all look dead. (in my opinion)

The problem with our assessment is that it is relative and antidotal: according to our tastes.  The assessment of Jesus is not prejudiced, relative or antidotal. Jesus only speaks words of light.

Jesus labeled the Church at Sardis dead because they were living on old dreams and talking about the glory days of God’s previous work in their church. They were not working toward the glory of Christ expanding within their community. They had no vision for the future.

They were living disconnected from their spiritual life: no fervent prayer, no scripture dependency and no Spirit dependency. They were trying to live spiritual by the flesh.

Jesus declares His Urgent Exhortation: Wake up! Strengthen what isn’t already lost! Remember what brought you the earlier glory days and Repent for letting it slip away.

There is no such thing as coasting for the Church. The Devil is a roaring Lion seeking whom he may devour. Don’t go to sleeping while the enemy is stalking you and your neighbor.

The world is on fire! People are going to Hell. Satan loves the taste of our Christian children. Sexual sins and destructive addictions are growing rampant in the lives of those we love.

Jesus is crying out for someone to wake up and sound the battle cry. To arms! To arms! Sound the trumpet. Light the torches. Assemble for battle. During the night the enemy has climbed the walls and we are becoming useless for the Kingdom of Christ.

How do we strengthen ourselves? How do we stay helpful for Jesus sake?

We bow the knee to the full anointing of God’s Spirit. We organize our life according to the Word of God. We stay faithful to church fellowship and worship. We invest in fervent prayers.

Listen to the counsel of Jesus in Hebrews 12:1-4 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

Jesus had not found the efforts of the Church at Sardis to be acceptable. He gave them poor grades. They were commending themselves for their glory days, and they had stopped working for Jesus in their generation. This is why the church was not given any praise. They were dead.

It is good to remember that the words of Jesus never leave us without hope.

We are told to remember what previous generations have given us. Jesus gives us permission to look back at the glory days. We are to celebrate the faithfulness of God to previous generations. We should feel connected to the doctrine of the saints.

Jude 1:20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

What will happen if we don’t wake up spiritually?

If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief. Like a thief in the night, Jesus climbs the impregnable walls of proud congregations and closes 4,000 churches every year in America. Can you imagine Jesus climbing the walls of old congregations to shut them down? Weird eh’? But that’s how Jesus asks us to envision Him.

Jesus labels Churches without the anointing of His Spirit as dead. Jesus labels churches not dependent on the Scriptures as dead. Jesus labels Churches not dependent on fervent prayers as dead.

And like the removal of dead wood from the foundation of a house, Jesus removes the dead wood from His Kingdom. Jesus scales their proud walls, removes their lamp stand and shuts their doors. Ouch

But Jesus doesn’t leave the faithful without promises. In every church there is a remnant. Jesus sends His Spirit to support the humble and make them useful for the Kingdom.

4 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.

Bleaching wool leaves it yellow, but Sardis had found a way to produce white wool. The faithful are promised white garments that come from Jesus’ righteousness and holiness.

And now the Motivating Benediction: 5 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 conquer by resisting Satan, even if it costs us our own blood. This is how we reverse His assessment that our works are incomplete in the sight of my God.

We fill up that which is lacking in the work of Christ by suffering with Him in the advancement of His Kingdom. Hebrews 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.

How does the church get active and conquer Satan? Revelation 12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Jesus tells a dead church to wake up, remember, repent and get active for the Kingdom. When we get reenergized for Jesus, we are given the divine assurance that we will stand in white garments in the presence of God the Father without fear.

Second, Jesus promises to never blot our names off His family list. The paper or parchment of the day was rigid and reusable. The inks were not durable. The secular government officials in the city of Sardis would not hesitate to wipe a Christian’s name off the city role. Non-citizens experienced great hardship for they were cut off from the benefits of the city.

Jesus makes a promise to never cut off His faithful saints from the benefits of His eternal city. (Again, Jesus isn’t speaking to the permanence of our salvation. Jesus is speaking metaphorically that He will not betray us in the last day.)

Finally, Jesus promises that if we confess His name to this world, that He will confess our name to the Father and His Angels. There is nothing that will matter more to you than hearing Jesus declare your name to the Father. He isn’t going to whisper your name. Jesus will speak it loud enough for all heaven to hear that you are part of the family.

How would you rate your own participation in the life of Christ’s Church?  Do you add life to the Church? Are you connected to Jesus by prayer and Bible reading? Or are you dead?

6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


  1. Sermon # 5 in Revelation: The Church of the Living Dead — Sardis 

Leave a Comment