Wake up: Devotional Commentary for October 24-30
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
1"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
2'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
3'So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore 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.
The letter to Sardis was the fifth of seven letters written to the churches in Asia Minor. Sardis was located inland about thirty miles South of Thyatira and about fifty miles North-East of Ephesus. It was the capital city of Lydia, a province of Asia Minor. Strategically situated on the main thoroughfare between the Aegean Islands and mainland Asia, Sardis was a significant military and economic center in the Hermus River valley.
Sardis was most noted for the Acropolis, a temple built to Artemis, the Greek name for the Roman goddess Diana. The vertical rock walls of the Acropolis rose nearly fifteen hundred feet above the lower valley, providing an impregnable defensive barrier against military incursions. Before it began to decline, Sardis was known for its decadent affluence. The people of Sardis were lost in an indolent abundance, extravagant luxury, and moral decadence.
The city was reduced to ruins by a catastrophic earthquake. It was later rebuilt but never regained the prominence and affluence it once enjoyed. By the time this letter was written, the city was a pitiful hub of moral debauchery. No other city of the Roman world portrayed a glowing contrast between past splendor and later deterioration. It was in this Greco-Roman world that the Lord raised up a small church in Sardis where the faithful gathered to worship God the Almighty.
Jesus identified Himself as the One Who "has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars", signifying that he was writing the letter as the All-Knowing sovereign God. He sees and reaches the seven churches and all of creation through His All-Seeing seven Spirits of God and the seven stars who are His messengers to the churches. Nothing or no one is hid from His divine Knowledge and Sight. Thus He told the believers in Sardis that He knows all about their church and every one of the members.
The church in Sardis was distinguished by two contrary ascriptions which described its public reputation and behavior. Jesus told the church that it had the reputation of being alive while it was actually dead. That is: active but dead; existing but dead; animated but dead; functioning but dead; operating but dead; etc. In other words, the church was engaged in good and visible activities which reflected the semblance of liveliness without the true spark of a spiritually real life. The church had a Christian image underlaid by a dead spirit. Not dead in the spirit as in unregenerate of those who are redeemed, but dead in the spirit as in defunct.
All was not lost however, for the busy but dead church in Sardis. Jesus urged the church to wake up and strengthen what little was left. He told them that their faith was lifeless and incomplete before God because their reputation and works were devoid of living faith in Jesus Christ and genuine commitment to God. He impelled them to remember their initial faith and turn away from their self-serving ways.
Jesus called upon them to repent and hold fast what remained in them still. Otherwise, He would surprise them like a thief and cause them to lose even what little they had. This is not their salvation, but their position of service and witness for Jesus Christ. Like the Pharisees of Judea, their reward would be the fleeting admiration earned by their reputation in the world around them.
4'But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.
5'He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and 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.'
Even though most of the believers in Sardis were disobedient and unfaithful, Jesus found a few who did not defiled themselves but remained strong in their faith and lived obediently. They kept their clothes clean. That is, they were consciously aware of the Righteousness of Christ with which they were robed and kept themselves clean.
These few did not compromise their faith. They walked circumspectly. They did not succumb to the lures of worldliness. These few had been found worthy in Jesus Christ; and He promised them that they would walk with Him in white raiment, His Righteousness.
Their names shall remain written in the Book of Life because they are redeemed and strengthened by the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. He shall vouch for them before God the Father and His angels. These few belong to Jesus and will proceed forward in His victory in spite of the dead institution where they worshipped and served. Once again, we are admonished to discern and heed what the Spirit says to the churches. It is the Word of God. It is the command from God. Repent and strengthen what survived our disobedient ways. Repent and be alive again in truth. The Lord gives His Grace to the humble. And He is pleased with penitent hearts and contrite spirit.
The church in Sardis was rebuked for an unspecified infraction which might have been committed or omitted by its members. It was not a matter of action or inaction. It was not a specific breach. But it was something broad, general, and sweeping. It had far-reaching deep roots. It was overwhelming, arduous, and oppressive.
Jesus said that the church in Sardis appeared alive, but it was dead. Not merely sick, struggling, troubled, or even confused, but dead and lifeless. Like the white-washed Pharisees, it appeared impressive and lively. But was utterly lifeless on the inside. Not lost if redeemed, but lifeless nonetheless. Everything that was spiritually vital was smothered by what was externally appealing, by what seemed right to men.
The passage simply states that the members of the church in Sardis were internally empty and used up. Their passion for Christ diminished to the point of near extinction. The church was busy complying with its decadent surrounding. Except for the few faithful followers, the church was largely living a busy life of religious activities.
Like the church in Sardis, churches across the ages have enjoyed commendable beginnings only to eventually lose their zeal, grow stale, and become ineffective in Christian witness. Our loving and gracious Lord continues to instruct believers who have lost fervor and vision for our calling in Christ to tear down the self-promoting façade and to turn away from our own ways and seek restoration through repentance. God’s Holy Word teaches us to be diligent in our faith and service to God. We are admonished to draw near to God and never to lean on our own understanding. We should never be indifferent and expect to please God by feeling merely dutiful toward the busy work of the institution, the church.
Thus taking our cue from the few faithful followers among us, seeking God's Wisdom and heeding His Living Word, being penitent for our lifeless faith, we pray like David:
- Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You. -
Then we will know that it is not us for Christ, but that it is Christ Who actually lives out His Life in us so that we would be faithful, obedient, and strong.