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Sardis: Warning to a Dead Church (Revelation Sermon 6 of 49)

Sardis: Warning to a Dead Church (Revelation Sermon 6 of 49)

April 09, 2017 | Andy Davis
Revelation 3:1-6
The Holy Spirit, Revival, Dead Church

I. Introduction

I'd like to invite you to turn in your Bibles to Revelation Chapter 3. We are looking this morning at verses 1-6, Jesus’ warning to the church at Sardis.

John MacArthur, in his exposition of these verses, used an illustration that has stuck with me. I would like to begin with it. He talked about the phenomenon of distant starlight. Physicists tell us that light travels at a constant rate: 186,000 miles per second. Because this universe is so vast, cosmologists have invented a unit of measurement called the light year, which is the distance that light travels in a year; the math works out to 5.88 trillion miles a year. Because stars are so distant from the Earth, it takes that distant starlight many years to travel to the Earth. The light of every star that we see twinkling in the night sky was actually sent toward the Earth many, many, years ago, maybe even centuries ago. For example, the stars that make up the Big Dipper, which is the most famous constellation, range from 78 to 123 light years away from the Earth. That means that the next time you stand and look up at the night sky, at the Big Dipper, you are looking back in time. You are looking, for the most part, at starlight that began its journey earthward over a century ago. It is possible that some or many of the stars in the Big Dipper no longer exist — perhaps one or two of the stars in the handle or in the drinking gourd part are already gone. We do not know, nor will we know with certainty until that star goes dark. Though a star may not exist anymore, the light has been traveling all this time and has not reached us yet.

MacArthur used that as an illustration for the church at Sardis. In Revelation 3:1, Jesus said to this church at Sardis, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” They were living on past glories, past starlight. They were walking around with the appearance and reputation of life, but they were in reality dead. They were a dead church. We can liken it to taking a tour of an archaeological site in Europe or in the Near East. For example, we can see the Parthenon or the Acropolis in Athens, or the Colosseum of ancient Rome that is still there today. Those structures provide of vigorous, wealthy, powerful empires, still, to some degree, living off the reputation of past deeds. The faded glory of a dead empire.

We say appearances can be deceiving, but nowhere is that more true than in the spiritual realm of churches, in dealing with the genuine spiritual state of both individuals and churches — appearances can be deceiving. It is possible for an individual person or a church to appear to be alive spiritually, but actually be dead. The Puritans called such an individual a “Gospel hypocrite.” The word “hypocrite” actually is related to the Greek word for “actor,” referring to someone who puts on a mask. When it comes to the Christian Gospel, it refers to a person who goes through the forms, the outward motions of Christianity, but inside is spiritually dead.

Jesus spoke to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-28, saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside, are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” The same thing can happen to a church as a whole. It can be living on past reputation of spiritual vitality, but inside, there nothing going on spiritually; there is no vitality. The church is dead.

Christ’s words to this dead church stand as a timeless warning to all churches, in all locations, throughout all time. Any church can turn at some point in its history from a vibrant witness, healthy doctrine, and a loving community of saints that is reaching out in its world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, courageously embolded. They can turn and begin a decline towards spiritual deadness, toward death as a congregation. That church might still have a reputation as being a “great church”, but like Samson shorn of his hair, who did not realize that God had left him and taken away his power, so also, this church at Sardis, did not know that their reputation had far outlasted their actual spiritual life.

This is a practical problem all over America. Previously vibrant churches are dying or have died. I drive by churches like that every time I drive here, even churches that First Baptist Church planted decades ago. Some of them have a name and a reputation, but they are dead. Their time has passed.

One poll shows that between 8,000 and 10,000 local churches die every year, while only about 1,000 new churches are planted every year. You have heard this morning about the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Mission Board. They work to plant churches. Among other entities, those are included in the 1,000 new church plants, a fraction of the number dying every year. Why? Why do so many previously flourishing local churches die? That is a question that today’s passage will lead us to consider.

Thom Rainer wrote a book a couple of years ago called Autopsy of a Dead Church. That is a potent image, isn't it? This book stands as a warning to living churches, as Jesus said to the small remnant within this dead church at Sardis in Revelation 3:2, to, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” Using this image, then, this morning we will do the sad work of visiting a cold morgue to see the coroner pull out the corpse of a local church, the church at Sardis, and hear the description of how that corpse died. We will look into the face of such a church so that we can be warned, we can be revived, we can be revitalized ourselves as a church, renewed in our zeal for Christ.

We will ask the Lord to search us and know our hearts and show us if any spiritual necrosis is creeping its way through our soul. We will be moved, I hope, with a healthy fear of this happening to First Baptist Durham, and, by God’s grace, will seek to avoid the same fate as the church at Sardis. This is the implication in the final statement in all these letters: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” It is unwise for any church, no matter how healthy and vibrant, to read this letter to Sardis, and say, “Well, thank God that is not us. There is nothing we need to hear concerning this. There is no warning for us. We are fine.” That would be the worst way you could listen to these six verses.

The most powerful tool in the hands of Almighty God for the building of the church of Jesus Christ is a healthy local church, led biblically by godly elders, passionate for the glory of God, preaching the Gospel, proclaiming the Gospel with courage in its community, discipling one another toward holiness and Christ-likeness. That is a fearsome weapon in the hand of God against the spiritual forces of evil; Satan knows this, so he is fighting the battle all around the world at the local church level. Thus, this issue of spiritual deadness is something that we must face. We must study why churches die, and even more, how they live, how they are fruitful, so that FBC can continue to be a weapon for the glory of God in the salvation of lost sinners.

II. Christ Describes Himself: Holding the Seven Spirits and the Seven Stars

Let’s begin with Christ’s description of Himself. For review, in Revelation 1, the Apostle John, in exile on Patmos, had a vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ moving among seven golden lampstands, which is a symbol, interpreted for us in that chapter, of Jesus’ active ministry to local churches around the world. These seven represent the number of fullness or perfection. Jesus is similarly engaged and active in every genuine local church around the world. He is conducting a priestly ministry. In Revelation 2 and 3, he writes letters to each of these seven churches and addresses their conditions. These were real churches that were active in John’s day, but the lessons in each of these letters are timeless. Each of us is warned and encouraged comes to listen to all seven letters, to take to heart these things.

These Are the Words

He begins, as he always does, with verse 1: “These are the words of Him who…” referring to the words of Christ by which He seeks to remedy what is wrong. The link between Christ's words and spiritual life is obvious throughout the New Testament: In John 5:24, Jesus said this: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” In the very next verse, John 5:25, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” Do you see the link between Jesus speaking and dead people coming to life? He has that kind of power. It says in John 6:63, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” And Moses said in Deuteronomy, “These are not idle words for you; these are your life.” That is the link between Jesus’ words and life; Revelation 3:1 is referring to these words.

In the same way, Jesus yearns to speak life into the deadness of the church at Sardis. It reminds me of the powerful image in Ezekiel of the dry bones: The Lord commanded the prophet Ezekiel, “Speak, prophesy to the dry bones and tell them to live.” There is a process, which you can read it in Ezekiel 37, but boils down to this: “As the Word is proclaimed, and as the Spirit moves like a wind, these dead bones come to life.” There is a link between the proclamation of the prophetic Word of God and the activity of the Spirit in bringing individuals from death to life. It is only by the words of Christ that the spiritually dead come to life.

Him Who Holds the Seven Spirits and the Seven Stars

How does Christ identify Himself? Look at verse 1: “These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” As I have pointed out before, in every one of these seven letters, Jesus identifies Himself by some aspect of the vision that He gave to the Apostle John in chapter 1. Christ, the resurrected, glorified Son of man, is moving through the seven golden lampstands, representing seven local churches, but also the totality of all of the local churches around the world, ministering actively. And it's a clear picture of His constant, vigilant, active ministry to every local church around the world. He actively knows about and cares about all of His churches.

To the church at Sardis, He describes himself as, “Him who holds the seven spirits of God.” How do we understand “the seven spirits of God”? It must refer to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. We know this, because in Revelation 1, Jesus uses the same expression in a clear Trinitarian formula. Revelation 1:4-5: “Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, [that is God] and from the seven spirits before the throne, [that indicates the Holy Spirit] and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the Earth.” There, He gives us a Trinitarian formula, so the seven spirits must in this case as well refer to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

We have it again in Revelation 4: “Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” And in Revelation Five: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the Earth.” These verses make it very clear that “the seven spirits” refers to the Holy Spirit of God.

Why would the person of the Spirit, who is usually referred to in singular form, be referred to as “the seven spirits”? I do not know for a fact. As we go through Revelation, I will say again and again, “I don't know.” You can come to me later if you disagree with my studied guesses and possibilities for interpretation, and I will say, “I don't know. What do you think?” There is so much symbolic imagery here, interpretations for which we cannot look to the back of the book in an appendix for the answers — this is the back of the book. And the back of the book asks and creates more questions sometimes than giving answers. There are so many unanswered questions. It is a difficult book to interpret.

For this expression, I see good evidence to suggest that we should look at it as the seven-fold Spirit of God, rather than seven individual spirits. Some scholars link it to Isaiah 11, which gives seven designations of the Spirit. First, talking about the anointing of the Messiah, Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him…” This is followed by three couplets of two each; three times two is six, plus the Spirit of the Lord, adds up to seven. Isaiah 11 says: “The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” In other words, these are seven effects of the activity of the Spirit on Jesus. The number seven is the number of perfection, so we would look on the Spirit’s perfect and powerful effectiveness in bringing about God’s plan. Thinking in terms of the Spirit of God in that way makes sense in our passage in Revelation.

The church at Sardis is dead. The evidence of that deadness is a lack of obvious activity of the Spirit of God there. The problem is made manifest by the fact that there was no encounter with the Spirit of God in the life of the church. The Spirit gives life: a Spirit-filled church is alive, crackling with energy. Spiritual energy is defined by the Word of God: the Word of God is powerfully proclaimed. The worship of God is energetically flowing; the people are passionate about it. The fruit of the Spirit is obvious in the people: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. The power of the Spirit is on them for bold, risky proclamation of the Gospel in their community and to the ends of the earth. All of these things are produced by the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is the Spirit of God alone who can revive a dead church. It is because the Spirit of God was grieved through sin and quenched in some way that the church has grown dead.

How does Jesus hold the seven spirits of God? This does not indicate ownership. Rather, there is an intimate connection between Jesus and the Spirit of God, in terms of His messianic ministry. He was Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Greek), same idea, meaning “anointed.” His anointing, it is clear, was with the Holy Spirit — in other words, the Spirit came upon Jesus. It says in Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” There is a strong connection between Jesus and the Spirit.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert and was tempted by the devil. He returned out of the desert filled with the Spirit. This is a great picture for those of us who face temptation: Enter the temptation filled with the Spirit; leave the temptation filled with the Spirit. It says in Luke 4:14, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside.” Peter, to Cornelius, said in Acts 10:38, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.”

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, He promised His disciples that He would pour forth the Holy Spirit of God from the Father — the Father and the Son together pour out the Spirit. John the Baptist said in Luke 3:16, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” And Jesus Himself said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me.” The Spirit comes from the Father, through the Son, to the churches. Jesus holds the seven-fold spirit of God because it is in His power to pour out His Spirit on the church.

He also holds the seven stars. The seven stars represent seven messengers of the churches — some interpretations say they are perhaps pastors or preachers. A godly proclamation ministry sets the tone for the entire life of the church. I believe the most significant thing that happens in the life of any church is the preaching of the Word. It does not matter who does it; what matters is what is preached. You can measure the health of the church, first and foremost, by the preaching ministry, and then all the things that flow from it. He holds the seven stars in His right hand; He owns them and He protects them.

Who Was the Church at Sardis?

We do not know much about the church at Sardis. It was probably part of the church planting movement that started out of Ephesus. This movement is mentioned in Acts 19:10, where it says that the whole region heard about the Word of the Lord because Paul was there for two years. He and those with him were sending out teams of people throughout Asia Minor, and we can assume that all seven of these churches were planted in that way. Sardis the city has a long history that you can look it up.

III. Christ Presents the Shocking Diagnosis to the Church at Sardis

Christ diagnoses the church at Sardis and He says, “You are dead.” “I know your deeds. You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” It just, even now, that brings chills to me, goose bumps. Imagine Jesus saying that to a church.

How Does He Know?

Jesus knows this by looking at their deeds. He can read their hearts, but even on the surface, He sees the deeds, the fruits — dead. There is always a link between the heart — the nature — and the fruit. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.” All Jesus has to do is look at the deeds. Revelation 3:2: “I know your deeds; you are dead.” “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”

Some years ago, as many of you know, I built a tree house. That is where I write my sermons and practice them. It is a place of prayer for me. I had big plans for this tree house. It was going to be a big tree house — someone who knew my plans once called it the Taj Mahal of tree houses. It has a baseboard heater and a picture window, and all kinds of cool things in it. But when I put the first board in it, a 2x10, I secured it to a tree with a lag screw that was 5/8 of an inch in diameter and 5 inches long. That thing was not going to move. It had a sheer strength of something like 150,000 pounds, and I drove that screw right into the heart of the tree. Apparently, the tree didn't like it. In the following months and years, the tree did not flourish. Finally, in spring a few years ago, I was anxiously looking at this tree, which was holding up one quarter of the tree house, and there were no leaves at all, nothing. I had killed the tree. I knew by looking for evidence of life. Over the next two years, the tree gradually rotted, until soon after, I realized the tree was dead. I put in two 4x4s to support the tree house, and I think it will be fine, but that tree is gone, literally gone. It rotted straight down and is entirely removed. The way I knew, is just by looking for evidence of life.

The same principle is going on here: there is no life, no evidence. It says in John 15:2, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,” and those branches are collected and thrown into the fire and burned. That is a picture of hell. There are works that show life, and the works that mark a healthy, living church are obvious, as we have already mentioned: clear and powerful proclamation of the Word of God from the pulpit; vigorous, spirit-filled worship; committed, sacrificial, loving community among the members of the church; bold, consistent proclamation of the Gospel in that community and, when possible, to the ends of the Earth; sacrificial ministry to the poor and needy.

In addition, each individual Christian has his own unique special set of good works “which God has prepared in advance, that [they] should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10.) Healthy churches prepare the members individually to be fruitful themselves in good works that they all are doing. That is a sign of an alive church, isn't it? Do you not want to be part of a church like that? A living church produces fruit corporately and in individual members.

They Had a NAME of Being Alive, But Were Actually Dead

The church at Sardis had a name — a reputation — of being alive, of containing life, but they were actually dead. Perhaps all the works that gained them that name and reputation had been done many years before. Past heroes who had planted that church in Sardis and led it early on were perhaps gone. Instead of the remaining members filling their places with vibrant works, the absence of those heroes has left deadness.

I love church history. I have visited the churches of many of my heroes of the faith. This is a sad exercise. I have been to Geneva to the St. Pierre Cathedral where John Calvin preached; it is effectively a museum. Worship services may happen and there may even be an evangelical congregation there, but there is an old feeling there, and the culture in the surrounding area does not seem to take notice of or know anything about about John Calvin.

I have been to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door; I do not know the health of that church. One church I do know the health of is Jonathan Edwards’ church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Many years ago, that church went theologically, aggressively liberal, and they wrestled with the heritage of Jonathan Edwards, whose doctrines they do not hold at all. When we were there on sabbatical a few years ago, that church had a Buddhist monk coming on Wednesday night to talk to the people about meditation. It is sad. Churches can be on fire for Christ, and then things cool off, and then within a generation, or two, or three, there is nothing there, nothing going on at all.

Why Were They Dead?

The question is, why? Why does this happen? Why was the church at Sardis dead? The cause of death is always the same — it is not a shock to you — it is sin. Romans 6:23: “… the wages of sin is death.” James 1:14-15 said, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” That is how death happens.

The specifics of how and why are not as important as the state of death; we know because the specifics are not mentioned. Perhaps there was false doctrine there. Perhaps there was some immorality. It does not say anything about Balaam, or the Nicolaitans, or Jezebel. However, there is a mark in Verse 4: “…you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.” This gives a sense, perhaps, of immorality, but it could be referring to false doctrine as well. Perhaps it was a matter of persecution, except, as one commentator said, “Why would Satan persecute a dead church?” (I can answer that — he does not; there is no need. They are not doing anything; they are no threat to his dark kingdom.) Perhaps it was some combination of the same problems. But what we do know is that they were dead.

Little by little, spiritual vigor can drain out of a local church. Godly leaders can get old and die. The next generation comes along, and they do not share the same passion, the same vision, and it fades away. The world starts to encroach with its relentless appeal to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life. The church can stop preaching the clear Gospel of Christ to the surrounding community, or it can alter certain aspects of the message to tailor them to popular tastes, so that they can be more amenable to the surrounding community. The witnesses can increasingly fear persecution and pull back on the vigor and the frequency of their witness.

Thom Rainer’s “Autopsy of a Deceased Church”

Thom Rainer, in his book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, listed his own post-mortem analysis. I meditated on this list and mixed it together with some of my own thoughts to compile an autopsy report for a dead church: The church lost its zeal for local outreach. They had become insular. They cared more about what made them happy and peaceful than what Christ wanted them to do. The church turned its back on solid and careful teaching of the Word and chose to tickle the ears of its members with skillful public speakers that were little more than entertainers, rather than those who exegete the Word. The church ceased disciplining sin but tolerated more and more worldliness on the part of its members. The church ceased praying together. (Please, those who are in home fellowships, do not underestimate the prayer time you have together.)

The church stopped developing godly men as future leaders. The church spent more of its resources — its time, energy, money — on itself, making itself comfortable and apparently prosperous, than on the spreading of the Gospel. The church became more and more worldly in appearance, and fit in with the surrounding culture, especially in key moral issues. In the 21st century, we are not pressed to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar, but we are pressed on other issues, like sexual issues, marriage issues, things like that, where we are being forced to conform to the love of “diversity” according to the world’s definition. We are being pressed into a worldly mold, and if we yield, then we, as a church, will be heading toward death.

The church became increasingly listless, lifeless, cold, and weak. Little was happening in corporate worship. Passion and zeal were lacking. They clung to traditionalism, celebrating the bygone era of past heroes, putting plaques up on walls to celebrate achievements. They held on to old patterns of ministry long after they were not fruitful anymore. Finally, they shrank in number, growing smaller and smaller in number; the median age, decade by decade, inched slowly upward. There were fewer and fewer children — they were missing out, among other things, on the joy of listening to children sing in worship. (Dead churches may have grandchildren visiting occasionally but generally do not have many children regularly attending.) There were no youth, no young families. The church became old. (An aging church is not necessarily an indication of a dying church but it does depend on the zeal of all generations for growth and vibrancy; if you have very zealous older people with the younger generations being spiritually lifeless, then the church will not survive.)

IV. Christ Commands the Remnant: Wake Up!

Christ commands the remnant in verses 2-3, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” He calls on them to wake up. Jesus has the power to give life to the dead. In Revelation 1:18, He says, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

All Christians, individually, were dead at one point, were we not? Ephesians 2:1-5 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But God, because of His great mercy with which He loved us, made us alive in Christ Jesus even when we were dead in transgressions and sins. It is by grace you have been saved…” God has the power, Jesus has the power to bring the dead to life, and He calls on this church to wake up.

I love the mental images of Jesus raising the dead during His earthly ministry. In Mark 5, He comes in where the little girl who died had been placed; and He kneels by her bed and takes her hand so tenderly, and He says to her, “Talitha koum!” which means, “Little girl, get up,” and she opened her eyes, and woke up. That is the kind of power that Jesus has to raise the dead, as though they are sleeping. He says, “Wake up!” and they obey His command.

It is not clear at all that He will give that kind of power to this church, however. When He said to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come forth,” He gave a resurrecting power to him. But here, it seems that they have chosen a tomb for themselves. They have willfully walked into deadness. He was calling on them to repent and walk out of their tomb, to wake up out of that spiritual deadness, and strengthen what remained and was about to die.

Strengthen What Remains and is About to Die

Verse 4 indicates that there was a remnant of people “who had not soiled their clothes.” He says, “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” They were not blameless. They were part of the slide into deadness, but they managed to keep themselves from defilement of doctrine and lifestyle. They were worthy, meaning they were genuinely born again. They were made worthy or qualified through Christ and would walk with Christ dressed in white, meaning they would be seen to be righteous in the sight of God. However, they were in great danger. He was warning them to strengthen what remained and was about to die. I picture a car accident, a person lying in the road, with wounds that are not immediately life threatening, bleeding rather significantly. There was a window of opportunity for this small remnant to wake up and take seriously what was happening. By the Word and the Spirit, “strengthen what remains and is about to die.”

Remember and Repent

He says in verse 3, “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” What had they received and heard that they needed to obey? Go back to the Gospel; saturate yourself again in God-Man-Christ response: Remember that there is a Holy God who created heaven and earth. Remember that He created you in His image, to have a relationship with Him — you are fearfully and wonderfully made; you are unique and special as a human being, but you have sinned. You have violated God’s laws, broken His Ten Commandments, broken His two Great Commandments to love God and love your neighbor. Remember that you have sinned, and therefore you deserve death. Remember that God sent His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, who lived under the law and perfectly obeyed every command of God His whole life, who never sinned; who did great signs and wonders to show His deity and power and compassion; and most of all, who died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, in our place. Remember Isaiah 53:5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds, we are healed.” This is the Gospel, and if you simply repent of your sins, acknowledge that you are a sinner, and turn to Christ, all of your sins will be forgiven. Remember and repent; start being the Church again.

I am saying this to all of you: they had received and heard and needed to obey this same Gospel that we have received and heard and need to obey. You may have been a Christian for decades, a genuine Christian, but you still need to hear that message again and again, to drink it in and hear it in your heart. Remember what you heard and repent of ongoing sin in your life. If you are here and you are still “dead in your transgressions and sins,” — i.e., you are not a Christian — you now know what the Gospel is; I just gave it to you. I am calling on you to come out of darkness into light; come from death to life by believing in Jesus.


Verse 3: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” In Matthew 24, Jesus warns, “My coming is like a thief in the night who comes to steal; the owner of the house does not know at what time of night the thief is coming. You had better be ready at all times.” Revelation 3:2 is not talking about the Second Coming in which Jesus will come as a thief in the night. This is more individual, coming as a judge to that local church. This is similar to the warning He gave to the church at Ephesus that had forsaken their first love: “If you do no repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Or to the church at Pergamum: “I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Or like Jezebel: “I will strike you and your children dead.” He has that power to come at the time of His choosing. He says, “You had better wake up and repent and do it quickly, or I will come to you; and you do not know when I am coming.”

V. Christ Promises Rewards to the Overcomers

As with all of these letters, Christ promises rewards to the overcomers. Look at verse 5: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the Book of Life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and His angels.” The overcomers, those who by faith in Jesus are more than conquerors, will receive the same cleansing from sin and will be covered in white robes of righteousness.

A Name that will Never Be Blotted Out

Jesus says, “I will never blot out his name from the Book of Life.” The Book of Life, which we will see again in Revelation 20, is where He writes the names of all of the elect who have repented and trusted in Christ and who will spend eternity with God in Heaven. He is saying, “I will never blot out your name; you have eternal life and you will most certainly live forever.”

Some, inferring the opposite based on what He says, twist this to say, “Yes, but He does sometimes blot out some people’s names.” There is no verse in Scripture that teaches that those who are genuinely born again, have crossed over from death to life, and have been justified and forgiven by Almighty God can later cross back over from life to death, be unjustified, and consequently condemned. That cannot happen. He is actually promising the opposite: “I will never blot out your name from the Book of Life, but you will live forever.”

Furthermore: “I will give you a name, and I will speak that name to my Father, and to the angels.” Think about that. Isn’t that awesome? “I will give you a name that will never be blotted out. Do not care about your reputation in the community. Do to care what other people think. That does not matter. What matters is what I will say about you. I will give you a name and a reputation that will live forever. I will speak your name to my Father. I will not be ashamed of you. I will pronounce your name to the Father and I will tell the angels what you did. I will tell the angels and my Father your history and your works.” What an honor. That is the reward to those who overcome.

VI. Applications

Be Fearful, Fight Deadness! Understand Deadness Can Happen to Us

First, be fearful and flee deadness, oh, church. It is vital for us to hear and tremble at God’s Word. Do not ever say, “That could never happen to this church.” Oh, it could happen. We must be on our guard constantly. Step by step, we can slide into apostasy. We can give up our personal prayer time. We can start to cut corners in the prayer closet and taking in the Word of God. We can start playing bit by bit, more and more with sins, little sins, and then, bolder and bolder. Last week, I talked about secret sexual sin. That will do it — that will kill a church. We can lose our taste for genuine Christian fellowship. We start to pick holes in the garments of other Christians, to find flaws in them, and make excuses for not going to church. And that happens a little at a time. We slide into apostasy and it can happen. Instead, we must keep before us the marks of a healthy church. I will not review them again today, but you can look them up.

Rely on the Holy Spirit

Second, pray. Pray that the pulpit ministry here would be vigorous and not shrink back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God’s Word, all of it. Pray that we would be vigorous in sharing the Gospel in this community, sacrificially bold in sharing with lost people right around here. Pray that we would continue caring about unreached people groups and missions. Pray that we would have a heart for the poor and needy, that we would be sacrificial toward those who are struggling and suffering, not just in our part of the world, but even, for example, in East Africa with the famine happening right now, that we would sacrificially give to care for them. Pray that we would care about holiness and be fighting sin by the power of the Spirit, vigorously active in each other’s lives. Pray that we would be vibrant in prayer; and that when we come together for corporate worship, it is an electric time of celebrating — not just Easter, but every week — the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Closing Prayer

Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the time that we have had to look at this warning of a church that was alive and had a reputation for being alive, but became dead. God, I pray, protect us from that. I pray for the elders of this church, myself and the other elders, that you would help us to be vigilant over ourselves and over the flock which the Lord has entrusted to our care. I pray that we would not be arrogant. I pray that we would be humbled, that we would be on our knees and our faces, saying, “Oh, God, we could die. If you don't strengthen us, we will.” Please, you are the vine, Lord Jesus; we are merely the branches. Help us to abide in you and bear much fruit. God, I pray for more evangelistic fruit. I pray for more baptisms. I pray that the church, the people in this church, would be courageous and share the Gospel with lost people. And, oh, Lord, lead us to people who are ready to hear. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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