Monday, May 10, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 3:1-6 for the 6th Sunday of Easter, "Sardis--Walk With Me"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is part five in our sermon series, the letter to the church of Sardis. Last week we heard about the church of Thyatira which was being lead astray into immorality and idolatry, and was called to repent and hold fast to Christ. Today’s letter is addressed to the church of Sardis, which was the most prominent of the 7 cities, and had a rich, storied history. Like the city they were in, they were a church that lived in the glory of their reputation. But Christ saw that they were in fact dead and dying. He calls them and us to wake up and strengthen what remains. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sardis. One of the great cities in antiquity—greatly admired by the Greeks. Once the capital of a kingdom, situated high on a rocky ridge with great cliffs—it held the reputation of being an impregnable fortress. The old saying went that to capture the citadel of Sardis was to do the impossible. But this pride in its secure position led to its downfall on more than one occasion. The original capital city, and also later military strongholds were infamously captured because it’s defenders were caught unaware. They assumed the safety of their high position, and were defeated by surprise attack. Yet they continued to believe in their reputation of invincibility. They were also humbled by a devastating earthquake in 17 AD, early in the lifetime of Jesus, which was regarded by one ancient historian as the greatest disaster in human memory. This earthquake doubtless was etched in the minds of the citizens of Sardis, and would’ve resonated in their minds when they read about the various earthquakes prophesied in Revelation.

Christ, who holds in His hand the seven stars or seven angels of the churches, told the church of Sardis: “I know your works—that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” He spoke to people in a community that was proud of its great legacy. This same over-confidence was present in the church as well. Though they had an outward reputation of being alive, they were stuck in a carelessness that if unchanged, was heading toward the death of their faith. They were caught in the trap of resting on their reputation, of believing their own hype. These words were meant to shake them out of their sleep, to “wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die!” Like the defenders of Sardis who weren’t watchful or vigilant, the believers could be caught off guard and be unprepared when Christ returned like a thief in the night. Would they be repentant of their sins when Christ came at an unexpected hour?

They should be words that startle us out of our slumber. We can fall into the same trap of resting on our laurels, counting our past achievements but having no drive for the future. We have to avoid the danger of over-confidence that would have us admire our own reputation rather than showing ourselves to be alive through humility and living deeds of service in the present. A businessman warned of the same mistake of “believing your own press” for several reasons. First, fame is only temporary, and reputations can change in an instant. Scripture warns: “If anyone thinks that he stands, take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:14). Secondly, by trusting in your reputation, you won’t be hungry—you lose the drive and the intensity that got you there. Christ said their reputation was of being alive, but in fact they were dead! Complacency is an enemy of spiritual growth. We’ll miss new opportunities for growth and service if we’re not hungry.

Also, you can actually harm your own reputation by believing in it too much. How many athlete’s believed too much of their own hype, and were shamed when they didn’t deliver in the crucial moment, or their lives come crashing down around them. By contrast, how much more respect do you have for the athlete’s who show humility and a competitive edge, and show real sportsmanship? It’s not that one can’t be appreciative of compliments or accolades. But overconfidence or pride, goes before a fall. Finally, both in everyday life as well as in our life as a Christian church, it’s a marathon we run, not a 50 yard dash. The letter to the Hebrews tells us to run the race with endurance, looking to Jesus (Heb. 12:1ff). In other words, we shouldn’t stop running before we’ve finished the race.

We ought never put our trust in our name or reputation or what we have accomplished in the past. We shouldn’t boast of full calendars or full parking lots, though these might give the reputation of being “alive”. We can’t live in the memory of a time when churches were the centers of the community, or a time when we were seen as a community asset or whatever reputation we might have or think we have. It’s not even helpful to dwell on negative aspects of a past reputation. We live here and now, and the call for us to serve and live with humility is here and now, and it’s in the present. If we live in the past, we’ll hear the same words of Jesus to Sardis: “I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” You’re not finished! You haven’t crossed the finish line yet! There’s work to be done! For all these reasons, and for the sake of avoiding false security, Jesus calls us to wake up! Strengthen what remains! Don’t be caught sleeping or off-guard.

We’re called to repent, wake up, and remember what we’ve heard. Remember the word of Christ that was spoken to you that first awakened faith and fervor in your heart. Remember what first drove your passionate service and humble commitment to Christ’s kingdom. Stir up your hearts and encourage one another toward acts of service (Heb. 10:24). Does this mean you have to drop everything and come volunteer 20 hours every week at church? That would be nice…but no, your acts of service aren’t limited to the church—they are found in whatever your vocations or callings in life are. As a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife or worker. As a citizen, teacher, student, banker, accountant, or electrician. Wherever God has placed you in life, there are ample responsibilities and opportunities for the Christ-like loving service that we’re called to do. If this is our passion and life, then we need not live in the past, but it will be our present life that gives glory to Christ and His church. So are we hungry to serve? Are we looking for opportunities and striving for our spiritual growth and the growth of others?

Now stop and reflect on what is that word that spurs us on to such love and service? What does it mean when Christ commends those few in Sardis who’ve not soiled their garments, but will walk with Him in white? What does it mean that Christ promises that we’ll be clothed in clean white garments and our name will never be blotted out of the book of Life? This message is the saving Gospel that we’ve heard and that gave us our life. That Jesus Christ, who calls us to repent of sin, took that sin upon Himself at the cross, and bore it into death. He cleansed and purified our garments with His blood, so that we can be forgiven and innocent (Rev. 7:14). The garments we’re clothed with in Baptism are the pure and clean robes of Christ’s innocence. Saved by Christ’s innocence. Our new identity in Christ. This is what it means to be Christian—to have Christ’s forgiveness covering your sin, and embraced by His love.

Do we wear those clean garments honorably? Striving to avoid sin, and walk in all that Christ has taught us? Or do we get back into the dirt of our sins? Do we soil our garments by compromising with the world and being conformed to its patterns? To say that we have no sin, is to deceive ourselves, but to confess our sin is to be free of it, as Christ is faithful to forgive and cleanses us of guilt. So the white garments are the clothing of Christ’s innocence. But it’s also symbolic of the victory that we have and share in Christ.

For believers in Sardis, a city that was notorious for defeat and unfulfilled promises—to have the promise that they’d conquer together with Christ was Easter hope for sure! White garments were also worn in victory celebration in Roman times. To the one who conquers, they’ll walk with Christ in white. Imagine for yourself the victory parade when death has finally been conquered, and we’ve gone home to be with our Lord Jesus. “Walk with me,” Christ will say. We’ll march with Him in a victory procession that leads to our heavenly Father’s throne. There will stand before the throne of God a great multitude without number, of people of every nation, tribe, people and language, clothed in white garments, waving palm branches crying out with a thunderously loud and joyful song of victory: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It’s an incomparable honor to walk with Christ and stand in the awesome presence of our God—cleansed from our sins by Christ so we can stand unashamed before the throne. Taking His book of Life in His hands, Christ will read the names of believers who’re written there by faith. Hear Him reading your name? Naming you as one who trusted in Him and bore His name as a Christian here on earth? Jesus says He’ll confess our name before His Father and all the angels. He’ll keep His promise that whoever confesses Him before men, He’ll confess before His Father in heaven, and whoever denies Him before men, He’ll deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32). He will acknowledge your name as one of His faithful followers.

You see, Christ calls us away from the false confidence in our own reputation…away from building our trust in the accolades and approval of mankind. Because whatever works, talents, or achievements we have in this life—while some might boast of them before other men—they are nothing to boast of before God (Rom. 4:2). They don’t impress God, He doesn’t grant us salvation based on our “record”, He shows no favoritism toward men. But as Christ calls us away from this kind of false trust in reputation and any name we have built for ourselves, He is preparing us for a “name” and reputation that will last and will never be erased. Not a name chiseled in a stone monument, or penned in a history book, or even a name that is plastered in magazines, TV and across the internet. No, the names of those who conquer with Christ will be written in the book of life—never to be erased—an everlasting name and reputation.

So is this then our boast? Finally we hear again the words of St. Paul that remove any grounds of boasting in ourselves, and show us the one true boast we have: “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The Christian has one boast, and that is in our Lord Jesus Christ and His cross, which is the source of our salvation, the reason we can be conquerors over sin, death, and the devil. We boast in Christ alone, who is the only reason any of us will walk with Him in white and stand before the throne of God one day, and the one who for His great love for us will confess our names before our Father. May our boast only be in Christ crucified, and may we be living testaments of His love and service as we extend His love to all those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Sardis was the capital of the Lydian kingdom, then was overthrown by the Persians. It had a long history of being a military stronghold due to its strategic location and steep cliffs. Yet it had been captured several times when the soldiers were caught off guard. How does this give insight into Jesus’ warnings here?

2. Identify the following in the letter to Sardis: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. In the description of Christ, what do the seven stars He holds represent? Rev. 1:20. What might the seven spirits refer to? Rev. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; cf. Isaiah 11:2; Zech. 4:1-4 (esp. v. 6).

4. What are the dangers and costs of living off your reputation? How do we keep free of over-confidence or lack of vigilance? Prov. 11:2; 16:18; 29:23. How does humility serve us better in our growth and maturity? For what reason should we be watchful?

5. Having faith in Christ grants us the clean garments of His righteousness (innocence). How do some “soil” their garments? Jude 23; Romans 12:2; 13:11-14; Ephesians 4:17-32. What does it mean for us to be clothed in white and walk with our Lord? How is this an image of final victory for the one who conquers? Revelation 7:9-14; Galatians 3:27

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