Revelation 3: 1-6
‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. 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.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Jesus speaks to the church in Sardis and tells them that he sees right through their surface and superficial faith. He basically says: "Everyone thinks you’re this incredible church, full of life and passion. But I see beneath the image and all the stuff on the outside. You’re actually dead. There’s no life in you. Your faking it. You might kid everyone else – but you don’t fool me."
Maybe they were resting on how they had been in the past – still thinking back to the glory days of the church which were now long gone. I was talking to a Presbyterian minister not long ago whose small, dwindling congregation is largely in their 60s, 70s and 80s. He mournfully said this: "We were once the biggest church in the city and so we never felt the need to reach out to new people or to change what they were doing. Now it’s like everyone is living in the past, in an era which is long gone, and no one will admit the truth that we’re a few years away from closing our doors for good."
That’s one sort of church Jesus might be talking about here when he says your reputation is greater than your reality.
I’ve also seen it in other ways in the 27 years I’ve been a Christian. Often I have heard about how amazing and incredible a church or movement or conference is, how I need to go there, how God is really moving there.
Many of us have a mindset where we think the grass is always greener – God is always doing something somewhere else except where we are. And so we go to the church or conference or whatever and we realise that it really wasn't all that it was built up to be. It’s really all surface and no substance. We listen and watch as everyone seems to be really into it but there’s this niggling voice telling us that there’s something not right. They all look like they’re alive and enthusiastic, but it all feels forced, it feels false - like they’re trying to whip up something or manufacture emotion – when really there’s no real genuine sense of God’s presence there at all.
I spoke to one Pastor who leads a church which many people regard as a dynamic, fast growing church reaching lots of young people. It’s the place to be. He said recently God spoke to him in a vision, in fact the same vision a number of times, and he had the honesty and integrity to stand before his congregation and tell them what God showed him – it was a heart monitor, but it had flat-lined. In other words it was dead. And so he’s saying: "We’re not going to stay like this. Let’s do whatever it takes to be revived, to come back to life."
That’s what Jesus says in verses 2-3:
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard…”
Jesus shouts to His church, "Wake up!!! Get revived! It’s not too late to get back what you have lost. I need you alive because if the church is dead, people think that God is dead."
Years ago singer Keith Green had this song which said:
“The world is sleeping in the dark, which the church just can’t fight,
Because it’s asleep in the light.”
Do you know how to keep your church Spirit-filled, passionate and full of life? Each one of us stays Spirit-filled and on fire in our own walk with the Lord. The church is no more than the people. And so the fire in the church is made up of each of all the the little fires in our lives. Let’s all stay as close to Jesus as we can be.
Maybe today some of us need to hear Jesus whisper, or maybe shout: "Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP!"
Cry out – God revive me, breathe new life into me.