The Book of REVELATION
James J. Barker
THE CHURCH AT SARDIS
- We have been studying the seven letters to the seven
churches in Revelation 2 and 3. This evening we will look at the fifth church,
the church in Sardis (3:1).
- There is something different about this church. For the
first time, we see no word of commendation (cf. 2:2, 9, 13, 19).
- Right from the start there is only a word of rebuke – “I
know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”
- Sardis had a good reputation among men – “thou hast a
name” – but the Lord says they were “dead.”
- In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem, The Rhyme
of The Ancient Mariner, Coleridge says, “Corpses man the ship; dead men pull
the oars; dead men hoist the sails; dead men steer the
- There are some churches like that. There is a dead man
in the pulpit and dead men in the pews; dead men ushering; dead people in the
- Spurgeon noted that. In a sermon he preached in 1859,
Spurgeon said, "Have ye ever read Coleridge's Ancient Mariner? I
dare say you have thought it one of the strongest imaginations ever put
together, especially that part where the old mariner represents the corpses of
all the dead men rising up, — all of them dead, yet rising up to manage the
ship; dead men pulling the ropes, dead men steering, dead men spreading the
sails. I thought what a strange idea that was. But do you know I have lived to
see that true: I have seen it done. I have gone into churches and I have seen a
dead man in the pulpit, and a dead man as a deacon, and a dead man holding the
plate at the door, and dead men sitting to hear. You say 'Strange!' but I
is the way it was in Sardis. The entire church was filled with dead
- Beloved, there are many dead churches like Sardis all
over America and all over the world. What can a church do when God says they are
- RECOGNIZE THEIR SPIRITUAL CONDITION
- REMEMBER WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR THEM
- REPENT AND GET THINGS RIGHT WITH GOD
RECOGNIZE THEIR SPIRITUAL CONDITION (3:1, 2).
- Sardis had a
big name, so they thought everything was okay (3:1).
- The first thing
a dead church must do is recognize there is a problem. A church can have a big
name, a big building, big congregation, big programs, and big offerings and
still be dead.
- Some churches
only grow by members transferring in from other churches. They never see souls
- My pastor used
to say, “A church that does not evangelize will eventually start to
- I also get a
bit apprehensive when I see a low turnout for soulwinning. I am concerned when I
do not see members bringing visitors to church.
- I get concerned
when I do not see people walking down the aisle at the invitation. If we lose
our burden for souls we will be in trouble with the
- I once had
lunch with a pastor (now retired) of a famous, historic Baptist church. He
admitted to me that he never went out soulwinning. He admitted that they usually
had their services in the small chapel because their main auditorium was huge
and their congregation was now very small. (Many years ago their big auditorium
was always packed out.)
- The pastor
showed me all the expensive remodeling work. Work on the stained glass windows
alone cost something like a half a million dollars. I asked the pastor where
they got all the money with such a small congregation. He said,
- I remember a
number of years ago a Baptist deacon from another church was showing me around
his church building. He showed me their beautiful auditorium and told me how it
used to be full “in the good old days.” But it is not full anymore.
- He kept referring back
to the old days. Like the church in Sardis, this church “had a name” (3:1). But
now it was dead. There was no more soulwinning; there was no zeal for God; it
was a very cold church. Colder than a refrigerator.
- It was deader than a
door nail. Like Samson they knew not that the Lord was departed from
- The Lord told the
church in Sardis to “be watchful” (3:2). We need to be watchful
- I once heard Evangelist
Ed Carter preach a message from this text. I jotted down his outline – Wake
up, “Be watchful” (3:2); build up, “strengthen the things that
remain” (3:2); and give it up – “repent” (3:3).
- I think there was more
to the outline but that’s all I wrote down. But that is plenty to preach – wake
up, build up, and give it up.
- It wasn’t too late for
the church at Sardis. Our Lord says in Rev. 3:2, “Be watchful, and strengthen
the things which remain…”
- In verse 4, our Lord
says, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their
garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
- There was still a
faithful remnant in the church at Sardis.
- So there was still
hope, but they had to recognize their spiritual deadness.
REMEMBER WHAT GOD HAS
DONE FOR THEM (3:3)
- The believers
in Sardis were told to remember therefore how they had received and heard (3:3).
When they were converted they had received the Lord Jesus Christ as their
- And they also
received the blessed Holy Spirit.
- The Lord also
says to remember what they had heard (3:3). If you faithfully attend Sunday
School, and Wednesday night Bible study, and Sunday morning and Sunday evening
preaching service, then you are regularly and systematically hearing the
Word of God preached and taught. The Lord says to remember
- John Newton
lived a wicked life before God saved him. After his conversion he became a great
preacher and wrote many excellent hymns, including “Amazing
- John Newton
made a big sign and hung it in his study: “Thou shalt remember that thou
wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee”
- John Newton
always remembered where he was when God reached down and saved him. So the Lord
says to the church in Sardis, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and
heard, and hold fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:3).
- I do not
believe a Christian who is in the Word of God will get backslidden. But let me
say this – it has to be more than just hearing the Bible preached week after
- James 1:22
says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own
selves.” Unfortunately, many church
people are deceived.
- I heard of a
carnal man who boasted to a pastor that he had been “through the Bible from
cover to cover.” The preacher wisely responded by saying, “You have been through
the Bible, but now you have to let the Bible go through
- The late evangelist Vance Havner said this, “Some of us
remember the old mills operated by a water wheel. A creek emptied onto the wheel
and the wheel set the mill in motion. Suppose the miller should come down some
morning and find only a trickle of water because the stream was clogged. How
foolish he would be to try to turn the wheel by his own strength! But he could
use his energy to good advantage up the creek clearing out the obstructed
channel. So often in the church we toil in our feverish strength to make the
wheels go around when we should instead spend that time removing the hindrances
and keeping our lives open to the flow of God’s
- In many churches the wheels are turning but nothing’s
happening. Souls are not being saved. There is a dryness and deadness. A lady
once told me her old church was so dry her throat felt choked.
REPENT AND GET THINGS RIGHT WITH GOD (3:3).
- We often think
repentance is only necessary for lost sinners. If there are any lost sinners
here this evening – YOU CERTAINLY DO NEED TO REPENT!
sometimes saved church members need to repent. Nothing grieves the heart of God
like sin in the church.
- Some have
wondered why our Lord uses the expression “as a thief” (3:3; cf. 16:15). This
speaks of judgment.
- Matthew Henry
said our Lord's "judicial approach to a dead declining people will be
surprising; their deadness will keep them in security, and, as it procures an
angry visit from Christ to them, it will prevent their discerning it and
preparing for it. Such a visit from Christ will be to their loss; he will come
as a thief, to strip them of their remaining enjoyments and
- Those who are
not ready when Christ comes back will be judged. Our Lord said, “Watch
therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matt.
- Revelation 3:3b
is a warning to dead, unregenerate church members (cf. I Thess.
- A thief never
calls ahead to tell you when he is coming. He comes unexpectedly in the middle
of the night. The Lord is coming back unexpectedly and those who are not saved
“shall not escape” the judgment of God (I Thess.
- I want you to
mark an important word here in this letter – “name” (3:1, 4, and
- Those who
refuse to repent will have their names blotted out of the book of life (3:5).
- I believe that
every person born into this world has his name recorded in the Lamb’s Book of
Life. But those who refuse to get right with God; those who refuse to repent of
their sin; those who refuse to admit that they are wicked, lost sinners; those
who refuse to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour – their names are
blotted out of the Book of Life (cf. Rev. 20:15).
- On that awful
Judgment Day, many church members – even some deacons and pastors and Sunday
School teachers – will say to the Lord, “Please keep looking – my name has to be
there!” but the Lord is going to say, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity”
- Perhaps there
are some here tonight thinking, “But I am a born-again believer. Could my name
be blotted out?” My friend, if you are a genuine child of God your name will not
be blotted out. But make sure you have been genuinely born
- Those that are
truly saved will overcome (3:5) the world, the flesh, and the