Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
16 July 2017
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. 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.’
The story is told of a new Pastor in a small town who spent the first several days making personal visits to each of the members of his church, inviting them to come to his first services. The following Sunday the church was all but empty. And the next few were the same. In response, the Pastor placed a notice in the local newspapers and posted on social media that the church was dead and he planned to give it a decent Christian burial. The funeral would be held the following Sunday afternoon and everyone was invited. As he expected, a large crowd turned up for the “funeral.” In front of the pulpit, they saw a closed coffin, covered in flowers. The Pastor delivered the eulogy, then he opened the coffin and invited his congregation to come forward and pay their final respects to their dead church. One by one they filed passed the open casket but quickly turned away when they peeked inside and saw the remains of the dead church. For inside the coffin, tilted at the just the right angle, was a large mirror. (A totally fictitious preacher joke handed to me from an old preacher back in the 1990’s. Adjusted for use.)
Is this church alive or dead? Is it healthy or sick? These questions are usually answered differently from a minister’s POV or a member’s POV.
A minister thinks a church is dead when people don’t do what he thinks they should do, the way he thinks they should do it; if the members don’t accept his vision, get on board with his mission, or conform to his image and likeness.
Members think a church is dead when it doesn’t look as active or feel as exciting or do as much as all the other churches in the area that their friends attend.
As the scripture says, We judge by what we see, hear, and feel, but Jesus judges the heart.
Is this church alive or dead? is a fine question, but it must be followed up by another question.
By what standard?
Sadly, most of us imagine that “we” are the standard, the measuring stick. But what if every member of the church were as alive as you are — or as awake as you are? Would the church be alive or dead? Would it be healthy or sick? Would it be awake or asleep?
Thankfully, the only standard by which we measure life or death is the word of teh Lord Jesus Christ. Not by culture, no by other churches, but by Christ alone.
If his word declares a church alive or dead, then it is alive or dead whether we like it or not.
With that in mind, I want to point out something that gets overlooked.
A dead church is still a true church, purchased with the blood of Christ.
Jesus Considers the Church — vs 1
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”
Spirit = life
Echoes of Isaiah 11:2-4
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
Jesus Confronts the Church — vss 1
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
Reputation = lit. name
Note all the churches in our area called New Life, Living Way, Pathway of Life, Abundant Life, et al — nothing wrong with that per se. Just pointing out that no church wants to be known as Church of the Living Dead.
Dead = why? Not lack of activity and busy-ness! But incomplete works, imperfect works – they left lots of things unfinished and undone.
- The church refused to look like the community.
- The church had no community-focused ministries.
- Members became more focused on memorials of the past not ministries of the future.
- The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing.
- There were no evangelistic emphases.
- The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted.
- With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter.
- The church rarely prayed together.
- The church had no clear vision, mission, or purpose as to why it existed.
- The members idolized another era.
- The facilities continued to deteriorate.
Not all bad. Some good. Yet too Bible-Belt evangelical for my taste.
Compare that with this:
“Standard Reformed approaches tend to offer three marks: Word truly preached, sacraments properly administered, and church discipline correctly applied. There was always some flexibility within the Reformed tradition on these points.
Calvin argued for only two explicit marks, Word and sacraments, while the Westminster Assembly put worship in the place of discipline.
Luther, however, offered seven: 1. The Word, 2. Baptism, 3. Eucharist, 4. The keys exercised publicly [ministry of word and sacraments], 5. Ordained ministry, 6. Prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God, 7. The possession of the sacred cross…
For Luther, as for Paul, the church reflects the cross: power made perfect in weakness. And, like the cross, the church thus reveals those who are being saved (they who understand her weakness) and those who are perishing (they who despise her because of her weakness).”
Can you hear the difference?
These are the marks of a church that is alive and awake whether that church is large or small, many or few.
Jesus Counsels the Church — vss 2-3
2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die . . . 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.
wake up = stoke the coals, fuel your fire, breathe new life
I wonder if John paused as he wrote these words remembering how he and the other disciples did not stay awake in the garden and pray with Jesus on the night he was betrayed; and how Jesus came and told them to wake up when the hour had come for him to be delivered up to the cross.
Jesus is speaking resurrection language = the church is not just asleep, but dead; they need life, not rest.
Echoes of the Book of Ezekiel (Ch. 37 – valley of dry bones. Preach the word and pray for the Spirit.) Jesus is the true and better Ezekiel who preached and prayed over the dry bones — and they lived.
Echoes of the Gospel of John, Chapter 5
5:25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
Echoes of the Gospel of John, Chapter 11 — After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” … Martha and Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” … When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out.
Just as Jesus caused Lazarus to wake up and arise from the dead, so he can cause the church at Sardis (and your church to wake up and arise from the dead.)
Remember = received and heard — the gospel and the Spirit
keep = guard, do
repent = of your amnesia, grogginess, sloth, drudgery — or else!
If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
thief = a strange image used by Christ and the apostles to describe Jesus at his next coming.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-5 — 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.
2 Peter 3:10-12 — 10 The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.
Revelation 16:15 — “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed / ashamed!”
Thief is a strange image because Jesus once said a thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy, but he has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10)
So why did he refer to himself as a thief?
Thieves come stealthily to take away something that belongs to you — an object, security, whatever. The letter doesn’t tell us what Jesus will take away from the church if she is still asleep and dead to the world when he comes, but we can imagine that he will take away something precious that we treasure very much — her comfort, peace, covering, protection. She will be left naked and ashamed, instead of clothed and praised as a bride.
Jesus Commends the Church — vs 4
4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
few names = many members are dead, but some members are still alive
not soiled their garments = because they were not doing bad works but doing good deeds; that’s how you keep yourself clean in the presence of God — they are awake and alive; they pursue and practice holiness.
Jesus Comforts the Church — vss 5-6
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. 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.’
clothed = arrayed, wrapped (like Jesus as revealed in the vision of Revelation 1)
white robes = Those who wear white robes are the people who overcame the world, the flesh, and the devil by faith in Jesus Christ, his word, and blood (12); who were slaughtered by the dragon and martyred for the Faith (12); who were praying under the altar “How long, O Lord?” (6) and praising God around the throne (7); who stood with the Lamb on the mountain and worshiped God (14); who consecrated themselves to God and remained undefiled (16); who were dressed as a bride for the wedding feast (19); who rode into battle behind the Rider on the white horse (19).
blot out = names of Romans citizens blotted out of record books when they moved away from city – Jesus will not do this, for the names in the Book of Life written before the creation of the world.
Book of Life = contains all the names of all the sinners that Jesus came into the world to save / ransom and redeem with his blood. Only the followers of the Lamb, whose names are in the Book of Life, will be saved from the lake of fire.
Craig Koester – “Many readers find it unnerving to find John speaking about God writing people’s names in the book of life from the foundation of the world. Those who take John seriously naturally want to know, “Is my name included in God’s book?” Revelation does not list the names that are in the book of life, but it does give readers enough information to know that the comments about the book of life are designed to encourage faithfulness, not despair. John’s counsel can summarized this way: Trust that the Lamb, who died to liberate people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” for life with God (5:9-10), also died for you. Trust that God wants you to put this faith into practice — then leave matters concerning the final judgment in God’s hands.” (Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, 191)
confess name = Jesus will acknowledge you in the presence of God and angels / he will read your name aloud from the Book of Life