The Living Dead

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The church in Sardis had an angel as did the others listed in Revelation 2 and 3. And Jesus had a message for him. Sardis was another city in what is now Turkey, and was extensively excavated during the early part of the 20th Century. Several church buildings were found there, but of the original church and its congregation there is no information. Jesus had a message for this congregation that would have been hard to receive. He started His message by establishing His credentials. He “has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars”. Regarding the sevenfold Spirit of God, this may have been a reference to Isaiah 11:2, which reads, “And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord“. Isaiah’s prophecy pointed to the coming Messiah and here He is delivering His message to the people of Sardis. Jesus held the seven stars in His right hand and it is thought these are His messengers to the seven churches; perhaps they represent their pastors or leaders.

But John continues to relay Jesus’ message. And it makes for grim reading. Jesus knows what they are about. He’s had His eye on what they have been doing. And He points out that although to an outsider their church seems full of life, in fact it is just going through the motions. They are really spiritually dead. Well almost. It seems that there are a few dying embers still in the grate, but unless they are quick, they too will die away and become the ashes of another dead church. 

So there are some question here. And they are very relevant to us today. First of all, are we guilty of going through the motions of our liturgies, singing the great songs and hymns, sharing Holy Communion, reading the Bible and praying lustily, but our hearts are not in any of it at all? We are thinking of other things, caught up in the worldliness of life around us. About what films or TV we are watching, or games we’re playing. Yes, to an outsider, they might be impressed with the size of the congregation or the volume of the singing wafting across the graveyards, but deep down there may be more life in the tombs than there is in the sanctuary. Perhaps that is what Jesus was meaning. But we have to personalise it as well. Putting our own names in the frames. Are we more spiritually dead than alive? Perhaps we need to ask God for what He thinks. And be prepared for a shock. 

The solution to a dead or dying church, or individual, starts at Calvary. Where the Son of God gave His life so that we could find life. At the place where we ask for forgiveness and turn from our sins. And where we find a loving God delighted that we have turned away from a life of feeding pigs and eating pig swill, to one embraced by our loving Heavenly Father, who has been looking out for us to come home, a place where we can enjoy His presence and the richest of food forever. 

Another question is about where our actions do not measure up to God’s requirements. What are we doing that God doesn’t approve of? Have we allowed worldly activities to use up our time in the church? Perhaps by holding jumble sales when we should be having prayer meetings? Or by focusing on the flowers instead of their Creator. It’s all about priorities. Many activities we get involved in are not bad in themselves but, as with the Sardinian church, they don’t measure up to God’s requirements. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves the questions, “Is what I am involved in furthering the Kingdom of God or just using up my time”? Or, “Is there any Kingdom fruit from what I am involved in”? We can fill our lives with worldly busy-ness rather than God’s business.

Jesus ends verse 3 with a sobering thought. We could be sailing along oblivious to the coming Kingdom, busy with our daily lives, and end up totally unprepared for the sudden arrival of Jesus when He returns. We never know when our house would be burgled until after the event. So it is with the coming of Jesus – but knowing after the event will be too late.

So back to Calvary, where we can gaze upon the One who gave His life for us. His sacrifice is all-sufficient. At the Cross we can fall on our knees in repentance, tearfully reaching out to the only One who can connect us to a life with God. It’s no good turning to Allah or Buddha, or any other world religion. They can’t help us. The only solution to our lives of sin is forgiveness from Jesus, the Son of God. He said in John 14:6,  “… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me“. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Dear Lord. We confess before You today our sins. We confess that we have allowed our hearts to grow cold. Please forgive us and help us to return to the place You have prepared for us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Greetings

“John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood,”
Revelation‬ ‭1:4-5‬ ‭NIVUK

John starts his writings with an introduction explaining who the letter is for and who it is from. It is addressed to “the seven churches in the province of Asia“. They are all listed later in the book. And then we have a detailed explanation of the contributors to his Revelation. For me, John’s words describe the everlasting God, because His throne is mentioned. And then we have the seven spirits. That can only be the Holy Spirit, the number “seven” denoting perfection or completeness, as it does in other parts of the Bible. And then we have a reference to Jesus, acknowledging Him as the faithful witness behind John’s Revelation. For good measure, we then are reminded of His death and resurrection, and His status as Lord of all.

John starts with announcing God’s grace and peace to “you”, who are the churches, the fellowships that he founded or spiritually fathered in the “province of Asia”. Again, the number “seven” is mentioned, perhaps indicating that it applies to all churches everywhere. There is no better introduction than speaking out a blessing of grace and peace. Oh, don’t we need both these qualities in our war-ravaged world. We need all the grace and peace that God has for us. Starting a letter or, to bring it up to date, an email or message, using a greeting, especially one including the words “grace and peace” is not a usual convention these days. But what a wonderful way to start. At a stroke of the pen, or tap of a key, it sets the scene for what is to come in the communication. It elevates the subject matter into Heavenly places, away from the mundane worldliness burdening our lives. Perhaps I’ll break with convention and start to use it more in my emails and messages, smiling at the thought of the quizzical smiles that will appear as the missive is read.

John finishes his greeting with a dedication, “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood”. We must never forget to dedicate all we do in our service to God to Jesus and all He has done for us. His love knows no bounds. His willingness to die for each one of us echoes through past, present and future generations, bringing salvation to all.

Heavenly Father, we pray for more of Your presence in this sinful world, bringing grace and peace where there is anger and strife. In Jesus’ name, Amen.