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.

The Meaning of the Mystery

“Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in My right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Revelation 1:19-20 NLT

Following his encounter with Jesus amongst the lampstands, John received his commission. He was told to start writing. And he was told specifically what to write about – events as they happened, and also those that will happen at some time in the future. In other words, all the events as they unfolded in the vision he received. I’m sure John was only too eager and willing to do what he was asked; after all, I’m sure he would have realised that he was in a special place. And Jesus started by explaining what the seven stars he had in His right hand represented and what the significance was of the seven gold lampstands. 

There was obviously a special interaction, not just between John and Jesus, but also between John and the Holy Spirit. The vision that unfolded before John either took place over quite a long period, enabling him, and giving him time, to go through what would have been a laborious process of writing everything down longhand, or it happened quite quickly, as in a dream, and the Holy Spirit then helped him recall everything he needed to record. Either way, it was some vision. It was so vivid that John must have had difficulty separating his incarceration in exile on Patmos with the events that were unfolding before him. And what a contrast!

Jesus explained the mystery that was appearing in the vision, that the seven stars were the angels appointed to the seven churches, represented by the gold lampstands. Angels. Created but immortal beings residing in heaven with God and on hand to always do His bidding. And here we have seven of them overseeing churches. Does that imply that all of our churches have a spiritual covering from an angel? They may well do, but I’m sure there will be those who disagree. Some might even question the existence of angels, but in John’s vision there were many of them. But in the next chapter of Revelation, we see Jesus delivering messages to the angels of the seven churches. Were these the angels from Heaven? Or was the message being delivered figuratively to the leader or leaders of the churches? Or was the message being delivered corporately to the entire church? Personally, I discount the idea that the angels were getting a bit of a telling off. So I lean more towards the leadership and the church as a whole. Some commentators have worked out that the Greek word for “angel” could also mean “messenger”, who could be a human being. But in the end, the important thing is to listen to the message, however it is delivered, and act accordingly.

As pilgrims, we all need a bit of correction from time to time. Isn’t it strange that humans have a tendency to rationalise their thinking to a place of comfort, and even error. It’s important that we read God’s Word because it is from God Himself. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work“. Notice that Jesus delivered a message to the churches, not to individuals, so it is also important that we pilgrims get plugged into a Spirit-filled church somewhere. There are other pilgrims on the same journey as us and together we keep to the right paths through the minefields of life.

Dear Lord. We thank You for Your Word, the Bible. And I pray that as we continue to journey through the Book of Revelation, You lead us and guide us in Your ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.