The city of Sardis was supposed to be a near impenetrable city. But twice it fell. Why? Because their watchmen were asleep on the job.
And here Jesus uses their own history to try to wake up the church that dwelt there.
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 not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, 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. (1-3)
What is Jesus saying here?
Like the city it dwelt in, the church seemed strong, healthy, and alive. But it was dead as it stood. Why? Because Jesus was coming in judgment, and the church wasn’t ready for it.
In what ways was the church not ready? Jesus tells them, “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”
What does that mean? I’m not entirely sure, but I think there were probably two things. Number one, they had let holiness slip in their lives. They had started to compromise and do things they knew were wrong.
That’s why Jesus draws a sharp contrast between those who were “sleeping” and those few in the church who had, “not soiled their clothes.” (4)
But there is probably another thing he meant. This church in the past had probably done a lot of good, touching the lives of the world around them. But perhaps, they had now become self-centered. They were no longer focusing on touching the world. Instead, they were resting on their laurels, looking with pride at what they had done, but doing little else.
As a result, they were dying spiritually. Their works were incomplete in holiness and in mission.
And Jesus said, “Get back to basics. Remember the things that are truly important. Repent from your inward way of thinking. Repent of your sins. For if you don’t, I will come back, and you will be judged.”
It is in fact, very similar to all the parables Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25.
Often times, we look at these parables and this letter to Sardis, and think of them in individualistic terms. Are we as individual Christians ready for our Lord’s return?
And there is definitely an element of that here, particularly in verses 4-5 when Jesus addresses the individual faithful in the church.
But remember that this letter for the most part is addressed to the church at large.
And like the church in Sardis, many churches have the reputation of being alive, but are dead. They seem so vibrant because of their dynamic pastors, emotional worship, and bright atmosphere. But inside they are rotting from the undealt with sin in their lives. From the compromise that belies their professions of faith.
Other churches are resting on the laurels of what they did years ago. Before they were reaching out and touching their community for Christ. But now, they look around at each other and what they accomplished, and they spend all their time congratulating themselves. They have essentially become a social club, simply enjoying the fellowship they have with each other. But they forget that their work is not yet finished, and will not be until Jesus returns.
And that’s the key thing to remember. Jesus is coming back. When he comes back, how will he find our churches? Will he find us alive, touching the world for him? Or will he find a self-centered church? Or just as bad, a soiled church?
What does he see when he sees your church?