This sermon is from the series SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHURCHES and was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on June 8, 2014 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can hear this sermon at www.csbccl.org
Revelation 3:1-6One Sunday morning, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, was in church. As he sat there during the service he was analyzing the dynamics of what was going on around him. Seated on the pew in front of him was a very pompous lady wearing a big rimmed- hat. Ladies don’t wear hats to church today like they did in that time. Burns watched something crawl out of her hair and on to the rim of the hat. Then he watched it crawl all around the rim. This worship experience inspired the poem, “To A Louse.”
Do you remember the words? “Oh, that some power would give us, Power to see ourselves as others see us.”
Sometimes the way that we see ourselves is different from the way that others see us. I wish I could see our church as others see us. That would be helpful in making some needed improvements. Also, I wish that I could see Cornerstone as Jesus sees us. However, that might be too overwhelming.
The way that Jesus saw these seven churches of Revelation startling – especially the way he saw the church at Sardis. Notice how he begins: “To the angel (pastor) of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”
As you know, the Book of Revelation was written in code to protect the early Christians from the onslaughts of the Roman persecutors. The number “seven” means “whole, complete, perfect.” Jesus is saying that He holds in His hands total spiritual power. The “seven stars” are the leaders in the congregation and He holds them in His hand.Jesus said some meaningful things to this congregation.
I. JESUS SPOKE OF THEIR REPUTATION.
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (v.1)
In essence, Jesus is saying, “You’ve got a great reputation among people. In the city of Sardis, you are the church that it is recommended to attend. You have a lot of things going on. Your program is ambitious. You are exceeding your budget. Everything is going great. Your reputation is high throughout the region.”
But then He tells the church how He sees them. This letter begins differently from the other six for they began with words of commendation. This one starts off with a condemnation. “I know your works. I know what you are doing. It is all done in your own strength. I have all spiritual power and want to release it to you, but you block it. I have set before you a tremendous opportunity, but you do not see it. I know your hearts. Your spiritual flame has gone out.”
Spiritual deadness is a disease that can afflict any church. It does not claim the power of the Word or the power of the Holy Spirit. It is all done in human strength. Church history tells us of the corruptness and deadness of the church from the middle ages to the time of the Reformation. This was a period of hundreds of years. Last summer, we devoted our Wednesday night bible study class to the study of church history and we found some amazing facts. Here is a description of this period by W.A. Criswell. I have lifted this illustration from his sermon on the Sardis church.
“Peter Waldo, in 1170, heard a Christian hymn. He was a wealthy merchant of Lyons, of Lyons, France. He hired two eminent scholars to translate for him the Word of God. And as he read the Gospels, he was converted. Immediately, he began to take his stand on the streets and to preach the good hope in Jesus Christ. Being a wealthy man, he had the Gospels translated into the vernacular of the people. And his followers called Waldenses, the Waldensian church, his followers, began to sow the seed of the [Word] among the darkened illiterate and superstitious members of the church. God blessed them, and there was fire and fervor and evangelism. Then in 1208, the great papal, holy crusade was inaugurated, and in no time at all more than one million of the Waldensians and the Albigenses were wiped from off the face of the earth, cruelly persecuted, decimated, destroyed, but one of God’s seven stars.
In 1320, John Wycliffe, reading the Holy Book, translated it into the language of our English forefathers. And John Wycliffe, with a Bible in his hand, taught his Lollard brethren to memorize the Scriptures, and up and down the highways of our England, to preach the unsearchable riches of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Before the church could seize him, John Wycliffe died. But after he died and was buried, they dug up his body, they burned it publicly, and they scattered his ashes over the bosom of the River Swift. But the River Swift pours into the Severn, and the Severn pours into the Avon, and the Avon pours into the sea, and the sea laves the shores of the continents of the world. And John Wycliffe’s Bible and his preaching and his writings were covered over, not by the harsh hand of cruel oppression, for you don’t destroy an idea or a gospel, not by blood and fire, and spilled over into Bohemia. And there in 1367, a man, a star, John Huss, read the translation of John Wycliffe, read the writings of our English preacher. And having the fire and the furor of God’s evangelist in his soul, John Huss began to preach the gospel of the Son of God in Bohemia. Thousands turned and listened. Other thousands were converted.
He was called before the church council of Constance. He was given a pledge and a signed covenant by the king of safe conduct as he left his great city of Prague. But the church said, “No promise should be kept with a heretic.” They condemned him to be burned at the stake. They put a crown, a miter on his head, and on it they wrote the words, “The Arch Heretic.” And John Huss, as he made his way to the martyr’s stake said, “With joy I wear this crown of shame for the love of Him who wore the crown of thorns.” As the flames began to roar, he sang a hymn, he prayed a prayer. And though his lips continued to move, they could not hear what he said as the fierce fire began to flame upward and to take the soul of the great preacher to the throne of grace in heaven—one of God’s stars.”
I think that it is possible that on a wide scale we are entering another dark age of the church where all the machinery is running and we have a good reputation, but the spiritual power and passion is missing. We are seeing an apostasy in that the church is making peace with the secular world and is denying the truth of the Gospel. But God always has his stars – the leaders in a local church – or his leaders in the church at large. This was predicted to happen in the last days. In 1 Timothy 4:1-2 we read: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
II. JESUS SPOKE TO THEIR RITUAL.
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” (v.2)What are the things that remain? The worship service which is the prayers, scripture readings, the singing, the proclamation of the word – all these remain and are the most important thing that a church does. We cannot serve effectively if we do not worship meaningfully. The church’s ritual of worship must be vitalized. Just to go through a form of worship without heart connections is futile. I know that when I come to this sacred pulpit each Lord’s day that what I preach will be totally meaningless to anyone unless it has first caught hold in my own life. I live with a text aw week or more before proclaiming it.
Sunday School teachers, before you can teach your lesson to your class, it must live in your life. Choir, before you can sing and bless us you must know experientially the truths of the hymns and great anthems of which you sing.
The people are looking for a church today that is authentic with a “Thus saith the Lord.” This is what I want our church to be: A Sunday School that breaks the bread of life into portions that will nourish the class, a choir that sings the great music of heaven that inspires the soul, and a preacher that proclaims Christ in the totality of His glory.
Jesus is saying to the church at Sardis: “I see the worship. I notice your singing. I hear the preaching. It is all spiritually dead.” Even a non -believer can tell the difference. E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary, once said to Mahatma Ghandi: “I am very anxious to see Christianity nationalized in India, so it will no longer be a foreign thing identified with a foreign people and a foreign government, but a part of the national life of India contributing its power to India’s uplift and redemption. What would you suggest we do to make that happen?” This was his reply: “I would suggest, first, that all of you Christians must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, I would suggest that you practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down. Third, I would suggest that you must put an emphasis on love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity.” (Maxi Dunham in his book Channels of Challenge)
We must not be like the little boy who was heard talking to himself as he walked across his backyard dreaming of being a baseball player. “I am the greatest hitter in the world.” He threw up a ball and swung and missed it. “Strike 1,” he said. He threw it up again, swung at it and missed. “Strike 2,” he said. He did it a third time and missed again. “Strike 3,” he said. He looked at the ball and the bat and said, “Wow, I am the greatest pitcher in the world.”
III. JESUS URGED THEM TO REMEMBER WHO THEY ARE.
“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.” (v.3)
Jesus is saying, “Remember the cross where you received spiritual life. Remember how you each one by one you came to me to have your sins forgiven and your life filled with power.”
Charles Swindoll in his book LIVING ABOVE THE LEVEL OF MEDIOCRITY says, “Imagine that you work for a company who president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and to the other employees, ‘Look, I’m going to leave and while I am gone I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I am away. I will write to you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do until I return from this trip.’
Everyone agrees. He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally, he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess – weeds are flourishing in the flower beds, windows are broken across the front of the building, and loud music is blaring from several of the offices. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, ‘What happened? Didn’t you get my letters?’ They said, ‘O yes, we got your letters. We’ve even bound them into a book. Some of us have memorized them. In fact, every Sunday, we have LETTER STUDY. These were really great letters. The owner then asked, ‘what did you do about my instructions?’ ‘Do, well, nothing. But we read every one.’”We have to remember who we are. We are a people on mission for our Lord who has redeemed us by His grace.
I took from a reading from Janice’s diary dated September 1968 that expresses this idea. “Jenny broke her aquarium tonight by hitting it with the rocking chair. I erupted in anger toward her. And as I was struggling with the mess her carelessness had caused, she came toward me, eyes filled with tears of remorse. In her trembling little hand she carried several pennies. I knew she had broken her piggy-bank and was offering its contents to me in payment for her mistake. The anguish in her eyes broke my heart. I think, Lord, that I see myself carrying to Thee all of my goodness to recompense for my broken life, and my payment is so pitifully small. I know that we will pay for a new aquarium. Jenny will keep her little money. I realize that in tenderness, Lord, you have paid for my brokenness.” Joe said to her, “Mom, you broke up more than the aquarium!”
We are the redeemed members of the church of the Living God who will allow us to come before Him wearing the white robes of cleansing. Jesus concludes this letter saying in verse 5: “He who overcomes will like them be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and His angels.” Will you be in that group?
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!