Saturday, September 5, 2009

Christ's Message to Sardis, The Dead Church

The fifth church mentioned in John’s message was probably the oldest settlement in Asia Minor. Archeological evidence shows that Sardis was probably first inhabited shortly after the confusion of languages and the subsequent dispersion of the people (Gen 11:5-7). As the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, Sardis was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. In the 6th century BC it was ruled by a king named Croesus, some believe he was the infamous King Midas of legends of old, and probably the wealthiest man since King Solomon. Like Bill Gates the name Croesus’s, or Midas, became a proverb of sorts for wealth and luxury thanks to the gold and silver panned from the Pactalus River. The abundance of electrum, a gold and silver alloy, allowed the Lydians to be the first society in history to mint coins. By fixing a guarantied value to their coins, the Lydian currency became acceptable for tender in trade throughout the known world.

Sardis, the Lydian Capital, was protected by a fortress built about 1500 feet above the plain on a ridge of the 5800-foot high Mount Tmolus. The precipice was so difficult to reach that it was considered virtually impregnable, so the cliff side of the city was never defended against a military assault. The people of Sardis believed that no army on earth could capture their city. Thus they lived with a smug sense of pride, having confidence in their riches and impregnable fortress. However, like the Titanic that was thought to be unsinkable, Sardis was actually vulnerable and was captured, shocking the ancient world by its defeat. Not once but twice in its history, a band of brave soldiers climbed up the sides of the cliff and entered an unwatched gate. After each disaster the city recovered, but like most people who fail to learn from their history they slipped back into a false sense of security.

Christ used this fact of their history to point out the complacent spirit in the church. When a church begins to love its systems more than it loves Jesus, when it’s more concerned with material things than spiritual things, and when their past history and glory is what they worship, they start to die from within. One of the differences between the message to Sardis and the messages to the other churches, is they were not recognized for any struggles. The church in Sardis was so devoid of life that it actually had no struggles going on within it. There are no Jewish accusers of this church even though it had a large Jewish community with one of the largest synagogues in the Asian Province. They ignored the church, or perhaps did not even know of its existence. There were no false apostles or any of the domineering Nicolaitans who needed to be guarded against and there were no female seducers, as at Thyatira. There was nothing, nada, zip, and that was the ministry of the church at Sardis. It was dead!

Some may have been professing Christians, engaged in religious activities but never truly trusting in Jesus Christ. More than likely, however, they were carnal believers who had made a good start, but had failed to move on, to grow and experience true spirituality. They were active, engaged in works, but temporally dead, out of fellowship with Christ.(Eph 5:14-18) Many Christians today in America fit the description of the Sardis church members, they believe they are saved because they associate themselves with a Christian church. However as James would say, “You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18) The point is that while we are saved by faith and not works, our lack of works shows how little faith we really have. Thus we could be in jeopardy of losing our faith if we do not diligently do the works as Christ said,

"But why do you call Me "Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great." (Luke 6:46-49)

Jesus wanted them to be watchful lest they suffer the same fate as the city had to outside attacks, an obvious warning from the city’s historic problem of not being on guard. (Rev 3:3)

They are also told of a few good followers who have not soiled their garments and will one day be clothed in white. (Rev 3:5) Sardis was devoted to the worship of the mother-goddess Cybele and no temple worshiper was allowed to approach the temple of the gods with soiled or unclean garments. A white and clean robe was required to approach its so-called gods. So the reference to the white robe would make the reader think of purity and acceptance by God. To the allegorist Sardis represents the age of the reformation from Luther to Wesley, approximately 1517-1793. The reformation revealed the wrongs of the church for many followers, but that awakening also showed how little the sheep cared.

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