Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How Does a Church Die?



Welcome back to our continuing Bible Study into the Book of Revelation, the only book of the Bible that promises a blessing on those who read and hear it's words. We've been going through this in very detailed studies, not trying to rush through anything so things are explained that may have been misunderstood or simply didn't understand because you can't simply just read the words, in the book, you have to study them, specific words in the original context in Hebrew, Greek or other word origins, because as we studied thus far into the letters to the seven churches, they were not only realy churches in Asia Minor, now modern day Turkey, but they also chronicled the age of the church and lastly that each of these letters are applicable to us as believers in our current spiritual state. This is what prompts the question in each of these studies to "What kind of church are you?"

We begin today with the Church of Sardis or the fifth of the seven churches, Jesus personally addresses here. One thing you don't want is to be anything like the Church of Sardis. It was a church that was very complacent, they were in a lucrative and affluent area, very successful, they were very comfortable in their culture and thus the reason for the rebuke from Jesus. He warns them to take their eyes off of the things of this world and back onto the things of Heaven and faith. He tells them, they believed they had a great name. He says, you're alive, but I say you're dead. There was no heartbeat in this church towards the things of heaven. They had become complacent and settled on their laurels. He basically tells them to ship out, and even reminds them that there are a few in the church that are still hanging in there, he alludes them to get it together otherwise their name might be blotted out from the book.

We need to understand that if you are truly a Christian believer, and have found salvation and repented of your sins through the offering of Jesus Christ, your name will never be blotted out from the Lamb's book of life. The reason Jesus is addressing the church here is that some may not have been so solid in their faith, they looked the part but were lacking true salvation on the inside. The question we need to look at our own spiritual lives is this, is your name in the Lamb's book of Life? Do you know Christ personally?

So when looking at the churches in the Book of Revelation, we are also to take a look at what kind of Christian you are because each of these letters deals with things believers struggle with. You and I are a church, in our home, in our work, the people we hang out with. We are a witness. You are a church in your own life. It defines the kind of church you attend as well. We learn churches are impacted by their leadership, so the way the church goes, so does it's leaders and pastors.

Today we are looking at how does a church die? Churches aren't supposed to die, they are supposed to live, because they are alive due to their belief in Jesus Christ which can never die. How many of us have grown up in communities that have watched churches die? Why does that happen? We know the gates of hell that will not prevail against His church. They won't prevail, but the truth is that churches start and fail. Jesus wrote this letter to a church so sick that it had died.

He is calling out to them to remind them what is happening to them. The church of Sardis on the surface, looked like a church you wanted to attend on the outside. It was the desired tourist stop in the Ancient world. It was a beautiful place, located in the valley of Hermus, east of Smyrna on the Mediterranean and south of Thyatira. It is modern day "Sart" and that is all that is left of the city of Sardis of that day. There are lots of tremendous ruins still available today. Isn't wonderful that we can still go to places like that today, based on the Bible, and prove it is not a story or fable. Our faith is based on fact today. The church was been the greatest influence in the world today. It is raising the standard of what we see like women's rights to be treated well, we get that from the Bible.

Sardis was the most famous of the Lydian regions of the Roman Empire. In fact if you saw the movie Gladiator, you have seen the most historically accurate Roman Empire at about the time of the writing of the book of Revelation. It is the most accurate recreation of Rome based on the facts we know about Rome from that time. In fact the historian Eusebius, tells of a letter from Melito, the bishop of Sardis, when he wrote to the emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son, Com-mo-dus, counseling them to enact a decree to the magistrates of Asia Minor, to stop all persecutions of the Christian churches, and to take no further evil actions against the Christians.

Sardis was a comfortable church, easy place to live in. Welcome to the City of Sardis, It was considered the greatest city of its day, at an elevation of 1500 feet above the Hermus valley, with a 360 degree view, it was considered impregnable from invading powers. It was well fed by a fresh water river, Pack-ta-lus. However Sardis was conquered. The King of Lydia was a man named Creesus, an extremely wealthy and powerful man, who resided above that perfect elevated city of Sardis. He believed that he had been called by his god (Delphi) to rule the world. He consulted with oracles about if he should conquer the world. He believed what they told him that he could attack and destroy other cities.

And so rumors of war began to spread. So the King Cyrus of Persia sent spies to survey the region and the city of Sardis. One night history records, William Ramsey writes, how a Persian spy watched a Sardian soldier drop his helmet over the side. He traversed a secret path, picked up his helmet and went on his way. It was that little observation by that Persian spy that enabled the Persian forces to sneak into the city that night undetected and took the city. Later Antiochus III,  brought his army to Sardis and guess what? Captured it exactly as the Persians had done. Sardis means the ones who have escaped. But escaped its spiritual carnality or escaped its invading forces?

Revelation 3:1-6 ~ "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. 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. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, be like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has a ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (NIV)

What kind of church are you, when Jesus Christ is no longer the counselor or consulted as a church. (verse 1a). They became comfortable. When He writes to the Sardis, it is an open rebuke to the church. Are you disgusted in your performance as a Christian? When we proclaim we are a Christian it means that we follow Christ.

It is so easy to slap on a label or a sticker. What we need to ask our ourselves is what is behind our label or sticker. We need to make sure we are representing Jesus well in our lives and not just recreational users. The world these days is looking for the real deal, can it be found it you? If we live our lives, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will attract a world, that is hurting, especially in light of the growing persecution that is happening around the world. Did you know on average 362,000 Christians die every year for their faith, most in Central and Northern Africa and that number is growing?

So why would you want to claim this kind of faith when it could get you killed? The church today needs to grow in its purity and strength and stop being a cancerous growth.

3 comments:

Denise said...

powerful post.

Beth.. One Blessed Nana said...

It is a sad world that we live in and I can't imagine what God's letter to our churches today would look like. We need to hit our faces and begin crying out for His merciful hand upon us. What a great lesson today!

LV said...

You are the best at inspiring us each day. Sadly, our church is having problems, but it is due to the fact we have many seniors. The area I live in, no young people. Just us older ones. They are passing on with no replacements. Blessings to you and family as well.