Our sitting President is Donald Trump. Political sparks have been flying since the day of his election, and sometimes sparks start fires. Take for instance the following question: Did the Russians meddle in the 2016 election? In this Spring of 2017 one of the branches of the government seeking answers is the House Intelligence Committee. Devin Nunes (R-California) is the chairman of this committee heretofore known for bipartisan cooperation. So far sort of so good (not a lot of good seems to be happening in the swampier Washington these days).
In about the 3rd week of March, 2017, Devin Nunes met in a secure location on White House grounds in a non-bipartisan manner to view some documents. What this means at this point is rather up for debate, but the fallout has been tremendous–negatively tremendous. It would seem that some of Trump’s associates were “incidentally swept up” by the U.S. intelligence apparatus. The question before the House Intelligence Committee is now less important than a new one: Did Trump associates collude with the Russians to influence the election?
If the first question is answered in the affirmative it should not be shocking. We must seek to diminish such attempts in the future, but it seems we would be ill-informed to be surprised if they played to make the election come out in their favor. If the second question is answered in the affirmative, though, that is entirely a different bag of political worms.
What does our country need right now for this situation? A powerful, respected, impartial, all-knowing investigator. Good luck with that one.
Jesus knew Sardis
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1–ESV)
In this letter Jesus framed himself with two traits. Both of them related to reputation. The first was that he had the Holy Spirit. This does not mean he was the master of the Holy Spirit for the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead. Rather it means that he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Recall that Jesus told his disciples that after he left God the Father would send another comforter. That comforter was the Holy Spirit and through him a moment by moment God-man connection would be known. Jesus, as a man, could only relate to people individually or in small groups. The Holy Spirit, though, could connect to all of the followers of God simultaneously. He was not constrained by a body.
Jesus in Heaven was filled with the Holy Spirit and through that Spirit was intimately connected with the people of earth. In the context of this letter he knew Sardis.
The second trait Jesus chose was that he held the pastors of these seven churches in his hand. Jesus was intimately involved with the leaders of the churches and knew what these churches thought of each other.
A false reputation
So when Jesus dictated this letter to the pastor at Sardis he was fully aware of their reputation and their reality. He said others thought they were alive: their reputation. Jesus declared they were dead: their reality. Man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart. In the inspection of Sardis the heart was dead. The other pastors and churches of that era, though, thought differently.
It’s not too late! Wake up!
2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:2–ESV)
Jesus knew the situation in Sardis, and he knew the mind of God the Father. When Jesus said that the pastor’s works were not complete he meant there was still time. The pastor at Sardis still had time on the clock. The time was short, but it was there.
So what did Jesus say? “Wake up!” That pastor was asleep at the wheel. The car had not run off the road and crashed into the trees yet, but it was close. Consider Jesus’ role in this situation. He knew the mind of God and the mind of his pastors. He knew the works of this pastor and the lack of effect upon the people. Take a look at what Jesus was doing. He was not just their rattling their cage to cajole them into his own framework as if it were one option of many. Jesus was there rattling their cage because of coming judgment.
This pastor and his church were essentially dead, but not so dead that others saw it. They had kept their reputation, but it would not last. So when I look at this verse I see a pastor about to drive the church van into the trees. Once he crashes the church van he’ll make the news. His reputation would falter. Jesus does not want that to happen.
Going back to the situation with Devin Nunes perhaps someone tried to tell him not to go have this secret meeting. Maybe it was his conscience or maybe it was another person. Well, he had that meeting, and now he has that reputation. Done.
Start driving again
After waking up this pastor was told to strengthen the almost dead. His people were walking through a spiritual desert with no manna, no water, no meat to eat. They soon would die, but had not yet wilted beyond the point of no return.
The example that comes to mind when I read this passage is a wooden, decorative fence I have at my lake house. It was around one of the sort-of gardens out there, but the boards that were in contact with the ground were rotting. It must have been made from treated lumber for it seems like it should have rotted more. It was mainly the bottom inch or two that was rotting. I used a rasp on a drill to remove the rot down to good wood and then I used a wood hardener to make that new edge solid.
Perhaps you have had some house plants that your forgot to water. Those plants wilt. Many times by giving them the needed water they will revive, but a time comes when it is too late. Jesus told this fellow to get back on track and strengthen his flock, for it was not too late, but was heading there.
This pastor was to wake up and get the church van off the shoulder. He needed to drive back into the middle of the freeway and direct it right, direct it onward in the direction of God.
God gets specific
Waking up and strengthening the church is the general need, but Jesus did not only speak in generalities. He moved to specifics in the first half of verse 3.
3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. (Revelation 3:3a–ESV)
The specifics were not hidden, but things received and heard. Not only were they received and heard, but they had been acted on for at some point the pastor and his church had been alive. He was to get back on track by obedience, and not just obedience but repentance. He who knows what is right and does not do it sins. This pastor and those he was leading had backslidden to the point of being nearly dead.
I had to get specific
I lived in Montgomery, Alabama from the time I was three until I was almost 13. During the latter Montgomery years I remember being mad at my parents. The specifics are harder to gather up in my mind, but the emotion is not. I remember going into my closet and forcing myself to say my first four-letter word. I don’t recall which one it was, but it was one of the biggies. That was the beginning of something bad and while I almost always only said these words in my own mind or by myself I dwindled badly.
We moved to Nebraska and I went into a public school. I had been in Christian schools to this point so the Christian school was not protective of me. In my mind I always knew what was right and I always knew I should maintain an outward, Christian, facade. To some extent I think I did.
When I was 16 in anger I did something with a green chair that broke it and that got me in big trouble with my dad. He laid down a spiritual ultimatum that scared me. See, the thing was that I knew I was living badly. I knew my actions were sinful, but was doing them anyway. As my dad and I parted that day God said, “This is the time to straighten up.”
It was clear in my mind that I could continue on my own path or repent. A fork in my road had come. I would not have been kicked out of my house or anything. My dad’s ultimatum was not like that. The ultimatum was purely spiritual and I was only worried about that piece of it all. Praise the Lord I was too scared to keep running.
Let’s tie me to verse 3
I was mostly dead knowing the right and not doing it. I had heard and received and knew things, but did not live there. In some manner my reputation was still intact for my language and inner angst were not being bitterly spread all around. I knew people went to hell and was afraid of my behavior influencing them in that direction. I could always hear verses threatening guilt for other’s souls. That type thing was phrased like “having the blood of others on your head.” My dad’s ultimatum shook me back inline. It was the “wake up!” It was a “keep it, and repent” moment.
I don’t recall the immediate time frame after that, and I did not start keeping a journal until college so I think the details are gone from my mind. It seems, though, that I began reading scripture and memorizing it. I began a lifelong habit of morning prayer and Bible reading. Here I am at 46…30 years later…still at it, but now I teach Sunday school and apply these lessons and hopefully model what God would have a person to be doing.
Let’s switch to humanity
How many people are just like me? How many people know what is right, but simply don’t do it? I think many people have the inklings of Christianity in them, but prefer to listen to the voices which satirize it, or diminish it.
I work with people all the time who say things like, “I know I should do…” thus and so, but they do not those things. They plod on. Perhaps their reputation is not in the ditch, yet. Perhaps they are closet sinners.
I think that Sardis was like this. They were closet sinners whose sins had not hit the news yet. Associate Press, Sardis, had not yet put the scandals on the wire. Even the other churches around Sardis had not seen it. BUT…God had. God in his grace brought an ultimatum to Sardis. They still had to make the decision, but it was decision time.
The ultimatum in Sardis
3b …If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Revelation 3:3a–ESV)
Here Jesus spoke of consequences. If the pastor did not realign himself into the known, godly priorities Jesus would come like a thief. Thieves use surprise as their mode of operation. It helps them. The church was the domain, property, bride of Christ so to speak. So Jesus was not coming to take what was someone else’s. He was not actually a thief, but was just going to come and remove the people of this church from this pastor. That pastor might know it was coming, but he would not be able to be prepared for it.
The way to prepare for it was to repent and return to the proper way of life and living. This pastor knew what this meant, but had yet to do it.
The godly in Sardis would not be swept off to destruction
4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3:4–ESV)
If the pastor did not repent he and the spiritually dead faced the judgment of Jesus. The remnant who were not compromised were not at risk, but could expect to be separated from the backslidden and taken to walk with Jesus.
If you are quite sure you are living on the track God would have you on. Great. Keep it up. Are you troubled by sin and ungodliness around you? Is this ungodliness even in your church? Do not fear that you will be destroyed by God’s judgment. Jesus knows his own and can separate the wheat from the tares. Keep up your good works. Stay firm in the Lord. Do not soil your spiritual garments in the enticements of the world, your desires and Satan. Remain aligned with Christ and you will be counted worthy. That is an eternal thing and a good, ultimate one.
It is not too late for the pastor and others
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:1-6–ESV)
This verse is not speaking of those who are still pure. This verse is directed at the spiritually asleep pastor. There is still time and there is still hope. The white garments of purity that some in Sardis still possess are still available for the pastor and those who have been following various shortcomings and backsliddings.
There is just no mystery to what humanity is to do. People know the right, but don’t do it. For Sardis the time had come. Live right and be dressed in white. Live wrong and find oneself caught up in the sudden judgments of God.
Reputation isn’t everything
Let us go back to the title of this lesson. Here in Sardis was a church that had not fallen. They had a good reputation, but Jesus knew that was insufficient and wrote to urge the pastor to revisit what had established the reputation of the church. It had been good, back when they kept God’s word. They had received and heard a message of repentance and having followed that rose to a peak spiritually. From man’s view they are still at that peak, but from Gd’s view they have fallen to the point of death.
Only a little time remains before they would be eliminated. The pastor was urged to get back to the basics.