Delivered at the Kentucky Indiana Fellowship on Thursday, July 21, 2022


     Did you ever wish you could go back – to a certain point in time? Maybe to fix a mistake you made in

a relationship. Or maybe to take back some words that you now regret saying. Or maybe to undo some decision that you made that didn’t turn out well. Many would LOVE to go back in time! And we will see in our text under consideration – a call to go back in time.

     But let’s start by thinking about a place. A place that because of its geographical location was relatively easy to defend from any outside forces. The people who lived in that place were known for their quality manufacturing, as well as for having an abundance of gold in the land. And compared to the rest of the world, the people who lived there were very wealthy. They lived lives of luxury, and they liked to take it easy. In fact, comfort and convenience became a high priority in their lives.

     Along with their wealth and the spare time they had on their hands, they gained a well-deserved reputation for apathy and for immorality. And that land become known as a place where almost anything goes. Many other people in the world began to view the people who lived there with contempt. They saw the place where they lived as a land of decadence.

     So the people we are describing are rich, they have a priority on comfort and convenience, they are apathetic, immoral, and almost anything goes – a land of decadence. It almost sounds like I’ve been describing modern-day America. But I’ve actually been describing an ancient city, A city located in what is today called Turkey. Back then, it was known as Lydia. And the city I have just described – is Sardis.

     As a city, Sardis had a few things going for them. The people there developed the ability to mint silver

and gold coins. The value of those coins were recognized just about everywhere. That is what helped make them rich. And you can read that the city of Sardis is considered to this day – to be the place where modern currency was invented.

     But Sardis was also one of those seven churches of Asia. The churches that Jesus addressed in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. It happened on a Sunday – the Lord’s Day. The apostle John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. That is, he was receiving special revelation from God. He hears a loud voice, and the voice told him to write on a scroll what he saw. Then send it to the 7 churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

     So John does as he is told. In these letters, the churches were praised for their good. But their failures

were also pointed out. For example, Ephesus had left their first love. Pergamum was a worldly church.

Thyatira was a church filled with sin. Laodicea was a lukewarm church. And these churches were urged to repent. The church at Sardis received one of the most stern rebukes from the Lord!

     Let’s begin by looking at Rev 3:1-2 (NIV) “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.”

     To the church at Sardis, Jesus says first of all; “I know your deeds.” There is no question here, no room for error. There is no mistake about this and no misunderstanding. Jesus said I KNOW your deeds! He looked at this church and He immediately knew its condition. It is possible for sin and failure to be hidden in a congregation, but it is never hidden to Jesus!

     He says to the church at Sardis; “I KNOW your deeds.”  And then He told them; “You have a reputation of being alive” – which sounds like a good thing. Until He immediately says; “But – you are dead!” They THOUGHT they were alive, and they had a reputation that they were alive. They were busy doing things (we’re not told what). But they were doing things. Busyness and various programs can be good in the church. But they don’t guarantee spirituality! Their reputation and their lives didn’t line up.

     We’ve already seen that the city of Sardis was a place of decadence. Its people were rich, and they placed a high priority on comfort and convenience. They were apathetic and immoral. But please keep in mind that those were the CITIZENS of Sardis. In the verses we are looking at, Jesus is talking about the CHURCH in Sardis, not the general population! But a problem that has been around since ancient times is that sometimes culture influences the church, more than the church influences culture. And that appears to be what happened in the church in Sardis. They adopted the mindset of the general population. As a result, Jesus said the church at Sardis was dead.

     How TRAGIC that is! At least Laodicea was lukewarm. But Sardis must have been completely cold! They thought they were alive, but they were dead! So Jesus told them in verse two – to “WAKE UP!” The word Jesus uses here is translated in different ways in different translations. The NIV says; “Wake Up” So does the NAS. The KJV says; “Be Watchful.” So does the ASV, as well as Young’s Literal Translation. In the original language, the word Jesus used here means; “To keep awake or to watch.” So it can be translated either way. Which is fortunate, because Sardis needed to do BOTH! They thought they were OK, but they weren’t – so they needed to wake up. And they also needed to keep watch! If they had been watchful, they never would have allowed the culture of the city of Sardis to influence the church! But it seems like the apathy of the people of Sardis had been rubbing off on them.

     That apathy was nothing new. Ancient historians tell the story of the fall of the city of Sardis. It happened in the days of King Cyrus. The Greek historian Herodotus says that when King Cyrus came to Sardis, he found the city well protected! There seemed to be no way to scale the steep cliff surrounding the city. So King Cyrus offered a reward to any soldier in his army who could find a way to get up to the city. One solider watched the walls very closely. And one day, he saw a soldier from Sardis drop his helmet down the cliff walls. He then watched as the soldier climbed down a hidden path to recover his helmet. That night he led a detachment of troops up the trail. They got to the actual city walls, and when they got there they found the city walls unguarded! The soldiers of Sardis had been so confident in the natural defenses of their city, that they felt no need to keep a diligent watch. As a result, the city of Sardis was easily conquered.

     All of this had taken place about 600 years before this letter was written to the church in Sardis. But it

seems like the apathy had continued, and it seems like the church there had absorbed it. They had not been alert, and they had not been keeping watch. And when the church does not stay alert and keep watch – bad things happen! So Jesus tells the church at Sardis to wake up.

     There is a phrase you sometimes hear when something goes terribly wrong. The phrase is; “Asleep at

the switch…” “Asleep at the switch” means that someone has not been paying attention. Or that someone has not been carrying out their responsibilities. It originated with the railroad industry back in the early 1900’s, when railroad workers had to manually switch tracks. If the workers were asleep at the switch the effects could be disastrous! Apparently it is still a problem today. The National Transportation Safety Board has named fatigue as a factor in at least 10 serious railroad crashes in the past decade. Being “asleep at the switch” is a serious problem. And the church in Sardis was “asleep at the switch.” So Jesus told them to “wake up!”

     America today needs to wake up! Our leaders are asleep at the switch – and we are headed in the wrong direction. America’s gone “woke” – but it’s not the same thing – as waking up! A current Gallop poll indicates that just 81% of Americans still believe in God! Back in 1953, the number of Americans who believed in God was 98%. But that number has dropped over the years. In 2011, just 11 years ago, the number of Americans who believed in God was still at 92%. But today, that number is down to 81%. So the number of people who believe in God (in America) has dropped 11% in the last 11 years. The youngest Americans, those born after 1990 – have the lowest belief rate at just 68 percent. In other words, 32% of those born after 1990 do NOT believe in God. America is headed in the wrong direction and needs to WAKE UP!

     But there are also churches that need to wake up. Some of the people who actually go to church today

do not necessarily believe what you think they believe. There is a fast growing trend in this nation, that has been labeled “MTD”. Those initials were first introduced in 2005 in a book written by sociologists. The book was the result of a three-year study that took a look at the religious beliefs of some 3000 American teenagers. What they discovered in those 3,000 interviews – was that it didn’t matter very much what the teenagers were taught in church. Because they got almost the same answers from all of them, whether they attended evangelical churches, protestant churches, or Catholic churches. And they even got the same answers from some who attended no church at all. What these young people believed for the most part, was a watered-down version of Christianity. So the researchers conducting the survey named this almost universal American religion; “MTD”, which stands for “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. Sadly they also concluded that this was not just the religion of the teenagers, but it was also the religion of their parents. And it seems to be the religion of our culture as a whole.

     Here are the basic beliefs of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.

  1. A God exists, who created and ordered the world, and watches over human life on earth.
  2. This God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy, and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not really need to be involved in one’s life, unless God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. And as far as eternity is concerned, good people go to heaven when they die.

     Let’s briefly look at those beliefs; The “M” stands for moralistic. You just need to be a “good” person. The problem with that is “GOOD” is being defined by popular culture, rather than being defined by the word of God! So giving your approval to behavior that the Bible calls SIN – could be seen as something “good”. On the other hand, if you called those same things “sin” (as the Bible does) you might be seen as being intolerant or even hateful. This kind of thinking is why parts of the Bible have been declared “hate speech” today – because it   goes against what our culture is saying is “good”.

     The “T” in MTD stands for therapeutic. The idea is that religion is here to make us feel better about urselves, to help us feel happy, to fix our problems. So it’s THERAPEUTIC.

     The “D” in MTD stands for deism. Deism says that God exists, but He is not really involved in what goes on – on the earth. He just kind of set things in motion, and then stepped back and let whatever was going to happen, happen.

     MTD acknowledges that God exists as the Creator, but is relatively uninvolved in our lives. Unless of course you get in trouble, and then you can call on God for help. Some have described this view as looking to God as a “cosmic genie”.

     This survey was taken back in 2005, but the idea is not really anything new. Back in 1940, C. S.

Lewis took note of the “modern” tendency to imagine a God whose main concern was our feelings.

Lewis wrote in his book; “The Problem of Pain”; “What would really satisfy us – would be a God who said of anything we happened to like; ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a father in Heaven – as a grandfather in heaven. A senile benevolence – who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves. And whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day; “A good time was had by all!”

     Those words were written 82 years ago, but it is still a pretty accurate description.  MTD says that “a God exists.” But it’s not just that “A God” exists – but THE God of the Bible exists.MTD says God wants people to be good, nice, and fair – and sure He does. But God does not JUST want people to be “good” and “nice” and “fair”. He commands that we obey Him! And by the way, GOD is the one who defines what is “good” and “nice” – not our culture!

     MTD says that the central  goal in life is to be happy, and to feel good about yourself. But the Bible, on the other hand presents the central goal of life as giving praise and honor and glory to God! And when you do that, you MAY feel good about yourself – you most likely will. And you can experience the peace that passes all

understanding (that the apostle Paul described for us in Phil 4:7. But THAT’S not our goal. Our GOAL is to praise and glorify God – no matter what! MTD says that God does not really need to be involved in our lives unless there is a problem. But the Bible indicates that believers are to be in constant contact with God.

1 Thes 5:17 tells us to “Pray without ceasing.”

     MTD says that “good” people will go to heaven. The truth is, no one is good enough to go to heaven! We can’t make it on our own merit. It is only through Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross that we can we have our sins washed away. It is only through the grace of God that we can go to heaven. We are NOT saved because WE are good – we are saved because HE is good!

    “MTD” – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a very popular belief today. It can be found across all Christian religions, no matter what they are. It is not just found in young people, but in their parents as well. It can be found in our CULTURE. The one place it CAN’T be found – is in the BIBLE! It is not Biblical – because it puts US at the center instead of God. And churches today need to WAKE UP – because it is spreading like wildfire!

     Jesus told the church in Sardis to wake up. They were asleep and they were apathetic. And Jesus goes on to say in Rev 3:2; “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” Some translation say “perfect” here. “I have not found your deeds perfect…” This is not “perfect” in the sense of being sinless or faultless. Rather, the word means; “To execute, to finish.” The church in Sardis had started some things, and maybe they were good works. But they never finished them. So Jesus is telling them to wake up, finish what they started, and strengthen what remains.

     It’s tragic when a church dies. It’s tragic because of the price that Jesus paid for the church. Acts 20:28 says He purchased it with His own blood. But churches ARE dying. A recent study indicates that roughly 75 to 150 churches are closing up each week. The biggest reason for church closings – is a decline in church membership. We have experienced that in our own churches. Part of what we are seeing is a sign of the times. A recent Gallup poll found that fewer than just 47% of Americans say they belong to a church, a synagogue, or a mosque. That number was 70% back in the year 2000.

     In talking about the “Day of the Lord”, the apostle Paul said in 2 Thess 2:3; “Let no one in any way

deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” The KJV calls this “a falling away…” The NIV calls it “the rebellion…” Paul said in 1 Tim 4:1; “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith – and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”

     And folks it’s happening. Another Gallup poll that was released 5 years ago in May 2017, found that only 30 percent of Americans who claimed to be Christians – believe the Bible to be the “ACTUAL word of God”! We are seeing apostasy taking place. Recent studies indicate that only 15% of churches in the United States are growing, and only 2% of those are growing by conversion. The rest are simply swelling, as people leave one church to attend another. We are seeing these prophesies fulfilled before our very eyes – as churches close their doors, and as people utterly reject the word of God.

     Now let’s briefly look at verses 3 and 4. Rev 3:3-4; “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.”

     So what did Jesus tell the church in Sardis to do? There are 3 things in verse 3. First, He called on them to REMEMBER. Jesus is calling on the church in Sardis to go back in time. To go back before they allowed the culture of the city of Sardis to influence them. And to remember what they USED to be like. Remember what it was like when you first heard the gospel. Remember the joy you had when you first heard it. Remember the zeal, the enthusiasm. Remember the MESSAGE of the gospel, and how God transformed you into His child and welcomed you into His family. Jesus says “I want you to go back and REMEMBER that!”

     You’ve probably heard the story about the Indian ruler Shah Jahan. In 1629, his favorite wife died, so the Shah Jahan ordered that a magnificent tomb be built as a memorial to her. We know it today as the Taj Mahal. The Shah Jahan put his wife’s casket in the middle of a field, and then began to build a great temple around that casket. It would be a spectacular memorial. The estimated construction cost would be a little over a billion dollars in today’s money. It is estimated that it took more than 22,000 people to build it.

     What a tremendous memorial the Shah Jahan was building, to show his love and devotion to his deceased wife! But one day, several years into the project, as he was checking out the work – he stumbled over a wooden box that was in his way. So he had some workers remove it. It was not until months later that the Shah Jahan realized that it was his wife’s casket that he had ordered removed! The whole purpose for the memorial was lost – in the details of construction. They built the Taj Mahal – but they forgot WHY they were building it. They forgot what their mission was!

     The church in Sardis forgot what their mission was. They were still busy. They were still doing stuff. But they forgot WHY they were doing it. So Jesus said; “I want you to go back – and REMEMBER what it was like!”

     Have you ever taken that journey back in time? Can you remember the day when you surrendered YOUR life to the Lord? Do you remember that decision? Do you remember the joy? Where are you NOW in your walk with God? Jesus said I want you to REMEMBER!

     Secondly, Jesus calls on the church in Sardis to RESPOND. Remember what you have received and heard, and respond. The NIV here says; “OBEY it!” Obedience should be their response. The NAS says; “KEEP it!” In the original language, the word translated “obey” or “keep” here means; “To attend to carefully, to take care of, to keep in charge, to guard – as in guarding a prisoner…” That same word is used in Acts 24:23, where it says that Felix; “…ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard.” So what Jesus told the church in Sardis to do, would certainly involve obedience, but it goes beyond that. He is telling them to remember what you have received and heard – and hang onto it tightly! Take care of it! Keep it under guard!

     I wonder how we have done at that? At times, it seems like our grandparents and maybe even our parents knew more about scripture than we do! That’s obviously not the case in every instance. I’ve known some great Bible scholars through the years. And I’m not just talking about Bible professors, or Bible teachers, but rather farmers, and mechanics, and wives and mothers. Who could not just QUOTE the word of God, but who KNEW it, and who LIVED it!

     But times are different. Back in 1987, George H Gallup JR, the son of the founder of the Gallup Poll, wrote that based on what their research had shown; “There’s little difference in ethical behavior – between the churched and the unchurched. There’s as much pilferage and dishonesty among the churched – as the unchurched. And I’m afraid that applies pretty much across the board: religion, per se, is not really life changing. People cite it as important – for instance, in overcoming depression. But it doesn’t have primacy in determining behavior.” That was written 35 years ago! And it is even more true today. Each passing generation seems to get further and further away from where we used to be. And in many cases, closer and closer to the

culture around us.

The old hymn says;

“Faith of our fathers, living still – In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,

O how our hearts beat high with joy – Whene’er we hear that glorious word!

Faith of our fathers! holy faith! – We will be true to thee till death!”

     It didn’t happen in Sardis. They adapted, they evolved, they changed. They “got with the times.” Until they were almost indistinguishable from the people living around them. How much are we – like or unlike – the people living around us? Jesus said; “You REMEMBER what you have received and heard – and you RESPOND to it, you hang onto it tightly…”

     And third, Jesus called on the church in Sardis to REPENT! The church in Sardis had become too much like the culture around them. Jesus calls on them to repent, to change their ways. To go back to what they used to believe and know. The word “repent” here in the original language means “To think differently”. It means “to change one’s mind!” To change directions. It is the prodigal son waking up in the pigpen of sin, and deciding to go home to his Father. You know – his father saw him coming when he was still a long way off. He had been watching for him. And when he saw him – he RAN to meet him. Which is amazing – when you realize that the father in this parable – represents our heavenly Father! He RUNS to him – to meet him. And when they met, the prodigal didn’t instantly begin to rattle off excuses. “Father – it’s been a hard world…” “These are difficult times!” ” My brother always had it better than me…” “You expected too much of me!” No – there were no excuses. None! In that pig-pen that young man came to himself. He went home, he changed direction, he came to his Father. And he said; “Father, I have sinned!” THAT – is true repentance.

     Pride often stands in the way of true repentance. Just listen to the wording of the politicians or the celebrities who get caught in some misdeed. Wordy statements are issued that really say nothing at all. Or that deflect the blame to someone else. Repentance needs to be genuine! Someone said; “Many people use mighty thin thread when mending their ways…” The prodigal’s first words were; “Father, I have SINNED!” He repented, and he went home!

     The church in Sardis needed to repent. Their way of thinking was not right. They were not what they used to be. Jesus had even called them a DEAD church! There was a time – when that church was alive. There was a time – when that church was filled with people who knew the Lord. But not now. So Jesus calls upon them to repent – change your way of thinking, change your actions, change the direction you are headed in – REPENT CHURCH REPENT! Jesus says to His beloved church – You need to WAKE UP! Strengthen what remains! Finish what you started! And then He calls upon His people to REMEMBER, RESPOND, and REPENT!

     In verse 4 – you see a ray of hope. They were asleep, they were apathetic. They started things, but they didn’t finish them. They had a reputation that they were alive when in reality they were dead. Jesus had nothing good to say about the church in Sardis! So WHY did He even write to them? Because there was a tiny ray of hope! The spiritual condition of the church in Sardis was bad, but it was not completely hopeless. And Jesus had not given up on them. Rev 3:4 talks about a FEW people that had not soiled their garments. A few people who were still walking faithfully with Jesus. Often that’s the way it is. The vast majority will happily follow the trends of this world. I am thankful for the FEW – who do not. And I hope that you are one of the few!

     The church in Sardis, is one of the 7 churches that Jesus addressed personally! I’ve often wondered, what would Jesus say – if He wrote a letter to our churches today? It must have hurt for the church in Sardis to hear these words from Jesus! But in Rev 3:19, just a few verses later, Jesus said; “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent…”

     Jesus had not given up on the church in Sardis – He just wanted them to repent! He just wanted them to do what they needed to do. This was not a suggestion that Jesus made in Rev 3:19. He is saying; “I still love you – that’s why I am rebuking you, that’s why I discipline you. But I want you to be earnest – and REPENT!”

In the next verse, Rev 3:20, Jesus spoke those very beautiful and familiar words; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

     That makes a great invitation verse, doesn’t it? How many times have you heard about Jesus standing

at the door of the human heart – just waiting for someone to open the door? And He does. But as your  CHURCH! Jesus was knocking at the door of the CHURCH, and asking to be allowed in!

May we open the doors WIDE – for the Christ of Calvary!


       Jim Gillaspie is minister of the Kentucky Avenue Church of Christ in Louisville, KY.