Remember...What You Have Received
When I was a kid and Christmas morning rolled around, there was a tradition that had to be observed. Every present that was received and opened had to be documented. What it was and who gave it was recorded. Immediately after Christmas thank you notes were written to the gift-givers and put into the mail. To neglect to acknowledge a gift was almost an unpardonable sin.
The apostle John, exiled to the Isle of Patmos, received some messages from the Lord that were to be delivered to some of the churches in the region. One of those letters was to go to the church at Sardis. Of course, the principles outlined in these letters to the seven churches are also meant as messages to the church today—nothing much has changed given that human nature doesn't change no matter what century we are looking at.
Sardis appeared to be a vibrant church (Revelation 3:1). God knew better. In the message, John was to write: "...but you are dead."
How can you look alive but be dead? The writers of many of today's dramas on television seem to believe that such is more than possible! Mind you, the church at Sardis probably looked a whole lot more presentable than the characters on The Walking Dead. The church looked good. The rot was not visible.
John's message to the congregation at Sardis was this: "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" (3:2, 3).
Sardis was a busy church but not an obedient one. They were being called to acknowledge the gift, the Word they had received, and obey it. The consequences of continuing to be busy, to look alive but be dead, were staggering.
The Lord said through John that if the congregation at Sardis did not remember, repent, and return, He would pay them a surprise visit. Judgment would fall on them.
But another thought came to mind when I read this statement. What if, being a busy church doing all the "lively" things, but being dead at heart meant that God would come and no one would know He was there? What if He, the Gift, would arrive at the door and no one would acknowledge Him because they were too busy doing all kinds of other things—even things done in His Name but without His sanction and blessing?
Apparently alive, but dead and they don't even know it.
There was a time when New Year's Eve was celebrated by the church family with a prayer vigil. Just before midnight on December 31st the congregation would meet together to pray in the new year. Those prayers were an acknowledgement of the Gift received, a thank you note to heaven, a promise to use the Gift well in the coming year, and a pledge to follow the Gift-giver.
These days we are too busy partying.
Perhaps there is more of us in this message to Sardis than we might care to admit.
John ends his letter to Sardis with this classic reminder: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (3:6).