Bible Passage: Revelation 3:1-6
Big Idea: Apostasy is a Real Danger for those who are too Secure
Point 1: The Church in Smyrna is too Complacent
3 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God (Rev.1:4; spirits of churches; Spirit of God?) and the seven stars (1:20 – angels). I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! (BE- Imperative; show yourself watchful?; Matt.24:42; 25:13; 26:41; 1Cor16:13; 1Thess.5:4-6; 1Pet.5:8; 1Cor.16:15 – twice city had fallen; 549BC Cyrus; 216BC – Antiochus the Great). Strengthen (Imp) what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished (like temple of Artemis) in the sight of my God.
Point 2: The Church in Smyrna needs to Wake Up (to Danger of Attack)
3 Remember (Bearingin mind; Imp.), therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast (Guard; Imp.), and repent (Imp.). 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.
Point 3: The Church in Smyrna must Avoid Apostasy to the End
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white (Rev.3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; 19:14), for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life (Ex.32:32-33; PS.69:28; Dan.12:1), but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels (Matt.10:32; Lk.12:8; Mk.8:38/Lk.9:26). 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches…
Worthy – they are justified and have withstood the pressure to apostastize. Promised 1) arraignment in white garments; 2) name not blotted out; 3) Christ will confess name before Father.
In fact, Scripture says apostasy will only get worse as Christ’s return approaches. “At that time [the latter days] many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another” (Matthew 24:10). Paul told the Thessalonians that a great falling away would precede Christ’s second coming (2 Thessalonians 2:3)…
Heb.10:26-29; precious blood of Jesus Heb.3:12;
Heb.6;4-6 if they fall away…
2 Thess.2:3 – until the falling away happens
Jude 1:24 – falling away; keep you from falling…
Lk.8:13 – time of testing fall away…
Heb 10:31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
1Co 10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! SEE 1COR.10:13 too
2Pe 1:10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall…
2Pe 3:17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Big Idea: Apostasy is a Real Danger for those who are too Secure
Intro: Morning friends, visitors and those online. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue to look at the 7 churches of Revelation. The 7 churches are like God’s Menorah light in the world and Jesus wants the church to understand Satan is trying to put out their light. Their job is to overcome these attacks and keep the light burning…
Well friends – I have a verse from 1 Corinthians today – that kind of sums up my sermon (Slide 2; 1Cor.10:12). QUESTION: Can Christians be too secure in their salvation? Could the theological belief of “once saved, always saved” actually be a danger to our soul. Personally, I do believe in election, predestination and God’s Sovereign grace in salvation. But I also know that when these concepts are pushed too far (into hyper-Calvinist positions) some Christians stop taking the warnings in Scripture seriously. (Slide 3 – 1Pet.5:8) “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Now is Satan (and his attacks on the church) a real danger or is this something we can ignore?
I quote 1 Peter 5 – because the word “ALERT” in this passage – is the same Greek word as “WAKE UP” written to the church in Sardis. Twice Sardis is told to wake up, or be alert – because their FAILURE in this regard was world famous. (ENTER). The city of Sardis had a fortress built on this peak. Three sides of the peak were surrounded by what was more or less sheer walls of stone. (Slide 4). Pagan prophets had declared that this fortress was so impenetrable that even the gods couldn’t defeat Sardis. So under attack, the Sardinians felt so safe and secure they didn’t take their enemies seriously.
In 546BC – the King of Persia – Cyrus the Great – attacked Sardis. Of course, Cyrus the Great – had just conquered Babylon a few years earlier and let all the Jews return to Jerusalem. But after letting the Jews go home – Cyrus ended up in a big battle at Sardis with a Lydian king named Croesus.
Now Croesus (and the Sardinians) felt so secure – that they didn’t take the threat of Cyrus seriously. So the story goes – a Persian soldier found a way to climb up a crack in the rock wall, and then he walked through the fortress – opened the front gates and let the Persian army in. Apparently, the Sardinians felt so secure – they didn’t even have soldiers – guarding the front gate. Now under siege from an enemy as great as Cyrus the Great – that is just way too secure and lazy.
But it gets worse. In 215BC the Sardinians were under attack again, this time by the Greek empire. Again, they thought themselves so safe and secure, that they were complacent. So, Antiochus III, was able to get 15 soldiers with special ladders to climb the walls of Sardis – just before dawn. They then snuck through the city, opened the front gate and let the Greek army in. So not once, but twice. Sardis felt so safe and secure that they failed to keep watch.
So Jesus yells at them, WAKE UP! KEEP WATCH, because there is enemy waging war against the church that is way more sly and more dangerous – than Cyrus or Antiochus…
Point 1: The Church in Sardis is way too Complacent about their Enemy
Show: Rev.3:1-2 (READ)
Explain: Well as I’ve just explained the Sardinians were almost world famous in their complacency and failure. But will they fall a third time? Revelation tells us the church has an enemy named the Devil (5x); Satan (7x) and the Serpent (3x). In Revelation we also hear about Satan’s collegues including 1) Apollyon, 2) the beast, 3) the false prophet and 4) fallen angels. Jesus explains to John that the church is in a battle with Satan and Satans goal is to get Christians to commit APOSTASY. Now I’ll say more about apostasy later. But it basically means to deny that Jesus is your Saviour and Lord. Now you can literally deny Jesus with your lips. That’s what NERO AND DOMITIAN tried to force Christians to do. But you can also be tempted by Satan to a point where you are practically denying Jesus as your Saviour and Lord in your actions. And in the first 4 churches – we’ve seen Satan is having some success…
SHOW: Slide 5 – READ – 5 Churches
So Satan is waging a real war on the seven churches AND it is a war that continues to this day. Yet, in many protestant. evangelical churches you can now go years – without ever hearing Satan’s name mentioned in a sermon. Yes, we might talk about a battle with our sinful flesh or perhaps a struggle with greed. But Satan is rarely mentioned. Partially, this is because we’ve adopted the materialist worldview – and talking about spiritual entities is now considered foolish. But failure to speak about Satan is also driven by theology…
As I’ve explained earler – A-Millennial eschatology (as held by all Catholics and many Protestants) tends to downplay the threat of Satan, because they believe Satan was bound in the Abyss (of Revelation 20) – at Jesus’ death and resurrection. So there is a theological justification for not speaking about Satan AND if Satan is spoken of by A-Millennial Christians he is usually presented as a toothless tiger. I think this is dangerous.
Illustrate: If you’ve ever read Sun Tzu’s book – the Art of War – you’ll know one of the biggest dangers in any battle is to underestimate your enemy.
As we’ve seen in previous weeks Satan is causing real grief to the 7 churches in Revelation and it would be a mistake to think the danger is any less. So please look again at verse 1. It says – these are the words of him who holds the seven-spirits of God and the seven stars. This is a reminder that Jesus is powerful to help us in this battle. First, most scholars believe the seven-spirits is an unusual way of speaking about the Holy Spirit. I’m not entirely sure about this interpretation. But as you know the Holy Spirit is often linked with both holiness and power.
We also know the seven stars (have been interpreted in chapter 1) as the SEVEN ANGELS over the seven churches. And later in Revelation 12– we’ll see the angels of Jesus fighting and defeating Satan and his angels. So, while it is true we are in a spiritual battle – knowing Jesus (our Saviour and Lord) – has the Holy Spirit AND angels at his disposal should give us confidence. There are powerful invisible forces of good on our side in the battle too.
Yet nonetheless, Jesus rebukes the church in Sardis, because their REPUTATION for being alive, does not match reality. Jesus says they are spiritually dead and spiritually asleep. They may think they are strong. But they are actually weak. (PERHAPS, like the Temple of Artemis in Sardis that was never finished, the Temple of the Holy Spirit – the chuch in Sardis – is still incomplete). The people have failed to build themselves up in the holy faith of Jesus (Jud.1:20-21).
APPLY: Now this rebuke made me think – what usually gives a church – a good REPUTATION for being alive. The main things people tend to admire in churches are 1) good teaching; 2) spiritual experience; 3) acts of charity and 4) maybe good worship. 1) If a church has good teaching and good theology, some people assume that’s a strong church.
2) Similarly if a church has lots of spiritual manifestations (like praying in tongues and prophecy) – some people think that is a strong church. 3) Other churches have a reputation for being alive – because they do lots of social justice work for the poor. And 4) finally, some people think that a great church equals a rock concert.
But a reputation for any of these things does not automatically equal alive or strong. In order to be alive we need to be Christians who really do live by faith, hope and love in Jesus. Then as we exercise the spiitual muscles of faith, hope and love more and more – WE BECOME STRONGER. We know that if we want to grow our BICEPS – we need to do armcurls with a dumbell. Reading books about weightlifting will achieve very little. Similarly, if you want to grow your THIGHS – you need to do squats or cycling. Simply seeing a nice road bike or having one good experience on a push bike – won’t give you strong legs. No!. You actually need to exercise those muscles.
So when Jesus tells Sardis to strengthen what remains I think he is speaking in this manner. It sounds like their faith, hope and love has been so poorly exercised it has almost ATROPHIED. If you want to be strong in faith, you need to exercise your faith, stretch your faith and do bigger things in faith. If you want to be a giant in unconditional, sacrificial, love – you actually need to work up to that or you will give yoursellf a spiritual hernia. You can be a spiritual weakling and love people who are nice. But it requires really BIG LOVE muscles to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Yet in the midst of growing tribulation that’s what we’ll need to do). Again, its easy to be hopeful when the world is full light. But to retain hope and a positive attitude in the midst of pitch darkness requires practice and self-discipline. Yet, many Christians are spiriutally very weak because they only ever hear Gods word, they don’t obey God’s Word. They think they are spiritually strong because they know a bit of the Bible. But faith, hope and love only grows and becomes strong through obedience.
Point 2: The Church in Sardis needs to Wake Up (to Danger of Attack)
Explain: Rev.3:3 (READ)
Explain: Now please notice the SHIFT from remembering what they’ve received and heard, to actually putting it into practice in obedience and repentance. The church in Sardis has a reputation for being alive and full of faith. But Jesus says they are spiritually dead. The ONLY way to rectify their spiritual deadness and become strong is through OBEDIENCE and REPENTANCE. They need to actually do the things the Bible says, not just listen to the things the Bible says…
The problem seems to be that the church in Sardis has just been lazy and complacent. It’s not that they are doing anything obviously wrong. It’s just they’re not growing and they’re not doing much that is really good. (GOSPEL) I mean they probably did (at some point) put their faith in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. The Bible says Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He took the punishment for everything we’ve done wrong, so that we can be spared. AND THE GOOD NEWS is that if we believe Jesus did this for us and love Jesus for dying for us, we will be saved. Have you accepted Jesus as your Saviour and Lord? (PAUSE) The church in Sardis says, yes and figures that’s it. No need to take this Christian thing too seriously. If faith of a mustard seed is enough to save, that’s enough for me. But Jesus actually says faith of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains. When was the last time your mustard seed faith moved a mountain? (PAUSE). And if your mustard seed faith is moving and changing NOTHING – is it even mustard seed faith?
At some point the church did love God for saving them and probably still sang songs about loving Jesus for dying for them. But Jesus says whatever remains is now close to dying. So when Satan starts to tighten the screws and threaten their livelihood, liberty and life will they love Jesus enough to count the cost? And if they are truly persecuted – will they automatically revert to violence OR will they have the ability to love their enemies (and still conduct themselves like Christ).
As Jesus looks at this church – he sees lots of weak points – that Satan could attack at any minute. The lion is prowling outside the city. Yet, they don’t seem to care. It’s a false security. Of course, those who 1) put on the armour of God, 2) are part of a supportive church family and 3) truly exercise faith, hope and love in Jesus will stand firm to the end. I really believe that. But those who think they don’t need A) to put on the armour of God OR B) grow in faith, hope and love on a daily basis OR C) utilise the means of grace because they once said a sinners prayer – are totally delusional.
And sadly, it does now look like a good part of the western evangelical church is in this delusion. So if you are not really living by faith, hope and love in Jesus – on a daily basis – Jesus says WAKE UP and REPENT. If you are just going through the motions and not really obeying the Bible or repenting from sin – Jesus says WAKE UP and REPENT. Yes, it is sometimes hard. Yes, it sometimes hurts. But, if you are apathetic and lazy and willfully disobedient – there is a very good chance Satan will eventually find a way to overcome you. You won’t overcome him. He will overcome you. That is the danger of just going through the motions. Yes, Jesus has supplied the tools and methods to thwart all Satan’s attacks. But if you fail to heed Jesus warnings or put into practice his commands you are in danger. Just, as Cyrus and Antiochus, got Sardis because of their apathy, so Satan can get Christians who are too complacent with his instructions.
Apply: The problem is – we’ve so lowered the bar on being a Christian – that we’ll assure anyone who says a sinner’s prayer they’re saved. But a sinners prayer is just the beginning of a life of faith, hope and love. We need to live with Jesus as our Saviour and Lord everyday. Then, yes, Jesus promises to save us – as we live a life of faith, hope and love in Him. THE PROBLEM IS – we fail to see the danger. We think we are SECURE in our Christian bubble. We think we are STRONG. So we then fail to walk humbly and closely with Jesus (because it’s all good) – and that’s where we become really vulnerable to attack.
Point 3: The Church in Smyrna must Avoid Apostasy to the End
Show: Rev.3:4-6 (READ)
Explain: Please notice there are only a FEW people in Sardis WHO have not soiled their clothes. Only a FEW people are promised they will walk with Jesus in white. It seems like a remnant theology is beginning to come out of Revelation. Just as only a remnant of Israel were ready at Jesus first coming, perhaps only a remnant within the church will be ready when Jesus comes again. Of course, most of us automatically assume we will be part of that remnant. But the whole point of the seven letters to the seven churches is for us to do some serious sober minded examination of our Christian lives and repent where necessary.
Now I want to finish today talking about apostasy – because I think the theological proposition of “once saved, always saved” – has been misunderstood and abused by many people. When Jesus talks about Christians NOT having their name blotted out of the book of life – all of us should shudder a little bit. THE BOOK OF LIFE records the names of all those going to heaven. And, as we generally understand it, only those in real relationship with Jesus have their name written in the book of life. So, is it possible to have your name in the book of life as a Christian, and then have your name blotted out of the book of life – because of apostasy? I mean, Jesus says those who overcome will not have their names blotted out of the book of the life? But presumably those who do not overcome will have their names blotted out?
Now as a Christian I actually do believe in what is called the perseverance of the saints. True Christian saints persevere to the end. But I also know that in the visible church many people who think they are saints, don’t really have a relationship with Jesus at all. For such people apostasy is a real possibility. In fact, I’d say there is something helpful in realizing that in our own strength all of us could commit apostasy. In verse 5 – you’ll see Jesus says he will acknowledge the name of those who overcome before his Father and the angels.
But this is only half of Jesus words in the gospels. Let me show you (Slide 12). Now in context Jesus has just finished saying; “Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but rather be afraid of the One who can cast body and soul into hell.” The implication is that even facing the pains of death Christians should not deny Jesus. Now why give us this warning – if apostasy is impossible. In some ways the whole book of HEBREWS is about not committing apostasy? Let me show you (Slide 13-14; Heb.3). Or again (Slide 15-16; Heb.10:26-29). 2 Peter 2 also says (Slide 17-18; 2Pet.2:20-21)
Now there are ONLY two actual uses of the word apostasy in the New Testament. But the idea of apostasy is all over the place. It is denying the Sovereign Lord who bought us (2 Pet.2:1). This ends in divorce.
In fact, the word APOSTASY and the word DIVORCE are almost the same word. The first is apostasia. The second is apostasiov. In both cases the root word is referring to unfaithfulness in a covenant relationship – that brings about the end of that covenant relationship. Now in marriage – God permits divorce in cases of sexual immorality (where there is no clear repentance). Similarly, if we deny Jesus as our Saviour and Lord (in word or deed) and start to give our allegiance to something else other than Jesus – it is apostasy. What’s more, in the Old Testament we know God gave the Jews a certificate of divorce for their lack of faithfulness and apostasy.
So, while I know Jesus says “he will never leave us or forsake us” AND the book of Romans says “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”, there are also real warnings in the Bible about our Christian responsibility to remain holy and faithful to Jesus. And just as marriages break down without quality time, I think that when we neglect quality time with Jesus – the likelihood of apostasy goes up. The difficulty is – this is the very thing Satan is trying to get us to do and the more THE PRESSURE increases – the more watchful and vigilant we need to be…
(Slide 18 – Matt.24:10). IN CONTEXT, Jesus is talking about the last days and he has just explained that his followers will be hated by all nations because of their relationship with him. Then Jesus says – in that pressure (or tribulation) many and perhaps even most Christians will fall away. Traditionally, this was called the GREAT APOSTASY. In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes; (Slides 19-20; 2Thess.2:3-4).
Apply: Friends, a plain reading of Scripture leads me to believe that many, many people who would perhaps identify as Christians will fall away from Jesus in the last days.
Of course, the pressure to commit apostasy has been around since the early church. After Nero and Domitian – there were big fights in the church about whether people who committed apostasy to save their own skin – should be allowed back into the church as full members. But perhaps that is WRONG QUESTION. Jesus simply tells us we need to OVERCOME this pressure to commit apostasy AND then he will give us A) white robes for heaven and B) will never blot our names from the book of life. So let me remind you Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die for us AND by the power of the Holy Spirit (and walking closely with Jesus) I KNOW it is possible for Christians to love Jesus enough to joyfully die for him.
Now thankfully, I don’t yet see many of us having to make that sacrifice in the near future. But I am encouraging you to prepare yourself mentally for real sacrifices – that Christians in the west have not had to make in a long, long time. This is NOT a time for laziness, but real, watchful vigilance. So begin by praying for strength and ask God to give you eyes to see the attacks of the enemy. Start to exercise the spiritual muscles of faith, hope and love in more intentional ways so that they are strong when it really matters. And commit yourself again to the faithfulness of your baptismal vows. As we conclude let me show you the words of two respected evangelical scholars. (Slide 21 – Hoekema); (Slide 22-23; Beale). (Slide 23 – 1 Cor.10)