Sermon: Wake Up!

Greetings from the distant land of Stout. It is truly an honor and privilege to share God’s word with you this morning and for our congregations to join together in praise the one, true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As I look out among you and see Pleasant Valley and Stout sitting side-by-side, I am reminded of Paul’s hope for the church in Philippi. He says that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel. That’s what I see here this morning. Know that our congregation has been regularly praying for Pastor Rick’s recovery and for his daughter Sarah’s ankle.

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Revelation. Revelation, chapter 3, beginning in verse 1. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, please take one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we read and study God’s word together.

This summer in Stout we have been walking our way through the opening chapters of the book of revelation – tuning our hearts to praise the living God. I told a story to start this series about my wife, Pastor Olga, and I practicing to play on Sunday morning. She played the piano in our home and I was strumming the guitar. We got a couple bars in and something didn’t sound right. We stopped and I tuned my guitar. Two, three times we did this until we realized that it wasn’t my little guitar, but the big piano that was out of tune. The piano was loud enough that, even though it was out of tune, it sounded right and my guitar sounded wrong. This image has reminded us that the ways of the world can sound so loud that they begin to sound right, even when they aren’t. In order to stand faithful, we need to tune our heart to the melody of the gospel.

For this reason, we have been journeying through Revelation. We are in the fifth of seven letters to seven different churches in these opening chapters. This letter is to the church in the city of Sardis, in what is now known as Turkey. Revelation chapter 3, beginning in verse one. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word. We stand when a judge enters, we stand when a bride enters, we stand as a sign of respect and attention to the gravity of what is before us. We stand to hear God’s words, and you sit to hear mine.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God

and the seven stars.

I know your works:

you have a name of being alive,

but you are dead.

Wake up,

and strengthen what remains

and is on the point of death,

for I have not found your works perfect

in the sight of my God.

Remember then what you received and heard,

obey it, and repent.

If you do not wake up,

I will come like a thief,

and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis

who have not soiled their clothes.

They will walk with me,

dressed in white,

for they are worthy.

If you conquer,

you will be clothed like them in white robes,

and I will not blot your name out of the book of life,

and I will confess your name before my Father

and before his angels.

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)

Part of a doctor’s job is to tell the truth. Sometimes we get called into the doctor’s office and the news brings relief – we breathe for what feels like the first time in ages. Other times, the news we hear is like ice in the pit of our stomach. Your health didn’t change from before you enter that office to after. But everything else did. Doctors are called to diagnose – to speak the truth about our situation – and that changes things.

That is the power and the gift of speaking the truth about our situation.

Jesus, the Great Physician, offers a diagnoses of the situation in Sardis. I know your works – you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. The situation is not good. They are dead. There is no life in them.

Appearances did not match reality. The church in Sardis had a name of being alive, some translations say ‘had a reputation of being alive.’ On the outside, things looked good. Unlike most of the other churches in Revelation, there were no false teachers to mention – no poisonous doctrine sickening the church. Unlike most of the other churches in Revelation, there was no persecution or outside pressure on their faith, they had no wounds or scars to speak of.

On the outside, everything looked good. The word was being preached, the supper was eaten. People showed up to church – clothes clean and pressed, smiles on their faces. Everything looked good from the outside, but Jesus didn’t just see the outside. I know your works – you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.

This was a church that was doing good stuff. These were people who were doing well, felt put together, but Jesus diagnoses the problem. For all their appearance of life, they were dead inside.

The gospel was being preached, Jesus held forth in his beauty and splendor, but for most of the people in Sardis, it remained ‘out here.’ The life-giving word of Jesus – the gospel – never cut to heart, never penetrated into the very soul. Or it did, but now the flame of faith was flickering, smothered by duty and distraction.

Jesus diagnosed Sardis with heart problems. They were moving around and active, but there was no pulse.

But like a good physician, Jesus counseled a response to this condition. First, wake up!

Wake up! If the diagnoses of Sardis doesn’t send a shock through your system – Wake up! Sardis was asleep, assuming that everything was alright because it looked like it on the outside – Wake up!

We are called to wake up, because you cannot hear the gospel if you are asleep. Sardis was a zombie church, a church of the walking dead. Jesus instructs them that outward ritual is not enough if our hearts have not been raised with Christ by the power of the Spirit. This is a letter to a church dead, on the brink of death. Wake up, strengthen what life remains in you, remember what you received and heard, obey it and repent. The letter to Sardis is a call to all struggling churches to wake and hear the gospel, to heed it and return to Christ.

We are called to wake up, because you cannot hear the gospel if you are asleep. But this is a message not just for churches, not just for the anemic Sardis, but for all of us. Looking alive but being truly dead is the situation of every person apart from Christ. Jesus says I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. We need to wake up to our own situation – to know ourselves and our own need – so that we might hear the gospel with urgency and longing.

We cannot hear the gospel if we are asleep. But if we are awake, if we know our situation, know what our life and future is without Christ, know that our guilt and corruption separate us from God and leave us spiritually dead and unable to do anything to save ourselves – if we are awake to this situation, then we realize the truth of the gospel is the greatest news we could ever imagine. When we are awake, we can receive and hear the gospel. So the call is to wake up – be honest about yourself and your situation, or better yet, let Jesus speak truth to your life.

This call is urgent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Do not delay. Don’t wait for a more convenient time, because there might not be more time. Wake up!

The hope of dying churches and dying Christians, the hope of those dead in trespasses and sins and apart from Christ – the hope of all the world is found in what we have received and heard. Remember then what you received and heard, obey it and repent. Remember the gospel. The hope for each of us is that God raises the dead, that because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when were dead in transgressions.

Remember what you received and heard. Remember the gospel.

So friends, if it is true that the hope for Sardis is found in the gospel, that the hope for all of us is found there, then we should hear that gospel. Whether for the first time or the thousandth time, hear the good news of the gospel of Christ.

I want to share with you briefly from Romans 4:25, He – that is, Jesus – was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

As I drive south down Kalamazoo Ave toward M-6 in Grand Rapids on the way from my parents’ house, I always pass a church with the same huge sign out front, “Doing Good Stuff.” I usually laugh because it is so vague that it is useless, but I also grieve, because this is not the message of the church. The message of the Christian faith is not that we are doing good stuff. It is that he was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

The gospel is something Jesus did, not something we do. He was handed over to death for our sins. God created everything good, but because our Adam and Eve refused to trust God and chose instead to trust the serpent, they sinned and cast our whole human race into guilt so that we stand separated from God and deserving of eternal punishment. And they corrupted our human nature so that we do not ever desire the things of God. Our lives only add to this every day. It is as if we inherited the national debt and have spent our lives in a spending spree, only putting an impossible debt even more out of reach. This has left us in the very situation of Sardis – looking alive, but spiritually dead. And the very fruit of our sin, the wages of it, is death – physical and spiritual. But God promised in the Garden that a Son of Adam and Eve would one day crush the serpent. His heel would be bruised, but the serpent would be crushed. From that day onward, we have been looking and waiting for that Savior.

Every would-be Messiah, every person in the Old Testament with any claim to be this promised child failed. Until God himself came, send his Son – fully God and fully human – into the world. And this one, this Messiah, this Jesus Christ, finally did what all those pretenders could not. Jesus, who had all authority to judge us and to exact payment from us, instead said, “I will pay the debt myself.” And he paid – not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood on the cross. He was handed over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. In dying and rising, he paid for our sins and set us right with God. Jesus who is life and peace, took on death and the curse for us, and, in turn, gave us life and peace. What was ours – what we deserved – he took on himself. What was his – what he deserves – was given to us.

This is the gospel. Not that we are doing good things, but that God has done great things.

I know your works:

you have a name of being alive,

but you are dead.

Wake up,

and strengthen what remains

and is on the point of death,

for I have not found your works perfect

in the sight of my God.

Remember then what you received and heard,

obey it, and repent.

The hope of Sardis is the gospel – what they received and heard. The hope is that the good news would again cut to the heart and bring resurrection life in the face of death. The gospel is the hope for every church, for every Christian, for every person on this planet. For it is through the preaching of the gospel, that God brings dead churches, dead people to life, ever lasting life.

Those who hold on to Christ, who trust in his work for them, Jesus says will be dressed in white robes on the last day – dressed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. They will never have their names blotted out from the book of life – their salvation is secure. And Jesus will confess their names before the Father and before his angels.

The gospel is not something we only need once, or something we must only respond to once. We need it daily. We are called to remember what we have received and heard – to remember what makes our life secure and our hope sure – to obey it and repent.

So, I want to close with one challenge and two questions for you this morning. First, the challenge: Preach this gospel to your heart every day this week. Romans 4:25, He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Every day, remind yourself of the truth that brings life. When you are struggling, when you are fearful, when you are discouraged: Remember that Jesus was delivered to death for your sins and raised for your justification. The challenge: preach the gospel to your heart every day this week.

Then two questions: Who in your life needs to hear this? What will it cost you?

Who in your life needs to hear this? We all have people – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. Who in your life needs to hear this?

And what will it cost you? What will it cost you to share the gospel with them? Maybe nothing, maybe a little social capital, maybe a little fear that you don’t have all the answers or know exactly what to say? What will it cost not to say it? Not just you, but them.

I think this question is important because we, myself included, do some sort of mental math when we begin to feel the Spirit’s urging to share the Christian faith with someone else. We count the cost of telling (real or imagined) and, more often than we would like to admit, we say nothing. We have said that it is not worth it to share Jesus with someone else. Which tells me, we (myself included) either misrepresent the value of the gospel or misrepresent the cost of saying nothing.

Hence the call to remember what we have received and heard – to remember the gospel. It is something each of us needs every day and what the world so desperately needs to hear as well.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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