In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the last book of the Bible, the seven churches of the ages are addressed giving admonition for proper worship and living. The critique it pretty shocking for all except the Church of Philadelphia which has kept God’s commands. These portrayals represent the churches through the ages and apply to the church today as well. But it is the Church of Sardis that really gets my attention.
“These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know you 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 God” (Revelation 3:1-2). Wow, this is scary. You think you are cool and got your act together. You are cruising along and God says, “You are dead.” This church not only had lost its first love, God, but also had fallen asleep like Rip Van winkle who was lazy and slept for 20 years. Jesus is referring to the church of today as all the seven churches do. But beyond the church in Laodicea, which was “lukewarm,” Sardis was “dead.” What does God mean? Is this physically or spiritually dead? Well, it doesn’t matter for when we are spiritually dead, we live eternally in hell. How does Jesus describe this estate?
Jesus addresses the Pharisees or religious men of the time with very uncomplimentary terms, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” I suspect some of you never thought that Jesus said an unkind thing to anyone, wrong. He did and does not countenance hypocrisy or pretenders. He particularly dislikes those who “Lord it over” others with distain, like the Pharisees did. Today we might speak of someone being “holier than thou.” We have people like this in our lives and we probably don’t like them. Our condemnation may or may not be as harsh as Jesus’s was. Regardless, it is a strong condemnation and should make us look hard at our own lives. What does Jesus require of us?
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Quoting from a note in my NIV Study Bible, “What pleases God more than sacrifices is a humble heart that looks to Him when troubles crush and penitently pleads for mercy when sin has been committed.” God rebukes those who do otherwise as we can read in psalm 50 and 34 as well. But He delivers and protects the man who keeps his tongue from evil and takes refuge in Him alone. This is tough stuff and will crush us unless God is our center. Exactly, it’s not about you. So how do we live for God? Well, this is the topic of the whole Bible and of my 2-volume book; This is The Way, Walk in it (see www.greatisgodsfaithfulness.com). But in a few words, God has special admonition for us all. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). I don’t believe that we can do this on our own, we need the Holy Spirit within us to do so. Speaking of David, God said, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord- and he will delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). God is speaking of King David and the Messiah, or Jesus Christ. He is also says later in the New Testament that, If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-16) and “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send in you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me…But when the Spirit of the truth comes, He will guide you in all the truth” (John 15:26; 16:13). The work of the Holy Spirit within us guides, convicts, leads and illuminates our way. Additionally God gave His word, the Bible saying, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
So, do you have Jesus and His Holy Spirit and the Word of God in your heart? If not do so today. Make the decision to receive the gifts from God and your life will change. Then you will no longer be dead like the Pharisees and ungodly, but alive in Him.