But you have a few names in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:4-6)
There is nothing to say to commend the church, but there is some hope: There were believers in that church. True believers.
We know God will always have His few. There’s a remnant, like in Ezekiel 14. There’s a remnant, like in Romans 11. There were a few unspotted from the world. There were a few believers among the unbelievers, genuine among the hypocrites, humble among the proud, spiritual among the carnal, separated among the worldly. There were true Christians leading pure, wholesome, Christ-like lives in the midst of corruption. They had not defiled their garments.
In Scripture, garments have reference to character. We see this later in Revelation:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These, clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?”
And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:13-14)
Believers are those who’ve made their garments white in the blood of the Lamb, who are covered by the righteousness of Christ.
This remnant in Sardis are those who had not fallen into the pagan impurities. They had not fallen into the sinful practices. And they were there in that dead church. And Jesus speaks to the people who are there, both the live and the dead, with three commands from back in vs. 2-3.
Assess your condition. Look around you. Wake up. Be alert.
Why? Because otherwise, the Lord will come like a thief, in judgment. To unbelievers, this is a dire reality. He is coming like a thief comes, to kill and destroy and steal. That’s the picture in the New Testament.
The first command, then, is to the nonbelievers in the congregation: “Wake up before judgment comes..”
This is a command for the believers. “Rescue what is left. There’s still some hope.”
You would say this to a person in a church like that: “If there’s anything that hasn’t died, if there’s any truth, if there’s any virtue, if there’s any purity anywhere, rescue that. Do what you can to rescue that.” That’s the reformation. That’s the revival.
I think, again, this is directed at believers: “Remember the truth that you received and heard, hold on to it, and repent of any sin.”
So to the remaining believers, Jesus says, “Strengthen what is still alive, even if it’s barely alive. Remember what you received and heard from the apostles. Hold it and repent.” To the dead, Jesus says, “Wake up and repent.”
This is amazingly precise, careful counsel to people who are believers in a dead church, and the dead people as well.
And again, Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Are you listening? If you are dead in trespasses and sins, wake up and repent and come to Christ. If you are saved, but sleeping and indolent and indifferent and worldly, remember and hold fast and strengthen. And if you are vibrant and alive, count your blessings and your eternal promises that await you.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2015, titled “The Lord’s Word to His Church: Sardis.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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