Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Revelation 3:1-6

Following his untimely death in 1924, the leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum in Red Square at the heart of the Soviet Union’s capital, Moscow. For nearly 100 years scientists and curators have preserved Lenin’s body, and have kept it on display in an elevated bullet-proof glass case in the middle of the tomb. Every year, a group of preservationists remove Lenin’s body and ritualistically give him a bath and a clean outfit so that he can endure the next year. In effect, they wash and dress a dead man every year.
Imagine that happening to you after you died. Every year for the next century, a group of people take you out of your coffin, wash you, dress you, and put you back in your coffin for another year. The profound peculiarity of the entire process has left many in Russia wondering why the government doesn’t just bury him, but President Putin has continued to argue for the value of maintaining the memorial to the fallen Soviet leader. For him and for some of his countrymen, there is a great value to be had in washing and dressing a dead man. Perhaps it even makes them feel like he is alive again. 

The city of Sardis was an important city with historically popular figures like Aesop and Solon hailing from there, and even a notable church father and early apologist, Melito, coming from there. Before it was conquered by the Persians, Sardis had even served as the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom. However, the glory days were all in the past, both for the city and for the church. As Jesus began his message to the church through the vision of John He said, “thou art dead.” This was much worse a rebuke than any of the previous four churches had received. Ephesus had been loveless; Pergamos had been sinful; Thyatira had been theologically misled; but here, the church of Sardis was facing a fate that was much worse,
it was dead.
Sadly, the glory days lingered for Sardis. Those who heard of Sardis imagined that it was full of life, but the truth from the mouth of Jesus to this church was that they were just a fa├žade of what they used to be. They were a dead body that merely got a bath and a new suit. 

Clearly, the early days were good at the church, but by A.D. 90, this church had gone so far away from Christ that they didn’t have any life left in them. 
The truth of God was not being ministered through the Spirit of God, and there was nothing but lifeless and cold formality. The church of Sardis had become little more than a lifeless corpse of its former self. Perhaps the most saddening truth was that this spiritual death had happened and it seemed like no one in the church had even noticed.
In His reproof to the church, Christ called for a renewing of energies and a striving to bring life back into the dead church. It was not ok to simply give the corpse a washing and a new suit, it needed the spiritual life and vitality breathed back into it. Now, Jesus was telling the church that the few good things that remained from before, should be strengthened and fostered. The truth that was left behind, the love that had been forgotten, the fighting for purity and holiness that had been abandoned all would need to be rekindled and a revival would need to be started.
We don’t have much history of what happened after the church at Sardis received this letter from Jesus through the Apostle John, but we do know that Melito was the Bishop of the church nearly one hundred years later and that he was serving God with all his strength. 
Perhaps revival came. 
Perhaps after hearing the reproof and rebuke, the church at Sardis repented of their cold, dead indifference and began striving to love, and learn, and encourage one another. May God help us to do the same. May we not be known as a church that is dead or trapped in hollow routines, may we instead pursue life and strength in Christ. May we guard against cold formality and ritualistic rigidity, and instead pursue Christ with white-hot intensity and life in the church.

Reflect: What was wrong with the church at Sardis? In what ways can our churches tend to be similar?