160717 Revelation 3:1-6

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 July 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Revelation 3:1-6
Theme: From The Savior With Love: Sardis

If you have been worshiping at St. Matthew's this summer, there is a good chance you noticed something different when you walked into the sanctuary today. The color for the Sundays after Pentecost is green, and for seven consecutive Sundays green has been draped over the altar and the pulpit and the lectern. Green has been hanging around the pastors' necks and projected up on the screen. But this morning the screen looks different, doesn't it? The background is brown, not green.

How many of you think that background is a picture of a piece of wood? In spite of appearances, you are all wrong. The picture you see is not of a solid piece of wood. It is what is commonly called a veneer. A veneer is a thin decorative covering that is laid over coarser wood or some other material that isn't wood at all.

Veneer covered products are popular because they give the appearance of solid wood construction at a fraction of the cost. But if you have any veneer covered cabinets or other furniture in your house you know there is a downside. After a few months of use and abuse, the truth comes out. Scratches and stains reveal a product that is much cheaper than it appears, a product that doesn't stand up to normal wear and tear, a product that is far different from what it looks like on the surface.

Because of that, the word, "veneer" is sometimes used in a figurative sense to describe people who make themselves appear a certain way to others, but deep down they are very different. If someone ever compares you to a veneer, you shouldn't take it as a compliment. Being compared with a veneer is an insult, and it is probably not an accusation any of us should ever make because we can't see inside people's hearts.

But God can. He knows us. He knows everything...everything about us. And when the Lord took a closer look at the church in Sardis, he was able to see beneath the veneer. He saw a congregation that looked strong and healthy on the outside but was wasting away on the inside. He saw church members who were on spiritual life support. He saw Christians who desperately needed to be roused from their spiritual slumber. And because he loved them Jesus wrote them a strongly worded letter, a warning for them to wake up before it was too late, a warning that we dare not dismiss as if these inspired words could never apply to us...


"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your 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 my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. 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.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

By now you have probably recognized that the letters to the churches in Revelation follow a basic pattern. First, Jesus identifies his recipients (for example, "to the angel of the church in Sardis"). After that he identifies himself (in this letter he calls himself the one "who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars;" remember that Jesus had already identified the stars as the angels, or pastor/ messengers, of the churches; see Revelation 1:20). And when Jesus transitions into the body of each letter, he usually opens with some words of praise for the congregation.

This is where the letter to the church in Sardis breaks the pattern. There are no kind words, no words of encouragement, no words of praise. Instead the Lord brings down the hammer with devastating force: "I know your 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 my God" (1-2).

I wonder how many of the Christians in Sardis were prepared to hear those words. I wonder how many of them were shocked when they heard those words. I wonder how they reacted to those words. Did they get defensive? Did they try to counter Jesus' claims? Did they say: "Jesus, you can't be talking about us. You must be thinking of someone else. Our congregation is alive and well. Look at all the people we serve. Look at all the ministries we support. If you look at the mountain of evidence, Jesus, how can you possibly conclude that our congregation has one foot in the grave?"

The conclusion is actually a pretty easy one to draw because every human being is born dead and sin (Ephesians 2:1-5). You and the person sitting in the pew next to you and the person preaching to you, we are all by nature dead in our sins. And it isn't a huge stretch to apply to a group of believers collectively what is true of each of us individually.

So what if Jesus sat down and wrote us a letter. What if Jesus said to the saints at St. Matthew's: "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." How would you respond? Would your knee jerk reaction be to get defensive? Would you say: "Jesus, you can't be talking about us. Look at the hundreds of people who are in worship today. Look at all programs we offer. Look at the many different ministries we support with our offerings. We are not suggesting that we are a perfect church, but we are far from dead."

The Lord can see all those things we can see, but he looks beneath the surface, and under the shiny veneer it isn't pretty. Sometimes he sees people who are going through the motions. Sometimes he sees people who are just trying to keep up appearances. He sees complacent people who think they are doing enough, self-righteous people who think they are better than others, people who have drifted off into a spiritual slumber, people who need to wake up!

I am reminded of a story a retired pastor told me about one of his members, an older lady in the congregation who always had a comment for him when she walked out of church. One Sunday she told the pastor that she liked the beginning of his sermon, but then he "got to meddling." In other words, something he said struck a nerve. Or to put it another way, he had preached the law, and the law had done its work in her heart.

Do you know the feeling? Do you sometimes wish the preacher would stop meddling in your business? Do you prefer sermons that are full of gospel, gospel and more gospel, with little to no law? I know that I do. I know what I want to hear, but the Lord knows what I need to hear. And because he loves me he doesn't hold back. He says: "I know your deeds, all of them. I know all the wicked things you have done and all the good things you have left undone. You don't deserve a pat on the back. You don't deserve a place at my table. You deserve to die. You deserve to die a death that will never end."

Like an early morning alarm clock with the volume turned all the way up, the threats of the law force us to wake up, to recognize our sin and repent of our sin, to get off our high horse and get down on our knees and beg for mercy. And when the law has done its work in our hearts, when we see the depths of our sinfulness, when we understand that we are not even close to as good as we think we are, our gracious God shows us how good he is.

Jesus continues: "Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels" 4, 5).

The church in Sardis had problems, lots of problems, but it was still a church. There were at least a few believers in the congregation, humble Christians who loved the Lord and wanted to serve the Lord. And the Lord used a striking word picture to describe them. The faithful few who clung to faith in Jesus would one day be dressed in white.

You are about to put a load of laundry into the washing machine. You notice that the whites are getting a bit dull, so you decide to do something about it. You grab the plastic jug next to the detergent, and fill the cap to the top. But instead of pouring in a cup full of bleach, it is industrial red dye (I think I just made a few moms shudder).

Everybody knows that you don't mix your whites and your colors. Everybody knows that colored dye is the last product you should use to brighten your whites. Everybody except Jesus. Later in Revelation he introduces us to some saints who have done their laundry in a most unconventional way. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7:14).

The Lamb is Jesus. The blood of the Lamb is the perfect blood Jesus shed on the cross. The blood of the Lamb is in the innocent blood Jesus shed to atone for our sins. The blood of Jesus doesn't create stains. It removes them. The blood of Jesus, God's Son, purifies us from all sin. So when God examines us he doesn't see our faults and failures. He doesn't see complacency or hypocrisy. He sees a sea of white. He sees saints, people who are pure and holy, people who because of Jesus are truly worthy, people whose names are written in God's book of life and look forward to eternal life in heaven.

Remember that veneer up on the screen? Remember how I said that it would be an insult to be compared to a veneer? That would be true in most cases, but I can think of one exception for a Christian...if someone approached you and pulled back the top layer and underneath discovered Jesus.

Does that sound a little far-fetched? It's not. In fact, "Christ In Me" is a paraphrase of Paul's words in Galatians 2, and "Christ In Me" has been chosen as the theme of our upcoming school year. Christ lives in our hearts by faith. What a blessing! Christ empowers us to live our lives for him. What a privilege! And best of all, because Christ lives in us today we will live with him forever. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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St. Matthew's Lutheran Church
818 West Wisconsin Avenue
Oconomowoc, WI 53066




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