The Church at Sardis

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

June 12, 2022 Revelations 3:1-6

            We have been working our way through the churches of Revelation. What we have seen is that Jesus is actively judging his church. He knows the state of each church. He knows what they are doing right. He knows what their challenges are. He knows what they are doing wrong.

            He then speaks into the life of each church, telling them what he sees. He says to them, “Here is what you need to know.” When Jesus speaks, he does so for the purpose of renewing and encouraging his people to get on track and keep on track with him.

            You just heard what Jesus said to the church in Sardis.

Revelation 3:1a–3a (NIV)

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 found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

            Jesus is telling them what he sees. “Sardis, you have a reputation for being alive. When people hear about you, they say, wow – that is a happening place. But you are not alive; you are dead.”

            I think it is helpful to remember the plans and purposes of Jesus when he speaks. He is not being harsh for the sake of being harsh. He is always trying to be redemptive. When Jesus speaks, he does so with the purpose of renewing and encouraging his people to get on track and keep on track with him.

            I am encouraged by that. I am also encouraged that it worked. Church history tells of a man named Melito, who was born in the generation after this letter was written. Melito became the bishop of Sardis. He stood up to the emperor, even when Christianity was made illegal. Those who came after Melito wrote of him as one who “in his whole life was full of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, he was very much alive.

            The words of Jesus had their intended effect. If Melito is any indication, the people at Sardis went from being dead to alive, asleep to spiritually vital. They fanned into flame a hunger and thirst for the real things of God.

            My prayer for today is that we would have that same thing happen to us. That Jesus would fan into flame a desire for us to become fully alive in him. So as Jesus would say, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”


            Jesus said of Sardis, “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!” What does a church look like if it has a reputation for being alive? I don’t know what that would all entail in a first-century church, but I have a pretty good idea of what it looks like in a 21st-century church.

            If a church in Canada gets the reputation of being alive, it is growing and getting bigger all the time. It will have an amazing worship team, and the church will all be demonstrative in their worship. It will have great preaching. The preacher could double as a comedian, but he uses comedy to get his point across.

            Usually, in our context, an alive church is a church that has programs for everyone. Not just programs, but great programs. They have great children’s programs and youth programs and small group programs, men’s programs, women’s programs, addiction programs, visitation programs – amazing programs.

            But here is the thing. Those things could be happening in a church that is alive. Or they could be happening in a church that is asleep but has great leaders. If you have an amazing leader, those things can happen without a whole lot of help from God.

            Jesus kind of mixes his metaphors here. He says you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Then he says in verse 2, “wake up!” He says if you don’t wake up, you really will die.

            So, what does a slumbering church look like? I know what some of you are thinking – Pastor, if you want to know what a slumbering church looks like – just look around when you are preaching. I don’t think that is what he is talking about either.

            The church asleep, the church awake is a metaphor that is used in other places in the New Testament.

1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

            People who are awake are aware of the spiritual realities around them and they take appropriate action, whether it is prayer, or worship, or spiritual warfare. They are not unaware of the schemes of the evil one but are on their guard. The church that is asleep walks through life unaware of spiritual realities around them. The enemy is stalking them, and they are completely unaware.

            What does an awake Christian look like? Paul quotes from an early hymn of the church when he says this

Ephesians 5:14b–20 (NIV)

“Wake up, sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

            A church that is alive will allow Christ to shine on them. They will live well in the place where they are planted. They are careful how they live and choose to live wisely. They will make the most of every opportunity. They are not getting drunk, but they are being filled with the spirit in such a way that it fills their own hearts with praise and they are treating those around them well.

            The Christian who is asleep doesn’t see the opportunities around him or her. They live foolishly – not understanding what God’s will for them is. They live for themselves.

Romans 13:11–14 (NIV)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. 

            Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus. In other words, abide in him. Stay connected to him. Put away the deeds of darkness and live for him.

            So people who are awake and alert are:

  • Aware of the spiritual realities around them
  • Are careful to live wisely
  • Make the most of opportunities
  • Are being filled with the Spirit, which allows praise to happen in their own hearts, and they treat others well.
  • They clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus and put away the deeds of darkness.

A church full of these kinds of people is what makes a church alive. It is not about the music or the preaching or the programming. Those things can help us come alive and stay alive. But they do not indicate whether a church is alive or not. It has to do with how we live our lives.

            Where are you at in your spiritual journey? Are you fully alive? Are you alive but a little groggy? Or are you mostly comatose in your spiritual life – but you are starting to notice it?

            Remember, Jesus shows us these things with a purpose. He wants you to get back on track. He is calling the best out of you.


            So, what do you do when you find yourself spiritually sleepy? How do you wake yourself up?

Revelation 3:2–3a (NIV)

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

            Jesus says, Wake up. If you are weak, then work with whatever is alive. It is like gardening. If you see a sick plant, figure out what it needs and then work on it. If it needs water, water it. If it needs fertilizer, fertilize it. If it needs some bugs picked off, then do that. Strengthen what remains.

            Your heart is like a garden. It needs tending. Strengthen what remains. Remember what you have received and heard. You have received the Spirit so that you can walk with Christ. You have heard how to connect to Christ through prayer. Tend your heart.

            Then Jesus inserts this curious phrase, “for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”

            It is like they were called to something, but they only started down the road of fulfilling the calling on their life – then they stopped.

            So Jesus says, “Remember what you have received and heard, hold fast, and repent.”

            Jesus introduces himself to Sardis as the one who holds the seven spirits -which is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Now he says remember what you have received. The Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth.

            Then he says remember what you have heard. That is a reference to their calling as an individual and as a church. Hold fast and repent.


            I have been thinking about Asbury. What is our reputation? Right now, I think we are known for three things. We have a good seniors ministry, Keenagers. We have a great youth ministry, and we are known for our front doors.

            People know that there is something happening here. What is our calling? We are called to disciple people to be like Jesus. We are called to help one another in our spiritual journey. We are called to reach our town and county with the good news about Jesus. You people met and prayed together before I came and that was what you felt we were called to do. I agree with that mission. That is what we are called to do.

            Jesus says to the church at Sardis – you have fallen asleep.

            I don’t think we at Asbury have fallen asleep. But I do think we are tired. The past couple of years with Covid and the stresses of life –have taken their toll. I believe we are at a crossroads, though.

            I think there are a number of people in our church who are deciding  – am I going to do what God has called me to do within the life of Asbury? Or am I just going to do my own thing?

            I think we will know what people will have decided by late fall. It will show up in how people volunteer for ministries. It will show up in giving. It will show up in how we pray together. It will show up on how we journey together in our spiritual lives.

            I think each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to be awake and be part of what God would have us do or not?

Revelation 3:4–6 (NIV)

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. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

            Jesus says to the people of Sardis – there are some of you who have not fallen asleep. There are some of you who are fully awake.

            Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say – oh, you should separate yourself from those sleepers. No. He says they will walk with me. They will continue to know what it means to be led by my spirit.

            They are not going to die, but they will live both now and in eternity.


            Churches are curious things. We meet together physically, but we can be in very different places spiritually. In Sardis, you have the spiritually dead and the spiritually alive sitting side by side. You have those who are asleep – who are unaware of the spiritual realities around them, who are living foolish lives – not understanding what God’s will is. Then you have those who are walking with Jesus.

            They are spiritually alive. They are aware of the spiritual realities around them. They are making the most of every opportunity.

            In Sardis, these people are sitting side by side. The danger is that the church has a reputation for being alive. From the outside, everything looks good.

            So, it is easy for the people in Sardis to think, We have a great church that is alive. I am sitting beside some people who I know are fully alive. Since I am part of this – I must be alive too.

            But Jesus says that isn’t the way it works. You have got to do your own interior work. Those who are alive can encourage you to abide in Christ – but only you can do that for yourself.

            Churches that are alive encourage people to walk fully into that relationship with Christ. But it has to happen on an individual heart level.


            I want to see people become fully alive here at Asbury. We will put the tools in your hands and coach you into that, but it will be up to you. My prayer is that we would be a church of people who are fully alive.

Sermon Questions – The Church at Sardis

June 12, 2022 – Revelations 3:1-6


1. What are you looking forward to this summer?

2. What are you praying about

Digging in

3. Read Revelations 3:1-6 – What part of his character does Jesus reveal in verse 1?

4. Read verses 1-2. What does a church that seems alive but isn’t look like in 2022?

5. What are the qualities of a truly alive church or Christians as seen in:

               a) 1 Peter 5:8

               b) Ephesians 5:14-20

               c) Romans 13:11-14

6. Read Revelations 3:2-3. What does Jesus tell the people who are asleep to do? If a person were to do that, what would it look like in their life?

7. Read Revelations 3:4-5. What do these verses tell you about the church in Sardis? What do you think this means for individual responsibility for our spiritual lives?

8. What would Asbury look like if it was fully alive?