Be Watchful, Wake Up !
The story of Sardis is an interesting one that we read about in Rev. 3:1-6. This is one of the seven letters written by John to the seven churches of Asia.
Sardis was located in modern day Turkey and about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira on the edge of Mount Tmolus in the Hermus River valley. The Pactolus River, a tributary to the Hermus, ran through Sardis. Today the city is called Sart. Sardis was built high above a plain, making it militarily important, and located on an important highway, making it, at least for a time, a center of commerce. Sardis had a storied past. It was the ancient capital of Lydia and was the birthplace of modern money; the first gold and silver coins were minted there.
The Citizens of Sardis were known for their loose living. Even among the pagans, their lifestyle was considered crude. Such immorality surely created a difficult environment for Christians. Sardis was given over to idolatry, with altars and shrines decorating the city in honor of Artemis, Dionysus, and Zeus.
Emperor worship was practiced in Sardis, although it does not appear to have posed as much of a problem for the church in Sardis, as it did for other churches in Asia Minor.
There is no indication that the church had to deal with a lot of outside threats such as emperor worship, pressure from the pagans, or reviling from the unbelieving Jews. There is no mention of any internal threats either, such as false teachers. Nonetheless, the church grew complacent and indifferent over time and was pronounced “dead” by the Lord (3:1)
The church in Sardis was dead . . . it had a name that was alive, it was viewed by men as active and healthy, when in fact it was dead. Rev. 3:2 states “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” With that proclamation in vs. 2, John tells them to Be Watchful or Wake Up!
Be Watchful means to be alert or vigilant. Newer versions say, “wake up.” This admonition would be all too familiar to those living in Sardis, a city that despite its nearly impregnable location was captured twice for not watching.
When the Christians in ancient Sardis heard this verse, they remembered when Cyrus, the Persian king, camped outside the city of Sardis in 546 BC. He camped there for months with no hope of coming inside the city, because he could not breach the walls. With its strong walls, mostly natural walls, it seemed impregnable. One night, however, one of his soldiers keeping watch saw a soldier from Sardis coming down a narrow path between two parts of the wall. He had come down to retrieve his helmet that had fallen. They informed Cyrus of the secret path, and at three in the morning the Persian army entered the city by the same pathway, each soldier walking single file up the path. When daylight broke on the city of Sardis, the Persian army had surrounded them. They had been so sure the Persians could not get in, that they had not even posted a guard! Sardis fell again in 214 BC to Antiochus the Great, in almost exactly the same way it fell to Cyrus.
The idea or the need to be alert for Christians is not a foreign concept in the Bible:
1 Peter 5:8 - Be of sober spirit, be on the alert Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Proverbs 4:23 - Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
1 Corinthians 16:13 - Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
In John’s letter to the church in Sardis things look very dark, but not all was lost. John encourages the few faithful to strengthen the things which remain . . . they needed to finish strong! Rev. 3:3 - "So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you."
The Lord calls on the church to remember its past. Remember indicates continued remembrance or keep on remembering, to hold in memory. He encourages them to remember the time of their conversion. The same enthusiasm that characterized them, when they first encountered the gospel, needed to be rekindled. They are to hold fast or hold on to it firmly. And lastly, they are encouraged to Repent, to change one’s mind and behavior. The Lord warns the brethren not to make the same mistake the city had made by not watching.
What is the lesson for us today in 2020? The lesson can be applied individually and as a local church.
Individual - we need to stay focused and diligent in our walk with the Lord. If we are not watchful, we can drift away from the Lord and Satan will slip in, much like Cyrus did to the city of Sardis.
Congregation - as a group of Christians we need to make sure that we don’t “appear” to be alive to the world of men but are dead. We need to be vibrant and an energized group of Christians, holding fast to our faith, with no room for Satan to sneak in. We need to watchful of sin, so the devil doesn’t find a foothold in the Lord’s church.
The church is made up of individual Christians and is only as strong as its members. Strong Christians plus Strong Families equal a Strong and Watchful Church.
- Craig Hecht