Michael Youssef - Living in the Past
In the 20th century, I was taught from childhood that one's reputation is one of the most prized possessions. One's reputation is really more important than money or power or prestige, that one's reputation is more valuable than even life itself. For they say if you lose your reputation, you lose everything. But you know and I know that obsession with one's reputation can easily lead to hypocrisy. It can easily lead to unhealthy concern with only what is external. Obsession with one's reputation can also lead to dual personality; that is having a personality for public consumption and a personality in private life.
In fact, we see this dreadful trap in the New Testament where the Pharisees have fallen into. It's a dreadful trap. We read repeatedly in the gospels of how our Lord Jesus Christ condemned the Pharisees for their obsession with only, only the outward appearance, or only, only the reputation, only, only the style, but no substance. That's the obsession, and that's why Jesus rebuked them, and he condemned them over and over and over again. The only reputation that matters is your reputation with God. The only reputation that you need to be concerned about and I need to be concerned about is our reputation in heaven.
That is why the only reputation that really, really, really matters is what God thinks of us. That's really what matters. After all, only God can give us favor. Only God can reward our labor of love. Only God can bless our faithfulness to him. Only God can honor our faithfulness to his Word. And today, in Jesus's letter that he sends to the church in Sardis, he could not find one blessed thing that is good thing to say about that church. It is a depressing letter, I don't mind telling you. We are going through the seven letters that the resurrected, glorified Jesus, who can see straight through us and beyond the veneer, seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.
And why seven? Because those seven churches and those even letters represent the situation and the condition of every church anywhere in the world all the time. Our dear, precious, gracious Lord Jesus has always, as we've seen, those of you who are following in the series, we have seen he will find something good to praise them for in order to encourage them and say, "Atta boy, you're doing all right on this area. Good, keep doing it". But he could not find a single thing good to say about the church in Sardis.
All that our glorified Savior saw was a church that was obsessed with their reputation. They were obsessed with it. A church that was totally focused on what people think. What'd the world think of us? How do we improve our image with the world? So they have a public relations director, and they have a marketing director, and they were sitting on their blessed assurance doing nothing. All they cared about was their reputation. Now let me encourage you to turn in your Bibles, Revelation chapter 3, verses 1 to 6.
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.
Seven hundred years before this letter was sent by our Lord Jesus Christ to the church in Sardis, the resurrected, glorified Jesus sending that church 700 years before he did, Sardis was one of the great cities of the world, actually. The wealth of Sardis was legendary. Their reputation and their wealth and their power was all over the world, was renowned. But then two centuries later, that's the 5th century, if you're counting, history repeats itself. It's amazing, it's amazing. The Persians from modern-day Iran came and invaded Sardis, invaded that city. And after 2 centuries of being battered and battered by the Persians, Sardis was surrounded by Alexander the Great until they surrendered to him, and Alexander the Great rebuilt it as a Greek city.
Then history repeats itself. As I said, after the death of Alexander the Great, it was defeated once more until it was taken over by the Romans. You say, "Michael, why are you giving us this little history lesson"? There's a reason for that. Listen carefully, because what our Lord Jesus does, we've been seeing this throughout the letters. He sees, and he takes a cultural phenomena, or a culture characteristic of the city, and then he warns the church, his church. It is, after all, Jesus's church. He warns his church against adopting these cultural characteristics. And he's doing the same thing here. He warns the Christian believers in Sardis of the pitfall of adopting those cultural characteristics of Sardis, the culture.
What was Sardis' cultural characteristic? Well, it was they had the reputation of being lazy, lazy. The people of Sardis were known for relying on their past blessed reputation and wealth, and often they failed to protect their city. As soon as the foreign attackers come, they surrendered. Sardis, the characteristics of Sardis as being lazy is now adopted by the church of Jesus Christ in that city. They, too, were taking it easy and letting the world run roughshod over them. And that has deeply, deeply, deeply grieved the heart of Jesus. If you think the spiritual life is anything but a spiritual warfare, you are giving Satan the upper hand. If we live without being alert as to his deceptive tricks that he's constantly roaring around, not just in the visual lives and trying to absolutely zero in. He knows our hot buttons and our weaknesses, but he does that to churches, as a whole. He does it to individuals. He does it to churches. And now Sardis is about to fall in that trap, and Jesus is warning them before it's too late.
Now, put the map on the screen, please. I want to show you that Sardis was basically 30 miles southeast of Thyatira, which we looked at, 50 miles east, due east from Smyrna. You see it right across. Our Lord Jesus Christ is basically saying three things. The first thing he tells them is that he admonishes them about their obsession with reputation. Secondly, he gives them the antidote for a revival, an antidote for restoration. And thirdly, he assures the faithful ones, the few left, the faithful ones in their church of their rewards. So, you've got it? Admonition, antidote, assurance.
First Christ's admonition about their reputation, a false reputation, and they're sitting on the importance of their reputation, verse 1. This is very important, by the way. Verse 1 of chapter 3 of Revelation, Jesus describes himself as the one who has the seven spirits and seven stars. This is important. What does it mean? I mentioned that before, but let me just repeat it, because it's very important. The number seven is the number of completion. Seven letters. There are seven spirits. What does that mean? It's a number of fullness. And, therefore, Jesus is saying that his Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit, and so Jesus is saying, when you talk about the seven spirits, it's his Holy Spirit is complete. His Holy Spirit is perfect. His Holy Spirit is perfect in knowledge. His Holy Spirit sees what nobody else can see, and he can see everything all the time, all the time, everywhere. And he sees through every one of us as believers. He sees on the inside.
Listen to what Jesus said. He said, "You have the reputation of being alive, but in reality you are spiritually dead". Reputation. Reputation. This church must've had a very large attendance. They were socially involved. There was a church was renowned throughout the region, maybe throughout the country, throughout Asia Minor as relevant to the culture. This church must've been known as being accommodating to the pressure of culture. In that church, nonbelievers were so comfortable in their non-belief. Proud sinners were proud of their sin displayed in the church. But in reality, they were a spiritual graveyard. That's what they were, spiritual graveyard.
All that hyperactivities is that, God said this to Israel one time. He said, "You're like a vine that's full of green shoots, but no fruit. Hyperactivities but no spiritual depth". Listen to me. Long time ago, my precious Lord taught me how deceptive appearances can be. And I have lived long enough, and I thank God for that, to realize how deadly it is when the world speaks well of you. Long time ago, I've learned that when the world speaks well of you, God is not very happy. It's like the old timer who said, when your world becomes so churchy, it's because your church has become so worldly. Now, beloved, it is your reputation with God, it's our reputation with God that really matters in the end.
And let me tell you something. Before I start condemning the culture and condemning all the stuff that's going on, I point my finger on the church; because as goes the pulpit, so goes the pew; and as goes the pew, so goes the culture. You see, the problem started in the church, not outside there, started in the church. Spiritual zombies are everywhere, but the all-seeing, the all-knowing, the all-searching eyes of Jesus, the seven spirits, is seeing straight through them. He's saying, "I'm seeing through you. I know what's going on, on the inside of you. I know what you're thinking. I know your motives. I know your inward secrets. You have the reputation of being great, but I know better. I know better".
Christ's admonition. Secondly, Christ's antidote for faith restoration. What is Jesus's antidote? Wake up! I want to give you a word picture of what's going on in that church in Sardis. Just try to imagine a smoldering fire, a smoldering fire. But at the bottom, at the bottom of that fire, there are a few coals, pieces of coals that are still burning. And Jesus is saying, "There is a small remnant that have some spark left. Let that remnant wake up and ignite the rest of the church".
Wake up and see your true, pathetic spiritual condition. Wake up and light up the flame for this dying church, spiritually dying church. Wake up and go back to biblical truth. Wake up and get on your knees on behalf of those who have become a dead wood. Wake up and repent and weep and be in sorrow over the true spiritual condition of the church. If Jesus has a message for the church in America today, I would venture to say he would say, "Stop being deceived by the size of your churches and the tolerance of sin. Stop being deceived". That's Christ's antidote. He says, "Wake up, remember, repent, receive the power of the Holy Spirit afresh". Jesus's admonition, Jesus's antidote for faith restoration.
And thirdly, Christ's assurance to the faithful remnant. In that church, there were a few faithful ones were left. In that church in Sardis, God has not forgotten them. He knows who are his faithful ones, and he gave them twofold promises, twofold. First, he will clothe them with a white robe. What a white robe? I have four reasons I'm going to share with you. First of all, white robe represents festivities, festivities. From the parable of the wedding feast you remember that those who came to the wedding feast, who were invited to the wedding feast, were handed robes. They were handed white robes; and that, beloved friends, is going to be handed to us by the bridegroom himself, the Lord Jesus.
Secondly, white robes are a symbol of victory. In the Roman culture, whenever they had victory, and they would have a big parade for that victory, they handed people white robes. They wore white robes, and they called their cities white cities. But also white robes, a symbol of purity, a symbol of purity. Those who have kept themselves from the stain and the soil and the dirt of sin from the world, they will receive a white robe, and he's talking not about perfection. Listen carefully. He's not talking about perfection, but he's talking about those who hate sin, and they cannot wait to repent when they fail and fall into sin. They will receive the white robes of the righteousness of Jesus, not our own. We have none.
But fourthly, white robe also stands for resurrection. These white robes are ours. They're ours. You cannot earn them in a million lifetimes. You cannot buy them with all the wealth of the world. They're a gift of Jesus's grace to every faithful believer. But that's not all. The second promise for Jesus, for those faithful ones who are left, their names will never, never, never... can you say that with me? Never be blotted out of the Book of Life, but rather they will be acknowledged by Jesus before his Father.
My faithful friend, listen to me as I conclude. Jesus has a book in heaven, and in that book all the names of his faithful children are written, and they are not written with a pencil, and nor they can be erased, but it's written by the blood of Jesus Christ himself, so it can never be removed. And the reason they are written by the blood of Jesus is because no one, no one, no one, say it with me, no one can remove them from the Book of Life. No one, no one can wipe them out.
And on that day, I'm going to hear my name called from that book. And when Jesus calls my name, when Jesus acknowledges me before his Father, I'm going to fall on my face and say: "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for redeeming me. Thank you for sustaining me. Thank you for keeping me. Thank you for acknowledging me before your Father. I have acknowledged you before men. Now you're true to your promise, and you're acknowledging me before your Father in heaven". Beloved, when the roll is called up yonder, when the roll is called up yonder, when the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there. I'll be there. Will you be there? will you be there? Will you be there?