Revelation 3:3

Sermon preached on December 11, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was in my last year of university I got to know the district leader of the Navigators. The Navigators are a Christian group that focuses on university students. They try to reach the non-Christian students with the gospel and help students who are Christians become strong in the faith. Nuke S. was a great guy. He taught me a lot about how to present the gospel in a simple and clear way. Nuke had a real heart for students and he and his wife were very kind to me. One time they were going away on vacation and they asked me if I would house sit while they were away. I had room on campus but one of the reasons I accepted was because I thought it would be a quieter place to study and get work on my papers done. They told me that they would be back on a certain date—I remember it was a Wednesday. The reason I remember it was a Wednesday was because it really didn't work out that way. The week before they came back I had an incredibly busy week at school. I had exams and papers due but it all ended at 11:00
A.M. on Monday—two days before they were due to arrive back. 11:00 on Monday was when my last paper was due. I had to hand it in then and everything was done—I would have two whole days to clean up their house and get everything in tip top shape. So I worked really hard on my school work all that week. I let everything else slide. I didn't do any of my dishes—I just let them pile up. I didn't clean anything up. I finished my paper about 10 o'clock on Monday morning, walked over to the professor's office and turned it in. And then I started walking back to Nuke's house to start cleaning it up. As I was walked up their street to their house I was about 4 or 5 houses away when I noticed that their car was in their driveway. I can't tell you how much my heart sank. They had come back early—two days early. When I got to their house Nuke's wife was in the kitchen doing the dishes and Nuke was cleaning up my mess. I was so embarrassed. I'm still embarrassed about it—and that was 37 years ago. Nuke was really nice about it. He told me that he understood and that if he had been taking care of someone's house he probably would have been caught off guard if they came home two days early. Nuke's wife, she wasn't so nice. She didn't say anything mean to me, but she wasn't all bubbly and glad to see me. She wouldn't let me help her with the dishes but just told me that she would take care of them.

I learned a lesson from that experience. I vowed if I ever house sat again I wasn't going to let things get in a mess. That incident was a wake up call to me. I needed to change something about myself.

It was that way with the church at Sardis. They needed to change. They needed to change their attitude, they needed to change their behavior. Jesus told them that they needed to wake up, that they needed to repent and obey what they had received and heard. It was not enough for them to realize their sin, to have their self-deception shattered. They actually needed to change their behavior.

The great lesson for us all here is that

we need to change our sinful behavior. We need to wake up.

Not matter what your spiritual condition, you can apply this lesson to your life. Those who have compromised with the world, like many in Sardis had, can apply this to their lives and start to live lives that are pleasing to God. But those of you who are doing well can also apply it to your life. None of us are perfect. We are all sinful. We can all improve and grow in holiness and righteousness. Thus every one of us can take what Jesus says here to heart. No matter how mature you are as a Christian, you can wake up, and do an even better job in getting rooting your sin out of your life. Some commentators don't like the translation, 'Wake up'. They say that the Greek word that is used here should be translated, 'be watchful'. That's technically what the word means. But because the context is about the church in Sardis being dead, not being watchful at all, I think the rendering 'wake up' is appropriate. That's the way that many English translations render it. The church at Sardis needed to wake up and change its sinful behavior. We need to do the same.

One of the sad things about human beings is that

even when our eyes are opened and we see our sin, we can be reluctant to change.

We see this in the rich young ruler. He was self-deluded when he came to Jesus. But after talking to Jesus he was quite aware that he wasn't keeping the law—he wasn't loving his neighbors as he loved himself. He was deceived any longer. But from everything we know, that didn't change his behavior in that regard. He walked away from Jesus. Jesus showed him what he was like and he's like, "Oh," and he hangs his head and he walks away from Jesus. His eyes being opened to his sin didn't change him.

Steve Jobs was like that in some ways. Sometimes he was very mean to people. If you read one Walter Isaacson's biography of him you'll find example after example of his meanness. He would be mean to people for no reason. People would be devastated, in tears. When Walter Isaacson asked Jobs why he was sometimes so mean to people, Jobs responded,

"This is who I am, and you can't expect me to be someone I'm not."

That's the response of a lot of people. You see it all the time. If you point out some people's flaws to them, they'll say,

"That's just the way I am. That's me."

It's like they are saying,

"That's the way that God made me and I can't be any different than that. If I'm didn't act in line with my nature I'd be a hypocrite."

No. That's not right. That's not the way that God made anyone. Sin made them like that. Anyone who makes that kind of excuse doesn't realize that they aren't supposed to be like that. That's not how God wants them to be. By giving in to that natural inclination they are giving in to the devil and his ways. They are storing up for themselves God's wrath. God is giving them time to repent and they're not only squandering the opportunity, but they're excusing their lack of action.

But there's another problem.

Even when people want to change their behavior, many people don't.

Lots of people want to change their behavior and they can't. Did you ever hear someone affirm as a fact,

"People don't change."

To back up their claim they give you example after example. It is true that this is a trait that human beings have and should be ashamed of. So often we don't change our bad behavior. We hang on to the same sinful behavior year after year. You see it all the time.

I can give you examples of that.

(Think of your own examples here.)

But enough about other people.

What about us? What about you and me? Are people telling stories like that about me? I'm sure they could. The problem is not that the people I just talked about are different than everyone else—the problem is that they're representative of what we human beings are like. We're all like that to a great extent. We don't change. We acquire sinful habits when we're young and they stay with us our entire life. We don't get rid of them.

In fact, we may even get worse. As time goes on, those bad habits come more to the fore. It's like the joke that Bill Goccia told me once. Bill was a school teacher but he also became a financial advisor. He did a lot of study on the stock market and retirement plans and people started going to him for advice. He eventually built up a number of clients. He was talking to me about it one day and said,

"Larry, you wouldn't believe the number of people I've made millionaires."

When I said, "Really?" He replied,

"Yes, the only problem is that when I started with them they were billionaires!"

Some professing Christians are like the guy who was given one talent—only they don't even keep the talent they have. They lose it.

That's not how it's supposed to be. You're supposed to wake up to your faults and put them behind you. As you live you're supposed to become more and more conformed to the glorious image of Jesus Christ. You're supposed to put off your old self and put on Christ. You're not to make just a little progress in this—you're supposed to make great progress.

Remember what the apostle Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12–15?

"set an example for the believers in speech, in life,
in love, in faith and in purity.
Until I come, devote yourself
to the public reading of Scripture,
to preaching and to teaching.
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you
through a prophetic message
when the body of elders
laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters;
give yourself wholly to them,
so that everyone may see your progress."

Timothy was to live and teach the gospel so that all would see his progress—his advancement in godliness.

In Colossians 1:28–29 the apostle Paul described his ministry. He talked about how he preached Christ and what his goal was in doing so. He wrote,

"We proclaim him, admonishing and
teaching everyone with all wisdom,
so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy,
which so powerfully works in me."

He wanted to present the people he ministered to 'perfect' in Christ. Now he's obviously referring to what will happen when Jesus will come again—the Second Coming. We will be not be perfect until then. But nothing less than that perfection was Paul's goal. He wasn't content for the people he was ministering to to be 'half sanctified', or 'three quarters sanctified'. No, he wanted them to be perfect. That's what he worked for. According to what he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20, his people, who believed on Jesus, who were faithful, were his delight. He wrote,

"For what is our hope,
our joy, or the crown in which
we will glory in the presence
of our Lord Jesus when he comes?
Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy."

Paul expressed the same thought about the goal of Christian ministry in Ephesians 4:11–13,

"It was he who gave some to be apostles,
some to be prophets,
some to be evangelists,
and some to be pastors and teachers,
to prepare God's people for works of service,
so that the body of Christ
may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith
and in the knowledge of
the Son of God and become mature,
attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

God doesn't want you to stay the way you are. He wants you to wake up to your sin and change your behavior—to become more holy.

The truth is that people can change through the power of God.

That's one of the things that our text teaches us. Notice how Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Sardis, this church that is just about dead. In verse 1 we read,

"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."

Christ introduced Himself to the church in Sardis, "He who has the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars". I believe the seven Spirits of God are a reference to the effective working of God's one Spirit. He is pictured here in His sevenfold-mission to the church. In other words, His power is available to all the churches, even the one that is almost dead. Jesus holds the seven Spirits of God. He could help Sardis, He can help us. G. K. Beale suggests that the reference to the seven spirits of God and the seven stars is, (Revelation: 273.

"a portrayal of the provision of heavenly aid available to the Christians if they desire to regain their former evangelistic stance toward the world."

How do we change our attitude and behavior? There's only one way—and that's by relying on God's power. In John 15:5 Jesus said,

"I am the vine; you are the branches.
If a man remains in me and I in him,
he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing."

All our power to change comes from God. This was evident from even before the Day of Pentecost. Jesus said to His disciples in Luke 24:49,

"I am going to send you
what my Father has promised;
but stay in the city
until you have been clothed
with power from on high."

We can change. We should change. We are to shine for Jesus. Some see in the reference to the seven stars in Jesus' introduction to the church in Sardis to their duty to shine for Jesus. The job of the churches is to be a light to the world. G. K. Beale suggests that the sin of the church of Sardis was, (Revelation, p. 273)

"not witnessing to their faith before the unbelieving culture."

The seven stars are identified in Revelation 1:20 as the angels of the seven churches. One of the things that we know from the Bible about angels and stars is that they shine. They're bright. They're glorious. Again, Revelation 1:20 tells us that the seven churches are the lampstands. G. K. Beale, suggests that the Spirit, (The Book of Revelation, p. 274)

"burns on the 'lampstands' (= the churches) and enables them to shine through their witness to the dark world of unbelief."

We can do it through God's power.

How important it is that we root sin out of our lives.

If you don't Jesus will come to you in judgment at a time you do not expect it.

In verse 3 Jesus said,

"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."

This coming is not the Second Coming, but Jesus coming in judgment on the church. This is a common theme in the letters to the seven churches. We've seen it in the letter to the church at Ephesus, to the church at Pergamum, and to the church in Thyatira. You need to be vigilant or you're going to get a great, unpleasant surprise.

We see the same teaching in John 15:1–2. Jesus said,

"I am the true vine,
and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me
that bears no fruit,"

John the Baptist testified to this as well. When he prepared the way for Jesus he said, (Matthew 3:10)

"The ax is already at the root of the trees,
and every tree that does not produce
good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, this means that unless you change, the same is going to happen to you,

Jesus is going come in judgment on you like a thief.

How much time do you have? How long will God put up with you? I don't know. If you don't repent He's going to come for you and that'll be a horrible day. God said to the rich man who stored up many goods for many years, (Luke 12:20)

"You fool! This very night
your life will be demanded from you."

Don't let that happen to you.