From the June 3 sermon “Dead in Sardis: Stopped Caring or Trying,” preached by Pastor Mark Driscoll out of Revelation 3:1–6:
Pastor Mark preaches on Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis at the site of the Temple of Artemis. Many people worshiped false gods and goddesses at that temple, yet the church in Sardis was indifferent, hard hearted, and stiff necked—in a word, “dead.” Would Jesus say the same to us? Is your relationship with him routine or ritual? Passionate or mere duty? Do you really care about Jesus and people? Are you dead or alive? Jesus calls you to wake up and repent.
Dead Things Don’t Change
Dead things don’t change. Living things change. I’ve got a five-year-old son, in five years, he’s going to change. I’ve got a thirteen-year-old daughter, in seven years, she’s going to change.
Anything that’s alive changes. It either grows or dies.
So the question for churches is not: Will there be change? The question is: Will the change be for life or death? Will it be for forward progress or for sinful rebellion? There’s going to be change. [. . .]
Is your first inclination to resist change?
Is your first inclination to argue for tradition?
Is your first inclination to keep things that are familiar to you, comfortable to you, or to rejoice that there’s a new opportunity for new people to meet Jesus, and so change is a good thing? [. . .]
Things have to change. And if we’re dead, we fight the change. And if Jesus is alive, we embrace the change. And Jesus’ word to the church here was, “You’re dead. You are not changing, but that’s because you’re dead.”
Wake Up and Repent
We can’t just look at these historical examples and criticize these people, we need to say that we’re capable of the exact same failure. And to take that to heart, and go back to our churches and say, “We want this place to be alive. We want Jesus to be made much of. We want new people to meet Christ. We want legacy, and generation, and tradition. And we want to hand to our children and our children’s children, we want to hand to them a living faith, not a dead set of rituals, traditions, and routines.”
And that’s the big word that Jesus has for the church at Sardis. So he says, “Wake up.” It’s like they’d been asleep. “Strengthen what remains but is near death.” Take anything that looks like it’s a possibility and invest time, resources, and energy into it. He says, “Remember the truth.” Because oftentimes we believe lies.
He says to repent. And friends, this is an invitation.
What Jesus is saying is even if you’re dead spiritually, or your family’s dead spiritually, or your church is dead spiritually, or your denomination, or your network, or your movement is dead spiritually, you can repent, you can turn it around, things can change, it’s never too late so long as you’re alive. And so there’s hope. There’s an invitation. There’s an opportunity that God gives through repentance.
He says, for those who are believers, to keep going, to persevere, to walk in holiness, to wear the white righteousness of Christ, and to not get discouraged. And especially for those of you who are in hard places and tough churches, and I know even some of you are leaders in churches that if Jesus didn’t call you there, you’d never show up. Because the fighting, and the religious people, and the arguments, and the inanity, and the silliness, and the pettiness, and the traditionalism, and the ritualism, and the me-ism is overwhelming.
And he says, “Just keep going. Just overcome. Keep plugging forward. Be faithful. Do the best you can.”
And he says to listen to the Holy Spirit. Something he says to each of the churches. The way that we keep spiritual fervor, passion, and life is to listen to the Holy Spirit.
He speaks through the Word of God.
He speaks through circumstances.
He’ll sometimes give us impressions and leadings.
He’ll sometimes speak through other believers, and circumstances, and authors, and teachers.
And as you walk with the Holy Spirit there will be certain times you’ll hear something, it’ll just, it’s like it gets highlighted in your soul, and you’ll realize that was from the Lord. That’s what he’s talking about in hearing the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice and they listen to me.” The longer you walk with God, his voice gets familiar. And through all the noise and clutter of life, when the Holy Spirit speaks you’re like, “Okay, I got that.”
It is more intuitive. It is more personal. It is more a matter of defining who God is and then listening to him. But what this takes is time.
And for those of you who are new Christians, what it takes is time. It’s getting to know someone named God.