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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

WALK AMONG THE LAMP-STANDS -Revelations 3 - January 15th, 2023

Updated: Jan 21










For the past couple of weeks, the football world stood still, players and coaches unable to continue the game. One of their number, 24-year-old Damar Hamlin in cardiac arrest. Players of both teams were no longer on the field to compete but gathered on the field to pray; newspapers readying their headlines to make prayer the lead; the unimaginable of a sportscaster breaking from his usual game analysis to pray on national TV as his co-hosts joined him with bowed heads.

The spectre of death changed the script from Monday night sports entertainment to a Monday night prayer vigil. A scene peculiar in so many ways, not likely to be seen again, hundreds of 1000s of people across the continent taking up prayer protection of a young man they did not know and about whom, a few hours before, they did not care. Suddenly on alert, awakened by what they had just witnessed. Fighting on his behalf – in prayer, a battle he could not fight, a battle on his own he could not win.

Moments before most paid scant attention to the play leading to what had happened. Why would they? It was just the normal occurring in a game. And then Damar collapsed in a way that wasn’t football ‘normal’. That’s what got a ‘watchman’ to sound the alarm that what just happened wasn’t normal. A watchman seeing that things weren’t as they should be, causing everything to STOP. Stopping the momentum of the game. The celebrating buzz of the crowd. The announcer’s analysis of the game. Most of all, the pumping of Hamlin’s heart.

An ‘alert giver’, kicking into action a trainer who initiated CPR. Paramedics drove onto the field with defibrillators. Physicians who prepped for surgery and the thousands who sought rescue in prayer. Intervening to bring rescue while the rescue was still possible. Acting in a time of danger.

Because alerting to danger is what watchmen are called to do. Scripture says a lot about watchmen, among them watchmen who fail, like what God says of some, His watchmen are blind, and all of them know nothing. All of them are mute dogs unable to bark, Isaiah 56:10. It is to this matter of sleeping watchmen, Jesus speaks to in the first church we are looking at this morning in Rev 3. Specifically, we are looking at SARDIS – a city built 1500’ 1/2K above the valley. Her mountain location made Sardis virtually free from military assault - cliffs on one side and no entrance in front. It was impossible to approach without being seen but to those inside the city, being seen wasn’t important; after all, why be watchful in a city that couldn’t be breached? Inside this city, a people who thought themselves untouchable ruled a powerful but apathetic king.

But while the unconcerned city slept, the mighty Persian army watched nearby as a Sardinian soldier dropped his helmet from the wall. They watched as he left to retrieve it, exiting then re-entering the city through a secret door. Noting the path the soldier took, King Cyrus directed some soldiers to serve as a diversion at an opposite wall, while a few soldiers scaled the nearby wall allowing his army to enter through the hidden door. When the soldiers reached the top of the wall, not a single watchman to be seen – they were all either at the diversionary wall or asleep. That sleep soon ended as the Persian army conquered the city through gates opened from the inside.

The Greek historian Herodotus notes, Sardis was founded by the sons of Hercules and with this heritage, they considered themselves supreme. Central to life was the gymnasium, where men trained nude while indulging in the vices of the Roman baths. Along with their commitment to supreme bodies was their belief in the supreme mind – where in the gymnasium they also studied math, philosophy, medicine as well as reading literature about the Greek gods. To them it was the perfect mix: physicality, intellect, religion and indulgence.

Ruins of a Jewish synagogue, typically built far away from places considered pagan, show how worship had adapted to the culture around - inside several pagan symbols, including pairs of lions representing the goddess Cybele.

Ruins of ancient Synagogue in City of Sardis

There was one other feature about Sardis that almost seems like a throwaway but it’s a throwaway Jesus seizes on when He speaks to the church. In Sardis there was the great temple to Artemis that’s been under construction for hundreds of years but its elaborate plan had never been finished. It’s with these in mind, Jesus speaks to the church:

You are just like the city in which you dwell, indistinguishable from pagan beliefs and pagan practises. You have great showcase appearance but you’re all façade. Starters but not completers. All excited when you started out in your faith but you’ve fallen asleep from who you’ve been called to be. Now you’re just fitting in – appearing acceptable and palatable, wanting to be embraced by the world. You have your community fairs, and your ‘be kind to animals’ decals. But display of faith centered in Me - nowhere to be found. Bishop Tom Wright describes Sardis, As a church quietly drowning in its own inoffensiveness. Tolerant of all things, committed to none.

To this church, Jesus notably appears as the One who holds the 7 Spirits :1, a descriptor of the Holy Spirit. Significantly though, what Jesus holds in His possession – the Holy Spirit, the Sardis church doesn’t hold in theirs. It’s the absence of the Holy Spirit that gives rise to things like the Jesus Seminar that a number of years ago discounted the deity of Jesus. This group of liberal theologians, like those in Sardis thought their opinions were supreme as they voted, using red or green beads, to express whether, in their opinion, Jesus did or didn’t do certain things. By majority vote, they decided what supernatural acts did and didn’t belong in God’s supernatural book.

Robert Funk, the group’s leader concluded: We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus’ divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God. The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.

Simply, these are the conclusions of the spiritually dead. Jesus’ words to this church functioning as if all routes lead to heaven, “Wake up – you are dead!”

But wake up to what? The first is obvious, see yourself for who you are. Despite your appearance, your religion, your compassion and acts of charity, there’s no life here. Without God’s Spirit living in our lives as forgiven children of God, we are as Scripture says, dead in our trespasses and sins Eph 2:1. But in our denial, we just pull up the covers and go back to sleep, thinking ourselves safe.

There’s a related truth to be awakened to and that’s Jesus’ warning of imminent danger that If you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come to you Rev 3:1

Paul writes, For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 1 Thess 5:2-3

Matthew warns, For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming…. Mat 24:37 – 42

As Jesus speaks to the Sardis church, in :3 He warns, “Remember what (the word) you received.” The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to show us Jesus for who He is and bring all glory to Him. The Holy Spirit is also given to enable us to live with faith, with hope, with joy, with power.

Any ministry that is not Holy Spirit empowered will accomplish little. Our teaching may be eloquent - but not inspired; our worship may be boisterous - but not transforming; our programs may be filled - but not filling. The absence of the Holy Spirit gives us religious activity but it doesn’t give us life everlasting. The absence of the Holy Spirit gives us church but it doesn’t give us Jesus - the Lord. The Holy Spirit points us to embrace a resurrected, redeeming Jesus but also to embrace a supernatural powerful Christ who loves us but also convicts of sin. This was missing in the Sardis church and too often, the power of the Holy Spirit is missing in our lives as well.

Similar to what a visiting pastor observed in a church where a red and orange banner was prominently displayed featuring a burning fire under which were written the words - Come Holy Spirit. Directly underneath that on the wall, a much smaller sign, which ironically read: Fire extinguisher. An apt warning of what we can easily do - Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thess 5:17

To this church Jesus comes with a command to repent and wake up. That command also comes with a dire warning, I will never blot out the name of that person from the Book of Life 3:5. Your name being blotted out or erased, a truth given in various places of Scripture Dan: 12:1,2; Ex 32:33, Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3; Rev 20:15; 21:27: 22:19. Notice - no names crossed through - but treated as if they as if they’ve never been and only those names who are Christ’s will be found in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

This understanding is illustrated well in an account I read of a vocalist who sang at a celebrity wedding with the reception following at an exclusive location. Despite its reputation as a destination for the rich and famous, the grandeur of this reception surpassed anything the venue had ever hosted. The singer and her husband could hardly contain their excitement. But there was a problem, when they checked in, the attendant couldn’t find their names on the guest list. A check of the seating plan yielded the same results. Despite all her protests about who she was and the role she had played in the wedding, the attendant’s response was the same – ‘No name, no entry!’ As they drove away, she tearfully admitted to her husband that she’d been so busy with other things, she never bothered to RSVP. She just assumed all would be well because of who she was.

Is it possible you are treating God’s invitation the same way? Something you’ll get around to some day - after other lifestyles are lived and other pursuits are done. That you’ll get serious about Jesus when you’re older. Or perhaps, you’re banking on some belief that you bring so much to the table, an exception will be made. I can only tell you what is stated in God’s Word, if you have never accepted Jesus’ invitation for new life in Christ, you too will hear, ‘No name, no entry!’

2 cities are left to consider: one filled with hope and one with little evidence of hope. First the hope: the city of PHILADELPHIA had so many temples and pillars, it was called little Athens, her purpose to spread the gospel of the Greek culture to the world - her art, architecture and sculpture. In Philadelphia, pillars were everywhere due to the custom of erecting pillars to honor people of influence - their names carved in stone, their version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The problem was, that stone wasn’t as unbreakable as it appeared. Situated in an earthquake zone, the city suffered several seasons of destruction. On one occasion Philadelphia was at the epicentre of a devastating quake but an appeal to Rome enabled the city to rebuild. Grateful for Rome’s assistance, the city was renamed to honor Caesar. Years later disaster struck again and once more the city was renamed to honor her deliverer. So Philadelphia became known as the city of new names but underneath the canopy of those new names, citizens still lived in fear.

The instability of the quakes and continuous aftershocks caused many to fear ongoing dangers of falling stone so most lived outside the city in tents. It was said that citizens rarely went in and out of the city - the gates of the city were effectively shut off from normal living.

:9 tells of another shut door. The Jews, believing themselves true heirs of David held the key to the synagogue - controlling who entered, who worshipped, who socialized, who transacted business. With that key in hand, these ‘true’ Jews shut the doors to any Jew who became a Christ follower. That exclusion meant these Christians no longer had the exclusion given Jews of not having to declare allegiance to Caesar as god. Their refusal to give this vow put them in danger with Rome.

To this church, Jesus identifies Himself as the Holy and True One who holds the Key of David; the only One who has power to open and shut :7; the only One who has authority to grant access to God’s House. This is a reference to Is. 22 where an account is given of Eliakim, to whom God gives the key to all the treasures of the house of David after God tears it from the hands of Shebnah, an unfaithful servant, to whom God says, What right do you have to be here … behold the Lord is about to hurl you headlong and roll you up like a ball and cast you aside where you will die. Is 22:16-18

So the reassurance Jesus gives to the faithful believers in Philadelphia, He holds the Key, He holds the future and though you now may live in instability and chaos, with little power and shut doors, know this, I have put before you an open door which no man can shut. That despite what you see, the God you serve, opens doors that have been locked: doors over which has been written - No hope. No rescue. No answers. Your marriage, not done. Your condition, not pre-determined. Your fate, not sealed. Your addiction, not hopeless. I put before you an open door which no man can shut.

Ruins of Philadelphia Church in Turkey

You who are surrounded by glorious temples and magnificent pillars, testimony to wealth, fame and importance, know this – the things built will not last And you, who because of your faith, have experienced shut doors and stripped resources – you who have stood alone against the tide in your school, in your youth group, in your workplace, in your family, know this, you are not forgotten, you are not unseen - you are loved – God’s name etched on you. You will walk in victorious white robes and in times to come, you’ll know the blessing of what being known and loved by God means :9,11. That is the gospel we are to live in and give from - hope to a fear filled world.

In a time where strong personalities and loud voices oppose. Whose strident tones declare what we believe is unwelcome. Where the powerful and positioned etch their beliefs as the standard we are to believe. In this world it’s easy to think ourselves small, our faith powerless. But hear Christ’s promise for those who are faithful – I will make you a pillar in the Temple of My GOD. And I will give you MY new name :12 – not etched in stone – but engraved in Jesus. A Temple that will never be shaken, its doors never shut, in a City that will never end.

I’d love to end on this note of hope but we don’t as we are taken into our last city of LAODICEA, a city sitting in between the mountain city of Colossae and the nearby white, mineral terraces of Hierapolis. Hierapolis was known for its healing, hot mineral springs, (waters Joanne and I ‘therapeutically’ enjoyed some years back); while Colossae was known for its mountain cold waters.

Laodicea, not having a water supply of her own, piped in water from Hierapolis but by the time it got there, waters were no longer hot. Colossae’s cold mountain waters were also piped in but by the time they arrived, they were no longer cold. So the hot water didn’t heal and the cold water didn’t refresh. On the contrary, the mineral laden water was good for nothing. Those who drank these waters, vomited from the experience.

As you’d rightly assume from Laodicea’s capacity to deliver water from these 2 cities, the city was self-sufficient and wealthy with a banking center that had made her rich and proud. In fact when the city was destroyed by a quake in AD 60, she refused Rome’s offer of assistance. Tacitus writes, “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources and with no help from us.” Her wealth came from a variety of sources including a medical centre that specialized in an eye salve and ear ointment and a clothing industry, famous for its black garments.

To this church Jesus identifies Himself as: the Amen the True, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of God’s Creation :14. In this Jesus saying, I am revealing to you what I have witnessed and what is true. In your self-sufficiency and pride, you are disconnected from me, living without impact, living far from the purpose for which you were created. Worse, you fail to see who you are. You bring neither healing nor refreshment. You think yourself rich but you’re not. You think you have reason to be proud but your pride is based on the unimportant. You think yourself needing no one but your resources are empty. Jesus’ assessment – all you have, all you value – of no worth. Your lives of little impact. Any hope clung to – nothing that will hold.

I wonder if that is what could be said of our pursuit of Jesus? Lukewarm. Going through the motions. Present, but far distant from His presence. Invested, but not for Him. Preoccupied with other loves. Not living according to who God has made you to be, not hot, not cold – just lukewarm. And as such, our impact for things that matter, almost none.

Ruins of Ancient City of Laodicea in Turkey

Halford Luccock notes, “if the habits of the company in the Upper Room had been like the habits common in our churches today… Peter and his wife would be away at their weekend cottage on Lake Galilee. Bartholomew had guests and couldn’t come. Philip and his family were up late and overslept. Andrew had an appointment to buy a new fishing boat and James had to stay at home and clean up the carpentry shop

To the Laodicean church Jesus says this: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. :15-18

Christ’s critique of the Laodicea church and the assessment of the other churches we’ve looked at, demand a response based on how Jesus sees us – as a church, certainly but far more importantly, as individuals. Our need to honestly see what our relationship with Christ really is now – not some time long ago. Jesus calls us to return and repent, His promise to provide for us in ways that will change everything. In the case of what we’re told in Laodicea - His white clothing of righteousness instead of the nakedness of our past and present, His gold for our poverty and His eye salve for our blindness. And with the return of our sight, seeing Jesus for Who He is.

With those riches and so many more in hand, His call - Repent. Wake up. Come Alive. And His invitation: Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and He with Me. :20

So what’s your response? Is Jesus this morning knocking on your heart’s door, asking to come in. Is Jesus this morning inviting you to sit down and dine with Him – to have a life transforming heart to heart?

Right now, right here, not putting it off because as Scripture reminds, this could very well be, last call to come and get right with Jesus. No matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done.

His promise clear - I will come in to him and will dine with him, and He with Me.

All dependent on what you do with the door between you and Him that waits to be opened.

Compilation of videos of the 7 churches in the Book of Revelations

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