by Roger McCay
30 May 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 3:1-6
Link to Audio Version
Dogwood trees have always been a favorite of mine. So, I incorporated them into my initial design for the yard, which we’ve been slowly developing since moving here to Monroeville. We planted two dogwood trees in a front bed, hoping the two large pines would provide enough shade for them as they developed. But we lost both, and not through neglect. It is telling, at least for me, that they both came from a particular nursery, while other dogwoods around the property, which came from the extension office, are doing quite well. Anyway, as it was, one of the dogwoods in the front bed died pretty quickly. Dry and brittle, I pulled it up by its trunk and the whole root system pulled out, having not expanded into the surrounding ground at all. The other one lasted almost two years, but coming into spring this year it had died. I had hopes for it, as it had leaves going into winter last year, looking alive. But it was, apparently, already dying. As we started rolling up on spring, I noticed a bunch of the branches had died and were brittle. But I continued to hope, as a few of the branches had some bend in them showing life. As it turned out, though, by that point, the tree had moved into a mostly dead state. Come spring, it never budded with leaves. I gave it some time, but a few weeks later, when we checked, all the branches were brittle. So we broke it off at the trunk and dug out its roots, replacing it with a tea olive tree.
Now, it’s a no brainer that a mostly dead state is a terrible state for a church to be in, especially when it has a façade of life, fooling itself and everyone else. But the Lord is never fooled by such things. He sees to the heart of the issue, and takes action. This was the situation of the church in Sardis. As we saw last week, the Sardian church was in a mostly dead state. It was in a spiritual slumber that had a window of time before moving into a wholly dead state. Thus, the Lord sent his warning to them here in Rev. 3:1-6. If there were no buds, then their tree (their church) was at risk of being pulled up and tossed upon the compost pile.
Last week, we looked at v. 1, the second part of v. 3 and v. 4 (also touching on v. 6). We took a look at how this message is not a message for the church in Sardis to save themselves. The Lord sounds the warning that he was coming like a thief against them, in v. 3, if they didn’t get straight. But, as we saw in v. 1, Jesus laid out the means in which he, the Great Physician, might resuscitate the church, bringing it from mostly dead to alive—through his Word, the Holy Spirit, and the authorities he has established in his church.
We also examined justification and its critical implications to our understanding of what is going on in this passage. It is an essential biblical doctrine, brought to mind by the soiled garments vs. white garments comparison that the Lord gives in v. 4, helping to explain the dynamics of the church. Unbelievers are those with soiled garments and true believers have white garments—garments which cannot be soiled. Justified by the blood of Jesus, true believers are made infinitely righteous upon being born again. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and we are made the righteousness of God. Justification is a gift of grace we receive through faith, faith itself being a gift of God received at our new birth. Such righteousness cannot be soiled, as any sin that a true believer, one of the elect, might commit is paid for already on the cross of Jesus Christ.
As it was, the church in Sardis was mostly made up of nominal Christians (Christians in name only)—unbelievers. So, though it had the semblance of life, it was mostly dead—mostly made up of dead people with dead works—the walking dead. From such a state, it had accommodated to the culture and was failing to confess Christ before both pagan and Jew. Despite this zombie apocalypse, there was a small remnant of true believers. But due to the pressures of the dead church members on top of the pressures of the culture, they seem to have been stunted in their works (v. 2). So, they needed the Lord’s help and his immediate lifesaving measures, otherwise Jesus imminently was coming against the whole church, in judgment.