2:28-29 "I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Have you ever stood outside and watched the rising of the morning star? Today we know the morning star as the planet Venus, second planet from the sun and the brightest object in the night sky. Depending on where it is in its orbital path, the morning star can be seen to rise as much as three hours before the sun. You must arise early, while it is still dark, while the sky is still jet-black. Then when the morning star appears over the horizon with its light second only to the moon in nocturnal brilliance, you will understand what an awesome symbol the Lord gives us in this passage.

In the last book of the Old Testament there is a prophecy regarding the return of Jesus Christ in power and glory: "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." When He returns visibly to the earth Jesus will be like the noonday sun breaking through the gloom of the dark night of the world.

But before the sun rises, the morning star will appear. Later in the book of Revelation, Jesus says of Himself, "I am . . . the bright Morning Star." So what Jesus is saying to the faithful believers in the corrupt church at Thyatira is that there will be two stages of the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. First He will appear as the morning star, shining brightly before dawn, coming for His own. Then, at a later period, He will appear as the shining sun, coming in all His power and glory, visible to all the world.

The promise of the morning star is in fact the promise of the Rapture or gathering of the church out of the world the first such promise in the book of Revelation. Jesus will appear to collect all those who truly belong to Him, who have been guarded by the Spirit of God from the evils of the world around them.

This is not to say that those He takes are utterly sinless. Even the most faithful and devoted Christians sometimes fail and sin. The visible sign of their faithfulness and devotion, however, is the fact that they repent, they turn back to God, and they recover. These are the ones whose faith is real. Someone once said, "If your faith fizzles before you finish it's because it was faulty from the first!" True faith holds on until the end of life.

What an amazing reality awaits us! If you and I hold on until the end, we will receive the bright morning star, Jesus Himself. Whether we have died or still live when He returns for us, He will gather us together to be with Him.

But the story doesn't end there. We know that soon after the morning star rises, the sun will also rise brilliant, powerful, visible to the whole world. Think of it: a new heaven is coming, and a new earth and we will be alive with Jesus to see it!

Revelation 3:1-6

It was one of the most depressing worship experiences I have ever had.

I was scheduled to preach in a church in a major city in Australia. I had never been to this church before, and I had no idea what to expect before I arrived.

The building was old and beautiful, fashioned out of stone and stained glass, topped with a sky-scraping spire, furnished with rich-looking carved pews, altar, and railings. An organ with enormous brass pipes filled the sanctuary with rolling swells of music.

The spacious, ornately decorated sanctuary could seat 800 worshipers, but only 35 mostly elderly worshipers were present. The choir consisted of seven elderly ladies, led by a woman who tried enthusiastically (if unsuccessfully) to coax a joyful noise from the ensemble. The organist mechanically played a few hymns, then picked up his sheet music and left.

As I awaited my time to preach I was aware that just outside this dying church a bustling city went about its business. People streamed by along the thoroughfare, totally unaware of and untouched by this church. Those within the church might as well have been worshiping inside a tomb. Today, whenever I read the letter to the church at Sardis I am reminded of that tragic, dying congregation in Australia.

Sardis was once one of the greatest cities of the world. It was at one time the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, and today its ruins can be visited near the city of Izmir, Turkey. In the sixth century B.C., Sardis was ruled by a fabulously wealthy king whose name, Croesus, became a byword for unimaginable wealth. When I was young, millionaires were said to be "as rich as Croesus" (a phrase now replaced by "as rich as an Arab sheik").

Sardis was built on a mountain spur about 1500 feet above the valley floor. It was regarded as virtually impregnable against military assault. Many armies laid siege to Sardis, but only two the Persians and Greeks ever succeeded. Both victories were achieved by stealth, not force, because the overconfident military of Sardis failed to post an adequate guard by its "impregnable" walls. Both times, small bands of spies climbed the sides of the ravine and entered an unwatched gate. So if there is one observation we could draw about the character of Sardis, it is that the city possessed a smug, complacent spirit.

The church at Sardis is the least favored of all the seven churches addressed by the Lord in Revelation. He can literally find nothing to commend in this church.
3:1 "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."
Remember that the way the Lord presents Himself to each church is a clue to what that particular church needs. In this passage He refers to Himself as the one "who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars." These images signify the Holy Spirit in His fullness and completeness. What the church at Sardis desperately needed was the Spirit, from whom all believers receive life.

They also needed to remember that Jesus is Lord of His church. It is not left to mere human beings to set up, run, and govern a church. These are the prerogatives of the Lord Himself, and the church at Sardis had forgotten this fact.

"I know your deeds," the Lord says to the church at Sardis. The life and character of a church is revealed in its deeds. And the deeds of the church in Sardis have been done not to please the Lord but to impress people. The church had built up a good reputation, but it was really dead and corrupt inside. The members of this church were, for the most part, not even believers.

Today we would call the Christians at Sardis "nominal Christians" nominal from the root word for name. They were Christians in name only. Jesus told them, "You have a reputation [a name] of being alive, but you are dead." This indicates that the church at Sardis was made up largely of people who outwardly professed Christ, but who possessed no real spiritual life.

Unfortunately, such churches have only grown more numerous in our own day. It is churches such as these which have largely created a negative image of Christianity in the world today. People see the outward profession of Christianity and hear the pious-sounding words but they see no life, no reality, to back it up. Someone once described such churches as full of "mild-mannered people, meeting in mild-mannered ways, striving to be more mild-mannered."

Calvin Coolidge, our thirtieth president, was an extremely quiet and reserved man. When questioned, he rarely answered in more than two or three words a tendency which earned him the nickname "Silent Cal." The public saw him as a stiff and emotionless man, causing Alice Roosevelt Longworth to remark, "He looks as if he'd been weaned on a pickle."

In 1933, the radio airwaves crackled with the news of Coolidge's death. Columnist Dorothy Parker was in her office at The New Yorker when a colleague flung open the door and blurted, "Dottie, did you hear? Coolidge is dead!"

Endowed with a quick but acid wit, she shot back, "How can they tell?"

And as we stand under the hot glare of our Lord's letter to Sardis we have to look honestly within and ask ourselves, "Can anyone tell if we are alive or dead? Am I truly alive or do I just have a reputation, a name, for being alive?"

The Lord's words to the church at Sardis are blunt and strong: "You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." What sort of image does that conjure up in your mind? I picture a church peopled with the walking dead. I picture scenes out of some awful Hollywood B-movie with a title like Night of the Living Dead or I Married a Zombie. And yet, a church full of zombie-like walking-dead Christians is a thousand times more terrifying to me than any old horror movie. Why? Because one of those walking corpses could be me. Or it could be you.

The letter to the "First Zombie Church of Sardis" is the most dire and somber of the seven. There are serious issues at stake in this letter eternal issues. There was a time when the Sardis church was truly alive, quickened by the Spirit of God. The people in the Sardis church once served
the needy out of a genuine love for Jesus. They worshiped out of a heart of devotion to their Lord. As a result, they won a reputation for being active and alive.

But as the book of Revelation was being written, the life had departed. A church that had once made an impact on its society had become a corpse a walking, zombie-like corpse of a church that didn't have sense enough to consent to be buried. It continued to carry out its ghastly, hollow pretense of life.