According to Greek Mythology, Midas was a king of great fortune who ruled the country of Phrygia, in Asia Minor. He had everything a king could wish for. He lived in luxury in a great castle. He shared his life of abundance with his beautiful daughter. Even though he was very rich, Midas thought that his greatest happiness was provided by gold.
One day, Dionyssus, the god of wine and revelry, passed through the kingdom of Midas. While there, he granted the king one wish. Midas thought for a while and then said, “I wish that everything I touch becomes gold.” After warning the king of the dangers of his wish, Dionyssus consented, and from that day forward, everything he touched turned to gold. He extended his arm touching a small table. Immediately the table turned into gold. Midas jumped with happiness! He then touched a chair, the carpet, the door, his bathtub, another table, and so he kept on running in his madness all over his palace until he got exhausted and happy at the same time!
He sat at the table he had turned to gold to have breakfast. Once seated, he took a rose between his hands to smell its fragrance. When he touched it, the rose became gold. “I will have to absorb the fragrance without touching the roses, I suppose,” he thought in disappointment. Without thinking, he reached for a grape but it also turned into gold! The same happened with a slice of bread and a glass of water.
Suddenly, he started to sense fear. Tears filled his eyes, and at that moment, his beloved daughter entered the room. When Midas hugged her, she turned into a golden statue! Despaired and fearful, he raised his arms and cried out to Dionyssus to take this curse from him. Taking pity on him, Dionyssus told Midas to go to the river Pactolus and wash his hands. Midas did so. Gold flowed from his washed hands down the river. When he returned home, everything Midas touched became normal again, including his daughter. Filled with gratitude, Midas vowed to become a better person, generous and grateful for all the good things in his life.
Why tell this story? Because the Pactolus River ran through the city of Sardis! Gold was discovered in that river. As a result, Sardis became one of the wealthiest cities of the ancient world. So wealthy, that it was in Sardis where modern money was born. Sardis was the first city in the history of the world, too mint gold and silver into coins.
The Church at Sardis
I have titled this sermon, “Close to Home,” because of the five churches studied thus far, Sardis (both the city and the church) may be the most like our city and the churches in our city. Our county is one of the top-ten wealthiest counties in the United States. The median household income in Williamson County is $104,367. For the state the median is $47,243, and for the country it is $59,039. According to a 2015 study by Hartford Institute for Religion, Tennessee has more mega-churches per-capita than anywhere else in the United States. A large number of those large churches are located in Middle Tennessee. In our own city, there seems to be a church on every corner. As a county, we are both wealthy, and religious. Just like Sardis. Jesus could very well have written this letter us, saying, “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 2:1). Ouch! That hits close to home!
About thirty-five miles south-east of Thyatira was the city of Sardis. Sardis set on top of a hill with cliffs all around. The cliffs surrounding the city were so steep they were virtually impossible to climb. The only way into the city was along a narrow road to the south. In A.D. 17, along with the city of Philadelphia, Sardis was hit by a massive earthquake. One local historian of the time said it was the worst natural disaster in the history of mankind. But because of its wealth, Sardis quickly recovered. If Thyatira was a city of working-class people, Sardis was a city for the upper-class. Last week we were on one side of the tracks. This week we are on the other side. Life was easy in Sardis. Maybe too easy.
To the church in this city, Jesus says, “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” (Revelation 3:1a). The number “7” seems to be of importance in Revelation, if not all the Bible. Most scholar believe that “7” is the number of perfection or completeness. If that is the case, the “seven spirits of God” could be a reference to the Holy Spirit; the perfect and complete Spirit of God. It also could be a reference to the Holy Spirit that rested upon the Messiah as outlined in Isaiah 11:2. “The (1) Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the (2) Spirit of wisdom and of (3) understanding, the (4) Spirit of counsel and of (5) power, the (6) Spirit of knowledge and of the (7) fear of the Lord.” Through this image of Christ, the letter to Sardis is making it clear that it is the Holy Spirit of God that is discerning what is really going on in the life (or death) of the church in Sardis. It is God the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, that holds the pastors of the seven churches in His hands. The Holy Spirit does not look on the outward things, and neither is He impressed by the outward, the Holy Spirit looks at the heart of things. This is another truth that hits close to home.
What’s really going on in Sardis? The only compliment given is that Jesus “knows your deeds.” But that is not really a compliment because their deeds are not as they seem. Rather, the compliment is really part of the critique of the church. Jesus says, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 2:1b). When it came to their faith, the church in Sardis was a mile wide (lots of good deeds) but an inch deep (not very strong in their beliefs). Ouch! Once again, that hits close to home. There are many of us who have a lot of years walking with Jesus, but very little to show for it. We have been busy being busy. We’ve got a lot of experience, but very little growth. We think we are alive, but in reality, we are dying. We are like that pet hamster on his wheel, running full speed, but not really going anywhere.
What causes a person, or a church, to lull themselves into thinking they are one thing while in reality they are another? In his classic work, Letters to the Seven Churches, Scottish pastor and scholar, William Barclay says there are four attitudes that threaten to kill any church: (1) A Church is in danger of death when it begins to worship its own past. (2) A Church is in danger of death when it is more concerned with forms than with life. (3) A Church is in danger of death when it loves systems more than it loves Jesus Christ. (4) A Church is in danger of death when it is more concerned with material things than with spiritual things. And again I say, that hits close to home.
The challenge for Sardis is also our challenge. John’s letter continues, “Wake up!” (Revelation 3:2a). The Christians in Sardis had become comfortable. Life was good. There was no persecution. They were wealthy and well-fed. Being a Christian in Sardis was easy. No sacrifices needed. Jesus is telling them (and us) to “snap out of their spiritual haze and dullness of senses so they can become aware of what is going on in the spirit.” A far greater danger to our faith than persecution is prosperity.
Jesus continues, “Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. 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” (Revelation 3:2b-3). Jesus’ challenge to the church is fivefold: (1) Wake up. (2) Strengthen your faith. (3) Remember what you have been taught. (4) Obey what you know to do. (5) Repent. If they don’t do these things, Jesus says they will be destroyed. Unfortunately, that is what happened. The church did not heed His warning. Because Sardis was home to a large number of Jewish people, in A.D. 70, on their way to devastate Jerusalem, the Roman Army completely destroyed Sardis. The destruction was sudden and unexpected, just like a “thief in the night.”
However, the promise made to Sardis is still our promise. “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:4-6).
White garments are mentioned frequently in Revelation. White robes were worn in triumphal processions. They were also worn by newly baptized believers. Jesus is promising that if you remain faithful and loyal to Him, you will be given victory and honor.
White garments, because of their connection with baptism, also represented new life. Thus, Jesus promises that if you remain true to Him, you will have new and eternal life. Your name will never be blotted out of His book. Cities, like Sardis, had an official register that listed the names of all its citizens. If a citizen was condemned for a capital crime, the authorities would literally remove his or her name from the registry. Thus, removing his or her citizenship. The condemned person could now be executed without damaging the city’s reputation. But Jesus has forgiven you of your sins. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You are now citizens of God’s kingdom. Your name has been written in His registry book, and your name will never be removed. Jesus will never leave you, nor forsake you, nor disown you.
The lesson behind the story of King Midas is about the danger of greed and the beauty of contentment. All the gold in the world will not make you happy. Life is about relationships. Abundant life is about your relationship with Jesus. Later, in Revelation, John states that the streets in heaven are paved with pure gold (Revelation 21:21). All this talk about gold reminds me of a story.
Once upon a time a very wealthy and arrogant man knew he was about to die. He proudly boasted to his family and friends that he had figured out a way to take his wealth with him after he died. In preparation for his passing, he liquidated all his assets into pure gold. He instructed his family to, upon his death, place all his gold in a bag and place it inside the coffin with him.
Soon the man died, and as he walked up to the pearly gates to meet St. Peter, he threw his bag of cold over his shoulder. Once at the pearly gates, St. Peter asked what he had in the bag.
“It’s all my worldly wealth in gold,” the man proudly said. “I’m bringing it with me.”
“You can’t bring that in here,” replied St. Peter. “You need to let go of that bag if you want to come in.”
The man considered his options for a while, but then decided he could not let go of his gold. So, he turned around and headed in the opposite direction.
As he walked away, St. Peter shook his head in disbelief, saying to himself. “How sad. He is giving up everything for a bag full of asphalt.”
Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). There is more to this life than this life. What will be important when you stand before God is not how much stuff you have, or don’t have, but what you say about Jesus. If you have trusted Him with your life, then wake up, strengthen your faith, remember what you have been taught, obey what you know to do, and repent. Remain faithful to the end and you will be given a robe of victory and honor and your name will never be removed from the book of life.
If the believers in Sardis could live out their faith in that city, surely we can live out our faith in our city.
 William Barclay. Letters to the Seven Churches (2001). Westminster John Knox Press, p. 56.
 Mega-churches are defined as a church with an average weekend attendance of 2,000 or more.
 The numbers in parenthesis are added for clarification.
 William Barclay, p. 62.
 Jonathan Welton, Understanding the Seven Churches of Revelation (2015). Welton Academy, Rochester, NY, p. 109.