Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth calls you to appreciate the Bible.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We are so casual with the Word of God. We even just throw that phrase off our lips so easily. But this is God speaking. If we really believed that would we not be on our faces, on our knees? Would there not be conviction? Would there not be wholehearted surrender? Would there not be transformation in our lives if we received this as the Word of God?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Wednesday, October 4, 2017.

Jesus dictated seven letters to seven first century churches. This week we began looking at the letter to the church at Sardis in the series "Wake Up." Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: The city of Sardis was built on a plateau that reaches up 1,500 feet over the valley floor. This plateau city was surrounded on three sides by smooth rock walls that go almost straight up, almost perpendicular to the ground. There was no way to scale those walls.

In the ancient days the only way to get into the city was one entrance on the south side. And the path leading up to the city was steep and difficult to climb. So this was a city that was considered impregnable. They felt secure, and as a result, they became complacent. And they were prone to let down their guard.

On two different occasions—one time in 549 B.C by Cyrus the Persian king and again in 218 B.C—the city was invaded by enemies without so much as a battle because they climbed the walls during the night while guards at that single entrance were being careless and sleeping on the job. They let down their defenses; they let the enemy over the walls, and the city was invaded.

A similar thing had happened to the church in Sardis at the end of the first century when Revelation was written. When the letter from Jesus was read, the one we’ve been talking about over the last few days, it would have brought to people’s minds the history of the city and how by carelessness and complacency those walls had been compromised and penetrated.

Let me go back to Revelation chapter 3, verse 1, if you’re just joining us for the series, and read the first few verses of this passage. Then we’ll pick up our discussion of what Jesus was saying to the churches then and now.

To the angel of the church at Sardis write: "The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.'”

The reputation, what people could see is that they were alive and thriving, but the reality is that they were dead. It was true of the church. It was true of many, if not most, of the individuals in that church. Now Jesus says in verse 2,

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

“Wake up,” Jesus says. Some of your translations say, “Be alert. Be watchful.” It’s a word that means "to rouse," "to refrain from sleep," "to watch carefully.” One Bible dictionary says, “It’s a mindfulness of threatening dangers which, with conscious earnestness and an alert mind, keeps one from all drowsiness and all slackening in the energy of faith and conduct.”

Now that’s a long sentence, and I don’t expect that you got that copied down. You can go to the transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com and get that word for word. It’s a long sentence just saying it’s, “Wake up from your sleep, and stay on your guard. Stay watchful. Be watchful.”

Let me give you a shorter definition from Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, which is a long title for one of the references I use more often than any other in my own study. It’s a great help for understanding what these words meant in the Scripture times.

But he says that this word wake up, be watchful, means “vigilance and expectancy as contrasted with laxity and indifference.” It means stay awake. Be continuously watching.

As I was meditating on that phrase, that word wake up, be watchful over the last few days; a thought came to mind of the time several years ago when I was in an audience where President Bush was speaking, then President Bush. And I was on maybe the six or seventh row, so I had a pretty good seat. There were Secret Service men stationed pretty much everywhere.

But as you would look straight ahead to the platform where the President was speaking, there were men who were standing one on either side of him maybe ten, fifteen feet off to the left and off to the right. And they were standing facing the audience, so standing parallel to the President.

They had their hands folded down in front of them and their eyes were just going from left to right, from left to right the whole time. They were watching. They were alert. You couldn’t help but wonder if I jumped or did something strange were one of them going to come? What were they going to do? Were they going to come after you? I didn’t want to test it.

But they were watchful. They were alert. That’s what they got paid to do, to watch. They were guarding the President. So they couldn’t sleep on the job. They couldn’t be drinking their Starbucks. They needed to be alert and watchful that whole time.

Jesus is saying to the people in this church in Sardis, “Be spiritually alert. Be watchful. Be awake. Don’t let yourself fall asleep spiritually even if everyone else around you does.”

There’s an interesting pair of passages in Isaiah 51 and 52. In Isaiah 51 the people of God are discouraged. They’re basically saying, “Where is God?” It seems to them like God is asleep, like He’s not doing anything.

So they plead with Him to wake up and come to their aid. And they say in chapter 51:9, “Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in days of old, and generations of long ago.” Remember what it was like when God moved in times past and the great miracles of God.

They said, “We’re not seeing God at work today like we did at one time.” And they cry out, “Lord, wake up! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord.” They cry out to Him.

I find myself at times and others who do as we think about what God has done in reviving and awakening His Church at times in the past. We think about how God moved in times in history.

We look around today, and we say, “What’s happening?” We want to cry out. We know God’s not asleep. But we want to say, “Wake up, Lord! Do something about this mess. Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in days of old, the generations of long ago.”

Then we come to the next chapter, Isaiah 52, where God says essentially in response, “I’m not the one who is asleep. You need to wake up.” Isaiah 52:1:

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city . . . Shake yourself from the dust and arise . . . loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion (vv. 1–2).

We’re saying, “Oh Lord, where are you? Wake up! Do something.” And God is saying, “Where are you? Wake up!”

Now we’ve said that it’s only the Holy Spirit of God that can awaken us from our slumber, from our sleep. And that’s why we need to pray, “Holy Spirit, move in reviving and awakening and quickening those who are comatose, those who are dead, those who are sleeping.” Whatever their condition is, if they’re not where they need to be spiritually, if we’re not where we need to be, wake us up.

And God says, “Yes, you need to wake up, and that’s what I want to do for you.”

In Ephesians 5:14 you see this same thought: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

It’s a call to spiritual alertness, to spiritual watchfulness. “Wake up,” Jesus says to the church. “Be watchful.”

And then He says, “Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (Rev. 3:2).

Now remember that this church had a great reputation in the eyes of men. “You have a reputation for being alive.” They were considered an effective, vital, vibrant church.

But Jesus says, “It’s not the eyes of men. It’s not what men see that really counts. It’s what God sees and what God knows.”

“I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”

It doesn’t matter if people can write your press reports, do your public relations, give you a good image, make you look great. It’s amazing how you look at some resumes and you think, This person should be the President of the United States or something. They’ve got so much experience and talent. But it’s amazing how resumes can be dressed up, how people can be dressed up, how reputations can be dressed up.

But God says, “My eyes peel all that away, and I know what the truth is. And I have not found your works complete. They’re lacking. There’s a deficiency.”

Now, this church corporately apparently still had some works. We’re not told what those are, but we can imagine that it might have been various spiritual exercises and practices and disciplines. Perhaps there was praying going on. Perhaps there was giving going on. Perhaps there was worshiping going on, so called, at least outwardly, formally, ritualistically. There was preaching probably going on.

They were going through these routines. The form was there. But what we said earlier, what was lacking was the heart, the substance, the Spirit, the breath of God. And without the breath of God, without the heart of Christ enabling and fulfilling those things in us, everything we do at church and everything we do in our spiritual disciplines is a hollow, empty routine; it’s dead works.

And so Jesus says, “If you don’t wake up and watch, the few things you do have left—the form, the external, the structure—even those things will die off.”

And by and large—I was thinking about this this morning—that is exactly what has happened to liberal churches all across Europe and in many parts of the United States. They’re just big, empty buildings, ornate, beautiful. Remember? We talked about mausoleums being magnificent tombs.

But I don’t think that this passage is just talking about liberal churches that no longer preach the gospel. I think it also is talking about churches where you can still hear the truth and the Word preached, but people are hollow and empty. They’re going through the motions. They’re going through the routine. They do not have the breath of God, the Spirit of God, the life of God within them.

And so Jesus says in verse 3, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent." Remember what you received and heard. What did you receive? What did you hear?

“Well, you received the gospel,” Paul says to the Corinthians. You received the teaching of the apostles. You received the Word of God. That’s what you received.

Now, I’m not a Greek scholar, but the commentaries I read said that that phrase might be better translated not “what you received and heard,” but “remember how you received and heard.” I can’t tell you which it is and some translations say one and some say another. But I think either could be true.

We need to remember both what we received and heard and how we received and heard it.

What do you mean by that?

Let me ask you to turn in your Bible to 1 Thessalonians chapter 1. And let me give you a great illustration as to how some of these early believers received the truth of God’s Word. And maybe you will relate to this as you think about the days when you first became a Christian—the freshness, the vibrancy, the vitality, the way that you received and heard the truth

First Thessalonians 1 beginning in verse 6:

You became imitators of us and of the Lord [Paul says], for you received the word in much affliction.

There was a lot of testing. There was a lot of adversity. It was costly to be a Christian.

[But] you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit [irrepressible joy, inextinguishable joy] so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of God sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (vv. 6–9).

These people didn’t hear the truth and just sit there like bumps on logs. They received the Word with joy and the Holy Spirit. They responded to it. They acted on it. As a result the testimony of their faith and their love for Christ went out to many, many others within that whole region. They actually repented of their idol worship, and they turned from idols to the living and true God.

These were not Christians in name only, nominal Christians, Christians with just a name that they were alive. These were people who really, truly had been made alive by the Spirit of God. Go to chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 13.

We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Can you imagine how our church services, our family devotions, our personal devotions would be different if we received the Word of God the way the Thessalonians received it?

What do you mean?

He’s saying, “You didn’t receive this as just some person talking to you, some man standing in the pulpit. You received this teaching from the apostles and the teachers in the early church. You received it as the Word of God.”

This is God speaking. This is God’s Word. You trembled at the Word of the Lord. You waved that white flag of surrender and said, “Yes, Lord, whatever You say.”

We are so casual with the Word of God. We even just throw that phrase off our lips so easily. But this is God speaking.

  • If we really believed that would we not be on our faces, on our knees?
  • Would there not be conviction?
  • Would there not be wholehearted surrender?
  • Would there not be transformation in our lives if we received this as the Word of God?

Jesus says, “Remember then what you received and heard. Remember how you received it, how you heard it, and now keep it and repent.”

If you have any life at all in you, spiritual life, you received the Word at one time with humility, with faith, with obedience, with surrender, and with joy. You let it go to work in your life and it changed you.

I was talking with a mother and daughter who are here. I known them for a number of years. They've been a part of these recordings, and I've watched God do amazing things in both these women's lives. I said, "You get the prize for the most changed women I've seen in a long time." They look different. They are different because they have received the Word of God for what it really is, and it has transformed them from the inside out.

Jesus says to remember what and how your heard and start living that way again.

I received an email within the last few days from the leader of one of the Life Action Ministries road teams. As you know, Life Action Ministries is the parent ministry for Revive Our Hearts. Our ministry has three road teams that travel and minister revival principles and truths in local churches all across the country for nine or ten months a year.

One of our revivalists forwarded an email that came from a man in one of the churches where they just concluded a meeting. And here’s what that man said:

I am thirty-two years old, and I have known the Lord and "believed" for many years. "Believed" would be the operative word there. Believed but not lived.

It sounds like the people in Sardis doesn’t it? You have a reputation that you are alive but you’re dead. This man said,

Before Life Action visited my church, I was an extremely stagnant and stubborn "Christian," if you could call me a Christian at all. I was only attending church because my wife (praise God for her influence) had gotten me to attend. I didn’t pray with my wife and family, except the occasional prayer at the very rare family dinner. I didn’t sit with my children and teach them God’s Word.

I felt that I was doing okay in my life because I had comfortable finances, a semi-happy family, and now I was even going to church. Basically, Satan had me right where he wanted me.

He’s got a lot of people right where he wants them. You have a reputation for being alive but you are dead. He goes on to say,

The first time my wife told me that we were having a "Revival" at the church, I basically scoffed and laughed at the word, while making a motion as though I were playing a tambourine and shouting hallelujah. If I had known what I was about to go through, I wouldn’t have done that. After hearing some very hard-to-hear things, I finally found myself saying, "Yes Lord."

As soon as I was willing to be quiet and listen to what God had sent these wonderful people here to say, the flood gates opened and all the conviction I had experienced for the last ten years came back in a powerful way. I listened and did what God asked.

God placed it on my heart to modify many different aspects of my life. . . .  He placed it on my heart to remove all music except that which has Christian lyrics. . . . I now pray with my wife. I pray with my family, and we also started a family time that includes reading God’s Word together. I had never done any of this, so it was strange at first, but God guided my wife and me. . . . Thank you for giving me back my family. Thank you for helping give me back to God.

I love the way he says that. Giving me back to God.

I’ll be eternally grateful.

Now Jesus says to the church in Sardis, and He says to us in our churches today, “If you will not wake up, if you will not be watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

Jesus says, “I’m coming.” And commentators differ as to if He’s talking about the Second Coming of Christ. Most seem to think that He’s not, though that is the ultimate coming, but that He’s talking about a prior visitation in which He will judge and discipline this church and the people in it.

Regardless, if He’s coming in more immediate judgment and discipline, that final coming will the one where the ultimate books are opened and the record is told and the final judgment will take place.

But Jesus says, “I am coming like a thief.” Now, not to steal but in the sense that as He says, “You will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

A thief doesn’t announce his arrival. A thief doesn’t call ahead and say, “I’ll be there at 3:00 in the morning.” He doesn’t let you know when he’s coming. He catches you by surprise. You don’t know when he’s coming. You can’t predict the timing. He’s coming at an unexpected moment, Jesus is saying.

So that ought to create a sense of urgency. And the people of Sardis knew how important that watchfulness was, how wakefulness was, because years earlier when enemies had scaled their walls and invaded their city it had happened suddenly, unexpectedly, when they weren’t being watchful and they weren’t alert.

In the same way, Jesus is saying if so-called believers in our churches don’t wake up and repent, if they are not vigilant in examining the state of their souls, Christ will come against them when they least expect it in judgment or in chastening in this life or at the end of time.

There are many, many Scriptures that you could cite here that talk about this need for constant spiritual vigilance and watchfulness. Jesus said in Matthew 24, “Stay awake.” Other translations say, “Be alert. Keep watch for you do not know what day your Lord is coming” (v. 42).

The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5: “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake [be awake, be on the watch], and be sober” (v. 6).

So the call of Jesus to the church then and now and our hearts is, be vigilant. Keep watch over your own heart. Don't drift spiritually. It happens so easily.

Keep watch over the hearts of others—over your children, over others around you. Not in the sense of we are responsible to control them. But be alert, be prayerful, be watchful. Moms, wives, praying for your husbands, praying for your children, your grandchildren, praying for others in your church.

Be alert to the schemes of the evil one. Keep watch for spiritual predators who would try to steal or pervert the gospel of Jesus.

Keep watch for Christ so you won’t get caught off guard when He comes. Be ready. Be watchful. Be waiting. Be awake for Him so that when He comes, you can see Him coming with anticipation and with joy rather than with fear, with dread, or with indifference.

Leslie: Jesus called the church of Sardis to wake up, and Nancy’s been helping each of us evaluate our hearts. Are we awake today? That message is part of the series called "Wake Up." That series is part of a longer project studying the letters to the churches we read about in Revelation 1–3.

A listener heard one of these series from Revelation then read some follow up material on the web. She wrote us to say, “This really pierced my heart this morning. I did not realize how far I have walked away.”

We’re so thankful God provides opportunities to connect with women, encouraging them to wake up. Our listeners make it possible. When you support us with a much needed donation, it will help us know that the program is effective in your community and it will help us continue ministering in your area.

So let us know the call letters of your station when you contact us. When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you a Bible study booklet that will help you get to know these letters to the churches in Revelation even deeper. You’ve heard Nancy teaching on these letters, but now you can study them on your own.

This booklet, called Ears to Hear, is a tool to help you in that study. Ask for Ears to Hear when you call with a gift of any size to Revive Our Hearts. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you’ve been faithfully serving God in a struggling church, don't be discouraged. Nancy will provide hope for you and your church tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you wake up to God's calling. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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