Church-Autopsy: Death’s Door by Abidan Shah, PhD

CHURCH AUTOPSY – DEATH’S DOOR by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Have you ever been on death’s door or do you know someone who has? We had a family in our church that had a little girl. I believe that she was a little younger than me. One day, when my dad was getting ready in the morning, there was a knock on our door. The brother of the wife was there, and he was really distraught and begged my dad to come and visit his niece in the hospital who was dying. My dad immediately went and, sure enough, the family was in the waiting room. He went into the child’s room and she was hooked up to all kinds of tubes and machines, mom and dad were crying. God laid on my dad’s heart to tell them that this was not the end. He asked the young couple to step out in the hallway. Then, he told them that they need to commit their hearts to God and they will see their daughter healed immediately. They did and did it genuinely. The very next moment, they heard some commotion as doctors and nurses were rushing into the room of that little girl. You guessed it – “We don’t know what’s happening but your little girl has just come back from death’s door!” This did not happen often, but it was real enough to make a big impact on that family, our church, our community, and even my life. The story does not end here, but I’ll share the rest towards the end of the message. In our series on the 7 letters by Jesus to the churches in Asia Minor, we come now to the 5th letter to the church in Sardis. The message is titled “Death’s Door.” Main point: Jesus wants us to live up to our name as believers. The Holy Spirit reminds us that he has made us alive in Christ. Failure to heed his voice is living at death’s door. Repentance brings us commendation before God the Father and the angels.

Revelation 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’”

Context: Sardis was long known as a great city in ancient times. Unfortunately, we were not able to go there because of time, but it is one we hope to visit one day. The city goes back to 1200BC and was at the height of its wealth in the sixth century BC. The king at the time was King Croesus. He filled his coffers with the gold from the mines and the sands of the river Pactolus. In fact, some claim that this is where the minting of coins first began. By the way, that’s where you get the expression “as rich as Croesus.” The point in discussing Croesus is that he became prideful and arrogant. In his pride, he lost his great kingdom to King Cyrus. He was so foolish that he did not even put guards around the acropolis. The Persians just climbed up and open the gates from the inside. In other words, they were taken by surprise because of Croesus’ complacency. Later, teachers would teach their students to avoid becoming a Croesus by being arrogant and complacent. This will all make sense in our message as we go further.

Question: Do you have a tendency to be arrogant? Do you have a tendency to be complacent? Those two things are related. They are especially bad when it comes to our Christian life. If Christ were to come today, how would he find you?

Just like the previous 4 churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira), Jesus had to send a letter of warning to the church in Sardis as well. There were things going on there that were not right. As I mentioned last week, all 7 letters have the same format. To keep in line with the medical imagery of the autopsy, we have made each point a medical reference in this series. (Forewarning: hardest message in the series)


1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

Jesus has 2 titles here: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.”

Seven Stars – Revelation 1:20 “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.” So, seven stars are the pastors of the seven churches.

Seven Spirits – This is harder to understood. It is also mentioned in Revelation 1:4“John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.” We know that the Holy Spirit is one. Then, what is happening here? There are 2 Old Testament passages that shed light on this.

  • Isaiah 11       1 “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears.” It seems that there are only 6 attributes of the Holy Spirit but verse 3 has the “spirit of judgment,” which makes it 7.
  • Zechariah 4 gets even closer – 1 Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep. 2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” So I said, “I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps… 10For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Revelation 4:5 “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” Revelation 5:6 “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” John was not writing in a vacuum. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was listening to the voice of Jesus with the Old Testament Scriptures before him.

Several points here: The Trinity is not some invention of the church council of early Christianity. The idea of 3 and yet one was always there. Jesus is declaring that he is not alone in talking to the church in Sardis. The Holy Spirit, the second person of the godhead, is with him. As Deuteronomy 17 and 2 Corinthians 13 remind us that “every charge must be established by the hand of 2-3 witnesses.” It’s not that Jesus only has a problem with the church in Sardis but the Holy Spirit also has a problem.

Application: Can you sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life? Is Jesus and the Holy Spirit bringing a charge against you regarding some sin?


1 “…‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

When the doctor comes to you after a test, you expect him to give you the good news and the bad news. What if he says, “We have bad news and we have more bad news!” Sardis gets no complements. Later we will see that there are some who are doing right but overall, the church is dead. Something very interesting is that the word “onoma” or “name” is mentioned four times in this letter:

  • 1 “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
  • 4 “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments”
  • 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

In Hebrew thought, name depicted a person’s inner reality (Peter, Paul, Sarah, and Esther), but in Greek thought it was just an external or superficial identification. So also, the church in Sardis had gone from being known as something real to just in name only. They were not living up to their names. This will help explain the other difficult passages.

Question: Have you become a name only? Are you going through the motions that appear real but are empty?

2 “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.”

“Genou Gregoron” – Be alert! Be vigilant! Don’t be a Croesus! 

Strengthen the things that remain – certain aspects of the church but also people.

Works Perfect from “plerao” could be “perfect” but also mean “convincing.”

Question: Are you alert? Are you strengthening the weaker things in your life? Are you strengthening those who are struggling? Are your works convincing to God?


3 “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent…”

Go down memory lane. Also, “hold fast” or “guard.” No substitute to repentance.

3 “…Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” The Bible warns us of the imminent return of Christ.

  • Matthew 24       43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
  • 2 Peter 3:10   But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
  • Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

Question: Are you ready? This very instant you could be standing before God.

4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

This is a word of hope that this is possible. They are not too far gone.

Question: Are your garments defiled? Will you be able to stand before Christ with clean hands and a pure heart?


5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

This is a tough passage for a lot of people. Will God take out my name from the Book of Life if I don’t repent or get right with God? The Bible does talk about a Book in which the names of those who are saved are written. Jesus said in Luke 10:20 “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Also, Hebrews 12       22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven…” In Psalm 69, David asks God to blot out the name of the wicked from the Book of Life.

This passage is given for us to examine ourselves if we are living worthy of the Book of Life and not to cause us to doubt our salvation. Big difference! Are you?

Leave today with assurance. When Moses begged God for the life of his people, he said, Exodus 32:32 “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” Sometimes, the opposite is done in churches and denominations! 

6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’

Invitations: How is your life? Are you living worthy of your name? Are you saved? Is your name in the Book of Life? By the way, that family after a few months never darkened the door of the church…

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