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Years ago, many small municipalities were just too small to afford a 24/7 police force for protection and public safety. Instead, many simply hired a night watchman for basic patrol duties. Typically, this involved a check of the local businesses each night to make sure doors were locked. Usually, that was about all there was to it. But there was a time when a watchman did a lot more.

In ancient times, a city set on a hill with fortified walls was all but impossible to capture because its vigilant watchmen could see the threats and call its soldiers to duty long before the threat could get close. Of course, the system only worked if the watchman was serious about his responsibility. He was the one who stood in the tower and kept an eye on the horizon for any sign of danger. He had to know what to look for, when to sound the alarm, and then make sure it was sounded. The safety of everyone behind the city walls relied on his vigilance and his ability to know danger when he saw it.

Sardis, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Lydia, was protected by a fortress high atop a narrow rock ridge considered impossible to scale. Herodotus tells us that in 547 B.C. the city came under attack by a large Persian army commanded by Cyrus. Day after day, Cyrus was frustrated by the inability to capture it. A reward was offered to the man who could find a way to scale the cliff upon which the fortified city was built. A Persian soldier was considering the problem when he observed one of the lookouts atop the cliff drop his helmet, which fell all the way to the canyon floor. The unwary sentry descended a hidden trail to the bottom, retrieved his helmet, and then retraced his steps back to the top. The Persian soldier marked the trail and memorized the route. That night, he led a group of soldiers to the top and found that the fortress itself was empty. The soldiers of Sardis had gotten into the habit of abandoning the fortress each night because they believed no one could scale the walls. There was no night watchman to sound the alarm, and no soldiers were there to hear it. Sardis fell in a single night. In 214 B.C. the Greek king Antiochus captured the city of Sardis in exactly the same way, while its overly confident soldiers slept in their own beds.

Jesus rebuked the church at Sardis for having a reputation of being alive but spiritually dead. They were advised to wake up and strengthen what remains (Rev. 3:1-2). This, no doubt, was a reference to the ignoble fall of the city on two occasions because no watchman stood his  post.

The church is always under the watchful eye of the enemy who looks for any vulnerability. Its leadership needs to be watchful and sensitive to any threat. It’s easier to assume that no real danger is present and that little things, which seem harmless, are just as they seem. But “little things” that seem harmless are exactly how the local church comes under attack. The generation that is glad we’ve “loosened up” and aren’t so “uptight” about things also assumes that this lack of spiritual vigilance is a good thing. All the while, their love for the truth begins to wane.

IF the watchman urges conduct in keeping with holiness, it is seen as prudish. The “watchword” of the day has become “I don’t see anything wrong with …” (cf. Ezek. 18:29). The psalmist’s words, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105), may express a nice sentiment that is agreeable to all; but there is no deep conviction and seldom is the next verse considered, “I have sworn and I will  confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances” (119:106).

We need more watchmen today. too many have tried to police the church and in so doing have created their denominations. We simply need the watchmen of old who call us back to the Scriptures. We need to heed their warnings and never seek to silence them.

IF the watchman remains silent to avoid persecution, he falls under a greater condemnation (Ezek. 3:17-18).

Keep studying. DC Brown ©2016