In the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., Sardis was the capital city in the kingdom of Lydia (now Turkey). It was the convergence of five trade routes and incredibly wealthy as a result. Legend had it that King Midas washed himself in the Pactolus River that flowed next to the city in order to rid himself of the golden touch that plagued him. As a result, the river was said to run with gold and bring riches to the people of Sardis.
The city protected its wealth in a citadel on an acropolis atop a fortified hill that rose one thousand feet above the plain. Steep cliffs surrounded the city on three sides, and there was only one point of access, a narrow neck of land to the south. Because of its natural defensibility, the city was called, “Sardis, the Impregnable.”
The king and the people believed that they were invulnerable while within the citadel. They had turned away many would-be conquerors who tried to lay siege to the wealthy city over the years. But twice, the city was conquered, and ironically, both overthrows occurred in exactly the same way.
Cyrus of Persia was the first to successfully overcome the stronghold in 547 B.C. Fourteen days after laying siege to Sardis, Cyrus instructed his officers to tell all the soldiers that the first man to scale the wall would earn a reward. Many men rushed to make it up the wall, but none succeeded. Then, a soldier named Hyroeades remembered that he had witnessed one of the Lydians accidentally drop his helmet over the side of the wall the previous day. Thinking he was unobserved, the soldier had come down the wall at the point that had seemed most dangerous and inaccessible to the Persians.
Because of the tremendous height of the cliffs at this point of the wall, the Lydians posted no guard above it. Gathering his courage, Hyroeades retraced the soldier’s path and ascended the steep cliff. Once the Persians realized it was possible, many more followed and joined Hyroeades in sacking the city.
Three hundred years later, in 214 B.C., Sardis was captured again in the exact same way by the army of Antiochus the Great of Syria. His men scaled the wall at the steepest point and found it unguarded at the top.
While the people slept securely and unaware inside their fortress, Sardis was twice conquered by armies who came like a thief in the night. The kings and the people assumed that no one would attack them where it was obvious that they were strong. They became complacent in their vigilance and only invested their soldiers in their weaker areas.
Like Sardis, we become vulnerable when we make the mistake of thinking we no longer need to post a guard against temptation. When we believe that we have mastered a particular temptation, we are in for a surprise. We can’t stop “building our walls and guarding our gates.” It’s a lifelong process. When Satan sees that we took our guard down, he’ll tempt us in that very area.
I distinctly remember a men’s group meeting where a brother in Christ confessed to an affair he had been having. Convicted by that evening’s study, he trembled as he unburdened his heart before us. He asked for our prayers to help him end the affair and tell his wife.
Afterward, a few of us met with him to discuss what needed to happen next. At one point, he referred to another member of our group, who had confessed to an affair approximately six months earlier. My friend said, “When I heard him talk about his affair, I said to myself, ‘That will never happen to me.’” Only a few weeks after thinking that thought, my friend was deep into sin and deception as he cheated on his wife.
An unguarded strength is our greatest weakness.