Books Of The Bible
To The Church In Loadicea
Revelation Series • Revelation 3:14-22
FIRST LESSON Revelation 3:14-20
Leader: And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
Congregation: ‘I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.
L: So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
C: For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
L: Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich;
C: And white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen;
L: And salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
C: I reprove and discipline those whom I love.
L: Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
C: Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
Gospel: Matthew 10:32-40
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Revelation, Chapter 3
Behold, I Stand At The Door And Knock
To The Church In Loadicea
The basis for the sermon for today is Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any one would open the door, I will come in and live in you and you in me.” This is one of THE most favorite Bible verses for many Christians.
Behold, I stand at the door of your heart, knocking (A preacher may make “knocking sounds” on the pulpit or altar whenever the word, “knocking” is used.). If any of you would open that door, I will come in and live in you and you live in me. Revelation 3:20.
But the Biblical passage for today also has something to do with lukewarmness. Revelation 3:15 is also important. “I wish you Christians were either hot or cold, but you neither hot nor cold. Because you are neither hot nor cold but are lukewarm, I am ready to spit you out of my mouth.”
Like many of you, I am a person who struggles with my half-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ. Like many of you, I have struggles with being lukewarm. I think a mark of American Christianity is that it is enormously wide but not very deep. How does the saying go? “Our Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep.” I think that one quality of our faith in America is having a half-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ and his missions in the world around us.
Let us briefly examine the Biblical passage for today. Would you please look at the text that is printed in your bulletin? Let us walk through this text together. The sermons from the Book of Revelation are expositional sermons. These sermons exposit or carefully investigate the specific wording of the Biblical texts in front of us.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: Locate the city of Laodiciea on the map below. Laodicia was one of the major seven cities in the geographic area that was known as Asia.
The prophet John knew the intricate details of each of the seven churches in the seven cities to which he was writing. Each of the seven letters to the seven churches address key issues in that particular city. In this instance, John was addressing the specific issues that were found in the Christian church from the city of Laodicea.
Map Of The Seven Cities Of Revelation: Laodicea
The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: These words describe Christ. The Book of Revelation has the highest doctrine of Christ in the New Testament. The word, “Amen” means “truth.” Jesus was called “the Amen” which means that he was called “the Truth.” Near the word, “Amen,” write the phrase, “the name of Jesus = Truth.” Jesus was and is the Truth about God, about heaven, our living a life of love. In the Book of Revelation, we will hear that Jesus’ teachings are words are true about God, eternity, suffering and the way we are to live life. Jesus is the Amen; Jesus is the Truth. Jesus was the faithful and true witness.
Jesus was the true witness, the true first martyr to die for the faith. The word “witness” meant martyr. Notice that Christ was the origin of God’s creation. Similar thoughts about “Christ the creator” are expressed in the Book of Colossians.
‘I know your works; The Book of Revelation and its author, the prophet John, loved the word, “works” or deeds, actions, and conduct. John used the word, “works,” sixteen times in the Book of Revelation and the word, “faith” only three times. Martin Luther did not like the Book of Revelation, primarily because of its insistence on works which became more important than faith. We recall Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
You are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Circle the word, “lukewarm.” This was THE issue with the church in Laodicea: lukewarmness. Therefore, because this church was neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, Jesus was about to spit them out of his mouth. This is very harsh language, on the part of Jesus. Why were they lukewarm? That is the issue. Read on. We will discover why the Christians from Laodicea were lukewarm.
For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Why were they lukewarm? Because they were rich. As we move forward in this sermon, we will discover that the citizens of Laodicea were rich people and the riches of the city spilled over into the local congregation. In our contemporary culture, “rich people” are thought to have it made; they are not thought of as wretched, pitiable and blind. Also, the riches of our culture often spill over into our congregations.
Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; Underline the phrase, “gold refined by fire.” This is REAL gold, gold that has been refined by fire. And REAL discipleship is discipleship that has been refined by suffering.
And white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; Circle the word, “white” robes. We will discover as we study the city of Laodicea, that the city was famous for its black wool. Many citizens and members of the church wore black wood. “Black” was a fashionable color of choice two thousand years ago. The Christians in Laodicea needed white robes more than fashionable black woolen garments.
And salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. This city later would become “home” to a medical school. There were medicinal salves and ointments for the eyes in Laodicea.
I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Underline. This is true today for all parents. Both love and disciple are needed to help create a well balance human being. Parents can error by emphasizing love with little discipline or they can error by emphasizing discipline with little love. Both love AND discipline are crucial qualities that create healthy people.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent. The Lord Jesus asks us to sincerely repent and turn our lives around from the errors that we are making. We recall from the last sermon that God was inviting us to repent, to turn our lives around, so start going in a better and healthier direction. We as Christians always are turning to the right direction; we never outgrow the need to repent and turn in healthier directions for our lives. This is true of the way we care for our families, marriages, bodies, health, homes and everything else important to us. Sin and evil gets a hold of us daily and we always need to be turning in God’s direction, in positive directions for our lives.
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; Jesus says that he is at the door of our heart and knocking. Notice that the word, “knocking,” is in a “continuous present” tense. Jesus is forever knocking at the door of our hearts, wanting to come in. (As a preacher emphases this concept, it may be helpful to be repeatedly knocking on the pulpit or on the communion table.)
If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. When we hear Jesus’ voice outside the door of our heart, we are to open that door and Jesus will come in and have fellowship with us. This teaching is at the heart of the text: Jesus wants to come into our lives and live in us and we in him.
To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. The seven letters to the seven churches all have a similar design. That is, each letter ends with the phrase, “he who conquers.” Here, we Christians are invited to conquer lukewarmness. We recall that the Greek can not only be translated “conquers” but “overcomes.” That is, we are forever overcoming the evil in us and around us. As we overcome the evil in us and around us through the power of the Spirit of God, we experience God’s blessings. In this particular Bible verse, the blessing is to be seated with Christ on God’s throne. What a blessing. What a vision. What a possibility. To be seated with Christ on the throne of God forever.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’ Today, if you are in the Spirit, you will listen to this spirit-filled sermon. If you are not, you won’t. In the Book of Revelation, we are consistently being invited to be “in the Spirit.” When we are “in the Spirit,” our hearing and receptivity to God’s message is greatly increased.
It is with this mood that we approach that classic Bible verse from Revelation 3:20 about Jesus standing at the door of our hearts, knocking. The words of Revelation 3:20 are so beautiful and disarming that we often forget the Bible verse about lukewarmness. We so remember Revelation 3:20 that we forget Revelation 3:15. We remember the great Bible verse, “Look, I stand at the door of your heart knocking (knocking sound). If anyone would open the door and invite me in, I will come in and eat with you and you with me.” But we forget Revelation 3:15 about lukewarmness, “I wish you were either hot or cold, but you are neither but merely lukewarm. I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” We need to address both words from the Lord in the sermon for today.
Usually, when we think of the words of Jesus, we think of a very kind person who would never say anything critical to anyone in their whole life. Often, when we think of Jesus, we think of someone who is soft and gentle, with fair skin and fair words and a fair disposition. As the limerick goes, “Jesus is nice. Jesus is spice. With positive words and lovely advice.” Jesus? He is the nicest person in the whole wild world. Jesus? He is the good shepherd who holds children gently in his arm. Jesus? He is the friend of children who climb up onto his friendly lap. And so, we are often set back when we hear severe words of rebuke from the lips of Jesus. We are not used to hearing such sharp, sour, and severe words from him.
For example, you may recall the incident where Jesus was outside the temple. Jesus was outside of the temple, in the courtyard adjacent to the temple. People were selling everything there in the temple courtyards. Camels, donkeys, oxen. Sandals, yokes, wool. Jesus did not stroll into those temple courtyards and speak softly, gently, and politely, “My friends. What you are doing is not very nice. What you are doing makes me upset. I think we need to have an adult-to-adult conversation about what is going on. I am concerned that…” No, that was not the tone of Jesus’ voice at all. Jesus pulled out a whip and he snapped it at the camels and donkeys and shouted to the sellers, “You thieves. You robbers. Turning God’s house into a den of corruption. What is wrong with you?”
Or, another time, at the city of Capernaum, Jesus spoke as sharply as possible to some of the Pharisees who mistreated little children, “For you people who mistreat children, it would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the middle of the sea, than what God, my heavenly Father, is going to do to you when he gets a hold of you.” His words were very sharp and cutting.
Or, another time, Jesus went to the Pharisees and let it all hang out with brutal honesty, “You two bit phonies. You Pharisees are clean on the outside but inside your hearts, it is dirty as the insides of a stained coffee mug.”
Or, to the church today, to the church in Laodicea, “You people are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were either hot or cold, but you are not. To you people who are neither hot nor cold, I would just as soon spit you out of my mouth.” That word, “spit,” has strong associations. I am going to spit you out of my mouth. That comment was rather graphic.
Such words as these seem unnatural from the lips of Jesus. Such words are in contrast to our image of a saccharine sweet savior. We still embrace the limerick, “Jesus is nice. Jesus is spice. With positive words and lovely advice.”
Today, it would be beneficial to learn about the church in Laodicea to whom these particular words are addressed. These words are written to a particular city in a particular part of the world in a particular century, and this church had a particular set of problems. We need to talk about that particularity of that church in Laodicea.
Now, if you went to visit the city of Laodicea in about 90 CE, you would have been rather impressed with that city. Similarly, when people from around the country visit Seattle, they are usually impressed by the city itself. So it was with Laodiciea. And if you would have gone to visit Laodicea at the end of the first century, you would have been impressed with that city as well. It was an impressive city, a pleasant, prosperous and notably wealthy city.
Panoramic View From Laodicea
“Laodicea lies at a major crossroads in the valleys of Asia Minor, in what today is Turkey. The city was situated on a hill overlooking fertile valleys and majestic mountains. In Roman times, the city was an important center for administration and commerce. Court cases from the region were heard at Laodicea and funds were placed in the city's banks for safekeeping. Although damaged by earthquakes during the reign of Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D.14) and again in A.D. 60, the city kept rebuilding and prospering.”
The Grazing Fields Of Laodicea: Sheep And Black Wool
“Laodicea was a center for the regional textile industry. The sheep that grazed in the nearby valleys produced a black wool that was exceptionally soft. The wool was bought and sold in the city's markets.”
There were two primary industries in Laodicea: textiles and banking. In terms of textiles, there were large grazing fields for sheep around Laodicea. These sheep were famous for the black wool which was then made into black woolen garments to wear. And every woman who shopped at the equivalent of the Bon Marche or Frederick and Nelson’s, bought herself a lovely, black woolen coat. These were classy black garments for classy women.
Laodicea was a sophisticated Roman city as we can see from the following images. It had grand theater that was built into a hillside.
The Theater At Laodicea
View Of The City From The Theater
A Sophisticated City With Sophisticated Streets
In addition to the sheep and textile industry with its specialty of black wool, Laodicea was also very good at banking. They had their equivalents to all the major banks of the world in their fair city. Bank of America. US National, Washington Mutual. Laodicea was located on the crossroads of three major highways. Cities at the crossroads of three major highways always seem to be economically prosperous. At the crossroads of major highways, Laodicea had become a center of international trading. Goods from all over the world came to Laodicea and through Laodicea.
If you would have attended one of the worship services at First Christian Church there in Laodicea, you would have been impressed. You would have seen how the wealth and the possessions from the community had spilled over into the lives of people, including people who attended church. In my imagination of First Christian Church of Laodicea, I can visualize a very prosperous congregation. Inevitably, they had a handsome sanctuary with fashionable pastors who wore fashionable albs with fashionable stoles. They had well to do people sitting in the pews, wearing those beautiful black woolen garments. And the women sitting there in their pews wearing their fashionable black woolen clothing would have nicely painted eyes. Eye ointments were part of a therapeutic community, and the people in Laodicea had these healing salves for the eyes. The women had a choice of colors of ointments for their faces: blush pink and light purple and rose. And you would have been impressed by this church, by its sanctuary with is silver ceiling, by its silver chalice, by its silver ciborium, by its silver tongued priests. Yes, First Christian Church in Laodicea was impressive as the city itself.
We may wonder how Jesus could have said anything scathing to a fine congregation as this. Apparently, this congregation was not guilty of several other sins such as the sins of the other congregations addressed in the Book of Revelation. You know, the serious sins. The ones we like to talk about. This congregation in Laodicea was not criticized for sins of sexuality. Not criticized for pornographic immorality. Not for fornication. Not or incest. Not for drunkenness. No. Nothing about the so-called “sins of the flesh.” None of these things are mentioned as the sins of the church in Laodicea.
Nor was the church in Laodicea criticized for its unhealthy and deceptive doctrines. Theirs were not the so-called “sins of the mind.” This congregation was not accused of teaching false doctrine, following heresies (such as the Nicolaitans), and subverting the divinity of Christ.
Well, if that is true, what was it about this congregation in Laodicea that deserved such a scathing, ice curdling, indictment? The answer? These people, in spite of their claims to be Christian, had no real passion, zeal, or enthusiasm for Jesus Christ and his mission for the world. Instead, they were lukewarm, tepid, and insipid. Religiously, they were only half-hearted people. They were content in paddling around in the shallow waters of Christianity.
Would you quickly imagine yourself in a swimming pool? In the swimming pool of your imagination, would you have a shallow end of the swimming pool and a deep end? There are people who want to stay in the shallow end because they are afraid to go out into the deep end. That is the way a lot of Christians are. They want to stay in the shallow waters of Christianity. They want to keep their Christianity shallow and safe where they can always touch bottom.
These Christians were quite willing to settle for middle-class morality and call that Christian ethics. They wanted to be a respectable church, not too radical and not too evangelistic. They didn’t want to become too radically involved with the social issues of their day. with such issues of hunger and starvation. They didn’t want to be identified as being too radical. They wanted to be a moderate, nice, suburban Christian.
Nor did they want to become too evangelistic. They knew that they were supposed to be able to talk with anybody about Jesus Christ, but they knew to speak in such a way that no one would feel any tension. “We are a moderate Christians, you know.”
Jesus said, “You are neither hot nor could. Would you were one of the other, but you are lukewarm and I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Would you please imagine a cup of coffee on your kitchen table? And that coffee has been sitting there for four days. That coffee been there so long it is starting to get some green specks in it. Mold is beginning to form. Meanwhile, you go and make a fresh brew and get a nice, fresh cup of coffee. So now you have two cups of coffee on the table. You are reading the newspaper, with your nose into the newspaper, and you accidentally pick up the old, moldy coffee and you accidentally take a swig of it. And you cough, ahk, ahk, ahk, and spit it out. Yuk. Awful.
Jesus said, “For those of you who are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
You children who are here today: I would like you to imagine a glass of milk. I want you to put a glass of milk on your kitchen counter. That glass of milk has been there for four days. Yes, four days. Obviously, that glass of milk has become stale. It has begun to spoil. You know what rotten milk tastes like. It is awful. Meanwhile, your mother has put some fresh milk into a glass onto the table. You are busy and distracted and you accidentally grab the wrong glass of milk. You have grabbed the glass of sour, stale milk. You are not paying attention to what you are doing, and you take a swig of that rancid, sour milk. That rancid sour milk is half way down your throat. Children: what does it feel like? Yuk. Awful. And you spit it up. You spit it out.
And Jesus said, “If you are neither hot nor cold, but you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
We think to ourselves about what caused Jesus to use such strong language. What was wrong with Jesus that day? Did Jesus have a migraine headache? Did he get up on the wrong side of bed? Did he have a bad night’s sleep last night?
What do these words, which were spoken by Jesus to the church in Laodicea two thousand years ago, have to do with you and me? With you and me who wrestle with lukewarmness? With you and me who wrestle with our half-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ? With you and me who are more concerned about our families, our houses, our jobs, our health than Jesus Christ? What does this passage from Revelation have to do with you and me?
Obviously, this letter has a lot to say to us.
This letter says that it is impossible to be a lukewarm Christian. These two words do not belong together. Lukewarm and Christian. There is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian. There is a person who is a Christian and there is a person who is lukewarm. The Bible says that it is either-or. They are not the same. What Christ is saying is that the most contemptible failure in the kingdom of God is not the drug addict, not the fornicator, not the sexual pervert, not the adulterer, not some other kind of addict. The most contemptible failure in the kingdom of God is the so-called respectable church member who is only half committed to Jesus Christ. They do more damage to the mission of Jesus Christ than any other person.
John Wesley once said, “Give me a hundred people who are passionately committed to Jesus Christ, and I will change the world.” Jesus said, “Give me twelve people who are passionately committed to God, and I will change the world.”
It is possible for many people to be lukewarm Jesus Christ himself. That may be your situation this morning. Maybe you have become lukewarm and apathetic to Christ. Or maybe you have been lukewarm to Christ for several years or decades now, but come to church because of family reasons or social reasons. But way deep down inside your soul, maybe your are aware of your lukewarmness to Jesus Christ himself.
Or maybe you are loving and appreciative of Jesus Christ, but not his mission. Yes, you love Jesus but you do not want to be part of his mission in this world.
What is the mission of Christ? The mission of Christ is two fold: we, the church, are go out and make disciples of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this congregation is to go out to our family, friends, neighbors and work associates and invite them to know Jesus Christ. Are you lukewarm about that? Do you love Jesus Christ but are lukewarm about his mission of making disciples of all peoples? Are you lukewarm about that?
The other mission of the church is this: the mission of the church is to go out and help a broken, hurting world. A world which is hungry. A world which is starving. A world in which families are all messed up. A world in which abuse and unfairness is rampant. And we the church are called to be helping people to those in deepest need. Are you lukewarm about that? Are you lukewarm about the suffering people near us and around the globe? Are you lukewarm about the immense suffering that goes on around you? Be honest. Are you lukewarm about this mission of the church, the people of God? Are you one of those people who love Christ but are lukewarm about what Christ asks us to do in this world?
To people like you this day, who struggle with half hearted commitment. To people like me this day, who are very half hearted in our discipleship. To people like us who look like we have lived in Laodicea far too long, we hear these words, “Look, I am standing at the door of your heart and knocking. (Knocking sound on the pulpit or altar). If any of you would open that door, I will come in and live in you and you in me.”
Jesus doesn’t say to you and me, “You are such a half hearted Christian, you might as well get out of here.” Or, Jesus doesn’t say, “We only allow religious folk here at our church, and when you are religious enough, you are welcome.” Or, Jesus doesn’t say, “Will all of you half hearted Christians get up and leave right now?” Would the church be empty? Or, Jesus doesn’t say, “Will only you pastors who are fully committed to Christ and his mission dare to get into the pulpit?”
To all of us, who struggle with lukewarmness, we hear the Word from the Lord, “Behold, I stand at the door of your heart, knocking (knocking sound). The Greek verb for knocking is in the present continuous tense. Knocking. (knocking sounds repeated). I am forever standing at the door of your heart and forever knocking. If any one of you would open that door, I will come in and live in you and you in me.”
One of the famous religious paintings is that of Jesus standing at door and knocking. This is a painting of Revelation 3:20. It is this small picture that I have right here in my right hand, but I have given this picture to kids on retreats in the past. This little picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking is taped to the light above my desk in my study. Every day, I look at that picture. It is a wonderful picture. It shows a door, with vines growing up around the door. There is a small window through which you can see into the door. You can see Jesus standing at the door and knocking. (Knocking sound) Jesus is forever knocking at the door of your heart and mine. What is most interesting about this picture is what is not part of the picture. There is no doorknob on the outside of the door. The only way the door can be opened is from the inside. Jesus does not come to bash down the door into your heart with a huge log or battering ram. Jesus does not set a dynamite stick at the base of the door to blow the door to smithereens. Jesus does not put a crow bar to the latch of the door, trying to force it open. Rather, Jesus simply stands at the door of your heart and continues knocking. (Knocking sound). He says, “I stand at the door of your heart and am forever knocking. If any of you would open that door from the inside, I will come in and live in you and you in me.” The doorknob is in the inside of the door, for you and me to open up the door.
Maybe it is time for you and me to open up the door to our hearts.
When you and I struggle with being lukewarm Christians, what we need is to have Jesus to come into our hearts and live in us. His indwelling presence is the primary antidote for lukewarmness in our lives. Amen.
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