Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock
September 8, 2019 Speaker: Jim Davis
Topic: Default Passage: Revelation 3:14–3:22
Last Sunday we finished up our series in Joshua and next week we will start a five week series based on our five core values, but we are taking a week off today to look at one of the messages from Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation. Specifically, the church in Laodicea.
The church in Laodicea is not doing well. The seven churches of Revelation in some way represent every church that would follow, so Jesus’ words to this church have very direct implications to us here today.
Receiving a serious diagnosis is never fun. I’ll never forget the day that we heard the doctor tell us that Angela had cancer. For years, Angela had all these weird symptoms and she would always say, “One day, some doctor is going to find out what causes all this.”
Many of you have received diagnoses that were hard to hear, but they were necessary if you were going to address the underlying problem. And this is exactly what is going on in Laodicea. The diagnosis, as hard as it is to hear, begins the path to healing and that is what Jesus is doing.
This is a very sick church. And because they are sick, I want to look at this text like a visit to the doctor (an idea I got from Tim Keller). I want to break down this passage into three parts: 1) The symptom, 2) the diagnosis and 3) the cure.
- The Symptom
The main symptom of the church in Laodicean is vomit inducing lukewarmness. Look at verses 15 and 16: I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. sWould that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. - Revelation 3:15,16
Context is so important as we read the Bible and here is a great example of that. This passage has two really famous verses that are largely used out of context in the US and this is the first one. It’s so familiar, but often so misunderstood.
Have you ever sung a song your whole life and then looked at the lyrics written down on paper and for the first time realized that you didn’t know the song? Or maybe you memorized a catechism question as a kid and all of a sudden, years later, you realize what it’s saying. That’s how a lot of people, including me, feel when we first see these verses in context.
So here is the context. Laodicea was rich in many ways, but there was one very important resource that they didn’t have: water. There were two cities nearby though who did have water. Hierapolis to the north and Colosse to the east. They had good water and Laodicea built aqueducts to bring in water from both locations. Colosse had very refreshing cold water and Hierapolis had hot springs that produced piping hot water. So what happens when you pipe in cold water over 11 miles through the Turkish dessert? It becomes lukewarm. And what happens when you pipe in hot spring water over 7 miles? It becomes lukewarm. And the hot water, because of the calcium carbonate in it, had a nauseating effect on the people who drank it. And new comers to Laodicea were known to spit it out or even to throw up when they first drank it.
And here is what gets so mixed up. Jesus isn’t setting up this continuum between hot and cold where hot means passionate for Jesus and cold is maybe someone who has never heard before. Remember that Jesus is talking to believers here. In verse 19 he calls them “those whom I love.” So if you hold this continuum of hot being a passionate believer and cold being a unbeliever, then you would have to conclude that Jesus prefers unbelievers to these Christians in Laodicea. And that wouldn’t jive with anything we have in the rest of our Bible.
Jesus isn’t setting up a continuum, he’s simply saying to this church that you have become like your water. You have lost the elements that make you refreshing to me and I am about to respond to you like people do to your water: by throwing you up.
Have you ever gone to a cup of coffee expecting it to be hot only to find it room temperature? Have you ever gone to a glass of milk expecting it to be cold only to find it room temperature? What was your response? You are probably repulsed in some way. The change in temperature caused the drink to lose the refreshing quality it once had.
So what is that quality exactly? What is the thing the church lost that made it cease to be either hot or cold? They lost their zeal. Look at verse 19: Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous... A lukewarm Christian is a Christian who has lost their zeal for Jesus.
Many commentaries and pastors have pointed out that the Greek word ‘zelos’ is where we get our English word zealous or earnest. But if you look up everywhere this word is used in the New Testament (which is really easy to do these days on your phone), you will notice that in most places it isn’t translated zealous, but jealous.
So, you have all these places where Paul is saying “don’t be zelos!” as in jealous. And then places like this where Jesus is saying “be zelos!” as in zealous. How can the same word translate both as jealous and zealous? Here’s how. They are really the same thing. In English we have two words.
Think for a moment about what it means to be jealous. When you’re jealous, you set your love intensely on someone. Now, if you set your love intensely on yourself, if supremely, your glory and your reputation is what you love the most, then you’re going to constantly jealous of people. You’re going to be jealous of people who have better gifts than you. You’ll be jealous of people who are getting more attention that you.
So, if you set your love intensely on yourself, you’ll be jealous of people and that’s bad. That’s the thing Paul is always saying not to do. But, if you set your love intensely on someone else, then you become jealous for the person. Do you understand? You become jealous for their good, for their growth, for their happiness, and for their affection.And in English, we call that kind of jealousy zeal.
And here is what Jesus is saying. A lukewarm Christian is someone whose supreme passion, their highest love, has been on something besides Jesus Christ. And as a result, there is no jealousy for God. There is no zeal for Him. Cold water represents a believer with zeal for God. Hot water represents a believer with zeal for God. Both are good. There is no continuum. But lukewarm, lukewarm represents a lack of zeal that it is bad. Vomit inducing lukewarmness. That is the symptom. But what is causing it?
- The Diagnosis
Ok, here again, we need to have some historical context to understand what Jesus is saying. We know a ton about the ancient city of Laodicea. Three things are particularly important for this passage.
First, Laodicea was a textile center. They had a lot of sheep in the area with black wool and they had learned how to make really nice black clothing and they made a lot of money from it.
Second, Laodicean was a financial center. It produced a lot and it was on the main route to Ephesus and as a result, they had a lot of gold. In AD 60 a terrible earthquake hit and because they were a part of the Roman Empire, Rome sent them money to help them rebuild. Well, Laodicea was so wealthy that they sent the money back. They said, “We have enough money to rebuild ourselves. We are rich and need help from no one.” This was absolutely unheard of in those days.
Third, Laodicea was a medical center. They were actually a world famous medical center. They produced doctors who used a salve they had created to cure certain eye ailments.
Ok, with those three things in mind, let’s read how Jesus diagnoses them in verses 17 and 18:
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, ublind, and naked. 18 I counsel you vto buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and w white garments so that you may clothe yourself and xthe shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, uso that you may see. Revelation 3:17,18
Do you see it now? Jesus is laying on the irony thick. You say that you are rich and have no need of assistance, but you are pitiable and in need of great help. You say that you have gold, but you lack the kind of treasure that lasts forever. You say you have beautiful garments, but you are spiritually naked. You boast in your eye doctors not realizing that you are blind to what matters most.
Can you see the terrible underlying disease? The disease that is killing them and taking their zeal away from God? It’s self-reliance. They have the disease of self-reliance. They don’t see their need for God. They see themselves as physically rich, healthy and good looking and see very little need for God in their lives. Their disease is a desperate need to see their desperate need.
So how did they catch this disease? How does a church get to the point where they can’t see their need for Jesus anymore? Jesus is making a clear and direct link here between being wealthy, brilliant and accomplished and lukewarmness. Why is that? Because when things are going well physically, when your health is good. When the money is coming in. When you feel accomplished. You know intellectually that you are a sinner saved by grace, but you don’t feel that need. It doesn't grip your heart.
And we have to hear something very specific. I think this letter has more to say to the American church than any other church that has EVER existed. It’s almost tailor made for us. I feel like almost everyone of us in this church could take this letter as if it was written to us directly from Jesus..... because we live in Laodicea. And we have to know how that affects us.
Preaching on this passage, Tim Keller talks about a man in his congregation who was really struggling with the book of Judges and how the judge Jephthah could put his daughter to death in order to make a vow to God. How in the world could that have happened? How could a follower of the God of the Bible do such a thing? It’s terrible, but you have to realize that he was surrounded by a culture that thought that was how you appealed to God. He was so influenced by the culture around him that he imported that part of the culture into his faith.
There is no excuse for it, but that is how it happened. It’s just as bad as Christians in America 150 years ago fighting for slavery. Or Christians 50 years ago fighting for segregation. If we are not careful, we will naturally import the surrounding culture into our faith. And our surrounding culture, just like Laodicea, is eaten up with self-reliance.
When Christians come here from poor areas of the world where the church is growing like crazy, they come into our American churches and, although they are usually too nice to say anything, they are generally shocked by what they see. And not in a good way. I’m sure you could ask the Bridges staff, whose main ministry is focused on international students, about this. These foreign Christians are often appalled by our lukewarmness. And they can see very clearly that it’s linked to how comfortable, safe, affluent and successful our culture is. There are three things they will generally say. First, they are appalled at how little we pray. Second, they are appalled by how much money we spend on ourselves instead of giving it away. Third, they are appalled by the fact that we are afraid of the social persecution we might experience if we let people we work with or people we engage with socially know that we are Christians...while they go to jail for identifying with Jesus.
We are Laodicea. So how do we know to what degree we are affected by the same disease? As I was reading commentaries and old sermons on this passage this week, there was one test that almost everyone used. One test to see how lukewarm we have become. And the test was this: How do we pray? Prayer will reveal how much of the disease of self-reliance we have. John Piper says, “It doesn’t matter what we think in our head, the test of whether we are in bondage to self-reliance is how earnest and frequent and extended our prayers for change are.” Are we seeking the Lord in prayer for more boldness in our witness? For sweeter joy in the Holy Spirit? For deeper sorrow over our sin? For a warmer compassion for the lost? For more divine power to love? Or is our prayer life exhibit A that we have become lukewarm and self-reliant?
And I know here, it’s easy to think something like, “Great, Jesus just wants to come in and take my time, money and comforts from me.” No, Jesus wants to wake us up to something better. Jesus wants what’s best for us! Do we believe verse 19? Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline… - Revelation 3:19
St. Teresa of Avila, a really interesting counter-reformation personality, was praying to God about a particular suffering she was experiencing and she said she heard God respond and say, “Teresa, this is how I treat my friends.” So she then responded to God, “Then you shouldn’t be surprised that you have so few of them.”
This is how God treats His friends....by reproof and discipline. God isn’t just trying to take things away from us, He’s trying to loosen our grip on something that is killing us. Killing us and we don’t even realize it. All our possessions and successes delude us into thinking that we have this. Delude us into not seeing our need for Jesus. And I’m not simply talking about the need we will have for Jesus when we die. I’m talking about the daily need we have for him now. Our need to be changed, reassured, and comforted.
He wants us to have something that no amount of money will ever give us. The will of Christ for the church is that our poverty be replaced by spiritual wealth. That our nakedness and shame be covered with the robes of righteousness and good deeds. That our blindness would be healed so we can see things as they really are and escape from the Matrix like dream world of self-reliance.
So how does that happen? How are we to escape the dream world of self-reliance? How is this deadly disease cured? Third point.
III. The Cure
Jesus, the Great Physician, gives us the cure in verse 18: I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, andwwhite garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, uso that you may see. - Revelation 3:18
Buy from me gold, garments and salve. That’s the cure. We need gold that will not fade, a white robe and spiritual sight. Each of these is really important so I want to walk through them very quickly.
First, gold. What is gold? Gold means status here because Jesus connects it to being rich and to covering shame with fine clothing that is respectable.Physical gold means status before men, but spiritual gold is status before God. And this gold cannot perish. This gold will never go away. Why? Because it was refined by fire! This status before God was attained at a great cost. If there was ever status to be coveted, it was Jesus’. Reigning in heaven in glory, comfort and honor. Yet, Jesus came to a broken world taking on pain, dishonor and shame. He was made fun of, spit on and tortured by men. Then on the cross he had the full wrath of God poured on him in a way we could never comprehend. He did this so that his status could be ours. Our sin had to be dealt with for our status before God to change. A perfect man had to go through the fire for us.
Secondly, we need new garments. “But we have the best garments around! Beautiful black coats, robes and gowns.” And Jesus says, “You need white robes. White robes that only I can sell you.” All throughout Revelation, a white robe symbolizes an acceptable life. White means sinless and the robe represents your actions. Everyone is looking to clothe their nakedness because we all know at some level we are not what we ought to be. What was the first thing Adam and Eve did after they sinned? They clothed themselves. Not because they were naked, but because they were ashamed.
Have you ever watched the TV show Naked and Afraid? If you fly Southwest, as I do pretty often, you can watch a lot of it. For some reason it’s always on. Basically, you have two people stranded naked in the wild and they have to survive for 20 days. And there is always this really awkward moment when the two people, always one guy and one girl, disrobe on national TV and meet each other for the first time. It’s really painful to watch.
It’s painful because they are both fully exposed with nothing to cover them. And Jesus is saying, “That’s you! Your naked and exposed. We are terrified of being seen for who we really are so we run to all these other things to cover our nakedness. We run to work, we run to money, we run to resumes and a hundred other things to cover our nakedness. Those are our precious black garments. But they will never cover us the way we want them to.”
Jesus is wanting us to look away from those things. They are destroying us. They are our real loves. They are making us lukewarm. They are taking us away from him. Only he can give us a robe white as snow that will cover over all our shame and guilt. A robe that is purified by fire rather than consumed by it. The robe he offers us is his righteousness.
Buy gold from me. Buy a robe from me. Then, thirdly, buy salve from me. The salve the Laodiceans sell may help with physical sight, but only the salve Jesus sells will give us eyes to see what really matters. The disease of self-reliance is akin in some ways to the disease of alcoholism. An alcoholic is desperately sick, but often doesn’t even see it. An alcoholic clings to the bottle for comfort or escape, not realizing that it’s killing them in every possible way. Alcoholism isn’t like a cancer where you are told you have it and immediately you want treatment. Alcoholics are often the last to realize they have a disease. Everyone else can see it, but they can’t until in some way their eyes are opened.
Jesus is offering that kind of salve. A salve that opens our eyes to the disease. But there is a huge problem! Remember in verse 17 Jesus said that we have no money. We are poor, yet we have to buy gold, robes and salve from him. How do we buy a cure we can’t afford? What happens when you live in sub-Saharan Africa and you get diagnosed with brain cancer? There is a cure, but it’s in the United States and you can’t afford it. That’s the feeling we should have as we read what Jesus is prescribing.
We can’t go to the doctor. We can’t afford the cure. So the doctor comes to us. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
This is the second super familiar verse in our passage that gets used out of context a lot. In the 20th century many evangelists and pastors would use this as a way of evangelizing. “Jesus is there. Just open the door and you will be saved.” I know I used to use this verse in my gospel presentations. I would bet a lot of money that there are at least ten people in this room who came to faith through this verse being used in this way. I don’t think there is harm in using the verse that way, but that is not what this verse is saying. Jesus is talking to believers. Sick believers, but believers nonetheless. He’s talking to the church. It is not an invitation into the faith.
The doctor has come to sick believers. Do you remember the reason for the lukewarm water in Laodicea? The people were too far from the source. They had access, but the source was far away. That’s the problem! Distance from the source. So the source comes to us. The refreshing cold water comes to us. The medicinal hot springs comes to us.
In ancient times, to come into someone’s home and eat with them, to be invited in was to be invited into intimate fellowship and friendship. What is Jesus saying? He’s saying, “I’m here. I’m here with my gold, robes and salve and I want to give it all to you. I want to commune with you in a way you haven’t experienced in years.”
He wants an intimate meal without all the distractions produced by self-reliance. Most of you know what it’s like to be at a family dinner while everyone is on their devices engaging elsewhere. They are still a family and they are technically eating together, but they aren’t really together. Any good parent desires so much more. They don’t just want their children to be physically present, but emotionally present as well. We are the disengaged children at the table and Jesus wants more!
We are poor and have no way to buy the cure we need, but Jesus is offering it for free. He’s using the language of Isaiah 55:1:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. - Isaiah 55:1
Jesus is jealous for you. So jealous that He was stripped naked on the cross that you might be clothed in white. So jealous that He became poor that you might have refined gold. So jealous that He was blindfolded and beat that we might have salve to cure our blindness. He stands at the door and knocks. Will we answer and be cured? Or will we choose to have the disease of self-reliance run its course?