160731 Revelation 3:14-22

Last Updated on Sunday, 31 July 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Revelation 3:14-22
Theme: From The Savior With Love: Laodicea

I wish I could say that I planned it this way, but I didn't. As we worked through our sermon series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, we have used the appointed lessons for the Sundays after Pentecost. Sometimes there was a close connection between the Scripture readings and the sermon text. Sometimes there wasn't.

But today's lessons, especially the gospel lesson, and the seventh and final letter in Revelation not only complement each other. They fit together like a hand and glove. In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus warns against putting your trust in your possessions. And the church in Laodicea serves an example of the problems and pitfalls that result when you do.

The Christians in Laodicea were doing just fine. They were successful. They were comfortable. They didn't need a thing...except for someone to expose that kind of thinking for the devilish lie that it was, except for someone to force them out of their spiritual comfort zone, except for someone to call them out and call them to repent. Whether they knew it or not they desperately needed Jesus, and because Jesus loved them he wrote them a strongly worded letter.

The Lord addressed these words to a specific congregation, but he also caused the apostle John to preserve them for future generations, for sinners who would struggle with similar temptations in the future, for people like us. And so it is our privilege today to apply to our own church and to our own lives the words of the letter to the church in Laodicea...

FROM THE SAVIOR WITH LOVE: LAODICEA

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:14-22).

The beginning of the seventh and final letter in this series follows the pattern of the previous six. The Lord's first order of business is to introduce himself as the author. And to the church in Laodicea Jesus reveals himself as "the Amen" (14).

Normally we associate that word with the end of something like a hymn or prayer, but this letter begins with Jesus calling himself "the Amen." "Amen" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "truth." This title isn't all that strange if we remember that Jesus described himself as "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

The God of truth is also "the faithful and true witness" and "the ruler of God's creation." With all the different names and titles Jesus could have used to describe himself, why did he choose these two? A look ahead at the rest of the letter will give us a pretty good idea. God's faithful witness was writing to people who had become faithless. The all-powerful Creator had to rebuke a congregation that had become enamored with its own accomplishments.

But before we look at what Jesus had to say to the Laodiceans, we must first look at what he did not say. This is the only letter in Revelation without a single word of praise. Even the church in Sardis (which Jesus described as "dead") had a few faithful people. But not Laodicea. No compliments. No kind words. No saving grace. Nothing but this stinging rebuke:

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (15,16)!

The problem with the church in Laodicea was that there were no problems with the church in Laodicea. There was no internal strife driving people back into the Word. There was no external pressure driving people to their knees.

Jesus wanted these Christians to be on fire for the Lord. Jesus wanted them to feel something, anything, even if it was rejection, because at least that would be a starting point for a law-gospel witness. What Jesus could not stand was their take-it-or-leave-it attitude. What Jesus could not tolerate was the gospel message being received with little more than a yawn. What Jesus could not accept was a confession that said: "Here I stand...but I can stand somewhere else if you prefer."

The Christians in Laodicea were guilty of apathy and indifference, but those two sins were only symptoms of a more serious spiritual problem. Listen to Jesus' diagnosis: 'You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (17).

Laodicea was a very wealthy city. A government mint had been built there. The city was the home of a booming textile industry. And it was the place where a much sought after eye salve had been discovered. Imagine Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and the Mayo Clinic all rolled into one.

The members of this congregation profited from these industries along with everyone else, but at what expense? When did they stop going to church so they could catch up on back orders? When did they stop talking about God? When did they stop praying to God? At what point did they come to the conclusion: "You know what. We don't really need God?" Whether they realized it or not, these Christians had become the victims of their own success. And no matter how much money they deposited in their bank accounts, they were still spiritually bankrupt.

Maybe there is something to the claim that it is easier to deal with adversity than success. Maybe the church experts are on to something when they observe that healthy congregations are usually in debt. So before we shake our heads at those sorry-excuses-for-Christians in Laodicea, before we pat ourselves on the back because our church has lots of money in the bank, perhaps we should take our own spiritual temperature and see if it reads "lukewarm."

If our eternal salvation depends on us always burning to do the Lord's will, always yearning to share Christ's love, always turning to the Spirit for gifts to use in God's service, that bar is set too high for any Christian to ever reach. And if Jesus is going to spit out everyone who is not constantly on fire to win souls and care for souls and pray for souls, every one of us deserves to be rejected and ejected.

That shouldn't fill our hearts with warm, fuzzy feelings. That doesn't sound anything like peace on earth and good will toward men. But that is exactly what Jesus was saying to the church in Laodicea. The question is: "Why?" Why did Jesus call them out, why did he threaten to spit them out, especially when they hadn't done anything terribly wrong?

The answer is up on the screen. The answer is the theme of our sermon series. Everything our Savior says and does is motivated by love. "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent" (19). Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the situation in Laodicea was desperate.

It was desperate, but it wasn't hopeless. Jesus wanted to rescue them, but first he needed to get their attention. Jesus wanted to save them, but first he had to make them understand that they needed to be saved. That's why he didn't pull any punches. That is why Jesus called on every member of the congregation to repent.

And then he said: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (20). Some Christians read this passage and conclude that a person must open his/her heart to Jesus, that a person must make a conscious decision to accept Christ.

We do not. With Luther we believe that we cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to him. We believe that because Jesus has done everything, we don't have to do anything to be saved. The broader context of Scripture tells us that salvation is a gift from God, and that God even gives us the faith to believe. And the immediate context of this letter makes it clear that Jesus' knock at the door is a call to repent, not a call to believe.

But if we see in this verse only a point of disputed doctrine then we are missing out on something. These are words of hope for wayward Christians. These are words of comfort for every Christian because Jesus says in no uncertain terms: "I am not about to give up on you."

Jesus didn't give up on his disciples even though they deserted him in his time of need. Jesus didn't give up on the thief on the cross even though he admitted that his punishment was deserved. Jesus didn't give up on the Christians in Laodicea, and he hasn't given up on us either.

Instead of giving up on sinners like us, Jesus gave up his life for sinners like us. Instead of treating us as our sins deserve, he took on himself the punishment we deserved. Instead of condemning us to eternal death, he invites us to join him for a heavenly feast.

And where Jesus finds repentant hearts, wherever he finds the warm glow of faith, the Lord promises great reward: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne" (21).

Think of the best seat in your house, the chair that is the most comfortable, the one that everyone fights over. Can you picture it? Now think of something better, much better. Imagine sitting on God's throne in glory. This throne is the seat of God's almighty power, but thanks to the Lamb of God it is also God's throne of grace.

Jesus is the Lamb who was slain (5:12). Jesus is the Lamb who has washed our robes and made them white in his own blood (7:14). Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14). He has overcome sin and Satan and death. He has given us the right to sit with him on his throne. And he has given us the promise that we will reign with him in heaven.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (22). By now this has become a familiar refrain because Jesus makes this declaration at the end of each of the letters to the churches. But I would like to close this morning, not with the final words of this letter, but with the closing words of this book.

The book of Revelation ends with a short prayer, not a prayer of desperation, but a prayer of anticipation, a prayer of unwavering trust, a prayer of unshakable confidence, a prayer that provides the perfect conclusion to this sermon and this sermon series: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20). Amen.

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