So far in this series, Stephen has introduced us to diverse snares which can destroy churches. We've learned what happens when a church accommodates culture, embraces false teaching, and forgets how to love. But in this message Stephen warns us of a dangerous and far more subtle snare: the snare of growing comfortable.
Church of the Closed Door
If you lived in the cities around the Mediterranean Sea, 2,000 years ago, and someone told you they were going on a vacation and they had found the perfect resort for relaxation in natural hot springs, shopping in designer label stores, gambling in the bustling casinos, watching professional sporting events and attending the theatre for award winning plays – you would have immediately known . . . there’s one city like that where you could have it all.
The city was named after the wife of its founding emperor. Her name was Laodice and the city’s name was Laodicea.
William Barclay, Revelation: Volume 1 (Westminster, 1976), p. 137
It was Las Vegas, Beverley Hills and Chase Manhattan Bank all rolled into one.
And it wasn’t just for Gentiles either. In fact, the Jews in Jerusalem had complained about the number of their kinsmen who had forsaken Palestine for the luxuries and the baths of this region.
William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches (Abington, 1957), p. 92
The Jews had even appealed to the Roman governor for independence to follow their own customs and laws and they had been granted their request.
Laodicea was the garment capitol of the world. The sheep that were bred nearby were renowned for having glossy, black almost violet colored wool.
Adapted from Ray Stedman, God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 96
So coveted was this, that Laodicean mills produced at least four different kinds of outer garments which were exported all over the world.
These were the name brands of the first century.
Laodicea was also a medical center where people flocked to its medical and health resorts to find healing through the latest medical treatments known in that ancient world. Laodicea was crazy about physical fitness.
That’s not all. Laodicea was also the banking center of Asia Minor.
In fact, the citizens were by and large so well off that when an earthquake destroyed some of its buildings, they actually declined an offer from Rome to help rebuild, saying they didn’t need any assistance.
This was a wealthy, fashionable, physically fit, established, together city.
They didn’t need help from anybody.
Evidently, they didn’t think they needed help from God, either.
For one last time, let’s dig into the Divine mail bag and pull out the last of seven letters, written by Jesus Christ – to a church; this time to the church in Laodicea.
Revelation chapter 3.
Beginning with verse 14. And to the messenger of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”
Once again, Christ signs His unique signature at the beginning of the letter instead of at the end of the letter.
And, once again, these titles are specifically designated to go along with what Christ is about to reveal.
- The first descriptive title tells us that; Christ is Final in His conclusive Word.
He calls Himself, first of all, “the Amen.”
Amen in the Hebrew language is a transliteration of the word for certainty or truth.
In the New Testament, the Lord often began by saying, ‘verily, verily . . .” literally “amen, amen.” In other words, what I’m about to say to you is the final word – the word of certainty and truth.
When you amen a preacher, what you’re effectively saying is, “You’re telling the truth and I’m committed to following it.”
So be careful when you say it.
Jesus Christ follows that similar description up with another reinforcing title – notice in verse 14b. “the faithful and true witness.”
- Jesus Christ is not only first in His conclusive word; He is faithful in His consistent witness.
In other words, what I’m about to tell you is the truth because I only tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
- The third and final description which Christ says about Himself is that: He is First in His Creative Work
He refers to himself as “the beginning of God’s creation.”
Sometimes the English translation can be ambiguous enough to mislead the English student reader. The English reader could interpret here that Christ is the beginning of God’s creation in that He was the first created being.
However, the Greek word for beginning is the word “arche” (arch). It doesn’t mean he’s the first created being, it means he is the source of creation – He is the beginning of creation in the sense of “He is the one who began creation.” He is the beginning of it because He started it!
In Him is the beginning of Creation.
Genesis chapter 1 says, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.”
Colossians chapter 1 informs us that it was the Son of God was actually doing the creating.
Paul writes to the believers in Colossians 1, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” He is the firstborn – prototokos (prwtotokoV). This word refers to the one who is first place – supreme. In other words, in all of creation He is supremely first.
It is very likely that the false teaching of the Gnostics had impacted the church in Laodicea with their teaching that Christ was a created being – one of many emanations from God. The Gnostics also claimed to have secret, higher, spiritual knowledge than anybody else.
John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 134
I received a 10 or 12 page letter this past week from someone who was disturbed that I was preaching and teaching the full deity of Jesus Christ. He listed as evidence texts like these which were studied and easily twisted to prove the view that Christ was a created being and He wasn’t God but was created by God.
I didn’t think he’d want a Greek lesson in arkh and prwtotokoV
His false religion is based on the misinterpretation of English texts.
Maybe you think – well perhaps you’re mistaken!
Let’s suppose I am.
If I am wrong about Jesus Christ and He was only one of God’s emanation like you and me, I am still going to heaven forever. But if I’m right – then all those who deny the sovereign, incarnate deity of Jesus Christ will go to hell forever.
It is that significant!
The Colossian believers were evidently stumbling over the
deity and eternality of Christ, along with the Laodiceans. And they received their letter from Paul who told the Colossian believer’s to pass their letter on to – guess who – the church in Laodicea.
Paul wrote in Colossians 4:16. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans…”
They need to hear as well that Jesus Christ is the supreme sovereign over all of creation – for by Him were all things were created (Colossians 1:16)
So Jesus Christ here is saying to this church in Laodicea, “I am the final word of truth – I am the one who will tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth; and I am the source of and supremely sovereign over all of my creation.
- I am final in my conclusive word
- I am faithful in my consistent witness
- I am first place in my creative work
Now, here comes the diagnosis of their true condition.
Notice verse 15. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!
The words Christ uses are opposite extremes . . . ice cold or boiling hot.
When a little girl was picked up after Sunday school, her mother asked her to recite the verse she had learned. The verse was, ‘Many are called but few are chosen.” It came out, “Many are cold and a few are frozen.”
Maybe that’s how you feel in here – I’ve had people tell me it’s too cold in here. My mother-in-law tells me, “Stephen, you can hang meat in there it’s so cold.”
According to this text, the analogy of being cold or being boiling hot are good things – as opposed to being lukewarm.
This is a reference to what the Laodiceans fully understood. The only downside to this incredible city was that their water had to be brought by aqueduct from Hierapolis, 6 miles away. By the time the water arrived it was lukewarm.
Listen, cold water on a hot day is refreshing. Hot water on a cold day is comforting. Lukewarm water on any day is either not comforting or not refreshing.
How do you get lukewarm water out of the tap? You turn on the cold water a little and you turn on the hot water and little and you get lukewarm water.
Stedman, p. 100
Lukewarm is a word for compromise. They were in the middle of the road . . . in their comfort zone . . . on the fence . . . in neutral.
Verse 16 says, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Who wants to drink lukewarm water?
When I visited a church in India several years ago, I and a couple other pastors who were with me were honored by being given the only folding chairs in the church to which to rest. While seated, a young man brought the three of us small bottles of Coca Cola. The believers all stood around and watched as we drank this costly treasure they sacrificed for us. The tough thing for me, in addition to drinking their precious gift, was that the Coke was warm – room temperature. It wasn’t anything but refreshing or appealing. If I had been alone I would have spit it out – it was terrible.
Some churches make the Lord weep . . . some make Him angry . . . some make Him grieved . . . this one made Him sick.
Their empty religion nauseated Him.
These believers were self-sufficient, self-enamored, self-absorbed, skin deep, anemic people who had no interest in providing either comfort or refreshment to those around them.
Would you notice the difference between who they thought they were and who Christ said they were.
In verse 17. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
You ought to underline the words, “you say” . . . and then later “you are”. You say you have everything, but you are spiritually poverty stricken.
They were content to play their little religious games, while the world around them pursued empty dreams.
What’s even worse, the church in Laodicea was pursuing the same dreams and the same comforts and the same goals and the same toys and the same stuff and the same lifestyles as the citizens around them . . . the believer was absolutely indistinguishable in their purpose for living and their passion for Christ.
And Jesus Christ says to that church and to any church filled with people playing religious games – you make me sick!
Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that we add a service to Easter Sunday – we possibly communicate a desire to accommodate the religious game. Hey, next Sunday there will be another celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many pastors I know are excited - this is the Sunday when attendance records are broken. I wonder if this is the Sunday where the heart of God is broken?
Is your presence here an indication of your curiosity of the gospel and desire to hear what we believe – welcome here – we’re glad you’ve come on this Lords day.
Is your presence here an indication that you believe God can’t see religious play acting – a lukewarm heart that can take church or leave it; that can take the things of God or leave it.
Listen to the warning . . . stop playing games with God.
Lukewarm Christianity is nauseating to the Savior who gave His all for you and for me.
Evidently, much of their problem in Laodicea and in Cary stemmed from their comfortable lifestyle and material wealth.
- They said, “We’re rich . . .”
Jesus Christ said, “You’re wretched.”
- They said, “We don’t need anything”;
Jesus Christ said, “You’re poverty stricken”;
- They said, “I’m prospering”;
Jesus Christ says, “You’re blind.”
No vision for the world . . . no passion for their Lord.
And Jesus Christ told them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth . . . “You are blind.”
I have 2 dollars in my hands; if I put them in front of my eyes, you’re still out there, but I don’t see you anymore. The Bible is in front of me, but I can’t read it anymore. The world is still out there, but I can’t see it anymore.
Two dollars have taken my vision away . . . how much has it taken to blind you?
This is the diagnosis of their true condition, from the One who has the last word; the One who tells the truth and noth8ing but the truth, who is indeed Sovereign, Lord.
This is His diagnosis.
Now here is the prescription for their total recovery.
This prescription is directly related to three significant elements of Laodicean culture – they would have seized Christ’s meaning immediately.
In verse 18, Christ counsels them to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich.”
In other words, you know all about gold – you’ve stored away your own gold in the bank of Laodicea. What you need is my gold.
The Bible refers often to purified faith as refined gold.
Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1992), p. 314
You remember Job saying that when God has tried him he will come forth as purified God. (Job 23:10)
Instead of floating downstream in the current of your culture, stand up for the truth – look the trials of faith squarely in the eye.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:7. So that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
God says, “Be willing to pay the price for the gold I offer you that comes from tested faith.”
I was copied on an email this past week . . . it’s from a college student who asked for prayer for a guy she knew in high school and ran into recently. She writes, “Back in high school, I made friends with Brian. He was one of several Jehovah’s Witnesses in my school. But at first we enjoyed our common sense of humor which built a great friendship. Sadly, he received a lot of pressure to convert me or deny me. Four years ago, he gave me the ultimatum. Four years later, he contacted me . . . He said that he had realized that his faith didn’t make sense. He no longer accepted that the twelve men that make up the Watchtower Society were, in themselves, the way to salvation. It had concerned him that they banned learning Greek and Hebrew to compare the original translations of the Bible to make sur4e their version, The New World Translation, was accurate. And most importantly, he refused to accept that the Watchtower Society had more authority than the Bible. He now considers it manipulation and mind control techniques to keep their followers from [thinking for themselves]. His family has disowned him. His friends won’t have anything to do with him. He finds himself more alone than he has been in his whole life, but is very excited about his decision. He is visiting other churches that honor the Bible as the only true authority. His email to me today was full of anticipation of finding a church that gives him a strong support system. I find myself in awe of his story. Five years ago, he was the most faithful of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To see the change in him despite having lost every person in his life is amazing. There is a joy and light in him that wax never there before. His pursuit of Christ and the truth of the Bible has become the most important thing in his life and he has willingly given up everything. It’s true, the Word is alive . . . how great is our God.
Jesus Christ would say, He has gained everything at the same time.
Like these believers who are counseled here, “All the gold in Laodicea will one day perish . . . mine lasts forever.”
Christ goes on to counsel them to not only to buy gold refined with fire, but to wear white garments of faithfulness – notice verse 18b. so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.
Jesus Christ says, in effect, you might be shipping clothing all around the world, but you yourselves are naked.
This symbol of white clothing is used throughout the Book of Revelation to speak of the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:8).
In other words, the nakedness of your inactivity and passivity and luke-warmness needs to be replaced with the righteous deeds of those who truly belong to me.
At the end of verse 18c, the Lord counsels them to pursue one more thing – “salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.”
I mentioned earlier that Laodicea was famous for its medical centers. They were especially famous for an ointment they had developed for ear problems. But even more than that was their famous tephra-Phrygia – an eye powder that was considered in the ancient world to help weak and ailing eyes. This substance was exported all around their world in tablet form. The tablets were ground down into a powder form and mixed with water to make a salve to place upon the eyelids and restore sight.
Barclay, Letters to Seven Churches, p. 94
Listen, you are known around the world for helping people to see – but you are blind, Jesus had said earlier.
What you need is my eye salve – I will make you capable again:
- Of detecting needs
- Of discerning opportunities
- Of spotting danger
- Of identifying godly direction
- Of determining pure decisions
Come to me so that I can restore your spiritual sight and restore your vision for the things of God and the true need of the world.
Listen, when the church at Laodicea read this letter it must have sent them reeling.
Imagine getting a letter from the Lord saying, “You make me sick . . . you think you have everything and that God is blessing you, but you are in reality poor and naked and blind.”
They would have been devastated.
The Lord compassionately reminds them in verse 19. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Change course . . . turn around . . . confess your sinful pride and self-centeredness and arrogance and get moving!
He’s writing to Christians. He’s writing to people who had become indistinguishable from the world. They fit in. They related . . . they never caused anybody any heartburn over the gospel . . . they didn’t come across as fanatics for Jesus yet they didn’t act like atheists either. Anybody could feel comfortable around them . . . because they were lukewarm.
C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
C. S. Lewis, Christian History (65.19.1), p. 27
Finally, notice this kind invitation of the Chief Shepherd, in verse 20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with me.
This is an invitation first and foremost to the church. This is still a valid church. There is still hope for this church. Though often used as a text for an evangelistic appeal, this is an invitation from Christ to the church to let Him in to fellowship.
Adapted from Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 50
We talked last Lord’s day about the church of the open door. Laodicea was the church of the closed door.
They had kept Christ out. “Let me in!”
Would you notice Christ is knocking. He doesn’t break the door down. He doesn’t barge in.
- This is the door of fellowship my Christian friend . . . He waits for you to wake up in the morning and read His word.
- He invites you to pray to Him anytime you want.
- He welcomes you to ask Him for wisdom anytime you recognize a need.
- He stands ready to offer you help and strength whenever you call.
- He’s prepared to shoulder the cares of your world if you will cast your cares on Him.
This is the mystery of fellowship with Christ.
He reminds them and us of that coming day when we will rule with Christ on the throne. (v. 21)
Ladies and Gentlemen, two final challenges from this letter:
- First, don’t stop half-way.
Easter Sunday is a wonderful testimony of Christ who didn’t stop on our behalf . . . He went all the way to the cross . . . all the way through the valley of the shadow of death . . . all the way to the resurrection and ascension and He will come back and take us all the way to heaven!
Pick up where you left off and finish the job . . . finish the task . . . plug back into that ministry . . . sign back up . . . start over again. Don’t stop!
- Don’t stop half-way and secondly, don’t settle for half-hearted.
There is no place in the Christian life for neutral affections . . . for coasting . . .
Daniel Cox, a former jet pilot turned business leader, tells his readers in his book entitled, “Seize the Day” that when jet fighters were first invented, they flow so much faster than their propeller predecessors; so pilot ejection became a more sophisticated process. Theoretically of course, all a pilot needed to do was push a button, clear the plane, then roll forward out of the seat so the parachute would open. But there was a problem. Some pilots, instead of letting go, would keep a grip on the seat until it was almost too late . . . terrified by the speed with which they flew through the air, not to mention the G forces on their bodies. So the engineers went back to the drawing board and came up with a solution. The new design called for a two-inch strap. One end attached t o the front edge of the seat, under the pilot. The other end attached to an electronic take-up reel behind the headrest. Two seconds after ejection, the electronic take-up reel would take up the slack, and literally force the pilot out of his seat, thus freeing the parachute to open. Bottom line, he wrote, fighter pilots needed a device to launch them out of their seats. Question is, what will it take to launch us out of ours?
Danny Cox, Seize the Day (Career Press, 1994)
In the mind of Jesus Christ, it would be the hard hitting truth of this letter . . . to them . . . and to us.
A reminder to be zealous for Christ – on a day like Easter Sunday when millions of people will play religious make-believe.
This is His word to all those thinking of stopping half-way; of settling for half-hearted. Discouraged . . . tempted . . . disobedient . . . repent . . . invite Him in for dinner.
This risen Sovereign Christ, condescends to, knock on our door.
Answer it . . . answer it . . . don’t keep Him out . . . let Him in!
And in the strength of His fellowship, follow Him . . . and live for Him until we one day we reign with Him . . . forever.