With every child I have had, there has always been the fated day when they were standing up high on a ledge and I was trying to coax them to jump off and trust me to catch them. Some of them have been eager to jump, but just couldn’t get their feet to unstick from the glue holding them down. Others haven’t been so eager to jump and required great persuasion and encouragement from myself and all the other kids present. They just couldn’t believe that they could trust me to catch them.
The same is true in life: It is easy to trust in things we have already experienced, but it is much harder to trust things will work out for the best when we have never been down that path before, or the only people we have watched walk down that path seem to have experienced a lot of hardship along the way. This seems to be the place where the Laodicean church finds itself. The churches around them that are praised are also the churches that are experiencing persecution and hardship. I can picture them asking, “Is this really healthy, especially when we are financially well off and things are going great?”
To a church like this, a church struggling to trust Christ and instead trusting in their own wealth, power and resources, Christ identifies himself as “The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation” (Rv 3:14). These titles are both pastoral, trying to help the people trust, but they are also regal, calling the people to respond because of who the Lord Jesus is. On the pastoral side, Jesus is declaring that he knows the best, he testifies to the desires of God, he is faithful and true. He can testify that trusting in God, though scary, potentially fearful and definitely leading one into the unknown, ultimately leads one into resurrection life.
He is the Amen. We use that term frequently after a prayer or during a sermon to mean something like, “Yes” or “let it be.” But in Isaiah 65:16 God is described as the God of truth, or literally, the God of Amen in whose name blessings will be pronounced. If this is the background for Christ’s title, then not only is Jesus trustworthy, but he is also the one in whom blessings flow forth and in whose name the new heavens and the new earth are to be ushered into existence. Behold, I (the God of Amen) will create new heavens and a new earth… (Isa 65:17ff). For a people trusting in their wealth, Jesus wants them to recognize that true blessing resides in him and not in physical silver and gold. But even in Jesus’ names, there is a certain demand for obedience and response, for he is the ruler of God’s Creation. As Colossians 1:16 reminds us, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Since he created it all, it follows that he has the right to demand obedience. Though pastoral, Jesus is making sure that the Laodicean’s understand exactly who is talking to them: The supreme sovereign over creation. Therefore, his words must be taken to heart and obeyed.
As any good sovereign, the king must be informed about his land and his people. And that is exactly what the Lord Jesus declares: I know your deeds (Rv 3:15a). In fact, in every single letter our Lord has made this declaration. He knows the hard work and perseverance the believers in Ephesus, but he also knows their struggle to love (Rv 2:2,4). He knows the difficult situation of the believers in Pergamum who live where Satan has his throne (Rv 2:13) and he knows that they are struggling to maintain doctrinal purity in the midst of a pagan world (Rv 2:14ff). He knows that the believers in Thyatira are doing more now than they did at first (Rv 2:19) and like Pergamum he knows that doctrine and life are under attack in the church. He knows that Sardis is dead (Rv 3:1), but that Smyrna and Philadelphia are both very much alive and faithful, yet suffering and impoverished because of their faith and he tells each to remain faithful and stay the course – Be faithful even to the point of death (Rv 2:10); Hold on to what you have (Rv 3:11).
And now, he declares, 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 (Rv 3:15-16). What a statement. Now to understand this statement and the other statements Jesus makes, it may be helpful to know something about Laodicea. The city was extremely rich with a thriving banking sector. In fact, they were so rich that when the earthquake of AD 17 hit and leveled the cities of the region, Laodicea was able to rebuild faster than all the others and in AD 60 when a second earthquake hit, the citizens refused any imperial help in rebuilding and paid for it all by themselves.1 Additionally, the city boaster internationally desired black woolen garments. Furthermore, one of the great ophthalmologists of the ancient world lived in Laodicea and his salve was exported across the Roman Empire. And last but not least, the city was located on a river, but the river was so turbid that the water was undrinkable, so the citizens built an aqueduct and brought water in from a hot springs in the countryside. Now by the time the water reached the city, it was tepid and the chemicals in the hot springs made the water extremely hard and barely drinkable. Now contrast this with two neighboring cities, just to the north was Hierapolis, which had hot springs that were renowned for their ability to cure illnesses of the eyes and to the south east was Colossae, a city that had an extremely cold stream that provided water for the Colossians.2
It is in this context that Jesus begins his chastisement. Their Christian life and witness is neither cold and refreshing in a Middle Eastern world known for its hot summer sun, nor is it hot and healing in an area known for its therapeutic springs. Instead, their Christian life is nothing, it is absent, it is putrid, so putrid in fact that one is tempted to vomit instead of enjoy it. In fact, the lack of any opposition in the church or to the church makes one wonder if these Laodiceans are preaching the gospel at all. The Jews of the city aren’t angry, neither are the Romans, and there isn’t any false teaching even discussed.3 What are these Christians doing? Certainly it isn’t gospel teaching. What it is, is noted in the very next verse, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Rv 3:17).
Christ knows that the main focus of these Laodiceans is to make money and lots of it. As a church, their believers aren’t interested in a gospel of suffering, difficulty or hardship. They want a gospel of health and wealth and prosperity, and they have achieved exactly what they desired. Money is flowing freely. Their trust is not in Christ and his sufficiency, glory or strength, rather it is in their ability to provide for themselves, to erect a beautiful building, to maintain a comfortable life. Just consider where Jesus is in relation to this church – I stand at the door and knock (Rv 3:20). He is on the outside.
The church wouldn’t say that. I am sure they talked about Jesus occasionally. They probably celebrated the holidays. They probably had a great building and some wonderful love feasts, may even have prayed ‘in Jesus’ name.’ But the truth of the matter as the King of kings and Lord of lords sees it is that he is on the outside of the fellowship. If he came and stood in their midst in his blood soaked robe and declared, ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (Jn 15:20),’ these churchgoers would balk at such nonsense. We aren’t persecuted, we aren’t suffering and we certainly aren’t going to embrace death in order to follow you Jesus. That is nonsense. Just look how easy and good it is. We are faithful. Look at our buildings. Look at our fancy worship. Look at the number people in our congregation. Look how congenial our relations with the world are.
And oh how the cry must have come out of the Lord as he said, Yeh, but I am not in your midst. You have shut me out. You haven’t embraced me. Oh without me, you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (Rv 3:17b). You are nothing, you are worthless and you don’t even see it. You can’t even recognize your spiritual poverty without me as the center of your life. Oh the number of people that should sit up and take notice of our Lord’s words. There are countless people in the church alive today who are blind and beggarly because Christ isn’t the center of their life, the sole driving desire of all they want and seek – and there are even some here today in our midst to whom this letter speaks. Your focus is money, or fun or travel or something else equally worthless and yet the Lord is knocking, requesting a presence in your life.
Will you respond to his hard words this morning and flee your self-sufficiency? Will you run into his arms sadly lamenting your pitiable condition? Will you cry out for mercy and find the grace of Christ sufficient to carry you through the fires that accompany being a faithful witness?
Did you notice that Christ’s solution for these wayward souls is to gain the commodities of faith that can only be had after the purifying fires have melted away the dross and impurities? They people need to put their wealth to work in ways that will bring suffering. They need to use their wealth in ways that will bring persecution upon their life as they preach the gospel and stand strong for the declaration of Christ’s supremacy. Then they will be rich. Because then the purifying fires of testing will issue forth in faithful endurance and the production of a character and hope that will only be fulfilled in the 2nd coming of Jesus. They need a reorientation of life that will allow them to see what truly matters and is important and what isn’t. They need glasses to correct their myopia, surgery to remove the cataracts and antibiotics to cure the infection of selfishness and that can only come from the presence of Christ being let into one’s life and receiving the courage he brings to enter into a life of faithful service that will bring with it persecution.
They need a whole different set of clothing. Black robes aren’t befitting a people of light. They need robes that will set them in opposition and contrast to the people who are not in the church and the way these people act. They need robes of righteousness accompanied by deeds of righteousness. They need to take seriously the commands of Christ and obey them. For the Lord is taking seriously their failure to light as emissaries of light and he is disciplining them. For as the word declares, (Prov. 13:24) He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (Heb. 12:6) because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
And the reward for faithful service, allowing Christ to be the center of our life is grand. There is the promise of siting on the throne of God with the risen Christ. I can’t even begin to fathom that. The right to rule in the new heavens and the new earth. The right to reign with God Almighty.
Now by way of conclusion this morning, the 7 letters to the 7 churches have been full of countless promises to the people of God who are faithful in their walk and who testify to Christ and obey him in al they do. Let me recount these to us before you consider, will I allow Christ to be the center of my life, taking all the hardship that comes but looking forward to being an overcomer who
- Has the right to eat from the tree of life which is in paradise (Rv 2:7)
- Who will receive the crown of life…and not be hurt at all by the second death (Rv 2:10-11)
- Will receive some of the hidden manna, along with a white stone and new name declaring one’s innocence (Rv 2:17)
- Have authority over the nations and the morning star an image of possessing Christ (Rv 2:26-28)
- Will walk with Christ, dressed in white…never having his name blotted out of the book of life (Rv 3:4-5)
- Being made into a pillar in the temple of God, never to leave again…3 new names symbols of security and an eternal home (Rv 3:12)
- And finally the right to sit with me on my Throne just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rv 3:21)
Will you follow? Will you answer the door and allow Christ to take up residence in the center of your life?
1 WBC-NT; Tacitus Annals 14.27
2 NIDNTT “yucro/ß”
3 Riddlebarger Sermons on Revelation, Sermon 9