During the past six weeks, we’ve been following the postman as he delivers Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia found in Revelation 2-3. This morning, he is going to be delivering the last letter, to the church in Laodicea. To get to Laodicea, the postman will travel seventy-five km south east from his last stop in Philadelphia.
Laodicea is the chief city in the southern region of Phrygia. It is noble city, known for a number of things. First, it is a wealthy centre of banking and commerce. Second, it is known for the manufacture of fine clothing. Third, it is home to one of the finest medical schools in the world which specializes in the production of a salve that is very beneficial to some eye diseases. Remember these things because they will come up a little later as we once again discover that things are not as they seem. There really is more here than meets the eye.
JESUS – THE AMEN!
To the angel in the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (verse 14)
Again, as always, Jesus starts by introducing himself, by saying something about his actions or his purpose. In this letter, he tells the people that he is the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”
Jesus calls himself the Amen. It’s an interesting title. We generally think of the word ‘amen’ as little more than the punctuation mark at the end of a prayer but in the ancient Hebrew tradition it is far more than that. To them, the word ‘amen’ is a way of acknowledging that something is valid and binding. To say, “Amen,” is to affirm in no uncertain terms that something is utterly trustworthy. To say that Jesus is the Amen was to say that he is complexly trustworthy. He is true and faithful, the real deal. Jesus is absolutely, totally, undeniable and infallibly true. Amen!
Then Jesus says something else about himself. He calls himself the ruler of God’s creation. Jesus is reminding the Laodiceans that all of creation has its origin and purpose in him. He is the source of all life and the agent of creation. We sometimes forget that. So often we mistakenly associate the Father with the Creator. Nothing could be further from the truth. John is clear in his Gospel (Jn. 1:3). It is through Jesus that all things were made. Without him nothing was made that has been made. He is the author and ruler of creation. And here’s the added joy. Not only is Jesus the author of the first creation, through his resurrection he is the beginning of the new creation as well. Amen!
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. (verses 15-16)
This is where we begin to realize something about this letter. Of the seven letters to the seven churches it is unique in that it is by far the sternest of all. “I know your deeds,” Jesus says and it is abundantly clear that he is not at all impressed by what he sees. His complaint about the church in Laodicea is not that it is unfaithful or heretical. There are no false teachers, no Balaamites, Nicolatians or Jezebels in its midst. There are no persecutors among them who cause them to fall away. Jesus’ complaint about them is far more basic. They are simply complacent and probably boring. That’s what he means when he says that they are neither not nor cold. There is no life, no energy, no pizzazz. They are going through the motions of religions with no real heart or passion.
“You are neither hot nor cold and how I wish you were either,” say Jesus, “but because you are lukewarm, I am going to spit you out of my mouth.” It’s important to note here that Jesus is not comparing hot and cold. He is not saying that hot is good and cold is bad. To Jesus both hot and cold are good. Think about it, a hot cup of apple cider on a cool autumn evening is just as good as a cold glass of lemonade on a muggy afternoon in July. What no one wants is lukewarm stuff. But that is exactly what the church Laodicea is, lukewarm and tepid and it nauseates Jesus.
More than any other letter, I think this one speaks most loudly to the Church today. The modern North American Church is for the most part a lukewarm, tepid institution. It has become complacent and boring. That’s why it is in such dismal shape almost everywhere we look. There are shining examples of individual churches that are full of life and vigor – I think this is one of them – but that’s the exception rather than the rule.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in a church meetings and heard the same old litany about aging churches, shrinking congregations and dwindling resources. Many churches are dying slow and painful deaths. Buildings that used to be filled with people and activity and Spirit and now mostly empty shells. This is a problem in virtually every denomination.
That’s very strange especially when we consider what God has given to us. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the best news in the world. It is a Gospel that speaks to the very heart of the every person. Not only does it offer a better, fuller, richer life here on earth, it also holds the promise of eternal life. How have we made it so incredibly boring?
William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army, one of the great Christian mission organizations of the world. But he was not always very enthusiastic about the Gospel message. One day he was listening to a lecture by a hard-core atheist who was quite willing to say exactly what he thought of believers. At one point he said rather brazenly that if he believed the same things that Christians believed, he would not be able to rest day or night from telling everyone about it. He may have meant it as a slight against the Church but those words struck a chord with Booth. He claimed to be a Christian and yet he was lukewarm in his faith. He decided then and there that it was time to give the Good News the energy and enthusiasm that it deserved. And because of that, the Salvation Army was born.
In many places, the Church has become a collection of people who gather week after week, doing the same things that they’ve done for the last thirty years, completely unaware of the needs of the changing world around it. No wonder Jesus threatens to spit the Church out of his mouth. Jesus isn’t asking very much. All he’s asking is that the Church be either hot or cold. Just pick one or the other. Just do something and do it well. Get out there and change the world! Amen!
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 by 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. (verses 17-18)
It is in these verses that Jesus, the Amen, gives us the signs of complacency. The church in Laodicea has become complacent because it is content with what it has. “We are rich, we have what we need. Leave us alone.”
But Jesus is not content and tells them so in no uncertain terms. “You think you are rich, well clothed and able to see,” said Jesus, “but I have news for you. You are wretched, pitiful, poor, naked and blind.” Remember where those images came from? The city of Laodicea is known for its prosperity. It is known as the place where expensive and elegant clothing is made and it is the home of a medical school that specialized in eye care. All the people in Laodicea think of themselves as prosperous, well clothed and able to see. The problem with this church is that it is caught in a lie.
But Jesus tells them the truth. Remember that he is the Amen, the faithful and true witness. He sees beyond the veneer of wealth and beneath the skin of the flesh to the way things really are in the heart. Yes, the Laodiceans could dress in nice clothes and get their eyes treated but he warns them not to become complacent and put too much stock in such things because they can all be gone in a flash.
As always Jesus offers a way out: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by 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” (v. 18). He counsels them. He tells them what they need to do. They need to stop worrying about the riches of this world. The riches of this world will fade away, the clothes will become rags and the eye salves will cease to be effective.
The stuff of true lasting value comes from Jesus. If the people want to get beyond their spiritual poverty, he can give them gold refined by fire. If they want to cover the nakedness of their souls, he can dress them in robes of dazzling white. If they want to see past their blindness to the truth of God’s Word, he can make them see. He can do all of this and will do it willingly. All they have to do is say, “Yes.” Amen!
KNOCKING AT THE DOOR
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. (verses 19-20)
Now Jesus, the Amen, gets to the root cause of the people’s complacency. Simply put, the people have shut him out. They know him. They acknowledged him as Saviour and invited him into their hearts but then they ushered him right out the back door so that they could go on their merry way just as they pleased.
That’s why Jesus says those famous words: “I stand at the door and knock” (v. 20). He wants back in. Note that he is not talking to people who are outside the Church. He is talking to born again, washed in the blood of the lamb, baptized in the Spirit Christians. In fact, he is talking to people just like you and me.
Note something else too. This is one of the few times in the seven letters to the seven churches that Jesus got up close and personal with individuals. Most of the time, he was writing to the body of believers, the Church, but not here. In verse 20, he says, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (v. 20). The word he uses is ‘anyone’. This is a personal message spoken to individuals. That’s important to realize because it reminds us that people don’t come to Jesus in groups. We don’t belong to him because we go the right church or worship with the right community of faith or because we were baptized by the right minister or priest at the right age. Those things are all important and I don’t mean to diminish them at all but when in comes to our salvation, we come to Christ one person at a time through a personal commitment of faith.
What we need to understand from these verses is that receiving Christ as Saviour is not the end of the road of faith. It is only the beginning. When we come to Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and it is through the Spirit that Jesus begins to transform us into the people that we were created to be. That transformation will last for the rest of our lives. But it will only happen if we let him in. He stands at the door and knocks.
It comes down to the choices that each of us makes. You can let Jesus stand at the door if you want. He will not force himself upon you against your will. But the longer that Jesus stands outside, the less fulfilled your life will be. So don’t be complacent and content to let things remain as they are. Rather step out in faith to discover what more Jesus has in store for you. Amen!
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. (verses 21-22)
As always Jesus, the Great Amen, ends this letter with a promise. It’s the last letter and maybe that’s why it has the best promise of all. Those who open the door to Jesus are promised that they will sit with him on his throne. The throne is a symbol of authority. As Christ, through his death and resurrection overcame sin and death and the power of Satan, so shall all those who overcome and walk in faith. As Jesus shares the Father’s throne, so will we share his with all the authority that comes with it. Amen!
The throne is the last image that Jesus uses in these letters to the seven churches. That is only fitting since the throne will become the key and most important image in the rest of the book of Revelation.
The postman’s job is finished. All of the letters have been delivered to the seven churches and it is now up to us to apply their lessons to our lives. Revelation is not a crystal ball. While it is true that it uncovers invisible events in the future, its primary purpose is to reveal the unseen realities of the present. Its primary purpose is pastoral. The book of Revelation, in fact, is unique in that it is the best known and most comprehensive discipleship manual that has ever been written. As we study these seven letters we realize that what is written in them is as relevant today as it was 1,900 years ago. The challenges are still the same. The benefits are still the same. The promises are still the same. The message is still the same and always will be.
At some point, you may want to uncover what Jesus says in the rest of this most fascinating book. But for now, let’s soak in all that we’ve learned and let the Great Amen work on our spirits to transform our lives as we seek to be the people whom God created us to be.
Truly things are not as they seem when it comes to Revelation. There really is more here than meets the eye. He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. And let the people say, “Amen!”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We offer our thanks for your constant presence, how you are able to walk beside us even as you live in our hearts. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out offering healing and purpose. You are so great and we seek to honour you with all that we do.
We thank you for the hope that you give to us in the difficult times. Regardless of how hopeless or unsolvable our circumstances may appear, you can enter in and change things for the better. Strengthen our faith and help us to believe every promise that you have made.
As we give thanks for our nation, we also give thanks for the Canadian Forces who serve around the world in various capacities. We are awed by those who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us and to bring justice to the world. Help us to support them and to let them know how much we appreciate their sacrifices.
We lift up in prayer everyone who has been affected by Covid-19. There are so many people impacted in so many ways. We pray that we will pull together as a people to find safe solutions to the problems that face us.
We also lift up in prayer those of our community and congregation who are sick this week at home or in hospital, especially Richard, Gary and Leo and ask for your Healing Spirit to be upon them.
We also pray for those who mourn, especially the family and friends of Neil Lester who’s funeral was yesterday afternoon. Grant your healing and peace in this time of loss.
Holy God, we know that all life is valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are limitless and unconditional. Enable us to honour the gifts and ministries that each brings to your Church. May we who call ourselves Christians always seek to give proper balance to our ministries that all of your Gospel may be shared. Grant us guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
July 5, 2020 / Pentecost 5
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Our hearts overflow with joy.
ALL: God has blessed us forever and ever.
ONE: With our mouths we raise songs of praise.
ALL: God has blessed us forever and ever.
ONE: God is here with us.
ALL: God has blessed us forever and ever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Your mercies, O God, are forever. Your love is eternal. Your grace is everlasting. Hear our prayers. Enter our thoughts. Move our spirits to follow your guiding hand. Your law is our delight and your salvation is our freedom. Draw us out of our self-seeking ways and give us a wider vision of your purpose.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of mercy, hear our prayers. You rescued our mothers and fathers from the bondage of sin and death. You saved them by the cosmic struggle of the cross and the astonishing victory of the empty tomb. That same salvation is ours in Jesus Christ. Forgive us when we forget about your love and move in a different direction. Break the bonds of our slavery and remind us, once again, of the freedom that is ours through faith. Hear of prayers of confession.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God has promised to deliver us from the penalty of sin. God has assured us that death can not hold the victory over those who are in Jesus Christ. We are not destined to live in bondage. We are called to be free. When we confess our sins, we have God’s promise that we are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer ourselves. We offer our gifts. We offer our lives for your Kingdom. Whenever you call to us, enable us to follow regardless of where or when we hear your voice. We commit, once again, our lives to your purpose.
As cool streams of water quench the thirst of the dry place, so does God’s Spirit refresh our spirits. Live the renewed life of Christ and share the Good News with all whom you meet.