Text: Revelation 3:14-22
Today we come to the last of the seven letters in Revelation. These are letters written from Jesus to the people of His Church and because you are also His Church, these are letters to you. There is much different between these first century people and us, but also much in common. Like them we get mixed up about what is true and false, our actions don’t line up with our beliefs, our obedience falters, and – with today’s letter – we suffer from ineffectiveness with things that matter most.
Of all the letters in Revelation, this one may be the most familiar to you even if you didn’t know the chapter reference or the church name of Laodicea. That’s because it has two memorable parts to it. One is verse 16, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” The other is verse 20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”
There is a lot of detail and several ways to work through today’s letter, but for today I want to look with you at spiritual ineffectiveness, Jesus diagnosis and prescription for it, and the opportunity and invitation before us still.
We’ll start with “lukewarm.” Contrary to what you might think, ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ do not refer to one’s faithfulness or passion for Christ. Rather, both are good in the context of first century Laodicea. Cold water could refresh a weary traveler; hot water could be used for bathing or cooking. Both were useful. But lukewarm or tepid water was not useful.
Jesus was describing a faith that had lost its effectiveness in the world. The outworking of the Laodicean’s faith was lacking. Perhaps they didn’t show compassion for one another or didn’t care for the poor among them. We don’t get that detail, but we can understand the imagery: their faith just didn’t make a difference in their lives or the world around them.
Jesus writes to them to diagnose this problem and offer a prescription for health. And that’s what comes next…
Doctor and Parent/Teacher (vv.17-19)
In verse 17, Jesus offers a quote to get at the inner dialogue or reasoning of a lukewarm person in Laodicea. That person believes they have what they need in life – “I have become wealthy and have need of nothing.” It’s easy for me to see how I could (and do!) become ineffective when I think I have everything I need. Or it’s easy to see how my focus turns from spiritual things if I pursue “everything I need” apart from God.
In response to this self-satisfied soul Jesus diagnoses, “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (v.17) But he is not tearing down or belittling us. At the beginning of this seventh letter Jesus is named as “the faithful and true witness.” (v.14) He is not belittling us; he is telling the truth! He continues with a prescription for health and healing, “I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (v.18) These are not literal prescriptions for spiritual self-satisfaction and ineffectiveness, they are metaphors for what we really need to become effective once again.
- We desire riches and wealth; Jesus points us to the greater treasure of mature faith refined by obedience in trial.
- We cover ourselves to hide our shame; Jesus points us to the “white garments,” a symbol of being clothed with his righteousness and forgiveness.
- We don’t even realize our spiritual blindness; Jesus offers us healing and spiritual insight.
These things may feel like a rebuke; they may even feel painful. Using a different metaphor – one of a caring parent or teacher, Jesus speaks of the connection between love and discipline. Still truth-telling, he says that this is discipline offered in love. It’s not punishment; its discipline designed for us to learn and grow and thrive. So, he urges, “Be zealous (passionate!) and repent.” (v.19)
Opportunity Knocks (vv.20-22)
At this point every other of the seven letters moves directly into the “he who overcomes” and “he who has an ear, let him hear.” But this last letter has this extra sentence – and a third metaphor – which is one of the most familiar verses of the letters, even though most probably don’t realize this is where it is in scripture.
The same Jesus who was present in the beginning (v. 14) is also the God who desires relationship with 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 will dine with him, and he with me.” (v.20)
This verse is often used in evangelistic rallies or altar calls as an invitation to salvation. And certainly Jesus does invite people to open up and welcome him into their life. But that’s not really the context here. The context is the person whose faith has become ineffective. Finding or seeking satisfaction consciously (or unconsciously) apart from God can contribute to a faith without impact. In this vivid image of knocking at the door, Jesus reminds us of several things:
- The time is urgent (it’s more than “call me when you’re ready”; because he loves you, he desires to be in your life)
- Jesus will not force his way into your life (i.e. kick the door down)
- Jesus desires to share life with you (i.e. not run your life, but enjoy it together)
Do you “hear his voice?” I don’t mean audibly; but if you are interested in this message and this invitation, then I think you are hearing his voice. In fact, whether you are hot, cold, or lukewarm, I think there is something important in Jesus letter to you today. Do you hear it?
If so, then “opening the door” means accepting God’s loving discipline, Jesus’ offer for help and healing, and His invitation to do life together. Remember, he’s not going to force himself on you and he’s not out to run your life. That’s not the image of welcoming him in to eat a meal together. It is the image of a God who loves you enjoying life together with you, as He intended it to be when He created man and woman in the beginning and said, “It is good.” May God give us ears to hear. Amen.