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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Spewed Out or Embraced?
Text:Revelation 3:14-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2015
Added:2015-11-18
Updated:2015-11-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 72:1,10                                                                              

Ps 24:2,3                                                                                                        

Reading – Revelation 1

Ps 63:1,2,3

Sermon – Revelation 3:14-22

Hy 52:1,2,5

Hy 67:1,5,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, is this church a lot like Laodicea, those lukewarm believers? Or is it like Philadelphia, faithful and true? Do we resemble those loveless Ephesians, or the compromising Pergamites? If you study the seven letters of Jesus to the churches of Asia Minor, you might wonder whether our congregation fits the profile of one particular church. Which of those Christian congregations from Asia Minor is most like us, in terms of challenges, and weaknesses, and good works?

If you read through these seven letters again, you could probably make a list of things that strike you as being obvious here. You’d take a bit from this letter, and a bit from that letter—and even then, the portrait wouldn’t be complete. That’s not surprising, of course: every church of Christ is uniquely different. Each of his congregations has its own setting, its own history, different leaders and struggles and gifts.

It’s reassuring then, that Christ knows the whole truth about his churches. Recall that scene of Revelation 1: Jesus among the lampstands. He’s in the midst of them, to watch over them, to protect them, to know them. He knew the seven churches of Asia Minor, and He knows all the churches in our federation too. And He knows us, so He can help us! He knows exactly the message we need to hear: rebuke and encouragement and direction

We can say this about Jesus because of the title that He has in this final letter: “These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God” (v 14). He is “the Amen”—that’s a word from the conclusion of our prayers and creeds. And as we’ve all learned in Catechism class, the word affirms something that is thoroughly valid: “it is true and certain.” So what if a person has the name “Amen,” like Jesus does? Well, this is someone can expect perfect faithfulness from. This Jesus won’t lie, He won’t have incomplete understanding of a situation. The “Amen” bears true testimony about all his churches.

He’s the “faithful and true witness,” even “the Beginning of creation” (v 14). That last bit of his title speaks of Christ as the firstborn of the universe—He is the source of all, and He’s also the king over all. So we need to trust what He says, and to submit to what He says. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

The Faithful and True Witness speaks to Laodicea, a church that is:

  1. lukewarm, but needs to be either hot or cold
  2. poor, but can be so enduringly rich
  3. alone, but invited to a glorious fellowship

 

1. lukewarm, but needs to be either hot or cold: Every city, no matter where in the world it is, has to have a reliable source of fresh water, year-round. The Laodiceans knew about that need as well. And this was because of where their city was found. Its location was determined not by natural features of the landscape (like being on a river or a hill), but determined by the road system. Laodicea stood at an intersection of two important trade routes. This was a good spot for doing business of course, but Laodicea’s main shortcoming was a lack of access to drinking water. And we all know that a city cannot thrive without water.

Back then they couldn’t sink deep wells into the ground, or build reservoirs behind vast concrete dams. Their water had to be brought in from springs that were ten kilometers to the south, near the city of Colossae. It flowed to Laodicea through an elaborate system of stone pipes. But ingenious as the technology was, that supply of water could also be cut off. The city could be left helpless, especially during the dry season, or in times of war.

Even so, Laodicea was a bustling city, and prosperous. The church there was probably established during Paul’s third missionary journey when in nearby Ephesus. There was a community of believers in Laodicea, yet Jesus needs to bring them a serious rebuke. It might be one of the best-known lines of all these letters, when the Lord says to them, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth” (vv 15-16).

It’s an image we understand. If it’s a hot summer’s day and you’re looking for a refreshing drink, you head to the kitchen for a cool beverage. Or if it’s a bit chilly outside, you make yourself something hot, like some coffee or hot chocolate. And the temperature is important! If you get a lukewarm Coke, you turn up your nose—this needs some ice-cubes! Or if your coffee isn’t hot anymore, you might dump it down the drain. What’s lukewarm is unpleasant. What’s lukewarm is just not useful to you. So what if that was a church’s spiritual condition? What if that was your heart—just kind of tepid about Christ, indifferent or lacking enthusiasm for his glory? Then there’s a need to repent, and to pray earnestly for a renewal of zeal.

Let’s look at this more closely. We gain an insight into this picture of “hot and cold and lukewarm” when we consider the local setting of the Laodiceans. We already said that this city knew all about the need for fresh drinking water—and thankfully, Colossae was a nearby source. Cold water meant life and success for the city.

But to the north of Laodicea was another city, called Hierapolis. And this Heirapolis was famous for the same thing Iceland is famous for today: hot springs! The springs of Heirapolis rose up inside the city limits, flowed across a wide plateau, and spilled from an escarpment near Laodicea. When the water was piping hot, people liked to bathe in it—it relaxed the muscles, and cleansed the skin. But as that hot water gurgled towards Laodicea, it cooled off. By the time it reached the city, it hardly gave off any heat at all.

So when Jesus talks about being lukewarm, the Laodiceans surely thought about that warm waterfall close to their city. At the bottom of those falls were pools of insipid and foul-tasting water. Water without purpose. If you drank it, you’d be sure to spit it out on the ground. And if you bathed in it, it wouldn’t do anything for you either. This is why Jesus says to the church, “Either be hot, or be cold.” Either be like the healing waters of Hieropolis, or be like the refreshing waters of Colossae—but not somewhere in between, for that doesn’t serve anyone. Have some useful purpose in the faith! You should be able to give refreshment to your brothers and sisters when they’re weary, or you should be able to bring them healing when they’re spiritually unwell. But the Laodiceans were doing neither. The church wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t cold. They were good for nothing, without benefit.

We know of course, that there’s various signs of spiritual decay, any number of indicators that a person isn’t really living in step with the Spirit. A lack of personal prayer, for example. A neglect of Scripture. An easy surrender to the devil’s temptations, an acceptance of sinful habits—all this shows that a person is lukewarm in the faith, that they’re not fully serious about the Lord. But here’s another sign of being unmoved by the gospel: when we don’t want to serve others in love. When we don’t encourage, and we don’t find ways to build them up. Like lukewarm water, there’s just a neutral effect. Bland and weak. We don’t make a mark, and don’t bring blessing.

Jesus doesn’t say that’s just how it is, that some in the church will be active and others will be passive. No, He says that if you’re a true believer, if you’re a living congregation, then you will be active in love and good works. Nice n’ cold, or good n’ hot, you’ll be of use to others! You’ll make them glad that you’re around.

So how had this happened? What makes an entire church so lacking in care for one another? This letter doesn’t tell of any outstanding trouble in Laodicea. There was no persecution from the Jews, or the Roman authorities. There were no Nicolaitans teaching falsehood, no Balaamites, and no Jezebel. In Laodicea, they were enjoying peace and ease—which was maybe the whole problem: they were too comfortable.

There’s truth to that, isn’t there? When Christ’s people aren’t fighting hard for the truth, or when we’re not getting troubled by unbelievers, it’s so easy to become self-focused. We get consumed by all the details of our own life, and we forget those people whom the Lord has put around us—people to serve, people to visit, to pray for, to share the gospel with. Because we’re self-absorbed, we just don’t have any effect on them.: lukewarm.

And since they were totally ineffective, these Laodiceans are distasteful. The Lord says He wants to spew them out of his mouth, be rid of them, dump them down the drain! Those are strong words, but they’re no exaggeration. Remember who’s speaking: “The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness” (v 14). Jesus is being entirely honest, speaking the truth in love. For we have to know: Spiritual apathy is repulsive to him! Being indifferent disgusts him! He wants no part in a church that isn’t alive with love and good works. He’d rather go thirsty than have to swallow our lukewarm prayers and lukewarm words and lukewarm giving. Because if it’s lukewarm, it’s not real. There’s no heart in it.

But though the Lord is ready to spew the Laodiceans, listen to verse 19: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” There’s yet a chance to change. And He wants them to change! Even what sounds like a harsh rebuke is the love of Christ. So it is today: better to hear an honest message, better to have the pain of having our shame exposed, than to die in sin and unbelief. Because then there’s no hope left.

“Therefore be zealous and repent” (v 19). If you’re keeping track, this is now the fourth time in these seven letters that Jesus calls one of his churches to repent. These were churches that had established by the apostles themselves—churches that were part of that first spread of the gospel. Yet as close as they were to the source, they didn’t have it all figured out. Even they had to repent! It’s a call that our church needs to hear as well: Turn from sin, and change your ways!

And in this case, don’t overlook what’s joined with the command to repent: “Be zealous!” The two go together! For it’s never enough to say, “I’m a sinner, and I feel really bad about it.” Or to say, “We’re not a perfect church, but show me one that is.” That’s not enough. Recognition of sin has to be joined with the resolve to change: “I want to be of use for the Lord, and bring blessing to his people. Instead of being indifferent, I want to be zealous. Instead of being so-so in my faith, I want to become committed 100%, to give Christ my all.” Repent, and be zealous!

And that zeal can only spring up in us from the Spirit of God. He promises to equip God’s people for service, to give spiritual gifts. That’s his almighty power, but it’s still like your campfire in the woods: If you’re not careful, you can suppress the Spirit’s work, you can quench it, and even put it out. But you can also fan the Spirit into flame! With his Word and prayer you can kindle the blaze of the Spirit, and be alive in him.

 

2. poor, but can be enduringly rich: So how does a person, even an entire congregation, become lukewarm? What’s the real cause? The reason is clear from the next verse. For Jesus who knows them so well, knows what they’ve been saying lately, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (v 17). These Laodiceans were self-secure. They thought they already had it all—so it’s no wonder they weren’t zealous to have the Lord too.

In a way, their self-sufficient spirit was understandable. As long as the water kept flowing, they had a good life there in Laodicea. The countryside around provided good grazing for sheep, and those same sheep produced a soft, glossy wool—the region was known for producing high quality woven garments. Laodicea was home to a medical school as well, which produced another top import, a healing balm or ointment for the eyes. Besides all this, the city was rich. Laodicea was so wealthy that when an earthquake severely damaged the city, they turned down offers of money from the emperor to help rebuild. “We’re rich, we’re wealthy,” they said, “and we don’t need anything.”

And pride of wealth can so easily carry over into our spiritual life. That’s still one of the principal dangers of being rich. Think of Agur’s prayer in Proverbs 30, “Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” (v 8-9). If you’ve got everything you need, if you’ve got it all figured out, why bother humbly seeking after God?

Brothers and sisters, it’s plain to see again the similarities with our own congregation. Many of us enjoy an abundance of gifts. We enjoy a life that’s successful, one surrounded with good things. Many of us can point to a lot of hard work that has brought us here: diligence and wise decisions, dedication and genuine skill—so there’s the temptation to conclude that this is what’s made us. And if you’re a self-made man, why live in gratitude to someone else? Or if you have it all already, why need much more of God?

But the “Faithful and True One” speaks the truth to his people. He gives a reality check, and tells us what our real condition is. While the Laodiceans were pleased with their income statements, proud of their medical school and their textile industry and trading, the reality was very different. All the money in the empire couldn’t change the fact that they were truly poor. Endless gallons of eye ointment could not cure their spiritual blindness. The finest textiles in the world couldn’t cover their nakedness and shame before God.

And they didn’t even realize it! You “do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (v 17). But without Christ, that’s what all of us are. Without living daily in his grace, we have no standing before God. Apart from Christ, we have no strength, no hope, no purpose. If there’s any person who attempts to live outside of fellowship with God through his Son, he’s truly miserable. He might not realize it, but he is: wretched.

Yet as we’ve come to expect in these letters, there’s also good news here. The good news is that those who are poor can yet be truly wealthy. Says Jesus, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich” (v 18). Since they’re poor, they need to buy from Christ “gold refined.” Not any old gold, but only the wealth that endures. It’s wealth that has passed through the refiner’s fire, and been found totally trustworthy: the precious blood of Christ. Everything else will fade: your money, your home, your health, all your toys. So Jesus says, “Make me your treasure! Find your security in me alone!”

A person without Christ is so desperately poor. And a person without him is so shamefully naked. In the Bible, nakedness is often a symbol of judgment; after the fall into sin, to be without clothes is a mark of deep humiliation. Like our first parents Adam and Eve, we stand humiliated before God in our sin. But again Jesus offers hope: “Buy from me… white garments, that you may be clothed” (v 18). These white garments are seen throughout the book of Revelation—they’re the robes made white in the blood of the Lamb.

For every believer, these are clothes that never go out of style! These white robes mean a life free from the stain of guilt, hearts cleansed of pollution, now bright with joy. By faith in Christ we can be clothed with Christ. Sinners no longer have to be naked in our shame, but we can be wrapped up in all his glory.

And, says Christ, “Anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (v 18). For you might have 20/20 vision, or you might wear high quality lenses, but if you’re spiritually blind, you’re still completely in the dark. Because you don’t know God. You don’t know your sin. You don’t know the Saviour. But the Lord alone can give you a clear vision. He can open the eyes of your heart, that you may know “the hope of his calling, the riches of his glory, and the exceeding greatness of his power” (Eph 1:18-19).

Beloved, if you know that you’re poor, there’s a way to be rich. If you know that you’re naked, there’s a way to be clothed. If you know that you’re blind, it’s possible to see again. For you can get all this at no cost, through the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

3. alone, but invited to glorious fellowship: This last letter to the churches ends with a marvelous invitation. For the Lord cannot conceal his love for this imperfect community: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me” (v 20). In a way, it’s easy to picture this scene. You’re sitting down to dinner with your family, or with some friends, just about ready to dig in, when there’s a knock at the door. Someone unexpected is standing there, and someone who’d blessed by your fellowship and a good meal. So you invite him in.

In their blindness, the Laodiceans had removed the Lord Jesus from their congregation. He was on the outside looking in, because remember: they didn’t really need him anymore! They could do without their Lord. But in his great mercy, Jesus doesn’t go away. He stands at the door and knocks. He wants to be let back inside—not because He needs us, but because we need him. Without Christ, we’re all alone. Without him, we can have so many friends, but still be desperately alone. He knows this, and He reaches out to his people in forgiving love.

It’s really an amazing thing. Here is the King of kings, the firstborn of God’s creation, the ruler of history, seeking fellowship with sinners: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (v 20). That’s not a feeble plea either, a hopeful tap at the door that we could easily ignore. It’s the king’s command, an urgent request, and it’s for our good, now and forever.

Because when Christ does come in, He joins in fellowship: dining with us, and we with him. To share a meal with someone shows that you have a bond of affection, there’s a link of friendship. Like on birthdays or at weddings, you gather with those you care about, with those who know you and mean something to you. Around that table, you’re happy to be together. That is God’s delight, too. He wants to be with those who bear his image. He wants to have peace with those who once were his enemies. He wants to be a Father, surrounded at table by loving sons and daughters.

We have a taste of that reality today. If we live by faith, today we have fellowship with Christ. Today we are strengthened by him, and today our hearts can rejoice in him. But it’s only a passing preview. It’s just a sampling, only a tiny appetizer for that lavish feast which we’ll enjoy forever. One day soon, it’s going to get so much better—better a million times over. For then God himself will dwell with us, and He will be our God forever.

Christ will say it often in this book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming soon. I’m ready to appear. Even now, I’m standing at the door.” So we have to know this: to have fellowship with Christ forever, we need to have fellowship with him today. By faith today, we need to “reserve our spot” for tomorrow. Beloved, don’t think that you can delay your response because you’re so busy with other things, or you’re so in love with your sin. If you’re not prepared for him; if you’re not eager and sincere; if you don’t open that door, you yourself will be cast outside—naked, and hungry, and alone.

So in these last days, be an overcomer. Have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. And look forward to that day when we get to meet in person the author of this love letter. Look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb, when He and we can enjoy perfect fellowship, eating and drinking and rejoicing together, forever.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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