Behold, I stand at the door and knock…

Introduction

In this last letter to the churches, Jesus finds nothing to commend in the church at Laodicea. The ‘children’s picture book Jesus’ that so many think of, uses some deeply disturbing, graphic language to describe what he thinks of this church.

But is it all doom and gloom? Do we finish this series of letters with the picture of a gagging Jesus, sick in the stomach at the state of the church?

Not quite. Even in this letter we have a picture of the deep love of God, and the amazing grace we all need in the Gospel.

Laodicea

Revelation 3:14–22 (ESV)

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 

16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 

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 eat with him, and he with me. 

21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 

22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”

The Accusation

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 

16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

“Because you’re lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, you make me want to vomit” – Jesus

Jesus actually wishes that they were either one or the other, but they aren’t, and it makes him want to gag.

So with such a strong accusation against the church, it’s important we understand what it is that Jesus kinds so repulsive. What does it mean to be lukewarm? What does it mean to be hot? What does it mean to be cold?

Lukewarm

Firstly, let’s look at how we often use these terms:

  • Hot Christian. A christian who is ‘on fire’ in their walk with God, walking in the ‘flame’ of the Holy Spirit.
  • Cold Christian. A christian who has grown ‘cold’ in their faith, meaning they are no longer walking closely with Jesus, who who have seemed to fallen away, or a back-slidden.
  • Lukewarm Christian. A christian who isn’t really committed. Someone who’s not really involved in church life or relationships.

If these definitions were correct, did Jesus really mean that he wished the Christians there were either hot or cold? The problem with these definitions are that they don’t seem to line up with the description of the Christians in Laodicea.

We need to rethink ‘lukewarm’.

Some commentators reference the fact that Laodicea was built on the banks of a river that carried water which was largely undrinkable due the amount of silt in it. Archeological evidence shows that a major aqueduct fed the city with water that was sourced from natural hot springs about 8kms away. The water was hot at it’s source, but by the time it arrived in the city, it had cooled to a tepid, lukewarm temperature.

Jesus may have been building on a picture the Laodiceans were very familiar with. Hot water had it’s benefits, as did cold water, but lukewarm water isn’t pleasant to drink; far from refreshing you, it makes you want to gag.

But I think the real clue about what Jesus meant by lukewarm, comes from the text itself. So let’s see if the Word can define itself.

The Problem

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 

The clue here is found in how verse 17 is connected to the verses previous by the phrase, “For you say…”. This should trigger in us a heightened sense that Jesus is about to give us some insight into his dramatic reaction to lukewarm Christians.

However we may define a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ Christian, here, Jesus tells us very plainly what a ‘lukewarm’ Christian is like.

The lukewarm Christian is like the story of he Emperors New Clothes.


 


 

The lukewarm Christian will not admit his need for Christ, or that he has any need at all.

The lukewarm Christian stands like a homeless child on the street, pitiable and poor, blind and naked, yet proudly crying out, “I am rich! I have prospered! I need nothing!.”

The lukewarm Christian parades his hopeless estate through the streets and into the assembly of God’s people, while all the time declaring his self-sufficiency and wealth.

No-one wants to leave the ‘happy christian parade’ in case everyone else thinks less of them, or worse, calls them ‘lukewarm’. Yet, ironically, it is all those who keep pretending that Jesus calls lukewarm, and makes the bile rise in his throat.

The Solution

Listen to the counsel of Jesus and admit your need.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 

That’s why Jesus cries out, “I wish you were cold or hot”, either way, he would have someone who knew their need and was honest about it.

Listen to the cry of God through the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 55:1–7

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David…

6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 

7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

So now again from Rev 3:18, hear the cry of Jesus to you.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Jesus says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden…” Keeping up the charade is tiring. Come to Jesus. Find your rest and comfort in him.

The Hope

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 

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 eat with him, and he with me.

Hope and grace can be found in this letter that holds no commendation.

This lukewarm church that makes Jesus want to vomit, is still loved. We know this because he is still rebuking them, still seeking to discipline them.

His knocking on the door is not an angry bashing, it is a hopeful pleading. Jesus stands knocking at the door of the church desiring an ear that will turn to him, and once again be willing to sit with him at his table and share a meal with the master.

Maybe now you have felt his rebuke. Know that you are loved. Tell him your need. Call out to him for healing. He will not cast you away.

The Promise

21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

This promise is now extended to his church. ‘To the one who once made me sick, but acknowledges their need for me, I have a seat ready for you. You will sit with me in honour.’

So…

22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”

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