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Laodicea: Pleased, But Pitiful (Revelation 3:14-22)

November 16, 2014 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 3:14–3:22

Happy Ever After

Laodicea: Pleased, But Pitiful
Revelation 3:14-22
(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)
November 16th, 2014

 

I. Christ in the Lycus

Approximately forty miles southeast of ancient Phliadelphia, and one-hundred miles due east of Ephesus, the Lycus River Valley was the home of three cities. On the east was Colossae, to the north was Heirapolis, and on the west, Laodicea. Paul confirms this geography in his letter to the church in Colossae...

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. [13] For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12-13)

In fact, Paul wanted the Colossians to know, like Epaphras, how committed he was these churches and the work of the gospel in the Lycus Valley. Earlier in Colossians he wrote...

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, [2] that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, [3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3)

One feature of Paul's letter to the Colossians that has intrigued believers for centuries is Paul statement in Colossians 4:16...And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

Well, God did not see fit to preserve for us Paul's letter to the Laodiceans. But this morning, we do have the opportunity to study another letter to the Laodiceans. Turn with me to Revelation 3:14-22.

 

II. The Passage: “The Church in Laodicea” (3:14-22)

As we return to the Book of the Revelation, we come to the seventh and final letter of the introductory letters that make up chapters 2 and 3 of this book. As we see here, this is Jesus' letter to the Laodiceans. So let me begin by simply reading through this letter in its entirety, then we can go back, as we've done before, and attempt to understand both what it being said here, AND, what God is saying to us today through these words, through His word.

Look with me at this passage, beginning in verse 14...

“And to the angel [lit. messenger] 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 realizing 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.’”

Let's, one more time, use the five common elements we find in all of these letters to guide us as we dig in to this passage.

 

A. Description of Jesus (3:14)

The first element that we've seen is common to all these letters is that each one begins with a unique description of Jesus. For this letter to the Laodiceans, that description is found in verse 14: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.'

You probably remember that most of these opening descriptions come from John's first vision in chapter 1, or at least from John's opening address in chapter 1. That's true here with the title, “the faithful and true witness”. John has already described Jesus as “the faithful witness” in chapter 1, verse 5, and in the last letter, in 3:7, Jesus described himself as “the true one”.

When we combine that with the title, “the Amen”, which is a exclamation affirming the truth, I believe this opening description is meant to prepare the Laodicean disciples for what Jesus is about to tell them; to affirm for them the truth and authority of the One speaking to them.

Speaking of authority, did you notice the last title Jesus gives us in verse 14? Jesus is “the beginning of God's creation”. That doesn't mean he was the first thing created. It means the Son was both before God's creation and the beginner of God's creation. As it says in John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

Remember we've already discovered from Revelation that Jesus is “the first and last” (2:8), “the Alpha and Omega” (22:13).

 

B. Diagnosis of Believers (3:15-17)

Therefore, in light of his truthfulness and authority, look again at verses 15-17.

That's where we find a diagnosis, given by Jesus, a diagnosis of the believers in Laodicea. And as we can see from those verses, the diagnosis is grim. In fact, this is the only letter of the seven in which not one positive statement is made in terms of the condition or the health of the church.

The first way Jesus describes this unhealthiness is by comparing the church to lukewarm water. It's helpful to know that Colossae was famous for it's refreshingly cold water that flowed down from snow, ice, and rain on Mount Cadmus. To the north, Heirapolis was known for its healing hot springs that fed large baths, famous all over Asia Minor. But unlike its neighbors, Laodicea received its water via aqueduct. And by the time it reached the city, it was lukewarm. Combine this with the well-documented hardness of the water, and you get some pretty awful tap water.

Jesus tells the church in Laodicea that they have become just like their water. “You are neither refreshing nor healing. Your temperature is tepid, your taste is terrible, and there is nothing left for me to do but spit you out of my mouth.”

How had this church become “lukewarm”, how had their spiritual flavor become so awful? Verse 17: they were comfortable in their prosperity; they were pleased with their status; they believed they had arrived spiritually; they boasted in their own sufficiency.

This was not at all unusual in Laodicea. Of the cities in the Lycus Valley, Laodicea was by far the wealthiest. The city sat on a major trade road, it was famous for its black wool, it minted its own coins, and its wealthy citizens adorned the city with public works of art. And when an earthquake struck the area in 60AD, the people of Laodicea were even able to turn down the Imperial government when it offered assistance for rebuilding. They paid for it all themselves.

But even though the church had been influenced by the comfortable lifestyle of self-sufficiency that characterized their community, Jesus wants them to know the truth: “What you believe about your condition is exactly the opposite of the truth: For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They had become blind to the truth, impoverished as they ignored God's spiritual blessings, and shamefully naked as their sins were exposed. But they didn't care. They were lukewarm.

 

C. Directive to Action (3:18-20)

But Jesus has not given up on them. Look back at the directive to action we find in verse 18-20. Even though they are spiritually poor, Jesus calls them to “buy” from Him gold, garments, and eye-drops: 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.

How can they “buy” these things from Jesus? Look again at verse 19: Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Christ calls them to pay for these things with the currency of zealous repentance. But His hard words here are not ultimately intended to condemn, but to correct, to “reprove and discipline”.

But there's another part to this directive action. Not only does Jesus call them to “open the wallet”, but also to “open the door” of humble repentance. Listen again to verse 20, in light of this context: 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.

So here is an appeal to every person in the Laodicean church. If any of them would acknowledge how truly need they were, then Jesus is offering them riches, clothing, sight, and a meal with Him. Aren't those beautiful pictures of righteousness, blessing, understanding, and fellowship? Shouldn't we long for those things?

 

D. Danger to Consider (3:16b)

If we keep digging we find that just like we've seen with most of the other letters in chapters 2 and 3, we also see in this letter that Jesus issues to the church a danger to consider. Where do we find this danger? Well it's back at the end of verse 16: So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth [literally in Greek, “I am about to or at the point of spitting you out of my mouth”.].

I think it's reasonable to conclude that this danger is the same kind of judgment Jesus described for the church in Ephesus in 2:5 when He warned that He would come and remove their lampstand if they did not repent. What does is mean? If the disciples in Laodicea failed to repent, it meant there would no longer be a functioning church in Laodicea. They would prove themselves to be false believers and confirmed as condemned.

But as Jesus went on to tell them, “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline.” His words here, even His strong words, were meant to rouse the hearts of true disciples and soften the hearts of those who wrongly believed themselves to be Christians.

 

E. Declaration of Reward (3:21, 22)

In the same way, the final words of Jesus were also meant to stir the Laodiceans toward repentance. Listen again to the declaration of reward offered to those who persevere in humble obedience. Verse 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 final words of chapter 3 correspond to the final words of chapter 2. Both contain promises of reigning with Christ. And that promise continues to pop up throughout the book: “they shall reign on the earth” (5:10), “they will reign with him for a thousand years” (20:6), and “they will reign forever and ever” (22:5).

For churches who were suffering, or were about to suffer under the reign of a corrupt empire, what an amazing promise this must have been: to reign with Jesus in holiness, forever and ever. The Laodiceans needed to trade in the counterfeit contentment that now blinded them and strive for this contentment, for the satisfaction of eternally reigning with Jesus.

 

III. Repentant Dependance

Now, as we think about what we've learned here, and if we are honest with ourselves, then I think we can conclude that if there is any church of the seven that, in general, most represents the temptations of the American church, it is Laodicea.

That shouldn't be a surprise, since we are, overall, the richest nation in the history of the world. Okay, so you might not consider yourself wealthy. Rich may not be the word that comes to mind when you think about your status. But how about the word comfortable? Doesn't that hit a little closer to home?

Listen to Laodicean confession one more time: For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing. Think about that last statement. These disciples had needs. We all do. Therefore, what they are boasting about here is that THEY have met all of their own needs. How? Well, they rich and prosperous, right?

Doesn't OUR society tell us that if you have a need, there is a program or a pill or a process or a product or a pleasure or a portfolio or a procedure or a professional or a passionate pursuit or a pristine property or a prize package or that perfect person who will meet your need? With so many options, so many choices, so many solutions, who needs Jesus?

The Laodiceans hadn't explicitly rejected Jesus, but they had rejected Him as the only true provider. That's why He tells them to come and buy FROM HIM everything they truly needed. That's why He was urging them to LET HIM IN, because in their counterfeit comfort and contentment, they had pushed Him out.

Brother and sisters, friends, aren't we just as susceptible? Isn't it just as easy for us to be deceived in this same way? To believe we “need nothing”? God's desire for the Laodiceans then is the same desire He has for us today: that we would walk in a repentant dependance. Say that ten times fast. A repentant dependance is a spirit of remorse and recognition of our neediness. It is being able to confess, “I believed I could do it myself, that I had enough, that it was up to me, but I was wrong. I now know how much I needed, need, and will need Jesus Christ.”

Repentant dependance is the opposite of indifferent independence, that attitude in which we blindly go our own way, not acknowledging our true condition, and trusting in ourselves or in some worldly solution. This perspective is so dangerous because it isn't open rebellion. It may not involve gross immorality or explicit heresy. No, it is subtle, and Jesus can still be squeezed into our lives, but wherever WE feel is most comfortable.

Think about what it would mean for you, what it would look like if you went from here in repentant dependance? What it would look like for you to go into your work, or your school, or into your family, walking in repentant dependance? What would it mean for that conversation, for that transaction, for those ambitions, for that appointment, if you were walking in repentant dependance?

I want to leave you today with three simply ideas that come right out of this text; three ideas that help us understand the very thing Jesus wanted for this church in terms of repentant dependance.

Consider these truths:

First, repentant dependance comes from total honesty about who we are apart from Jesus. That's clear from the stinging words of Christ in verse 17. Repentant dependance means realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked apart from the grace of God. That can be a hard thing to admit, but it leads to liberty, not lack.

Second, repentant dependance leads to usefulness for Jesus. I see that idea in the diagnosis Jesus gives them in verse 15. Because of their indifferent independence, they are like lukewarm water. But walking in repentant dependance will mean refreshing coolness or healing warmth will flow through them to those in need. Isn't that what we want, for Jesus to use us in that way?

Third, repentant dependance is a channel for fullness from and fellowship with Jesus. Jesus offered the Laodiceans gold, garments, and eyes to see clearly. He offered to be with them and eat with them. And He offers the same to us. Will we open the wallets of repentance and open the door in humble dependance? Why not acknowledge our neediness and give up what cannot satisfy in order to gain the fullness Jesus speaks about.

The promise still stands. Don't you want to sit down with Jesus. Remember what we heard last week from Hebrews 1 about the One who knocks at the door:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high... (Hebrews 1:3)

On a Roman cross, Jesus made purification for our indifferent independence. And we know that work was finished, fully and finally completed, because He sat down with God. And today, that same Jesus invites you, us, to both be purified and to sit with Him, forever. Do YOU hear Him knocking this morning?

 

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