The Heart Where Jesus is Knocking (Revelation 3:20)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Revelation 3:20
I. A Serious Knock, Knock Joke
This may be a strange way to start our study in God's word this morning, but here goes...
Q: “Knock! Knock!”
A: “Who's there?”
A: “Jesus who?”
A: “Exactly... 'Jesus who'.”
Turn if you would to Revelation 3, verse 20. We discover there a very well-known verse, one I'm sure most of you have heard many times in the past. Maybe you've even shared this verse with others. It's a wonderful verse. We're going to see why that is this morning. But it's also a verse that is routinely removed from it's original context. We'll talk more about that in just a moment.
II. The Passage: “Behold, I Stand at the Door” (3:14-22)
First, listen as I read Revelation 3, verse 20. These are the words of Jesus...
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.
As I mentioned, many of you are probably familiar with that verse. And you may recognize it because it's been used in evangelistic messages and tracts for years; most famously in “The Four Spiritual Laws” booklet, first published by Bill Bright in 1952. But when we consider this verse in its original context, we quickly realize this invitation was actually directed at those inside, not outside the church.
As we've been reading through the opening chapters of Revelation as part of Our Bible Reading Plan, you may have noticed (or been reminded of the fact) that this much-discussed, often- misunderstood book was not written to a group of future Christians pouring over prophecy charts and news headlines in the midst of some 'new world order'. No, like the rest of the New Testament (NT), this book was written to seven actual churches, seven churches that were clustered near the western coast of what is today Turkey.
Why is this important to know? For the same reason it's important when it comes to any NT (or OT) book. Understanding the identity of the original audience for any book is extremely helpful in understanding the author's reasons for writing. What's wonderful about the Revelation is that, in the opening chapters of the book, we find not one, but seven mini-letters to these seven churches. So when we study these letters, and learn what was happening in these churches, we realize that this Revelation (the whole book) really is first the revelation they needed.
Again, as is the case with any book of the Bible, when you're confused about to whom this book was written, about the original audience, about the believers for whom this was written, then it's very easy to become confused about what this book actually means. We'll spend more time in the coming weeks talking about a solid and sound approach to this strange but wonderful book.
This morning, in terms of the context, there are two big things I'd like you to keep in mind:
First, these letters are being transcribed by the Apostle John, but they are the words of Jesus himself. There are very few places outside the Gospels that we find the actual words of Jesus. Saul's encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road is one of the most famous examples of these 'red-letter' occurrences. But Revelation chapters 2 & 3 are certainly the most extensive. And it's important to note the context from which Jesus speaks to these seven churches. Chp. 1 introduces us to the symbolic and visionary language of the book by depicting a Jesus with flaming eyes and bronze feet, a Jesus who is walking in the midst of seven, golden lampstands. What are we to make of this strange scene? It's simply a visually symbolic way of describing Christ's presence with and oversight of these seven churches of western Asia Minor.
A second thing to keep in mind: our key verse this morning comes from the final letter included in chapters 2 & 3. The church addressed in 3:14-22 was located in a city called Laodicea. Along with two other cites (Colossae and Heiropolis)(cf. Colossians 4:12-13), Laodicea was situated in the Lycus River Valley. Of the seven churches addressed in the Revelation, it is the southernmost and easternmost city. What's interesting about all these mini-epistles/letters (and you probably noticed this) is how each follows the same pattern: each of these seven short letters begins with a description of Jesus, followed by a diagnosis of the believers being addressed, followed by a directive to action. After this there is a danger to consider, and finally, a declaration of reward for those who conquer or overcome.
So... knowing all this, we need to ask, “What does the entirety of this mini-letter, this message for the Christians in Laodicea, what does it reveal that can help us make sense of Christ's invitation in 3:20? We won't read the whole letter, but let me point out some of the key revelations (in Revelation) about this final church (and about us?). So... we learn here that...
1. This Church Had Become Spiritually Useless
In the short letters that comprise chapters 2 & 3, the “works” of a church were an important way to gauge the spiritual health of that church. What did their spiritual conduct reveal about their spiritual condition? In verse 15, Jesus compares their works in Laodicea to... “lukewarm” water. Okay. What exactly is Jesus saying? Well, it's helpful when you know that the neighboring city of Colossae was famous for its refreshingly cold water, water that flowed down from snow, ice, and rain on Mount Cadmus. It's also helpful to know that, to the north, Heirapolis was known for its healing hot springs that fed large baths, baths that were famous all over Asia Minor.
But unlike its neighbors, this city, Laodicea, received its water via aqueduct. And by the time it reached the city, it was... you guessed it... “lukewarm”. Combine this with its well-documented hardness, and we're talking about some pretty awful tap water.
So what's Jesus saying? He's telling these believers that they've become just like the water they drink: “You are neither refreshing nor healing. Your temperature is tepid and your taste terrible.” This is exactly why he was about to (v. 15) “spit you [the church] out of my mouth.” But why were these believers so spiritually useless? Jesus goes on to explain v. 17. We also learn that...
2. This Church Had Become Spiritually Smug
This smugness is described vividly by Jesus in verse 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.
Though they had awful water, of all the cities in that region, 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 well-to-do citizens regularly adorned the city with public works of art. In light of Jesus' words here, it seems as if their economic and social standing was deceiving these believers about their spiritual condition.
But isn't that why the Bible so often warns us about money? Faith in money, or “the love of money” (as its called in 1 Timothy 6 and Hebrews 13), this distorted perspective on money... it deceives us. It lies to us. It promises us the power to be satisfied... to be secure... to be self-sufficient. And we believe those lies because our perspective is so often limited to earthly things. You see, by earthly standards they were worthy, enviable, rich, 'in the know', and well-dressed. But spiritually they had become exactly what Jesus describes in verse 17: “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” That was the truth about their spiritual condition. And because they lived as if they needed nothing, nothing of spiritual significance was happening in or through them. Because this church had become spiritually smug, they had also became spiritually useless.
But there's one more thing we need to see here. And this brings us to verse 20. We learn that...
3. This Church Had Become Spiritually 'Friendless'
In verse 18, Jesus calls this faith family to come and receive that which truly matters: the spiritual wealth that he, and he alone, has for them; that he offers them... again. But as we see in verse 19, this will require fervent repentance. Now, please don't miss that verse 19 also confirms for us that the hard words of Jesus here are in fact words of love. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” And it's to this audience, with this heart, that we listen again to v. 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.
What a beautiful and powerful image, right? What a moving portrayal of the heart of Christ for his straying sheep, for his wayward brothers, for his foolish servants. Just look at what is offered here: “I will come into him and eat with, and he with me.” There are few images as stirring as this one: like a good meal with a good friend, these spiritually self-impoverished believers are offered here both the richness of Christ's provision, and the richness of Christ's presence.
But even before the soul-stirring invitation of Revelation 3:20, there is what should have been a soul-disturbing depiction for the Laodicean church, for those who were called by his name: Jesus Christ was on the outside, knocking to be let in. That was the sad and sobering reality of their true spiritual condition. Notice the word “anyone” in verse 20. Notice the words “him” and “he”. The picture is not of a crowed church meal with Jesus on the outside. What's pictured here is each believer, choosing to be spiritually alone, with their truest spiritual friend on the outside, knocking in love, waiting for repentance, pictured here “open[ing] the door” once again to Christ.
III. Where is Jesus?
“Knock! Knock!”, “Who's there?”, “Jesus”, “Jesus who?”, “Exactly... 'Jesus who'.” Brothers and sisters, these were believers. Undoubtedly, as in almost every church community, there were some in Laodicea who professed Jesus, but did not really belong to Jesus. But overall, these were (v. 19) “those whom I love”. But this was a church that had become useless, and it was a church that was now living as if spiritually friendless. Why? Because it was a church that had become smug. It was a group of believers where too many said (v. 17), “I need nothing”.
But that's the exact opposite of saving faith, isn't it? If most of the individuals addressed here truly were Christians, then that was only possible because, at some point, they had embraced rather than rejected their neediness (specifically, their need for Christ, forgiveness, eternal life). In the same way, if most of the individuals I'm addressing this morning truly are Christians, then that's only possible because you have embraced rather than rejected your neediness. But one truth clearly confirmed by our passage is this: that can all change. Those who once came as spiritual beggars, as those who were spiritually thirsty, as lost sheep in need of rescue, as spiritually sick and in need of healing, they can become smug. They can become satisfied... and secure... and sufficient in something other than the person and finished work of Christ.
They can become smug. We... can become smug. With all the courage and honesty you can muster, ask yourself this, “Where am I this morning?” Maybe even more revealing, ask yourself, “Where is Jesus this morning? When I look around my life, where is Jesus?” No, not on paper. In practice. In your priorities/pursuits. Where is Jesus? Might he be on the outside, knocking even now? Have you become satisfied, secure, and self-sufficient because of some kind of worldly prosperity? Because you now find such things in worldly control, reputation, or success?
But again, the hard words spoken by Jesus here are words of love. And the invitation in verse 20 is amazingly gracious. Think about it: for this church, for these individuals, who were so swollen with pride that they exclaimed, “I need nothing”, Jesus graciously offered them... everything; both the richness of his provision, and the richness of his presence. And He offers us those same things this morning.
If you hear him knocking this morning, then please be shaken and sobered by that knock, because it means Jesus is on the 'outside'. But also be thrilled by that knock. Be overjoyed by that knock, because it means Jesus is eager to come in, and be with you, and eat with you. Believer, Revelation 3:20 is not describing someone who has been cut off from Jesus. It's describing a believer who has forgotten the nourishment of fellowship with Christ. It's describing someone who is, sadly and foolishly, looking for satisfaction someplace else.
But the reassurance of the gospel is that though you and I can often live as if spiritually friend-less, we have a Friend who will never, ever forsake us. He's a Lord who still walks among the lamp-stands. He's a shepherd who still calls out to his sheep. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” He's the One who taught us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit [the spiritually needy!], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Brother or sister, maybe this morning you're telling yourself, “Well, I don't feel as if Jesus is on the 'outside'. I don't necessarily hear him 'knocking'.” If that's the case, be thankful. But please don't forget how this verse describes spiritual healthiness. It portrays the Christian life in terms of something many might find far too mundane. The Christian life is like having a meal with Jesus; like going out to lunch, or having someone over for dinner.
Is that you think about your Christian life? Is that how you experience the Christian life? The warmth, joy, nourishment, fullness and fellowship of a meal together? Remember, “I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” This is not simply a commoner dining with a king. This is also a king dining with a commoner. There's a mutuality here that's stunning. Believer, enjoy the incomparable presence and provision of Jesus. You may not hear 'knocking', but are you enjoying your meal, your time with Jesus?
Coming full circle we could also ask, “So is this an evangelistic verse?” No. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't point you, whoever you are, to Christ and his incomparable goodness. It should do that. These ancient Christians were losing sight of the fact that Jesus was their only hope. That he was the only way. So what did Jesus do about their spiritual smugness? He intervened to tell them the truth. He wants to do the same thing in your life today, whether it's your first time turning and trusting him, or your one millionth time. He is the only way.
So let's rejoice this morning, all of us, in the amazing depiction of Revelation 3:20, in the richness of what has been and is being offered to us by the grace of God!