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The Church Living Without Jesus

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Jesus, in love, takes off our masks so that we can see our sin and find healing in him.

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Introduction

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 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.’ ”
My wife and I have four children. And one of the things that means is that we’ve done a good bit of trick-or-treating over the years. Our youngest, Jeremiah, is 14 now. So, the majority of those trick-or-treating days are well behind us now.
There was a regular occurrence with our kids and other kids and their costumes over the years. A lot of times they’d dress as superheroes. And most superheroes have a secret identity. That means that the costume will often come with a mask. One year Jeremiah was dressed as Captain America and one of the boys in the neighborhood was dressed as Spider Man. They were so excited to go trick-or-treating that they were literally running from house to house. They were leaving the girls behind. At one point I had to say to them, “be gentlemen and wait for the ladies.” But all of that running wears you out, and when that happens the mask becomes cumbersome and you’ve got to take it off. Captain America and Spidey’s true identities have been revealed! They no longer cared about the mask. All that mattered was the candy. In fact, all that ever mattered was the candy.
This is similar to what we see in the first three chapters of Revelation through the letters to the seven churches. Jesus is removing masks, and the identity of each of these churches is being revealed. That’s because Jesus isn’t concerned about the masks. Just like for the trick-or-treaters—it isn’t about the mask, it’s all about the candy—for Jesus when it comes to the church he isn’t concerned with how you appear as much as he’s concerned with how you are. What matters is the truth about your condition. This is exposed in positive ways and negative ways. Smyrna who appears to be poor, but is really rich. Philadelphia appears to be weak, but is really powerful. And Sardis appears to be alive, but is almost dead. But today, church number 7, Laodicea, is in the worst condition of them all. Their mask is on tight. If you were to ask them, they’d say, “we’ve got it going on.” Jesus says to them, you don’t even know that you’re wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked!” “You’re not even close to having it going on. You have essentially kicked me out of the church.” How can this be? How can a church lock Jesus out? We’ll see what’s going on as we examine the situation in our text from these four points, A New Day, A Nasty Taste, A Necessary Turn, and A Nourishing Meal.
This is similar to what we’ve been seeing in this series through . Jesus is removing masks, and the identity of each of these churches is being revealed. That’s because Jesus isn’t concerned about the masks. Just like for the trick or treaters, it isn’t about the mask, it’s all about the candy, for Jesus when it comes to the church he isn’t concerned with how you appear, he’s concerned with how you are. What matters is the truth about your condition. We’ve seen this exposed in positive ways and negative ways. We’ve seen Smyrna who appears to be poor, but is really rich. We’ve seen Philadelphia who appears to be weak, but is really powerful. And we’ve seen Sardis, who appears to be alive, but is almost dead. But today, church number 7, Laodicea, is in the worst condition of them all. Their mask is on tight. If you were to ask them, they’d say, “we’ve got it going on.” Jesus says to them, you don’t even know that you’re wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked!” “You’re not even close to having it going on. You have essentially kicked me out of the church.” How can this be? How can a church lock Jesus out? We’ll see what’s going on as we examine the situation in our text from these four points, A New Day, A Nasty Taste, A Necessary Turn, and A Nourishing Meal.

A New Day

Jesus says something significant for each church’s condition in the introduction to every one of these letters. Here, he says to Laodicea, “Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” Jesus is saying to them, “Listen, Laodicea, I was faithful and true in the way I testified to my Father in my earthly ministry.” John had already described Jesus this way to all the churches in his introduction back in 1:4-5,
Revelation 1:4–5 ESV
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood
Jesus says something significant for each church’s condition in the introduction to every one of these letters. Here, he says to Laodicea, “Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” Jesus is saying to them, “Listen, Laodicea, I was faithful and true in the way I testified to my Father in my earthly ministry.” John had already described Jesus this way to all the churches in his introduction back in 1:4-5,
Jesus’ reminder here to Laodicea is that the very definition of my ministry was faithfulness to God and truth. The reason that you need to hear this again, Laodicea, is because what needs to define Christian ministry is faithful and true witness to me. I am the head. I am the ruler of the kings on earth. Those who are called by my name are called to demonstrate faithful and true testimony to me. Let’s be clear on this. It’s a new day. That is his point when he refers to himself as the beginning of God’s creation. It’s another way of saying what he said to John in 1:18 when he said, “I am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Or when he said to Smyrna, “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” In my living and in my dying, in my burial and resurrection is the beginning of a new day. We sing that song, “Living he loved…” That’s true, but Jesus’ life death and resurrection isn’t just about my being freed from the bondage of sin as an individual. It’s about new creation. It’s about the restoration of everything, this whole world under the good lordship of Jesus. It’s about the whole creation restored to new life in willing submission to God. When Jesus says, “I am the beginning of God’s creation, he is declaring to the church in Laodicea and to us, this has already started with me.”
“John, to the seven churches that are in Asia, Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings on earth.”
Jesus’ reminder here to Laodicea is that the very definition of my ministry was faithfulness to God and truth. The reason that you need to hear this again, Laodicea, is because what needs to define Christian ministry is faithful and true witness to me. I am the head. I am the ruler of the kings on earth. Those who are called by my name are called to demonstrate faithful and true testimony to me. Let’s be clear on this. It’s a new day. That is his point when he refers to himself as the beginning of God’s creation. It’s another way of saying what he said to John in 1:18 when he said, “I am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Or when he said to Smyrna, “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” In my living and in my dying, in my burial and resurrection is the beginning of a new day. We sing that song, “Living he loved…” That’s true, but Jesus’ life death and resurrection isn’t just about my being freed from the bondage of sin as an individual. It’s about new creation. It’s about the restoration of everything, this whole world under the good lordship of Jesus. It’s about the whole creation restored to new life in willing submission to God. When Jesus says, “I am the beginning of God’s creation, he is declaring to the church in Laodicea and to us, this has already started with me.”
He has to remind them that it’s a new day because their life as a church doesn’t demonstrate that Jesus has made any difference for them. What has changed about their outlook on life in this world and who they ought to be as people who follow Jesus? And the answer to that question is, “nothing.” Nothing has changed for them. Jesus is just another way for them to get what they’ve always wanted. Walter Hawkins & the Love Center Choir in 1974 recorded the gospel song “Changed.” His sister Tramaine sang the lead. The lyrics say, “A change a change has come over me. He changed my life and now I free.” Tramaine sings, “I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be.” What the church in Laodicea is singing is, “We are what we used to be, and it’s just what we want to be.” Jesus has got to say, “It’s a new day. Everything is changing because of me, and that has to include you. In fact, it actually starts with you.”
Can I tell you something, Lord of Glory? In your life as a church there ought to be some evidence that it’s a new day! You ought to see some stuff happening that demonstrate the power and presence of Jesus among you...

A Nasty Taste

How does Jesus feel about the Laodiceans living as if he makes no difference at all?
How does Jesus feel about the Laodiceans living as if he makes no difference at all?
I know your works; that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth. Because you’re saying, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing. But you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked ().
Feel this. Think about the most disgusting thing that you’ve ever tasted. Think about how difficult it was for you to swallow it. You just had to spit it out. You couldn’t stand the thought of actually ingesting it. Well Jesus gets graphic. He basically says, “Y’all are leaving such a nasty taste in my mouth that I’m about to vomit.” What’s causing this nasty taste? He describes them as being lukewarm. That metaphor would’ve had a particular impact on them.
We hear Jesus say, “you’re neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.” If you’ve read this before you may have made the mistake of thinking that Jesus is saying, “You’re not on fire for me. You don’t have a lot of zeal or excitement about me. But you’re also not cold towards me. You’re not completely uncommitted. You’re in the middle. I would prefer you to either be completely on board or completely uncommitted.” That’s not what Jesus is saying. That’s not why they’re leaving a nasty taste in his mouth. Jesus is never positive about people being uncommitted to him.
Laodicea as a city was a very wealthy place. It was in the fertile Lycus valley in Asia Minor. It became extremely prosperous because it was situated at an important crossroad between the port cities of Ephesus and Miletus to the east and entry into Syria to the west. The problem they had was that they didn’t have a permanent supply of good water. They literally built a piping system to bring hot water in from the hot springs in the city of Hierapolis, which was about 16 miles northwest of Laodicea. And another set of pipes to bring in cold water from the city of Colossae, which was about 19 miles southwest. The problem was that by the time the water made it to Laodicea it was neither hot, with the medicinal effect of the hot springs of Hierapolis, nor was it cold, like the refreshingly cold water of Colossae. It was lukewarm and nasty to the taste. In fact, that lukewarm water would often make people nauseous. So they would get what Jesus was saying. He’s saying, “you’re witness to this city is neither a healing presence, nor a refreshing presence. Would that you were at least one of those two things. Because you’re neither, you leave a nasty taste in my mouth, and I’m going to spit you out.”
Please don’t miss this. There is the most stark contrast and difference between the Laodicean’s perception of themselves and their status as a Christian community, and the naked truth. They’re saying, “we’re rich, we’re prosperous, we don’t need anything.” Jesus is saying, “you don’t even realize that you’re wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” This one, I do believe, is the significant temptation for the church in this country, including Lord of Glory. Our understanding of prosperity is tied in with economic flourishing. The prosperity gospel isn’t new. The reality is that riches regularly deaden our spiritual senses. We co-opt the gospel and weave it into our life goals. We make the gospel serve our desires instead of the other way around. We resist having God’s good news change our desires. Laodicea is the opposite of Smyrna. They are full participants in the economic prosperity of their city. What that means is that they have fully embraced worshipping Jesus and worshipping idols. What we can’t afford to ignore as we think of idol worship is the intimate tie here between idol worship and economic prosperity. What I mean is this. Why has Jesus been thrown out of the church? He says, “I stand at the door and knock.” He’s on the outside. It’s because, for them, money is the answer to all our problems. It’s because they live with the belief that money makes the world go round. Run DMC, “Money is the key to end all your woes. Your ups your downs your highs and your lows. Tell me last time that love bought your clothes. It’s like that and that’s the way it is.” Jesus has been thrown out of the church in Laodicea because Jesus was right, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and be love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (, ).
They’ve chosen money over God. And this choice has led them to the worship of false gods. This isn’t new. It’s the exact thing that Hosea was addressing when he prophesied to Israel. Jesus’ charge against Laodicea is the same charge the Lord made against Israel in ,
Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
Because I’ve got money, this means I’m good with God. This challenge, particularly among those who are supposed to be the body of Christ, the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth, this challenge never goes away. It never goes away because you do need money to live, you do need money to do ministry, and our hearts are always drawn to make it the main thing.
Understand this. Laodicea didn’t start out intending to throw Jesus out. They didn’t start out intending to leave a nasty taste in Jesus’ mouth. In the letter to the Colossians, written a little more than 30 years before Revelation, the apostle Paul talked about how much his fellow worker, Epaphras worked hard in prayer for the church in Laodicea. He said in , “I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for all those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” We don’t have the letter, but Paul had written to this church himself. He told the Colossians in 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.” So, they didn’t start out intending to be the bottom of the barrel when it came to the seven churches. But, Lovelace, “Hell is a conspiracy, and the first requirement of a conspiracy is that it remain underground.” Evil rarely looks like evil until it accomplishes its goal. We must examine and re-examine what we believe the good life to actually be.

A Necessary Turn

The solution for Laodicea is that they have to take a necessary turn. Jesus says to them in v. 18,
The solution for Laodicea is that they have to take a necessary turn. Jesus says to them in v. 18,
“I counsel you [my strong advice to you] is 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.”
You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. But I don’t want you to stay that way. I’ve got something for you. I have real wealth. I have the best clothing. I have real healing. My gold is better than the wealth you think you have. It is refined. The impurities have been burned away. When you take this necessary turn, what you will find is that I purify your life. I purify your life by burning away your idols. I help you march to the beat of a different drummer so that your vision of prosperity isn’t just tied in to what you have or don’t have. When you take this necessary turn, you’ll realize that I have a better garment industry than the one in your city. The garments I give you will not and cannot be stained. And I’m better than the eye doctor. I open your eyes so that you see not just physically, but spiritually.
Did you notice that he said, “buy these things from me?” How do you buy gold from Jesus? What do we have of value to offer Jesus in exchange for what he’s able to give us? Jesus is speaking here just like the Lord does in . “Come everyone who’s thirsty. The one who has no money come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Because the Lord has already paid for these things, they’re free. But what we give as we receive the gift, is ourselves. We give ourselves willingly, and become people who say, “We want to live, Lord, in dependence on you and out of the abundance of your grace.” Remember, Jesus isn’t talking here to some generic group of people here in Laodicea. He’s talking to the church. So, the message is the same for Christians and non-Christians alike. Our need for ongoing and lavish grace will never be understood apart from understanding our utter and complete bankruptcy without him. We will always struggle with putting in place some material evidence of why we’re good with God. This minimizes sin and leads to ignorance of the depths of our sin (wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked: Trusting in things not according to Christ []). How great is it that Jesus comes along and says, “I want to make you rich. Rich in and through me.” As rough as it is in Laodicea for the church, Jesus says, “Those I love I reprove and I discipline. Therefore, be zealous and repent.” As nasty a taste as they’re leaving in his mouth he says to them, “I love you. I love you too much to let you keep going as if everything is ok when it’s not. My love is seen in my reproof. That is, it’s seen in how I am exposing your sin, how I am bringing the darkness that’s going on inside tot he light so that you can see it and not be fooled about it. My love is seen in my discipline. That is, in my instructing you by correcting you so that you’ll live like it’s a new day. Take the necessary turn and repent.”

A Nourishing Meal

As bad as Laodicea is, Jesus still tells them that he loves them. His last word to them isn’t a word of judgement. It’s a word of promise for a nourishing meal with him if they repent. If they take the necessary turn it’s going to look like them opening the door to let Jesus back in. He says, “I stand at the door and knock.” This isn’t about personal evangelism. This isn’t, “Jesus is a gentleman. He won’t barge his way in on your life. He’s standing at the door of your heart knocking. Won’t you let him in?” Jesus will absolutely barge his way into your life.
As bad as Laodicea is, Jesus still tells them that he loves them. His last word to them isn’t a word of judgement. It’s a word of promise for a nourishing meal with him if they repent. If they take the necessary turn it’s going to look like them opening the door to let Jesus back in. He says, “I stand at the door an knock.” This isn’t about personal evangelism. This isn’t, “Jesus is a gentleman. He won’t barge his way in on your life. He’s standing at the door of your heart knocking. Won’t you let him in?” Jesus will absolutely barge his way into your life.
This is an invitation for sure, but it’s an invitation to the church for renewal. It’s an invitation for them to renew their relationship with Jesus that had already begun. This is an allusion to where the woman says, “the voice of my beloved, he knocks on the door. Open to me my beloved.” Beale,
“The allusion to points to a focus on renewal of a relationship, since the husband knocks on the door of the bedchamber to encourage his wife to continue to express her love to him and let him enter, be she at first hesitates to do so. By analogy, Christ, the husband, is doing the same thing with regard to his bride, the church.”
The motivation for this call to repentance is the promise of dining with Jesus. I will come in and feed you. I will dine with you and you will dine with me. I am your nourishment. And this isn’t a future promise that he’s making in v. 20. The future promise is in v. 21, “the one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat with my Father on his throne.”
What Jesus promises in the here and now is the necessary ongoing nourishment that his people need. Renewal is always going to be necessary because the Christian life is not difficult. The Christian life is impossible. Jesus was serious when he said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (). He continues to call us back to a vibrant abiding in him, fighting off our desire for independence and trying to live this life in our own power. He promises an ongoing and present nourishment as we continue turning to him. That nourishment is seen in this very meal we’re about to celebrate. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we are dining with Jesus and he is dining with us. As we are nourished physically by the bread and wine, he nourishes us spiritually to be renewed as his faithful and true witnesses. That’s why this meal isn’t for sentimental purposes or just a nice thing to do. It’s for those who said with their hearts and confessed with their mouths, “Jesus I need you. I want to live dependent on you, being nourished by you, submitting my will to yours.”
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