We have looked at the letters to the church at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia. Today we wrap up our series by looking at the letter to the church at Laodicea.
The letter to the church at Laodicea can be found in Revelation 3:14-22. The letter from Jesus, written by John to the church at Laodicea reads like this, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
So let’s go through this letter and see what this 2,000 year old letter can say to our church gathered together today in Lancaster, PA.
The first thing that we have seen in each letter is a description of the risen Christ always drawn from the pictures of Jesus found in Revelation 1. This is the only letter in which this isn’t the case. Nowhere in Revelation 1 do we read the description of Jesus that is shared in this letter. Jesus is described as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, and ruler of God’s creation. The authority of this letter to the church at Laodicea comes solely and strictly because of Jesus. Because he is the Amen. He is the end and the one who ties everything together. He is the ruler over all of creation. A theologian name Abraham Kuyper put it this way, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” The letter to the Colossians puts it this way in the first chapter (which some theologians say that the church at Laodicea copied and treasured Colossians…which would make the connection even more evident), “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Once the authority of Jesus is established, and the understanding that what he speaks is true and right, Jesus then begins to speak words to the Laodicean church about where they stand in following him. Where they need to focus effort and time on. His criticisms so to speak. And if you remember from our 1st week of this series, we see that there is no praise for this church. Every other church had at least one thing to praise. Laodicea does not. And the thing that Jesus goes after lie at the heart of the city, and Jesus, through the pen of John, makes his criticisms super contextual. He understands the city, where they are located, what they take pride in, and their back story.
In verses 15-16 we read probably the biggest complaint against the church at Laodicea, that they were just lukewarm when it came to following Jesus. Verses 15-16 are probably one of the most contextual verses in all of the 7 Letters. Verses 15-16 says, I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” You see one of the things you need to know about the city of Laodicea is that they did not have a good water source in their own city. They relied on 2 other sources for their water. The Northern source was in Hieropolis and their hot springs. These hot springs were magnetics for tourists and they were also piped through aqueducts to Laodicea. But when they travel the distance to Laodicea the water was no longer hot, it was lukewarm. The southern source of water was from Colosse and their supply of water came flowing down from high snow-capped mountains. This water source was fast flowing chilly streams of almost alpine-like quality. But again by the time the water ran along the aqueducts to Laodicea it was no longer cold, it was lukewarm. Both hot and cold water became luke warm. The hot water was no longer hot enough to bathe in and the cold water was no longer cold enough to drink. You see hot water heals, cold water refreshes, but lukewarm water is useless for either purposes and can only serve as a medicine to induce vomiting. Jesus is saying that he wishes that the Christians at Laodicea would either outright deny him or turn up the heat of following him and stop playing this game of phony piety. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the cooly indifferent. Jesus wishes the same for us. He wants us to stop playing the religion “game”. He has no interest in religion and in self-made piety. He wants our hearts. He wants a relationship. He wants us to be whole heartedly, passionately, and, to use the cliche, on fire for him and his Kingdom and the things that he is passionate about. What breaks his heart should break ours. What he is passionate about is what we should be passionate about. What his dreams and hopes are for this world should be our hopes and our dreams for this world as well.
Once Jesus talks about the church being lukewarm he begins to confront other issues within the church at Laodicea that also were rooted in the life & history & culture of the city. In verse 17-18 we read, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
This statement from the church that they are rich, that they have acquired wealth and do not need a thing, strikes right at the heart of their city. You see Laodicea was a very wealthy city. They stood on an important junction of trades routes running more or less north to south and west to west. They were a prominent banking center for the entire region. In fact when the city was destroyed by earthquake, around the same time that our last city Philadelphia was destroyed, many other cities took money from the Roman empire to rebuild, but Laodicea refused and built the city back up with their own money. This sense of independence and pride in their own resources led to a church that had the exact same traits. They believed that they were rich, that they had everything they needed, and that they could see just fine and really didn’t need anyone or anything else.
But Jesus calls them on the carpet for this. They think they are rich, finely dressed and can see but in actuality Jesus calls them wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. These things strike right where the city of Laodicea put their hope, their trust, and their identity in. They were, as I mentioned a very wealthy city. They were a city known almost exclusively for their medical school. This school specialized in opthalmology. People came from all over to be trained as doctors as well as people came for healing. And this school was also known for an eye salve that was used in treating eyes. The eye salve was called "collyrium," probably a reference to how it was applied—that is, in the form of plaster or a poultice. Jesus calls them naked, in a city which was known for local farms which produced a particular breed of black sheep whose wool was of a fine quality, which led to some fine fashions made of black wool. So everything they believed about themselves and what defined themselves was turned upside down. They thought they were rich because of the banking industry but spiritually they were pitiful, wretched and poor. They thought they could see and had the eye salve to prove it but they were spiritually blind. They thought they were well dressed in black wool but they were actually spiritually naked.
Jesus then calls on the believers at Laodicea (and all of us) to, “to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” The remedy for being poor, blind and naked is Jesus. He will give real wealth, he will clothe you in white, and he will give you eyes to truly see. He is the one who will truly satisfy all the longings of our heart. He is the one who tells us that blessed are the poor in spirit. The ones who know they don’t have it all together and that they can’t rely on their own strength, their own money, their own ability and knowledge. The church at Laodicea needed to realize that their idea of being blessed was the exact opposite of what Jesus labeled as blessed. And is that any different today? Maybe Laodicea and us as well need to reread and take to heart and to action the beatitudes.
Jesus is lovingly rebuking the church. His criticism comes not from a place of hate and anger, but a place of love and sadness. He says that those that he rebukes and disciplines are the ones that he loves. Just like any parent who loves their kids. You help them determine how to live and do life by giving them boundaries and punishment when they don’t live in those boundaries.
This picture of Jesus loving calling his church back to himself, to reorient their life back to Jesus, to turn from their smug, well-off attitude and turn back to him, is no more evident then in verse 20 which shows Jesus knocking on their door and desiring a relationship. Verse 20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” This text is so often misused as Jesus calling on those who don’t know him to come to know him. How many of us have sat through evangelistic crusades hearing the preacher say that Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart and wants to come into your heart, and you can have him as personal Lord and Savior? But that is not what this text is saying at all. He is knocking on the churches door. To a group of people who already supposedly know him, The echoes of stories in the gospels suggest that the one knocking on the door is the master of the house, returning at an unexpected hour while the one who should open the door is the servant who stayed awake. It is Jesus house in the first place, our job is to simply welcome him to his house. And when we welcome him to his house that is when he throws this amazing meal. A meal that anticipates the final messianic banquet.
So my question to us gathered here together today is do we resemble the church at Laodicea? Are we lukewarm to the things of Jesus and his Kingdom? Have we closed the door to a passionate, life-giving relationship with Jesus? Have we become to self-confident in our own wisdom, insight, resources, etc.. that we no longer rely on Jesus? He continues his response to us. Lovingly knocking. Calling us back to himself. Calling us to open up our lives to him. Calling us to return to him. To come back and live under his rule and his reign. What is your response? Will you open the door and come back under the Lordship of Jesus? Will you continue ignoring the knocking and try to handle life on your own? Let’s spend some time unpacking these questions together and seeking to apply these things to our individual and corporate lives. 1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. As Jesus knocks on your door, what for you stands in the way of your opening it to him and his coming in and eating with you (relationship)? What things in your life give you a false sense of security and self-reliance? How do these things get in the way of your relationship with Jesus?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?