Sermon File # 812
Scripture Text: Revelation 3:14-22
Sermon Title: What Christ Thinks of the Church, Part 5: Restoration to
Manuscript written by Roger Roberts
Sermon preached on Sunday morning 30 October 2005
At International Baptist Church, Brussels, Belgium
For additional information regarding this text, contact
All Rights Reserved.
What Christ Thinks of the Church, Part 5:
Restoration to Spiritual Health
This morning we conclude the series of messages on “What Christ Thinks of the Church,” as we look at the final of the seven churches of Asia Minor, the church at Laodicea. Open your Bibles to Revelation 3:14-22.
Laodicea, named by King Antiochus II for his wife Laodice, was the wealthiest city in the region of Phrygia. So wealthy was Laodicea, that when its buildings were destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60, the city fathers refused financial help from the Romans. It would be the equivalent to the city of Islamabad, Pakistan, after the recent devastating earthquake, refusing help from the many nations that have brought emergency assistance and are offering to help rebuild that severely damaged region.
In some ways, this letter to the church at Laodicea is the most severe of the seven. As one commentator observed, the problems in the Laodicean church were more deadly even than those in the church in Ephesus, which had lost its first love. As we have noted before, these churches were actual congregations with real problems. But also they are representative of us and of every church
throughout time. John Stott says that none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the church of today than this one to Laodicea. (John RW Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church)
We are no better or worse than these seven churches (Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination). Follow
as I read…
Revelation 3: 14-22
As we have already noted, these letters from Christ to the seven churches of Asia Minor are relevant to us today. That isn‟t to say that IBC Brussels is necessarily guilty of all the specific sins mentioned, but that we, as do all churches, have the same potential for either being faithful unto death like Smyrna, or for forsaking our love, failing to be vigilant against sin, living in the past, or failing to fulfill our God-given task, as did these other churches in what is now modern-day Turkey, a graveyard of these once vibrant congregations. So, in this final of the seven letters, we listen to the word of Christ about what Christ is saying, whether in rebuke or encouragement, to the church in Laodicea.
The city of Laodicea was a center of economic wealth, and was famous for its successful banking institutions. It also was known for its textile industry, and especially for the production of a valuable black wool which it exported to the regions of the world. Laodicea also had a famous medical school, especially known for its school of ophthalmology, the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases (See commentaries such as GK Beale‟s The Book of Revelation,
NIGTC). During the time John delivered this message from Christ to the churches, there was in Laodicea a famous ophthalmologist, who was known for his diagnoses and treatment of eye diseases, using the eye salve manufactured there in this proud city. The risen Christ was saying to the church in Laodicea that he as the Great Physician has the cure for their spiritual sight disease.
In his sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61 when he said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind….” (Luke 4:18).
Jesus announced that he indeed was the fulfillment of this prophecy, and that he had come as the Great Physician. In this same sermon, Jesus said they would try to get him to perform miracles apart from their having faith in him. Then he said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: „Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum‟” (Luke 4:23). So, it seems that Jesus, because of his miracles, was known as the
Great Physician, and the one who could give sight to the blind, as indeed he did (John 9:1-12).
Christ is saying to IBC Brussels, “I am the Great Physician, and I know far beyond what any other physician can know. I diagnose with perfect knowledge, and I prescribe the only infallible remedy by which you can find healing and life.”
Let‟s note this morning that Christ, the Great Physician, gives us, first of all…
； The diagnosis
We can be grateful for modern medicine and the advances of medical science, from which we all derive great benefit. Yet, any good doctor will tell you that he or she is limited in knowledge. The best doctors will consult with others to derive and to verify diagnoses. There is so much we don‟t know about diseases and the human body. This is why we use the term “the practice of medicine.” To practice something is to experiment with “trial and error” and to try and re-try until
a skill is mastered. The unfortunate thing is that physicians have to practice on us patients, who can only hope that they have done a lot of practicing before us and then get it right when they‟re working on us!
Christ‟s self-introduction eliminates any possibility of our doubt that he is eminently qualified to give the correct and absolutely thorough diagnosis and cure. He is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler („the beginning,‟ from the ESV translation) of God‟s creation.” He, as the Co-Creator and the
omniscient ruler of his creation, is certainly qualified to know his creatures. He is the perfect truth of God, and punctuates all truth about us. Eugene Peterson in The Message has Christ saying in verse 15, “I know you inside and out.”
Christ makes the diagnosis…
; Of being unfaithful to the task
Jesus Christ says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish
you were either one or the other.”
The water supply of the city of Laodicea left a lot to be desired, especially as water fit to drink. This sulfur water was piped from the nearby city of Hieropolis. When it left Hieropolis is was hot from the mineral springs. The hot mineral baths were useful for therapy and healing. But by the time the hot water arrived in Laodicea, it was tepid and nauseous to the taste. Laodicea envied another nearby city, Colossae, which had cold spring water, delightful and refreshing to drink. But Laodicea had neither the refreshing cold water nor the soothing hot water, but water that would make you gag.
This condition that was nauseating to God was that of the Laodicean Christians‟
being lukewarm. Lukewarm-ness meant a loss of love and zeal for the Lord. Gradually the church had become apathetic and indifferent toward the things of God and the kingdom. Jesus Christ the Lord demands our wholehearted love and devotion, and uncompromising obedience to him. Someone has said that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Love and hate are easily changed to the other, but indifference is a far cry from love.
Paul said in Romans 12:11, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual
fervor, serving the Lord.” Fervor is lost as our hearts stray from fellowship with the Lord, and we get preoccupied with other matters. Indifference is a nauseating insult to the Christ of the cross who saved us at a great price and commands us to keep on loving him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
The church at Laodicea had forgotten its mission to bring the healing waters of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It had failed to bring the refreshing living waters of the Spirit. They were no longer of use to the kingdom. How easily we can remain busy doing church work, and fail to do the real work of the church. People might still have been “joining the membership” at Laodicea, and the program looked full and busy, but lives were being changed, and worship wasn‟t
I remember the question, “If the Holy Spirit were actually to withdraw from your church, what practical difference would it make?” Evidently the church at Laodicea was not asking that question, but was just going through the motions.
Note also the diagnosis…
; Of being displeasing to God
Christ, the perfect physician, looks into our hearts this morning and 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.”
I remember similar water when I was a child. My father was asked every summer to speak at a conference center in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. The drinking water was cold, because it was taken from a cold mountain stream and then was refrigerated. But it was sulfur water (interestingly, the place was called Clearcreek!). It was hard to drink, and I also remember gagging when I took a shower in the warm water!
Craig Keener, biblical scholar, paraphrases Jesus Christ‟s words in an uncomplimentary way: “You make me want to puke!” The Message says, “You
make me want to vomit.”
Physicians usually have an even keel and are impassive as they make a diagnosis. Imagine how you would feel if you, while being examined by a doctor, saw him quickly leave the examination room and heard him gagging in the next room! Then, to add further insult to your injury, suppose he returned to the examination room and announced he no longer wanted you as a patient! Jesus Christ says, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
In Leviticus 18, the Lord speaks of the land of Canaan spiting out the pagan nations before the Israelites, with a warning that if the Israelites sinned as the pagans did, they too would be spit out of the land. They would become nauseous to holy God (Leviticus 18:24-28).
Jesus Christ also speaks of his final rejection of those who thought their religious activity and affiliation would get them by the Judgment, but Jesus says he will say to “them plainly, „I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!‟” (Matthew 7:23).
Verse 17 reeks with the tone of pride, which the Bible says that God hates (Proverbs 8:13). Pride is one of the seven characteristics God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). God hates pride, because it is so unlike his Son, who gave himself in supreme, humble service to us (Philippians 2:5-11). Pride is that self-deceiving attitude that makes us think we have become or achieved something significant apart from God. Pride makes us think we don‟t need the very God who created us to depend on him in a relationship of love and trust.
Here‟s an “I disease,” diagnosed so acutely by the Great Ophthalmologist and Great Physician: “I am rich. I have acquired wealth. I don‟t need a thing.” This
leads us to become self-centered, and independent of God and indifferent to others.
How easily we can become proud. God can bless us and slowly and subtly we begin to think we had something to do with our success!
Warren Wiersbe notes how proud churches can become of buildings, as indicated in how frequently we print pictures of our buildings on all our publications. What God enables as a blessing to be used in his service easily becomes a source of our pride, as we think to ourselves, “Look what we did!”
Pride is so deceptive, and makes us so blind to our true condition. Jesus said those who think they can see are the ones who are spiritually blind (John 9:41). These people in the God-blessed church in the affluent city of Laodicea were really poor and to be pitied (The Message says they were “threadbare and
homeless”). These folks who benefited from the eye salve of their excellent eye doctor were really blind. These people who were clothed in the rich black wool boasted by their textile industry were in the eyes of God naked, like the foolish
emperor in the Hans Christian Anderson story who was convinced he had new clothes, even though he was stark naked.
Interestingly, the church in Smyrna was a rich poor church and this church in Laodicea was a poor rich church!
I mentioned earlier the statement from John Stott that this letter is most relevant for the church in the West today. He says also that this letter from Christ describes the “respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread today. Our Christianity,” he goes on to say, “is flabby and anemic,” and we appear to have taken a lukewarm bath in religion. “Zeal, heat, fire, passion—these are the qualities we lack today and desperately need.”
Stott and others observe that the church in the west today has been diseased by a growing acquiescence to materialism and secularism. We have taken into the church a lot of the influences and attitudes of our worldly culture.
Michael Card writes of a conversation he had with a pastor in a communist country who was imprisoned for 20 years for preaching the gospel. He related how that during his imprisonment he prayed about the “poverty caused by the wealth of American churches. Riches and comforts,” he feared, “were too much a burden for Christians to carry. „How can we be free to love and to worship and to serve Jesus when we are so weighed down with the things of this world?‟ he lovingly added” (Scotty Smith and Michael Card, Unveiled Hope: Revelation).
If the stock market crashes tomorrow, you can blame the prayers of this godly pastor, who understands the seductive and destructive power of materialism.
Christ says he is nauseated by our condition of pride, blindness, and spiritual poverty and shameful nakedness, so displeasing to God. And, note the diagnosis…
; Of being unhappy with ourselves
Christ says the church is also “wretched.” Not only do we make the doctor sick, we are also miserable. We just won‟t admit it. This is the condition of the
believer who is out of the will of God. God‟s chastening begins with making us miserable in our spirit. Probably the most miserable person on earth is a believer, who has known joy in Christ and now is out of fellowship with God. He or she can‟t enjoy sin because God‟s word is planted in the mind, and the Holy Spirit, who is being grieved by sin, dwells in the backslider‟s heart. Sometimes we ignore the symptoms because of pride or rebellion, yet all the time we remain miserable and wretched, and are spiritually unhealthy.
Soon I will go to see a dermatologist because my wife made the appointment for me! Several years ago, when I had gone to the dermatologist under similar
compunction from my wife, I mentioned to the doctor that I was there to see her only because of my wife‟s prodding. The doctor commented that is why married men live longer than single men. Their wives make them go to the doctor!
Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, loves us, and that‟s why he diagnoses us, and
tells us we are “wretched, pitiful, blind and naked.” His love for us makes the diagnosis, but also gives us the remedy. Note, secondly, that Christ gives…
； The remedy and healing
The Great Physician becomes the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), who urges us to apply his infallible remedy. You all know the difference between a doctor who is a clod, insensitive, calculating scientist, and one who really cares about you, and is willing to sit down with you and thoroughly explain your situation and best alternatives for treatment and cure.
The first part of successful treatment is for us to…
; Realize our need
Luke-warmness can also refer to the condition of spiritual lethargy that causes the unconverted to become oblivious to their true need for Christ. John Piper says that these in Laodicea were halfhearted in their relation to Christ, not having “the fervor and warmth and zeal of a true lover of Christ.” Nor are these “church people” unbelievers who “flatly reject Jesus and make no pretence of faith.” Perhaps the admitted unbeliever is one who is spiritually cold, wittingly outside the faith, and thus more apt to see his or her true spiritual condition. This may be the “cold” condition that Jesus says he prefers to that of being spiritually
lukewarm, having enough religious influence to think one is a true Christian when in fact he or she is not. Such lukewarm, nominal Christians are only moderately influenced by Christ, saying prayers before mealtime and a few words of prayer before bedtime, just to stave off misfortune and guarantee personal peace, provision and security. But, as Piper says, they do not “burn with a desire for more of God,” nor “go hard after him in the secret place”
Christ is after our hearts, not just our mental assent to the truths of the faith. He doesn‟t want people who have made “a decision for Christ,” as though choosing heaven over hell. The Rich Young Man wanted eternal life, and yet he was unwilling to pay the price of a lasting love relationship with Jesus (Mark 10:17-22 and parallels). Only those who seek after God can enjoy the privilege of the blessed assurance of eternal life, and not those who can only remember a time in the past when they “prayed the prayer” at the prompting of the evangelist. The true believer has assurance of eternal life because he or she has a burning love for Christ and a Holy Spirit-infused zeal for knowing God better.
th Century Methodist pastor WE Sangster was interviewing a The great 20
candidate for a position on his London church staff. This candidate humbly confessed to the great pastor when asked about his energy, zeal and fervor for the task, “I‟m not the sort of person who will set the Thames alight.” To which Sangster replied, “I‟m not asking if you‟ll set the Thames alight. But if we dropped you in the river, would it sizzle?” (As quoted by Simon Scott, www.stag.org/sermons/revelation_3_14-22.html).
We must ask ourselves if our hearts burn for God enough that the world around us might sizzle a bit because of our love for God, for them, and our zealous witness for him. If not, perhaps the Great Physician is telling us there is no real life of God within us.
We can be in denial, and need the Great Physician to tell us our condition. We need to be shaken out of our denial and apathy. Like the doctor who reads you your cholesterol level and your charts. As Proverbs 3:19 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” and Jesus Christ is the best friend you could ever have, as well as the Great Physician.
Do you realize your condition before God today? Can you think of the Cross and be ungrateful, and of God‟s holiness and not tremble (GC Morgan)?
Have you lost the joy of God‟s salvation (Psalm 51:12), and the closeness of his fellowship?
Are you in jeopardy of losing your testimony to the lost and moral authority with your family? Are you beginning to see symptoms in your life or with your spouse and children caused by your unfaithfulness to and straying from the Lord?
We must also…
; Seek the cure
As we see in verse 18, the Great Physician offers us his gold, the gold of faith to receive eternal life, and to make us rich toward God. The great banks of Laodicea held storehouses of financial wealth. But that wealth is has long ago disappeared. Christ alone can make us rich in the things that last forever.
I think of what Paul said about the believer‟s rewards being lost because he/she didn‟t build his life and work with gold, silver, and costly stones (1 Corinthians 3:13). God‟s righteousness alone will remain after the fire of judgment. He wants to give us the cure of spiritual riches.
He also counsels us to wear white clothes to cover our spiritual nakedness. Laodicea had its textile industry that manufactured garments from valuable black
wool. Christ offers us the white robes of his perfect righteousness that makes us acceptable before holy God. We are clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ when we are justified, but we are also to continuously put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). We never cease needing to continuously and progressively apply the character of Jesus Christ, becoming more like him. Unless we are walking with him, we are falling away from him.
We must also apply his eye salve to cure our blindness. He alone can open our eyes to see our true condition. How gentle he is with us! We should be glad this is a gradual process. If we could see the misery of our condition all at once, we would be overwhelmed and in despair. By the word, he opens our eyes to see wonderful truths (Psalm 119:18; Psalm 139:23-24). Our eyes are opened to see our sins, but as we confess our sins, he opens our eyes to see his gracious forgiveness.
As we seek his remedy, we must also…
; Invite Christ in
Jesus Christ is the Great Physician who still makes house calls. I like the Dutch word for family physician—“huisarts,” literally, “house doctor,” and I understand that here in Belgium physicians often do actually make house calls! (This is unlike the family physicians in the US, where you can only call your doctor and hope to speak with him. But usually his assistant refers you to a specialist, asks you to come to the office, or, in an emergency, direct you to the hospital that is covered by your insurance, if you are fortunate enough to have insurance!).
Verse 20 is often used as an evangelistic invitation to the lost to ask Jesus into their lives, but in the context, it‟s a verse to the church, the people of God who have wandered away from fellowship with Jesus Christ. Christ is willing to come into our lives to bless us fully, but he must be received as honored guest and Great Physician. How foolish it would be, to desperately need a doctor, and then refuse to open the door to let him in!
th19 Century English painter William Holman Hunt‟s famous picture titled, “The thLight of the World,” is based on this 20 verse. You‟ve perhaps seen prints of
this famous painting, which now hangs in Keble College, Oxford. It pictures the crucified (wearing a crown of thorns), risen Christ knocking at a door as he holds a lantern. Closer observation reveals there‟s no handle on the outside of the
door. That‟s to show Jesus must be received, invited in to his rightful place.
That thrilling account of Jesus‟ meeting the two disciples from Emmaus tells us the risen Lord “acted as if he were going farther” so the two would invite him to
eat with them (Luke 24:28). What joy they experienced when he came in and shared himself with them!
What an ineffable honor it is, to have Jesus Christ our Lord share with us the fellowship of his presence! What joy, peace, and grace for all we need! Paul said to know him in increasing presence was what he longed and lived for (Philippians 3:10-11). The centurion who sought Jesus to heal his servant, when told he would come to heal him, said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed (Matthew 8:8).”
If you are truly converted, Christ is in you, but is grieved, and will continue to rebuke you, and discipline and punish you. But, to know the peace and joy of his sweet fellowship, you must confess and forsake your sin, and invite him to be the honored guest as well as the Great Physician.
; Experience the healing and strengthening
His presence brings the remedy, which results in his healing.
In Malachi‟s prophecy, he promises that “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).
Spiritual disease is impossible when the Great Physician is our honored guest.
Notice how the word pictures change in our text. As Warren Wiersbe says, the sick room quickly becomes the throne room! (In fact, the sequence is, from the sick room to the dining room, to the throne room!) We are seated with Christ even now, in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1).
We don‟t wait for heaven to reign with Christ. We are already more than
conquerors with him. We are ready for anything this life can dish out. We have grace…
; To resist temptation
Luther, the great reformer, used to say, when temptation would come, “Martin Luther doesn‟t live here anymore. Christ lives here.” And Luther knew Christ could overcome all temptation.
We also are given grace…
; To withstand trials
Christ seeks to prepare the church at Laodicea to be victorious with him, and prepared to be faithful even unto death.
Brother Andrew, who worked for the cause of the gospel during the years of communism in Eastern Europe, said that many Chinese Christians did not want