************ Sermon on Revelation 3:14-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 6, 2008
"Laodicea: the Lukewarm Church"
"Blessed are the Lukewarm." That is the title of an article I clipped a couple of years ago.
"Blessed are the Lukewarm." That is the approach the world takes to religion and faith and God and Jesus. That is the approach the church of Laodicea takes. You can have your faith and religion but don't actually practice it; don't actually believe it; don't actually be excited about it. "Blessed are the Lukewarm."
"Blessed are the Lukewarm." The devil and the world wants our religion and faith to be lukewarm because then we don't create problems. Then we don't take a stand against abortion or sexual immorality or homosexual practice. Then – at the time this letter was written – we don't take a stand against emperor worship or participation in pagan feasts or theological heresies. Then we don't take a stand for the authority of Scripture.
We have to be on watch, on guard, that ours is not a lukewarm faith and religion.
Are you lukewarm when it comes to religion and faith and God and Jesus? I dare say that most of us here are raised in the faith and surrounded by the faith. We have family devotions every single day (or at least I hope we do). Most of our homes have 3 or 4 or even more Bibles. We attend church on Sunday. We are in Catechism class and Sunday School. We attend youth group and Bible Study. Most children attend the Christian school. All of this can be a sign of real commitment and devotion. But all this religion can also make us lukewarm – we are so used to it that it doesn't stir us and excite us and move us. It is just something that is there like acne or breakfast in the morning.
Or maybe you have not been excited about God and faith and religion and Jesus for years. Maybe you are just going through the motions when you come for worship. Maybe you professed your faith just because your parents expected you to. Maybe you rarely or never have devotions. You think of yourself as a Christian but you don't really practice any of the spiritual disciplines.
"Blessed are the Lukewarm." I want you to notice that is not what Jesus says.
I The Letter's Introduction
A This letter starts with "to the angel of the church ..." and ends with "... what the Spirit says to the churches." Like all the letters, it is meant for a local church in Asia Minor, it is meant for all the churches of Asia Minor, and it is meant for all churches of all times and all places. This letter, in other words, is meant for us as well.
B The letter in front of us was written to the church in Laodicea. We need to take note of two features of the city. First, Laodicea was a rich and prosperous city. In A.D. 60 an earthquake virtually destroyed the city. Laodicea wanted no financial aid from Rome. Instead, the wealthy citizens rebuilt their city. Laodicea had three sources of wealth: it was a banking center; it was known for its soft, raven-black wool, and it had a famous school of medicine that developed a cream for curing eye diseases.
The second feature of the city of Laodicea was its lack of a water supply. From hot springs six miles away they had to pipe in water that was neither hot nor cold but lukewarm when it arrived in the city.
C Jesus is the author of this letter. He identifies Himself as "the Amen" (Rev 3:14). In the Gospels, Jesus used "Amen" often: "Truly, Truly" or "I tell you the truth." This word emphasizes that what He was about to say He says with the authority of God and as the messenger of God. He is the "Amen" so the church had best pay careful attention to what He is saying.
Jesus also speaks as "the faithful and true witness" (Rev 3:14). In the church of Pergamum, Antipas is called "my faithful witness" (Rev 2:13) because he was put to death for his faith. Likewise, Jesus is the faithful witness to the Father because He is the Lamb Who was slain. Jesus is the true witness. "True" means He is faithful and true to His promises; He is dependable and trustworthy; He is genuine and real.
In the Greek these are three separate terms: the faithful, the true, the witness. What a message to the church of Laodicea. Jesus is everything the church in Laodicea is not. This church is not faithful to Christ. She is not true to Christ. And her witness to Christ is almost nonexistent.
Finally, Jesus speaks as "the ruler of God's creation" (Rev 3:14). This title should be well-known to the church in Laodicea because of the letter Paul wrote to their sister church in Colosse:
(Col 1:15-16) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (16) For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.Jesus is the ruler and the beginning of God's creation. Again, this is a message to the church of Laodicea. In their wealth and prosperity they thought of themselves as in control; Jesus is telling them that He alone controls creation; in fact, He is the source of their wealth and prosperity.
II The Evaluation
A Notice what Jesus says in His evaluation of this church: "I know your deeds" (Rev 3:15). When it comes to Laodicea, Jesus knows all things and He sees all things. Nothing is hid from the sight of Him Whose eyes are like blazing fire (Rev 1:14). In the same way, Jesus knows and sees all things about us.
What does Jesus know and see about Laodicea? "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot" (Rev 3:15). The church of Laodicea is like the water of Laodicea – lukewarm. She is lukewarm about faith and religion. She is lukewarm about God and Jesus. She is lukewarm about salvation and sanctification. She is lukewarm about worship and Bible study and Catechism. She is lukewarm about professing her faith and living out her faith.
Let's put this another way. In their spiritual life, their religion, their faith, their devotion to God, and their love, the Laodicean Christians are neither cold nor hot. The church is not cold or hostile to the Gospel; she does not reject the faith. But neither is the church hot and enthusiastic about the Gospel; she is not excited and on fire about the faith.
Listen to what Jesus says next in His evaluation of the Laodicean church:
(Rev 3:15-16) I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (16) So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.Jesus wishes that the church does not match the city's water supply. As a result, Jesus says "I am about to spit you out of my mouth." The Greek is far more expressive – I am about to "vomit" you out of my mouth. Do you hear what Jesus is saying to the church of Laodicea? Jesus is saying, "You make me sick!" "I want to vomit, I want to throw up, because you are lukewarm about me and God and faith and religion!"
Does Jesus have any reason to say this about your faith and religion? Do you make Him vomit, do you make Him want to throw up, because you are lukewarm about Jesus and God and faith and religion? Do you make Him sick because you are not excited about spiritual things?
B How did Laodicea become lukewarm in her faith? She did not start off this way. I am sure that at the beginning of her existence she was excited about Jesus, she was zealous for God, she was on fire for the Kingdom and Lordship of Jesus Christ, and she was a firm defender of the faith. But now she is lukewarm. What happened?
Jesus tells us what went wrong. Again, He knows. He sees. He knows and sees because He is "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation." What went wrong?
(Rev 3:17) You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'
Do you see the problem? The church of Laodicea, like the city of Laodicea, was rich; she had earthly riches. The church and her members made an assumption: they assumed that earthly wealth meant heavenly wealth; they assumed that material riches meant spiritual riches. Isn't this what the "health and wealth" gospel is all about? Those preachers and churches that preach and promise prosperity make a jump from physical wealth to spiritual wealth.
Remember what happened with the city of Laodicea? They needed no help from Rome in rebuilding the city after the earthquake of A.D. 60. She said, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing" (Rev 3:17). In the same way, the church of Laodicea thought she needed no help from God. Isn't this the biggest danger of riches – those who have it think they don't need the Lord (Prov 30:8)? If those with riches don't need God for daily bread then they don't need God for salvation and eternal life either. People who don't need the Lord don't get excited about God and Jesus and faith and religion! They become lukewarm!
I am sure you see the comparison with us. We also have great earthly and material wealth. Do we assume this means we also have heavenly and spiritual wealth? Do we think we can get along without God? Do we think we can look after our own bread and salvation? Are we lukewarm?
C "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing" (Rev 3:17). That is what the city said. That is what the church said. "I need nothing." "I don't need the Lord." But notice what Jesus says:
(Rev 3:17) But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.Laodicea is a center of banking and finance but Jesus says they are "poor." They have accumulated the wrong kind of wealth. Laodicea is known world-wide for its soft, raven-black wool but Jesus says they are "naked." It is possible to wear tailored suits and designer dresses but to be naked in the eyes of God. Laodicea is famous for its healing eye creams but Jesus says they are "blind." Like the Pharisees, they claim to have spiritual insight but in reality do not see (Jn 9).
The city and the church are wretched and pitiful because they don't know their true condition. They are miserable but don't know it. They think they need nothing when, in fact, they need everything. They think they need nothing when, in fact, they are poor, blind, and naked.
III The Exhortation
A What does Laodicea need to do? How can their lukewarm faith be hot again? Jesus says, "So be earnest, and repent" (Rev 3:19). Be earnest – that's the problem, isn't it; they are not earnest in the faith; they are not zealous for God. They need to repent of the fact that their focus is themselves rather than Jesus.
"So be earnest and repent." How do they go about doing that? How do we go about doing that? Listen to what Jesus says:
(Rev 3:18) 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."I counsel you." Don't forget, these are the words of "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation." So, this is not just a word of advice that they can take or leave. This is a command.
A city known for its banks and finances is told to buy gold from Jesus. A city known for it black wool is told to buy white clothes from Jesus. A city known for its healing eye creams is told to buy eye salve from Jesus. When they buy from Jesus they become rich, they cover their nakedness, and they can see.
Laodicea's problem: a lukewarm faith because she bought from the wrong store. Laodicea's solution: buy from Jesus Who alone provides what is really needed. Go to Jesus and you get real riches. Go to Jesus and you are clothed in garments of righteousness. Go to Jesus and your spiritual blindness disappears. Go to Jesus and find in Him everything you need. Don't look at banking. Don't look at the wool industry. Don't look at the medical school. Admit you have nothing. Admit you need everything. Look to Jesus for what you need. Throw yourself on Him. Depend on Him.
What is true for Laodicea is true for every church and every believer. It is only by coming to Jesus that any lukewarmness on our part can be overcome. Throw yourself at His feet. Worship Him. Enthrone Him in your heart. Make Him the King of your life. Make Him your all-in-all. Make Him your heart's desire. Crave the presence and person of Christ like the deer pants for streams of water. Depend on Him for everything!
Do you find yourself lukewarm in the faith? Do you find you are not excited at all about the Gospel? Does talk of grace and salvation no longer reach a responsive chord within you? Do you yearn for the days when your faith was so real and meaningful, when your walk and talk with the Lord meant so much more to you? The only cure, as with Laodicea, is to come to the Lord.
B Actually, it is not really a case of us coming to the Lord but of Him coming to us. All that we have to do is to see and hear that the Lord is there and that we need Him. Jesus says,
(Rev 3:20) 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 him, and he with me.Usually, we think that Christ knocks at the door of unbelievers. But that is not what we see in our Bible reading.
Is Christ knocking at your door? He is, you know, if you are uncommitted, lukewarm, complacent about your faith. Is Christ knocking at your door? He wants you, He wants me, He wants all of us to be absolutely committed to Him. He wants us all to be earnest and zealous in the faith. Is Christ knocking at your door? To regain the blessedness you once knew, or to get it for the first time, open the door and let Christ in. Then, and only then, will you find prayer to be meaningful. Then, and only then, will the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith become real to you. Then, and only then, will you glory in God rather than in yourself. Then and only then will your faith and your religion and your God and your love become real to you. Open the door when Christ knocks and faith and religion and God and Jesus will make you excited and enthusiastic and zealous. Open the door when Christ knocks and you will enjoy sweet fellowship with Him that is anything but lukewarm (Rev 3:20).
Seven letters to seven churches. That's what John wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit. Five of the churches are strongly admonished by the Lord: Ephesus because she has forsaken her first love; Pergamum because she is tolerant; Thyatira because she chose cultural approval in order to secure economic well-being; Sardis because she is dead; Laodicea because she is lukewarm in her faith. Two of the churches – Smyrna and Philadelphia – receive no criticism from the Lord.
From a purely secular and worldly point-of-view the five churches that are admonished are successful. And, from a purely secular and worldly point-of-view the two churches that are not admonished are struggling.
What makes for a successful church? From a worldly point-of-view, success is measured by seating capacity, average Sunday attendance, the number of converts, the size of the Sunday School, the amount collected in the offering, the number of hits on the church's website, the number of CDs requested. From a worldly point-of-view, Sardis and Laodicea are the most successful churches – yet, they are the churches that Jesus criticizes the most.
What makes for an unsuccessful church? From a worldly point-of-view, poverty, tiny size, and small visible impact makes for a lack of success. From a worldly point-of-view, Smyrna and Philadelphia are the least successful churches – yet, they are the churches that Jesus praises the most.
Do you know what this survey of the seven churches tells me? It tells me we need to change our criteria for what makes a church successful. It tells me if we use secular and worldly measurements of success then the Lord Jesus will say something that will shock us and surprise us.
How does Jesus measure success? Jesus praises Ephesus for sniffing out heretics. Smyrna is praised for endurance under trial. Pergamum is praised because she is faithful even to the point of death. Thyatira is praised for faith, service, and perseverance. Philadelphia is praised for keeping God's Word and confessing Christ before men.
We see that Jesus alone is the judge of what matters. Not the world. Not the culture. Not the Romans. Not the governing authorities. Not the denomination. Jesus is the One Who determines what counts, what is important, in the life of His church.
If we measure success the way Jesus does, if we strive to be overcomers – people who are faithful, who endure, who confess Christ before men, who keep the Word, who are excited about God and Jesus and faith and religion – then Jesus promises us many beautiful and wonderful spiritual blessings.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page