Thank you for joining us this morning in our study of Revelation: The Beginning of the End. We have been studying the letters that are directed at seven churches, which were actual churches, historical churches in actual cities in Asia Minor which today is Western Turkey. These churches transcend time and space to become model letters for the church age. This morning we will be skipping over the church of Sardis and Philadelphia and will be looking at those churches in the next two weeks. But today we are focusing on the last church, and it’s the church of Laodicea. Even today, they still have a reputation of being the church that made the Lord Jesus Christ sick—the lukewarm church.
Jesus warns us that He is sick of spiritual complacency and indifference on the part of believers in the church. If you noticed the title of the message this morning it might have had you scratching your head. What is an Apatheists? Pastor Ken, this sounds like a made up word and you know what? You’re right. But let me explain. Most people profess belief in God, meaning they are theists. True atheism is a rarity. Recently, however, it has been suggested that we need a new term for the multitude who are theists but are indifferent to God in daily living. The word apatheists is built on the noun apathy, which means “indifference,” a sort of sluggish unconcern. And sadly, whatever belief an individual professes, he may be living as an apatheists. His faith may make only a minimal difference in his/her behavior. So the message is for each one of us today who profess faith in Jesus to be either hot or cold not lukewarm. Are you lukewarm? You might be thinking well, “I pray,” but is our praying a mere obligation? “I’m here at church aren’t I?” But is it just a matter of routine, like brushing your teeth or cleaning your house? Have we lost our first love, the zeal that we should have in our spiritual journey? Today, let’s make the psalmist prayer our own: “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6).
All of us know that if we have a doctor that we trust and he gives us a diagnosis and then the prescription for the cure, we most assuredly should take his recommendation. But of course if you’re self-absorbed or if you’re prideful and think, “Well, I know better than my doctor,” and you try to figure out your own self-diagnosis and cure for the pain or illness and not the doctors, it could result in disaster for you. Jesus is the great physician of the soul and He has so much to say to us in His Word and so let’s look together at Revelation, chapter 3, and verses 14-22 to see the seriousness of His words for us today. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write. Notice this time Jesus’ says, “And to the angel of the church Of the Laodiceans” instead of “And to the angel of the church IN Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, or Philadelphia,” because this self-sufficient church was run by the Laodiceans and not by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23). Subtle, but very alarming and let’s us in on our number one spiritual battle—our pride. Let’s keep reading, “‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: (15) I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. (16) So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (17) Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—(18) I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (19) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore 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 dine with him, and he with Me. (21) To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame 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.”’”
Let me ask you, when does a person who claims to be a believer start drifting away from the Lord? Or when does a person just get the spiritual blah’s? Or when does the person who says he loves Christ get apathetic or indifferent to the things of the Lord? Is it not when you take your eyes off the Lord who is the Head of the church? We are in this series of What God thinks of His Church. Our assignment has been that as we go through the study of these seven churches that we examine what church best represents Brookside Baptist Church? And what church best represents you and me? Possibly you see characteristics both good and bad from all seven different churches here at Brookside or in your own life. But the minute you and I lose that love and zeal for the Lord—watch out. When you can take or leave spiritual things and it’s no real big deal to you—be careful. Remember, none of these churches are around today.
Laodicea has the grim distinction of being the only assembly of the seven that the Lord of the church did not commend in some way. The church of Laodicea is unfortunately today’s most prevalent church type. As we read these nine verses what a sad commentary of a group of believers in the body of the church. You’re thinking, yes, absolutely terrible but listen to some statistics of a study of the church today I came across: Ten percent of all church members cannot be found; twenty percent never pray; thirty percent never attend church; forty percent never give to any cause; fifty percent never go to Sunday school; sixty percent never go to church on Sunday evening; seventy percent never give to missions; eighty percent never go to prayer meeting; ninety percent never have family devotions; ninety-five percent have never been involved in seeing a soul come to Jesus. Ladies and gentlemen these are the kind of statistics that break God’s heart and makes Jesus sick. The spiritual battle Laodicea ignored is ours to fight. . .or else.
Jesus, the Creator, is making the diagnosis and He will give us the cure from being Apatheism and a promise for being sanctified, passionate and refreshing followers of Christ.
- The Creator - v. 14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’” So, the reason we need to pay careful attention to the text is because Jesus is omniscient and He can see right through us. We cannot fool Him. But here we are given the identity of Jesus Christ and His identity reminds us that we are to trust Him fully and depend on Him completely which the church at Laodicea was not doing. We are given a two-fold description of Jesus.
- You can trust what He says - We read “the Amen.” Usually when we hear the word “Amen,” it means “lets eat.” It is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for “certainty or truth.” In the New Testament, the Lord often began by saying, “Verily, verily,” or literally, “Amen, amen. . .” In other words, “What I’m about to say to you is the final word—the word of certainty and truth. So, when you “Amen,” you are effectively saying to the preacher, “You’re telling the truth and I’m committed to following it.” So, be careful when you say it. Jesus with this descriptive title tell us that His word in final; it’s fixed; it’s unchangeable. We’re told that He is “the Faithful and True witness.” Here Jesus repeats his description that we saw in verse 5, of chapter 1. In other words, Jesus is saying, “What I’m about to tell you is the truth because I only tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You can trust what Jesus says every time.
- You can trust what He starts - “the Beginning of the creation of God.” This is a favorite verse of those riding bicycles, who come knocking on your door wearing white shirts. They interpret this verse to say that Christ is the beginning of God’s creation. He was the first created being. Sometimes the English translation can be unclear and can be misleading. However, the Greek word for “beginning” is the word arche which could be translated “originator” or “creator.” Colossians chapter 1 informs us that it was Jesus who was actually doing the creating. Listen, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All thing were created through and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16). He is first in time and position. The Colossians believers were evidently stumbling over the deity of Jesus that He is God and eternal. They received their letter from Paul, who told the Colossian believers to pass it on to—guess who?—the church in Laodicea. Paul wrote in Colossians 4:16, “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans. . . .”
- The diagnosis - vv. 15-16 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Ouch! In order to understand Jesus’ diagnosis, though, we need to understand some of the background of this city. It’s interesting that most of the things that the Lord says to the church at Laodicea, as in the other letters, come directly out of the situation, and culture, and background of the day. If you had lived in the cities around the Mediterranean Sea two thousand years ago, and someone told you they were going on vacation and had found the perfect resort for relaxation in natural hot springs, shopping in designer label stores, gambling in busy casinos, watching professional sporting events, and attending the theater for award winning plays, you would have immediately known that there was one city like this where you could have it all. The city was named after the wife of its founding emperor. Her name was Laodice, and the city’s name was Laodicea. The city was the Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and Chase Manhattan Bank all rolled into one. It wasn’t just for Gentiles either. In fact, the Jews in Jerusalem had complained about the number of their kinsmen who had forsaken Israel for the luxuries and the baths of this region. Laodicea was the garment capitol of the world with sheep that were renowned for having a glossy, black, almost violet-colored wool. Everyone in Rome wanted the garments made in Laodicea. Laodicea was also known as a medical center and had one of the largest schools of ophthalmology. They had created a tablet that when crushed and mixed with water would create a paste that was rubbed into the eyes and was reported to cure a variety of eye problems. The city was also the banking center of Asia Minor. In fact, the citizens of Laodicea were by large so well off that when the earthquake of 60 AD destroyed the city, they actually declined financial help from Rome to help rebuild it, saying they didn’t need any assistance. The city was also consumed with physical fitness since many of the athletic competition took place there. The city was in a Tri-City area in the beautiful Lycus River Valley (map) and was surrounded by the mountains of Western Turkey. The city of Laodicea was bordered on the north about six miles by the city of Hieropolis, a city that was famous for its hot springs. The springs had a high mineral content and a great medicinal value. A little to the east of Laodicea was the city of Colossae, known for its cold, clear, refreshing waters. Hot springs to the north. Cold waters to the east. It seems that Laodicea received water from a remarkable aqueduct system of stone pipes. Archaeological evidence indicates that the waters around Laodicea were infused with a calcium carbonate content that resulted in the waters being lukewarm, impure and emetic—so that is, if swallowed caused vomiting.
This text has been misinterpreted in my opinion more often
than not. Many good men believe the cold represents
unsaved people and stand in opposition to Christ and the
lukewarm are carnal Christians or possibly not Christians at
all. Remember, Jesus is writing this letter to a church. Some
even believe the cold represent believers who stand in
opposition to Christ. However, to me it is hardly conceivable
that Jesus would say to His church be cold and oppose Me.
It is better, I believe, to interpret the statement against the
historical and geographical background of Laodicea. Hot,
medicinal waters bubbled up at nearby Hierapolis, while cold,
pure waters flowed at Colossae. In fact the Greek word for
cold here is the word psychros which is equivalent to the
Hebrew word for qar where we see in Proverbs 25:25, “As
cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far
country.” So, maybe our Lord’s point, then, is that the cold
and hot references are both positive qualities. If that’s the
case, and I believe it is, then you are either providing
refreshment for the spiritually thirsty or healing for the
spiritually sick. If not, then you’re not making a difference
and you’re lukewarm. This indifference and complacency is
what Christ hates. Thus you can either be hot and
passionate or you can be cool and refreshing and able to
take people in their time of need and invigorate them or
you’re not. We should all as believers be refreshing and
passionate in our love for the Lord, like we heard yesterday at
the funeral of Rachelle Bergeron-Hammerling who was used
of the Lord in a great way on the Micronesian island of Yap.
Let me ask, can people read your social media statements
and be refreshed and encouraged in a biblical way? Do you
invigorate people to passionately serve the Lord with all their
heart, soul, and mind? You may not care about your
spiritually lukewarm status but the Lord says, “I do and I
will not tolerate you.” You are flat and unsavory. You have
sat, soaked and soured and are content to be lukewarm.
If you haven’t noticed, lukewarmness to Jesus is tepid and
He says, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Friends,
lukewarmness is present all about us. The problem wasn’t
unique with Laodicea. Today lukewarmness exhibits itself in
several ways: A lukewarm Christian never declares, “This
Bible is my sole reason for spiritual existence.” He never
sees missions to be a serious business. He never allows
Scripture to serve as His guide for the handling of his home
and professional life. Lukewarmness is the diagnosis that
Transition: In the light of what Jesus is saying here, take inventory and face up to your true spiritual condition. See the cure for your apatheism. Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus doesn’t leave us with no cure?
- The Cure - vv. 15-19“As many as I love, I rebuke and
chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
- Repent of any spiritual neutrality - vv. 15-16 Spiritual neutrality is when we stop aggressively resisting the world. We are not cold and refreshing like the springs of cool water that were enjoyed in Colosse; nor hot and therapeutic like the thermal springs of Hieropolis. Living the Christian life is resisting the pressure of the world that is constantly squeezing us into just going along with things, not discipling ourselves for godliness, and instead just pleasing ourselves. We need to be a “thermostat” and set the spiritual temperature in our homes, and not be just a “thermometer” that moves up and down with society. Spiritual neutrality is when we say that it no longer matters that every part of our life come under Christ’s control. Paul stated in I Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” Paul says our bodies are reserved. We are owned by God, inhabited by the Spirit, and no longer solely ours. Therefore because of the purchase of God look at verse 20, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” The word “glorify” is in the imperative mode of the verb that means, “valuing God for who He really is,” or “giving God the credit for what belongs to Him.”
- Repent of any spiritual self-sufficiency - v. 17a “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” Spiritual self-sufficiency is when we think we are making it on our own, and don’t need the Lord’s power, guidance, and presence. We stop “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” in our lives and thus slowly begin to drift from His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). These believers were self-enamored, self-absorbed, anemic people who had no interest in providing either comfort or refreshment to those around them. Notice the difference between who they thought they were and who Christ said they were. If you ask the average Bible student what is wrong with the church at Laodicea, they very often will say, “It was because they were lukewarm.” That is not the worst problem of the church at Laodicea. Lukewarmness was not the worst problem and I will tell you why. There’s a good cure for lukewarmness and it’s called repentance. That can be taken care of quickly. There was a much more serious problem at Laodicea. It was that they were lukewarm but they thought they were hot! The greatest problem is this misperception of who they were in God’s presence. That’s why so many Christians believe they are okay, but really they are indifferent and have no idea of how they are perceived by the Lord Himself.
- Repent of any spiritual insensitivity - v. 17b “and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Notice the words “You say” and “You are” in verse 17. Jesus is saying to the Laodiceans, “You say you have everything, but you’re spiritually poverty stricken.” Smyrna was the rich poor church, but Laodicea is the poor rich church. Because they are insensitive, they are deceived Christians. They could not have been more off base in who they thought they were. They were:
- Wretched - unfortunate, devastated, afflicted
- Miserable - the object of extreme pity and compassion
- Poor - poor as a beggar; a slap at a city that bragged about its wealth and banking industry
- Blind - again a slap at a city that prided itself on its ophthalmology school and famous eye salve
- Naked - a slap at a city that boasted of its famous designer clothing
These believers were pursuing the same dreams and the same comforts and the same goals as the world around them and they were content to play their little religious games, while the world around them pursued empty dreams. This makes Jesus Christ sick!
- Repent of any spiritual wastefulness - v. 18a “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.” The Laodiceans knew all about gold but the Bible refers often to purified faith as refined gold. Remember Job saying, “But He knows the way that I take; when He (God) has tested me, I shall come forth as gold”? Instead of floating downstream in the current of our culture, stand up for the truth—look trials of life squarely in the eye and confirm what Peter tells us, “That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who having not seen you love” (I Peter 1:7-8a) Spiritual wastefulness is when we abandon Christ as our investment counselor and start investing our time and money in get-rich quick schemes for earth and not Heaven. We begin to measure things by earthly and not eternal worth. Slowly we begin to trade the precious time we have for objects that will only rust, burn, get stolen or weigh us down in life. The Bank of Heaven gets neglected and the treasures we lay up are buried here on Earth.
- Repent of any spiritual neglect - v. 18b “and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” Spiritual neglect is when we drop out of the work force and begin not to get dressed for work any more. Jesus often told us to dress ourselves with His character, His power, and His armor. Clothing ourselves with Christ gets neglected and finally forgotten. Spiritual neglect is when we become more preoccupied with what we look like to men rather than to God. We impress people outwardly rather than pleasing god inwardly.
- Repent of any spiritual blindness - v. 18c “and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Laodicea was known all over the world for helping people see, but Jesus says, “You’re blind.” Spiritual blindness is just that: Blindness to things of God. We no longer see Him in His Word. Spiritual blindness is when we begin to stumble along, acting more and more like lost people who do not know, cannot see, and do not follow the Lord.
- Repent of any spiritual laxness - v. 19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” In other words, “Change course, turn around, confess your sinful pride and self-centeredness and get moving.” The Lord is writing to Christians. He is writing to people who had become indistinguishable from the world. Wow, what an indictment of the church in the 21st century. We fit it. But shouldn’t we live differently? Christ wants us to be either cold or hot. But if we never cause anyone to get heartburn over the gospel what is that saying about us? They did not come across as fanatics for Jesus, yet they did not act like atheists either. Imagine getting a letter from the Lord saying, “You make me sick—you think you have everything and that God is blessing you, but you are, in reality, poor and naked and blind. Would you be devastated to know that you make God sick? Spiritual laxness is when we drop our guard about unconfessed sins in our lives. Spiritual laxness is when we forget how horrible sin always is to Jesus.
- The promise - vv. 20-22
- His invitation - vv. 20, 22 - “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” This is an invitation first and foremost to the church. This is still a valid church. There is still hope for this church. Though often used as a text for an evangelistic appeal, this is an invitation from Christ to the church to let Him in to fellowship. He is knocking. It’s in the present tense meaning He’s knocking. In verse 22 He concludes as He has with every church, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Many can hear, but not all are listening.
- His promise - v. 21 “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Years ago, there were revivals where God did unusual things in the lives of people. One man said, “I thought it was a good thing for us to have a revival for the church,” but then he said, “And then it dawned on me that I was the one who needed it.” When we let God have all of us, it’s deep; it’s abiding; it’s immensely worthwhile. Life without Christ and eternal punishment or life with Christ, sitting with Him in heaven on His throne. You become an overcomer by confessing your sins and asking Jesus Christ to save you. And then in Him, you and I become overcomes and will sit with Him on HIs throne. But until then He stands at the door of your life and knocks. Could I urge you today not to say no to that voice? He’s not only the One who can save you and set you free. He is the One at your door wanting to fellowship with you.
Conclusion: Let me give you the bottom line from the challenge of this letter to the church at Laodicea. Do not settle for half-hearted complacent spiritual living.
- Mediocrity neutralizes our perspective
- Mediocrity neutralizes our motivation
- Mediocrity neutralizes our witness
- Mediocrity neutralizes our availiability.
There is no place in the Christian life for neutral affections; or for coasting. It is never too late to start doing right. What pleases God is that we are either refreshing or passionate in our love and service for the Lord.