Monday, May 24, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 3:14-22, for Pentecost, "Laodicea--I Counsel You to Buy..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we come to the end of our sermon series on the letters to the seven churches in Asia. In each letter we’ve seen how Christ spoke to the unique situation of the churches—calling them to repentance and to conquer with Him to receive His blessings. Continually He points us to our eternal hope through His resurrection. Last week we heard from Philadelphia, the church that had an open door to heaven through Christ, and also an open door of ministry and mission on earth. With boldness and faith they were to enter that door. The last of the churches is Laodicea—noteworthy as the worst of the seven churches. It receives the strongest condemnation from Christ, and is the only one that receives no commendation or approval from Him. But as we shall see, even to a lukewarm church in the final stage of spiritual death, Christ extends a compassionate and loving call to repentance and His grace. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Laodicea. A city of great wealth and prosperity, a center of banking, of medicine, and a key producer of clothing. Situated at a major crossroads, it was an important city—but lacked one essential feature: a clean and fresh water supply. Nearby Hierapolis had beautiful hot springs that were noted for their hot, soothing, and medicinal waters. On the other side stood Colossae, which had a cold, fresh water supply that was pure and refreshing. With no immediate source of water, Laodiceans had to resort to an aqueduct bringing water from some distance—a water supply that was heavy with minerals, and most likely had a strong, unpleasant taste, and arrived lukewarm. Neither hot and medicinal, nor cold and refreshing. Hear how Jesus addresses the Laodiceans: “I know your works: 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 will spit you out of my mouth.”

These pointed words were obviously connected to their everyday life. He called the Laodiceans lukewarm…neither hot nor cold, and that He was going to literally vomit them out of His mouth. Just like stagnant and impure water would make a person gag when they drank it, so Jesus was appalled at what this church had decayed into. What could provoke such a strong reaction from our Lord? Laodicea is a picture of a church tottering at the edge of a cliff, ready to plunge to their spiritual death, and Christ is calling them away from a deadly fall. They were on their spiritual death bed because of apathy, complacency, and ignorance of spiritual matters. Jesus’ diagnosis and proposed remedy or cure for their spiritual sickness is a strong wakeup call for us and all churches, not to fall into a similar condition of self-satisfaction and mediocrity.

They were self-satisfied, saying “I am rich, I have acquired wealth, and do not need a thing.” Finding our security and trust in money can be a deadly trap. Again and again the Bible warns against the danger of trusting in money instead of God. Even the wealthiest person’s fortune can vanish in a moment’s time. Plenty of people have gone from rags to riches, back to rags again. Lottery winners, sport’s players and celebrities, even successful businessmen have lost huge amounts of wealth and ended up penniless. But the worst part of such self-sufficiency, isn’t that you might lose it all, but when a person begins to think they’ve no need for God. “I can take care of myself; I don’t need a thing.” God is irrelevant to their lives, and all other distractions, whether money, entertainment, knowledge or pleasure, leave no time for God. We become apathetic, indifferent, like bad-tasting, lukewarm water.

Christ summed up their situation saying that they didn’t realize they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Like dressing in the “emperor’s new clothes,” parading our finery while really naked—self-sufficiency is a delusion. We’re all completely dependent on God, even for merely life and breath—let alone any material things. There’s no sorrier sight than when a sinner is blind to their own sin-sickness—when we think we’re rich, but are poor.

So Christ says to us: “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.” What does Christ counsel the poor, blind, and naked to buy? He counsels them to buy from Him gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes. With what can we buy any of these things? How can those whom Jesus calls poor, buy anything from Him? Two beautiful Scripture passages show us the answer. Revelation 22:17 says: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires come and drink the water of life without price.” Christ offers His gifts of grace, here the water of life, without cost or price. Secondly, in Isaiah 55:1, He says: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

Christ is advising us to buy from Him, and it’s like He’s giving us a free shopping spree! How many people would race to the grocery store if they announced they were giving away free groceries to whoever came? Come buy wine and milk without money! People would be lined up for hours to get free groceries! The gifts that Christ gives us are like a spiritual shopping spree. Gold refined by fire, so that we will be rich. Faith in Christ is more precious than gold, and it is refined by testing and trials that purify and strengthen it (1 Pet. 1:6-7). This is the true spiritual treasure we should seek, the treasures of God’s kingdom. I’ve noticed recently how fear of another economic collapse is driving some people to put their trust in gold. But even gold buys us no security with God. Gold is just one of many material treasures that count for nothing in the kingdom of heaven. Real treasure worth more than gold is Jesus, His Word, and Sacraments. These bring eternal security, and peace with God, even if nations and kingdoms fail.

Christ advises us to buy white garments to clothe the shame of our nakedness. The white garments of Christ’s innocence are the heavenly clothing of God’s people. I wear the white robe on Sunday’s in part to remind each and every Christian of the white robe of Christ’s innocence that we all wear by faith, in our baptism. In one remote village I visited in Madagascar, the Lutherans there wore white robes or coverings over their regular clothes, as a reminder that they were dressed in Christ’s innocence in baptism. The shame of our sin, the shame of whatever we have done wrong is covered by garments made pure and clean in Jesus’ forgiving blood.

Christ advises us to buy salve for our eyes, so that we can see. The spiritual blindness of sin can be healed by His forgiveness and promised life. Jesus gave sight to the physically blind, which was a picture of the greater miracle of Him giving spiritual sight through His Word. Jesus opens our blind eyes to see the
poor, blind and naked condition we’re in without Him. He opens our eyes so that
we’re not deceived by a false self-reliance that says we have no need for God.

Again, consider who would come running if banks were offering free gold, if clothing stores were offering free clothes, or if the pharmacy offered your prescriptions for free? People would stampede banks and stores for such an offer. But for the spiritually lukewarm and apathetic, there is no such rush or stampede to receive Christ’s gifts, offered for free. “But Pastor, the gold you speak about can’t pay my bills, it can’t put food on the table. The clothing you speak of can’t be worn or hung in my closet. The medicine you speak of won’t cure my near-sightedness or cataracts.” The Bible speaks truly when it says that for many, their god is their belly (Phil. 3:19). Christ’s gifts aren’t to satisfy our stomach or cravings, but they’re gifts that we can hold onto and grasp with our heart, with our intellect, and our eyes. They’re gifts that satisfy the hungry and longing soul. They’re gifts that will really matter when gold turns to dust and clothes and material things are gone, and sight is lost.

But what’s so remarkable about this letter to Laodicea, is that of all the churches, they’re least deserving of Christ’s promises. Yet Christ calls them with a passionate love, saying “those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Not only does He offer them totally free gifts of His gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes, but He stands at the door of this church, knocking, seeking to come in. Because the change that they needed, breaking loose from their self-satisfied and self-sufficient trust, was a change that could only come from the outside. Christ can transform us from mediocrity and lukewarm works into people who bring a hot and medicinal message for those who are aching and sick with their sins. The soothing message of the Gospel that lifts the heavy burdens and stresses from our lives. Christ can transform us into people who bring a cold and refreshing message to those who are thirsty in a desert-like world, with the water of life bringing relief and vigor to the dying.

Jesus further offers that if we hear His voice and open the door to Him, He’ll come in and eat with us, and we with Him. How do we eat with Jesus? Today we have two young students being confirmed, and taking their first communion. They’ll give public testimony to their faith in Jesus, and join us in eating with Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is both host and guest in the Lord’s Supper, as He offers us to eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Here’s a tangible and free gift of Christ, not to fill our stomachs but to cleanse our hearts and wash away our sins. The Lord’s Supper is a banquet of grace—better than a free meal. It’s Jesus extending His work on the cross to you as you receive His body and blood in hand and mouth. They stand here today, having studied God’s Word, having been catechized and taught the faith that’s worth more than gold, being dressed in white in their baptism. They’ve got spiritual eyes to see and discern Christ’s body and blood in the supper, and having repented of their sins, are worthy and well-prepared because they have faith in these words of Jesus: “this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

As we gather around Jesus’ offered gifts, and stand together at His table, we come like beggars—poor, blind and naked on our own—nothing to bring but our sins and lukewarm works. But Christ supplies us with faith in Him that’s more precious than gold. He dresses us for His royal banquet in the fine white robes of His innocence. And He opens our eyes by faith to see Himself present, feeding us and forgiving us. Stand together with our new confirmands, reaffirming that faith that we all confess, that without Christ we are nothing, but with Him and His gifts we are rich and well supplied. Come, buy without cost, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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1. Laodicea was a crossroads city and a major banking center, and had a medical school. It was notable for lack of pure water supply. Nearby Hierapolis had medicinal hot springs and mineral waters, while neighboring Colossae had a cold, pure and refreshing water supply. Laodicea’s was believed to be lukewarm. See Colossians 2:1; 4:12-16

2. Identify the following in the letter to Laodicea: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. How does Scripture warn against the danger of assuming our self-sufficiency without God? What things create the mindset that we have prospered and don’t need anything? Rev. 3:17; James 5:1-6; Eccles. 4:7-8; 5:10-12; What does Scripture teach us brings true satisfaction? Isaiah 55:1-3; Matt. 5:6; Psalm 65:4; 90:14; 103:5; 107:9

4. How can a church or individuals become “lukewarm” or mediocre? What is Jesus’ diagnosis of their real spiritual condition? What is the cure He proposes they “buy”? What does this cost us? Isaiah 55:1-3; Rev. 22:17

5. Why is discipline a sign of God’s love? What is the benefit of discipline? Hebrews 12:3-11; Prov. 3:11-12; 12:1; 13:24; 22:15.

6. How does Christ come and eat with us, and us with Him? Luke 22:14-20; 24:28-35; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16-17.

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