Behold, A Throne: Lukewarm

Sermon by David Strain on May 22, 2016

Revelation 3:14-22

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If you would please open your Bibles at the last book of the Scriptures, the book of Revelation, chapter 3. We’re considering the words of verses 14 to 22 and you’ll find that on page 1030. We’ve come tonight to the last of the letters of Christ to the seven churches with which the book of Revelation opens. We’ll be taking a break here for the summer in our Sunday evening services. Next Sunday night, God willing, our Director of Student Ministries, Mr. Andrew Triolo will be preaching and then Dr. Gabe Fluhrer will take us through the summer months before we come back to the book of Revelation in the fall. And I hope you will join me in prayer for our brothers’ ministries to us from God’s Word in the weeks ahead!


Now you will remember that each church addressed by the risen Christ has been characterized largely by one particular mark. In Ephesus, they had begun to backslide. In Smyrna, Smyrna was the suffering church. The church at Pergamum was a compromised church. The church at Thyatira was the church on its last chance. Sardis was the dead church, whereas Philadelphia had an open door of opportunity set before it. But perhaps most famously of all the seven churches, the church before us for consideration tonight, the church at Laodicea, was the lukewarm church. There’s no heresy, no persecution, no immorality. None of those describe the great problem of the church in Laodicea. No, here the church is marked by spiritual mediocrity! Spiritual mediocrity! Before we read the passage together, let’s first of all bow our heads as we pray and ask for God’s help. Let us pray together!


Lord Jesus, You are the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning, the (αρχή), the

Pattern, and archetype of all creation. And as we bow, we pray that You would, by the Holy Spirit, come to us, unstop our ears, and incline our hearts to receive Your Word in meekness and gratitude and in dependent faith and trust enabled by Your Spirit’s ministry to live in its light for Your glory. For we ask it in Your name, amen.


Revelation chapter 3 at the fourteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.


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. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word!


The message for the church in Laodicea is strong and sharp and pointed. “We shall need to brace ourselves to hear what Jesus thinks of the Laodicean church,” writes John Stott. But the description of Christ with which the letter opens, I think, helps prepare us to receive its message with a proper attitude. Look at verse 14 please; “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.’” Suppose for a moment you went to see the doctor, complaining of chest pain. When at last you are shown into your appointment, the doctor is nowhere to be found, but instead there’s a member of the custodial staff dusting the furniture, emptying the trashcans, vacuuming the floor. “Where is the doctor?” you ask. “Don’t know,” comes the reply. “But I’ll tell you what! I’ve been working here for about ten years and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. I’m sure I can help you.” After a five-minute consultation with the janitor, you have been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition and you have been instructed to check yourself into the hospital immediately. Now of course you would be wise not to trust that diagnosis. He is not at all qualified to render a medical opinion, is he? He’s the janitor. But let’s say you go to the Mayo Clinic and you are examined by the leading cardiologist in the country and he tells you that you have a life-threatening condition. Well then, that changes everything, doesn’t it? You look around the room. On the walls are this man’s many degrees and awards. On the shelves are expert volumes with his name on the spines. And as you talk to him, he knows all the right questions to ask and he deals with you with a practiced efficiency that just conveys, it communicates years of experience and training. This man knows what he’s talking about. And although the diagnosis is very hard to hear indeed, you listen and you follow his advice. His credentials help you to trust him even when he says hard things.


Verse 14 are the credentials of Jesus Christ for making the hard diagnosis that He does for the church in Laodicea. These are the words of the Amen, we are told. That is to say, these are the words of the one who not only speaks but delivers, the one in whom all the promises of God, 2 Corinthians 1:20, “are yes and amen.” Who has never uttered an empty word or a hollow threat or an impossible promise. And he is, notice, “the faithful and true witness.” He tells the truth about God and about us because He is the one in whom God is perfectly revealed to the world. The word for “truth” that’s used here means “genuine” in opposition to the illusory, the real rather than the counterfeit. Jesus is the real deal, we might say. And He is, thirdly, the beginning of creation. The word, “beginning” there doesn’t imply that Jesus is the first creature in a sequence of creatures. It really means that He is the source and the archetype from which all creation takes shape. A sister congregation to the Laodicean believers in the Lycos Valley where it was situated, not far from Laodicea, was the church in Colossae. Paul used very similar language to this one in his description of Jesus in his letter to the Colossian believers, probably quoting from a hymn that may well have been sung in both congregations. Jesus, Paul said, “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him, all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible. Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things have been created by him and for him and he is before all things and in him all things hold together” – Colossians 1:15-17. Jesus exercises divine, cosmic authority. He is the creator and the sustainer of all things. And so when He speaks, we don’t need to wring our hands and worry whether or not we ought to get a second opinion. His credentials help us to trust Him even when, as He does here, He has hard things to say to us.


And perhaps the simplest way to get at the message, this hard message of Christ for the Laodicean church, is to notice the three images of Jesus that are evoked here. Look at verses 15 and 16 first; Jesus, in verses 15 and 16, is a visitor to the city drinking its waters. Then in verses 17 and 18, secondly, Jesus is a merchant trading with its citizens. And then finally in 19 to 22, Jesus is a guest asking for hospitality. A visitor to the city drinking the waters, a merchant trading with its citizens, and a guest seeking hospitality. You see those three pictures in the text? Let’s think about verses 15 and 16 first of all. Jesus is a visitor to the city drinking the waters.


  1. Jesus is a Visitor to the City Drinking the Waters.


There were three famous cities clustered somewhat close together in the Lycos Valley. Six miles to the north is the city of Hierapolis which was famed for its hot, thermal springs. And some ten miles upriver was the third of the three sister cities of the Lycos Valley, the city of Colossae, to which we have already alluded. And it was known for its cold, refreshing spring waters. Through the Lycos Valley, from Hierapolis, the piping hot water from the springs in Hierapolis flowed through the Lycos Valley toward Laodicea and eventually it would topple over a 300 foot high cliff. And on the way there, of course, the water had begun to cool. At Laodicea, the water was tepid and actually unfit for consumption. “Putrid and nauseating” are the words one commentator used to describe it! There’s refreshing cold water at Colossae, there’s hot water at Hierapolis, but at Laodicea, the water is tepid and putrid and nauseating.


There’s nothing more distasteful, is there, than reaching for your coffee cup expecting it to be full of piping hot coffee only to find it not cold exactly, but just on the cool side of room temperature. Cold but not chilled. Not a refreshing, icy drink on a hot day, certainly not a stimulating hot drink to get you going in the morning, but off-temperature, you know. Wrong, Unpleasant! That was the church in Laodicea. Verses 15 and 16, “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.” Actually, the word is stronger than that! The Greek words means “vomit.” “I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Hot water or cold water, either one is useful, but the lukewarm life of the church in Laodicea, like the water of the city, makes Jesus gag. It makes Jesus gag! Mediocrity isn’t fit for Jesus Christ. Mediocrity is not fit for Jesus Christ. It disgusts Him!


  1. Jesus is Pictured as a Merchant Trading With its Citizens.


And what does this mediocrity at Laodicea look like? Notice the second image that Jesus uses in verses 17 and 18. First of all, He’s like a visitor to the city tasting the waters. Now, Jesus is pictured like a merchant trading with its citizens. In verse 17 we are told about the Laodicean Christians’ perception of themselves first of all. “You say, ‘I am rich. I have prospered. I need nothing.’” This is, apparently, a wealthy, affluent congregation in what was a prosperous city. They take stock of themselves and they see little lack, little need, little deficiency. When a need does arise, they can throw money at the problem. When a problem comes, they have the resources immediately to hand to resolve it. It is a church of plenty, a church of abundance, a church of surplus. And that is how the Laodiceans read their situation. “We have prospered. We need nothing.”


But notice that Jesus sees things very differently indeed, doesn’t He? Look at the text! Notice the contrast, the stunning contrast really between their perception of themselves and the truth according to Jesus Christ. “You say, ‘I am rich. I have prospered. I need nothing,’ not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Among the three worst words that a church, or for that matter a Christian can ever say, surely have to be these – “I need nothing.” The three worst words – “I need nothing.” A church or a Christian who can say, “I need nothing,” will not cling to Jesus Christ in everything. And yet, that was precisely the attitude of the Laodiceans. But the truth is, that spiritually speaking all their material wealth and their outward prosperity notwithstanding, they are in a pitiable condition. Here is a church in utter bankruptcy, a miserable specimen of spiritual destitution. And Jesus comes to them like a merchant with an offer that could change everything. Verse 18, “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.”


Gold Refined By Fire

Now Jesus’ choice of words there are full of significance for the people of Laodicea. He speaks about three things, actually three things for which the city of Laodicea was famous. First He says, “Buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich.” Laodicea was famously a wealthy city; so wealthy that at one point the Jewish people of Jerusalem asked the Jews of Laodicea for help and a collection was taken. Twenty-two and a half pounds of gold were sent from the city’s banks. When an earthquake destroyed the city it was offered Roman assistance. This was then customary to help them rebuild. “But I need nothing,” is the attitude of the Laodiceans and they refuse Roman assistance and they rebuild the city out of their own resources. This is a rich city. But for all their material riches, only Jesus, we are learning here, can give the true riches of the refined gold that does not perish, spoil, or fade, an inheritance incorruptible, kept in heaven for us.


White Garments

Secondly, Jesus says, “Buy from me white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” The city was also famous not just for its financial prosperity but for its prosperous trade in fine garments. The glossy black wool of the sheep that grazed on the hills outside the city made the clothing of Laodicea a coveted commodity. But for all their style and elegance, before the eyes of Jesus Christ, they were exposed in the shameful nakedness of their sin. But Jesus, we are told, has better garments for them – white robes. Everywhere in the book of Revelation white garments signify holiness. White garments signifying holiness are the gift of Christ to all who come to Him.

Salve to Anoint Your Eyes

And thirdly, He tells them to buy from Him salve “to anoint your eyes that you may see.” Laodicea was also famous for its medical school connected to the temple of Asclepius where they made the Phrygian powder that treated blindness. But it was the members of the Laodicean church who were the truly blind ones thinking that material plenty meant they had no need for Jesus. But Christ is the true eye salve. He opens blind eyes to see the truth – the truth that “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” That we have this treasure in jars of clay that Jesus is treasure enough, more than enough for us all. “Buy from me,” He says, “all that your soul needs. All that you soul needs.” He is echoing the call that we read at the beginning of our service from Isaiah 55, isn’t He? “Come, everyone who thirsts. Come to the waters. He who has no money, come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Come buy from me what you need, without money and without price. Buy it for free! Buy it by faith! Buy it trusting in me. Come buy true riches to undo your bankruptcy of soul. Come buy white robes of holiness to cover the shame of your sin. Come buy eye salve, ointment for your eyes, that you might see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.”


Here is a vital word that we need to hear, First Presbyterian Church, in all our affluence. Aren’t we in danger of becoming Laodicean in our attitude and in our stance? The more we rely on bank balances and buildings and bodies in the pew, the more like Laodicea we will become. The more confidence we rest in our financial planning, in our prestige, in our position, the more Christ’s word to Laodicea will suit our condition. “You say you are rich and prosperous and need nothing, but you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked.” Hear the call of Christ who offers to us what we really need. It’s all in Him! True riches, clean garments, 20/20 spiritual vision to see Him in His beauty and to know Him as He is. It’s all in Him! Come buy it from Him. Do not say, “I need nothing.”


  1. Jesus is Like a Guest Seeking Hospitality.


Jesus is a visitor to the city tasting the waters, He’s like a merchant trading with its citizens, and then thirdly, Jesus is like a guest seeking hospitality. Look at verses 19 to 22! These have been hard words. Strong and challenging words. But Jesus reminds us where they’ve come from, these words. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” The stinging rebuke of Jesus’ message comes from love. And it’s this theme of loving entreaty that comes out in the final image of our text. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me.” The church has been addressed, so far, corporately, together in its sinful mediocrity. But Jesus’ invitation to turn back to Him here, notice, is addressed to each member of the church individually. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door.” Dealing with God, dealing with Christ honestly but happen one heart at a time. Each of us must respond to Jesus for himself or for herself. Christ knocks at the door. By His voice, by His Word, there is an entreaty, an appeal, a call from Christ to wayward, lukewarm Christians mired in spiritual mediocrity and worldly materialism.


Notice carefully, by the way – this text has been abused often. This is not a call to the unconverted. It is a call to the church in Laodicea but it is a call, nonetheless. They claimed to be self-sufficient. They refused outside help. You remember how they snubbed the offer of Roman assistance when the city needed to be rebuilt. They need nothing! But the pathway to spiritual health demands the reversal of that attitude. The self-made man or woman must give up their pretended independence. Do you hear me? You must give up your pretended independence and open to Christ, open to outside help. You need Jesus! The spiritual nucleus at the center of the life of the church in Laodicea actually was missing. There was no felt communion with the risen Christ in their assemblies. Oh sure, they still sang the hymns and prayed the prayers and heard the preaching. They sat together around the Lord’s Table, but they did not eat with Him. They had no communion with Him. But Jesus is knocking! He’s asking for re-entry to our lives, to our fellowship. He wants back in to intimate communion with you. There’s an entreaty. Can you hear His voice calling for reentry to renewed intimacy with you, pleading with you to come back, to give up your pretended independence and to bow before Him, to stop saying, “I need nothing,” to recognize the truth of your bankruptcy without Him?


If Anyone Opens?

“If anyone opens the door, I will come in to him and I will eat with him and he with me.” There will be a renewal of intimate fellowship and communion together. Don’t you long for a deeper experience of communion with Jesus Christ? Could it be, could it be that the absence of felt fellowship with your Master is actually an indicator of your lukewarmness, your mediocrity, your backsliding? Could it be a consequence of materialism and self-reliance as you say to yourself, “I need nothing”? “Be zealous and repent,” Jesus says. Open as Christ knocks tonight by His words. He is seeking admission once again to the heart of our fellowship and to communion with you.


The Pinnacle of True Prosperity Offered by Christ

And as we close, it’s worth noticing one of the truly remarkable features of this letter to the Laodicean Christians. It covers the entire landscape from the lowest depths to which the Laodiceans sink and Jesus’ word of rebuke to them, all the way to the highest heights of blessing and beatitude. From the gag-reflex that our mediocrity induces in Jesus Christ to the promise with which our passage concludes. The one who conquers will be granted to sit with Jesus on His throne, just as He Himself has conquered and sits with His Father on His throne. It was affluence and position and prosperity the Laodiceans had been living for, but the pinnacle of true prosperity and position is offered to the one who embraces all that Christ has been telling them in this letter. A place on the throne of Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s won, you know, by giving up the quest for earthly glory that you may gain heavenly glory by surrendering earthly riches in order to gain heavenly treasure. By rejecting all claims to need nothing and opening the door to outside help, help from above, help from Christ Himself. The way up, is down. The way up, is down. We win by losing. We are exalted when we humble ourselves. When we are weak, then we are strong. When we cling most dependently, most urgently to Jesus, then we are richest of all.


Jesus is a visitor to the city tasting the waters. I wonder if He will find your spiritual temperature tepid and lukewarm. Will your mediocrity make Him gag? Jesus is a merchant trading with its citizens. Will you come to Jesus to buy without money and without price all that you really need? And Jesus is a guest seeking hospitality. He stands at the door and knocks. He seeks re-admittance to our fellowship before its took late. I wonder if tonight you will open the door to Him? Let’s pray together!


O Lord Jesus, we bow before You and we cry out to You that You would have mercy on us. We would, indeed, throw wide the doors that the King of glory may enter in. The Lord, strong and mighty. We pray, Lord Jesus, that You would give to us the true riches of fellowship and communion with Yourself forever, the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, kept in heaven for us, that You would robe us with those white

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