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05.23.10 Applying Christ to Our Lives, Revelation 3:14-22, Sermon Summary

by on May 25, 2010

Vomit, gold, baptismal righteousness, seeing through faith, and the most popular image from the New Testament—this letter has it all.

As is always the case with these letters, it is helpful to remember who it is that addresses us. Here it is Christ, called the “Ruler over creation.” A better translation might be “beginning of creation.” It’s not that Jesus is the first creation (pace Arius), but that Jesus is presented as the source. He is also referred to here as the “Faithful and true witness.” John reminds us that Jesus is our example of faithful living.

This is the last letter Jesus dictates to the prophet John in the book of Revelation. It is addressed to the city of Laodicea. Laodicea was a wealthy city. Like Thyatira, they traded in textiles. They also had a medical facility there known for its eye-salve which they exported throughout the region. Unlike Philadelphia, when Laodicea suffered an earthquake in 60 AD, they were able to rebuild the city themselves through their own wealth.

But their wealth created a problem. Their wealth wasn’t an idol, as it was in Thyatira. It wasn’t an active distraction from their faithfulness to God. But it was a passive toxin. Their wealth was the basis for their spiritual complacency. And here Jesus introduces one of the most memorable metaphors in all of scripture.

Laodicea got their water from a hot springs 6 miles away. But by the time the water reached the citizens of Laodicea, it was lukewarm. If you imagine traveling the 6 miles from the hot spring source to Laodicea, stopping every mile or so to take a drink of water, by the time you reached Laodicea, you wouldn’t notice the change in water temperature. You would have just become accustomed to it.

And that’s the effect wealth had on the Christians in Laodicea. They had become lukewarm without realizing it. To Jesus, even being cold is better than being lukewarm. Jesus would prefer to hang out with passionate atheists than lukewarm Christians. So Jesus warns them, that unless they returned to the source of their faith, he would vomit them out of his mouth.

Besides this visceral image, this passage also gives us several images to encourage us in overcoming the challenge posed to the church by wealth.

(1) Gold purchased from God. God always talks to us in our language, and gold would have caught the attention of the wealthy in Laodicea. In the Newer Testament, “gold” can be a reference to faith (1 Peter 1:7). But in the Older Testament, “gold” most often refers to moral conduct (Malachi 3:3).

That we in the church are urged to buy gold from God runs counter to the two dangerous presumptions of the wealthy: (a) that we are self-sufficient, the “I can do it myself” attitude; and (b) that cost equals value. We spend more money without getting an equivalent increase in value. Purchasing gold from God contradicts these two presumptions, because it requires humility on our part and because God gives us something valuable for free.

(2) White Robes. The white robes of righteousness appear again here in the letter to Laodicea. These robes refer first to the righteousness of Christ which we “put on” in baptism. And it refers also to our righteous deeds which result from our union with Christ through baptism. The church in Sardis had good deeds, but they were divorced from faith in Christ. Some of their baptismal garments were dirty. Here in Laodicea, they are naked and don’t even know it.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that the other wealthy city, Thyatira, also was urged to do good deeds. Again, the doing of good deeds counters our appetite for wealth.

(3) The Eye-salve Offered by Christ. Here again Jesus offers the church in Laodicea something they think they already have. Their medical industry already produced famous eye-salve. But here again Jesus uses the language of the people to elevate their understanding. The obvious metaphorical meaning here is that Christ will heal our eyes to see, that is, give us eyes of faith.

It is similar to his renaming of the church at Philadelphia. They thought they belonged to Caesar; really, they belong to Christ.

(4) Christ knocking at the door. This is surely the most frequently depicted image coming out of the book of Revelation, if not the entire Newer Testament. It gives us a promise and hope in the vision of Jesus Christ knocking on the door of the church. The promise is that if we open the door, Christ will commune with us. And the hope is that if we do not, Christ will continue patiently knocking until we do.

It is true, and must never be forgotten, that in this passage Christ is knocking on the door of the church. It is the church that must invite Christ in. He must be the honored guest, along with all those he brings with him. This is an important contrast to the attitudes most people have about the church—that it should open the door and cater to their tastes. The church opens the door to Christ and his guests, not us, except as we are also his guests.

And it is also true, and far more popular, to interpret this passage as depicting Christ knocking on the doors of our individual lives. You know God is interested in coming into your life because you “sense” it. And if you don’t sense it now, then eventually you will—especially if you begin to listen for it.

Here’s a prayer that may help you listen and open the door: “God, I think I hear you knocking on the door of my life. My life may not be perfect, but it is comfortable. There may be things I’d like to change, but they are at least familiar to me. I admit I have become secure in myself. But I hear you knocking, and you desire to come in and commune with me. You have come because you love me. Give me the courage to open the door to you, to invite you into my life, to experience your presence at table, and to talk with you about my life.”

To summarize and conclude, here are three ways we might apply Christ to our lives:

  1. Return to the source: go back before church traditions and theology to the hot water of Jesus Christ
  2. Make the great exchange: invest in the divine economy by buying God’s gold, do good deeds, and repent of self-sufficiency
  3. Open a new door

Questions for further reflection.

  • Be honest about yourself and your church—are you lukewarm? Are you closer to being Jesus’ hands and feet, or his vomit?
  • How much have you bought into the presumptions of the wealthy: self-sufficiency and cost = value? Do you seek God only as a last resort? Do you have to have the latest gadget?
  • Have you put on Christ? Are you doing any good deeds? Do you do them because you are his presence in the world today?
  • How can you start a new ministry at your church because God is knocking at the door?
One Comment
  1. Thank you for your dissection and analysis of these verses. I particularly liked the section where you stated: “Jesus would prefer to hang out with passionate atheists than lukewarm Christians”.

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