Seven Churches - Part 7d
March 19, 2017
Today marks a milestone in my ministry. I will complete the longest series of messages in my preaching career.
It’s called very simply 7.
It began a little over a year ago with the Seven Names of God, then The Seven I AMs of Jesus, after that the Seven Signs in John, then Seven Transformations, then Seven Parables, then the Seven Last Words, and we finish with the Seven Churches.
Seven sets of messages, seven messages each. I’m so clever!
If you recall in the very first message of the seven series, I talked about how the number seven represents completeness or perfection in Scripture. That’s one of the reasons I believe the seven churches in Revelation may offer meaning beyond the fact that there really were seven cities in ancient times John wrote to, seven local churches Jesus had a word for.
Maybe at the very least they call churches today and even individuals Christians to look at themselves, to see if the condition of one of the seven describes their condition.
We began in…
- Ephesus. The loveless church
- Smyrna. The suffering church.
- Pergamum. The compromising church.
- Thyatira. The adulterous church.
- Sardis. The dead church.
- Philadelphia. The faithful church.
- Laodicea. The lukewarm church.
Even if you don’t agree with the idea that the churches represent anything beyond what was written 2,000 years ago, you must admit there are striking similarities between the state of the church at Laodicea and the state of the church in the West today.
Revelation 3:14–18 (ESV) — 14 “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. 15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 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.
Listen to the same verses in a much looser a translation…
Revelation 3:14–18 (The Message) — 14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church. God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says: 15 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! 16 You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. 17 You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless. 18 “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.
If you look at the church worldwide, you see a vibrant church in many third world countries (rich in God’s grace though poor in material things), you see a courageous and booming church in many countries hostile to Christianity, and, if we’re honest here, a stale, stagnant, lukewarm church in the West and particularly in America, a nation actually founded on Christian principles. That is both sad and ironic.
Some of you right now want to shout “Amen!” because you think I’m talking about what’s happening in our culture, what’s happening in our government, even what’s happening in the White House. Those things are a small part of a much bigger picture. Our lukewarmness goes so much deeper than how we respond to the culture or what laws are passed or who sits in the oval office.
John Henry Jowett describes us this way: “We leave our places of worship, and no deep and inexpressible wonder sits upon our faces. We can sing these lilting melodies, and when we go out into the streets our faces are one with the faces of those who have left the theaters and the music halls. There is nothing about us to suggest that we have been looking at anything stupendous and overwhelming. ... And what is the explanation of the loss?
Preeminently our impoverished conception of God.”
And that could well be a description of the church at Laodicea. The more things change the more they really do stay the same.
I don’t know about you, but this gets me down. Thankfully, Jesus is about to lift them and us up.
Revelation 3:19 (ESV) — 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Some very respected preachers have said the lukewarm Christians at Laodicea weren’t Christians at all. This verse is how I know that’s not true. You’ll see why.
“Those whom I love I reprove and discipline.”
The word reprove comes from a Greek word meaning…
To expose one works
Ephesians 5:11 (ESV) — 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
To convict someone of wrong doing
John 16:8 (ESV) — 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Titus 2:15 (ESV) — 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
The word discipline comes from a Greek word that means…
To instruct, educate, or train
Acts 22:3 (ESV) — 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.
Luke 23:16 (ESV) — 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”
Both of these words come show up in a text that brings it all together for us and is, in a way, a commentary on Jesus’ words to the Laodiceans…
Hebrews 12:3–11 (ESV) — 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Growing up there was one thing I hated worse than a spanking from my dad. In fact I would have rather had a beating than hear him say, “Son, I’m disappointed in you.” Nothing cut to my heart worse than that because I knew how much my dad loved me. I’m glad he loved me enough to tell me what I needed to hear, to discipline me. I’m not much, but what I am I am in large part because of my dad.
The church at Laodicea was Jesus’ flock. He was their shepherd. And he loved them enough to tell them what they needed to hear, as hard as it must have been. He loved them enough to expose their sin and discipline them for their good.
This is why Jesus introduced himself to the Laodiceans as…
Revelation 3:14 (ESV) — 14 “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.
Jesus is uniquely qualified to reprove and discipline us. He loves us too much not to.
Being taken out to the divine woodshed by Jesus isn’t fun for anybody, but the fact that JESUS is taking US out there is a comfort all its own because it means we are God’s sons and daughters and not illegitimate children. I’ve put it this way: “God doesn’t discipline the devil’s children.”
If the Christians at Laodicea had not been Christians, this series would have been called “The letters to the six churches.”
There’s more here we could cover in a hundred messages, but one of the many marks of the modern Western church is an aversion to discipline. We don’t like being told what to do, and we sure don’t like being told we’re wrong (we don’t mind telling others they’re wrong). We don’t want to submit to any kind of authority whether it be a parent, a boss, a pastor, or a church, let alone the Bible.
But if we are going to get right, we’ve got to humble ourselves and listen. We’ve got to…
“…be zealous and repent.”
That word zealous means to be eager, earnest, heartfelt in devotion. It carries the idea of being passionate, on fire. It is the exact opposite of lukewarmness.
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." —C. S. Lewis
Remember, becoming lukewarm is a result of doing nothing, of just sitting there. To be hot or cold, to be useful, to be zealous takes energy. It takes work. It involves, by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit, doing things we don’t want to do and not doing things we do.
Jesus calls us to repent. To recognize the problem, to humbly receive the rebuke, and turn around. This a word to us, our church, and the church of the West.
Conclusion: It is just like our Lord to offer such a kind, loving invitation to the very group of Christians who made him so sick. Those with the greatest need get the most attention…
Revelation 3:20–21 (ESV) — 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 eat with him, and he with me.
Like many in my tribe, I have used this verse evangelistically, inviting people to be saved (and I think that’s ok). But in context, the invitation is to Christians, to the church.
In ancient times, to eat a meal with someone in their home was to identify with them, to accept them on a personal and intimate level. Jesus was inviting himself back into their lives, extending love, acceptance, and fellowship.
21 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.
One commentator says…
No early Christian could have heard those words without thinking of the regular meal, the bread-breaking, at which Jesus would come powerfully and personally and give himself to his people. Such meals anticipate the final messianic banquet (see 19:9). They are advance ‘comings’ of the one who will one day come fully and for ever.
Those who share this meal, and who are thereby strengthened to ‘conquer’ as Jesus ‘conquered’ through his death, will have the most extraordinary privilege. It is already quite mind-blowing to think of Jesus sharing the throne of God… But now it appears that ‘those who conquer’ are going to share Jesus’ throne as well. They will (that is) share his strange, sovereign rule over the world, the rule to which he came not by force of arms but by the power of suffering love. This is what it means to be ‘a royal priesthood’.
Revelation 3:22 (ESV) — 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
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