This is the sermon I mentioned in my "Latest Sermon" post, together with the Bible verse it is based on. I figure that some of you may not have access to a Bible where you check Roblog, and that from that group most of you won't bother to search for it on the internet.
The sermon itself is broken into very small paragraphs, which is not my usual writing style. This is because the sermon was written first as an outline. Usually I don't (I should say "didn't," as it's been a while since I've done this regularly) write more than an outline. The more words there are on the paper, the more I look at it, and the less I look at the people listening to me. And I've always been impressed with ministers who could preach without notes. I figure that I'm not gonna get there without a lot more practice, and a lot more time to devote to it. But perhaps some day.
Anyway, I hope that this is still meaningful on the page rather than out loud.
To the angel/messenger of the church in Laodicea write:
(14) These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. (15) I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (16) So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (17) You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (18) I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
(19) Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
(21) To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I 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.
This letter to the Church at Laodicea has two very strong messages. A message of Judgement, and a message of Mercy. A casual reader can see this, but a closer look reveals that both the Judgement and the Mercy are more extreme than we first realized. One reason we have trouble understanding is that we don't know the context. For example, from our scripture today, verses 14 and 15: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth."
It is impossible to understand this fully without understanding the geography of Laodicea, the city to which this letter is addressed. Laodicea is a very rich city, but it has a big problem: no fresh water supply nearby. And so they have two choices for water. The first choice is water from the city of Hierapolis, about 12 km north of Laodicea. Hierapolis is famous for its hot springs, like Onchanjang (the name of an area famous for, of course, hot springs) here in Pusan. The water is naturally hot, with lots of minerals dissolved in it. People believed then, as now, that water like this is good for your health.
The second choice lies in the opposite direction, from the city of Colosee, famous for its fresh, cold mineral water. In the days before refrigeration, a visitor to Colosee would remember the taste of that cold, sparkling water for the rest of his days. Very refreshing. But almost 20 km away from Laodicea in the opposite direction of Hieropolis.
Both sources of water are excellent, but in those days water was moved across long distances through stone pipes. By the time it reaches Laodicea, the hot water is no longer hot, but lukewarm, with a heavy, metallic taste to it. Not at all refreshing. And by the time the cold water arrives, it is no longer cold, but lukewarm. It has acquired the taste of dust and stone. Also not refreshing.
And so when Jesus tells the Church at Colosee that they are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, they know what he is talking about. And it's important for us to understand what he's talking about. Because the letters in the Bible are not written just for the people they're addressed to, they're written to us. That is why context is important, because their problems are our problems.
This particular letter is a good example, because it is so very general. For example, in verse 15: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!"
We know that the church is doing something, but whatever it is, Jesus is not at the center. Jesus isn't even on the edges. Jesus is on the outside. So their activities are not healing, "hot", nor refreshing, "cold." Lukewarm.
Then in verse 16, Jesus says, "I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Actually, a better way to translate that is "vomit". (I ended up cutting the previous sentence, because the Korean translation is not so ambiguous.) This church makes God feel sick to his stomach. God is completely disgusted with this church!
The worst part is that they don't even know it! In verse 17 it says that they think they are rich, when if fact they are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Not in a worldly way, but in a spiritual way. Jesus advises them that they should invest in God's treasures. Verse 18 reads: "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see."
Jesus says, "Gold refined in the fire" because Laodicea was a rich city, a banking center for that part of Asia. But gold of the Earth passes away, and Jesus wants them to store up spiritual wealth.
Jesus says, "White clothes to wear" because in the fields near Laodicea they raised sheep with a very fine, black wool. It was used to make cloth that was, again, famous in that part of Asia. White robes are used repeatedly in Revelation to show holiness and cleanliness, which are far more important than fine clothes.
Jesus says, "Salve to put on your eyes" because Laodicea was also famous for medicine, especially an ointment for the eyes. But spiritual blindness is a much greater problem than blindness of the eye.
Gold, clothing, salve. Jesus is telling this church that they need replacements for the very best things that they have, because it is all garbage!
There are seven letters in the first three chapters of Revelation, representing a broad range of churches and their problems. We need to realize that these letters are not just for the churches of that time and place. They are for us, too! Laodicia's letter is the least positive of the seven. The judgement is very harsh. Jesus has nothing good to say about them! We don't want to be this church! So why is it included?
The answer starts in verse 16, when Jesus says "I am about to spit you out." The grammar and words are very clear. It is not past tense, "You are finished." It's not present, "You are on your way out now." It's future, "You will be out very soon." No date given. In other words, there is still an opportunity to avoid this judgement!
And it gets better. In verse 19, Jesus says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline..." This incredibly harsh judgement is only one side of the coin. The other side is love. And not just any love. Usually God's love for his people is expressed as "agapay", which means "unconquerable attitude of benevolence and good will". But to Laodicea, the word is phileo: "The warmest and most tender affection." Warm, and tender. Affection. Not just the love of a Creator for the Creation, but the love of a father for his daughter.
But it gets even better! Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. Not the door of the unbeliever. Not just the door to your heart. The door of the Church! The Church that HE MADE! He humbled himself to death to make this church, and now he is humbling himself again to be let back in! In verse 20 He says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." And with the worst church of the seven, he will come in and eat! Just like family! Why is such a personal illustration being used for the worst of the seven churches?
But it gets even better than that! In verse 21 Jesus says, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." These lousy, lukewarm, worthless Christians can be taken up to the same level as Jesus himself! How can it be?
Because God's Judgement is always overcome by his Mercy and Love for us. When we are at our worst, pitiful, blind, naked, and we don't even realize it, God still loves us. When we refuse God's gifts, God still loves us. When we've shut Jesus out of our church, God still loves us. When we are so nasty and foul that God wants to vomit us out, God still loves us. And as soon as we repent, and let Jesus in, God's love for us if fulfilled.
I would like to challenge you, right here and now. Look at your church. (I used the name of the church at which I was preaching rather than just 'your church'.) What is your church doing? Is Jesus at the center, or has He been pushed out the door? I also want to challenge you to look at your life. Is Jesus in your life, eating with you, refreshing and healing with you? Or is He on the outside, knocking to get in? If Jesus is on the outside of any part of your life, the judgement is harsh. He's ready to spit you out. But it's not too late! He's knocking! Let Him in!