06 February 2008

The seven churches--part 7: Laodicea, the lukewarm church

Revelation 3:14-22

14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

"These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:

15 'I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 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 dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also 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.'"


WELCOME TO AMERICA!!

Finally, we come to the 1st-Century model for the modern American church—the group at Laodicea. The forerunners to the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and the whole Emergent Movement. The church that is filled with people who want to just go and hear a nice little speech, have some coffee, hang out—don’t get too deep on doctrine, now, because it might make me feel bad. Oh, and please don’t talk about that old Cross—Why, that might make me think there are some things in my life I have to change. And after all, I am a good person! I don’t need to hear about all that repentance stuff. Just let me come and feel good about myself as I swim in my sins, don’t talk to me about being "crucified with Christ."

But this is not what the church should look like. In fact, it is not what the TRUE church looks like at all. Any church that does not preach the Cross, and repentance, and Hell, and God's judgment, does not preach the love of Jesus! For Jesus came to warn us of those things, and to ignore His clear teachings is to ignore Him! Let us first look at Christ.

He is "the Amen." What does "Amen" mean, anyway? We stick it onto the end of our prayers. We say it when the preacher says something that moves us to respond. But what is the meaning of the word? Some define it as meaning, "So be it!" Others define it as meaning, "True!" One says, "Surely, of a truth, truly" or, as the King James translators said, "verily." Consider this: When you see Jesus open a sentence by saying, "Verily"—or, in John's gospel only, "Verily, verily"—He is saying, "What I am about to tell you is true. There is no way to deny it, and nothing can stop this from passing." In fact, Thayer says thus: It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own. Jesus is the Amen. When we pray, let us always make Him our own.

What else does the Bible say about Jesus being "the Amen?" Well, each one of the gospels ends with "Amen" (See Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:20; Luke 24:53; John 21:25). Paul ends all of his epistles with "Amen." All of Jesus' promises are "Amen" (2nd Corinthians 1:20). Every time the name of the Lord is blessed, "Amen" (See Romans 1:25; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 3:21). "Amen" is not just a word we tack onto the end of our prayers. When we say "Amen," we are vouching that what we have just said is true, and that we believe it. If we say "Amen" to a lie, then we are calling God a liar. Romans 3:4 clears up that issue.

Jesus is also "the Faithful and True Witness." What is Jesus if not "Faithful and True?" For even a pagan Roman governor found no fault in Him (Luke 23:4). He is not saying here that He is a witness for our innocence before God. But rather, that He is the witness of the justice—and love—of God toward man. The same apostle who recorded these words of Christ also wrote, This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood…And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one (1st John 5:6, 8 NKJV). Does Jesus' blood not witness to us of the love of God? Does it not bear witness to His justice, that He required—demanded—payment for the debt we owed Him because of our sins? Jesus' witness to us of the truth of God is faithful and true. In fact, toward the end of his vision of future things, John writes, And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war (Revelation 19:11). Not only is Jesus "the Faithful and True Witness," His NAME is "Faithful and True." Not only does He bring resurrection and life, He IS resurrection and life (John 11:25). Not only does He open the door, He IS the Door (John 10:7).

"The beginning of creation." Boy, the Jehovah's Witnesses love to use this one. They try to say that this somehow "proves" that Jesus was a created being.

NO……
NO……
NO……

This is one of those places you have to go back and look at the Greek. Again, let us look at how Thayer defines this word. I use Thayer here because he himself was quite a bit of a Unitarian, personally denying the deity of Christ. However, if you study the lexicon he developed, he is quite honest in his assessment of the areas in the New Testament that attest to Christ's God-ness. Hear how he defines the word arch (arche') in this particular instance—"That by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause." Jesus was NOT the first created being, He was NOT a created being at all—He was the One by which all things came to be. All things (not "all other things" as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society would have you believe) were created by Him, through Him, and for Him (Isaiah 44:24; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). It was by Christ that all things came to be, thus He began the creation by His power and deity.

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." If there were any condition a church could find itself in that would be scarier than to be dead, it would be if that church were lukewarm. A dead church pretty much knows it's dead. A loveless church—eh, they don’t really care. But for a gathering of people who claim to be believers—if they are "neither cold nor hot", when they think they are pleasing to God; these who think they have their ticket for the "Celestial Express"—and yet the Lord looks upon them and says, "You disgust Me," this is one condition every church should be the most frightened of falling into. And sadly, there are so many gatherings of people—who claim to be the church—yet to look at them…

They show up on Sunday, Bible (and/or "Purpose-Driven Life") in hand. They walk in, they sit down, they stand up, they sing, they sit down, they listen, they gather together in tight-knit circles and chat about anything that is nothing, they sit in a circle, they drink their coffee, they listen to someone read from the same "Leader's Guide" that a thousand other tight-knit groups are listening to, they make social plans, they get up, they go home.

Then, what do they do next?

They show up on Sunday, Bible (and/or "Purpose-Driven Life") in hand. They walk in, they sit down, they stand up, they sing, they sit down, they listen, they gather together in tight-knit circles and chat about anything that is nothing, they sit in a circle, they drink their coffee, they listen to someone read from the same "Leader's guide" that a thousand other tight-knit groups are listening to, they make social plans, they get up, they go home.

Then, what do they do next?

(See where this is going?)

This is what it means to be "lukewarm." It doesn’t necessarily mean deadness, or lack of interest. Look at what Jesus says: There is a smidgen of life there, but it's not enough to make them get up off their keesters and do anything to live out that faith. But, what's the old excuse they use for not serving? "Well, I just don’t feel led to…" do whatever. Oh, they know God's calling them to do something. It's just not something that would give them the attention and visibility their flesh desires. They sit there, week after week, getting fed (maybe), waiting for God to change His mind and "lead them" to a position by which they can impress their friends and co-workers.

You want to know what "lukewarm" is good for? Well, you can wash your hands with lukewarm water. That's a good thing. But you want to know what else it's good for? It's good for growing things. Like mold, fungus. Cockroaches love warm, dark, moist places.

But another thing "lukewarm" is good for growing—is yeast. The Bible calls it "leaven." Pick up a packet of Fleischmann's yeast. Read the directions on how to activate it. It requires you to put the yeast in water that is about 110°F. Just above body temperature, but not enough to do much of anything else. Then, once you mix the active yeast with the dough, what do you do with the dough? You "proof" it. To do this, you place it in a warm—again, warm but not hot—oven, and you leave it in there for a while until the yeast has thoroughly permeated the dough. And don’t open the door to let light in, or you will damage the yeast.

Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

Keep the body of dough in the dark, just barely warm; don’t let any light in, until the leaven leavens the whole lump. I seem to recall the apostle Paul writing something like that (1st Corinthians 5:6-7).

There are many churches that are "proofing." They are in the dark, they are barely above room temperature, they don’t want to hear anything about Jesus that goes against their preconceived notions of this mushy-squishy, namby-pamby, laid-back, go-with-the-flow-and-don’t-make-waves, slacker-dude type of Jesus they have grown to know and love. They don’t want the kind of Jesus that said, "Repent!" That kind of Jesus that said, "Go forth and sin no more!" The Jesus that said, "Take up thy cross and follow Me!" Nah, don’t let in any light. We're not quite fully leavened yet. John 3:19-20.

What does Jesus think of this kind of church? "I'm gonna spit you out!" Or, "I will emesai (emesai) you—vomit you out, spew you forth, reject you with extreme disgust." Because they aren't even able to see how wretched they are. They’ve been fed so much gobbledy-gook by their "life coach"—I mean, "pastor"—that they think they're OK, they think they're doing good by sacrificing their Sunday morning to be there—well, at least on the Sunday mornings their kids don’t have some football or baseball game they just have to be at. They’ve got their life together, they just need a little refresher class on the weekends to help them start the week out right.

"Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked." When we get to the point that we think that everything we have has come from our own hands, our own labor, the sweat of our own brow, and that none of it came from God—He just kinda, you know, helped it along just a little bit—when we don’t realize that our earthly comfort is of no importance to God, and we think we deserve everything we have because we're such good people—we are truly blind, wretched , poor and naked.

So what's the solution? "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." Ooh, there's that word again. "Repent." Nah, can't have that. Doesn’t make people feel good. Makes them think there's something they have to change. Doesn’t fit in with our American sense of entitlement, that we deserve to get something simply because we are drawing breath:

There's a new big-screen TV on the market—gotta get it!
There's a new cell phone with all kinds of new gadgets—gotta get it!
There's a new surround-sound for your entertainment system—gotta get it!
There's a way of doing things that we need to change—no thank you!

But Jesus says we need to do more than repent. He says we need to "be zealous and repent." Turn from your sin of laziness, and return to your First Love! Be fervent, be eager, fanatical, obsessive. Be zhlwson (zhlwson) "zealous in the pursuit of good." Don’t just do things so you can say, "Well, at least I did something." Do things out of a heart that says, "Jesus died for me, He saved me, He reached down and changed my life, He rescued me from the depths of Hell. The least I can do is to obey Him when He calls me to go and do." 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 dine with him, and he with Me." Matthew 7:1 and Revelation 3:20 are two of the most misused and misapplied passages of Scripture. Let me make this clear: Jesus us not talking about "Standing and knocking at the door of your heart." Nor does this give credence to the old "Ask Jesus to come into your heart" message we get from so many churches in the Decisionist Movement. You know, that school of thought that says if you go to VBS, and say a little prayer and "Ask Jesus to come into your heart" that you are automatically saved. A.W. Tozer, in The Divine Conquest, puts it thusly:

There is another and worse evil which springs from this basic failure to grasp the radical difference between the natures of the two worlds. It is the habit of languidly "accepting" salvation as if it were a small matter and one wholly in our hands. Men are exhorted to think things over and "decide" for Christ, and in some places one day each year is set aside as "Decision Day," at which time people are expected to condescend to grant Christ the right to save them, a right which they have obviously refused Him up to that time. Christ is thus made to stand again before men's judgment seat; He is made to wait upon the pleasure of the individual, and after long and humble waiting is either turned away or patronizingly admitted.

He goes on to say,

Christ is placed in a position to excite pity rather than respect as He stands meekly, lantern in hand, outside a vine-covered door.

This standing at the door and knocking, as Christ does with the Laodiceans, is not some pitiful, "knocking on the door of your heart, desperately hoping you will let Him in. He is not at our beckoned call. We are to be at His command—not the other way around.

We are to be hot, on fire, zealous, fanatical about serving our Lord Jesus Christ. It's one thing to be cold, dead, or loveless. These are actually easier to remedy than the lukewarm. The lukewarm don’t know they need to change. They don’t think there's anything wrong with how they're doing things. But unless they wake up, become zealous, and repent of their lackadaisical attitude toward their savior and His calling, they will be rejected by Him with extreme disgust. Let us hope that the church in America wakes up and finds its zeal before it's too late.

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