Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Service expressed, not out of duty but with love.
Remaining faithful and courageous under fire.
Being shaped not what it is easy or convenient but by the truth.
Holding ourselves to a higher standard in representing Jesus.
Not coasting on our reputation by alertly living for Christ.
Trusting and following the One who has the key to everything we need.
These are the lessons we’ve learned from
the letters in the Book of Revelation
– correspondence from Jesus written to churches
residing in Asia Minor in the 1st century A.D.
Messages for the Church in every generation.
Today we come to the last but not least of those seven letters.
And it is by far the most convicting and yet at the same time
the most encouraging of the messages Jesus has for us.
One of the most quoted parts of the Book of Revelation,
this letter speaks to the heart of the brokenness of the human condition – of what keeps – not God separated from us – but us separated from God.
What Jesus is about to call out is, ironically,
one of the hallmarks of the American spirit.
This particular trait is epitomized in a famous song
that became not just a national but a global sensation.
A tune so popular, so reflective of what we believe about ourselves,
that it is among the top songs played at retirement parties
and, incredibly, funeral services.
This anthem, which arguably is as American as apple pie,
is none other than Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
An unabashed declaration of self-sufficiency,
this beloved ballad champions the ideal of autonomy
– that we are entirely responsible for our success or our failure.
That the defining measure of one’s existence,
to quote old blue eyes is “to say the things he truly feels
and not the words of one who kneels”
– to live life on our own terms – to do things my way.
But is the self-made person a reality or a dangerous fantasy?
Is prizing our independence a cause for celebration
or buying into a lie that ultimately leads us nowhere
– into being good for nothing?
Let’s listen carefully to Jesus’ final word to us through these letters. (TEXT)
The final letter Jesus delivers is to a church in a place called Laodicea.
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write…” – Revelation 3:14
Laodicea was a city founded in the middle of the 3rd century B.C.
by Antiochus II, one of the Seleucid kings who ruled Syria
after the death of Alexander the Great.
Antiochus named the city after his wife, Laodice
– from whom he became divorced soon after.
Laodicea was one of a triangle of sister cities
– all situated in rich, fertile valley nurtured by the Lycus River.
Map image of Hierapolis, Colossae, and Laodicea
The other two cities being
– Hierapolis, across the river to the north, about 6 miles away and
– Colossae, about 10 miles away up the river.
As with many of the other cities we’ve looked at,
Laodicea was located at an important juncture for both traffic and trade.
Built on the borders of Phrygia, the city was situated at the intersection of the main east-west and north-south highways and served as
what many historians have called a “knot in the road system”
– controlling all the commerce which flowed down
the river valley to the coast of the Aegean Sea.
In large part because of this,
the wealth of Laodicea was almost beyond description.
By the 1st century, Laodicea surpassed Colossae
as the leading city in the area – having become
the heart of the banking industry in that part of the known world.
Laodicea also cashed in on its lucrative textile production.
The Lycus Valley proved to be good for grazing sheep.
Having perfected breeding these sheep with
a distinctive, shiny, black wool, the Laodiceans took this wool
and fabricated a kind of a tunic called a trimita
that became fashionable and famous in the region.
Added to this means of income, Laodicea profited from its
world-renown medical school – particularly heralded for compound medicines to treat various kinds of diseases.
One of the specific medicinal products held in high demand from Laodicea was an eye salve made from a Phrygian powder
– reputed to relieve and heal weak and failing vision.
So rich and opulent,
so reliant and proud of their agricultural and commercial prosperity
were the citizens of Laodicea that in 60 A.D. that when
a great earthquake devastated several cities in the region,
whereas others sought help from the Roman senate to rebuild,
the Laodiceans proudly refused any offer of financial assistance
– choosing instead to do it their way
– to rise again out of their own fortunes.
And so, the city of Laodicea arose from its ruins more beautiful than ever, with not one trace of outside assistance.
In the midst of all this affluence and splendor was the church of Laodicea.
Now, while we are not told in the Bible who founded
this community of faith, from textual evidence in the New Testament,
it is likely one of the apostle Paul’s disciples, Epaphras, planted it.
After all from what we have in the scriptures,
it appears Paul, when he came to Asia Minor,
did not get much beyond the city of Ephesus.
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face…” – Colossians 2:1
Epaphras is identified as the leader and likely founder
of the church in Colossae,
“…since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is
a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf…” – Colossians 1:6-7
which was, as we just heard moments ago, one of Laodicea’s sister cities.
Given their close proximity to each other, it is feasible
Epaphras planted the church in Laodicea as well.
In fact, in the letter to the Colossians, Paul specifically tells the congregations in Colossae and Laodicea to exchange and read
the letters that he has written to both of them.
“After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” – Colossians 4:16
Here and now, however, for the Christians in Laodicea, Jesus,
in assessing their deeds, gives them no word of affirmation or praise.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.”
– Revelation 3:15
All Jesus has to offer them is his frank evaluation
that they are neither cold nor hot in their relationship to him.
In the same breath, even as Jesus wishes aloud
they would be either one or the other – cold or hot,
Christ accuses them of being lukewarm.
“I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold…”
– Revelation 3:15-16
As always in these letters, the palpable imagery used to frame
this indictment is shaped by the geography of Laodicea.
Let us remember how the city of Laodicea was bordered on the north
– roughly six miles away – by the city of Hierapolis
– a city famous for its hot springs.
These hot springs, bearing a high mineral content,
were valued for their medicinal qualities.
People from all over Asia flocked to the baths of Hierapolis for healing.
Meanwhile, southeast of Laodicea was the city of Colossae,
tucked into the foot of a mountain, the cold, steady stream of run-off water poured down to provide the city with clear and refreshing aqua.
In between these two cities was Laodicea, a city which,
lacking its own natural source of water, had perpetual problems
with its water supply piped in from the mountains to the south.
After coming six miles through an aqueduct,
the water arrived in Laodicea lukewarm with
a gritty concentration of calcium carbonate.
It was tepid, unclean, barely drinkable, and more likely to make one vomit.
This reinforces a better translation of how Jesus describes
his response to the lukewarmness of the Laodicean Christians.
Contrary to what we read in English, in the original Greek,
Jesus isn’t politely suggesting he is going to spit out
the Laodicean Christians.
“I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:16
No, Christ’s reaction is much visceral.
The nature of the Laodicean church is so offensive,
it is enough to make Jesus sick
– to cause him to violently hurl them from his mouth.
We need to be clear on exactly what Jesus’ critique is here.
Because a common understanding of this passage is
Jesus wants you to be for him or against him – but not sitting on the fence.
Hot and cold, as they are used here, are viewed as polar opposites
– a passionate commitment to or against Christ.
Because our modern tendency to frame our feelings towards
people and situations based on our temperature setting towards them,
it’s tempting to perceive this to be Jesus’ point to the Laodiceans
– make a decision one way or another about following me.
But if we stop and think about it hot and cold water are both good.
When we’re sweating and thirsty from exercise or doing manual labor,
some cold water is refreshing – a tonic to our bodies.
Similarly, when we’re chilled or need to relax and soothe our sore muscles, a hot bath is luxurious – a spot of hot tea or coffee warms us up.
Hot water can heal. Cold water can refresh.
Both have value. Both serve a meaningful purpose.
Lukewarm water, on the other hand, is useless.
It doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t soothe.
Lukewarm water is nasty.
It doesn’t make us want to more;
it makes us gag and get its taste out of our mouths.
Given the historical background of this metaphor,
Jesus is not presenting two extremes on a continuum
– being hot – on fire for Jesus versus
being cold – aloof and opposed to Jesus
or stuck in some sort of indecisive, wishy-washy middle.
The point is not any decision is better than
no decision for Christ, therefore, pick a side.
No, Hierapolis’ hot springs
and Colossae’s cold mountain water both were beneficial.
The lukewarm waters of Laodicea, on the other hand, had no value.
They served no purpose other than to make people
– including Jesus – sick.
The problem in the Laodicea church is
not one of indifference; it is one of complacency.
Being self-satisfied, they perceive themselves as self-sufficient.
That this is indeed their posture is evidenced as
Jesus parrots back the prevailing attitude of the church.
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
– Revelation 3:17
Apparently, the Laodicean Christians view themselves as rich
– prosperous enough from the wealth and resources
they believe they’ve earned and acquired – and therefore,
they don’t need anything – or anyone – including Jesus.
In a city that prided itself on its riches, prestige and doing things their way,
the church in Laodicea had metaphorically drunk the water.
But just as the water of the city literally proved to be sickening,
Jesus exposes the distasteful reality of the congregation in Laodicea.
Christ, who sees us, not as we pretend to be,
not as we try to appear to others,
not as we attempt to fool ourselves into believing we look like,
Christ, who sees us as we are, holds up a sobering mirror
which reflects their wretched, pitiful state.
“But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful,
poor, blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17
Regardless of all the vast financial capital that surrounds them,
the Christians in Laodicea are, in fact, poor – bankrupt
in terms of the treasure that lasts and endures in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Despite boasting medicinal powers to restore failing physical sight,
the Laodicean Christians can only see as far as their physical eyes allow.
They are blind as to their vulnerability to the spiritual dangers before them.
They lack the deeper vision – of having eyes to see
– how the reign of God is breaking into this world and remaking it.
Even though they are residents of a city known for its textile industry
and high fashion, the emperor has no clothes in the church of Laodicea
– as they are naked and exposed – having no righteousness by which
to clothe themselves and stand before God without guilt or shame.
Beloved, the harshest criticism Jesus has to give these seven letters
to the Church over the generations is not about legalism, false teaching, tolerance for wrongdoing, caving under the pressure of persecution,
or falling asleep at the wheel.
No, the strongest warning Christ offers his Body is that of complacency
– of acting as if we’ve arrived in terms of our spiritual maturity
– convincing ourselves we’re all grown up when it comes to God
– of throwing around the name of Jesus
but functionally existing as though we don’t need Christ,
– living our lives not out of a posture of absolute dependency
but instead, one of personal and corporate autonomy
– of being and doing things my way, our way
rather than following the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Laodicea Christians were not flagrant sinners;
they were likely respectable people
– who worked hard with a can-do attitude,
who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps
and trudged ahead powering through the hard times,
who didn’t try to make excuses,
who refused to be a burden on anyone else.
But somewhere along the way,
in the abundance of all their material and economic resources
and in their prevailing reputation of success,
they became self-deluded, self-deceived, and forgot
or perhaps simply ignored, the reality of our human condition.
That we are not self-made.
That we are not independent or autonomous.
That all that we have and all that we are
– that everything does not depend on us.
That Jesus doesn’t live for us, but we live thanks to Christ.
That apart from the grace of God, we are poor, blind, and naked.
Is this how we perceive ourselves, Church?
Do we embrace the reflection we are given in Christ’s mirror
– of being poor, blind, and naked before God
or are we more intoxicated, punch-drunk in love with
the myth of our self-sufficiency, the fool’s gold of our prized independence?
Let us answer such questions by merely professing what we believe.
Let us allow the practicality of how we live to speak
for where – and in whom – our true faith lies.
Do we carry ourselves before others
as being fiercely independent and entirely self-reliant
– always speaking of our motivation, our success, and our achievements?
When is the last time we publicly, out loud,
– not just in what we say but how we act – gave the glory to God – to Christ
for who we are – for where we find ourselves?
How do we view ourselves?
Are we possessed by a wonderful self-image
– driven by the power within me?
Or do we find our identity in the image of God – the person of Jesus
– compelled by the power of the Spirit
to become who were created to be in Christ?
Are being needy and helpless fundamental flaws to be stamped out
or the daily posture we are adopting in order to be stay centered,
to remain rooted, to keep learning and growing thanks to Jesus?
Somewhere along the way, it seems like a lot of us
get the message that we must have it all together,
that we have to figure out life on our own but this is in direct opposition
to how God created us – to why God in Christ gave his life for us.
Again, we may think we’re immune from adopting this mindset
but the prevailing worldview declaring we have all we need in ourselves
– that we don’t need God is the snare, the big lie – of original sin
– of all our brokenness.
It can taint and twist everything – leading us to turn
the good things of this life – bad – because we look to them
instead of the Lord for our identity, our purpose, and our destiny.
Working hard is good until I become the job.
When what I do defines my worth, that’s not good. That’s bad.
Gaining and having wealth and resources is good
until accumulating and holding onto stuff becomes my purpose for living.
When I never have enough and/or can’t let go of what I have,
then I am a slave to my desires – possessed by my so-called possessions. And that’s bad.
Having credibility matters; it is good – until I live for my reputation rather than my reputation derives out of being a credible witness for Christ.
When what others say or think is solely what drives me,
then my destiny is one of continued insecurity as I will always
be chasing after someone else’s approval instead of
living out of the security and freedom of who Jesus declares me to be.
And that’s not good. That’s bad.
When all sense of worth, belonging, and arrival is measured by
what we have, what we can gain, in what we achieve,
we will always end up coming up short
– full but never content, having so much but never enough.
And in the end – when we stand before God –
we will possess nothing other than what God has given us –
provided we have had the good sense to take what He’s offering
– living not our way but His.
All is not lost even for a self-satisfied community like Laodicea
and that means all is never lost for any of us –
as self-made as we may persist in trying to be.
Jesus confronts us because Jesus cares for us.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.
So be earnest and repent.” – Revelation 3:19
Christ corrects us because Christ desires the best for us.
If someone doesn’t love us, they don’t care if we wreck our lives.
But even though we have hardened our hearts to Christ,
Jesus stands at the door of our complacency
– the house we try to build on our own foundation
– the sandcastle of which we insist we are king,
Jesus stands at the door and knocks.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” – Revelation 3:20
Standing forever before the threshold of our lives is Jesus, the Amen.
“These are the words of the Amen…” – Revelation 3:14
More than a word of affirmation that means “Indeed” or “Truly”
we casually add to the end of a prayer, Jesus is the Amen
– the Word made flesh – the epitome of the binding certainty of
God’s “Yes” to us – the guarantee of the divine promises of forgiveness, healing, redemption, and eternal life.
The One who persistently knocks on the entryway
to our mind and heart is also “the faithful and true witness.”
“These are the words of…the faithful and true witness…”
– Revelation 3:14
Jesus is the real deal – the genuine article.
Some witnesses may tell the truth but not tell it faithfully.
Others might be faithful but do not tell the truth all the time.
Through his life, death, resurrection, and ongoing presence
through the Holy Spirit, Jesus always tells it like it is.
Christ, however, not only reveals the truth of who we are and who God is,
Christ also leads us into the truth
– the truth of God’s desires and plans for us –
the truth who we can become thanks to the Gospel.
This Jesus who refuses to kick in the door that separates us from him,
who patiently and persistently knocks until we answer and
when we ask, “Who is it?” finally declares himself to be
“the ruler of God’s creation.”
“These are the words of…the ruler of God’s creation.”
– Revelation 3:14
The word translated “ruler” is from the Greek word, “arche,”
which conveys more than Jesus being the first in a sequence
– but rather the origin, first cause, or source of the sequence.
In other words, the One who is knocking on our door is
the architect and landlord – the source, the reason, and the pattern
for all life – both in the beginning and once again,
through the new beginning of his resurrection.
Jesus is not just calling us to answer the door but to come out of the tomb – the cocoon of our perceived self-sufficiency and truly live.
But let us take heed.
Jesus is not merely asking for admission into our lives
– to come and stay as a guest.
Jesus intends an occupation – to fully and completely dwell with us
– to overtake, to overturn, and ultimately to transform our lives.
All are invited. Christ welcomes anyone to let him in.
But opening the door to Jesus isn’t for everyone.
If you’ve clawed, rung by rung, up the ladder of life
and made something of yourself
and take great pride in doing things your way
– of being large and in charge,
then you’re likely to walk away from Jesus rather than follow Jesus
and sell all you have for treasure in heaven.
If you look down your nose at others,
if you look at the world and perceive a mass of good for nothings
– people who don’t work as hard as you,
who don’t deserve what you believe you’ve earned,
if you balk at the notion of being privileged,
then the grace of Jesus Christ is going to be meaningless, worthless
to you – a crutch, a handout – for those who can’t help themselves.
No matter what the size or scope of your reach and influence,
if you’ve walled yourself in – insulating yourself
with comfort and convenience from all the troubles of this life
so that you don’t have to rub shoulders with those that could
use a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear,
a whispered prayer, an act of kindness,
then you’ve already decided to break the greatest commandment of
the Kingdom of God – to love God by loving our neighbor as ourselves
– for the sake of building and fortifying your own castle, your own kingdom.
If you’re so busy admiring the person you see in the mirror
– patting yourself on the back for the size of your moral bank account, discriminately lending aid and support to others out of the wealth
of your piety and righteousness, and fitting yourself for a homemade halo,
then you’re not going to celebrate when Jesus doesn’t give
miserable, rotten failures what they deserve. You’re going to be offended.
You’re going to try to bar the door rather than let it be opened by Christ
for all the prodigals who are finally coming home.
Following Jesus isn’t for everyone.
Following Jesus isn’t for anyone who insists on doing life their way.
But if we are willing to admit our poverty
– that apart from Christ we don’t have anything,
that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing,
then the God, who in Christ though, he was rich and for our sake
became poor, extends to us gold
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire,
so you can become rich…” -Revelation 3:18
gold not intended to fill banks but gold that has been refined
the fire of God’s mercy and love – gold meant to be invested
not just in the betterment of our lives but in the lives of others.
If we will finally confess the limitations of our vision
– that life is more than a good salary, a nice home,
and a solid retirement account – then the God in Christ
who looked death square in the face and said “Take me”
in order that he might take us in his arms
– beyond the limits of our fears, failures, and even our mortality
“I counsel you to buy from me…salve to put on your eyes,
so you can see.” -Revelation 3:18
– Jesus will open our eyes to see everlasting promise
and eternal possibilities that are more than we could ever
imagine or hope for.
If we will at last stop trying to play dress up and cover our brokenness, trying to hide and guilt and shame – with the threadbare costumes
of our presumed power and authority and instead acknowledge
that we come into this world naked and will leave it the same way,
“I counsel you to buy from me…white clothes to wear,
so you can cover your shameful nakedness…” -Revelation 3:18
then the God in Christ who knew no sin but became sin for us,
will cover us with the robes of forgiveness and salvation
that will never wear out or fade away.
This last letter which begins with the harshest words of the seven,
ends with the most beautiful invitation of them all.
As Jesus playfully invites us to buy from him
instead of trying to keep cashing in on our own efforts.
It’s tongue and cheek because
we can’t buy from Jesus what we can’t afford by ourselves.
We can’t purchase from Christ, what Christ gives us freely.
God riches come only by the grace of Jesus.
It is the grace of Jesus which gives the poor the ability to buy
– to earn or to achieve but to trade our self-sufficiency
for the sufficiency of Christ.
To be equipped, to be provided for, to be made secure and solvent
out of the inestimable riches of the Gospel.
To a tasteless and distasteful church,
Jesus extends an invitation to the banquet of Holy Communion.
“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
– Revelation 3:20
As he keeps knocking, Jesus beckons us
– we who have been complacent – being full of ourselves –
to earnestly repent now – to open the door and be filled anew
with the Word and the Spirit.
Jesus invites us to dine with him – to put our feet under his table,
to open our hands for the bread and the wine only Christ can provide to us
– to share the spiritual food and sustenance only Jesus can give.
Every Sunday, we come to the table of Christ with the same promise
Jesus offers to the church at Laodicea – that if we keep relying solely on him rather than ourselves, if we bring all our hunger and our thirst,
all our fears and our doubts to Christ alone, we shall be satisfied.
As the Spirit of the Lord spoke to the church at Laodicea,
the same Spirit – the Spirit of Christ is saying to us.
May we, thanks to the grace of God, not shy away from
being consciously and explicitly reminded that life lived on our terms
– doing things my way – is a life wasted, a life that ends in death.
It is only life lived in Christ – following Jesus – going his way – that
our lives become something more than a mere flash in the pan,
15 seconds of fame, or a momentary, earthly fortune.
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me
on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – Revelation 3:22
For one day our continued fellowship with Jesus at the table will lead us to be lifted up and to sit – incredibly, astounding – with Christ on his throne.