ďMarks of the Church:† Zeal and RepentanceĒ†††††††††††††††††††††† December 7, 2008
SI:† Weíre studying the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3.
These are letters from Jesus Christ to seven churches in Asia minor,
†† written by the Apostle John as they were revealed to him.
These were seven real churches, but at the same time,
†† they were representative churches.†
Represent churches and Christians at all times.
†† All the things Jesus says about these churches apply to us.
So the question we need to ask as we read each letteró
†† Is this true of me?†
This is the last letter, to the church in Laodicea.
INTRO:† Historians tell us that the ancient city of Laodicea was very prosperous.
†† Had a textile industry which produced a lustrous cloth from black wool.
†† Had a medical school which produced a famous eye salve.
And because of all the money that came from those things,
†† Laodicea was a center for banking.
†† The great Roman senator Cicero spoke highly of Laodicean banks.
†† The Laodiceans were proud of their city and its prosperity.
Once the city was devastated by an earthquake and Rome offered federal assistance
†† to rebuild.† But the city fathers and business leaders said no thanks,
†† we donít want government money.† Weíll rebuild ourselvesóand they did.
But there was one thing that Laodicea did not have and that was good water.
†† There were no natural sources of water in the city, it had to be piped in.
†† By the time it got to the city it was lukewarm and sometimes polluted.
What made that especially hard to swallow was that two neighboring cities,
†† that were much less prosperous than Laodicea, had good water.
Hierapolis had hot springs.† Sick and hurting people would come
†† to bathe in these hot springs and sip the hot mineral water
†† which was believed to have healing properties.
Colossae on a river that flowed from a snow-capped peak.†
†† That river water was cold and refreshing.
But Laodicea, the city with wealth and success, had stale, lukewarm water.
Jesus Christ picked up on this image in his letter to the church there.
And he said to this churchóYouíre just like the water of Laodicea.
†† Youíre not hot and healing, youíre not cold and refreshingóyouíre lukewarm.
Out of all of the seven letters, this is the only one that does not have a word
†† of praise from Jesus.† Itís all rebuke.
Even the church of Sardis, the church that had the reputation for being alive
†† but was really dying, even that church Jesus praised because it had some people
†† in it who had not soiled their clothes but were walking in white.†
Not this church, it was lukewarm through and through.†
But Jesus did not write this church off.†
†† He loved this church.†
And he urged them, with some of the most moving words in all of the letters,
†† to repent of their lukewarm lives,
† †and to become zealous once again for Jesus and the Gospel.
Are you a lukewarm Christian?†
†† Thatís the question this letter makes you ask yourself.
Is my church a lukewarm church?
Donít use this letter to judge other peopleó
†† I hope so and so is listening to this sermon, heís lukewarm and apathetic.
Donít use this letter to compare our church to other churches.
†† Iím glad we arenít like that other church, Iíve heard itís just a social club.
If you read this letter and it convicts you so you sayó
†† Yes, Iím lukewarm, or I see that Iím getting lukewarm,
†† or even no, Iím not lukewarm but I see that I could get that way
†† so we want to guard against itó
Then youíve read this letter rightly.
Did you notice that in all seven letters one phrase is repeated:
†† ďHe who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.Ē
So as we study this letter, letís listen to what the Spirit says to us.
Look at it under three headings:
1.† The condition of being lukewarm.† What is it, exactly?
2.† The cause of being lukewarm.† How we get that way?
3.† The cure for being lukewarm.† How do we get better?
MP#1† The condition
What is it? †To be lukewarm is to be ineffective and unproductive as a Christian.
When you first read this passage, itís easy to think that itís talking about faith.
A hot person is someone with a strong faith in Christ.
†† He is fired up about being a Christian.
A cold person is someone who doesnít believe at all.
†† He might even be opposed to Christianity.
And lukewarm person is someone in the middle, who believes but without passion.
†† Believes in Jesus but his faith doesnít really move him.†
If you read it that way, it seems like Jesus is saying
†† Iíd rather you were a cold-hearted unbeliever than a lukewarm believer.
†† That canít be right.† Weak faith is always better than no faith at all.†
Hot, cold, and lukewarm are not measures of faith, measures of usefulness.
†† Jesus says: †ďI know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.Ē
Jesus is contrasting two different kinds of Christians.
†† There are useful Christians.
†† And there are useless Christians.
There Christians who are like the hot water springs of Hierapolis.
†† Christians like that are useful to hurting people.†
†† People who are sick of the sin in their lives, people sinned against.
†† People who are grieving death and loss.†
Useful Christians bring spiritual healing to people like that by showing them Jesus.
†† Heís the one who heals all our diseases.
And there are Christians who are like the cold river water of Colossae.
†† Christians like that are useful to thirsty people.†
†† People who are thirsty for answers to distressing questions of life.
†† People who are weighed down by burdens and cares of life.
Useful Christians bring spiritual refreshment.†
†† Through their deeds and words they show people Jesus,
†† the living water, who quenches every thirst of our souls.
Hot and cold are both good because both are useful.†
And then there are Christians who are like that nasty piped-in water of Laodicea.
†† They arenít useful.†
Hurting and thirsty people donít get much help from them.
†† Because they arenít showing people Christ in their words and deeds.
†† Arenít praying much for people to know Christ.
This church was not full of hypocrites.
†† Members of this church were living moral, ethical lives.
†† They were prosperous and satisfied.
And yet when spiritually hurting and thirsty people came in contact with them,
† †they were useless in pointing them to Jesus Christ.
†† They just didnít do it.
This is what Jesus says about them.
†† You gag me.† You nauseate me.†
When I see all the blessings you have,
†† and then I see you pass up chance after chance to be my witnesses,
†† itís like I have mouthful of lukewarm Laodicea wateróI just want to spit you out.
That gets your attention, doesnít it?
Itís hard to imagine Jesus saying thatóto Christians!† But he does.
†† Itís the most powerful image in this whole letter.
Jesus Christ wanting to spit out moral, prosperous, church-going Christians,
†† who are useless when it comes to doing the things that
†† make him known to the world.
This is such a powerful reminder that we are saved to good works.
†† Not saved by our works, but saved to do good works.
We are chosen and called, as Peter says, to declare the praises of Him
†† who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
We glorify God by bearing much fruit.
So when you read this letter, penetrating question is:†
Am I a useful and productive Christian?†
†† Am I doing the good works that God has called me to do?
Every Christian, with any spiritual sensitivity at all would say that there are
†† at least some areas of obedience, prayer, virtues, and witness where lukewarm.
†† How do we overcome those?†
Will get to that, but first, have to understand why lukewarm in first place.
MP#2† The cause
Itís in verse 17.† Remember Jesus addressing Christians. †This is a letter to a church.†
†† You say, ďI am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.Ē
†† But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
The reason Christians get lukewarm is because
†† we do not realize that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
In other words, we forget that we are sinners.†
†† We forget the shame of our sin and our utter wretchedness apart from God.
And when we forget who we are apart from God,
†† we forget how much we need Jesus Christ and his salvation.
We no longer see the majesty of his love as the Savior of sinners.
†† Someone put it this way:† We sing Amazing Grace, but no longer amazed.
†† ďAmazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.Ē
If you donít feel that you are a wretch, then grace is not amazing and sweet.
If youíre not in awe of Godís amazing grace to you as a sinner,
†† then you will not have the motivation to be his witness in your words and deeds.
Thatís the underlying spiritual causeó
†† a weak sense of your sin and a lack of amazement at your salvation.
But there is one more aspect of this that we canít overlook.
There is something that makes it much easier to forget our sin and Godís graceó
†† prosperity. †
Laodicea was a prosperous cityótextiles, pharmaceuticals, banking.
†† Members of this church were prosperous.
†† Jesus exposed their thinking.
†† You say, ďI am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.Ē
There is a link between being prosperous and being a lukewarm Christian.
†† When you are well-off, educated, and successfulóitís harder to feel like a sinner.
†† You may know it intellectually but itís harder to feel it experientially.
If you donít know what it feels like to be wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked
†† physically, then it will be much harder for you to feel it spiritually.
If youíve gone out and achieved all your goals educationally and financially,
†† and you have a comfortable and fulfilling life.†
And if you have money in the bank and you donít have to worry
†† about your future and you basically buy what you wantó
†† then itís harder to feel the need for Godís grace.
The Lord warned the Israelites about this.† Going into the Promised Land.
†† Itís a land flowing with milk and honey.† Youíre going to be prosperous there.
Youíll have vineyards and fields and flocks and houses and cities.
†† Youíll have sons and daughters and grandchildren.
And when you get all these things youíll be tempted toóforget me.
Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
†† than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
The spiritual dynamic that makes that true is still there when a rich person
†† becomes a Christian.† Prosperity makes it easier to become lukewarm.
There was a man I knew in Florida who grew up in a poor Christian family.
†† Dad was a commercial fisherman in Ft. Myers when it was nothing.
Man worked hard, he was in the right place at the right time when SW Fla.
†† was developing and he became very wealthy.†
†† Known for his generosity and good deeds.† Love for church where a deacon.
But after a few decades of this prosperity, he became lukewarm.†
†† Became a useless Christian in terms of his witness.
†† I was talking to him once, began reflect on where he was spirituallyó
†† do you know what he reminisced about?†
How exciting his faith was when he was poor and struggling.†
So whatís the cure?† Avoid prosperity?† Give away all your wealth?†
†† No, Jesus doesnít say that at all.† Prosperity doesnít make you lukewarm,
†† your spiritual forgetfulness does.† Thatís what has to be cured.† Weíll get to that.
I think there is something here that can be a huge encouragement to us today.
†† The economy is on everyoneís minds.†
†† Businesses are hurting, people are getting laid off, great sense of uncertainty.
Having congregational meeting for officers to talk about this, challenges facing.
†† But do you see, from this letter, the benefit that could come our way?
When our financial prosperity is threatened or even taken awayó
†† itís easier for us to see our spiritual need and Godís grace.
†† And that makes us more useful, productive, effective Christians.
Isnít that want we want to be?†
†† Hot healing water, cold refreshing water for hurting and thirsty people.
These are hard times but for Christians they are exciting times,
†† because God can use them for good in our lives and in our church.
So, what do we need to be in step with what God is doing?† We need Jesusí cure.
MP#3† The cure
The cause of lukewarmness is forgetting, the cure is remembering the Gospel.
There is a church in Cullman County that intrigues me.
†† Some day Iím going to visit this church and try to find out its history.
†† Itís down in the Hanceville area, itís called Laodicea Baptist Church.
I want to find out about their name.
But why did the founders of this church choose to name their church
†† after the one Jesus wanted to spit out of his mouth?
Iím sure they werenít biblically ignorant.†
What I imagine is that when they organized that churchó
†† they were talking about all the great things Lord doing through them,
†† all the excitement of a young church, their witness for him.
Some said, I sure hope we never lose this.†
†† What name could we pick that would always remind us of Jesus.
One genius says, How about Calvary Baptist?† Other names thrown out.
†† And somebody says:† What about Laodicea?
And nobody liked it, but it grew on them.
†† Maybe in coming years, anniversary celebrations, homecomingsó
†† This passage will be read and preached, and people will remember
†† the grace of our Lord Jesus, and his love for us, and live repentant, zealous lives.
Maybe I wonít go down to that church.† I like my version of the story.
As harshly as this letter starts, it ends with the Lord piling up one vivid image
†† after another of the Gospel.† He wants us to fire up our spiritual imaginations.†
†† ďI 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.Ē
White robes and pure gold and vision symbolize forgiveness of your sins,
†† standing with God, and regeneration.†
Jesus says, remember you get those thing from meómy life and deathó
†† not from anything you do.† Gifts of grace.
Weíre blinded by prosperity because we think it can give us security and status
† †and a sense of worth, favorable judgments in the eyes of people who matter.††
†† But prosperity canít deliveróas we are witnessingóit can disappear quickly.
The grace of God in Jesus Christ, is worth basing your life onó
†† because it does not depend on your efforts, but what Jesus has done for you.
And remember grace, in this life, is inseparable from suffering.
†† The gold of grace is refined by fire.†
Grace isnít a magic circle that keeps us from all pain.
†† But Jesus is with us in the pain.† The crucified Savior is with us.
†† And just as his suffering was redemptive, we can know that ours is too.
We have a fantasy about prosperity, that it can insulate us from suffering.
†† Especially Americans.† If we have money, we can pay someone to fix it.
If you live under that fantasy, youíll be useless to suffering people.
†† Youíll just try to fix things.† Unable to say, let me tell you about Godís grace
†† in your suffering.† How Jesus can make this suffering redemptive.
Then Jesus says:†
†† ďThose whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.Ē
Earlier in letter Jesus said, I want to spit you out of my mouth, you nauseate me.
†† Now he says, I love you.† Is that a contradiction?†
Not at all, it shows the depth of his love.†
†† The opposite of love is not hate, itís apathy.
†† We hate the things that hurt the people we love.
And when they are doing those hurtful things to themselves,
†† if you love them, you canít help but speak passionately.†
Jesus loves you, he died for you, he wants you to be the man or woman
†† God created you to be.† Itís his love that disciplines.
And itís his love that enables you to repent.
†† The way of the world is:† Repent, or else.† Repent or Iíll withhold my love.
†† But Jesus says, I love you, now repent.†
Only way we will be useful, productive Christiansówe get that order right.
†† Jesus loves you, now repent.† Tell children, each other, those outside.
Then Jesus says:
†† ďBehold, I stand at the door an knock.† If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
†† I will come in and eat with him and he with me.Ē††
Jesus is speaking to believers.† I want intimacy with you.†
†† Thatís what the Gospel is about.† Knowing God, being close to him.
†† Itís a picture of communion.† Eating with Christ.
And thatís where we come right nowóto the Lordís Table.
†† Heís standing at the door right now,
†† Repent of your lukewarmness, come and eat with me.
Remember the great things Iíve done for you.
†† Now, get strength to do the good deeds that my Father has
†† prepared for you to do.