12/21/2020 8:59:47 AM
Letters to the Seven Churches: Laodicea
Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Fourth Sunday in Advent - Sunday December 20, 2020
We all know someone who likes to drink coffee. It is the third-most consumed drink in America, after water and carbonated soft drinks. So whether you drink coffee yourself or not, I’m sure you are all well aware that there are two main ways that coffee is served. The vast majority is brewed steaming hot, quite often hotter than you’d want to drink right away, but you can also order iced coffee. Same ingredients, just ground up coffee beans and water—along with whatever flavors or sweeteners you’d like added in. But you either get it hot or cold. What you don’t typically see is the option to order lukewarm coffee, and there’s a scientific reason for that: it has to do with how your taste buds work. You see, at either end of the temperature spectrum, the taste buds on your tongue that detect bitter (and often unpleasant) flavors don’t work as well. But when you eat or drink something right around room temperature, those same taste buds kick in, and coffee doesn’t end up tasting as good, whether it’s hot coffee that has cooled down or iced coffee that has warmed up. It’s not just coffee, either. It’s the same reason that cold drinks are served over ice—so they stay cold and taste better longer. You get the picture.
As we come to the final letter of the seven in Revelation, we aren’t here for a science lesson. But we do hear Jesus speak in terms that we can understand. So let’s look closer, now, at Jesus’ words to “lukewarm” Laodicea. 14 “To the angel [the pastor or messenger] of the church in Laodicea write: 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. In so many areas of life, the truth is somewhere in the middle, between two extremes in thought. But when it comes to our relationship with God, isn’t it interesting that Jesus prefers either extreme over the middle? We can easily figure out why Jesus would want us to be on fire in our faith. Throughout Scripture, faith and fire go hand in hand. For instance, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit showed himself in tongues of fire, and the disciples who were filled with the Spirit went out with a new boldness and preached the message of the risen Christ no matter who threatened them and no matter what stood in their way. Of course, Jesus would want every Christian to be on fire for the message of salvation in him alone.
But what if we were on fire for a while, and then cooled off just a little? Wouldn’t that still be better than being completely cold? Jesus’ words here grab our attention and urge us to pause and evaluate ourselves to see how we might be lukewarm at times. I think a helpful question to ask is this: “How do you see yourself when you approach God?” Do we ever approach God thinking that we just need a little help from him to get by…as if we were doing just fine on our own until we entered a rough patch in life, and now we could use God for a while? Do we approach God thinking we are good people, but hoping he can help us do a little bit better? Do we approach God as people who get life mostly right, but have a couple of sins that need forgiveness so we’ll be just fine again?
If we have ever lived life by those rules, we’re not alone. Most bad theology comes from the idea that we are somewhere in the middle of a quest for righteousness—either that God started a process we need to finish with enough good added on, or on the other hand, that we do our best and let him do the rest to finish the process. But the truth of God’s Word in law and gospel always drive us to the extremes. No one is in the middle; everyone is either completely cold or completely hot.
Jesus, the faithful and true witness, speaks the truth to them, and us. 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. We don’t need something from God; we need everything from him, and Jesus makes that perfectly clear in the bluntness of his words. How do we approach God? If we are as honest as he is, we come as those who are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked in our sin. Let that sink in. As a newborn baby comes into this world with nothing to offer, so it is with each one of us before God. And yet Jesus offers at least a hypothetical solution: well, just buy what you need—gold to become rich, white clothes to cover your nakedness, and salve to heal your blindness.
And we might say, “Ok, Jesus, but the question is how?” How can a poor person buy anything? How can sinful people give God anything when everything we have and everything we are came from him, except for our sin? Friends, that’s the whole point of what Jesus is telling us today. The only proper response to his command to buy what we need is for each one of us to fall on our knees and confess, “Jesus, I can’t. I can’t give what you ask and I can’t earn what I don’t have. If I come to you, it will be entirely your doing that allows it.” In other words, completely cold.
Here it would be good for us to listen to the opening words of Isaiah 55, an invitation for us all. “You who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost…. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Of course, God knows our spiritual poverty, but he wants us to know it too, so that we see him for all that he is. Isn’t that the true joy that Christmas brings, when we rejoice to sing, “Come from on high to me, I cannot rise to thee”? Our Savior’s birth is the assurance that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus set aside heaven to come to this sin-filled world and offer his complete perfection in place of our complete failure. His blood paid for the forgiveness we couldn’t buy, and our spiritual poverty is instantly erased by the rich, imperishable inheritance his death earned for us.
And now what seems harsh and cold at first becomes a warm invitation to all who will listen. 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.
How do we approach God? We come as sinners, and we are made saints in Jesus Christ. We have nothing to offer but the garbage of our sin, and he showers us with his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We come starving, and as the Song of Mary reminds us, he fills the hungry with good things. We will never become righteous, but in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. God’s grace in Christ takes us from one extreme to the other.
And so, we know that it is only by his grace that when Jesus closes the letter, he is making a promise to us, and to everyone who is a beloved child of God through the faith that he has given us. 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.”
How could we hear him knocking and fail to open the door to a Lord who loves so freely? How could we depend on ourselves rather than trust fully in him? How could we ever cool off again?
Sadly, we all know too well. We know that Jesus isn’t the only one knocking on the door of our heart. We know the many influences that fight for our time and attention. We know that it isn’t what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out. Perhaps there are two main takeaways from our study of these seven letters:
- Every letter of God’s Word is for us. Even though the words were written long ago and far away, God’s message of sin and grace is for every sinner. We do well to listen often and share often, because in this world and in our sinful nature we need constant reminders of what is true, what is real, and what is eternally important. Let’s take this as an encouragement to hear what the Spirit says to each of us on a regular basis.
- Once again, the big idea of the whole book: We are victorious in Christ. The battle for souls will rage on until Jesus returns…but he is coming soon. We live in repentance because we know that we aren’t good enough and we aren’t strong enough to overcome. But Jesus has already won the war, and for all who await his return, we fight confidently because he is on our side. Jesus is victorious, and so are we. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. AMEN.