Scripture Reference: Revelation 3:14-22
When Jesus Observes Our HeartDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 18, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
The church of Laodicea had a problem. They weren’t hot; they weren’t cold. They were useless lukewarm water, and Jesus threatened to spit them out.
Jesus provides a remedy for the lukewarm condition. A renewed and restored relationship is offered to us, and those who welcome Jesus will reign with Him on His throne.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that you will take our hearts and seal those hearts for your good, for your glory and for fellowship with you, but before those hearts are sealed in that way, we ask also that they shall be open hearts today. Overcome barriers that we naturally bring to a service like this, whether it is the barrier of guilt or the barrier of rationalization, or the barrier of stray thoughts, we ask, oh Father, overcome all those miraculously so that we can concentrate on what Jesus has to say to us today. Make this transforming, even for those who didn’t expect it to be. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Now all of us know that if you have a good doctor who gives you a diagnosis and also a cure, you most assuredly should take that cure, but of course, if you are self absorbed, if you are prideful and think that you know better than the doctor, you’ll try to figure out ways to ignore what he has to say. You’ll disagree with his diagnosis and you’ll also disagree with his cure to your personal hurt.
Jesus is the physician of the soul, and he has so much to say to us in his word. Take your Bibles today and turn please to Revelation chapter three beginning at verse fourteen where Jesus begins the last of seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor. All of these churches existed in what today is called Turkey. Unfortunately none of the places exist as churches. Archeologists, of course, have found all of these places – where the cities were – but the churches today do not exist, and that creates a tremendous lesson for all of us.
Jesus here is giving his last word. It’s his harshest word, but it is also his most unbelievable word of hope and encouragement that boggles our minds. In chapter three of the book of Revelation he says these words, “To the church at Laodicea, the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation…". Who is it that is going to diagnose our case? Who is it that is going to prescribe the cure? He is the Amen. That word means verily or truly. He is the faithful witness. He is someone who is not going to lie to us, someone who will not tweak the evidence, and he is the beginning of God’s creation.
Now there are some people who deny the divinity of Jesus, and they use this text. They say that Jesus was the first of God’s creation, but actually the idea here very clearly is that he is the originator of God’s creation; the father created through the son. “By him were all things created, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – visible and invisible.” So Jesus here is represented to us as the originator or God’s creation.
Now the reason we need to pay attention to this text very carefully is because he is also omniscient, and today he can see right through us and see our need. So with that introduction let us look at what it is that he has to say to the church. Let us look at the diagnosis, and then let us also look at the cure and the hopeful response that people may have in his blessed presence.
First of all we have the diagnosis in verses fourteen and fifteen. He says, “I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold I will spit you out of my mouth.” Ouch.
Most of the time we interpret it this way. We say to ourselves that there were streams that were going into actually an aqueduct that was going into the town of Laodicea, and the water was piping hot. So we think to ourselves, what Jesus meant is this: “I would rather have you hot – passionate for me – or totally icy and indifferent and turned off. I’d rather have you that way than lukewarm.”
But there is a different interpretation. Someone who has done some extensive study archeologically and in other ways has come to the conclusion that that’s not exactly what Jesus had in mind. Actually in Laodicea there were two kinds of aqueducts. There was that which came from Hierapolis, and those were very hot springs that people would bathe in, and it was believed that they had many cures; and then there were also some springs that were very cold and refreshing, and you went from one to other like people do today when they go to a spa. And so, Jesus was saying, “You can either be hot and passionate, or you can also be refreshing and cool and able to take people in their need and invigorate them. You can be one or other, but whatever you do, don’t be lukewarm.” So maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind, but if you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold but tepid – Jesus said, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” He’s talking about the indifference of the people to whom he was writing this letter. Indifference – does that characterize you today?
Now, what is going on here in the text? Jesus goes on to say in his diagnosis in verse seventeen, “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing,’ not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” In Laodicea the people were wealthy, and they were wealthy because there were trade routes that went through the city, and so they were quite opulent for that day, and they had a lot of things that others didn’t have. Furthermore, they had eye salve – this was in connection with one of the temples that were there in Laodicea. They believed that in this medical school that they had eye salve that actually could stop the disintegration of eyesight, so they prided themselves in that.
Furthermore, they also, in addition to that, had a textile industry. The people at Laodicea dressed differently than the others. They were the ones who wore the designer clothes and they prided themselves in the cloths and the rugs and the garments that they would make.
Now what Jesus is saying is this (and notice it carefully). He’s saying, “Despite your bank accounts, you are actually poor and pitiful and wretched.” Wow. He says, “Despite the fact that you have this clinic for sore eyes, and the salve that you think will help them, you are blind,” and he says, “You think that you have all of these wonderful clothes, but you are naked.” What Jesus is saying in the strongest possible way is simply this, “Everything that you think you are, you aren’t.” Have you met people like that? Of course you have, because you’re here today, aren’t you? Aren’t we all that way? Our self-perception is very different than God’s perception of us.
And so here you have a church that outwardly seems to be prosperous. They never had false doctrine. At least Jesus doesn’t address that like he does some of the other churches. But what Jesus is saying to them is that “Inwardly from what I see, you are very different,” and Jesus sees us that way today too. He sees us as to who we really are, including the rot.
Remember this past summer we had a great storm here in the city of Chicago, and later on – a day or two later – Rebecca and I walked through a forest preserve. We love to go walking in the forest preserve, and we noticed that some trees were broken over. In fact, I think in Chicago in total there were more than two thousand trees that actually blew over. What was interesting was to look at those and to see within, and you discovered that the ones that blew over oftentimes had within them all of that rot and hollowness that you couldn’t see from the outside. What a different picture you see when you look within from the way in which you perceive it from without, and God says, “I am the Lord, and I test the human heart.” Jesus says that, “In my presence you are very different than you think you are, and because you are so indifferent and careless (which means that you could care less) I will spit you out of my mouth.” [spitting sound] Those are the words of Jesus. I’m not making it up. It’s in the text.
Now what is the cure that Jesus has? He doesn’t leave us there. It’s the diagnosis that’s very, very serious, and you I all have very, very serious issues before God. Jesus says this now as we go into the cure, “I counsel you.” By the way, isn’t that wonderful that Jesus is the counselor? I’ve known people who have paid a hundred dollars for a half an hour of counseling, and maybe it was worth it, but imagine getting counseling from Jesus, and it’s free. Isn’t that wonderful? [applause]
He says, “I counsel you,” and here’s his counsel. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich.” Now, of course, he doesn’t mean that salvation is something that we pay for. He’s using the terminology of the vendors that are in Laodicea. He says, “I challenge you. Come and buy gold from me.” We know, of course, that salvation is free. “Whoa, everyone that thirsts comes to the water. Whoever has a need, come buy my milk and wine without money and without price.” It’s all free. That’s a quotation, by the way, from Isaiah chapter fifty-five, and Jesus says of course, “It’s free, but you want the true riches? You come to me.”
Now look at the text. What else does he say? He says, “Buy from me gold refined in the fires so that you may be rich, and white garments that you may clothe yourselves and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” What Jesus is saying to them is, “You say, ‘We have all these wonderful clothes and we’re from Laodicea. Look at the labels,’ but inside you have all of those imaginations. Inside you are selfish. You do not love me with your whole heart. Inside you are filled with all manner of lusts and addictions, and all that. Come to me and I’ll give you some real clothes. I’ll give you white garments that will cover your sin.”
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” the Bible says, and Jesus says, “Come to me, and I’ll clothe you with white garments so that all of that shame of your past need no longer control you, and it will no longer be regarded by God in your fellowship with me. Come, come, I’ve got the clothes, and by the way, notice I also have some eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. You think that you’re seeing today but you’re blind, but if you come to me, I will give you what you need so that you can see reality as it exists.” The relationship with Jesus is the answer, and what Jesus is saying is, “Physically and outwardly you are one thing. Inwardly you’re another, and only I can cure you.”
How do you get rid of lukewarmness? Well, you get rid of lukewarmness by coming close to Jesus, and he will invigorate you and he will give you a passion for himself, and for his gospel and for his word, and for fellowship with him.
Well, you say, “This is a rather hard message.” It is, but it’s done lovingly. You’ll notice what Jesus says in verse nineteen. “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
If the doctor comes to you with some very hard news, news that you don’t want to hear, and so he’s trying to get your attention, and giving you the consequences of neglecting that news, that is a very loving doctor, because he’s trying to wake you up and to make you understand what reality is really about. And so Jesus says, “The reason I’m doing this is because I love you. Be zealous, therefore, and repent. Turn from your sin and from all of the sin and self-centeredness that is there and see yourself as I do, and then come to me, because I’ve got the cure.”
Jesus is the one who takes the thermometer and puts it into our mouths and says, “You are lukewarm.” You’re a Christian but the people who work with you have no clue that you are. You have kept it a secret. You are someone who has responsibility in the home, but really you are doing things on the side that displease the Lord, and that’s why all the passion is drained out. The excitement is not there. You can’t witness because you are actually tepid – lukewarm and indifferent to the things that matter the most.
And then Jesus gives this incredible invitation. It’s one of the most popular verses in the Bible. “Behold I stand at the door (I’m in verse twenty) and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Wow. Can you imagine what Jesus is saying? He’s saying, “I’m at the door of this church, this church that has lost its vigor, and its enthusiasm, this church in which all the passion has drained out because of secret sins that are within the heart.” Jesus says, “I’m standing at the door and knocking and if anyone (now this is an invitation to individuals) – if anyone hears my voice and will open the door, do you know what I’ll do? I’ll restore the fellowship. I will come and we’ll eat together, and it won’t be just me talking to you or you to just talking to me.” Jesus said, “We’ll have fellowship one with another.” Can you imagine that?
Now, when you come to a church like Moody, and maybe if you’re visiting here you come from a church something like Moody, and if you think you do I’d love to meet you. But let’s suppose that you come from a church like Moody where we still preach against sin. You know, we’re against it. Remember that old line? And we have some people here who are actually agreeing that sin is a bad idea. Isn’t that wonderful? [applause] Wasn’t it one of our presidents who went to church and came home and his wife asked, “What did he preach on?” and he said, “Sin,” and she said, “What was his opinion of it?” and his answer was simply, “He was against it.”
Why do we preach against sin? What’s so bad about sin? Some time I’m going to write a little booklet entitled, “What’s So Bad About Sin?” Let me tell you what’s bad about sin. The thing that’s so bad about sin is it cuts us off from fellowship with Jesus. That’s the thing that’s so bad about sin. It’s not even the consequences of how we hurt ourselves. It’s not even our ruined lives if we follow it to its logical destination. The thing about sin that is so serious is that the fellowship that we can have with Jesus is broken. That’s what sin does, and God himself recognizes that we can grieve him. That’s why Paul says in the book of Ephesians, “…and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby you are sealed until the day of redemption.”
You and I have had the experience of leaving church, sensing that we are filled with the Spirit, that we are excited about God, and then we go home and we turn on the wrong thing on the television set, or we do something and immediately we know that we are grieving the Spirit, and the fellowship between us and Jesus is broken. That’s why it says in First John chapter one verse nine, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from every individual unrighteousness.” The reason he does that is to restore fellowship.
So Jesus is saying here, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Are you going to turn from your sin to me or are your going to keep going in your old indifferent, selfish attitude, not caring about me and the gospel. That’s what Jesus is saying in this text, and of course, once he is in our lives, he begins the renovation process, and that can be a very painful experience, but it is so incredibly worthwhile.
Now what is the response? What is the bottom line here? Jesus, in all of these letters (and I feel a little badly that this is the last of the letters because I have so much enjoyed this series of messages), but this is the last of the letters and Jesus gives this incredible promise. Now each time we’ve noticed that the promises seem to be getting greater and greater and more wonderful and more unbelievable to the overcomers, or as it is translated here, the conquerors. But listen to the text, and you should bring your Bibles to church. You should open them. If not, use the pew Bible, because if you don’t do that, somebody is going to come up to me later and say, “Pastor, you know what you said the Bible said? I don’t believe it’s there. You must be making it up.” Well, I’m not making it up. Listen to what the text says.
“The one who conquers (verse twenty-one) I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my father on his throne.” Jesus, can you be serious? To the one who conquers it’s not just that he’s sitting on his throne and he says, “Pull up a chair next to me.” What he’s saying is “If you are a conqueror or an overcomer then you will sit with me on my throne.” We’re talking about the throne of the universe. “You’ll sit with me on my throne even as I overcame and sat with my father on his throne.” Do you realize what Jesus is saying? You be a conqueror, you be an overcomer, and you will get to sit on the throne of God.” Do you believe it? Think about it. [applause]
I mean we’re not worthy for this man to come under our roof and yet Jesus says that if you invite me to your table in this life you’ll be able to sit with me in my throne in the life to come. You be a part of my family - you invite me as part of your family in this life, and in the life to come you’ll be a part of the divine family. He who overcomes to him I’ll grant to sit with me on my throne.” See that’s what makes sin so bad. It’s that you don’t get to sit on the throne of Jesus forever and ever and rule with him. That’s what makes sin bad. It hinders fellowship and your final destiny is not only perhaps in doubt, but your final destiny may be to not rule with Jesus. Now, no wonder the text ends up by saying, “He who has an ear to hear let him hear,” because not everybody can hear this.
Let me give you two very important observations that should change our lives forever if we are listening, so listen.
First, to see ourselves as God does is a divine gift. If you ask the average Bible student what was wrong with the church in Laodicea, very often the Bible student will say, “Well, it’s because they were lukewarm.” That is not the worst problem of the church at Laodicea. Lukewarmness was not the worst problem. I’ll tell you why. It’s because there’s a good cure for lukewarmness. It’s called repentance. That can be taken care of.
There was a more serious problem at Laodicea. They were lukewarm and thought they were hot. They said to themselves, “We have need of nothing,” and Jesus says, “You do not know that you are poor, wretched, blind and naked.” That’s our greatest need – it is a misperception of who we are in God’s presence, and you cannot see who you are unless God helps you do it because, you see, we even come to a service like this filled with rationalizations, enshrouded in denial, thinking to ourselves, “Well, I’m okay.”
Many years ago, before some of you were born, there was a book written entitled, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.” Oh really – so we’re all okay? Jesus would say of himself, “Hey, Friend, let’s get this straight. I’m okay, but you’re not okay.”
All right? You’re not okay. Sorry about that. You have a serious problem, and the problem is so deep, the problem is so ingrained. Our imaginations and our perception of who we are, our desire to do whatever we want to do is so much a part of who we are that unless God shows it to us, we’ll go on our merry way (or our unmerry way) to the bitter end, and for sure, we’ll never get to reign with Jesus Christ. Only God can show us. That’s why it is that so many people think that they are okay, but they are indifferent, and they have no idea how they are perceived by God.
So the text of scripture is a reminder to us that what we must do is to let God show us who we really are, and when God does this in power there are transformations of individuals all over. In fact, years ago when there was what is called a revival, where God was doing unusual things in the lives of people, I remember the testimony of one man who said, “I thought it was a good thing that there was a revival coming because I thought that all the people around me needed revival,” and then he said that he realized that he was the one who needed it.
I think of a man in Detroit who came into a meeting one Saturday and there were two hundred men on their knees weeping over their sin, and he took his hand and put his fist into it and said, “God, you’ll never get me.” Now why would a Christian man say, “God, you’ll never get me?”
It’s because he had a hot temper and five children. That’s a bad combination, and he knew that if God ever got him he would have to go to his children and apologize for his irrational temper that ruptured his relationship with those children long ago, and he was a proud man. Well, I’m here today to tell you that God got him, and that’s what happens when we let God get us. It is deep, it is abiding, imminently worthwhile and guess what. We get to rule with Jesus on his throne.
Think of the contrast. I mean, just think of the contrast. Over here you are indifferent – cold and indifferent and you’re cold in the wrong sense. You don’t care. You say, “It’s okay by me; it doesn’t matter.” On that hand he says, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” On the other hand, imagine what we should receive (and what we don’t receive) instead, to rule with Jesus because we are overcomers.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, that’s fine and that’s good. We heard you. We’re listening, but how do we become an overcomer?” I mean, isn’t that what you’re asking because it seems to many to be an intolerable responsibility. I mean, think of all the things that you are supposed to overcome. Who can do it? I can’t, you can’t.
Becoming an overcomer begins at a very basic level. The Bible says these words. It says, “Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.” There’s the same word. “Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world and who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
I’ll tell you how you begin becoming an overcomer. You begin by acknowledging Jesus to be the Christ, and confessing your need of him and receiving his free and abundant and unfettered grace. That’s the way the process begins, and then in him you and I can be overcomers. Meanwhile, “He stands at the door and knocks.”
Could I urge you today? Don’t say no to that voice. Remember the story of the wealthy man who was also a drunkard who would count his money in the cabin and then put it beneath the floor and keep it there. He had a dog and one night he went to bed after a bottle of whiskey and was sleeping tightly, and the dog began to bark, and bark, and bark, and eventually the man in his stupor shot the animal. And it was after that the men who were outside came in and stole his money.
Don’t say no to the voice of Jesus who is speaking to you today either as a Christian, because you are not in fellowship with him; or someone who has never trusted him as savior. Do not say no to that [that was for emphasis – unplanned emphasis] voice. It’s the only one that can save you.
And so Jesus knocks. Sometimes he knocks through a funeral. You go to a funeral and you realize that you, too, are going to die, and you begin to think about eternity. Sometimes he knocks through the prayers of a grandmother, the prayers of a mother, the prayers of a spouse, and Jesus knocks. And sometimes he knocks in a message like this, and he knocks through the beautiful music and the words that draw us to God, but don’t you stifle the only knock that can save you.
Father, what else do we have to say? There is the invitation, there is the grace, but there also is the great challenge. Would you speak to all who have heard you today? Anyone whose ears were opened, would you speak, Father, we ask? And we pray that whatever you are asking people to do they will do. May I be willing to do it; may others – the staff, the elders, and the leadership – be willing to do it, we ask. Oh, Father, come to us.
Now before I close this prayer, I want you to pray. What is it that you need to say to God? Christian, are you willing to confess that sin and get rid of it so that you can have fellowship with Jesus? You, as an unsaved person, are you willing to come to Christ, and let him change you as you put your faith in him and thank him for what he did on the cross for you? Whatever it is that God tells you to do, you do.
Father, hear the cry today of all who have listened, all of who have really listened, and have mercy on us because we are dependent on your grace.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.