Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 95: Victory over Self-Sufficiency
November 18, 2012
SCRIPTURE READING: Rev. 1:1-3 (Aaron M.)
NOT FEELING SO BLESSED
When I was a young teenager I decided, with all of the ARROGANCE of YOUTH, that I was going to figure out the book of Revelation, just me and my FOUR-VERSION PARALLEL Bible.
* I was especially interested in figuring out “666.”
* I read through it about a DOZEN TIMES, skipping the letters to get to the good stuff.
At some point I realized how FOOLISH I was being. I wasn’t any CLOSER to God AND I still didn’t know who the BEAST was.
Then I noticed that verse we just heard:
Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
The one thing I wasn’t getting from the words of Revelation was “BLESSED.” I wondered WHY GOD would put a book in the Bible that just encouraged foolish SPECULATION.
* I basically put Revelation on the SHELF, for about 10 years.
It was a little commentary, “BREAKING the CODE” that saved Revelation for me.
THE THEME OF REVELATION
It taught me that the point of Revelation was NOT SPECULATION, but ENCOURAGEMENT. The theme of the book can be summarized in one word: “NIKAO,” “to be victorious.”
* BTW: Greek for “victory” is “NIKE,” the goddess of Victory, which is what Nike is named for.
Like Hebrews, Revelation was written to Christians discouraged by persecution. If God is in CHARGE, why aren’t things going BETTER for us?
* Revelation was written to encourage them with the message that “GOD WINS – you are on the WINNING TEAM.”
With that UNDERSTANDING and OTHER TOOLS we’ll talk about later, I was able to READ and ENJOY and be BLESSED by Revelation.
* In the next THREE SERMONS, I will both show you some of the KEY MESSAGES of Revelation as well as help you read it better.
I will also tell you who “666” stands for, but you will have to wait until next week for that.
AWED BY JESUS
Revelation begins with John seeing Jesus for the first time after his ascension. Remember that John was “the DISCIPLE JESUS LOVED,” so you’d expect a warm, running on the beach scene:
Revelation 1:10-18 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” 12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
I like the Jesus of the GOSPELS, the FRIEND of SINNERS. This Jesus SCARES me a little.
Q Which one are we supposed to WORSHIP?
BOTH. He is and continues to be both. We need to oscillate between seeing both sides of him rather than camping on one.
We can be TOO FAMILIAR with Jesus (cf. Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt), but when we see him, we will be OVERWHELMED by his GREATNESS, our UNWORTHINESS, and GRATITUDE that he welcomes us.
* Yet he continues to be the HIGH PRIEST who suffered in every way like us.
It is THIS JESUS, Risen LORD and FRIEND of Sinners, that dictated these letters to seven literal churches. The order reflects the route the mailman would have gone. Each church had a different challenge and needed different encouragement.
* I struggled to determine WHICH LETTER to preach on because I wanted to find the one which best speaks to us.
The one letter I was NOT going to use was the one to Laodicea, because (frankly) it’s CLICHÉ. I have heard a hundred sermons on it, most of them saying pretty much every American CHURCH SUCKS.
* I just read that in a book, but I think it is OVERSTATED.
MOST CHURCHES are led by PASTORS like me doing their best to glorify God and lead their people. They are filled with PEOPLE who have MIXED MOTIVES, but do LOVE Jesus.
* In other words they are like MOST CHRISTIANS.
I DON’T THINK you are all LUKEWARM like the Laodiceans. I don’t think that Jesus is getting ready to spit us out. But I do think that the GREATEST DANGER we face is the same one that was in danger of sinking them.
HOT OR COLD WHAT?
Revelation 3:14-16 “To the angel 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.
You may have heard this PREACHED MANY TIMES, but I know that every sermon I have heard on this passage MISSES Jesus’ POINT.
The standard take is that this is talking about PASSION, that Jesus would prefer that we either be on fire and PASSIONATE about him, or REJECT him altogether, but not be lukewarm.
Q Where in does it say that Jesus is taking about PASSION?
Q “I know your _____?” Passion, love, devotion?
“I know your DEEDS – you are neither hot nor cold.” It is their deeds, not their passion, that is lukewarm.
Q What does that mean?
Jesus is using imagery based out of their context: About 6 miles to the north of LAODICEA was the city of HIERAPOLIS which was renowned for its hot springs. About 6 miles to the east was COLOSSE which had excellent, cool springs.
* Laodicea lacked reliable water, so an aqueduct brought in water, which would have been lukewarm and contaminated.
We love HOT DRINKS in the winter and COLD DRINKS in the summer, sometimes the other way around. At STARBUCKS I sold a lot of hot and iced lattes, but I never had anyone as for a tepid latte.
* Jesus was saying that they neither had the value of hot or cold water.
In other words, their DEEDS were USELESS. They had their church SERVICES, read their BIBLES, took COMMUNION, sang worship SONGS, did COMMUNITY SERVICE, but it was all USELESS.
* This letter reminds he of the PARABLE of the SHEEP and GOATS, they thought they were doing everything but didn’t know Jesus.
Maybe this should SCARE us a little – the Laodiceans thought they were FINE, the goats thought they were fine, we think we are fine.
Q Are OUR DEEDS are also lukewarm?
The GOATS faced the Risen Lord in all of his splendor and heard the HORRIFYING PRONOUNCEMENT, “I never knew you.” The LAODICEANS were close to “BLAAACH.” It literally means “VOMIT,” not “spit.”
* Why do so many TRANSLATIONS SANITIZE it? Is vomit too graphic for Jesus to say?
At this point, MOST SERMONS respond with “GIVE more! PRAY more! READ your Bible more! WITNESS more! FEED the poor more!” But it COMPLETELY MISSES what Jesus was saying.
* There is a much deeper issue than having useless deeds.
I DON’T NEED NOTHING
Their RITUAL and rote PRACTICES were driven by a DEEPER PROBLEM. And I believe this same problem is the BIGGEST OBSTACLE to most AMERICAN churches. See if you can catch it:
Revelation 3:17 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.
* There real problem can be SUMMARIZED by one phrase: “I DON’T NEED anything.”
They were SELF-SUFFICIENT, they didn’t need help, they didn’t need God, they didn’t need grace.
Shortly before John wrote this, Laodicea had been flattened by an EARTHQUAKE. Just as when Sandy hit NY, the federal government came and offered aid, but they refused. They had this one.
* We hear that and say, “Way to go! They must have been LIBERTARIANS.”
This is our STRENGTH and WEAKNESS as Americans; we are a nation built on “pull yourself up by your own BOOTSTRAPS” and it is no surprise that we ACCOMPLISH MORE than everyone else.
* But we ALSO say “I have ACQUIRED WEALTH, I need nothing.”
This is the heart of the AMERICAN HERESY – we don’t NEED ANYTHING.
SEEING OUR POVERTY
Last week was the day of prayer for PERSECUTED CHURCHES and this story caught my attention:
In a media release, Reverend Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul USA says he was surprised when he first asked members of the North Korean underground church how Americans could pray for them.
“They answered, ‘You pray for us? We pray for you!’ When I asked why, they responded, ‘Because Western Christians often put so much faith in their prosperity and political freedoms that they don’t know what it’s like to have to depend completely on God. And because of that, they often do not get to know him in all the ways he invites us to.’”
They are RIGHT – because we have it so easy, we don’t think we need God, we fell secure in our prosperity and freedom.
Q How do we CHANGE THAT – move to NORTH KOREAN?
No, God gives THEM GRACE to be faithful in their situation. We need to seek GOD’S GRACE in our SITUATION.
* When learn to truly NEED CHRIST in our setting, God will REDEEM of the strengths of the AMERICAN DRIVE.
But before we can receive anything from Jesus, we need to see CLEARLY how DEEP our need is, that we are “WRETCHED, PITIFUL, POOR, BLIND and NAKED.” Remember what Jesus said:
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If you think you are WEALTHY, that you are not in need, you are UNABLE to SEEK the kingdom of God. You don’t need it.
Listen carefully to Jesus RESPONSE to the Laodiceans’ claim, “We are rich” – he said, “You are POOR.”
Q Is Jesus saying “I checked your bank account and you’re over drawn”?
No, he isn’t saying that lacked LITERALLY MONEY, he meant they lacked in TRUE RICHES. Their MONEY had become a SUBSTITUTE for real wealth.
* MONEY is MISUSED and MISTAKEN for REAL WEALTH than anything else.
Like the Laodiceans, we use our MONEY and PERSONAL RESOURCES to create the ILLUSION of self-sufficiency. We think we are rich and we don’t need anything:
We are RICH and don’t need to depend on our Father for DAILY BREAD.
We can buy all sorts of TOYS and TV SHOWS to DISTRACT us from our SPIRITUAL EMPTINESS and POVERTY.
* That’s like the GUY on SKID row feeling well fed because he has enough BOOZE.
We have lots of FRIENDS on FACEBOOK, we don’t need the CHURCH COMMUNITY.
We have lots of SELF-HELP PROGRAMS, we don’t need to find our DEEPEST IDENTITY in Jesus’ LOVE and ACCEPTANCE.
But don’t think it is just about EARTHLY THINGS:
We have lots of CHRISTIAN BOOKS and PREACHING and we don’t need the HOLY SPIRIT’S GUIDANCE.
We have our ACT TOGETHER and are PRETTY GOOD people, we don’t really need GRACE.
We have the BIBLE and use it to become even more SELF-SUFFICIENT and ARROGANT.
In this SERMON, it was easy for me to think, “I am rich, I have got all these GREAT INSIGHTS into this passage...”
In many, many ways, we live under the ILLUSION that we are FINE, that we can manage pretty well on our own.
* But JESUS SAYS “NEVER FORGET that you are WRETCHED, WICKED, spiritual POOR, LOST, LONELY, BROKEN, WEAK and NAKED.”
* “Never forget that you DESPERATELY need me.”
Once we do that, then we can move forward.
Revelation 3:18-19 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. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
REPENT. Recognize all the ways you have become SELF-SUFFICIENT. Stop seeing it as a good thing. This isn’t like in a job interview were you give a strength disguised as a weakness.
* Self-sufficiency is a WEAKNESS, it is SIN to be repented of; only then can Jesus give us REAL WEALTH.
But don’t just REPENT, “SHOW FRUITS in keeping with repentance.” Repentance doesn’t just mean “I am sorry” but “GOD CHANGE me.”
Seek his PURE GOLD instead of relying on your MONOPOLY MONEY. Exchange your TATTERED RAGS for his CLOTHES, get rid of your WHITE and RED CANE and have your EYES HEALED.
Q What does this have to do with USELESS DEEDS?
* Everything – repentance brings us BACK FULL CIRCLE to useless deeds.
WHEN we think we are RICH and that we have THINGS COVERED, GOD is simply a little PIECE of our LIFE and OBEDIENCE is fine and good, in MODERATION.
* Did you watch that movie “CLIFFHANGER”: The only scene that impacted me was him holding that person over the cliff.
When we see our DESPERATE NEED for Jesus and our DESPERATE POVERTY, he is our LIFE, he is our LIFE line. We hang on for dear life; if he lets go, it is a very LONG WAYS DOWN.
And the DEEDS of FAITH are no longer nice LITTLE ADDITIONS to a well rounded life. They ARE our LIFE. They take on a DESPERATE TONE, these are the things that bring LIFE and JOY:
We REPENT of thinking we PROVIDE for ourselves, demonstrated with GENEROSITY, driven because it loosens MONEY’S GRASP.
We need to repent of using the STUFF MONEY BUYS to fill the VOID and LEAN into God.
Repent of finding our VALUE in PEOPLE and THINGS, grounding ourselves in GOD’S LOVE and ACCEPTANCE, not using props.
Repent of SUBSTITUTING ACQUAINTANCES for community and LET DOWN the GUARDS and let others in.
Repent of SPIRITUAL INDEPENDENCE and start relying on the HOLY SPIRIT and the COMMUNITY to UNDERSTAND and LIVE TRUTH.
Repent of using the BIBLE and DOCTRINE to boast our EGOS and tears others down, and reading with HUMILITY.
Repent of the ROSE-COLORED GLASSES we view ourselves with and allow Jesus to SHOW us our BROKENNESS and NEED for him.
Is this all fun? No, it is HARD. Looking in the MIRROR and seeing your FAILURE is MISERABLE. But it is the ONLY ROUTE to real joy, “Those whom I LOVE I REBUKE and discipline.”
* This is our for OUR JOY, through DEPENDENCE we learn to really LOVE and ENJOY God.
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
DINNER WITH JESUS
Revelation 3:20-22 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. 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.
As a CHURCH, we love to EAT TOGETHER. Eating together is all about FELLOWSHIP, enjoying GOD’S good GIFTS while we enjoy each other’s COMPANY.
* ULTIMATELY this is about KNOWING GOD and having a deeper RELATIONSHIP with JESUS.
This VERSE is MISQUOTED as if Jesus is appealing to non-Christians to convert, but this is JESUS CALLING YOU and I to REPENT of self-sufficiency and invite him BACK in and ENJOY him.
But, “WHOEVER has EARS, let him hear.” Jesus message is to the church is also the best way to DESCRIBE CHRISTIANITY.
Stop DEPENDING on yourself, stop thinking you have got it TOGETHER. He knocks at YOUR DOOR as well.
Q & A