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Laodicea: The Church that Made Christ Sick

Notes & Transcripts

Intro:  We have traveled many miles visiting the seven churches in the book of Revelation: Ephesus-The church of loveless orthodoxy; Smyrna-the church of ultimate sacrifice; Pergamum-the church of indiscriminate tolerance; Thyatira-the church of willful corruption; Sardis-the church of the living dead; Philadelphia-the church of opportunity; and today, the last of the seven, the church of Laodicea.

Most of the time the best is saved for last, but not this time. Visit with me this morning the church that made Christ sick.

I.                    Christ’s Credentials

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: Revelation 3:14 (NASB95)

 

Laodicea the city was renowned for three things:

(1) Extravagant wealth.

The Pax Romana was all the city needed to flourish. When an earthquake struck in AD 60, the Laodicean people were so rich they needed no help from the Roman government to restore buildings.

(2) The Phrygian school of medicine.

People came from all over the Roman Empire to purchase a powder made at the school which was hydrated to form an eye salve; and

(3) The production of highly prized black wool

…of such quality, gloss, and unique pigment that it was worth its weight in gold.

The only thing it lacked was an adequate water supply. Small streams in the vicinity became insufficient to meet the demands of such a growing city, so nearby Hierapolis, famous for her boiling hot springs, funneled water in for her through aqueducts.

 

Christ describes Himself as…

A.      As the Amen

This title is used of Christ only here in all of Scripture. It is of Hebrew origin and means verity, truthful certainty, of a fixed, true, and unchangeable nature. “The concept in [it’s use] is credibility, the certainty that all this person says will be accomplished.”[1]

Next He presents Himself as…

B.      As the faithful and true Witness

Christ’s reliability as a witness to every divine revelation.

The third way he describes Himself has been misinterpreted by many a cult and heretics…

C.      As the Beginning of the Creation of God

This does not imply that Christ was the first created being, demoting his deity. It refers to Him as the originator or initiator of all that God created, emphasizing His divinity. Paul made this very clear in Colossians (refuting heretics of his day)…

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:15-16 (NASB95)

Just like Sardis, Christ has nothing good to day about the church at Laodicea. So we move into the most scathing of all the condemnations…

II.                  Christ’s Condemnation

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. Revelation 3:15 (NASB95)

Christ explained their spiritual condition drawing upon His knowledge of the history and geography of the region. When you take boiling hot water from Hierapolis and send it three miles through an aqueduct it arrives at its destination … lukewarm. And that is what the Christians at Laodicea were in Christ’s sight… halfway between hot and cold.

 

There is an interpretive issue here, which is just a fancy way of saying there’s a question begging to be asked: What do “hot” and “cold” represent?

- They could refer to opposites states of being: they were in a neutral state between “hot” (saved and on fire for the Lord) and “cold” (lost and unapologetically hardened to the things of the Lord). Christ is saying that he prefers an honest lost man to a hypocritical saved man!

- They could refer to alternate stages of utility: they were in an undesirable state between two forms of usefulness, hot water (useful for a beverage) and cold water (also useful as a beverage).

Up until now I came down on the side of utility because it was hard for me to accept that Christ would prefer an honest lost man to a hypocritical Christian But in my studies this time I swung the other way. I realized there’s a bit of hyperbole employed here (such as when Christ exhorted us to pluck out our eyes) to emphasize a point. I also realized that the key was in the text, when Christ says in v. 19 that He wants them to be “zealous,” which we’ll discuss in a few minutes.

Christ preferred to dine with sinners than fellowship with the religious leaders of Israel. I know I’d rather spend three hours with an honest lost man than three minutes with a hypocritical Christian. That’s the idea here.

Look at how Christ carries the imagery of lukewarm water further…

‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Revelation 3:16 (NASB95)

Christ didn’t hold back His feelings about these lukewarm believers, did He? “Spit” is literally “vomit” in the Greek which connotes extreme disgust. The Loadicean Christians made Christ “sick” at His stomach. Is it not frightening to think that there are local churches so far out of the will of God that they, in a sense, make Christ ill?

Why did they make Christ sick?

‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, Revelation 3:17 (NASB95)

 

- What they say: We are rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing!

- What Christ says: You are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked!

They were blind to their true spiritual condition.

What they thought they were materially was in truth the opposite of who they were spiritually.

A young woman went to her pastor and said, "Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can't help thinking I'm the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can't help it. I want you to help me with it."

The pastor replied, "Mary, don't worry about it. In your case it's not a sin. It's just a horrible mistake."[2]

They were trusting in material things, foolishly assuming their possession of them is a sign of God’s blessing. In essence, Christ exposed the Laodicean hypocrisy of trusting in earthly wealth, assuming it is a sign of God’s blessing, when in reality they had a deep need for spiritual wealth, the kind given by God through Christ.

One commentator lamented: “Whatever interpretation we take of the book of Revelation, it is undeniable that the church of Laodicea presents a vivid picture of the age in which we live. Luxury-living abounds on every hand while souls are dying for want of the gospel. Christians are wearing crowns instead of bearing a cross. We become more emotionally stirred over sports, politics, or television than we do over Christ. There is little sense of spiritual need, little longing for true revival. We give the best of our lives to the business world, then turn over the remnants of a wasted career to the Savior. We cater to our bodies which in a few short years will return to dust. We accumulate instead of forsake, lay up treasures on earth instead of in heaven. The general attitude is, ‘Nothing too good for the people of God. If I don’t pamper myself, who will? Let’s get ahead in the world and give our spare evenings to the Lord.’ This is our condition on the eve of Christ’s Return.”[3]

No other church of the seven typifies the state of the church today more than Laodicea. We are blind to ourselves! We have no passion for the things of God! We casually flirt with the things of the world! We are lukewarm in Christ and He hates that.

John Henry Jowett’s description of the contemporary church could well be one of the church at Laodicea: “We leave our places of worship, and no deep and inexpressible wonder sits upon our faces. We can sing these lilting melodies, and when we go out into the streets our faces are one with the faces of those who have left the theaters and the music halls. There is nothing about us to suggest that we have been looking at anything stupendous and overwhelming. ... And what is the explanation of the loss? Preeminently our impoverished conception of God.”[4]

Stop for a moment and in your sanctified imagination see a thermometer. Take that thermometer and place it in the fold of your heart. What does it read?

What were the Laodiceans to do? How does a lukewarm church, or a person, stop making Christ sick?

III.               Christ’s correction

 

I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Revelation 3:18 (NASB95)

Christ counsels them to buy from Him…

 

A.      Gold refined in the fire to remedy their spiritual neediness

The NT speaks of genuine and vibrant faith in terms of gold refined in the fire of trials and temptations. Their faith was shallow, crude, and unrefined because they were trusting in the temporal and enjoying the comforts of this world.

Laodicea had wealth but they needed the riches of heaven found only through the testing of their faith.

B.      White garments to cover their spiritual nakedness

The idea here is that of good works performed not to achieve salvation but as the natural result of having a personal relationship with Christ. They had no works born of faith.

They had garments made from the most desirable woolen fabric in the civilized world, but they needed good works born of faith to clothe themselves spiritually.

C.      Eye salve to cure their spiritual blindness

There is no more pitiable a sight than to see a Christian blind to themselves and ignorant of the things of God. Oh that God might open their (and our) eyes to see all the wonders and awe of being in Christ (Ephesians 1).

They had the famous eye salve but they couldn’t see their hand in front of their face.

 

Christ gives them counsel and then he says…

‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19 (NASB95)

Christ calls upon them to…

- Recognize His love in discipline

In the tender words of a Shepherd (“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline”) we observe a warm heart towards the Loadiceans, even in the midst of a well deserved rebuke.

 

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Hebrews 12:7-8 (NASB95)

- Rekindle a spirit of zealousness

 

This is from a Greek root word that means boiling hot, the same root for the word “hot” in this letter (that’s why I changed my interpretation of the condemnation). It’s the same kind of zealousness Christ had when He ransacked the temple. It is also translated as “jealousy.” Like the jealousy one has over a spouse (passion produces jealousy, lukewarmness produces apathy).

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." —C. S. Lewis[5]

 

- Repent of their sinfulness

Christ’s Invitation to Overcomers

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Revelation 3:20-21 (NASB95)

- Personal fellowship

- Future leadership (Millennial reign)

NRTL convention prayer

Conclusion: Our goal as we’ve traveled through Asia Minor has been to determine which of the seven churches represented we are as a church, and even more importantly which we are individually. What about that thermometer? What does it reveal?

Hot? Lukewarm? Cold?

‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” Revelation 3:22 (NASB95)


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[1] Robert Thomas, An Exegetical Commentary: Revelation 1-7 (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1992), 300.

[2] Haddon Robinson, "Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Us Guys," Preaching Today, Tape No. 80

[3] MacDonald, William and Arthur Farstad. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, Re 3:22. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995.

[4] John Henry Jowett in "The Ministry of a Transfigured Church." Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 8.

[5] "C. S. Lewis," Christian History (65.19.1), p. 27

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