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Worthy is the Lamb: Laodicea, the Complacent Church

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Laodicea is a church where Christ is not Lord. He has to knock to gain entry to his own church.

Notes & Transcripts
Text: Revelation 3:14-22
Theme: Laodicea is a church where Christ is not Lord. He has to knock to gain entry to his own church.
This morning we hear the words of our Savior to the Church at Laodicea. Historically, it’s been referred to as the complacent church. Complacency has to do with self-satisfaction, a sense of contentment regarding the state of things. The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary defines complacency as “a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder.” The opposite of complacency is zeal. Kind David wrote in Psalm 69:9, “for zeal for your house consumes me.” None of us is without zeal — we are all zealous about something. We are zealous for this sports team or that one, we are zealous for this brand of cell phone or that one. Zeal runs in our veins for what we love and against what we hate. What we want as Christians is zeal that is properly motivated and properly directed — a truly godly zeal. Christian zeal as “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men. If we assume this desire and concern is not merely feelings but action, it describes the very opposite of complacency. Zeal is like a flame that brings a pot to a boil — it causes our affections for God to come to a boil so that we pursue what delights him and fight against what dishonors him. Zeal is spiritual heat, spiritual energy that flows out through the godly characteristics of love, joy, hope, peace, and so on. It’s evidently what the Church at Laodicea did not have.
What is our Lord's message to this particular congregation at Laodicea? Jesus is very clear. They make him want to throw up! "So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Rev 3:16, NIV)
The words of our Lord to the church at Laodicea are tragic. If this church had been totally cold, there would have been a possibility of reviving the coldness. Had it been hot, the Lord could have blessed it. But it was neither hot or cold. The church at Laodicea is a congregation characterized by indifference and complacency. They need a renewed zeal.

I. JESUS IS THE FAITHFUL WITNESS WHO OFFERS AN ACCURATE DIAGNOSIS

1. the letter to the Church at Laodicea begins as do all the letters — with a self-description from the Lord who is over his Church, and in his Church and who speaks to his Church
“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.” (Revelation 3:14, NIV84)
2. in this verse we see a threefold portrait of Christ

A. CHRIST IS “THE AMEN”

1. the word English word Amen is a transliteration of the Hebrew ah -men
a. its use in Hebrew worship was to confirm a statement made by another, and could be translated as “so be it,” “so it is,” or even “there you have it“
b. it is a listener’s response to, and agreement with a spoken truth
1) it was a custom which passed directly from synagogue worship to the Christian worship
2) when the preacher said something that was true — particularly when the Scriptures were simply read — the congregation responds with Amen, i.e. what was just said is true, and we agree it’s true, and we will attempt to flesh-out that truth in our lives
c. so Amen is an affirmation of truth
2. here in our text, however, is the only instance in Scriptures where Amen is used as a proper name
a. this is a beautiful picture of Christ identifying himself as Truth
b. not only is our Savior truthful in all things, but his name is Truth, as he proclaimed in
John 14:6“I am the way, the truth, and the life ... “
c. Jesus here identifies himself as “The Amen;” that is, he is The Sum of all things, the Final Authority, the Absolute Final Truth — truth incarnate
1) what he says is the firm, fixed, authoritative, unchangeable truth
2) how marvelous this is!
3. once we have said, “Jesus Christ,” there you have it — we have said everything; there is nothing more we can add

B. CHRIST IS “THE FAITHFUL AND TRUE WITNESS”

1. Jesus is a witness to the character of God, the purposes of God, the plan of God, and the promises of God
a. do you want to know all about God? ... then learn all you can about Jesus!
1) he is a witness of the God the Father
b. speaking of the witness of Christ, the Apostle John writes ...
“He [Jesus] testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.” (John 3:32–34, NIV84)
1. because He is The Faithful Witness, Jesus is the One Who can speak authoritatively concerning the wretched spiritual condition of the Church at Laodicea
a. He is completely trustworthy, perfectly accurate, and His testimony is always reliable
b. in the end, it doesn’t matter what we think about the Church, it matters what Jesus says about the Church — because it’s his Church!
2. because Jesus is the Faithful and True Witness He will never reveal anything untrue to or about the church

C. CHRIST IS “THE RULER OF GOD’S CREATION”

1. most English Bibles translate this last description of Christ as the beginning of God’s creation
a. the NIV translates it as the ruler of God’s creation
b. the Greek word is arche (ar-khay) and refers to the first cause or the origin of something
2. Jesus is claiming for himself that he is the Origin of the creation of God — a claim to his absolute deity
a. it teaches that Christ is the source and sustainer of all creation
b. that is precisely what the Apostle John tells us in his Gospel (1:1-3): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3, ESV)
c. the Apostle Paul sheds further light on this in Colossians 1:15
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15–17, NIV84)
3. as the Creator, Christ’s authority is final, and no one can question Him concerning the judgment He will bring on those who disobey His Truth
4. vs. 14 is all about the deity of our Christ, his authority over his Church, and his absolute right to correct his Church when needed
ILLUS. Remember the old E.F. Hutton commercials? The slogan was, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.” When Christ speaks to his Church, his Church better listen.

II. LAODICEA IS A FALTERING CHURCH IN A SECULAR SOCIETY

1. of all the seven Churches, Laodicea is most unsparingly condemned
2. we are forced to ask some hard questions about this congregation:
a. What is wrong with this church?
b. How did it get this way?
c. Is there a danger that such complacency is contagious?
3. the church at Laodicea had four big problems
a. 1st, they were lukewarm
b. 2nd, they were proud
c. 3rd, they were arrogant
d. 4th, they were self-deceived — they are characterized as wretched, pitiful, blind and naked, but don’t know that they are these things
4. the Laodicean Christians had become complacent
a. so then, what are the characteristics of a complacent congregation?

A. WHEN YOU’RE COMPLACENT YOU BECOME LUKEWARM TO SPIRITUAL THINGS

"‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!" (Revelation 3:15, ESV)
ILLUS. Jesus uses the metaphor of the cities's water supply to describe the congregation's spiritual condition. Laodicea was located in a valley with two sister cities. One was Hierapolis which was famous for its hot springs. The springs were therapeutic for healing and relaxing and are still used today. The other was Colossae which was famous for its cold, clear mountain springs that stayed ice cold even in the heat of summer. Laodicea had no permanent water supply and piped their water in from both Hierapolis and Colossae through an underground aqueduct. However, by the time the water got to Laodicea it was no longer hot, or cold but — you guessed it — lukewarm!
1. the word for cold in this passage means ice cold and refers to something frozen or on the verge of freezing over
a. cold is used here in a metaphorical way to describe a Christian who is spiritually unmoved and spiritually unresponsive
b. this is the professing Christian who has no interest in Christ, no interest in His Word, and no interest in His church
ILLUS. This is the person who will absolutely insist they are a faithful believer even though they’s not been to church in ten years. And when you invite them back to church, they’ll give you a litany of excuses why they’ll never come back to church again — particularly that church.
c. there’s the distinct possibility that those whom Jesus describes as cold are not even true believers, but tares among the wheat
1) their name may be on a Church Roll, but it’s absent from God’s Book of Life
2. the word for hot in this passage is zestos, from which is derived our English word zest and zeal
a. it’s a word that means to boil, be hot, be fervent and paints the picture of a pot that is boiling hot and bubbling over
b. hot Christians are those who are spiritually alive and possess the fervency of a transformed life
c. the person who is hot for Christ is a person who shows zealousness for spiritual things
1) this is the confessing Christians who has a deep love for Christ, a deep love for His Word, and a deep love for His church
3. the word for lukewarm in this passage is tepid, and depicts the Christian who is thoroughly backslidden, but who is seems unaware of their condition
a. they assume that because they are going through the motions of being a faithful Christian, that they are a faithful Christian
b. like the Pharisees, they are content to practice a self-righteous religion; they are hypocrites playing games
c. ironically, our Lord says that He would actually prefer someone to be cold than to be lukewarm
4. Jesus characterized this entire congregation as tepid ... they have grown satisfied with Who and what they are and that satisfaction led to indifference toward Jesus, and indifference toward the community around them
a. as long as nothing bad was happening ...
b. as long as there were no financial difficulties ...
c. as long as the fellowship remains congenial
d. as long as the pastor hadn't said or done anything really stupid ...
e. their philosophy was "Let's maintain the status-quo."
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ ... .” (Revelation 3:17, NIV84)
5. this church looked at itself and thought "We’re doing just fine."
a. that attitude kills spirituality, and kills missions
6. When Your Complacent You Become Lukewarm to Spiritual Things

B. WHEN YOU’RE COMPLACENT YOU BECOME PROUD IN YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

"For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, ... " (Revelation 3:17, ESV)
1. here, Jesus uses Laodicea’s commercial wealth as a another metaphor for this church’s spiritual condition
a. the city of Laodicea was an extremely wealthy and prosperous community situated at the convergence of three important roads
1) it was a major banking center — the Wall Street of its era — and also had a gold exchange
2) the city was famed for it black woolen cloth used to make clothing and carpets
3) it was also the center of a flourishing medical school which was noted for its ear and eye ointments
b. the wealth of the city was apparent in the life of the church
2. the Christians at Laodicea came to believe that their outward, material prosperity was a measure of their success
a. they became proud
3. but they had deceived themselves — they were content in their material wealth and unaware of their spiritual poverty
4. When Your Complacent You Become Proud in Your Accomplishments

C. WHEN YOU’RE COMPLACENT YOU BECOME ARROGANT IN YOUR WAYS

"For you say, ... and I need nothing, ... " (Revelation 3:17, ESV)
1. one more time Christ uses a metaphor from the life of the city to illustrate these believer’s spiritual poverty
a. 70 years before this letter was written, in A.D. 60, Laodicea was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake
b. the city was wealthy enough to rebuild on its own without any government or outside assistance
c. when the Emperor Nero offered to float the city a loan, they spurned his offer of help
2. the Christians at Laodicea reeked of an aroma of spiritual arrogance and self-righteousness
a. in their prosperity they perceived the blessings of God
b. they congratulated themselves for their goodness
ILLUS. “The greatest of all disorders is to think we are whole and need no help.” Thomas Wilson, American actor, and musician.
c. the members at Laodicea had become so spiritually self-sufficient that Christ himself was locked out of their church
3. When You're Complacent You Become Arrogant in Your Ways
4. Laodicea Is a Faltering Church in a Secular Society

III. LAODICEA IS REBUKED BY A FAITHFUL SAVIOR WHO DISCIPLINES THOSE HE LOVES

"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." (Revelation 3:19, ESV)
1. God says, "I know your deeds ..."
a. they problem is, is that there are none worth mentioning!
b. they were not a cold or hostile church
1) they had not rejected the faith
2) they had no doctrinal disputes or moral lapses
c. what they had done was shut Christ out of their church
2. the members of the church at Laodicea look at themselves and say, “Ain’t we doing fine!”
3. God looks at them in a different light
a. God looks at this congregation which is busy enjoying its apparent success and says of them, “You do not realized that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
ILLUS. Literature’s most famous miser is Ebenezer Scrooge. A miser or what we might call a cheapskate, is a person who is reluctant to spend money, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts. The word miser comes from the Latin, and means "wretched." Though exceedingly wealthy, Scrooge lives like a pauper and even rations the coal in the company office. He’s a wretched man.
b. Jesus tells the Church at Laodicea that they have been miserly in their love for him and others
4. Scrooge is a tragic illustration too of many Christians
a. we have limitless spiritual wealth at our disposal, and yet we often choose to live in spiritual poverty
b. what is even sadder is when we think we are spiritually healthy when in reality we are lukewarm, proud, and arrogant
5. the church at Laodicea needs to get healthy and Christ has the prescription for them
"I 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." (Revelation 3:18, ESV)

A. THEY NEED TO BUY THE “RICHES” OF GOD

1. if the church — indeed if the believer — is going to experience zeal instead of complacency the gold of God must have priority over the gold of this world
a. this “gold of God” is symbolic of everything of true spiritual value
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)
b. it is so tempting to focus our attention on less important things

B. THEY NEED TO “PUT ON” WHITE CLOTHS TO COVER THEIR NAKEDNESS

1. if the church — indeed if the believer — is going to experience zeal instead of complacency we must cover our nakedness
2. everywhere in the Scriptures white cloths are symbols of acceptance by God and true righteousness that comes from a born-again relationship with Jesus Christ that covers our spiritual nakedness
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33, ESV)
a. the Apostle Paul told the Christians at Rome that they were to be “servants of righteousness”
3. this kind of righteousness does not happen over night in the believer’s life — it is literally a life-long process
ILLUS. A number of years ago at a computer conference in Dallas, I struck up a conversation with a man who, it turned out, consulted with some of the largest U.S. companies about their quality control. One of the things he told me really surprised me. He said, "In quality control, we are not concerned about the product." He told me, "We are concerned about the process. If the process is right, the product is guaranteed." I couldn’t help thinking how relevant that is to our Christianity. We tend to be more oriented to the product of our faith than the process. As Christians, we tend to desire and demand products of righteousness, but we give little attention to the process of righteousness.
3. when it comes to righteousness, process is everything!
a. the Bible is almost disgustingly honest abut the short comings of some of the great saints of faith
1) Abraham ...
2) Jacob ...
3) Joseph ...
4) David ...
5) Peter
b. every one of them made major miscalculations, at times acted without God’s approval, and committed grievous sins
c. but every one of them are commended to us as examples
1) why? because they were perfect?
4. no, because what they were becoming through obedience and their walk with God was more important then what they were and their occasional lapses in the flesh

C. THEY NEED TO “ANOINT THEIR EYES” WITH SALVE SO THAT THEY CAN SEE

1. if the church — indeed if the believer — is going to experience zeal instead of complacency we must live in a vital relationship with the risen savior
2. Laodicea was the center of a flourishing medical school which was noted for its eye ointment
a. one of the great scourges of the ancient world were diseases and infections of the eye that brought about blindness
b. the ointment made at Laodicea was in great demand through the world as a remedy that could fight those infections
3. these Christians at Laodicea were living safe lives — they had not denied Christ, but neither had they denied themselves
a. too often, we become satisfied with our own spiritual condition
b. we loose sight of the really important things of the Christian faith such as faith, obedience, praise and worship and Christ-likeness which produce true righteousness
c. we settle instead for a life lived by rules and regulations or religious rites that become a substitute for true spiritual vitality

IV. LESSONS FROM A COMPLACENT CHURCH

1. the things Jesus says to this church are harsh
2. he says them, because he loves them and earnestly desire fellowship with them
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door 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." (Revelation 3:19-20, ESV)
3. Jesus would have them repent of their complacency and become zealous for him
a. Christian zeal as “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men.
4. maybe you’ve seen your own spiritual condition illustrated by the church at Laodicea
a. if so, you need to repent
b. churches only become lukewarm, proud, and arrogant when the members become lukewarm, proud, and arrogant
Our Puritan forfathers identified four means through which God stirs up the Christian’s zeal. These means are equally applicable to individuals and churches. What may surprise you is how unsurprising they are. There is no great trick to zeal; rather, it is simply taking advantage of God’s ordinary means.
Prayer. “As a grace of God, zeal cannot be earned or bargained for, but must be given; as a grace of God, it must be asked for by prayer humbly offered in the name of Christ.” The basic reason we are not more zealous is that we have not asked the Lord for a greater measure of zeal, perhaps because we do not believe that he can or will give it to us.
The Word. As God works through prayer to stir up our zeal, so he works through his Word, the Bible. This must be the Word read individually in personal worship, it must be the Word preached in the church. “The Word feeds our passion and love for God which He graciously placed in our hearts. If we would have our zeal aroused, we must not neglect to fuel it.” Reading the Bible and hearing it preached is not enough, though. The Word must also pondered and meditated upon.
Church Attendance. A third means to zeal is faithfully attending and participating in public worship and fellowship. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that meeting together is a means through we provoke one another to love and good works. “The coals that lie together in a hearth feed each other and they glow and give off heart. However, the embers that are fallen off, and become separated from the whole are black without fire, and soon die out. If ever thou desire to be zealous, the fellowship of the saints is mandatory. The coals that glow hottest are the coals that lie close together.
Repentance and Resistance Against Sin. The final means the Puritans drew out is repenting for sin committed and growing in the desire and ability to resist future sin. A heart that has grown hard in sin is a heart that has grown cold toward the Lord. As sin increases, zeal necessarily diminishes. Zeal is available to all who will simply take advantage of the means God gives us.
What the Puritans saw is that God stirs up our zeal through his ordinary means of grace. Zeal is not a quality available only to those who have identified a secret means of grace or who have been given zeal as a spiritual gift. Zeal is available to all who will simply take advantage of the means God gives us.
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