Revelation 3:14-22
Sermon Series
August 19, 2018
Pastor Witt


Greeting: Grace is yours through Jesus Christ, who is the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn from the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.


Text: 7) 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.  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.  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.  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.


Introduction: Have you ever eaten something so disagreeable that it make you want to throw up?   Have you ever tasted a beverage so disappointingly tepid that all you could do was spit it out?   If so, then you have some idea of the amount of alarm that Jesus Christ had about the believers in the city of Laodicea and others today who are like them.   Their spiritual life was at the entirely wrong temperature.   They were unacceptably lukewarm in their faith.   This final message to the churches of the Revelation is of great importance to us.   May God give us ears to hear what the Holy Spirit would teach us about being spiritually lukewarm and the absolute necessity of setting that condition aside and leaving it behind.


The city of Laodicea was a prosperous city at the end of the 1st century A.D.   It was situated along the Lycus River, 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, 40 miles east of Ephesus and just 11 miles northwest of Colosse.   Laodicea was an ancient city prominent in the kingdoms of Lydia and Phrygia.   It has been renamed Laodicea, in honor of the wife and queen of the Seluecid King Antiochus II  who rebuilt it about 250 years before Christ.  The city had been destroyed by an earthquake in 60 A.D. and was rebuilt again by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.   The city was so wealthy that it needed no outside financial assistance to help with its reconstruction.   Today Laodicea is the modern city of Parmukkale, Turkey.


Laodiceas was a very wealthy city.   It was a prominent financial center with a healthy banking industry.   It was a medical center with a famous medical school whose doctors had developed an effective and lucrative eye salve.   It was also a manufacturing center with a booming textile industry that produced a lovely and popular black wool.   Nearby the city were the famous hot springs of Hierapolis that drew many people for medicinal purposes.


The church in Laodicea was well-established.  People from this area of Phrygia were present at Pentecost in Jerusalem and come to faith in Christ then.   They carried the Gospel message back to their home.   The Laodicean believers were mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.   It is possible that they also received a letter from Paul, that the Holy Spirit has not chosen to preserve)


The Laodiceans now received a letter from the Lord of the Church who introduced Himself as the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Ruler of God’s creation and the one who knows them and rebukes the disciples He loves.   In these terms Jesus reveals Himself as the One who can be counted on, the Maker and Preserver of all things, the One who has absolute authority, the One who speaks the truth and is not afraid to show tough love to those who need it.


And oh, how the Laodiceans needed it!  In this letter, Jesus has no good things to say about the Laodicean congregation.   It the only one of the seven congregations addressed in Revelation in which there is nothing deserving of God’s praise.   There is no mention of problems such as false teaching or compromise with pagan religious (although Laodicea was a center for the worship of Zeus, the king of the Greek and Roman gods.)   Christ’s words contain no reference to spiritual enemies and persecution.   However, there was a big spiritual problem in the church in Laodicea, that was proving to be a tremendous threat to the members.


Jesus mentions the problem early in His remarks.  He said to the Laodiceans: “You are neither hot nor cold.  I wish you were one or the other.   So, because you are lukewarm (neither hot nor cold), I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”   The English word “lukewarm” dates back to the1300’s.   The old English word “lew” meant “moderately” and was joined to the word “warm.”   It is one of those world combinations we use for description.  If something is very hot, we call it “red hot.”   It something is very cold, we call it “ice cold.”   If something is moderate or tepid in temperature, we call it “lukewarm.”

Jesus is saying that the whole congregation in Laodicea was lukewarm in a spiritual sense.   They were not hot, nor were they cold.   They were barely warm.  Now in the story of Goldilocks and the 3 bears, Goldilocks though the lukewarm porridge was just right.  Here is Christ’s letter to the Laodiceans, lukewarm is all wrong.    The Laodiceans should have been hot, like the hot springs of Hierapolis, so they could hear the spiritually sick.   Or else they should have been cold like the cold water of the Lycus River so they could refresh the spiritually weary.


Sadly, they were in between and so were incapable of doing either.  What do we do with lukewarm dish water or lukewarm bathwater?   We send it down the drain as a lost cause.   The lukewarm Laodiceans were people who were facing the very real prospect of experiencing God’s rejection.   Why was this happening?  They were barely warm.   Once they had gladly embraced the saving truth of God’s Word that burns like a hot fire in a person’s soul.   But they had cooled off considerably in their zeal for Christ and His salvation of their souls.   They had become like the hot healing springs of nearby Hierapolis once they ran into the cold river water that moderated their temperature.


The Laodiceans’ faith had most likely been neutralized by the deceptive, seduction of their material prosperity.   Jesus had quoted them: “You say, ‘I am rich, I have acquired wealth an do not need a thing.’”   Their earthly wealth and the comforts it could buy and the security it could provide had made them self-satisfied and indifferent to the God who gave such riches.   They had lost their spiritual hunger and appreciation for Jesus Christ and true spiritual treasures.   They were in serious danger of becoming a group of people that felt no need or desire for Jesus Christ and His forgiveness.   Worse still, they did not realize the wretched, pitiful condition of their faith.   They desperately needed someone to point it out to them.


Lukewarm Christianity.   It is a real threat to believers like us.  We live in modern day Laodicea.   We enjoy a fair amount of material prosperity.  We largely live physically comfortable lives.  We belong to an established church.   We do not presently face a lot of outward threats.  It is easy for people like us to become less zealous for our faith and lapse into a false sense of security.   It is easy to become satisfied with ourselves, less reliant on God and prone to drift father from Him.   In these kind of circumstances, a lukewarm tepid faith seems OK.   A barely warm spiritual life  appears to be normal and acceptable.   Instead of being in the world, but not of the world, we can become the world in its indifference to God.   We can lose spiritual vitality and power to live in a godly, loving way.   We can devolve to the point where Jesus becomes option, instead of indispensable.  We can arrive at the conclusion that we can take Him or leave Him, love Him or ignore Him, trust Him or doubt Him without any great impact on our life or future.   It can all happen so gradually that it escapes our notice.   If it does, this spiritual decline and we ourselves become irritatingly, disgustingly, unacceptably nauseating to God – so distasteful that all He can do would be to spit us out and be done with us.


But before it would get to this point of absolute revulsion and rejection by God,  our Lord would rather have the situation be turned around.   There is an effective remedy for the spiritual malady of a lukewarm faith and life.   Jesus offers it in these words: “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.”  Jesus wanted the Laodiceans and He wants us to realize that earthly riches and worldly resources are of no help in this matter.   They must be put off and set aside.   We need other things.   We need better things.   We need the things that only God can give us.  We need the spiritual gold of a genuine Word-based faith that is refined and tested by the trials of life.   We need the white garments of Jesus’ holiness, that He has earned and fashioned for us at the cost of His life.   We need the healing salve of God’s Spirit applied to our souls so that we can truly see the truth that gives us life and sets us free from spiritual unbelief, apathy and misery.


We should personally reckon with the fact that the temptation toward lukewarmness is a challenge that we will regularly encounter throughout life.  Things around us do not stay hot or cold for very long without the need for intervention and renewal.   This is also true of our faith.   Let us make very sure that we are not so foolish to think that we can let our spiritual life go without much attention.   Let us wisely decide that we will let God renew us regularly with the spiritual truth and power of His Word and Sacrament.


Our Lord Jesus wants to help and bless us.  He loves us enough to challenge us.  He rebukes those He love.   He takes a direct approach and a tough stance so that we won’t fall away from Him and have to be abandoned by Him.  So He says, “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.”  

This passage, verse 20 of chapter 3, is often abused by false teachers who treat it as a passage that teaches the point that people can and must contribute something to their spiritual conversion.  Of course, that simply cannot be.   People are by nature spiritually dead.   The only way they come to living faith is by the Holy Spirit’s persuasive, renewing work in them through God’s Word.   Revelation 3:20 does not teach the possibility or necessity of human assistance in coming to faith in Christ.   In this verse, Jesus is talking to people who already believe, but who in their spiritual weakness were in danger of shutting Jesus out.   The Lord desires unobstructed entrance to our lives.   He does not want to be shut out.  He knows our need for His close fellowship and He sincerely wants us to enjoy it.  He calls on all who still have faith to hear God’s voice in His Word and exercise their faith to receive and welcome Him.  


Jesus also indicates that He has eternal plans for us.   He does not merely want to be close to us during our earthly life.   He wants us to be close to Him forever.   So He promises:  “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.”  He longs to have us join Him in heaven and sit with Him on His throne and share in His glorious rule over all things.  How eternally joyful and grateful we will be to live forever with our Savior-King and enjoy this ultimate blessing.


With that heavenly goal in mind and with our Savior’s love and concern touching our hearts and moving us, may God help us leave lukewarmness behind as He renews our faith and zeal continually through our earthly life.  Amen.