November 24, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 13:40 in the audio file.
Or, On Not Making Jesus Nauseated
Here is the final message of the seven Jesus sent to the churches in Revelation 2-3. The message to the Laodiceans in verses 14-22 may be the most well-known due to a couple striking images. The message is severe, with no commendation for the church, to the point that they are making Jesus sick. And yet, I think I might also call this the most hopeful of all the messages. Jesus disciplines those He loves, He doesn’t leave them in their sin. He offers the truest riches, the clearest sight, the best counsel, the closest fellowship, and the highest throne.
Let us hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Three more titles apply to Jesus as He addresses the guardian angel of the church in Laodicea. It has been quite a list of identifications so far. He is the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp stands (2:1), the first and the last, who died and came to life (2:8), the one who has the sharp two-edges sword (2:12), the one who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze (2:18), the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars (3:1), and He is the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David (3:7).
Amen is a common word in the Bible, original to Hebrew, borrowed/transliterated into Greek, then borrowed/transliterated int Latin, and now borrowed/transliterated into English. Usually it comes as an affirmation, a finishing assent, though Jesus often began parts of His teaching with “Amen, amen,” or as the KJV, “Verily, verily.” Nowhere else in Scripture is Amen used as a title. But Jesus says that He is The Amen, The one who ratifies. He is “The Let It Be So.”
Jesus is the faithful and true witness. More than a reminder that He doesn’t lie, we are compelled to hear Him testify to the reality of things. He knows and can be relied on to speak to how it is, which the Laodiceans were lacking.
And Jesus is the beginning of God’s creation. The key Greek word is arche (ἀρχὴ), only used elsewhere about Jesus in Colossians 1:15. That’s interesting to note because Paul connected Colosse with Laodicea in his epistle to the Colossians. He had never been to either city (Colossians 2:1), but he wrote a letter to each of them and then wanted the churches to exchange and read each other’s (Colossians 4:16).
In Colossians 1:18 Jesus is “the beginning (arche), the firstborn from the dead,” the one from whom and through whom and to whom are all things in creation (Colossians 1:15-17). Arche is the beginning (ESV, NASB), but beginning as in the “Originator” (HCSB), “source” or “origin” (Osborne). Things get their start in Him, hence He is the “ruler” (NIV). One dictionary includes as a definition, “a point at which two surfaces or lines meet, corner,” so Jesus is the convergence point, but everything goes out from Him.
This is quite a resume of titles as to why He should be heard.
Jesus speaks to what He knows about the condition of the church. Usually when He refers to the “works” of a church He’s about to affirm some good before diagnosing what needs fixing. It doesn’t take long before realizing there is nothing positive to see here.
Three times in verses 15-16 we get the pair: cold/hot. You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot. You are…neither hot nor cold. What they are instead is sickening. The word Jesus chose is lukewarm, they were tepid. It makes Jesus nauseated.
They weren’t what He wished they were, which is what? What do hot and cold refer to?
There is a familiarity with being cold that makes us think it is spiritually negative. We have a cultural history of talking about warmth and heat as signs of vigor, kindness, sincerity, and health. We keep cold as a reference for things/persons that are sterile, inhospitable, unresponsive, unfriendly, even dead. Even in verse 19 Jesus calls the Laodiceans to be zealous, which is a Greek verb related to the adjective zestos = “hot” used these three times. So it would be possible to understand that Jesus prefers those who are cold to Him, as in, clearly opposed to Him, over those who are neutral. He’d be saying that open attack is better than standing like watery styrofoam.
In context, however, there are two things that point against moralizing cold as blatant rejection of Christ, one from the type of argument itself and another from the geographical context of Laodicea.
Jesus is talking to the church, so is He really saying that He wishes for more clearly defined haters in the church? “Do you love me? Check yes or no, but for God’s sake, never maybe.” While it’s true that hot and cold are contrasting temps, it’s what hot and cold hold in common that Jesus emphasizes here. Cold and hot are both extremes; neither one is lukewarm.
If cold means rejecting Jesus then why does He only refer to being sickened by one group when that would make two no-good groups? He will receive the hot, vomit the lukewarm, and … judge the cold.
This is where the location of Laodicea comes into context. Laodicea was an important city, but it did not have its own water supply. Two neighboring towns did. Colosse, ten miles southeast, had a cold water spring. Hieropolis, six miles north, had a hot spring. The cold water in Colosse was drinkable, and refreshing. The hot water in Heiropolis was medicinal, not by drinking but by soaking. Both were good for clear purposes. Laodicea piped in water from a spring near Denizli about six miles away (Mounce) and by the time it arrived, it was gross to drink.
With this background, cold doesn’t mean open rebellion of Jesus, it means clearly doing something for Jesus. We don’t need to press it further, as if some have the spiritual gift of being cold for Christ, and others have the gift of hotness. Hot and cold are not contrasted in this illustration, hot and cold together are contrasted with tepidity.
Jesus said, “I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” The ESV’s spit is too polite. The KJV’s “spue” is better. The Greek word is emesai, from which our English “emetic” comes, something that induces a man to throw up (and ἐμέω is contrasted with πτύω ptuo = spit out).
Their tepidity made Jesus sick. Either be in surgery, or on the playing field, but not sitting around in the waiting room. There are full orchestra Christians, and there are class of kindergartners playing recorders Christians, and there are the local Christian radio station Christians. Don’t be March in Marysville, no hope of snow or sun. Jesus offers a remedy in verses 17-18.
Complacent is a really good word, but not a good condition. It means “marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies” (Merriam-Webster). It goes with the word temerity, which is a foolhardy contempt of danger stemming from a blindness.
The tepidity of the Laodiceans was a result of their temerity. Their condition of Middle-Meh came because they didn’t have enough humility to be really rich.
The main verb in these two verses is I counsel. It is on the basis of what they say and don’t know (verse 17) that Jesus gives the counsel (verse 18), and all of the buying is the counsel.
For you say, ‘I am rich,’ and ‘I have prospered,’ and ‘I need nothing,’” which is rich like manure, rich in an ironic way. They didn’t realize the truth, so The Amen said “you are miserable and wretched and poor and blind and naked.” This is the opposite of Symrna; Jesus knew their “poverty” and said that they were “rich” (Revelation 2:9). The Laodiceans were spiritually dumb, sinfully fat, and superficially happy.
Laodicea the city was well off. An earthquake in AD 60 destroyed the city, but they had enough wealth and resources to rebuild on their own without support from the Emperor (per Tacitus in his Annals). The Laodiceans were especially known for their banking system, for their textile industry that included breeding sheep with a soft, black wool (Mounce), and for their medical services, especially for a certain eye salve. As I like to say, they thought they were hot snot on a gold platter but they were really cold boogers on a paper plate.
It’s quite a list of adjectives, with one article in Greek combining all five together. Wretched is miserable, distressed. Pitiable is more miserable. Poor is begging others for help. Blind is unable to see. And Naked is stripped bare, no covering. Any one by itself would be a reason for seeking help. They were so out of it they didn’t know how down and out of it there were.
In Greek, verse 18 is the necessary finish to the sentence in verse 17 (even though the ESV turns the verses into two sentences). So the Amen, the Witness, the Arche, gives counsel: to buy from me gold, refined by fire, so that you may be rich. How will they buy anything if they are so poor: And if they had money to buy the gold, why not keep the money and be rich? Jesus’ point is that they needed to depend on Him, not on themselves, and that what He offers is much better. Using terms from the market He was offering the results of faith, eternal riches.
Likewise they were to buy…white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen. This is usually imagery for righteousness, but the illustration is bigger than that. Jesus will cover them from their shame and guilt, and He will provide the best supernatural clothes.
And they were “to buy…eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” They though that they could see already, but they were blind. Jesus could open their eyes, to their true hope in Him.
Christ’s counsel is: come back to Him! In Him is true wealth, true adornment, true understanding. It’s part of what Paul told the Colossians and the Laodiceans, that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Can you get The Amen?!
There is much more in the second half of Jesus’ message to the Laodiceans, including the offer of table fellowship and a throne. We will see the JustConquer promise.
But it is appropriate to think about our spiritual temperature, tepidity, and temerity, in light of all that we have. To be blessed, giving thanks from full hearts is one thing. To become self-deceived, dependent on the system or on our own hands or grit or intelligence, anything other than The Amen, puts us in a nauseating position before Him.
There is black, there is white, but don’t be a beige Christian. JustConquer tepidity.
Would that your mashed potatoes be steaming and your sparkling cider be chilled, not lukewarm. Would that your speech to one another be refreshing, or healing, not just weather and sports and a busyness competition. Would that you be more zealous to praise God for His gifts than zealous to defend a political party. Would that you drink from a hot cup of thanksgiving, and that such a cup will spill all over.
May your hearts be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:2-3, 6-7, ESV)