December 1, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 18:10 in the audio file.
Or, On Not Making Jesus Nauseated
The church of God has often been found in bad shape, but not abandoned. She regularly deserves rebuke, but even the rebuke is a sign of God’s love for her. It’s one thing for a church to think that she doesn’t really need God, it is a much worse thing for God to let a church keep thinking that.
The Laodicean church is infamous for invoking Jesus’ gag-reflex. Their lukewarm, complacent attitude made Him wish that they were almost anything other than what they were. No one has higher standards for a church than Jesus, no one knows better how a church measures up to those standards, and no one offers better news to weaksauce churches than The Amen.
In the first part of Jesus’ message to the church in Laodicea Jesus called out their Middle-Meh and counseled them to buy all the things they thought they already had. They thought they were rich, Jesus said to buy from Him pure gold. They thought they had impressive taste in textiles, Jesus said to buy from Him white garments. They thought their optometry department gave them 20/20 vision, Jesus said to buy from Him eye-salve for the soul so that they could truly see.
In verses 19-22 Jesus explains more and gives quite a JustConquer promise.
It’s about time that Jesus really lay into this church, isn’t it? The faithful and true Witness has to be tired of their half-hearted and basket-covered light. They are like an oral suppository, with a taste like sweaty socks in the compost pile. The Laodiceans didn’t even realize that the wealth they had was from Jesus and that He was offering them even greater wealth if they would just depend on Him.
So after the vomit comment we’re ready for the prophetic hammer: I reprove and discipline. The word reprove is confrontation, exposing the problem and bringing a person to see the wrong for himself (BAGD). To reprove a tumor you’d slice open some space to work. Disciplinemay have a punishing vibe, the kind of thing dad might say while he’s taking off his belt for a whooping.
But there are a few things that show this isn’t a humiliating punishment (in addition to the offers in verse 18). Jesus said, “I myself reprove and discipline as many of those whom I am loving.” The target of The Amen’s discipline are His loved ones. He loves the Laodiceans.
And He loves them like family. The verbs reprove and discipline in verse 19 are the same verbs used in the Greek translation of Proverbs 3 (also quoted in full in Hebrews 12:5-6).
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
Or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
As a father the son in whom he delights.
Jesus is not the Father, though He does refer to God as His Father in verse 21, the third time He’s referred to His Father to the churches (also 2:27, 3:5). He’s not the Father, but He is still family. When He said “those whom I love,” the Greek word is a form of phileo, usually a brotherly-love, a relational love (which is different from agapan in the LXX for Proverbs 3:12). It’s personal to Jesus.
And back to the word discipline, it is the word you’ve heard about, paideia. It is less like spanking and more like schooling. It is all of the educating, enculturating process to get a child (from παιδίον) to grow into a responsible child-maker himself.
Following in His Father’s footsteps, Jesus personally and lovingly and purposefully doesn’t let the lukewarm be happy lying in the puddles of their lukewarmness. Tepidity isn’t terminal, not for those Jesus loves.
Therefore be zealous and repent. The repent part we’ve heard Him say before (to the Ephesians, the Pergammumites, the Thyatirans, and the Sardisians), and the be zealous (zeleue) plays with the “hot” (zestos) from earlier in the message. Our zeal, and especially zeal to turn toward what is a better way of thinking, is motivated by His love. His love is the heat that causes our affections to boil. His love transforms our trusts. Because He loves His church, what should we do? Repent.
It’s got to be about time for this tepid church to get busy doing good works that are really good works. Once they get the engine humming with zeal and the wheels turned in the right repentance direction, they should really make some progress. Jesus calls the Laodiceans to consider another analogy, and not just due to anachronism.
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 eat with him and he with me.
This is a personal invitation to personal fellowship. The invitation is to those in the church, but Jesus is not standing at the actual door of the physical church building (so not like William Hunt’s painting from the 1850s).
Similar words to The Song of Solomon 5:2, “A sound! My beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me, my sister my love.’” The phrasing also has similarities to the master returning to his servants in Luke 12:35-37.
There are some who think that Jesus is talking to unbelievers and they use this verse as part of a gospel presentation. “Jesus is waiting patiently for you to let Him into your heart. Open the door and He will come in.” But first, Jesus has been talking to the church in Laodicea, whose problem was spiritual tepidity, not spiritual deadness.
And/but second, this is totally good news for the spiritual tepid. It is evangel for the lukewarm. “Jesus has not walked away from you even though you’re acting as if you don’t need Him. Your blind self-sufficiency can be conquered just by opening the proverbial door to Jesus.” It’s not conversion, but communion.
Have you been acting as if He is irrelevant? Have you been acting as if you have all that you need? Have you been acting as if your branch can produce fruit just fine without abiding in the vine? Hear the knock, open the door.
This is personal: if anyone, My voice, come in to him, and eat with him, and he with Me. Even the imagery of entering a home and sharing a meal together is personal, life on life. Jesus isn’t sending the repentant on a quest, Jesus is inviting Himself to fellowship with the repentant. Talk about enculturation. Sharing a meal like this with Jesus is like setting a pot of water on an open flame: it won’t stay tepid.
It is not obvious that the Laodiceans deserved any kind of JustConquer promise. It is also not super obvious how this JustConquer promise fits with the invitation. Let’s work at it.
There is one promise made by Jesus in verse 21: I will grant. What He promises to give “to the one conquering” is a gift, but the gift is not a noun (person, place, thing, etc.). Jesus offers a future.
“To the one conquering I will give to sit with Me, on My throne.” In context, what is being conquered? What are these overcoming ones overcoming? They are not conquering lovelessness (Ephesus), they are not conquering fear of suffering and death (Smyrna), they are not conquering worldly compromise or idolatry or false teaching. The one conquering in Laodicea is primarily conquering tepidity. And those are the ones who Jesus promises to make rulers.
All of the promises to conquerers in the churches relate to the future, to various parts of eternal life and fellowship. Jesus told the Thyatirans about ruling with Him (Revelation 2:26-27), and here we move from fellowship with Him to reigning with Him. Open the door to Jesus, give Him a seat at your table, and He will give you a seat on His throne.
It is usually wrong to (attempt to) sit in God’s throne. Now Jesus offers it.
We will be given to sit on Jesus’ throne, Jesus said, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne. How did He conquer? He conquered not first by His resurrection, He conquered by depending on His Father in fellowship. Jesus made the good confession because He loved and was loved by His Father. Jesus was given a throne, which we’ll see in Revelation 4-5, as worthy to sit on the throne, because He stayed in fellowship with His Father at the cost of His life. Likewise Jesus will put His people with Him in ruling positions because we have been with Him in fellowship.
Are there two thrones, one for the Father and another for the Son? Or is there just one throne? I think there are two, but won’t be upset if there is one. A good possibility is that the Father’s throne is in heaven (which the Son also shares, see Revelation 7:17), and Jesus’ throne in which His people will also sit, is on earth. There is more about that throne and ruling in the later chapters of Revelation.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
JustConquer Promise #7: the one who overcomes soul tepidity by staying in fellowship with Christ will reign with Christ.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Repentance and zeal (verse 19) lead to a desire for fellowship with Jesus (verse 20), which is conquering (spiritual tepidity), and results in ruling with Him (verse 21).
This is not the only message, obviously. But it is the last message of seven, maybe the most severe, the most simple, and the most promising. Jesus says that we are conquering the world by our dependence on and fellowship with Jesus. If being lukewarm goes with thinking that we don’t really need Him, and if He counsels the lukewarm to get their needs from Him, and if His follow up to being zealous and repenting includes a shared meal, then we are overcoming like Him and will reign with Him.
It reminds me of the crew at St. Anne’s in That Hideous Strength. They had tasks to do, but their work was mostly mundane, except in their work of being in fellowship with one another and waiting for deliverance. There are no hacks for being lukewarm. Be zealous and repent and stay in fellowship with Christ no matter the cost. Be hot, not in angry volcanic offense, but be hot on grace. Be cold, not like bitter winds of resentment, but bringing good news (see Proverbs 25:25; Matthew 10:42). JustConquer tepidity.
Christmas will not fix your problems. It may exacerbate some of them. But it is the perfect time in the church calendar to remember that sentimentalism’s joy is as cozy as pajamas made of wrapping paper. A Christmas of sentimentalism is as sickening to Jesus as powered hot chocolate made with motor oil. “Feeling Christmasy” is not the same as fellowship with Christ. Open the door to Him, He will come in and watch you wrap presents in His name, and decorate cookies in His name, and craft wreaths in His name. JustConquer being ruled by the season so that you will one day rule with Him.
[May you know] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19–23, ESV)