November 24, 2013

The Lukewarm Church - Nov 24, 2013 (Bonus Sermon to Finish the Series)

This Sunday we finished our series on the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. However, we didn't get to actually talk about the last church. Here's a sermon from a few years ago addressing the last church of Revelation. Sorry I couldn't post the audio for this sermon today. -Pastor Caleb Schaller


In the beginning of the book of Revelation Jesus appears to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos. In a powerful vision Jesus instructed John to write down seven messages that were to be sent to seven churches located in Asia minor.

In these letters Jesus speaks directly to specific congregations. He reveals their problems. He praises their accomplishments. He warns them of dangers. And comforts them in the way that only our Savior can.

Today we consider the message that Jesus spoke for the Christians at Laodicea:
Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV)

14“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. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You 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. 18I 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.
19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here 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.
21To 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. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Quite a few of us here are coffee drinkers. Perhaps you prefer a mocha to a latte. Perhaps you prefer good old drip coffee over espresso. Maybe you can’t stand the sugary sweetness of a flavored coffee drink, or maybe you couldn’t imagine a morning without it.

Regardless of your particular taste in coffee, most of us could agree on one thing: it’s gotta be hot, or ice cold. The tepid temperature of hour old bathwater is not exactly pleasant to the mouth. Yuk.

With this disgusting feeling in mind, Jesus’ rebuke of the Laodicean church is all the more dramatic. Jesus says to the Laodiceans, “Your attitude makes me nauseous, and I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

That’s a harsh rebuke.

What was the problem among the Laodicean Christians? Lukewarmness. They were not hot with enthusiasm for Christ. Nor were they cold in opposition to Christ. They were indifferent. Complacent. Uninterested. Their faith was growing colder every day, and soon it would be dead cold like a corpse on the slab.

My fellow Christians, in our sermon meditation for today we’ll consider the danger of cooling faith. Our text will show us what causes it, and also that Christ is the only cure for “lukewarm” Christianity. For Christ is the fire that warms our faith.
The source of the Laodicean’s cooling faith is revealed by the words of verse seventeen.

17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’” (Revealtion 3:17a NIV).

The Laodicean Christians lived in a wealthy town. In AD 60, when an earthquake destroyed the city, it’s citizens rebuilt, without the help of Rome. Laodicea was well-known in its day as a center for banking. Laodicea also boasted a thriving wool industry, which sold dyed wools which were shipped throughout the world. There is also indication that Laodicea was the source of an eye-medicine which was prescribed by doctors living far away.

It is likely that the Christians at Laodicea had plenty of money. And it seems that this wealth had begun to take their attention away from Jesus. With their physical needs more than taken care of, they didn’t need to pray to Christ anymore. With so much going on, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time left over hear Him speak to them. Love of their blessings began to nudge out their love for Christ.

Cooling faith occurs when a Christian’s priorities shift away from Christ.

This danger is perhaps more pronounced in our day. In wealthy America few wonder where their next meal will come from. We have no end of gadgets which distract us from the God who gives them. Surely God’s blessings are good, but our misuse of those blessings corrupts and destroys the value of God’s blessings. Comedian George Carlin says it like this:

“We spend more, but have less.
We buy more, but enjoy it less.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years.”

Pray that Christ will remain our personal priority. Pray that Christ will be the pin that holds our family centered and together in Him. And pray to God that our faith will not cool to the near-dead lukewarmness that was the faith of the Laodicean Christians.
It is also possible that when the Laodiceans said, “I am rich” (Revelation 3:17a NIV), they weren’t talking about physical riches at all. Some people believe they meant rich in spiritual things. In other words, the Laodicean Christians might have thought they were rich in spiritual knowledge and no longer needed to learn from Christ because they knew more than enough already.

Cooling faith also occurs when a Christian thinks that he is self-sufficient and no longer needs to sit attentively at the foot of Christ.

A lukewarm Christian treats the Good News of Jesus like a fact which once absorbed cannot be lost. Like a pill that once swallowed doesn’t call for another thought.

But faith isn’t a pill. Faith is alive. Faith needs Christ like the human body needs oxygen. For our bodies to remain alive our lungs must continually come into contact with oxygen. In the same way, for our faith in Christ to remain alive, it must continually come into contact with Christ.

When a child is Baptized, God creates faith in the heart of that child through the power of His Word used along with the water. But that child must be raised to know and trust in Christ. That child’s faith must be nurtured with continual feedings of our Savior’s Word. The faith created in Baptism dies will die if it is not fed.
Perhaps the scariest thing about the lukewarm Laodiceans was they didn’t see how close to death their faith really was. They thought they didn’t have a care in the world.

Thankfully Jesus was watching out for them. And through His letter to them Jesus not only diagnosed their spiritual illness, He also provided them with the solution to their cooling enthusiasm. The solution was interaction with Christ Himself.

In verse eighteen Jesus says,

18I 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” (Revelation 3:18 NIV). 
In older days rocks were sometimes heated thoroughly in the fireplace, slipped into a leather sheath, and then put in the bottom of a person’s bed to keep their feet warm. The rocks got their heat from the fire, so the longer they stayed away from the fire, the cooler they got until they were completely cold and worthless to have in your bed.

The solution to cold rocks in your bed, was to bring them back to the heat source. In the same way, Christ’s presence is faith’s only heat source.

In Revelation 3:18 Jesus advises the lukewarm Laodicean Christians to buy pure Gold, white clothing and eye medicine from Him. This could only be done by approaching Jesus and hearing His Word.

A lukewarm Christian cannot warm his own cooling faith, no matter how hard he try. But if a lukewarm Christian just stands in the presence of Christ, his faith cannot help but grow warmer.

We can try to sin less and be better people. But those things do not increase our trust in Christ. Those things do not warm our faith and make it hot again. Only when we hear of our sin, and how Jesus took it all on Himself does our faith grow warmer.

When we review the love which made the Son of God step down out of glory to live a life of pain, then we feel the warmth of faith increasing. When we look on the Savior’s bloodied back and His nail pierced hands and know it was for us, then we feel our warm faith growing hotter.

When we see how the Son was left alone on the cross, abandoned by all, even by His Father in Heaven, then we see how brilliant the bonfire of Christ’s love for us really is. Christ’s love for us was so intense that He was willing to feel the horror of being separated from God the Father. His love for us burned hot enough that He willingly faced the fire of hell in our place. Because He did, your sins and my sins have been taken away forever.

Christ is the fire that warms the Christian faith. So when your faith is cooling, return to the fire. In fact, don’t wait for your faith to cool. Stay by Christ’s fire every day. Through prayer and reading. Through song and quiet meditation with Him. He’ll keep the fire burning, just stay next to Him.
When I was in college I sometimes came to the end of a day and thought. What’s the point. Today I didn’t get anything done. Today I didn’t do anything good. What’s the point.

I remember staying in my room “sick” one day to try and catch up on my homework. And even after a whole day of studying, I still felt like I had accomplished nothing.

Finally God showed me what it was that was preventing my days from being complete. I noticed that the days that felt empty and worthless were the days that I had muddled through without pausing to read my Bible.

I found that if I started my day by reading God’s Word, my days no longer seemed worthless. Instead my day felt worthwhile before I even left my room.

I still find that to be true. When I don’t spend time warming up by the campfire of Christ’s Word, my days are likely to seem chilly and grey. My ability to deal with stress is diminished, and my family begins to suffer because of my increased impatience.

But when I spend part of my day in the presence of Our Savior, He rubs off on me. He reminds me I don’t have anything big to do, because He’s done the big stuff for me already. He warms my faith. Reminds me that He’s in control. Teaches me patience and love. He makes me whole again, and ready to step out into the world, not as the world’s victim, but as a light in its darkness.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Laodicean Christians may seem harsh, but Jesus rebukes out of love. Christ’s rebuke is actually a invitation to stand near the fire of His love. And that invitation into His presence is meant to strengthen the relationship that exists between a person and Him. In verses nineteen and twenty Jesus says,

19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here 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” (Revelation 3:19-20 NIV).

Christ wanted the Laodicean Christians to return to Him. If they would take His warning seriously they would find themselves in a renewed relationship with God’s own Son. Jesus pictures this relationship like a mealtime spent in private conversation with Him. Imagine that, a dinner date spent conversing with Jesus. This is what Jesus offered to the Laodicean Christians, and what He offers to us also. And His schedule is never to full to meet with us.
Jesus harshly rebuked the Laodicean Christians. But he didn’t require anything from them. He didn’t make them do any special deeds before He would let them back into His presence. He simply called out to them, telling them to turn around and come back to Him.

Jesus wanted to rebuild the relationship the Laodiceans had neglected. They needed Jesus by their side to navigating this dark world safely. And more than this, Jesus promised that this relationship would not be for this life only, but forever. In verse twenty-one Jesus says…

21To 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” (Revelation 3:21 NIV).

Jesus says whoever overcomes would sit with Him on His throne in heaven. That’s a close relationship. Not just any schmuck sits with Jesus on His Heavenly throne.

But we will. Yeah. We will. Because we are they who overcome. That phrase, “him who overcomes” is explained in 1 John 5:5.

5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5 NIV).

Our relationship with Jesus brings fulfillment and strength to us in this life, and great honor in the next. The closer our  relationship with Jesus is, the closer we are to the fire that heats our faith and makes it hot. The further away from Christ, the further we are from the fire that keeps us spiritually alive.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus wanted us to learn from this letter to the Laodicean Christians. He said, “He who has ears, listen up!” We have ears and we know our Savior’s voice. So let us listen with care and learn from this letter.

And next time you take a slurp of lukewarm coffee, remember Jesus’ loving word of warning to the Christians at Laodicea, and ask yourself, “Have I stood by the fire today?”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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