July 7, 2019 The Judgment Seat of Christ, Part 7

The Judgment Seat of Christ, Part 7

 

Our Scripture reading this morning is Revelation 3: 14-22. READ. PRAY.

 

This is the most difficult letter, in the sense of hardest to accept, of all the letters to the churches. There are some frightening things said here and they are frightening because we recognize that, of all the letters, this one may include us most easily.

 

Last week we looked at the letter to the church in Philadelphia. You will remember that the Lord had only praise for the church in Philadelphia. It was the best of the seven. Laodicea is the only church for which He has only rebuke. It was the worst of the seven. What a contrast!

 

What are we more like? Are we more like Philadelphia or are we more like Laodicea? I’m not going to answer that question. You must search your own hearts.

 

But whether we are like Philadelphia or like Laodicea God’s grace reaches us. God’s grace reaches out and says, “It can be different if you listen to me.”

 

This letter contains the same three points that we see in the letters to all seven churches: The identity of the Lord, the assessment of the church, and a gracious promise.

 

The Identity of the Lord

 

This is the Lord’s final letter to the churches of Asia minor and, as in all the other letters, he begins by identifying Himself. He calls Himself the “Amen.” The word “amen” means “true” or “yes.” It was often spoken at the conclusion of a statement or a prayer, as it still is today. If spoken at the end of a statement it means true or truly. If spoken at the end of a prayer it means yes. Christ is both true and he is the yes to all of God’s promises.

 

Whatever God promises to His people, both the positive and the negative, Christ is the fulfillment of those promises. He is the Yes. If you desire anything from God it will only come to you through Christ. There is no blessing outside of Christ.

 

He is the true One. What he speaks is always true. He speaks the truth with a view. His view in speaking the truth is to benefit his people. If there is something about his servant that He finds amiss He speaks the truth so that they will change. We sometimes speak lies also with a view. We sometimes speak untruth with a view to harm another person. This is the direct opposite of what Christ is. It is anti-Christ.

 

He then calls Himself the faithful and true witness. He is the faithful and true witness to God’s promises to us. But He is also the faithful and true witness to the condition of His people. When he witnesses, as He does here to the church in Laodicea, it is a faithful witness. It is a true witness. Because it is true we must pay attention to it.

 

He then identifies Himself as “the beginning of God’s creation.” What does He mean by this? Some cults have picked up on this phrase and try to assert that Christ is a created being. This is false and can be shown to be false by considering what is said about Christ unambiguously in other passages. Christ was not created but is co-eternal with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.

 

The word for “beginning” here is arche in the original language and can mean three different things as it does throughout the scripture. One of those meanings is “beginning.” Certain cults, like the Jehovah Witnesses, say that the beginning means the first in a series, so that Jesus is the first in the series of creation. In other words, that he is the first created thing. But the human author, John, never uses arche in that way, as the first in a series.

 

He uses this word about 16 times between his gospel, epistles, and Revelation and each time he uses it as beginning in time not as the beginning of a series. In fact it is used more than once to refer to God! As in Rev 21:6 where God says: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

 

Therefore, even if understood as “beginning,” arche does not necessarily mean first in a series. But a second meaning of the word is “origin” or “source.” If this is the meaning then he is calling Himself the originator of creation. In other words He would be calling Himself the Creator. Some reputable versions of the Bible so translate it.

 

The Amplified Bible has: “the origin, beginning, and author of creation.”

Both the CEV and the translation called “God’s Word” both have “the source of creation.” Two other versions have “originator.” (Lexham, CSB)

 

A third meaning of the word is “ruler.” That meaning is quite distinct from beginning but it used with that meaning and so translated about 165 times if you include the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the OT.

 

Several versions translate our verse as “ruler of creation,” including the NIV, New Century, and the Easy-to-Read version. Young’s Literal has “chief of creation,” an obvious synonym for ruler.

 

We cannot say with certainty what meaning is carried here, whether beginning, source, or ruler. But we can say with certainty what it does not mean. It does not mean beginning of creation as if he were part of creation. The reason we know this is because it is clearly revealed by both John and Paul that Jesus is the creator. One such passage is John 1:3. READ. Discuss.

 

The Assessment of the church

The Lord then says, “I know your works.” From the context it is clear that what he means is that he knows their lack of works. He knows that they have been doing very little work on behalf of the Lord.

 

He goes on to say that they are neither cold nor hot. He would prefer them to be either cold or hot but they are just lukewarm. The Lord hates lukewarmness! He does not hate those who belong to him, but he hates their disposition of being lukewarm. He hates it so much that he will spit them out of his mouth. Spit who? Them – the members of the church! He is writing to the church and he says I will spit you out of my mouth! This is why this letter is disturbing, because the “you” is us!

 

If you are disturbed then that is a good thing. It means that you take the word of the Lord seriously and soberly, not in a light way. If you are disturbed the Lord has grace for you.

 

If you are not disturbed it could be a good thing but it could also be a bad thing. How so? It could be that you are doing the works of the Lord already and you are on fire for God. Therefore, you know that you are not lukewarm. But there is also a danger in thinking that you are alright: you could be wrong. This was exactly the situation that the Laodiceans found themselves in.

 

The city of Laodicea was known for its lukewarm water. Like calling Chicago the windy city or Paris the city of lights. Two nearby cities had wonderful water supplies. One was called Hierapolis, located about six miles from Laodicea. It has hot springs with mineral waters flowing freely. Another city, Colossae, was eleven miles away and had cold springs that poured forth pure, icy cold water. But Laodicea had no good water supply, so a Roman Aquaduct was built to carry the water from Hieropolis to Laodicea. By the time the hot water travelled the six miles to Laodicea it was lukewarm and undesirable.

 

Jesus is saying that the Christians in Laodicea are as lukewarm as their water supply. They have cooled off from the fervency of living faith that they once had which makes believers eager to bless others.

 

But it is not how they felt that was their measure in the eyes of the Lord. It was their works which was the measure of their lukewarmness. Many Christians will not think they are lukewarm because they can remember how good they feel when they think about the Lord. It is good to feel good, especially about the Lord! But the Lord is looking at what you do as the right indicator of whether you are hot or cold or in-between.

 

The Lord gives them a warning when he says, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” We need to pay attention to this warning. It is dire.

 

[Illus] When I was hiking through Yosemite with one of my best friends many years ago the trail came right to a river that looked refreshing. It was a very hot day and this river was carrying melted snow water from the mountains. The trail happened to meet the river quite near a waterfall that was downstream only 15 feet or so. The waterfall was at least 40 feet high, maybe more, with big rocks at the bottom. The trail followed the river upstream. There was a rail blocking entrance to the river with this sign: “Danger! Do not enter the river because if you go over the falls you will die.”

 

That is all I needed to see to keep me out of that river. But my friend and I stopped and rested there just to enjoy the scenery and be near the water. To my astonishment there were two or three young people (my guess is that they were late teens or early twenties) wading n the river only 15 feet from this waterfall. The water was only a foot deep but it was moving rapidly. If one of them had slipped (and river bottoms can be quite slippery) they would have likely been carried over the falls to their death. They ignored the sign.

 

How foolish to put one’s life in such great peril over just a little refreshment! It is the same with the Laodiceans and it is the same with us. There is a warning sign that the Lord has given us. That warning sign is our own works. The Lord has made the sign alarming, as did the park rangers: He will spit us out of his mouth. Let us not be foolish like those river waders, but let us heed the signs the Lord has given.

 

Why were they lukewarm? Jesus says in verse 17 - For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

 

The city of Laodicea was the wealthiest of the seven cities. It had a reputation for being wealthy. When an earthquake destroyed many cities in that part of Asia in 60 AD the Roman government had to help rebuild several of these cities. But Laodicea refused the government’s help and paid for their own rebuilding because they had so much gold and silver stored up.

 

They were rich but they failed to perceive the difference between material wealth and spiritual wealth. There is a temptation to confuse the blessings of God in the physical and think that it applies equally to our spiritual well being. The Laodiceans assumed that they had need of nothing because they believed in Jesus and all their physical needs were met, even in abundance. But they were so wrong.

 

They had no persecution as did the other churches. The Romans did not persecute them and neither did the jews. Why not? Because they were not working for the Lord!! When you just blend in and go with the flow no one is going to persecute you. When you start opening your mouth and speaking the truth the persecution starts.

 

Beware when all men speak well of you. It may mean your works are not complete. All those who live godly and speak the truth will receive persecution.

He says they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Let us consider just two of these characterizations. He says they are blind. Laodicea was famous for its eye salve. There was an eye hospital in Laodicea that was the most prestigious in the world. People would travel there from all over the Empire because they had concocted an eye salve made from plants, flowers, and dust from certain stones and this eye salve actually worked to heal people’s eyes!

 

Jesus was saying, “you can heal people’s physical eyes, but you yourselves are spiritually blind.”

 

Laodicea was also known for its garment industry. They made beautiful and expensive clothes. This was there main source of wealth. Jesus is saying to them, “you can clothe others, but you yourselves are naked.”

 

A Gracious Promise

 

In verse 18 he says, “I counsel you…”

 

The Lord rebukes them for their lukewarmness, their blindness, and their nakedness. But he rebukes them because he loves them and was offering them a way back. That is the wonderful thing about the rebukes of the Lord. When God goes silent everything is finished.

 

God still speaks. He speaks because He desires that we come out of our stupor and change what we are. The real changer is the Holy Spirit, not us, but the Lord still requires our cooperation, our seeking.

 

This is why God is still speaking. He speaks in five ways.

 

  1. He speaks supernaturally. Even today He still speaks this way. He can speak through dreams, through visions, or through angelic visitation. But this way is not normative. It is rare. There have been true men and women of God that have not had this kind of speaking. Therefore, we should not expect it, but neither should we be surprised if we receive it. The other four are normative.
  2. He speaks through our conscience. Our conscience tells us when we do something when we should not or when we neglect something that we ought to do. We would be better off if we heeded our conscience. However, our conscience can be seared, meaning that it can be dulled down to nothing by repeated sins or by repeated neglect.
  3. He speaks through our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, especially if they have the HS and they have maturity in faith. We need to suppress our pride and listen to their words.
  4. He speaks through the word. This is the most reliable speaking. The first three can go astray, but the word of God can never be wrong. Listen to what God speaks through his infallible, holy, and perfect word.
  5. Lastly, God speaks through chastening. Many of us had to learn the godly path through suffering – suffering that we could have avoided had we but listened to the Lord speaking in the other ways. But even his chastening is a manifestation of his love for us.

 

He counsels them to buy gold from Him that has been refined in fire. “To buy” means that a price must be paid. In scripture gold represents the divine nature. Peter tells us that, as followers of Christ (and only the followers of Christ), we partake of the divine nature. This divine nature, although pure in itself, is mixed with our fallen human nature just as gold ore is mixed with other elements in the earth. It must be refined. Gold is refined by fire. As the fire heats the alloy that which is not gold is melted away When the fire has done its work what is left is just gold.

 

This is a picture of sanctification. The Laodiceans had many impurities and they needed to be burned away. The gold they needed had to bought. A price had to be paid. This is the way sanctification is. We must pay a price. We must give up certain things We must press into the kingdom of God here, now, and gain the gold. As we deny ourselves we discover that we really do partake of the divine nature. We become more like Him who bought us. We will become rich in the truest sense.

 

He counsels them to buy white garments. It is tempting to see these white garments as representing the righteousness of Christ, for clothing represents righteousness or righteous acts. We need the righteousness of Christ to cover us and without His righteousness placed upon us we are not accepted by the Father. But in the book of Revelation white garments, pure garments, stand for the righteous deeds of the saints themselves. We see that in chapter 19, verse 20. What makes those deeds pure and white is the blood of Christ, but they are still the deeds of the followers. A price must be paid for them. It costs us something to do work for the Lord.

 

He counsels them to buy eye salve so that they are not blind. The eye salve cannot be anything else but the Holy Spirit for it is only the Holy Spirit who can make us see. Only he can take away the blindness that we have to our own condition. The use of the word “anoint” makes it even more clear that the Spirit is in view.

 

“Those whom the Lord loves he rebukes and chastens, so be zealous and repent.” The rebuke comes first. Then, if no repentance follows, comes the chastening. This is why we must why we must hear the Lord’s speaking. Do not take lightly what you read in the word and what you hear from the one giving the message. The Lord is calling some of you this morning to buy gold – to start paying a price. He is calling you to buy white garments – to cease living in your comfort zones and perform righteous acts. He is calling you anoint your eyes with the Holy Spirit so that you may see what you are really like.

 

Christ is knocking. We must open the door and eat with Him. Verse 20 is often used to convince sinners of their need of Christ. But you can see, this verse is for the church, not for the lost. We need to open the door to him. This means we take his word and really enjoy fellowship with him. That is the greatest reward and it is available even now. But to grant even more incentive the Lord reminds us of what awaits after His Judgment Seat: those who overcome will sit with Christ on His throne. This another way of saying that the overcomers will reign with Christ. In order to do that we pay the price in this short life. We do those things he has called us to do. We cease being lackadaisical and we choose to be zealous, stirring up the Holy Spirit who is with us. And we press into the kingdom.

 

God’s grace reaches us. God’s grace reaches out and says, “It can be different if you listen to me.”