2021-02-28 “Be Zealous and Repent”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          February 28, 2021

“Be Zealous and Repent”
Revelation 3:14-22

Today we come to the end of the road.  We reach the seventh installment in our seven-part series from Revelation 2-3 entitled What the Spirit Says to the Church.  Let’s review one more time what we’ve heard so far.  We heard, in Jesus’ message to the Ephesian church, to recover your first love.  He told the church at Smyrna, and us, to fear not and to be faithful.  We learned in Jesus’ messages to Pergamum and to Thyatira, concerning things contrary to His will, “Don’t tolerate that!”  We heard, in the message to the church at Sardis, “Wake up,” and we heard with the church at Philadelphia a most hopeful message, “I set before you an open door.”  Today, through Laodicea—a church receiving no commendation, but correction only—we hear, “Be zealous, and repent.”  Let us again hear the Word of God read and proclaimed in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

We meet again the Speaker of today’s word, and we meet today’s addressee.  The Speaker, once again, is the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the Amen: The true One, the so-be-it One, if your will.  He also calls Himself here the faithful and true Witness—indeed, a true witness concerning Himself.  Our Lord Jesus also is the First Cause (Greek arche [arch]) of all creation).  We have abundant testimony that the second Person of the Trinity, incarnate in Jesus, was instrumental in creation (cf. Hebrews 1:1, Colossians 1:16, John 1:3).  It is He Who speaks to the church at Laodicea.  Let’s meet that church without further delay.

The city of Laodicea lay forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and ninety miles east of the sea-coast near Ephesus.  Laodicea was a wealthy city, widely known for its banking establishments, medical school, and textile industry.[1]  In fact, the city’s residents possessed sufficient wealth to rebuild their city after an earthquake in A. D. 60—with no Roman help whatsoever.[2]  The city, however, was plagued by uncertain water supply—and lukewarm at that—though useful cold and hot springs existed nearby at Colosse and Hierapolis, respectively.[3]  Jesus frames His message to this beloved church of His, in this city, with all of these facts in view.

Now we turn to the address itself.  Jesus knows the works of the Laodicean church, and the works—not to mention their very selves—are found wanting.  The church neither is hot nor is cold toward Him, His things, His ways, and His people.  They are only lukewarm toward Him—though, apparently, Jesus would prefer cold to lukewarm.  Hence, because the Laodicean church is neither hot nor cold, Jesus is about to spit, or spew, them out of His mouth (literally vomit [Greek emeo (emew)]: from which we get our English words emetic and emesis).  The Laodiceans attitude appears, most anthropomorphically speaking, nauseating to Jesus.

The Laodicean church’s mis-diagnoses itself.  The church, likely enjoying the benefits of an affluent culture, deems themselves rich, prosperous, and needy of nothing.  This well may be their material condition, but they mis-diagnose their fundamental, spiritual condition.  Jesus therefore issues a true diagnosis and an effective prescription, to which we now turn.

Here is Jesus’ true diagnosis: the church, emphatically, is wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked—the very antithesis of Laodicean self-perception.  Only quacks diagnose without effective prescription unto cure, and Jesus, ever our Healer (cf. Exodus 15:26, et al.) prescribes effectively—and he couches His prescription in the form of counsel.  Jesus tells the church to buy (and that without money and without price, cf. Isaiah 55:1) certain things from Him.  First, the church shall buy refined gold from Him in order to rectify their spiritual poverty.  Second, the church shall buy white garments from Him in order to rectify their spiritual nakedness.  Hence, in place of spiritual nakedness, the church will be clothed in Christ’s purity.  Third, the church shall buy eye salve to rectify their spiritual blindness.  Then they truly shall see.  The church will see clearly both its current condition and the One Who can cure it.  Now, with the prescription for healing laid down, Jesus turns to encourage this church.

Jesus tells the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline….”  Jesus, though displeased with the church’s current attitude, nevertheless loves it with an everlasting love and esteems it an integral part of His Bride, the Church.  Hence, in love, He reproves and disciplines this local body.  Then Jesus issues His two sole commands in the entire message, “Therefore, be zealous and repent.”  The church is, by God’s grace, to be neither cold nor lukewarm.  Rather, they are to be ardent in devotion and service unto the triune God.  This amendment will fulfill the command to be zealous.  Also, Jesus calls the church to repentance.  The church, jointly and severally, must turn from sin to righteousness and from self to her Savior.  Repentance is not a task done once for all at conversion, but the Christian life is a life of ongoing repentance—as stated in a Reformation-era cry: Reforma et semper reformata (Reformed and ever reforming).

If Jesus’ beloved church open the door to His knock, then He will enter.  He also will dine with the one opening, and conversely.  Moreover, the one overcoming sits with Jesus on His throne—and gains the right to reign, exert authority, etc., with Jesus, Who delegates such to be exercised according to His will.  Then, as is true in the preceding six messages, Jesus closes this seventh message with a final exhortation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Affluence, such as prevalent in our culture, tempts toward Laodicean attitudes.  After all, we think we can do for ourselves all we need to do—with no outside assistance.  If careless, we think we are sufficient unto ourselves materially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  This, simply, is untrue—as we learned today from God’s Word.  The Western church—the church in the United States, Canada, and much of western Europe—is poor in many locales in these affluent times.  Hence, what Jesus said to Laodicea ca. A. D. 95 bears immediately upon our situation today.

Here’s the prescription in our time.  Let us pray to the Lord for grace to repent, when necessary, both individually and collectively.  Let us also pray to the Lord for grace to be zealous for Him, His things, His ways, His people—for we cannot do this naturally, but we require supernatural endowment to do this.  As Augustine cried centuries ago in his Confessions, “Give what You command, and command what You will,” may the Lord grant us what He here commands.[4]

AMEN.

[1] The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 1930.  See also The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 2170.

 

[2] Mary K. Milne, “Laodicea,” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary, ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, a div. of Harper Collins, 1985), 547.

 

[3] Michaels, J. Ramsey, Revelation.  The Inter-Varsity Press New Testament Commentary Series, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Message-Laodicea (accessed February 24, 2021).

[4] Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine (ca. A. D. 410-15).  Reprint, Westwood, NJ: Barbour and Company, 1985, The Christian Library, 192.