I have the dubious privilege of dealing with the most painful message in the Seven Churches, and today, we look at the painful part of the message. Next we look at the positive part of the message. This kind of the hammer session, and next week we'll look at the good news of Laodicea.
It was just about a year ago, a little over a year ago, that Southern Adventist University hit the climax of the nearly two- year process of re-accreditation so we can continue to run the academic business. We were dealing with an agency named, SACS, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. About a year and a half to two years before SACS was due to come and the head of the visiting committee was Dr. Lord, so there were many puns about being ready for the coming of the Lord. Many folks like Bob Moore spent many hours on committees and sub-committees and sub- sub-committees gathering all sorts of data to prove to SACS that we were fulfilling our stated mission. As a part of this, everybody was supposed to recite the mission statement. Now those of you medical folk, this is like your joint commission, right? And on the days that SACS was visiting, theoretically they could catch any professor on the sidewalk and ask us if we could recite the mission statement and list the core values. Some of you have been through that in your own business world.
And so there was great preparation and agitation, and Dr. Bietz's office must have nailed us at least twice a week with U-net's "Know the mission statement." And every time we had a faculty assembly or meeting, "Can you say the mission statement?" The mission statement was coming out of our ears. And into our ears.
Finally SACS arrived and they looked at all of our self- evaluations, etc.. And to make a long story short, once SACS came and went, it was down to dealings with administration and SACS. Suddenly everybody went, "Whew!" and things have gone back to business as usual again, except for a few folks. Praise the Lord we got ten more years, the maximum you can get. And SACS being SACS, there is always something you can do better. So they have a little list for us. But my point is, we faced an evaluation and we had to prepare for it, and folks, it didn't matter how we evaluated ourselves, it matter how SACS evaluated us.
Laodicea is the people of the judgments. The word literally means, the people of the judgments. Laos - people, dicea - the Greek word for judgment, hence the people of the judgment. It is the church of the end-time judgment. And the question is, "Is Laodicea faithful to the mission statement?" Are they preparing to be examined? To see if they are in harmony with the mission, or are they living business as usual lukewarm lives. That's the question.
So, let's look at this painful message, because we all love to claim we're the church of Laodicea, right? And we lament how we need revival, yah de yada. But what does this message have to say to us? Now, again this week is the painful part, and next week is the positive part.
Turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter 3:14. "To the angel of the church in Laodicea (And of course the angel or messenger is to deliver it to the church. It's for the church, not just for the angel.) write: These are the words of the Amen Now who is speaking here? It's Jesus speaking. The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler, the ruler of God's creation." Jesus introduces Himself to this church with three names, three titles shall we say: The Amen. What does Amen mean? It means, "Let it be so." "Let it be established. It's kind of the stamp that says, "Certified, Done!" That's why we say it at the end of prayer. It's the imprimata so to speak. And Christ says, I am the Amen! The message is coming from the One Who is certified, " Have the last word, not you." And then He says this is a message coming from the faithful and the true witness. Now, why does He have to introduce Himself to this church as being the faithful and the true witness? Could it be that the message He has for this church is so radical, so shocking, so out of line with their perception that He has to remind them that this message comes from a Witness Who is faithful and true, and therefore you'd better pay attention to it?
And then He adds one more emphasis. Not only does He say, "Do I have the last word? Not only is My witness faithful and true, but I am the Archaei, which can mean the beginning or the preeminent or the ruler. We get our prefix arch- like the archangel is the ruler of the angels. The Archaei, the ruler of God's creation. You see, Christ is the Creator Who rules over the Creation, right?
And to this church to whom He is about to give a message that is so unbelievable to them that they have to be told that it comes from the faithful and true Witness. He also tells them that this message comes from the Ruler, the supreme Authority.
Now, folks, if we're getting a message from the Supreme Authority of the Universe, it's a faithful and true message, and it's the last word, possibly it's a message we ought to pay attention to. So, this introduction is designed to capture them with the sobriety and heaviness of this message.
He says, "I know your deed, that you are neither cold not hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because your are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." Or "I am about to spew you out of my mouth." We'll come back there.
I want to look at Laodicea's perception of itself. And then we'll come back the lukewarm part. Revelation 3:17 (Amplified Version). "For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered and grown wealthy and I am in need of nothing;" Now why would a Laodicean say, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing?" Why would the church say that? Laodicea is a very interesting city. It was founded couple hundred year before Christ, kind of as a little outpost to guard a crossroad of two major trade routes, so that trade could get through. If you control the crossroads, you control the trade. When Rome became the ruling power, and you have the famous Pax Romana, the Roman peace, where there was no threat of nations rising against this little city. Under the Roman peace, they burgeoned into a major financial center, almost the Wall Street of their day. Major banking, not unlike the Swiss banking unto this day. Laodicea was a major, you know, currency exchange, banking and investments, money laundering, what ever. And so they were supremely rich.
They also had, of course, their garment industry, which was focused on black woolen garments. We'll see why a little later. And we have their medical industry involving eye powders, translated Salve in your language to help improve vision. And so, between the medical establishment, the fashion industry and the financial industry, these folks were rolling in dough (money).
What is of interest is that about halfway between the death of Christ and when John wrote Revelation, AD 31 to around AD 90, AD 60 Laodicea was flattened, levelled by catastrophic earthquake. Now, we've just had some towns that were levelled by tornadoes, so what were they all waiting for from Washington? Federal aid, right? Laodicea gets flattened, and so the Emperor sent a delegation offering money to help them rebuild their city, and guess what Laodicea did. They declined the Emperor's money. And they rebuild their own city with their own money and they were still rich. Folks, this is a very self-reliant, very American- like city. "You flatten us? We'll pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. We don't need your help. We help everybody else."
They are self-confident. They don't need anybody. "We can fix it ourselves." Now, when it come to civic pride, that's good. But when it comes to spiritual life, that's bad. But it was the nature of this city to be self-confident, "We can do it ourselves." To put it in psychological terms, these folks had massive self-esteem. Fabulous self-worth. Modern psychologists would love Laodiceans, and compel us to be like them. They don't see anything negative about themselves. "We're rich, we're increased with goods, and we need nothing. We don't like to hear negative things in Laodicea. It undermines our self-worth, and our morale." And this is why I call the church of Laodicea the church of Sigmund Freud. Not that it is Freudian psychology, but Freud launched the movement that has led to the fixation with self-esteem and self-worth and self-centeredness. And, Laodicea is this church who needs nothing. "Just tell us positive things, Pastor. We don't want to hear negative things and hurt our self- esteem. We can serve God best when we feel good about ourselves."
It reminds me of the ad I saw during the last super bowl era. And ad by the plastics industry. A little toddler is wandering around the house while his mother is talking on the phone. While she is oblivious to reality, he knocks the pop bottle off the counter, and of course they had a close-up of it hitting the floor and not breaking because it was plastic. And he knocks plates and dishes on the floor, but they don't break, they're plastic and not glass. And he hits something and it doesn't break because it's plastic and not glass, etc. And he's trashing the house. And in the ad, mamma hangs up the phone and she comes she scoops him up with a big smile and says, "What's my good little boy been doing." She didn't want to hurt his self-esteem, right? Folks, we've got a generation of kids who know they've been lied to, but they're addicted to being told only good things, and we wonder why they're so insecure. The truth will set you free. We know that we're not one hundred percent good.
I think it's better to be honest with our kids and give them a balance view of themselves than a sugar-coated view. The truth will set us free. But Laodicea wants the sugar-coated version. "We're rich. We're increased with goods." And like the customer my dad did an addition for, who is not an Adventist, "I don't go to church anymore." "Why?" "All they tell me about is sin." "Well, what do you do?" "I watch Crystal Cathedral." "Why?" "He tells me how good I am." It's no longer just in Crystal Cathedrals, folks, the gospel according to Freud is rampant in Christianity and in Adventism. "Just tell me how good I am, and only positive things."
But, folks, the Lord doesn't give us what we want. He gives us what we need.
The modern church is described this way in Gary and Carol Almy's book, Addicted to Recovery, and they have a fantastic chapter: number nine, "Lovers of Self." I'd like to read a few paragraphs. These are Evangelicals, not Adventists, but I think they might have hit it right on the head. It's in the University library if you want to read it for yourself.
"Many Evangelical leaders and some seminaries have fought the battle over the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and they have fought it well. However, victory seems strangely empty as apostasy sweeps the church. Inerrancy seems to be of only academic interest as we ignore the Word as a doctrinal base for our teachings. Scripture may be inerrant, but it seems the church does not intend to shape its thinking by it. Certainly this refusal to do so is no way more evident than the acceptance of the thesis that man's most basic need is for a sense of personal worth, a better self-image and higher self-esteem.
"The message that God sent Jesus to die in order to fill our empty love tanks, and thus make us feel better about our selves, is found nowhere in the Bible. Yet our bookstores bulge with this lie. That inerrant Word, which God gave us, tells us plainly that our most basic need is for peace with a just and holy Creator."
"Most of mankind has failed to accept that making peace with an omnipotent Creator is necessary at all. Much less have they recognized that to be their most basic need. The miserable church of the twentieth century tries hard to manufacture good feelings in its people. We are determined to avoid talk of sin and rebellion as a source of our bad feelings. After all, such talk might produce low self-esteem, which is viewed by modern man as the worst possible condition. The church is failing to remind people that it is only when we take our rightful place before our Creator as a creature that we find any pleasure in life. Our pulpits, classes, books and radio broadcasts tell us to assert ourselves, to remind ourselves aloud who we are in Christ and to rebuke Satan because we are seated in the heavenlies with all of Christ's power and authority. The solution is a ritual, and there seems no end to the self-centered gain designed to make us feel better about ourselves."
Laodicea is off-mission. The mission God gave His church is to go, make disciples. Laodicea is out to make people feel good, and they have lost the mission of discipleship. Laodicea suffers from false assurance. They think all is well when all is not well. This is an historic problem of God's people. In the Old Testament we find a five hundred year spread where false assurance was the bane of God's people. Micah and Isaiah fought false assurance. "God will never bring destruction on Israel. His temple is here. We're the covenant people. He's just trying to scare us. He really won't do anything." Isaiah preached to a smooth thing. What do I hear? It's negative stuff. Jeremiah had the same problem. Ezekiel had the same problem. Malachi had the same problem. He attests: "The Lord says you weary Me when you say, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord."
The Jews of Christ's day were sure they were God's people. They had not a doubt, but they crucified the Messiah. A Pharisees stands before the Lord and says, "Thank You Lord that I am not like others." Who was that went home justified? It was the one with the poor self-esteem: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I'm nobody."
John the Baptist came to that generation who was so sure and he said, "Even now the ax is aimed at the root and if the tree doesn't bear fruit, it's getting cut down." - Matthew 3:10. That was not the message they expected. They were looking for "peace, safety and conquer the Romans." And so it is today that the generation that is closing probation: everyone is sure they're saved.
And the irony is that the church that is so confident in God's unconditional loving acceptance is the church that is about to be vomited our of His mouth. That's why He has to tell them it's from a faithful and true Witness. What did Ellen White say. "...not one in twenty...who knows experimental religion." - 1 T504.002. If we'd take that seriously; out of an 850 church, forty or forty-five? Nobody will admit that they're part of the eight hundred and not part of the forty-five, right? Everybody is sure.
We are so sure of our salvation we've become comfortable and blas‚, which is what leads us to the real problem of Laodicea. Now, what is Laodicea's problem, then? If you say, "Lukewarm," you float. Lukewarmness is the symptom of the problem. Look at Revelation 3:15 and 16. "I know your deeds. You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either you were one or the other! So because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of My mouth." What's the problem causing this? Verse 17: "You say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, etc." ..."But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
The problem, folks, is not the "wretched, pitiful poor, blind, naked lukewarm,. The problem is they don't know their condition. Or to put it another way, they don't see what God sees. The way they see themselves is radically different from the way God sees them. And they don't know the difference between God's view and their view. They think they're view is God's view. And because they're not seeing what God sees, they don't understand their true condition. They think everything is wonderful. They're basking in God's blessing. "We have baptisms. We're planting churches. We're building new buildings. Tithe is up. We have new ministries. We have Three ABN. God is blessing. What do you mean, 'Something is wrong?'"
And, God comes with a shocking message that while they think they're covered by Christ's righteousness, they're actually naked. While they think their spiritual vision is expanding and excellent, they're blind. While they think they are basking in the blessings of God, they're poor. I say it again, the irony is that this church, who is so sure of their standing with God, is about to be vomited out because God is nauseated by those who think they see when they're blind.
He said to the Pharisees, "If you admitted that you were blind, I can handle that, but because you say you see, your sin remains." Well, folks, when we don't see ourselves the way God sees us, we have no reason to arouse. We can be lukewarm, namby pamby and useless because we're comfortable.
So, what's this deal about the lukewarmness? Folks, Laodicea was the richest city of the region, a major economic power. But they had one fatal flaw: Water supply. We have found no permanent water supply within the walls of Laodicea. All of their water had to come from outside the city. Which means, without the Roman peace, you're vulnerable to a siege. They chop the water supply and you're finished. Your money won't do you any good. No water. All their water comes from outside. They were near a river, but a hundred feet above it that came from Applisus's hot springs, and by the time it got to them it was lukewarm and they would pump some of that water up to a little water tower which gravity fed downhill into the city. But the main water supply... Who knows what has been dumped in the river, right? So, they went six miles away to some hot springs and they built a shallowly buried clay pipe aqueduct and piped that spring water into the city underground. And again, after flowing six miles, through a clay pipe, it was not hot anymore, it was lukewarm. So, all of their water sources sent was lukewarm water. Not very refreshing on a hot day, right?
The key then was they had no inner water supply. By the way, coming out of a hot spring, there was so much calcium carbonate in that water you could just about walk on it. It was hard water. Now, we used to live in Michigan when I was in the seminary. And there was lots of hard water like Laodicea, but it came out of a well, but the well was drilled in limestone. And my wife got frustrated after a short time, because my white shirts and her white sheets, when you wash them in hard water, they come out looking like a pale grey. They don't look white. Why do you think black clothes were so fashionable in Laodicea? You couldn't get white laundry out of that water. It changed the whole fashion industry. Black was in. It didn't show that dingy color.
They didn't have water-softeners in those days. All their water coming from outside filled with all this stuff, which would deposit on the aquifer and if they did nothing, it would choke of the aquifer, the aqueduct. So they had to scrape that crust out the aqueduct so that the water would flow to the city. Jesus said to the woman at the well, that if she would drink the water He gave her, it would become a wellspring in her, an inner source of water. Folks, Laodicean Christians are getting the water of life aqueducted in, they don't have the inner spring.
Instead of going to the source themselves, how doe they get the spring in us? David said, (Psalm 119:11) I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You. We don't hide the Word in our hearts. We'd rather aqueduct it in through Yancey Phillips, or Dwight Nelson, or Steve Bauer, or Morris Venden. But we don't want to get it for ourselves. We'd rather aqueduct it through Max Lucado or 3ABN. And folks, when we get it from somebody else's, spring and we don't get the inner spring going, we're going to be lukewarm. And we're going to have this hard water that's not good for anything. At least if it's cold, it refreshes me. I can have a nice drink on a hot day. And if it's boiling I can cook with it. But lukewarm water doesn't refresh and it doesn't cook. It's useless. And lukewarm Christians come because instead of getting on knees, and opening the Word... "It might tell me something negative about myself." We open up Yancey Phillips or somebody else who tells us how much God loves us, and never tells us anything bad about us. Then we wonder why we're lukewarm. Because we don't have the well, we're piping it in from outside.
So, if we're going to solve the problem, what do we have to do? We've got to do some well-drilling in the Word, so that we have the spring welling up within. And springs that well up from within don't clog pipes.
When we aqueduct our experience in from everything but the Word, it makes is nauseous to God. And he warns this church, "I am about to vomit you out of my mouth." Why? Because of their opinion of themselves has superseded God's judgment of them. And whenever we elevate our judgment over God's judgment, folks, that's what started the Great Controversy. When the preacher decided he's smarter than God, right? When we elevate our judgment over God's it is a threat to His kingdom.
And when God has to choose between His kingdom and creatures, He chooses His kingdom. When He had to choose between Lucifer and angels and His kingdom he chose His kingdom. He kicked out the angels and chose to keep the kingdom. When He had to choose between Adam and Eve and His kingdom, He chose His kingdom. They were driven out of the garden and lost access to the tree of life. And when Jesus became sin who knew no sin, and god had to choose between His Son and His kingdom, he chose the kingdom. "He spare not His son." And when God has to choose between His church and His kingdom, which one is He going to choose? And if He has to chose between you and his kingdom, which one is he going to choose?
Do you feel the curse of the Law, folks? You ought to feel it. The bad news of Laodicea is God will not sacrifice His kingdom to save you. And the good news is, he sacrificed Himself, but not His kingdom. But a loving God warns us, "I'm gagging on you. I'm trying not to vomit, but if you don't change some things, I'm going to vomit and you're going to be out."
So what do we need to do? Folks, the problem is not the lukewarmness. The problem is that we think we see but we are not seeing what God sees. And if we are going to overcome the Laodicean condition, we need a vision from God. And we get that vision but studying the Word.
Let's start some well-drilling, and put the Word in the heart. Let's not pipe it in from somebody else that has all the minerals and clogging that comes with it. Let's go to the Word and let's ask God Himself through His Spirit to teach us through that Word.
Laodicea loves the prayer of Jabez: "Lord, bless me so I can be a blessing." Laodicea needs to pray the prayer of Paul on the Damascus road: "Lord, what do You want me to do?" And they need to pray the prayer of Jesus: "Not My will, by Thy will be done." And they need to pray the prayer of David: "Search me, O God, and see if there be any hidden mucky muck in me that I need to deal with."
Now, folks, the Word of God is living, active and sharper than a two-edged sword, and it pierces between soul and spirit, And folks, when you get pierced it hurts.
But let's be willing to suffer the pain so we can humble ourselves, put away our self-confidence and all is well, and let's seek God's view of things, and ask Him to open our eyes that we may see.
Hymn of Praise: #30, Holy God, We Praise Your Name Scripture: Revelation 3:14-18 Hymn of Response: #326, Open My Eyes that I May See
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last updated 5/19/2003 by Bob Beckett.