If I were to ask you to sum up your life in a word or phrase…especially this time of year… I’m going to just hazard a guess that “peaceful” was not the word that came to mind. “Hectic” perhaps. “Controlled chaos” maybe. Or perhaps it’s a little darker. “Oppressive”, “Grim”, “Painful”.
But peaceful? No, no not really.
And yet, why not? How often do we say the word “peace” in our readings, our songs, our liturgies? Isn’t peace one of the most prolific gifts that God brings us? Why do we so often seem to utter lack this promised blessing?
If you’re not feeling the peace this holiday season, then perhaps Advent is exactly what you need.
Let me just unpack that for a minute for the uninitiated. The seasons of our church year revolve around the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death, resurrection, and spread of his church thereafter. We just wrapped up the season of End Times and we’re starting the church year anew with Advent today. Advent is a neat little wrapper of the church year because it overlaps both ends. It focuses on the coming of Jesus. It’s at the same time a look back to anticipate celebrating the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and a look ahead to celebrate the time when Jesus will come again to end this world.
So, Advent is all about God coming here. Whichever way you look at it. God coming to be with us. That should help bring some peace, right?
Should I be happy that God is coming here? Any one of us could spend all day listing examples of ways we don’t put God first, don’t trust him first, and basically don’t make him our God. Every day is littered with the choices I make, deliberately, to not have God as my true god. I break God’s commands. I sin. And God is literally at war with sin. St Paul tells us elsewhere the sinful mind is hostile to God. Our default state is to be enemies of God. And what a dumb thing to do! Yes, let’s pick a fight with the ruler of the universe, that will end well. If he’s coming here, that is not something to look forward to so much, it’s more on the end of terrifying. Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t find any peace in my life.
But let’s not forget the double meaning of Advent. It’s not just about Jesus coming again, it’s about his first coming as well. I think we’re all pretty familiar with the holiday “Christmas”. But look past the trees and lights and presents and cookies and parties and remember the manger. God came to this earth before and he didn’t come to terrify us or judge us then. He came to restore peace between God and his creation.
Our sin is a debt we owe God. Our lives are not the perfect lives that God demands of us. But Jesus is our payment. Jesus is our perfect life. And all this before anything we do. Which is good… cause we would mess it up! Paul writes here:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies, while we fought God, while we had nothing to offer and wanted nothing to do with him…God lived and died for us. Jesus, God, came here and died as one of us so that your sins could be paid for, so that his perfect life could be counted as yours and he sent the Holy Spirit to you to change your heart, teach you this truth, and make you someone who loves God as much as he loves you. Because of his work, we are not enemies of God anymore. God looks at you and sees someone who always did what he asked, always loved him, and did everything right. There’s no reason to fight.
God loves you. And because he loves you so much, he literally took your place so he wouldn’t have to punish you. He lived, died, and rose for you. As Paul says here:
[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
The God who rules over this world is not your enemy anymore. He is your loving Father. Imagine all that power, wisdom, and goodwill all applied for your benefit. Not only does the all-powerful God of creation no longer consider you an enemy, but he actively is interested in your well-being and when this life ends he will come to take you to paradise. What greater peace is there to know that whatever happens to you, you have God behind it all helping you out?
When God comes here to judge the world, we don’t have to look at that with fear but rather we can look up and say, “finally!” We can set down our hard labor and rest with our God forever. Yes, he’s coming to judge, but because of Jesus, the judgment is going to be, “Not guilty!” And God will say, “Come home. Be with me. I’ll care for you forever. No suffering, pain, or trouble ever again.” And we will live in perfect peace and harmony with God forever.
That’s really good news. The peace between you and God brings a profound internal peace to our lives, come what may. But there is still a problem. See, I doubt I said anything new to most of you. These are all things you know. And yet when I asked the question of you at the start, again, I’d guess “peaceful” is not how you would describe yourself. Maybe now, being reminded of it all, you’re feeling the peace. Maybe you’re feeling relaxed and ready to go back out and face life, knowing God is on your side now and for eternity.
But…how long do you suppose that feeling is going to last you this week? How long until you hit the first roadblock, problem, tough choice, impossible to-do list, bad news, or whatever it is that steals this peace away from you? Maybe all the current troubles you’ve got right now are keeping you from even feeling at peace right here and now!
Why? Why does that happen? God has called a truce! And we didn’t do anything to make it happen, he did all the work! He lived, died, and rose before we even wanted anything to do with him. Why… are we still not at peace?
Well…engage with me in a little bit of logical deduction with me, if you will. God is… God. He’s perfect. He’s perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and all-powerful. He does everything he does without mistake. So, if that’s who has worked this peace between us and him… and we’re still not feeling the peace…
Well, it’s not a huge logical leap to guess where the problem is. It’s not with God.
It’s because even though God has done everything that he has for you and declared peace between you both… you are still fighting him.
Either we’re fighting him through our active choices or we’re fighting him because we won’t accept his will in our lives. Both rob us of peace that we should have in him. Not that this life will ever be smooth sailing, nor should it be, but we can be at peace because of the peace we have with our God and what that means for everything else.
So how do we fight God? We fight him whenever we refuse to do what he commands. God is our good Father. He does not impose his will arbitrarily. Like a good parent, he only commands his children whatever is best for them! How many of you remember the times you didn’t listen to your parents because they told you to do something you didn’t want to do or didn’t understand why you should? I do…and one whole bag of Oreos later, I did understand why that was a bad idea.
Don’t touch the stove. Don’t run into the street. Don’t play with the outlet. We don’t tell children these things to stop them having fun, we say these things to protect them.
Every single one of God’s commands is designed to protect you. And when we ignore him, when we defy him, or even worse, when we don’t even bother to learn or study his rules… we hurt ourselves. We suffer unnecessarily. It’s fighting God after he’s declared peace and it only hurts ourselves. So, take the time to study his will, study his word and learn what he wants from you so you can live that will in your lives. The more we listen to our Father and stay at peace with him, the more trouble we will avoid, and the more we stay at peace.
But that still does not guarantee a trouble-free life. God actually promises us trouble. That’s a good thing. Remember last week how we talked about the lukewarm church that had it too easy? Too many creature comforts? They forgot how much they needed God. They forgot the point of this life was to look forward to the next. We need God to send us trouble so we don’t forget we need him. Paul tells us here for that very reason we glory in our suffering.
When trouble finds us, do we let it shatter our peace? Do we even try to blame God? The correct, eternal, godly perspective can help us stay at peace no matter what happens to us here. But we fight God when we live only to be satisfied now instead of living for him forever. God keeps us from getting too comfortable so we don’t forget.
When suffering comes, don’t fight God over it. Instead, say “Thank you, Father.”
When a job is lost, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me you are the one who provides all I have.”
When an illness is diagnosed, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that my life, my strength, and all my abilities are in your hands.”
When we lose things or people leave us, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that you are all I truly need to be content.”
And when death comes for you or your loved ones, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me I don’t belong here, that what is waiting for me is so much better, I have no reason to cling desperately to this life, I can let go in peace knowing you have me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t use your abilities and gifts to correct trouble or alleviate pain. But there’s no reason the trouble needs to steal our peace at all. And if we can’t fix the trouble, whatever it is, we are still at peace with God.
There will be trouble. But we can be at peace with God through the troubles. He allows the troubles to help you. Don’t fight him. Let the troubles bring you closer to him.
In all these things it is the strength of God and not our own strength that lets us keep this attitude. He promises to give you the power you need to carry out his will in this life and stay at peace with him. He promises to give you this power through the Holy Spirit working in study of his word. Read and study his word to stay in his power and keep the peace with him. And for the times we fail, which will not stop happening here, there is always the forgiveness of Jesus to bring us back to peace.
Brothers and Sisters, through Jesus you have peace with God. He has given you a new life in him. You are forgiven and perfect in his eyes. God has established the peace. And through his Word he provides the power of the Holy Spirit to you so that you can keep the peace on your end. Even this is his power working through you.
Stay in and study God’s Word and God’s will for you. By the power of his spirit, don’t fight him anymore. Look to him for everything good now and forever, and know the peace that he has established.
Thanksgiving is less than one week away. Maybe you already started on the stuffing about three days ago! Because one of the greatest parts of Thanksgiving is the food.
There’s hot food.
Hot turkey, fresh out of the oven.
Hot potatoes, mashed with a butter melted down the top of the mound.
Even hot green bean casserole with the crispy things at the top acting as some kind of barrier.
There’s cold food.
Cold cranberries sauce – with just the right kick of tang.
Cold desserts each more delicious than the last.
A cold drink to wash it all down.
How many of you are looking forward to a lukewarm Thanksgiving meal?
Lukewarm cranberry sauce.
And a lukewarm drink.
Today’s letter is to a church that was lukewarm. (And to Jesus – it’s just as disgusting as lukewarm mashed potatoes.)
Today’s goal is to determine what it means to spiritually lukewarm and to ask the difficult question: “Are we lukewarm?” Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lukewarm Laodicea
This letter starts in Revelation 3:14, “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.
Laodicea was located just south of the Lycus river. It was a fertile area lush with green landscapes. It was great for sheep and led to an impressive wool industry in the city. This industry made Laodicea into one of the wealthiest cities. In fact, in 60 AD an earthquake destroyed the city. But Laodicea didn’t need Roman help to rebuild. They paid for the rebuild on their own.
Within Laodicea was a church. This church is mentioned four times in the letter to the Colossians. In that letter, Paul even mentions a letter he penned for the Laodicean church that never made it into the Bible. Laodicea was an important center in early Christianity.
Similarly to the other letter, Jesus begins by introducing himself. He reminds the church that he is Faithful and true. This prepares the people for what he’s about to tell them: whether they see it or not, whether they believe it or not, whether they want to believe it or not, he speaks the truth.
It matters too! Because Jesus is the Ruler of God’s Creation! He’s the one who provides the fertile land for their rich sheep and wool industry. He’s the one who cares for the sheep that are grazing. He’s the one who gave the merchants the abilities to develop this industry. If it wasn’t for him, their wealth wouldn’t exist. And if it wasn’t for his loving kindness, he’d just send another earthquake to destroy Laodicea.
This truthful, powerful God is the one speaking to them. He says:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15)
Another well-known feature of Laodicea was the natural springs of water that occurred there. The water bubbled up from within the earth. It was warm. It was clean. It came packed with minerals. The water relaxed the muscles, melted stress away and promoted healing.
And the temperature was just right.
Not freezing like an ice bath.
Not hot that it’d burn their skin.
But imagine for a moment that instead of soaking in the lukewarm bathwater, you decided to drink it.
How’s it taste?
You’d spit it out?
So would Jesus.
Only he’s not talking about bathwater in Revelation 3.
He’s talking about the spiritual temperature of the Laodiceans.
Jesus hates a LUKEWARM spiritual temperature.
Because when the Bible speaks about faith, it lauds faith that’s on fire for Jesus.
On fire with love for the Savior.
On fire for his teachings.
On fire for sharing his message.
Cold? That’s a reference to unbelief. It’s the cold heart of someone who has never come to faith and never been on fire for the Gospel. Don’t get this wrong – Jesus is not saying that he wishes the Laodiceans were unbelievers. But rather, that a cold heart might know it needs something – a warmth that only the Gospel can provide.
But the Laodiceans…they couldn’t care less.
They knew the Gospel and…were APATHETIC.
They were APATHETIC about their need for a Savior.
They were APATHETIC about their Savior.
They were APATHETIC about their spiritual state.
And Jesus? Was disgusted by it.
Jesus hates spiritual APATHY.
It’s easy to understand why:
Apathy leads his people away from faith.
Apathy leads his people away from their savior.
Apathy leads his people away from heaven.
Apathy leads his people away from sharing their faith.
Apathy leads his people away from people who need the Gospel.
Apathy leads people, that he wants in heaven, away from heaven.
Apathy kills his church.
II. Causes of Apathy
As we start thinking about whether or not we are apathetic, I think it’s helpful to identify what leads to spiritual apathy. Look at what Jesus says: Revelation 3:17, “You 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.”
The text reveals a few things that lead to spiritual apathy.
(1) Being Presently Cared For
Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world. The church was blessed by the economic boom. The people were physically, temporally, and presently cared for. They had enough things and stuff that they began to think – “Do I really need Jesus?”
Of course, Jesus said: “You need me.”
Laodicea said: “I think I’ve got all I need in this big old bag of money.”
Jesus said: “I’ll give you nourishment.”
Laodicea said: “No worries. I can pay for a night at the Angus Barn on my own.”
Jesus said: “I’ll quench your thirst.”
Laodicea said: “I’m not actually that thirsty Jesus. I just got done with my second glass of Merlot. It’s from 17 AD. A good year, no?”
Being presently cared for isn’t bad. (That’s why God takes care of us.)
As a pastor, I’ve seen it often.
Someone comes seeking God’s help in time of trouble.
Low on funds.
Job was lost.
Sick, in need of prayer.
We study God’s Word.
We seek God because the person feels poor and in need of Jesus.
But then, life turns around.
Finances are ok.
Job is ok.
Relationship is ok.
Health is ok.
It isn’t long…
I mark absent on their worship attendance record for the 12th week in a row.
(2) Past Accolades
Past accolades can also lead us into a lukewarm faith. Look at the brag of the Laodiceans. They said: “I have acquired wealth.” That’s past tense. The Laodiceans had worked hard for their money and success – even making their church a success.
So now, when they were reminded that God called them to share the Gospel, they responded: “Why? We did that 10 years ago.”
Try to tell that to your boss sometime:
“Boss, I don’t think I need to come into work today. I worked a Monday in 2016.”
That won’t work.
It doesn’t work with Jesus.
He doesn’t care about past accolades.
And your past accolades cannot get you to heaven.
(3) Future Needs
The final brag in verse 13 says, “You say…You do not need a thing.” There’s a future sense in that implication. The Laodiceans looked at their wealth, at the 70” HD TVs, at their brand new iPhones linked to their Apple Watches, at their kids being in the number 1 academic school in Laodicea and said:
“Thanks for getting me here Jesus, but I can’t fathom having any need for you anymore.”
It’s almost as if the Laodiceans couldn’t foresee life happening.
Worse --- they couldn’t see death happening.
The warning is for you too.
If you think you’ll never need Jesus.
If you think you’ll never get sick…
…never lose a job…
…never lose a home.
Your faith will grow lukewarm.
This is a big deal because…
Jesus isn’t APATHETIC about APATHY
I think that’s important to hear.
Because usually, the Christian church, even apathetic Christians, can find some sins they aren’t apathetic towards:
Since that we are convinced Jesus would love to spit out:
And to be fair – these things are sin.
God is not apathetic about them.
But he isn’t apathetic about apathy either.
He violently spits the apathetic out.
Because to the Savior who cared so much for you that he came out of heaven, lived in this sin filled world, and suffered a violent death for you...
III. The Solution for Apathy
Because Jesus is not apathetic towards apathy so he offers the solution in verse 18, “I 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.
Take a look at the ways that Jesus provides the solution for apathy.
(1) Spiritual Gold
The Laodiceans were so rich that they had their own mint to mint their own money. To take copper and silver, to melt it, to mold it, and to put little designs on it.
None of this money would be a valid payment for forgiveness.
None of it could earn heaven.
None of it could buy eternal life.
But gold from Jesus?
It is refined in the fire.
It has been purified from all impurifies.
It is righteous.
That’s important. Because righteousness is the payment required from heaven.
God says, “You want to get in? Pay me righteousness.”
But righteousness means perfection.
So…we are fresh out of righteousness.
That’s where Jesus’ comes in.
He has righteousness.
He has no problem making the payment for us.
If you’ve been apathetic towards Jesus and need righteousness to pay for that sin…
…the very one that you’ve been apathetic towards is the one who will make the un-apathetically make the payment for your apathy.
(2) Spiritual Clothing
Jesus said, “You think you’re rich…but you’re naked.”
You think that the Versaci dress can cover your vanity. It can’t.
You think that your Gucci watch can cover your greed. It can’t.
You think that your Slim fitting suit can cover your sin. It can’t.
God can see your heart.
God can see your being.
God can see the ugliness of your sin.
But the clothing Jesus’ offers? It covers your completely.
It covers all of your sin.
All of your ugliness.
All of your pride.
All of your greed.
All of your lust.
All of your really big sins that you figure everyone knows about!
Jesus death and resurrection covers our sins completely.
…that when God looks at us –
People who are wretched with sin.
He says, “My you look nice tonight.”
Praise God for covering us!
(3) Spiritual Salve
Another thing documented about Laodicea is that they would use water from the natural springs to make ointment salves. The natural minerals were helpful in healing all kinds of ailments in the body. The purity of the water went well with medicines to heal people – especially when it came to eyesight.
Yet even the finest Laodicean salve could fix the fact that the Laodicean church couldn’t see its own sin.
His salve is eternal.
His salve is perfect.
His salve is healing.
His salve is God’s Word that gives us the proper spiritual eyesight – to see our great need for our Savior and the eternally important value of sharing his message.
Because of Jesus’ salve…
I don’t just see a clerk at Food Lion. I see a soul in need of saving.
I don’t just see a snotty nosed kid next door. I see a soul in need of saving.
I don’t just see a friend who was mean to me that one time on Facebook. I see a soul in need of saving.
IV. What Now?
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here 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 that person, and they with me. (v.19-20)
Understand what Jesus means.
He loves his people.
He wants to be with them.
Yet our apathy threw Jesus out of the church.
He speaks through these words to the apathetic Laodiceans.
“Repent! And I will come in and dwell with you.”
If you’re apathetic…
He is knocking.
He is speaking.
He is saying to you right now…
I want to be with you.
Repent or your apathy.
Turn back to me.
Because when we do, he promises to sit down with us.
That’s the intimate part of Thanksgiving. Everyone sits down and eats together.
They eat with you because you love them.
You love them because they eat with you.
Look at what Jesus says to the formerly apathetic, now repentant:
“I’ll sit with you.”
“Even though I found you so gross that I spat you out, because of my love – I’ll sit by you.”
Through the good times.
Through the bad times.
Through all the times.
I’ll sit with you now.
And in the future..?
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Amen.
Today’s letter is to a church that needs to wake up! Our goal is to examine what Jesus means by that, consider if our church is sleeping, and learn from God’s Word what to do to wake up. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.