Presents are exciting. Even as a grown man of nearly *cough* years old, it would be hard for me to say that the pile of gifts under our tree doesn’t get me excited, that one of the best parts of the holiday for me is finding out what’s in all those brightly colored packages that have been sitting there taunting me for weeks.
Of course, presents are awesome, but we all know they’re not the reason we celebrate, we talked about that last night as God gave us his Son. We’ll look at that gift again today of course, it’s Christmas! But there’s more to unwrap from God, that’s why we’re all here this morning instead of playing with the new toys we unwrapped. (And I hope you got some proper toys. You’re never too old for toys.) So, this morning, we’re going to take some time and unwrap a few more presents, presents from God himself, presents that truly give us reason to celebrate.
I. Our Gift to God
We all know the expression, it gets repeated year-round, just more often at Christmas: “’Tis better to give than to receive.” So, with that in mind I thought maybe we’d start off at looking not at what God has given us but what we got God this year.
So? What did you get the big guy? Maybe an extra donation in the offering plate? Spend some extra time volunteering for the special services or in the community? Maybe you tried to reach out and make peace with that one family member.
Except… didn’t God give you that money to start with? Isn’t he the one that gave you the time and the strength and the ability to contribute here and out there? And if we’re being honest, wasn’t it partly your stubbornness and pride that caused the family rift to begin with?
I’m just shooting in the dark here with these but we could go on and on. The fact is, we can’t GIVE God anything he doesn’t already have. Everything we have came from him first. And on top of that, we daily ignore him, defy him, and act contrary to him. Our gift to him this year has been nothing…plus grief.
Let’s humbly remember this as we consider God’s gifts to us. We have given him nothing. He owes us nothing. In fact, we ought to be punished for our behavior. Our reading from Romans 3 reminds us of our default state:
Just as it is written:
There is no one who is righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands. There is no one who searches for God.
They all turned away; together they became useless.
There is no one who does what is good; there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave.
They kept deceiving with their tongues.
The poison of asps is on their lips.
Their mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are quick to shed blood.
They leave a trail of destruction and suffering wherever they go.
The way of peace they did not know.
There is no fear of God in front of their eyes.
II. God's Gift: Himself
Between what little we have done for God and the grief we have given him, it’s shocking enough that he would offer us a way out of our situation at all. We committed the crime, we earned the punishment. He should refuse to ever come near us again. And even if God were to offer a way out, you would expect some kind of bargain, right? Rather than the jail time we could pay the fine as it were.
We’d expect that since we made the mess between us and God, his solution would be for us to clean it up. Some herculean effort, some list of labors that we had to perform to get back into his good graces. And that would be utterly fair. But instead of sending a list of demands to us, God does what he usually does, he takes what would make perfectly normal human sense...and then does the opposite.
He does not send a list of demands. He does not send some cruel taskmaster to get us back on track. Instead he sends...his Son. He sends, himself. The all-powerful, limitless God of creation, becomes part of his creation, joins us as a helpless baby and sets in motion the chain of events that will lead to our rescue and freedom from the mess we made. Because he is human, he goes in our place. Because he is God, everything he does can count for everyone. God’s first gift is, quite plainly, himself.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governing Syria. And everyone went to register, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the town of Nazareth, into Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, his wife, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child.
And so it was that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There were in the same country shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.”
III. God's Gift: A Perfect Life
Of course, God did not come here to walk around, take in the sights, and see what all was going on planet-side. He came here on a mission. You see, God, as a holy being, has two major requirements for anyone to be part of him or in his presence. It’s not arbitrary, it’s sort of like the laws of physics. Because he’s holy, certain requirements have to be met.
And the first one is a perfect, obedient, life. This makes sense. To be in God’s holy presence, you need to be holy yourself. And it’s not like his demands are unreasonable or cruel. In fact, the core of his command is love! Love God first and love each other equally. All his other commands flow from these. And yet as we confessed, we haven’t. We have been selfish and cruel, ignoring God and hurting each other.
We could not live a perfect life, so Jesus did. His entire lifespan as a human was carried out in perfect obedience to his Father. From birth to his march to the cross, he kept God’s will perfectly and when he was finished, he handed that life over to you to wear as a white robe that covers you completely. Your life is perfect in God’s eyes through Jesus’ gift.
We see just one example of Jesus’ obedience during his temptation in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
But Jesus answered, “It is written:
Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you.
And they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written:
You shall not test the Lord your God.”
Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written:
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
IV. God's Gift: Forgiveness
I said before that God has two major requirements to be in his presence. One is the perfect life he lived for us and gave to us, the life that covers us now and makes us holy in his eyes. The other is that we be totally free of sin.
Well, wait, you might say, isn't that just the other side of the same coin? If we have a holy life, aren’t we automatically free from sin? Sure, we would be, if you had actually lived a holy life. But as we’ve established, you didn’t. The holy life you have is a gift, it covers you, it shows you as holy to God, but there’s still the problem of your debt.
You see, God has a justice system. It’s utterly perfect, utterly fair. Every sin is a crime against that system and like any other system of justice, every crime must be paid for. Whether that payment is community service, a fine, or jail time—reparation must be made. In this case, the payment that needs to be made for crimes against God himself… well it’s eternal death. It’s the agony of hell.
That is… a stern penalty. It is not a debt we could easily pay. And so the next gift God gives us through Jesus is full payment for our crimes.
On the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You see, hell is nothing less than to be completely abandoned by God. And that is what happened to Jesus on the cross. It was there that God abandoned him, that he suffered hell itself in your place.
And when it was done, knowing that your payment was made, he uttered that famous word “tetelestai”. “It is finished” in our reading. Also translated as “paid in full”. Jesus’ work was complete, the debt was paid, and God’s gift of forgiveness is entirely yours. From John 19:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
V. God's Gift: Eternal Life
God’s gifts: giving himself through Jesus, the perfect life lived on your behalf, the sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for your sins are all leading up to this final gift that we now look forward to. Because of the baby we celebrate today, we have the confidence and peace of knowing our end.
This section from Revelation 7 stands on its own. Know that this is what belongs to you as a gift from God. Without further introduction:
After these things I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They called out with a loud voice and said:
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.
All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:
Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
One of the elders spoke to me and said, “These people dressed in white robes, who are they and where did they come from?”
And I answered him, “Sir, you know.”
And he said to me:
These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Because of this they are in front of the throne of God,
and they serve him day and night in his temple.
He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again.
The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat,
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
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.