Would we pass Jesus' church MOT (part 2) - Revelation 3:1-22
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
How many of you know what this is a picture of? Show picture.
This is an x-ray machine. These machines are vital in the work of doctors because they reveal what is really going on under the surface of a patient.
Sample x-ray pictures.
What we have in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are seven spiritual x-rays of seven real churches who existed in the 1st century Roman province of Asia Minor.
We’re told in Revelation 1:14 that the risen Jesus has eyes like blazing fire. They can burn through the surface to see the true spiritual state of a church. The aftermath of this analysis is what we are left with in chapters 2 and 3.
These spiritual x-rays are not written for historical interest.
Remember the sentence that is found in each one of the mini-letters, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The Spirit is speaking to us through these words he preserved 2000 years ago. We are to listen attentively, be comforted where appropriate and be challenged where necessary.
We’re looking at three x-rays this morning.
- Sardis - the silent church (Vs 1-6)
- Philadelphia - the tired church (Vs 7-13)
- Laodicea - the proud church (Vs 14-22)
First, let’s focus on Sardis, the silent church (Vs 1-6)
This church was not in good health. Look at what the risen Jesus says about them in verse 1. Read verse 1.
Sardis had a reputation of being a lively church. Probably from other churches around them. They would have thought to themselves, “Sardis is where all the action is.” But according to Jesus they were dead. Ask around and people would have told you wonderful stories. Ask Jesus and he would have shown you the devastating x-ray.
They were on their last legs. If nothing changed they would be dead. That is another way of saying that Jesus would close down the church in that place.
Sometimes I hear Christians speak about other churches as being lively. Often what is meant is that they have exciting services, lots of people and a full of programme of activities. But does that mean such a church is lively? Are those things necessarily a sign that a church is spiritually well?
No. Remember Sardis. It had a reputation of being a fantastic church. Lots of people would have said it was a great church. But according to Jesus it was seriously ill.
The big question is, why was the church at Sardis in such a terminal condition? Look at verse 2. Read verse 2.
Somehow their deeds were unfinished in the sight of God.
What does this mean? They were certainly doing things. There was church activity on the calendar. But in the sight of God it was unfinished. There was something crucial missing.
It may well have been that in the eyes of the community around them it was all fine. But what counts is what God thinks. And in his estimation their deeds were unfinished.
What was missing from their activities? The temptation at this point is to speculate. We might say it was all style and no substance. Or all head but no heart. Or something else.
Are there any hints in the text? There is a hint in verses 4 and 5. Read verses 4 and 5.
Jesus promises that for those who have lived as they should have done he will acknowledge their name before his Father.
This phrase may ring bells with you. It’s mentioned in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”
This implies that whatever else the church in Sardis were doing they were not doing evangelism. They were not holding out the great news about the identity and mission of Jesus. They were silent when they should have been speaking. And because of this Jesus said they were critically ill.
The seriousness of this situation makes sense when we remember how each local church is described in Revelation. Do you remember the image that is used of a local congregation? A lampstand. The people are to be a light in a dark place as they not only live for Jesus but speak about Jesus. But when they stop speaking then how can the community around them come to know the Saviour!
The temptation for churches in the UK is to be busy doing lots of activities that are wonderful in the sight of the local community. For example, foodbanks, drop in centres and debt advice. The temptation for us when we hear about a church that is busy running these kind of programmes is to conclude that it is very lively. But, according to Jesus, if there is no evangelism a church is critically ill.
All was not lost for Sardis. Look at what Jesus said to them in verse 3. Read verse 3.
I love the remedy. They are commanded to remember something that they had previously received and heard. As they do this they will be motivated to change their behaviour.
This is a command to remember the gospel they had received. It is as they contemplate the message that has saved them and which was essential to save them that they will be be renewed in their desire to spread the gospel to others.
Is this something we need to do? Be struck by how important evangelism is. Let’s gaze again at the gospel and let then implications of this message sink in.
Second, let’s discover more about Philadelphia, the tired church (Vs 7-13)
The crucial verses that sum up the church situation at Philadelphia are verses 8 and 9. Read verses 8 and 9.
These verses reveal that this church were tired because of persecution.
Please don’t misunderstand the term synagogue of Satan when applied to the Jews who also lived in Philadelphia. Satan can use anyone for his purposes of trying to destroy the church of Jesus. At Philadelphia he was using the ethic Jews to mount an assault on the church.
But the great news is that despite the assaults, the church had been faithful to Jesus - they had kept hold of his word and had kept on holding it out to other people.
However, this had left them feeling weak. They were tired with little strength.
Do you feel like this? Are you weary in your Christian commitment?
Listen to Jesus’ encouragement to the tired Christians at Philadelphia to keep going. Look at what he says in verse 7. Read verse 7.
This is an allusion to a section of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. This is what we read in Isaiah 22:22, “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
Eliakim was the chief treasurer under good King Hezekiah. One of his privileges was that he possessed the key to the treasury. If there was a need in the land, maybe because of famine or invasion, he would unlock the treasury and take out whatever gold or rubies were necessary. And when he had done that, he would lock it again so no one could break in and steal the treasure.
Jesus is better than this. He provides access for his people to the Heavenly Storehouses of grace. It is a beautiful way of saying that the followers of Jesus will always be provided for in whatever situation they find themselves.
One person who knew this to be true was the Scottish minister George Matheson, who wrote the wonderful hymn, ‘O love that will not let me go’. Let me tell you the story behind the hymn. He composed it on the eve of his sister’s wedding. His whole family had gone to the wedding and had left him alone. This caused him much grief and anxiety because a number of years before, he had been engaged until his fiancé learned that he was going blind and there was nothing the doctors could do. As a result of this his fiancé told him that she could not go through life with a blind man. Matheson actually went blind while studying for the ministry and his sister had been the one who had taken care of him all these years, but now she was gone. God had richly blessed him in a church where he regularly preached to over 1500 people each week.
But he was only able to do this because of the care of his sister who soon was to be married. The question which began to haunt his mind was: Who will care for me now, a blind man? Not only that, but his sister’s marriage brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak, jilted by his fiancé. But it was in the middle of this intense sadness and anxiety that the Lord gave him this hymn – written, he says, in 5 minutes! This is the opening verse:
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
So let’s trust that the Heavenly Treasury will supply all we need.
Another motivational promise is in verse 12. Read verse 12.
This images speaks about two things: permanence and proximity.
Permanence. Philadelphia was subject to earthquakes. People were looking for stability. Christians are promised eternal security. They must hold on.
Proximity. This pillar is in the temple of God. This is a beautiful way of talking about how the people of God are to be close to God himself.
Third, let’s focus on Laodicea, the proud church (Vs 14-22).
The crucial verses that sum up the church situation in Laodicea are verses 15 and 16. Read verses 15 and 16.
What Jesus says here has often been misunderstood by Christians. Why would Jesus say that he wishes they were cold rather than lukewarm?
The mistake many Christians make is to think that Jesus is referring to a spiritual temperature chart with a higher number being better.
But that’s not what he is doing here. Cold and warm are good. They are useful. Lukewarm is useless.
Cold drinks are refreshing. Hot drinks are comforting. Both are useful. Luke warm drinks are horrible.
This imagery ties into the local background of Laodicea. It was close to one town called Hierapolis famous for its hot springs and another town called Colossae famous for its refreshing cold water. But Laodicea was famous for horrible water that was lukewarm. If you drank it you would want to spit it out of your mouth!
This is how Jesus felt about the church in Laodicea. They were useless as witnesses for him.
Why? Look at what we’re told in verse 17.
The city was proud. It was victim of a terrible earthquake about AD 60 but it refused help from Emperor Nero.The church was the same.
Proud Christians become ineffective Christians. Both in terms of evangelism and edification.
What is the remedy? Look at what Jesus commands in verse 18. Read verse 18.
Local background. Laodicean was rich. The town was known for its eye ointment. It had a reputation for good clothing, especially for black wool clothing made from back sheep in the area.
Jesus is saying to them, “Come to me for all you need rather than relying on what your town has. Get some humility and reply on me again.”
What is the promise from Jesus for such humble people? He makes it clear in verse 20. Read verse 20.
This verse is often used to encourage people to become Christians. But the original use is for proud Christians. If they humbly repent then they will experience closeness with Jesus again.
- A message to the silent
- A message to the tired
- A message to the proud
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