December 13, 2006

Did You Hear That Voice Knocking?

2006 1534 page14 cap GREW UP HEARING THE LAODICEAN message of Revelation 3:14-22. My church believed the message applied to modern-day Christians. We weren’t doing well. We were poor, blind, and naked, but we thought we were pretty good. Our evangelists told us we needed better faith (gold), better clothes (righteousness), and more accurate vision (eye salve). They told us that unless we secured these spiritual riches, God would vomit us out.
It was a message of judgment, as the Greek name Laodicea implied—“judgment of the people.” It was a serious truth. It was the final message to a wayward church. However, for me and others the message often got distorted into a fear that kept us from opening the door fully to Jesus. Let me explain.
I Denied Myself Fun—Even Food
Early in my spiritual walk with God, when I heard the Laodicean message I heard God pounding: “I can’t stand you guys. You make Me vomit. I wish you would either get hot (reform) or cold (commit all those sins you really want to do anyway).”
Wow! That message was enough to jolt me as a teenager into action. I decided to get hot for God. I got with it. I read my Bible. I witnessed. I denied myself fun and even food as a way to purge my desires. It was judgment time. I found other rigorous Christians, and we all got hot together—fanatically hot.
2006 1534 page14Only after getting tired of the dust of legalism did I come to see the other part of the Laodicean message. The message I first heard was true—but only half true. And a half-truth comes across as a truth, but never becomes a saving truth.
Hindsight has helped me see where I went wrong. I fear I haven’t been the only one misinterpreting the Holy Spirit’s Laodicean message. No wonder John repeatedly records in Revelation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (see Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9). The Spirit is the only One Who can penetrate the deep meanings of God and share those with His wayward children.
The Laodicean message is about honesty. God is saddened by our condition because it robs us of Him. It is a condition He is willing and able to heal. But deep healing starts with a deep honesty and doesn’t end there. I heard that part of the message as a kid, and I got busy trying to fix myself. I didn’t understand that spiritual healing requires trust and a real relationship.
The Gentleness of Jesus
Notice the gentleness that Jesus brings to His dying people to foster this trust. He calmly says: “I advise” or “I counsel” you to buy . . . A friend of mine says this is the gentleness of what she called “suggestments,” firm but solicitous, bending on the knee, “please take my advice” appeals.
For a message of judgment, it may seem too soft to some. They miss the meaning of judgment. It is the only way to understand Jesus’ eleventh-hour message. He is trying to get each of us to cry out, “YES, YES, YES, come in, Jesus! I really and desperately need You! Come all the way in! Save me from my self-righteousness.” Look at the wonderful diplomacy of Jesus. Look at the tremendous amount of statesmanship He manifests to help soften our resistance.
So slowly, in addition to the warning, I began hearing the invitation. I began to see past Satan’s deception that suggested Jesus was pounding on the door in anger, and I began to see that He was simply knocking, firmly but gently. Oh that I would accept His soothing appeal coaxing me to open myself deeply to Him!
He was inviting me to Him precisely because I was poor, naked, and blind; and He didn’t mind. Those who didn’t feel their need didn’t really need Jesus. They had thought that Jesus picked them because they were good, because they were such a great remnant, people doing all kinds of good work! They are religious and think they have a lot of spiritual stuff—all the good books, the doctrines, the religious traditions, schools, and hospitals but have lost focus on what was missing from all this: Jesus in the heart.
Jesus knew that they needed to feel that they were lost. Poor, blind, and naked people don’t have the resources to dig themselves out of their condition. I discovered that. And we miss the beauty that He wants us to see—that of coming to us to sit and eat. He really wants to be close to us.
That is the beauty of the Laodicean message. It is honesty for Christians. It is the perfect message for people who embrace orthodoxy, who feel smug in their religious symbols, routines, and practices; and who have a pretense of religion, a form of godliness, but do not have the deep relationship—the power—of His presence.
The Laodicean message is about a God who supplies. Isaiah 55:1 reminds us to come and buy food and drink without money. This is the truth that God is the provider. He has provided the lamb. Those who think religion is about making sacrifices to God miss the reality of true religion. True religion is a reminder that only God makes the sacrifice that counts. If we think we can make our way back to God, our faith is not a faith that has been tried. Only He can bridge the chasm that separates. He came to our house. Our simple work is to say yes (and even that is a gift of God).
Time for Radical Christians
The message to Laodicea is the everlasting gospel, the three angels’ message, delivered to our door. It is a message for our UPS and FedEx generation. It doesn’t even wait for us to come to church. It meets us where we are.
The fact that this message is about the gospel is what makes it serious. Like Jacob’s ladder linking heaven to earth, grace is a message that effectively brings us back to God by showing how God comes to us where we are, where we live. He comes all the way to us. To reject such a radical grace is to reject the only hope we have for getting hot with Jesus. Herein lies the judgment of the people. It is time for a decision.
2006 1534 page14What is wrong with the Laodicean church is that it believes it has God, yet it doesn’t have the real God. There is no way into our hearts except by a choice on our part to accept that ravishing voice knocking on the other side. Anything less than a heartfelt decision to be embraced by His lavish love will produce only lukewarm results. No, it is time to be radical and cry out, “Yes, love me, Jesus!”
The Jesus of the Laodicean message is more than God at the doorstep as a pizza man. He wants to love us. He brings the food, the gifts (gold and clothes), and an eye of love (eye salve). He is everything we need. This message is a wonderful message from God. So, who is getting in the way of your saying yes? I believe it is Satan.
Satan is almost always pictured disrupting God’s messages to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. He is vividly present in all but two of the churches in Revelation—Sardis and Laodicea. Oddly, these happen to be the two churches in the greatest trouble. One is sleeping and the other is blind. One has the form of being alive, but is dead, and the other looks good, but is naked. Satan has placed himself in the place of God so that our passion for Him is dissipated.
The fact that Satan is not mentioned in these texts indicates he has found a more effective way to deceive churches. He has moved from the outside persecuting to the inside deceiving. He has successfully infiltrated and shut the door of our hearts to God by putting himself in the place of Christ. As the anti-Christ, he looks like Christ but does not manifest the passionate love of Christ. That is why Satan is on the inside, keeping the door shut, and the true God is on the outside wanting in.
Closed to God
In the church of Philadelphia, the one mentioned just before Laodicea, the door is open and no one can shut it. But in Laodicea, the door is shut, indicating that the church is shut off from God, estranged from God, even though it appears orthodox and “churchy.”
This leads me to the conclusion that what makes the Laodicean message so serious is that it correctly identifies that though we claim to be Christ’s, we are in deep estrangement. Cain demonstrated early on that self-righteousness is about self-works, seen as better than trusting the sacrifice of God. Self-works question the sufficiency of God to redeem fully. Self-righteousness is especially evident in “good” people—good people who are proud of what they have built, proud of their towers to Babel, when what they really need is just to accept the promises of salvation, the message of His simple rainbow.
The Laodicean church demonstrates its reluctance to embrace the love and openness of God. So God stands outside His church wanting in. He is not in the church; Satan is. However, as the sad history of the Old Testament reminds us, there comes a time when God eventually has to give up on His people because they don’t want His abiding presence. There comes a point he must “cast them out from His presence” (2 Kings 24:20).
Satan is quite happy when the church doesn’t hear God’s firm but gentle voice. He muffles Jesus’ still small voice of love with the roughness and meanness of life. Or he makes us too afraid to open the door. We are afraid of grace. We have been told that grace makes people sloppy and disobedient. So we become afraid, rigid, and run from the very thing we need—namely free and lavish grace.
Another way Satan works from the inside is to get us to focus on cleaning the house before we open the door. That doesn’t work either. We realize we aren’t ready so we keep cleaning. There is always more supper to prepare, more gold to refine, more reading to do. No! Jesus brings the stuff. Open the door to Him!
The truth for the Laodicean church is to take advantage of the fact that the way to the holiest is fully open to us in Christ. Open up to your lover, your God, and your King.
Duane Covrig is professor of the Leadership and Educational Administration Department (LEAD) in the College of Education at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.