A Church for Y2K: Jesus Loses His Lunch

Last in a series on What Christ Thinks of the Church,
Delivered June 14, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Revelation 3:14-22
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.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one
or the other!
16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out
of my mouth.
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.
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.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
20 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 him, and he with me.
21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as
I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.
22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

What would it take to make Jesus lose his lunch? I’m serious, what would it take? A salmonella outbreak at the feeding of the 5000? Stomach virus at the last supper? Motion sickness as Jesus walked across the stormy Sea of Galilee? What would it take to make Jesus lose his lunch? As Christians, we believe that Jesus is fully God, and fully man. Because he is fully man, he cried real tears. He perspired real sweat. He bled real corpuscles, and he could get sick to his stomach.

Now realize that it is a very dangerous thing to place the text that we are about to read in the hands of a former youth minister. This is one of these texts that every junior high kid wants to study. And if you have ever been in a small group Bible study, and you have looked at this text, I’ll bet you a million dollars that your small group leader went to great lengths to point out to you, that the Greek phrase in verse 16 where Jesus says, ‘I will spit you out of my mouth”, can also be translated as vomit. Those are Jesus’s words, not mine. But we have to ask the question, ‘Why in the world, or what would incite Jesus to use such graphic forceful language?’ What would it take to make Jesus lose his lunch, or whatever other euphemism you want to put in its place?

As we finish up our sermon series on a church for Y2K, what Christ wants Central to be in the year 2000, let’s see if we can stomach what Jesus has to say to us this morning. Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, the third chapter, and this morning let’s wrestle with verses 14-22. This last of Jesus’s seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. This morning, His letter is to the church in Laodicea. This is the Word of God.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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 him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Join me as we pray. And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Back when we first started this sermon series on the seven churches of Revelation, I tried to make the point right off that the greatest thing that you and I can ever take away from the entire book of Revelation is the unique portrait of Christ that is contained therein. And so as we begin to wrestle with these verses this morning, let’s look at verse 14, because it gives us three more pieces to this portrait of Christ.

And the first thing we see there, is that Christ is called the Amen. Now that is usually the last word in our prayers. In many books of the Bible that is the last word. It means, “so be it”. And here what it is is a reminder to you and me, that Jesus Christ is indeed the last word. The last word in human history. The last word in your personal life and mine. Jesus is the last word. Not cancer. Not divorce. Not bankruptcy. Not death. Not hell. Jesus and Jesus alone, is the last word in your life and mine, and he will have the last word in your life and mine. So be it! Amen? All right.

The second thing that we learn in verse 14 is that He is called the faithful and true witness, which is a reminder to you and me that Jesus will never forsake us. He will always step forward on our behalf as believers and testify to our account. And He is true, just like a compass. He will always point you and me truly to what it means to be human and to eternal life with God.

And then lastly, thirdly, in verse 14, we see that He was referred to as the ruler of God’s creation. And the Greek there can also be translated as “source of God’s creation”. But either way, what this is telling us, is that you and I view the world rightly, right-side up, when we realize that Jesus is both the origin and sovereign over every atomic particle in the universe, every cell in our bodies, every microbe, every elephant, every petunia, every asteroid. He is sovereign ruler over all creation. Amen? But this majestic Jesus, this almighty God, this transcendent creator, this redeemer who defied death can still get sick to his stomach.

What is it that makes Jesus lose his lunch? Well, we learn from this text that it is the Church. The Church makes Jesus throw up. In particular, the church at Laodicea, a very wealthy, prosperous city in Asia Minor in the first century.

Laodicea was a banking center. It was the center for refining gold. It was also big in the garment industry, and it was known as a health center. Its hot springs, their medicinal value is heralded all over Asia Minor. And it was an area that produced a popular eye salve. And the Christian church there in Laodicea pretty much mirrored the prosperity of the surrounding culture. They were an affluent congregation. They didn’t have any trouble paying their bills, meeting their budgets, funding their ministries. Their endowment saw that all of those things were taken care of. Their stock portfolio read “Chase Manhattan Bank, and Brooks Brothers Clothiers, and Lens Crafters.” They were a well-to-do church. They were a going operation. It was a comfortable place to go the church. In fact most of the Christians in Laodicea had placed that category as very high on what it means to look for a church. ‘I want a church where I can be comfortable.’

There was one drawback to living in the city of Laodicea though. The town had no central water supply. There was no river running through it. There were no nearby lakes. There were no wells that they could dig. There were some cold springs, but they were miles away in Colossea. The nearest water supply was their world-famous hot springs. And so the city engineers of Laodicea had constructed a rather ingenious aqueduct of stone pipes that brought the water from the hot springs into the town. The water came out of the ground very hot. But by the time it traveled through those stone pipes and reached the city of Laodicea, it had become lukewarm.

How many of you have ever taken a sip of a room temperature watered-down-all-the-fizz-gone Coke? Then you know what I’m talking about when I talk about lukewarm. Blah!! In verses 14 and 15 of our text, Jesus looks the Laodicea Christians in the eye and says that their spirituality pretty much matches their water supply. What was it that caused a lukewarmness of faith there in the Laodicean church?

Well, Jesus hits it pretty much straight on in verse 17. When He says, “You guys say that you are rich; that you have accumulated a lot of wealth and you don’t need anything.” And we can sum up Jesus’s diagnosis of the problem of Laodicea with one word: affluence.

Affluence. They were an affluent church. Which places you and me at Central Church, Baltimore in June of 1998 in potentially great spiritual peril. Because for all of our poor talk, we are a fairly affluent congregation in an affluent part of town. In a very affluent country. Now before you get mad and want to walk out of here and think — “Oh no, it’s going to be one of those kinds of sermons” — hear me out.

In no way does the Bible ever condemn money, wealth, or prosperity. But the Bible does make clear that those things can be spiritually seductive; that those things can become a key stumbling block to you and me really living out an on-fire committed relationship with Jesus Christ. Why? Because affluence can do two things to you and me if we let it. It can insulate us and distract. Insulate us and distract us from the things of God.

Affluence insulates you and me, or at least tries to insulate you and me, from coming to a real understanding of just how needy we really are. “Hey, I’m doing pretty well in life, I’m getting along great. I’m not sure I even really need Jesus that much.” Affluence insulates you and me from some of the real pain of life. When we have affluence we can distance ourselves from the pain and from problem people. Like the poor. We can insulate ourselves from God trying to get through to us. And affluence distracts us from the things of God. The more affluent you are, the more toys you can afford. More opportunities to go out and do things other than what God might be calling you to do.

I heard a story recently about a senior pastor. He was tired of going to church on Sunday (which doesn’t work real well as a senior pastor). But one week he decided, “I’m not going to go church this Sunday. I’m going to do something else. I’m going to do what I really want to do.” So he called the associate pastor Saturday night and said, “Uh, I’m not feeling right. Would you take the service tomorrow?” And the associate said, “Gladly.” And so Sunday morning the senior pastor slept in. Then he woke up and he said “I’m going to do what I really want to do on Sunday morning, and that’s go play golf.” So he goes out on the course, gets ready to tee off, and St. Peter and God are watching this, and Peter says to God “Can you believe this guy? What are you going to do about it, God?” And God says, “Don’t worry. Watch — I’m going to take care of him.” The pastor tees up on the first hole. Hits a beautiful drive straight down the fairway, the ball lands on the green, rolls right into the cup for a hole in one. Peter goes ballistic. He looks at God and says “I thought you were going to take care of this.” God says “I did.” He says “He got a hole in one.” And God says, “Yeah, but who’s he going to be able to tell?”

The more affluent you and I are the more things we can do. And sometimes affluence breeds wanting to go first class rather than being a servant. Affluence means that you and I have all kinds of opportunities to do all kinds of things. And sometimes we don’t know what choices to make. The siren song of affluence comes to us and says “But you deserve it. You’ve earned it. You need all these things. Accumulate. Consume. And as long as you sprinkle a little Jesus on top of it, you’re okay. You’re fine.”

In verse 17, Jesus says,”Wrong!” He looks at those affluent Laodiceans and says, “You guys think you’re rich. You guys think you’ve got a lot. You guys think you can see what’s really going on. But I’ll tell you. Unless your chief investment is in the gold that I have, gold refined by my fire, then in reality you’re a spiritual pauper. And if you put your Brooks Brothers suits ahead of the white robe, the slave robe of a servant of Jesus Christ, then when eternity rolls around, you’re going to be caught with your pants down. You think you really know what’s going on, but you’d better get my eye salve and put it on your eyes and open your eyes and turn around and repent and get your act together and get on fire for me.”

How does affluence impact your life and mine? Do you and I pray more – and more fervently — when times are tough or when times are prosperous? Do you and I seek the face and mercy of God when things are going great or when things are going not so great? When we’re employed or when we’re strugglingly out of work? Affluence comes along and puts the velvet glove over our faith. A velvet glove that can quench the fire of the spirit. Affluence comes to us and offers us a whole random amount of choices of things to do. It comes to us and whispers “pursue the American dream”. The only problem is to pursue a dream, you’ve got to be asleep. Spiritually. Affluence comes to you and me and tries to seduce us to really believing that luxuries are necessities. “I’ve got to have a cell phone.” And the reverse of that: that necessities, like a vibrant, on fire relationship with Jesus Christ, is in reality a luxury. “Jesus is fine. It’s just that, I don’t think that, you know, I need to get fanatically committed to Him or something like that.”

Want a definition of lukewarm? It’s the 17 percent of people who in 1994 who gave to Planned Parenthood and also gave to Operation Rescue. Lukewarm faith is that waffling, fence-sitting, uncommitted, anemic, religiosity that makes Jesus want to have the heavenly heaves. “Oh, wait a minute, I’m a Christian, it’s just I’m not one of those, you know, born again, committed Christians. You know, that act like the world revolves around Christ or something.”

Not a committed Christian? Can you be an “uncommitted Christian” and be a Christian? Affluence works its number on us. It tries to sell us all kinds of myths. And a lot of us buy into it. The Laodicean Christians had bought into it left and right. Their faith had become lukewarm. And it makes Jesus want to lose his lunch.

You know what affluence does too as it leads to lukewarmness? Ultimately what happens is that we begin to push Jesus to the periphery of our lives. Not that we deny him. NO! We go to church, we get involved, we do all kinds of things. But Jesus gets shoved to the periphery and then finally what happens is Jesus finds himself outside of the church. That’s what had happened in Laodicea. Look at verse 20 of your text. This famous verse, where Jesus is standing at the door knocking. You and I usually think of this verse in connection with personal evangelism: the idea that Jesus is knocking on the door of every unbeliever’s heart. There’s no latch on the outside, it’s on the inside. You need to hear Jesus knocking, you need to open the door and invite Him into your life. And that’s true. If you’re here this morning and you’ve never done that, then you are in grave, grave spiritual danger. But the context of this passage is not personal evangelism. Jesus is on the outside of the church in Laodicea, knocking on the door, trying to get in. They had shoved Him out of the church. Maybe he had gone outside to lose his lunch. Went out there to spew them out of His mouth. I don’t know. It reminds me: the favorite hymn of the Laodicean Christians was “Come, Thou Long-expectorant Jesus”.

What kind of church does Christ want Central to be in Y2K? What kind of church? He wants us to be a church that brings its affluence under the Lordship of Christ and the authority of His Word. Christ wants us to be a church that takes its affluence and in a humble, generous, Christ-exalting, posture, gives that affluence over to Christ. Christ is not on the outside of this church, knocking on the door trying to get in.

But how can you and I ensure that that’s always the case? Let me offer some suggestions. Tithing. Uh oh! If you don’t tithe — let’s cut the games. If you don’t tithe, you are in grave spiritual danger. Not because Jesus is up there keeping a financial file on you going “Oh, he doesn’t tithe, I’m going to get him.” No.. It’s because when you and I don’t tithe and go beyond the tithe, we’re setting ourselves up for the siren song of affluence to come and we start believing our own press clippings. Thinking we can make it on our own. Thinking that we need all this stuff.

And tithing as a congregation. Every time we have a capital campaign like this “Beyond These Walls…” we build in a tithing component. A $2 million project. So we gave away $200,000 to missions. In our budget we go far beyond the tithe, about 30 percent of our annual budget goes to benevolences outside of Central and we are on a track that in the new millennium that will raise that to 50 percent.

And we can assure that Christ will never be on the outside when you and I, as a congregation, refuse to believe our own press clippings, refuse to believe that any prosperity that happens, any great ministry that happens, is due to our resources. The reality is it’s by the sheer grace of God. And we can ensure that by refusing to judge our spiritual health as a congregation by budgets, buildings and numbers; and instead by the depth of faith, by changed lives, by people moving toward Christ, as our mission statement says.

And we can ensure that Christ is never on the outside knocking, trying to get back in by always refusing to allow this to become an endowed church. As long as I’m your senior pastor, we will never have an endowment. When that happens, then we get financially lazy. Then that leads to spiritual lukewarmness. And then suddenly [knocking] Christ is on the outside trying to get back in.

As good as anyway I can think of to end this sermon series, is by closing reading what is called the Parable of the Lifesaving Station. Goes like this:

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut and there was only one boat. But the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought of themselves went out day and night, tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought. New crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew. Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided for the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds. And put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as sort of a club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. A lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast. And the hired crew brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the clubs lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did. A few years went by and the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself and if you visit that seacoast today you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters. But most of the people drown.

That, my friends, is what makes Jesus lose His lunch.

Join me as we pray:

Almighty God, you have blessed us with so many resources. People of talent and depth of faith. Lord, help us not to take that for granted. To receive it as a sheer gift of your grace. And to use it to exalt the name of Jesus Christ and to advance your kingdom. Lord, help us never to become complacent. Light that fire under us, Lord, that will cause us to burn brightly for Jesus Christ. Lord, we thank you that you’re a God whose not outside knocking, trying to get it. But you’re here with us. Give us the courage to move past our financial and material comfort zones and follow you as individuals and as a congregation. Wherever it is you call us to go, and to do whatever it is you call us to do. All to your glory and honor. And we make our prayer in Jesus’ name. And all of God’s people said, Amen.

© 1998, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145