Who would you like to have a meal with? Sit down. Eat. Chat.
Last May, a photo was circulating. It showed Barack Obama having a casual dinner with a TV chef. They were in a run-of-the-mill diner in Hanoi, and it cost $6. The reason the photo went viral was because the other diners seemed totally unfazed by the President of the United States of America sat at the next table.
It would be lovely. Maybe not Obama for you, maybe someone else. But how wonderful to sit down for dinner with someone far too important for them ever to have even heard of you. And yet they do. Their time is yours. Your time is theirs.
It doesn’t get much better than dinner with Jesus. Not long after Jesus rose from the dead, his closest friends got to share a fish supper. A few days later, they had a picnic breakfast on the beach of bread and fish.
“That’s just them,” you think. Why would Jesus want to have dinner with me? He does. And indeed that’s the great hope of the Bible. The future it holds out to us. The day when Jesus returns to this world. When he does so, life will be just perfect, symbolised by him spreading the most sumptuous banquet. With all of his friends and followers as the guests of honour.
That’s what our Bible reading from the book of Revelation holds out to us. Just look down at verse 20: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Dinner with Jesus. And we’re all invited.
The Shock: Churches Will Miss It
What this passage has to say to us about that dinner will come as an enormous shock.
Many Christians, many churches, will miss out on that fantastic dinner.
I think that’s a shock to pretty much all of us. It’s a shock to those of us who go to church regularly. We kind of assume that we’re the ones who have opted in to the whole Christian thing. When Jesus Christ returns, surely whatever future he brings will include us. We’re amongst his followers.
And its’ a shock to people who don’t go to church. Somewhere at the back of your mind, you know that you might be missing out. Quite possibly, it’s your intention to start coming to church again when you can make it happen. But it never occurred to you that people who do go to church might also be missing out! That starting going to church may not be the way to fix things with God.
And yet that’s what Jesus says to the church that this was first written to. Jesus was speaking to the church in a place called Laodicea. It’s no longer there, but it was in the middle of Western Turkey, 100 miles inland where Turkey pushes towards Greece. He loves this church dearly. But because he loves them, he has some hard things to say to them. Verse 19: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”
And here’s what he has to say. Verse 15: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
You’re on a camping trip. You’ve got enough water with you, but it’s still precious. You fancy a cup of tea. You put it on your little calorgas heater and start to boil the water. Until you run out of gas. It’s tepid. Lukewarm. It’s not hot enough to make tea. It’s no longer cool and refreshing. It’s just, yeuch.
As Jesus looked at the church in Laodicea, that’s what this church looked like to him. Like a good doctor or nurse, he takes the church’s spiritual temperature. Neither hot nor could. Just, yeuch.
How have they gone so wrong? What are they missing?
The Problem: Self-sufficiency
The answer is, they’ve shut Jesus out of their church. They don’t need him. They have all they need without him.
To have a place at table with Jesus, it’s Jesus you need. And even a Christian can start to live as though we’ve arrived. We no longer need Jesus. Indeed, a whole church can start to leave him outside the door. It’s what this church has done. That’s why he has to stand at the door of the church, knocking.
Look at how self-satisfied this church is. Verse 17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’”. They think they’ve arrived. They’re made. And that without Jesus.
But they’re not. Because without Jesus, we’re nothing. In fact, there are 3 things that they’ve forgotten that they need, things that only Jesus can supply, things that they will need if they’re to have a place at that grand banquet.
Number one: Wealth. Look again at what Jesus says to them in verse 17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.”
Number one: Wealth. They thought they were rich. Laodicea was an incredibly wealthy city. So they just assumed that they were rich towards God as well. They assumed that when they turn up before God on the great day of judgement, God would see that they’re pretty well turned out, decent people, and he’d welcome them in.
But you can’t buy favours with God. Some people assume that their money can buy them anything. Anyone’s palm can be greased to open the path in front of them. God is not corrupt. There’s only one way to be rich in God’s eyes, and that is to be given that as a gift from the Lord Jesus. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire.”
It was true in Laodicea. And it’s true today. Friends of mine lead churches in some of the poorest parts of Britain. They’d say there’s a real hunger there to hear the good news of Jesus. Whereas those of us who are more well-off easily feel that we’ve got life all sewn up, so presumably God’s quite fond of us too.
We’re not all rich here. Far from it. Some of us struggle a great deal. But we all live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And whether we’re rich or poor, we’re all very capable of the attitude that we can save up enough in our spiritual bank accounts on our own. We don’t need Jesus.
That was their first blind-spot, and we need to make sure it isn’t ours. Wealth.
Their second was clothing. Laodicea wasn’t only famously wealthy. It was famed for its textile industry, turning out legendary black cloth that was sold the world over.
Yet Jesus says these Christians cannot see their spiritual nakedness.
Clothing can be symbolic, tell you something about the person wearing it. The judge wears a robe and a wig, the policeman in uniform, the road worker with a high vis jacket. You recognise who they are by what they wear.
In the book of Isaiah, God says that spiritually speaking we’re all wearing tatty garments, filthy rags. It’s a way of saying that inwardly we don’t love God in the way we should. We all have a selfish streak inside us. We’re not dressed for a royal banquet.
The good news of Jesus is that God offers to give us a right standing before him. He offers to wipe out our past mistakes. Symbolised by white clothes. Spotless. Bright. White. Flawless. He’ll give us the uniform, clothes fit for the royal wedding.
Whereas the Christians in Laodicea thought they could come as they were, no special dress code. They thought they were perfectly good enough for God all by themselves.
But they weren’t. And we aren’t either. Yet again, we need Jesus. Not only for spiritual riches, but for white clothing to wear, a new outfit, people fit to stand in the presence of God.
Many of us are really lovely people. Decent, upstanding citizens. The trouble is, God can see inside, past the veneer, to the murky bits inside us that we wouldn’t want others to know. And yet because we’re broadly quite good, we easily forget God’s standards. We need a gift.
Wealth. Clothing. And third, sight. They needed eye ointment.
He says: “You do not realise that you are … blind.” He counsels them to buy from him “salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.”
If you want to know God, there’s a big problem. He’s invisible. You can’t see him. So how could you possibly know what he’s like?
You couldn’t, unless he made himself known. The good news we celebrate each Christmas is that God has done this. In the person of Jesus, God became a human being. He walked on earth, he ate, he talked, he bumped into people. If you’d been on time, you could have met God.
God is not invisible any more. He has flesh and bones. Through Jesus, God made himself known. And through Jesus, God continues to make himself known. God gave us the Bible, so that we can see Jesus in our own day. So that we too can know God.
But unless Jesus reveals God to you, you can’t see him.
In the real world, you know if you can’t see properly. You struggle to read signs. You need large-print copies of service sheets in church, or leaflets from the bank. Or you even need braille. But there’s that in between stage when you need glasses, but you’re in denial. It’s a strain, but you try to do without. You pretend you’re able to read without.
Plenty of people are in denial when it comes to God. We don’t want to admit we need Jesus to show him to us. We think we can figure God out for ourselves. We can’t. So we cannot see that we are blind.
Laodicea had two main exports. Black cloth. And a world-famous eye ointment. These Christians needed eye ointment from Jesus.
Maybe God feels distant, unknowable. Jesus can fix that for you.
Or maybe you’re sure what God is like, but Jesus and the Bible don’t really come into the picture. The test is when you find something in the Bible that surprises you. Do you thank Jesus for offering to teach you something you hadn’t seen before. Or do you shut the Bible, shut the door on Jesus, and decide that you know full well that God is different from that part of the Bible?
Wealth. Clothing. Sight.
In Laodicea, the unthinkable is happening. Christians, a whole church even, might miss out on the great banquet at the end of time, a meal with Jesus, the world made right again.
That’s because even Christians can forget that what they really need is Jesus. We need him to be rich towards God. We need him to be clothed with God’s righteousness. We need him if we are to see God clearly.
Shut Jesus out, and you lose those things. And yet from outside the door, Jesus stands and knocks. Here’s his invitation to each and every one of us: “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.”