Tony Evans - A Challenge Toward Authenticity
Our final church to the final body of saints is Laodicea Bible Fellowship. Laodicea was a wealthy city known for three things, some-45 miles southeast of Philadelphia, our last city and last church. Laodicea was known for its finance industry, its banking industry. It would be akin to our common-day Wall Street. It was a very wealthy place to live, work, and raise a family. It was also known for its fashion industry. In New York, you would call it the "fashion district" where they made fancy clothes that would go out to the retailers to sell to the general public. Not only was it a financial district and a fashion district, but the city of Laodicea was a pharmaceutical district. It was known for its medical industry, particularly when it came to eye diseases. It was specializing in the salve for the eyes to improve the sight of those struggling with seeing.
Jesus, as he does in each one of these churches, introduces himself as he wants you to see him now. And he says in verse 14, "To the angel of the church at Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and the true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this". So before he gets into what he wants to say, he wants you to know who's doin' the talkin'. He says to the church at Laodicea and our church today, "I am the Amen". "Amen" means "So be it", "It is so", "That's the way it is". Can't you hear? "Amen" means "the final word" on the subject. So when Jesus says, "Listen, because the Amen is talkin'", he's basically saying, "I don't care what anybody else said to you. I don't care what other folk told you. I don't even care what you're telling yourself. I am the Amen. I'm the final word on the subject. I am the faithful and true Witness, so I'm gon' give you the testimony".
A witness is a testimony. "And whatever I tell you is gonna be the truth, the whole truth, and nothin' but the truth, so help you God". And you'll see in a moment why he defines himself this way. He says, "I am the Beginning of the creation of God". Now, if you're the Beginning of the creation, that means you existed before the creation that you began. So Jesus Christ declares himself to be the pre-creation, existing prior to creation. That is because he has always existed as the second member of the triune Godhead and the one who's responsible for how history operates.
So what he's saying before he ever gets into what he is sayin' is "Pay close attention 'cause I know what I'm talkin' about. I am the Amen. I am the final testimony and witness, and I am the one who existed prior to you even bein' here". Having established himself to the church at Laodicea, he now makes his complaint, his condemnation. He says in verse 15, "I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were hot or cold. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth". He addresses the problem at Laodicea Bible Fellowship of lukewarmness. "You are lukewarm".
Now, to understand why he is saying this, you have to understand Laodicea's unique location. On one side of Laodicea, the city, was Hierapolis, which was akin to Hot Springs, Arkansas. If you've ever been to Hot Springs, Arkansas, you know the heated water that comes up from the earth, the steam that shows up because of the heat? And that water is used for healing and refreshing. Hierapolis was the Hot Springs, Arkansas, of the day, and that hot water flowed down to Laodicea. But on the other side of Laodicea was the city of Colossae where we get the book Colossians, and cold water came down from the mountains into Laodicea. When the hot water came down from Hierapolis and the cold water came down from Colossae, they met at Laodicea, and when the hot and cold water met, the water now became lukewarm when it reached Laodicea.
So Jesus Christ uses this geographical reality to express a spiritual reality operating at Laodicea Bible Fellowship. He says, "You are neither hot nor cold". Jesus writes this church through its pastor, and he says, "You tell them I know about them. They are neither hot", ain't no hot coffee here. "They're not cold". Has no ice in that glass here. "They are lukewarm". In other words, they are unacceptable. How unacceptable is it, Jesus? "I want to spew them out of my mouth". The phrase "to spew out of the mouth" means "to vomit". Jesus says of Laodicea Bible Fellowship, "Y'all make me sick. I wanna throw up. When y'all come to church, it makes me wanna vomit".
And Jesus says, "This is the Amen talking. This is the one who not gonna tell you what you wanna hear. I'ma tell ya like it really is. This is the one with the final witness making the declaration. Because you're neither hot nor cold, I can't do anything with you. Your spiritual condition reflects your geographical location. It is lukewarmness, it is stagnant, and I can't do anything with you". So it's possible to be a church that makes Jesus sick.
What was it exactly about the Laodicea Bible Fellowship that made Jesus sick? Here's what Jesus says was the problem. Verse 17: "'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing", he says, 'I have a problem with how you view yourself. You say, "I am rich, I am self-sufficient"'". What he's saying is "You've allowed the world to tell you whether you are successful, but I'm the Amen, and I'ma tell ya like it 'tis and like it is. Y'all make me wanna throw up". Don't get mad at the preacher. I'm just quotin' the verse. Jesus says, "You make me want to spit you out of my mouth".
They were measuring the spiritual by the physical, and Jesus says to the church, "You are an abysmal failure". He says, "Let me tell you what you really are". Second half of verse 17, "You do not know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked". Don't get mad at the preacher. I'm just quotin' the verse. Jesus says, "Let me tell ya about yourself. Let me tell you about yourself. You're wretched. And everybody else may think you're nice, but I know ya. You're wretched. Not only are you wretched, but I don't care what your bank account looks like. You're poor". He says, "I don't care where you buy your couture clothes. You're naked".
So, you see, he's quotin' the district: finance, fashion, pharmaceuticals. "'Cause I don't think what you can think you can see with your expensive glasses on, you're blind". He says, "None of what you think about you is real. You're livin' in a dream world because I see what's really goin' on, and what's really goin' on is you don't know how messed up you are. And what's got you messed up is that you've allowed the physical to erase the spiritual, and so because you don't see things from my perspective, you don't see things correctly. I'll tell you what I want you to do".
Verse 18: "I advise you", so he's gonna give you some advice, me, some advice. "I advise you to buy from me gold", 'cause it's a financial district, "refined by fire so that you may become rich", 'cause you're not rich. You think you're rich, but you're not, "and white garments", 'cause it's a fashion district, "so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed, and eye salve", because it's a pharmaceutical district, "to anoint your eyes so that you may see. So guess what I wanna do? I wanna make you truly rich. I wanna give you real clothes, and I wanna open your eyes so that you can see, but the only way you get any of that is from me. Buy from me. In other words, I'm the only one who can give you what you really need to be what you're supposed to be. All that other stuff is fake".
And our world is dupin' us, and Jesus says, "No, I ain't gon' dupe you. No, I want you to become truly rich, which means you're spiritually rich. I want you to become truly clothed, which means you're spiritually attired. I want you to become truly sightful, so I'm gonna remove the blindness so you see things as they really are, but I'm the only one who can do that 'cause I'm not gon' lie to you. I'm not gon' trick you nor am I gon' be impressed by you". That's why you need to, I need to, we need to be close to folk who wanna give us Jesus's perspective.
So Jesus says, "I got some advice for folk who put the physical in front of the spiritual. Buy from me. You gotta get on my page. You gotta start with me, not what they sayin' out there, not what the television is sayin', not what the media is sayin', not what the pundits are sayin'. You start with me because I wanna be the standard by which you operate. Therefore, I advise you to deal with me". Verse 19: "Those whom I love", if you're a child of God, he loves you, "Those who I love, I reprove and discipline, therefore be zealous and repent".
"Those who I love, I reprove and discipline because I love you, but you don't really know you 'cause you think you all that and a bag of chips, so you blind to you, but I'm not blind to you, but I love you, and I wanna get you right. I'm gonna create some situations in your life. It's called discipline. I'm going to bring some corrective measures into your world. I'm gonna put you into situations money can't buy you out of. I'ma put you in situations you can't dress up for. I'ma put you in situations to deal with your blindness. I'm gon' bring some discipline into your life to let you know that all that stuff that the world applauds and makes you feel wrong about yourself with can't solve your problem until I can get your undivided attention. Now, I'm not tryin' to be mean, 'cause I love ya, but I am tryin' to correct some things that need to be corrected so I don't have to spew you out of my mouth. Him who I love, I'm gonna have to deal with you".
Verse 20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock". Okay. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock". See, somebody didn't hear that. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock". He's at the door of Laodicea Bible Fellowship. He's knocking. What does that mean? They havin' church, and he's not even there. So just 'cause you havin' church don't mean Jesus is in the sanctuary. And what keeps him out of the sanctuary is lukewarmness. "Behold, I stand at the door, and I knock". He goes on in verse 20. He says, "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door".
So the question is how do you know if you heard? How do you know if you are hearing the knocking on the door? Here's how you know you're hearing the knocking on the door. God is convicting you of your blindness. You feel convicted that "yes, that's me, standing in the need of prayer", that you feel this tug of God on your heart, "You know you're playin' games with me. You know you're just goin' through the religious motions. You know that there's not a full commitment to me". And he starts tugging you, and you start to feel uncomfortable. You're squirming in your seat although you're not movin'. It's just all on the inside, and you know God is talkin' to you. That means you're hearing a knock, and he's callin' your name.
He says, "If anyone hears my voice, 'cause I've disturbed your world. I messed up your situation. I've let you had money, and I keep things breakin' down that you can't pay for. I let you buy nice clothes, and you lost your job. You know, I done created disciplinary situations, and now you never made the connection between what's goin' on and the stuff you have from the world, but now you see there's a possible link". You just heard a knock. He said, "If anyone hears a knock and opens up the door", he creates the discipline, he says, and then he wants to be invited in. The reason he wants to be invited in is because he wants to help you with the cleanup. He don't want more faking. He already knows the stuff that's not right inside. And he says, "If you will invite me in, I will come in and dine with him or her".
In other words, he's inviting you into a deeper experiential reality of him in your life so that you don't have to fake spirituality, fake commitment, fake lovin' the Lord, fake loving his Word. You won't have to fake that anymore 'cause you and Jesus just had dinner together. It's the real deal. It's the real intimacy. And then he goes on, and he closes. He says, "To him who overcomes", there's that word, "To him who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne".
What did Jesus have to overcome that we had to overcome? 'Cause he said he had overcome some stuff too. You remember when the devil came to Jesus, the temptations in the wilderness? And what he tried to get Jesus to do was to operate independently from God, and he used good stuff to do it. Jesus was hungry. Jesus was hungry. The devil said, "Turn these stones into bread". Isn't it legitimate that Jesus will eat if he hungry? Absolutely. But it's not legitimate for Jesus to eat if he's hungry if the devil is providing the food. That's called "devil's food cake". If the devil is providing the food, he says, "It's okay to eat, but not at your instruction, devil".
He said, "Go up to the pinnacle of the temple and jump off 'cause then they'll see you do your superman thing. They'll see you float down and come down to earth, and then everybody will know you're Messiah, and you can skip the cross". He was tryin' to get Jesus to skip the cross in order to get the crown, but God the Father had already told God the Son, "You're gonna get the crown after the cross". So he tried to reverse the plan of God in his life in order that he might not be inconvenienced. And then in the third temptation, Satan came right down to it. He said, "Well, look, let me tell ya. Let me take ya up to this mountain and offer you the kingdoms of this world, and not only the kingdoms but their glory". Jesus said, "Begone, Satan, for you shall worship the Lord thy God and serve him only".
Satan tried to get Jesus to be divided from the will of the Father. He's after us, trying to be divided from the will of the Father, and we must overcome him as Jesus had to overcome him, and it's hard because Jesus was hungry, and Jesus was tired, and emotionally he didn't want to deal with the cross. He prayed, "Let this cup pass from me". So he had to struggle like we have to struggle, but Jesus said he overcame him.
The lukewarm Christian is the one who won't make a decision. Says, "Be hot or cold, but don't be stuck. Don't just be churchified. Don't just be religious. Don't just act the part. Don't just play Christianity. Just make a decision. Be all in. Be hot. Be cold". That doesn't mean we're perfect, but it means we repent when God reveals our imperfection so that we can get back on the road. And when you do, when Jesus shows up, he enables us to become overcomers of the things we have to overcome because he's dining at the table with us when the devil shows up.
And when you do, he says, "You will sit with me. I see you're an overcomer. I get to interview you to be a close associate. You're close. You're not just in the vicinity. You're close". So I challenge each one of us, including me, but us, collectively as a church, to be all in, all in and putting the spiritual ahead of the physical so that we are not a wretched church, a poor church, a blind church, and a naked church, but a church who eats with Jesus Christ individually. Sh, did you hear that? Listen, listen, sh-sh, sh, sh. Oh, yeah. That's Jesus knocking.
I love the cute saying about being authentic: "Be who you is 'cause, if you is who you ain't, then you really ain't who you is". Now, I know that's not the best English, but what it is, is a call for being authentic; that is, not wearing a mask, not being hypocritical in what you say versus what you do, but being for real, putting a real face on or, as the young people say, not being fake where your authenticity is missing. In our imperfection, God still expects authenticity. That's why he allows for repentance. "Repentance" is recognizing where you've not been right, getting right so you can begin to function right. What we need are for-real Christians.
God is not lookin' for churchgoers 'cause that can be fake Christians and certainly fake disciples. He's not just lookin' for folk who carry their Bible but actually read it and do what it says. He's not askin' for people just to listen to music and sing it but to express it in their lives. He's looking for authentic followers, who demonstrate that this Christianity is for real, that they're not just a Christian when it's convenient, they're not just speaking properly when it helps them politically or economically, or to be people pleasers. No, he's lookin' for folks who wanna be for real in how they react and act.
Every day, ask God to help you: "Today, Lord, I wanna be for real", and that means that your commitment to Christ must trump every other commitment, a commitment to your race, a commitment to your gender, a commitment to your class, a commitment to your economic resources. He must be able to override all of that 'cause, if he can't, you're not an authentic Christian. You're a fake Christian because you have something more important than your relationship to Christ that governs your decision-making.