Since I preach grace, I am often hit with the accusation that I have not read the harsh words of Jesus. The argument seems to be that because Jesus spoke harshly to the Laodiceans, Sardians, etc., he’s not as gracious and loving as I make him out to be.
Like the Hulk, Jesus has an angry side that grace peeps seem to miss.
It’s true that Jesus rebukes the Laodiceans (“You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”) and some of the Sardians (“You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”). But it’s important to ask why?
Jesus does not rebuke them because they are under-performing Christians failing to meet their outreach quotas.
Nor does he rebuke them because the church finances are low and his job is in peril.
So why does Jesus speak bluntly to the Laodiceans, et al.? Because they are lost and he loves them.
Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked (Rev 3:17)
Look carefully at Jesus’ words. “You do not know.” The Laodiceans had no idea they were spiritually destitute.
Like the rich man with his barns (Luke 12:18), they were stockpiling their good works, but they were not rich toward God. They had not taken hold of the Lord’s righteousness because they were full of their own.
Self-righteousness is the hardest sin to dislodge. God help us, but we trust ourselves like we trust the laws of nature, and success only serves to cement our deception.
“I did it. I made it. I came, I saw, I conquered.” To be disabused of such a powerful lie, we need a stronger truth. Enter the Faithful and True Witness: “You are wretched.”
Why does Jesus say they are wretched? Because only the wretched cry out for rescue. And why does Jesus say they are naked? Because none but the naked will ever go to him for clothing.
Some say Jesus spoke harshly because he hates the Laodiceans. In truth, he loves them.
Others say his words connote anger and condemnation. But Jesus cares for the Laodiceans and wants them to turn around.
Jesus didn’t speak to condemn them but to save them. If his words sound harsh to us, maybe it’s because the truth is sometimes hard to hear. It takes a hard truth to dislodge a deep deception.
In speaking bluntly to the Laodiceans, the faithful and true Witness reveals their true condition. He lets them know that they have fallen short and lost their way.
Of the seven churches Jesus addresses in Revelation 2 and 3, the Laodicean church is the only one where he has nothing positive to say. This highlights the seriousness of the Laodiceans’ problem.
They are not told to remember, like the Ephesians, because there is nothing to remember.
Nor are they exhorted to hold fast, like the Philadelphians, because they haven’t taken hold. Trusting in their own performance, they are truly lost.
I advise you to buy from me… (Rev. 3:18a)
Why does Jesus advise? The law drives us, but Jesus draws us. The law whips, but the Lord woos. The law commands, but Christ counsels us like the true friend he is.
The Ruler of all does not demand obedience from the Laodiceans. He does not threaten them with hellfire or damnation. Instead, he draws them aside like a trader in the marketplace with the deal of a lifetime. With unexpected generosity, he makes them an offer that’s too good to pass up.
“Buy from me”
Why is Jesus talking like a businessman? Perhaps it is because this was a church of merchants and business people. They understood the art of the deal. “You want to do business?” Jesus said. “Then do business with me.”
Is Jesus saying we can buy our salvation? In a manner of speaking, yes.
To buy something is to exchange something we have for something we value more. You might say we buy salvation by exchanging our sins for his forgiveness, but the real exchange is Jesus for us. Christianity is a divine exchange, our life for his. It’s the best deal you’ll ever make.
But Jesus said they were poor. How can the poor buy anything? Because grace pays for all.
A Jewish listener hearing this invitation to buy from Jesus would have been reminded of an old prophecy:
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1)
The true riches that Christ offers come without cost, or rather, they come with a great cost that he has paid on our behalf. This deal makes no economic sense. We come to him poor and empty-handed, and receive everything in return.
We come naked and are clothed.
We come hungry and are filled.
We come thirsty and are satisfied.
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