The last book of the Bible opens with the risen Lord Jesus Christ seated on the throne of heaven, exalted in power and glory. The apostle John records the words of Christ to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22.
Laodicea was church with relentless activity. There was a certain confidence about the people. This was a church that was felt by its own members to have been quite successful.
Here is the congregation’s self-assessment: “For you say I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…” (Revelation 3:17).
A few months before coming to this country, I caught up with a professor from Trinity who was speaking at a conference in England. He was not a member of our congregation, but he knew the church well. I was eager to get his impressions of the church where I would soon be serving.
So I asked him what he thought would be my biggest challenge serving at what was then the Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church, and I will never forget his answer: “Your biggest challenge will be knowing what to do. They already have everything.”
That was our reputation in 1996, and that was the reputation of the church at Laodicea. Laodicea was a church with a 5-star rating. Visitors who came to the church would say, “What more could you want? They’ve got everything here.” If the pastor at Laodicea had called the congregation there to a summer of reflection, with regards to their spiritual life, the people would have said, “We are doing quite well.”
Standing Outside the Church
Yet, here is the great irony: For all its fine reputation, Jesus Christ was standing outside the door of this church, and he was knocking (v. 20). To me, this is one of the most extraordinary pictures in the Bible: Jesus Christ outside his own church! Christ knocking on the church’s door!
I know this text is often preached as a message to unbelievers inviting them to open their hearts to Christ. There is nothing wrong with that. But the first application is not to unbelievers; it’s to the church!
Think about the One who is knocking at the door: He is the glorified Lord, who has just been revealed to John. He is the head of the church, and the church is his body. He loves the church, and without him, there would be no church to love.
His whole life centers on the church. On the cross, he gave himself to bring the church into being. Now, in heaven, he lives to direct the church in its mission and sustain the church amid all the assaults of her enemies; and one day he will come in power and glory to bring the church into the joy of his immediate presence forever.
The life of Christ centers on the church. But (in Laodicea) the life of the church did not center on Christ. Christ was outside, knocking at the door.
Three Ways Christ Can Be Outside a Church
1. Christ can be outside the preaching of a church.
In the summer of 2011, I was given some weeks of study leave which gave me the opportunity, unusual for a pastor, to visit and worship at a number of churches.
I went to a different church each Sunday for a whole summer, and I was deeply struck by the number of churches in which the name of Jesus Christ was not even mentioned once in the entire sermon.
I heard much about marriage, family, and community. I heard a great deal about opening yourself up to other people. There were often general references to God, and I heard plenty of quotations from the Bible; but on many of these Sundays, Christ was not in the sermon.
Even when the sermon was from the Bible, Christ was too often outside the preaching.
2. Christ can be outside the mission of a church.
Last year, our church board read and discussed an excellent book by Kevin DeYoung called What is the Mission of the Church? You might wonder why anyone would need a book about the mission of the church. Isn’t the Great Commission clear? Yes, it is.
But no matter how clear the Great Commission is, church mission is widely being redefined in our time as being a blessing, or being a presence, or alleviating need, all of which can be done without even mentioning the name of Jesus.
“Go make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a radically Christ-centered mission. But many churches are redefining mission in a way that leaves Jesus outside, knocking at the door of mission.
3. Christ can be outside the fellowship of a church.
A defining mark of our time is that people want to experience community. That is a wonderful thing. We want to “do life together.” I’ve said that before, and you probably have too. That’s good, but it is possible to “do life together” with Christ outside the door!
It is possible to have fellowship groups where we encourage one another, but Christ is outside. Christian fellowship goes beyond doing life together. It is about “walking with Christ together through life.”
The word “fellowship” literally means sharing in a common life. When Christ lives in us, we share in his life together. Getting into a small group for fellowship is a marvelous benefit, and building supportive relationships is a huge blessing, I commend it to you.
But let’s be careful to keep Christ at the center of our fellowship. We don’t want him outside knocking on the door.
Why Is Christ Knocking?
S.W.A.T. teams can knock a door down. They have the gear to do it. Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of power and glory. Closed doors never stand in his way.
After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples locked the door in the house where they were gathered. They were afraid of the authorities. But a barred door was no problem to the risen Christ. He came through the walls and appeared to them!
Christ can barge through any door at any time of his choosing. The strongest door installed in a bank vault or in a high security prison is no hindrance to him. But here we find Jesus knocking at the door. Why is he knocking?
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
His Knocking Is Good News
Communion! Fellowship with us! Here is why Christ is knocking. Fellowship cannot be forced. Communion cannot be commanded. Christ cannot have fellowship with us by breaking down the door.
Jesus says, “If anyone hears my voice…” That means he is not only knocking, he is also speaking. The door must be opened. What Christ seeks involves a choice for us.
The fact that Christ is knocking at the door is good news for us. He wants fellowship with us more than we want fellowship with him. If the whole church was aflame with passion for communion with Christ, and he did not want communion with us, we would be completely hopeless.
The good news is that Christ seeks a deeper fellowship with his people. He is at the door. He is knocking. The great challenge for the church at Laodicea was the low temperature of their spiritual life. They were neither hot nor cold, but somewhere in between.
Spiritual temperature rises as Christ becomes central to the whole life and ministry of a church. That includes a church’s preaching, mission, and fellowship.