“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.” (Jesus, Rev 3:20)
When I was a boy, my grandmother had a picture of Jesus standing outside a door. He was knocking gently, as if asking politely to come inside. This image was burned in my mind when, years later, I heard an evangelistic sermon built around this text and the accompanying painting. The preacher reminded us that there is no handle on the door of that painting. Rather, is it up to us to open the door to Jesus. Maybe you have heard a similar message preached on this passage.
Jesus’s proclamation by itself sounds like something he would say in an open field to a large group of people, calling unbelievers to follow him for the first time. While there is certainly an evangelistic message in Jesus’s words that is consistent with his teaching throughout Scripture, the content of this verse deserves a closer look. Jesus’s words are found at the end of his message to the seven churches in the third chapter of the Book of Revelation. He is speaking to the church at Laodicea. If you have heard a sermon or Bible Study on this before, the teacher probably emphasized this church as being the “lukewarm church.”
While the church in Laodicea was once on fire for the kingdom of God, Jesus points out that it had become neither hot nor cold. They had begun to rely on their own wealth, fine clothes, and medical abilities. They were tempted in several ways by worldly comforts and accomplishments, and Jesus points them out, one by one. About ten years before these words were written, the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake. The population of the city was so wealthy, they completely rebuilt without government assistance. Can you imagine a city today recovering from a natural disaster and not expecting the government’s help? There were hot springs near the city, and they were one of the first to have hot and cold running water in their homes. They raised sheep that produced fine wool, which made great clothes. They produced a unique ointment that was known to cure certain eye problems. The Laodicean church didn’t have any problem meeting the budget, clothing the community, or with medical missions. Yet, Jesus says they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17). Ouch! He calls them to repentance and says that he does so in great love.
His solution to their wayward state is to come to them and knock at the door. He wants to be invited in and to share a meal together. Don’t miss the significance of this: Jesus could have disowned the church or easily have wiped the city off the map. Yet, he is standing at the door and asking to be invited in. There are three things in v. 20 that he invites them to do:
1. Pay attention: There is a saying that goes, “Power doesn’t move.” I learned this when I was an elementary school student and was called to the principal’s office. The weaker one comes to the one with power. Yet, here is Jesus, the one who sits on the throne in Revelation, who has emptied himself to call his church to repentance. Because of this posture, he is highly exalted and praised. (See Phil 2:6–11.) This is the type of leader that deserves our attention, and we should listen to him.
2. Open: It is important that Jesus says we should open the door for him. He does not force himself on us, though he certainly could. God respects our divine right of refusal. This is another demonstration of his love for us. Love does not coerce or force itself on another. If you cannot say “no” to the offer, then your “yes” would mean nothing. The church in Laodicea is asked to say “yes” to Jesus’s love again and again.
3. Feast: The Greek text gives the image of people sharing a feast together. The word used here indicates that all formalities of a banquet are dropped—no heavy rules of protocol and decorum. Rather, the meal that Jesus wants to share is a reciprocal relationship between two people who share a deep bond.
Around the world, there is a great deal of anxiety about the future of the church. The pandemic is but one of the concerns I hear from people. However, the lesson to the first-century church in Laodicea is just as relevant today. Jesus is still knocking at the door, still inviting, and still admonishing: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”