The False Promises of Wealth - Revelation 3.14-22
In 1992 when I was in high school I crashed a Boeing 747 landing at Hong Kong airport – not the new one on the island, the old one, where you came in over the city. It wasn't my fault – my co-pilot was one of those jittery drivers over steering this way then that, we were really wrestling for control, I just couldn't keep it steady. It all happened so quickly, it was over in a flash… it would have been really messy if we'd been flying an actual aeroplane!
I don't think you needed me to tell you that I wasn't flying the real thing – but I was just about as close to it as it's possible to get – I was in the QANTAS flight training simulator. You sit in an exact replica of the cockpit, with screens in place of the windows. Apparently they had to turn the motion off because a pilot had been hospitalised in a crash the day before (they sit on hydraulic legs several stories high, you get in by a gantry like a NASA rocket, it's quite cool).
In a simulator like that the distinction between real reality and the simulated reality can be hard to keep hold of, even more so when the motion is on I'd imagine!
And in our passage this morning we have a warning from Jesus about the difficulty in our world of keeping hold of the true reality when all around us we are being bombarded with a cheap imitation of the real thing.
We're in Revelation chapter 3, page 872 if you haven't got it open in front of you. And to give you the barest bit of context this is the last in a series of letters that the risen Jesus dictates to his – now elderly – disciple John. These letters are directed to some of the earliest churches on a trade route through Macedonia – and together they address the major issues that Christians have faced through the ages since.
And I imagine it must have been pretty exciting to hear that Jesus had written letters to the churches … imagine the church in Laodecea gathered like this and a messenger got up to read a letter Jesus had dictated to them! They must have been pretty excited… and then they hear this letter…
Jesus isn't at all pleased with them. This letter is a strong warning that they are in all kinds of trouble. And the issue is that the church was trading in true riches for a cheap simulation that was going to land them in a crash just as surely as if you put two high schoolers in charge of a plane.
We're going to look at it under three headings:
- Jesus reveals their true reality – about to crash and burn
- Jesus prescribes drastic action
- Jesus promises true riches
1. Jesus Reveals their True Reality – About to Crash and Burn
"These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. – i.e. I'm about to tell you the undeniable, absolute final truth!
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot, I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are luke warm – neither hot not cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Jesus knows them, he sees the truest truth about them, and he doesn't like what he sees. Because of their half religion they're about to be violently ejected from Jesus' mouth!
So what's the problem? They have been completely deceived by their wealth:
"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.'"
Just like a teenager on the playstation the difference between reality and virtual reality is as wide as possible – but at least the teenager is aware he's playing a game, these guys have been completely duped.
Their money has deceived them: money, having money, especially having a lot of money gives us a false sense that we're in control, that we're masters of our own destiny – in short that we are do not need a thing – and so we forget that we depend on God for everything.
Laodecea was famously wealthy, a centre for banking with vast reserves of gold. And though the church knows the gospel, and has been acting as a church, their hearts just aren't in it. Maybe they said the creed, maybe even with a heaty Amen, maybe they could share two ways to live with you and draw a really good bible overview; maybe they'd even brought others to faith. But when they were in trouble, money sorted it out. When they planned for the future money was their security. And when they worried in their beds it was money they were stewing over. Their lips were following Jesus, but their hearts were following money. And I wonder if they were all that different from me or you?
They have sleep-walked away from Jesus and given up a relationship with the creator and owner of everything – for a pile of money that doesn't love them, doesn't care about them and ultimately can't help them.
Being rich they say to themselves I'm fine, I've got money, I can sort it – I can have what I want, when I want – they've got classic first world problems – what do you buy for the church that has everything? – they say I don't need a thing… and deep in their hearts: 'I don't need God'.
Ahh, but Jesus says money is only virtual reality, wealth, privilege, success – these things buy us comfort, security and even luxury – for a little while. But the time will come when they all pass away.
What we see, feel, touch and experience is real – but it isn't ultimate reality. One day soon our lives on earth will end and we will be ushered into eternity and then we will see ultimate reality.
And Jesus says to this church that they are completely lacking in the things that will serve them then: You say you are rich? I say you are poor – not just poor, wretched – utterly bankrupt, poor, pitiable – embarrassingly poor – and blind and naked on top of it all.
Their wealth is an illusion that has covered the reality – and so they are not only poor and helpless, but worse, completely ignorant of the fact!
You've all seen the early weeks of the X Factor when they expose the fools haven't you? Great crowds of contestants line up with hopes of becoming stars. And among them are some of the most self-deluded fantasists you will ever meet. And they gladly declare how they're going to be as big as Michael Jackson and how they sing like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Adele… and then they open their mouth and oh dear. The worst of them continue believing in their own ability long after they've been exposed – the crowd is laughing, the judges cringing – and they say I'll show you all, I'm the greatest, I'll be back, you'll see. It's doubly sad because they just can't see it.
And as we sit here this morning we need to ask ourselves how much of this is true for me?
Money makes great boasts, offers us the world. And everything has a price. And you can have whatever you want if you can pay.... And from birth we're taught to chase money and the things it can get us. Every advert, every magazine, every website - they're all in on it, they're all selling the same fundamental world view - and it's all driven by the almighty money.
So we need to realise the truth about money – it can't keep us safe, it can't rescue us from death or deliver us from danger – and all the promises it makes are misleading at best. And the worst is that when we fall for it we can be completely ignorant of our own need…
So this calls for careful self-examination: do you say one thing but do another? Do you mouth the words about God, but trust the money?
Let me ask it this way - do you pray little but fret much? Do you plan for your retirement, but not for heaven? Are you focused on building an impressive portfolio? Has you work become a career and your career become your life? If you lost your job, would it throw you into despair, or could you trust God to look after you and yours? If your bank account was cleaned out, if your wealth was stripped away…. – what would you see when that prop was taken away?
Money creates a false reality which masks the truth – but now Jesus has exposed the truth, how should they respond?
2. Jesus prescribes drastic action
Look at verse 19:
"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
Jesus isn't just interested in self examination – he commands action – money has your heart and you're heading for a fall, so turn back now before it's too late.
What will repentance look like for them? Jesus spells it out in verse 18:
"I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white robes so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see."
What does he mean? True wealth? Takes cue from things they considered their possessions, but point to what they really lack. Gold refined by fire? They were the bankers, they had plenty of Gold, but Jesus talking about a faith that holds on through persecution; white robes – they had world famous black wool that drew fashionistas from far and wide, but Jesus offers them white robes which represent purity and uprightness – the purity that comes from being washed in his blood and clothed with his goodness; eye ointment? they sold special ointments for the eyes– but only Jesus can open blind eyes so we can see spiritual realities.
but what does it mean to buy these things from Jesus? Is this a spiritual version of a prosperity gospel? We invest £X in heaven, and get £XXX when we get there – you know it's not far off… we buy these things from Jesus by throwing ourselves on him totally, giving up control and turning it over to him. And that is like a death to the self. He takes over. It costs us everything we have… but he gives us everything he has.
Listen to what he says again – you have nothing, nothing – you are wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked – so buy from me. The things we have are worthless, we have no currency , nothing to offer him, nothing to buy with, but gives us these things anyway, he makes us rich, truly rich.
So what would that really mean in practice? Remember Luke last term – two characters sum this up beautifully – first the rich young ruler – Jesus said to him give me all you have – sell it all and give the money to the poor and then follow me. But he couldn't do it. He was a true Laodecean, he believed with his mouth, but his heart wasn't in it. But just a few verses later Jesus meets another man who has been living for money – Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus invites himself round for lunch and Zacchaeus spontaneously announces 'here and now I give half my wealth to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone I will repay four times as much'. And Jesus says today salvation has come to this household.
In both cases Jesus prescribes drastic action. The disease is dire. Only drastic action can save us. It's not enough to tell ourselves that we're prepared to give it away – if we don't actually give it away then we're not actually prepared to give it up at all.
See Jesus says I see everything, I know the real you, and I will come and call you to account. And if these things have a hold on you take drastic action – half measures won't do, be earnest – be zealous – and repent, turn away from money before it kills you. It's a strong warning because the danger is real; because Jesus loves us and wants to save us.
So we are called to careful self-examination – but we are not to be satisfied with that – as if examining ourselves is enough, we need to take action accordingly. Love of money is no less deadly than that cancerous lump … If you found a lump you'd spring into action, and you'd expect your doctors to also. Here we have a diagnoses and a prescription – and it's urgent, so watch out, look closely, and wherever you find love of money, repent!
3. Jesus Promises True Riches
Not only can they buy true gold and white robes and clear eyes, Jesus promises yet more rich good things.
Look at verse 20:
"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 him and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my father on his throne. He who has an ear. Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"
These verses contain not one, but two astonishing promises from Jesus.
First Jesus stands ready to forgive and enter in – just as he did with Zacchaeus Jesus wants to invite himself in to ours – to eat with us. This is a picture of acceptance and welcome and love… a symbol of intimacy and grace. This is the great treasure at the heart of Christianity, the great hope for the future – intimacy with our creator. Jesus is the source of all life, all love, goodness, peace, kindness – every good thing. How wonderful to live in the presence of one such as that. And that is what we have in the gospel – he comes close and lives with us.
But as he speaks to this church Jesus is as yet still outside the door. They need to repent of their love and trust in money if they are to eat with him. They have pushed him out of his own church, yet he remains willing to be reconciled to them.
And as if this were not enough Jesus promises us access to him on his throne – notice the mirroring here – he will take us up to sit with him, just as his father took him up to sit on the Father's throne.
See that sin offers us conterfeits of the blessings that come from God, but God offers us the real thing. True wealth, true glory, true honour, true power – God gives them to us freely, without cost, without strings attached!
me and my running – I still occasionally dream that I'm going to be plucked out of obscurity and made some sort of super star – maybe I'll enter the GNR and miraculously record a top ten time, or accidentally stumble into a training ground and embarrass premier league players and find myself contracted, or … and they're foolish in the extreme – I was never close to anything like that in my youth, and I'm not close to my youth anymore… But the desire for glory lingers… and wealth and power…. I feel the pull. The irony is that Jesus offers me the very same things – not now, but in heaven. And the glory that comes from scoring the winning goal lasts for a moment, the best and strongest and fastest get old remarkably quickly and the crown passes to the next generation. Very few names last in history… but the glory that Jesus offers doesn't fade. and it isn't only available to a few exceptional people, even I can take part, and it doesn't hours of practice on the training ground or laps in the pool… he gives me his righteousness… yes it will cost me all I have, but all I have is worthless and pitiful compared to what Jesus offers.
Money is a dead end, a trap, a danger. Give it away. Don't just give it to church, use it to help refugees, to heal diseases, to meet needs, to support gospel work wherever it's needed – just don't use it to feather your own nest, use it to serve God and his people.
And you won't lose, in fact you can only win, because the things that money can buy will never satisfy you. But the things that Jesus offers are true riches indeed and can never be taken away from us.
So what do we do with all of that? Imagine the church in Laodicea sitting down to hear this letter read – they were about to hear an actual letter to them, from Jesus! How exciting it must have been… and then they get that! How these words from Jesus must have smarted – they had no idea they were in such trouble. What about you? What about me? Do these words hit home for you too? I would be very surprised if they weren't at least a bit true. So what will you do? Be earnest and repent, and ask Jesus to come in and take over your heart and give you true riches…