I am on vacation. Some friends of mine and I got this ridiculous idea a year ago to galavant across Turkey (ancient Asia Minor) and see as much of the New Testament as possible. Last week, this idea became a reality.
In the last 10 days, I have walked the streets of Ephesus and climbed the acropolis of Pergamum. I have wandered through Lycian tombs and sat in giant Roman amphitheaters. I have walked as close in Paul’s footsteps as is humanly possible today.
I am still not sure what my purpose in doing all of this was in the beginning. Did I feel it would somehow make me more spiritual? Perhaps I thought it would be some form of pilgrimage that would connect me with our ancient fathers of the faith, even though we evangelicals do not really do that sort of stuff. Maybe it was because I am a nerd, and these are the nerdy things I do for kicks and giggles. Whatever my original purpose may have been, it is now lost to me.
There is no way to describe this journey. I have a bunch of pictures to prove I was here, but they will no more recreate the experience than staring at an advertisement for a steak will fill you up. Nevertheless, I felt the need to share my thoughts from one particular endeavor this past week.
Laodicea was a big city in its day. It was a major center of trade in textiles during its height and was a rich city. A great hill overlooked the surrounding valleys capped with temples, baths, civic buildings, and a grand agora full of shops. This city had two separate amphitheaters, one facing east and one facing west, so that events could be held in the morning and the evening. The city centered on a grand pillared avenue that ran straight through the heart of the buildings. Two rows of columns rose on both sides of the street.
If you are not familiar with Laodicea, it is the final of seven churches addressed in the Apocalypse of John. The book of Revelation was most likely penned toward the end of the first century AD, when this particular town was at its greatest chapter in history. Indeed, Jesus himself had John write down his advice to the community of believers that lived in this city.
This is what Jesus had to say to the church at Laodicea,
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 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. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Today, Laodicea exists not as a great center of culture and enterprise but as a field in the middle of nowhere. All of its glory has been reduced to piles of rocks, crumbled and sticking out of the ground. The great buildings and amphitheaters that showcased their wealth and importance have long since sank into the dirt. Instead of inspiring awe for the works of its inhabitants, it exists as a skeleton of a former achievement. All that is left are the bones of a once great society.
I have no idea if the people to whom Jesus’ words were addressed heeded his warning. We must keep in mind that the recipients were the believers in the city and not the city itself. Jesus was not passing some condemnation on to that city; however, he was providing those who called themselves Christians a poignant word of caution.
Like lukewarm water, neither refreshing or relaxing, they had become useless. Furthermore, they had become self-reliant. Jesus accuses them of thinking they were rich. Whether this was a reference to actual monetary wealth or some form of self aggrandizement or false piety, they had decided they were well off.
And, as anyone who buys into this lie would do, their trust turned inward. If they were rich in money or morals, why did they need Christ? Self-reliance always replaces dependence.
But Jesus knows their works. They think they are clothed in royal robes, yet they are poor and naked. They think they see clearly, but they are blinded to reality. They swallowed a lie and looked pathetic in the sight of God. And despite all of this, Christ shows mercy by providing them a way out of the despicable sin of pride. Buy my gold, which is the purest of all; and buy my clothes, which are the whitest of all; and buy my salve, so that you will see as I see. These were the words of Christ.
Sitting in the remains of the Laodicean amphitheater, reading these words, God reminded me they were not just words to a group of believers in the first century. They were written to me as well.
Whatever riches the church at Laodicea had used to replace their dependence on God, they are gone now. It was a kingdom made of stone, and no kingdom made of stone is eternal. May we not fall into the same trap.
What are we trusting in? In 2000 years, will it still be there? If not, Christ stands at the door knocking for all who will let him in, and he brings with him victory.
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