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Seven Letters to Seven Churches: Christ at the Door

March 24, 2013


Sermon:  Seven Letters to Seven Churches:  Christ at the Door

Text:  John 20:19-20; Revelation 3:20-21


I would like us to look at two passages this morning, one in the Gospel of John, Chapter 20 and the other in the book of Revelation, Chapter 3.  We will conclude our series Seven Letters to Seven Churches next Sunday morning.

Clare and I live in the house that my grandfather built in 1937.  We have occupied this home for the past thirty-two and a half years.  Before we moved into that house, it had served as a place where two churches were started.  At one point it was converted into an office building.  Living in the old family home means a lot to Clare and me.

The house needed some repairs when we first moved there.  We wanted to replace the front door because of a crack in the bottom panel.  We bought a new door, and Clare requested that a peephole be installed so that she would be able to see any visitor.  The door was installed and painted, and a peephole was added.  The guy who did the work was very tall, so tall, in fact, that the peephole was beyond Clare’s reach.  She was never able to use it.  I looked through it for years whenever someone knocked, but I could not see a thing.  It was impossible for us to know who was standing at the door.

Finally after our children were grown and the door had had a lot of wear and tear, we decided it needed to be repainted.  When the worker removed that peephole in order to paint, he asked if we realized that it had been put in backwards.  All this time, I just thought I could not see when, in fact, the peephole had been installed backwards. 

Please follow along as I read our Scripture from John 20:19-20: “19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

Revelation 3:20:  “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 that person, and they with me.”

How do you react when someone comes to your door?  That situation happens to all of us, sometimes with more regularity than with others.  We hear an unexpected knock on the door, and we must make a decision about what to do.

I found on the internet numerous sites that provide information about how to respond when a stranger knocks on your door.  I would like to summarize just one article’s suggestions.

          Open the door only if you know the person on the other side.  Do not blindly open the door to see who it is or what the person wants.  Remember that people dressed to impressed may have ulterior motives.  They may wear official uniforms while actually casing your home.  You are not obligated to let anyone into your home except for a police officer with a search warrant.

          Second, you may ignore the knock on the door but make some noise by turning on the radio or some lights.  Let the person outside know that someone is inside but does not plan to open the door.

          Third, look out a window in another part of the house, one that is away from the door, in order to identify the person.  If you do not recognize the individual, you can shout through the door and ask what the person wants.

          Keep the door chain and deadbolt set.  Do not crack the door to speak to the person through the gap.  Ask what they want by shouting through the closed door.  Interview the person from the inside, behind the door.

          If you are a woman home alone, indicate that a man is in the house.  Mention that your husband, father, or brother is fixing a bathroom faucet and cannot be bothered right how.  Just lie.

          Arm yourself.  If you do not own a firearm, consider pepper spray, a baseball bat, a golf club, or a fireplace poker.

          Consider installing a heavy-duty security door, the kind with steel bars.

          Purchase an intercom speaker system.

          Install a security camera.

          Own a dog that barks loud and long.

These precautions probably come as no surprise to you.  Nor will it surprise you to know that this information was presented on a website for a home security company promoting products like security cameras, deadbolts, and alarm systems.

The company’s business is entirely dependent on what Barry Glassner calls “the culture of fear.”  Glassner has written a book by that very title.  The dust jacket of his book reads,

There has never been another era in modern history, even during wartime or the Great Depression, when so many people have feared so much.  Three out of four Americans say they feel more fearful today than they did twenty years ago.  The Culture of Fear describes the high cost of living in a fear-ridden environment where realism has become rarer than doors without deadbolts.

When you place those suggestions alongside the text we read this morning, next to what the Bible says about Jesus at the door, you begin to get a clear idea about the mindset of our contemporary culture.

The dust jacket of Glassner’s book continues,

Why do we have so many fears?  Are we living in an exceptionally dangerous time?  If you watch the news you would certainly think so, but Glassner demonstrates in his book that it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk.  The Culture of Fear is an exposé of the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears:  politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime and drug use…advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence and danger of particular diseases; and television news magazines that monger a new scare every week to garner ratings.  Glassner spells out the prices we pay for social panics; the huge sums of money that go to waste on unnecessary programs and products as well as time and energy spent worrying about our fears.

We have all heard the wisdom of well-tested proverbs:  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and “Better safe than sorry.”  The question before us is, how are we as Christians to live in a culture of fear?  One week from now we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, which is the centerpiece of our faith.  His resurrection is the source of great hope.  How can we as Christians live with resurrection hope in the midst of fear?

On the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, his disciples begged him not to go, “Don’t go to Jerusalem.  They are trying to kill you.”  Jesus’ brothers cautioned him not to go. Thomas said, “Let’s go and die with him.”  On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into the city, into the very heart of danger, into a first-century culture of fear.

As the harsh events of this Holy Week unfolded, we see again the harsh collusion between the empire and the temple.  Pontius Pilate and Herod, government officials, represented the empire.  Caiaphas and Annas, two of the most corrupt high priests ever to hold that position, represented the temple.  By Friday we hear shouts of “Crucify!  Crucify!” and the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter.  In the end all of the disciples fell away except John, who stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus, which Mel Gibson’s movie poignantly portrayed, would have been very difficult.  The Romans found the way to extract the most pain and the most suffering possible through crucifixion.  So often a person died before being placed on the cross, due to the loss of blood. Jesus, however, was crucified by suffocation, caused by the weight of the body falling on the thoracic cavity.  That cavity filled with fluid, and in time the person actually drowned in his own fluids.  If that process lasted an extended length of time, Roman soldiers broke the person’s legs so that he could no longer support himself.  This was not done with Jesus.  It is no wonder that the disciples – at least the men – did not want to witness the crucifixion.  You can imagine how frightened they were.

On Easter Sunday morning the women returned to the tomb of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, it is Mary Magdalene who saw the empty tomb and encountered Jesus there in the garden.  She first thought that Jesus was a gardener but then recognized him as the risen Christ.  She told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  The tomb was open and empty, and Jesus was free on this resurrection morning.

The terrified disciples left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear and doubt, blindness and suspicion.  They gathered in a house with the doors closed, locked, and bolted.  Those locked doors became great stones, sealing their tomb. Why shouldn’t they be frightened?  If that same unholy alliance between empire and temple took Jesus to the cross, what was to protect his disciples?  They surely must have thought that they would be next to be put to death.

John’s description of the house with the doors locked addresses a lot more than the physical building.  The house had, in effect, become their tomb because they were bound by their fear.  The doors of the tomb like this are always locked from the inside.  John is portraying the inside of these disciples.  The doors of faith had been closed.  They had separated themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.    They had shut their eyes to this new reality and the possibility now of new life.  The locked places of our lives are centered on what is really going on within us rather than on what is happening outside of us.

What are the closed places in your life?  What are the binding forces in your life?  Is it fear and disbelief like that of the disciples?  Perhaps it is sorrow and loss or maybe the wound of a great betrayal, the wound of a family member that has hurt you deeply.  Maybe it is anger and resentment.

Jesus is in the business of entering the locked places in our lives.  He comes unexpectedly.  He comes uninvited.  Sometimes he comes even unwanted.  He comes into our closed lives, our closed hearts, our closed minds, standing among us and speaking those incredible words, “Peace.  Peace.”  He breathes new life into our very being.

In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus came right through the door.  It is just one of the mysterious aspects of the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  He can go anywhere he wants to go.  Once inside, Jesus brings us hope.  If we keep him locked out, we are without hope.

We get another perspective about Jesus’ appearing at the door from the book of Revelation.  John provides this view at the conclusion of the seven letters written to the seven churches.

Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, is a beautiful painting by Holman Hunt called The Light of the World.  This enormous picture, which hangs in an alcove, shows Jesus holding a lantern in one hand and knocking on the door with the other hand.  You have probably all heard evangelistic sermons about how no latch appears on the outside of the door.  The door must be opened on the inside.  A very important point is that we must open up our hearts to Jesus.

My guess is that John’s vision of Christ standing at the door, coming as it does here at the end of the seven letters, has something to do with the life in the church.  Let’s review what we know about the seven churches.  Ephesus had lost its first love.  Smyrna had suffered terrible persecution.  Pergamum had compromised its faith with Caesar-worship.  Thyatira had become overrun with immorality.  Sardis seemed to be alive, but Christ declared that it was dead.  Philadelphia, the poorest of the churches, the most poverty-stricken, had received Christ’s commendation.  Finally, Laodicea had suffered from the sin of acedia, spiritual complacency.  Christ stood at the door of every one of those seven churches.

Let’s compare the problems these seven churches encountered with the problems of people who come to Morningside.  Do any who come here need spiritual renewal?  Have any lost their first love?  Were any deeply committed to Christ, but over the course of the years succumbed to another love?  Have any suffered deeply, maybe from persecution or perhaps emotional or physical abuse?  Have any compromised their faith in Christ, allowing themselves to be led astray in some other direction?  Have any been afflicted with a life pockmarked with immorality?  Have any felt dead, burned out, completely worn out?  Have any been poverty-stricken, in deep need?  Have any who come to Morningside experienced spiritually complacency, tepidness of faith?  The very issues that plagued those seven churches in the first century are the same issues that plague most Christians.

A good friend once told me, “Morningside is a good place for healing.” We welcome the walking wounded and try to see in them the face of Christ Jesus.

Jesus told a story called the Parable of the Last Judgment. In it he talked about those who took care of the needs of others and concluded by saying, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Jesus stands today at every church and knocks.  He has promised that when we gather, as we are today, he will be right here among us.  He is here in this place.  At times a church has to make a deliberate and conscious initiative to open the door.  The Lord Jesus comes to our church and knocks.  “Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be.”  Invite him inside.  He is the Lord of the house who says, “You are my servants.  Would you let me in and take my rightful place as the Lord of this house?”

The two passages of Scripture today demonstrate points that are very important for the health and vitality of the church:  we must always be aware of the presence of Christ in our midst and aware of the reality of Christ at our door; we must be intentional about welcoming him as he comes to us in the face of other people; and we must let him into our heart.

Have you invited Christ Jesus to come into your heart?  Is your prayer “Into my heart, into my heart, Come into my heart, Lord Jesus”?  Whatever decision Christ has laid on your heart, we invite your response.

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2013

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