46) Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy (Revelation 3:18)
If Jesus is in fact “the Amen, the faithful and true witness,” wisdom would demand that we heed his counsel. If he can be counted on not only to confirm God’s purposes (“Amen”) but to speak truth without equivocation (“the faithful and true witness”), we ignore him to our peril. To casually dismiss his evaluation of the state of our souls or turn a deaf ear to his advice on how we might find healing and hope is more than morally reprehensible, it borders on insanity.
Our Lord has spoken to the Laodiceans (and to us!) without pulling any spiritual punches. He’s come straight to the point in identifying the problem: a prideful, pompous, inflated sense of self-sufficiency that breeds self-delusion and lukewarm ineffectiveness.
But there’s still hope, if only they’ll listen and learn from “what the Spirit says to the churches”. Says Jesus:
“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” (Revelation 3:18).
Lukewarm, professing Christians, though poor and bereft of spiritual resources can still cash in on the only currency that counts, now and in eternity: pure gold, refined by Jesus himself.
Those plagued by moral nakedness and the shame of exposure can yet be adorned in clothing that may not qualify as “fashion” in today’s world but is more than adequate to provide covering and a standing before a God who sees through every outward façade.
And those blinded by a false sense of self-importance, who fancy themselves enlightened and “on the cutting edge”, may yet submit to an ophthalmic physician whose healing salve strips the scales from our darkened vision and brings clarity of sight to behold the beauty of the King.
Continuing to draw on imagery derived from their own commercial activities, Jesus counsels them to make several purchases in those areas where they fancy themselves self-sufficient. He likens himself to a merchant who visits the city to sell his wares and competes with other salesmen. “I advise you,” he says, “to forsake your former suppliers and come trade with me.”
True spiritual wealth, the sort that cannot rust or be stolen or suffer from a Wall Street crash or plummeting interest rates, is the “gold” that is purified of all dross and rid of every alloy by the refining fires of suffering (cf. Job 23:10; Prov. 27:21; Mal. 3:2-3; 1 Pt. 1:6-9). This is the “gold” of knowing Christ, enjoying Christ, savoring Christ, treasuring Christ, prizing Christ, and finding in him alone the fullness of joy that will never fade or lose its capacity to please.
There is an obvious paradox here, for how can “poor” people purchase a commodity as expensive as gold? You do so with the only currency that counts in God’s presence: need. The coin of the realm is desperation. We don’t pay him out of our resources but from an acknowledgment of the depths of our abject poverty. The price God requires is that faith in him which humbly concedes that one has nothing with which to bargain, nothing with which to trade, nothing with which to make so much as a meager downpayment.
Here, then, is the good, great, and glorious news to the “poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3):
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:1-2).
The Laodiceans were desperately and embarrassingly lacking those garments whose fabric covers all sin and clothes all nakedness, whose “style” alone counts in the presence of God. We live in a world shamefully accustomed to praising the self-absorbed actress who primps publicly in the latest Versace gown. But on the final day, only those clothed in the Son will withstand the scrutiny of him whose eye is turned not toward the fleeting fashion of human achievement but to the moral substance of conformity to Christ alone.
For people living in first-century Laodicea, the imagery would have evoked an unmistakable contrast in their minds between the famous and profitable “black” wool from the sheep in Laodicea and the “white” woolen garments essential to their spiritual lives.
Finally, they are desperately in need of the restoration of their spiritual vision. The founder of the medical school at Laodicea was a famous ophthalmologist named Demosthenes Philalethes. As helpful as his remedies might be for the physical eye, only Jesus can apply that soothing, healing, restorative salve that enables us to behold and enjoy beauty that never fades or fails.
John Stott’s words are to the point:
“Here is welcome news for naked, blind beggars! They are poor; but Christ has gold. They are naked; but Christ has clothes. They are blind; but Christ has eyesalve. Let them no longer trust in their banks, their Phrygian eyepowders and their clothing factories. Let them come to Him! He can enrich their poverty, clothe their nakedness and heal their blindness. He can open their eyes to perceive a spiritual world of which they have never dreamed. He can cover their sin and shame and make them fit to partake of the inheritance of the saints in light. He can enrich them with life and life abundant” (122-23).
Hymnwriter Joseph Hart captured the essence of our Lord’s appeal, whether it be to the Laodiceans then or to the church, any church, today:
“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?
Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.”