by Roger McCay
11 July 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 3:14-22
Link to Audio Version
What is at the top of the mountain of success? John L. Cooper, in his book Awake & Alive to Truth, answers this query with the testimony of a man who had been there:
… a man [as Cooper tells it] who had created several businesses had many employees, and created an incredible amount of wealth. He’d never been in need of anything that he couldn’t buy. There was nothing left to conquer because he had reached the top of the mountain of success. In his later years in life, he discovered the truth of Jesus and the God of the universe. He had finally found the joy and fulfillment he had been looking for in all of his endless pursuits. He was asked what he wanted to do for the remaining years of his life. His answer was simple:
In the time I have left, as I climb down the mountain of success and pass everyone who is clawing and scraping their way up, I want to tell them as loudly as I can that I have been to the top of the mountain. I have seen everything there is to see. And there is nothing up there. 
“There is nothing up there.” Or, as Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Worldly success and affluence does not mean that one is rich in any meaningful way when it comes to eternal things. One cannot look at all one has, at one’s influence, power on this earth, one’s worldly accomplishments and equate that with God’s approval and assurance and that one is squared up with him. The Scriptures are clear on this. Yet, in the midst of the headiness and confidence engendered by worldly achievements and prosperity, there can be a tendency to get confused—confusing worldly affluence and self-sufficiency with being right with God.
Sure, worldly success is a blessing from God, and we need to remember this truth before we fall into the trap of Nebuchadnezzar, in Dan. 4. Worldly success is not, however, the measure of one’s eternal assurance, but it is a measure of what is expected from you, in your work for the Kingdom of God (Luke 12:48). And outside of communion with the Lord, worldly success (whether one is a billionaire, the ruler of nations, successful in business, famous on the internet, or whatever earthly pursuit one sets his or her hand to) … worldly success outside of communion with the Lord is empty, fleeting, and just pitifully sad, as it is merely “vanity and a striving after wind.”
The Laodiceans, in the first century, were confused on this matter, equating affluence with spiritual assurance and self-sufficiency with righteousness. Thus Jesus sent them this letter to set them straight—a letter that has great relevance for the church today (v. 22).
Laodicea was a remarkably wealthy city, one of the richest in the world. Their location was at a junction of trade routes going north-south and east-west through Phrygia, and they profited greatly from the traffic. With their wealth and location, they naturally became the banking center of the region. They further boasted a medical school, with a focus on ophthalmology, the healing of eyes, and were known for a medicinal eye powder. They also had a unique trade in the wool of black sheep, with the clothes made of the soft black wool being in vogue. The city was so wealthy, that, in AD 60, when a great earthquake damaged the city (along with several others), the city refused imperial help to rebuild. So they rebuilt without help. Indeed, with many of the new structures, the city was even more impressive than it was before the earthquake.
Laodicea was close to two other cities, Hierapolis and Colossae, and it is thought that the churches in these cities sprang up as a result of Epaphras’ preaching, during the years that Paul was in Ephesus (Col. 4:13). And you may remember that Paul’s letter to the Colossians was also meant to be read in Laodicea, and the letter he wrote to Laodicea (which we don’t have) was meant to be read at Colossae. Also in Laodicea, there was a large Jewish population, and the primary pagan Gods worshipped were Zeus and Men Karou, the god of healing.
In our passage today, Jesus dictates to John this letter to the church in Laodicea. He identifies himself in three ways: “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” That Jesus is the Amen, means he is true, the true God who is true to his Word and true to his people (Isa. 65:15). Thus he is the faithful and true witness, the Word of God, whose proclamations and judgments are the very judgments and proclamations of God, and whose promises are as sure as existence itself. That he is the beginning of God’s creation hearkens to his being the pre-incarnate Son of God, the Word of God that spoke the universe into being. And this title brings to mind that he is the one testified to in Col. 1:15-20, a passage the Laodiceans should have known:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And Jesus, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation,” had some issues with the church in Laodicea.