I Stand at the Door

by Rev. L. John Gable

I Stand at the Door by Rev. L. John Gable
September 11, 2016

I cannot read this passage from Revelation 3 without thinking of the story of the minister who was out making calls one afternoon and stopped by a parishioner’s home, unannounced.  He rang the doorbell, but got no answer.  He knew someone was home; lights were on and he heard noises inside, so he tried knocking; still no answer.  Finally he left his card with a note saying, “Rev. 3:20 – Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  Listen to My voice and open the door.”  The following Sunday morning a woman greeted the pastor following worship and handed him a note which read, “Genesis 3:10 – I heard you, but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”

In some way that is the message of Scripture which lies at the heart of our faith.  We have a God who comes to us, who seeks us and finds us, even when we are hiding.  This is what Jesus has done for us when He comes to seek and save the lost, and it is the ministry He has given to us to carry on still today.

By definition, Christianity is an evangelical faith.  What we have received from God in Jesus Christ, namely His love and saving grace and forgiveness, we are intended to pass on to others.  Unfortunately, the word evangelism has, for many, taken on something of a negative connotation as it conjures up images of manipulation, coercion, and collar-grabbing.  That is so unfortunate because really it is a beautiful word which simply means “to share good news”, and friends, we don’t need to beat people up with good news, we simply need to share it with them in a winsome and engaging way, such that they will want to hear it and gladly respond to it.  In its purest sense, evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than the ministry of invitation, one person sharing the Good News with another, “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”, and this is a ministry to which each of us has been called.

Throughout the Gospels we hear Jesus’ call to discipleship. “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of souls…Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”  His was a ministry of invitation, not just to the religious, but to the outcast and forgotten.  He came not to burden us with religious rules and regulations, but to set us free to live fully in His love, in a saving relationship with God and a right relationship with one another.  This is what He meant when He said, “I am the gate.  Whoever enters by Me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus offers us a way of life and living that no one and nothing else can offer, and this then is the ministry He has given to us, to receive for ourselves, then to pass on to others. “Go and make disciples”, He commissions us; you and I have been charged with the continuation of Jesus’ ministry of invitation.

But before we can do that, before we can tell others about the life-saving, life-changing, life-enriching relationship we have with God, we must first have such a relationship.  We cannot give to others something we do not have for ourselves.  So the starting point of evangelism and genuine faith-sharing is our own relationship with Christ, and the starting point of that relationship is in our saying “yes” in answer to His call to discipleship.

In the third chapter of the book of Revelation we read these words of the Risen Christ, “Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with Me.”  This is Christ’s personal invitation to each of us to enter in to a relationship, a friendship with Him, and His invitation calls for our response.

This passage was illustrated by Holman Hunt in his familiar painting, “The Light of the World.”  I think you all are familiar with it.  It pictures Jesus in His royal robe with a crown of thorns on His head, standing with a lighted lantern in His hand, knocking at what appears to be a cottage door.  The door is closed fast with signs that it has never been opened.  The hinges and bolts are rusty, and cobwebs and ivy adorn it.  This is the door of the human heart, yours and mine, and Jesus stands knocking, asking to be invited in.

The context of this verse is insightful.  In the book of Revelation the Risen Christ speaks to the seven churches of Asia Minor and the message we read this morning is addressed to the church of Laodicea.  Laodicea, situated in present day Turkey, was once a wealthy and prosperous city.  It sat at the crossroads of three prominent trade routes making it a cultural, commercial and administrative center.  Laodicea was known for three things in the ancient world: its great wealth and fine banking institutions; its linen and clothing industry which made cloth and carpeting; and its medical school and wonderful medicines, particularly an ointment for the eyes.

Yet as prosperous as the city was our Lord criticized the church there for the complacency of their faith.  Harsher words against the church are not spoken anywhere as He says, “You are neither cold or hot.  I wish that you were either cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”  It is almost as if the Lord is saying, “I don’t know what to do with you.”  They did not reject the Gospel, but neither did they whole-heartedly embrace it.  They simply went through the motions of religion without conviction or enthusiasm.  “Would that you be hot or cold!” says our Lord.  But as it is they had just enough religion to disguise their need for a living and life-changing faith.  Like a vaccination, they had just enough of the dead matter to make them immune to the living antibody of Christ. To be in that condition is worse than having no faith at all.

While the church in Laodicea was boasting, “I am rich!  I have prospered.  I have no need of you”, Jesus is standing at the door knocking, knowing that despite their overflowing banks they were poor; despite their clothing factories and beautiful linens they were naked; and despite their physicians and healing salves they were blind.  They were rich in the things of this world, yet poor in the things of God, and as a result the Risen Christ calls them “wretched and pitiable.”

Friends, I listen to these words and take them to heart for they sound so much like the condition many find themselves in today, perhaps even we ourselves.  We too would likely confess that we find ourselves living somewhere between these two worlds much of the time.  We confess our faith in the Lordship of Christ and commit ourselves to wholeheartedly following Him in here on Sunday, then feel the pull to live in the way of the world out there the remainder of the week.  I can think of no more spiritually damaging words than these, “I am rich.  I have prospered.  I have no need for God.”

This is clearly a judgment teaching of our Lord that we must take to heart, but as we have seen time and time again, whenever there is a pronouncement of judgment there is also an invitation of grace, an opportunity for repentance.  You see, Jesus continues to stand at the door, knocking; asking to be welcomed in; calling us into a new and abundant way of living in right relationship with God.

Notice He stands at the door knocking…not just once but continually.  God’s message of grace continues to flow.  He stands knocking, not pounding, not shouting, not forcing His way in.  Rather than putting His shoulder to the door, He puts His hand to the knocker and waits for us to welcome Him in, even those of us who are still afraid and are hiding from Him.  Given who He is and the authority He holds over heaven and earth, He could easily command us to open our hearts to Him, but He does not, rather He patiently waits for us to invite Him in; yet His message is consistent and clear, “Listen to My voice and open the door”, and open it we must.  Referring to Jesus’ teaching from John 10, we cannot enter the sheepfold of God’s people in any way other than through Him, who is the gate.

Perhaps for many of us this is such elemental teaching, but all of us need to be reminded of this essential first step of faith.  This is the decision we must make if we are in any way to call ourselves Christian.  It doesn’t happen to us by accident, or by birthright, nor is it anything that anyone else can do for us.  Let there be no confusion or misunderstanding on this, Jesus cannot come in, He will not come in, unless and until we invite Him.  To become a follower of Christ means we must respond to the invitation of Christ by deciding to open the door of our hearts and welcome Him in as Savior and Lord.

I believe that God is calling each one of us today in to a closer, deeper relationship with Himself; however, some of us can hardly hear the knocking because there is so much other “noise” in our lives.  We need to turn down its volume so that we can hear His calling and recognize the sound of His voice.  For some, even among us here today, He is asking us to open the front door of our hearts to Him for the very first time.  For others of us, He is asking us to invite Him to come farther in to the other rooms of our house: into the family room where we live as husbands and wives, into the study where we make decisions about how we spend our time and money and resources; into our dens and playrooms and bedrooms.  There is not a room in house or our lives that God does not want to say, “I am Lord here!”

So how is God calling you into a deeper relationship with Himself today?  If we say He is our Shepherd then we will recognize His voice.  The question then is, are we able and willing to listen and follow Him?  Perhaps He is calling you through a sense of longing or an inner yearning that there is something missing in your life; perhaps through a desire, a craving, to explore the spiritual side of life; perhaps He is speaking to you through a hurt, a disappointment, a need that longs to be filled; perhaps through a dawning awareness that though you have everything this world has to offer, still you feel “poor, blind and naked”; perhaps He is speaking through the tingle you feel in your spine when you hear His invitation, as though it was spoken just to you, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear My voice open the door!”

Friends, I beg you to listen to His knocking and answer His call.  The door of our hearts does not open by chance; we must open it.  In Holman Hunt’s famous painting it is interesting to note that there is no door handle, no latch,on the outside where Jesus is standing.  The door must be opened from the inside, from our side.  The decision of faith always and only belongs to us, each of us, alone.  “Let anyone who has an ear, listen.”   

John R.W. Stott writes this about the importance of this decision of faith.  “You can believe in Christ intellectually and admire Him; you can say prayers to Him through the keyhole; you can put coins at Him under the door to keep Him quiet; you can be moral, decent, upright and good; you can be religious; you can have been baptized and confirmed; you can be deeply versed in the philosophy of religion; you can be a student of theology and even an ordained pastor – and still not have opened the door to Christ.  There is no substitute for this.”

When I sat down to write this sermon there were two points I wanted to make, the second being the importance of our sharing this Good News of God’s love and saving grace with others; but I discovered, once again, that this first step is so essential that we cannot move on from it until this one is decided.   So I invite you to be here next week for Part II.  Today we’ve discussed Jesus’ invitation to us, “I stand AT the door”, and next week we’ll explore how we can extend that invitation to others, “I stand BY the door.”

This morning in our time of silent reflection I invite you to prayerfully consider this question alone: which side of the door of my life is Christ standing on?  If you know with certainty that you have responded to His calling, said “yes” to His invitation to discipleship and are actively desiring to grow deeper and stronger in your relationship with Him, then I invite you to take this time simply to thank Him for what He has done for you and for the abundant life He has given which you now enjoy, and then recommit yourself to following faithfully after Him.  If, however, you are not certain that you have ever really said “yes” to His gracious invitation, I invite you to do so now.  Tell Him of your desires to lead a life that is honoring and pleasing to Him, confess all your fears and reservations about what it means to follow Him, and then simply open the door and invite Him to come in, just as you would any guest to your home.  That’s all we are asked to do.  He has done, and will do, all the rest.  This is the first and essential step in the Christian life: responding to the invitation of the One who stands knocking, waiting to be welcomed in.