Sometime around A.D. 95, Jesus, through the apostle John, came metaphorically knocking on the door of the church in Laodicea with an unsurpassed invitation:
“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.” (Revelation 3:20)
Pulled out of its context, this verse can sound like Jesus was calling softly and tenderly. Paintings inspired by this verse tend to portray a gentle Jesus mildly knocking. In reality, he was anything but soft and tender, gentle and mild. This invitation came on the heels of a bracing rebuke and serious warning. Jesus was pounding on the Laodicean’s door with the urgency of emergency:
“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.” (Revelation 3:15–19)
Jesus was pounding on the door of a church whose trust in an idol put them in grave spiritual danger. Their prosperous tepidness made him want to gag. But because he loved these lukewarm Christians, he lovingly disciplined them with hard words and called them to zealous repentance and reformation.
When Jesus Came Knocking in Wittenberg
On October 31, 1517, Jesus, through a little-known German priest/professor named Martin Luther, came quite literally knocking on the Wittenberg door of the Roman Catholic Church.
Unrestrained corruption of power and wealth was a sin-cancer that had metastasized in the Roman Catholic Church and spread to many of her leaders and, through them, into her doctrines and practices. This cancer was killing the church. She too had grown very prosperous and yet did not realize how wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked she had become. She had not listened sufficiently to Jesus’s authoritative voice in the Scriptures, or to the prophetic voices of warning that he had repeatedly sent to her. The Lord was at the end of his patience.
But because he loved his sin-diseased church whose idolatry put her in grave spiritual danger, he sent an unlikely messenger from an unlikely town — so very like the Lord — with a hard word of loving discipline. Professor Luther walked up to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg with a hammer, a few nails, and a parchment listing 95 stinging indictments against the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike what the Laodiceans received, Luther’s theses were not inerrant Scripture. In fact, later Luther knew a number of them did not go far enough. But still, they were a largely biblical call to zealous repentance, as the first thesis so clearly captures:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
In the pounding of Martin’s hammer, Jesus came knocking. And his knocking set off a chain-reaction that exploded into the Protestant Reformation, a gospel detonation that is still shaking the world nearly 500 years later.
A Reformation Detonation
As a result of October 31, 1517, hundreds of millions of Christians all over the world have submitted to God’s word as their highest authority (Sola Scriptura) and his teaching that salvation is a gift given by God’s grace alone (Sola Gratia) through the instrument of faith alone (Sola Fide) in the death and resurrection of their one savior and mediator, Jesus Christ (Sola Christus), so that all glory would always redound to the Triune God alone (Sola Deo Gloria).
Wherever the church opened the door to Jesus, repentance and reformation was like chemotherapy to the cancer of spiritual corruption and recovered belief in the gospel of Christ spread spiritual health through much of Europe, then on to the New World, Asia, and Africa. It spawned massive evangelism, church planting, Bible translation, and frontier missions efforts. And in its wake it brought about all manner of social good: stronger families, honest commerce, economic empowerment for the poor, hospitals and clinics for the sick, education for the masses, encouragement for the scientific enterprise, democratic forms of civic government, and on and on.
When we really comprehend the massive floodgate of mercy that was opened to us because Jesus came knocking in Wittenberg, Reformation Day (October 31st) becomes a thanksgiving day — a day for feasting or perhaps for fasting and prayer for another reformation detonation in our lives and churches and nations.
Is Jesus Knocking on Your Door?
In fact, given the prosperity that most of us in the West are experiencing and the arid spiritual climate most of us live in, it may be that the best way we can observe Reformation Day is to do some serious, prayerful soul-searching. Have we allowed a Laodicean type of acedia to settle in? We know that significant portions of the Western church are diseased with various heresies. Do they provoke us to earnest prayer?
And we should ask ourselves, is Jesus knocking — or pounding — on our door? Are we hearing him? Are we ignoring or even resisting him? Are we tolerating and justifying any idols? One clear symptom of idolatry is spiritual lukewarmness. Tepidness typically does not feel like a grave danger. It can feel like a tolerable and even nearly pleasant malaise. But it is deadly. In this state we do not realize how wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked we are.
And because Jesus loves sinful people like us, when we fall into such a state he comes knocking — hard. We often do not recognize it as him at first because he can come in the form of a messenger, sometimes an unlikely one. And the pounding of their hard words can make us defensive and mad.
But let us listen carefully and drop our guard. The hard words are painful, especially to our pride. But Jesus (or his imperfect messenger) is not being mean or condemning us. It is the loving discipline of our Savior to warn us. Lukewarmness means spiritual life-threatening idolatry. The cure is for us to “be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
If Jesus is knocking on our door, let us welcome him in fully that we may eat with him and he with us (Revelation 3:20). Accepting his unsurpassed invitation to joy through repentance and reformation may be the greatest way to celebrate Reformation Day.