“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and he will sup with me”. These words of the Risen Christ to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3.20 AV), stand beneath the famous picture by Holman Hunt of Jesus, as ‘The Light of the world’.
First produced in 1854, Holman Hunt went on to paint the same subject three times. The earliest version is to be found in Keble College, Oxford; the second version is in the Manchester Art Gallery; and the final version hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral. Hunt said of the painting:
I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good subject.
He also said that working on the first version of this painting had made him become a Christian.
In Hunt’s picture Jesus is shown knocking at a door that had been long shut. The hinges have rusted, and the door has become overgrown with weeds – many of the weeds are dead and dying, indicating that life without Jesus is no life at all.
Jesus is wearing a long white robe, like that worn by the High Priest in Jewish tradition. On his head he wears a crown of thorns, and in his left hand he holds a lantern – hence the title of the picture, ‘The Light of the World’. With his right hand Jesus is knocking at the door. Interestingly his feet are turned sideways away from the door, as if he has been knocking at the door for a very long time and now is preparing to go. The implication is that it is almost too late to open the door and admit Jesus into our lives.
Crucial to the painting is that the door has no handle. The only way for it to be opened is from the inside. The door represents the door of our lives. Here we have a reminder that Jesus never forces himself onto us; he waits to be invited.
This remarkable picture is a wonderful illustration of the need for each one of us to open our hearts to Jesus. I, for instance, vividly remember the Sunday when after an evening service I knelt down in my home and asked Jesus to come into my life to be my Saviour and my Friend. Here in Revelation 3.20 the Risen Christ declares: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (NIV). Here is a message to individuals. Here is a great text for Gospel preaching.
Yet at the same time, this is a message directed to a church. Indeed, these words are part of the message to the church in Laodicea. The church at Laodicea had become comfortable, complacent, and even self-sufficient.
I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Rev 3.15, 16).
They were Christian just in name – Jesus was no longer truly Lord of their church, instead they followed their own religious agendas. As my father wrote in his commentary, first published in 1974:
To have enough religion to disguise one’s need of a living faith is to be in a worse condition than having no faith at all. An honest atheist is more acceptable to the Lord than a self-satisfied religious man.
At a time when the church in Chelmsford was wrestling with whether or not to proceed with plans for a major redevelopment of its premises, I preached on this text and said:
The Lord Jesus knocks at the door of our church and says, ‘Let me be Lord of this church. Let this church be my church, and not just your church. In all the decisions that you make let it not be your preferences which prove to be the deciding factor, but rather let “my will be done, let my kingdom come”’.
Later, with these words of the Risen Christ in mind, we developed a church covenant, which is renewed every year:
Lord Jesus, you are Lord of our lives and Lord of your church.
We will act in love toward one another.
We will care for one another.
We will support those you have called to lead us.
With your help we resolve to do our best to preserve the unity of your church.
Lord Jesus, you wish to enter the hearts and lives of everybody.
We will pray for those who have yet to respond to your love.
We will invite friends to come to our church.
We will make our church a place where strangers feel at home.
With your help we resolve to do our best to make disciples.
The Risen Christ stands at the door of every church – and knocks. The tenses of the underlying Greek are significant
- Jesus ‘stands’ – here we have a Greek perfect, which indicates a past action which continues into the present. The implication is that Jesus has been waiting for some time to come in
- Jesus ‘knocks’ – here we have the present tense. This implies a repeated and gentle request to come in
The challenge is: will we hear his voice? Will we open the door? Will we allow him to be Lord of our church?