Today is the end of a four-week series on our stained glass windows in the church. During this process I’ve learned that there is some debate about which Bible story each of these images represents. It seems I say, “Jesus the Good Shepherd,” and some of you say, “King David the Shepherd.”
I say, “Paul Writing His Letters,” and some of you say, “Moses and the Tablets.”
Tomato, tom-ah-toh – I think we can all still get along. And we can definitely get along on this last image, because unlike those its representation is crystal clear:
“Jesus Knocking at the Door.”
The reason this meaning is so clear is because of a painting by William Holman Hunt, “The Light of the World.” Hunt conceived of the idea and put it to canvas in 1851-3. It was – and is – a depiction of Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
Hunt’s concept has been replicated numerous times; our window is one of many renderings of that original painting. You might notice that in Hunt’s version there was no doorknob in view, suggesting that Jesus could not open the door himself but it had to be opened by the resident inside. Our window is slightly different – as are most of the paintings that have been inspired “The Light of the World.”
I have long been familiar with this image because it hung in my home church in a hallway between the Sanctuary and the bathrooms. When I see it, I think about the first time I opened the door to Christ; I was 11 years old and went forward for an altar call at a youth retreat. In other words, I see “justifying” grace (although I wouldn’t have used that word at age 11). First comes “prevenient” grace – God’s work for us before we open the door, little nudges of the soul not unlike Jesus’ knocking here. Then comes the “justifying” grace, the moment when we choose to open the door and let Christ in.
I began this week with that understanding strongly settled in my mind. But I did my research anyway, because this passage comes from Revelation, and Revelation is no book to take lightly.
Revelation is the writing of a man named John (most Biblical scholars agree this is not John the disciple) during a time when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. They are being arrested and even killed for their faith. John wants to tell them about a vision – a revelation – he’s been given. The images he uses are sometimes apocalyptic – that is, they have to do with the end of the world as we know it, a time when Jesus will come again and God will bring God’s kingdom to fruition. Other times, John uses images that are related to the Roman Empire, stuff that would have made easy and complete sense to his original audience but makes little or no sense to us living 2,000 years later.
It’s kind of like this: If I tell you a story about a donkey and an elephant who can’t get along, you will guess right away that I’m making a political statement. But someone living 2,000 years in the future might read that same story and think we had a problem with fighting between our donkeys and elephants. John’s Revelation contains a lot of images kind of like that, and combined with the apocalyptic material – well, let’s just say it gets a bit confusing.
So I proceeded with a dose of caution into this week’s Scripture, not wanting to be over-confident about it. And right away I realized that there may be a little more to this Jesus knocking thing than I had originally assumed.
Revelation starts with individualized messages to seven different churches. The last of these is to the church in Laodicea, which John accuses of being “lukewarm.” It appears this rich city was neither hot nor cold, neither for nor against, but non-committal and in-between in their faith. John calls them to repent from this kind of wavering just before sharing today’s image: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking…”
Is Jesus’ knocking a demand for them to choose? Open the door, make a choice, decide!
Perhaps. Perhaps that’s exactly it. But then there’s the messages to the other six churches…
Five of the seven churches are asked to repent. To “repent” is commonly interpreted to be really, really, really, really sorry about something. And that’s part of it, but not all of it. To repent is to feel sorry about something and determine not to do it anymore. It’s to make a 180 degree turn away from a sin. That’s what John asks five of the seven churches to do:
Repent from turning away from the love you had at first (2:5).
Repent from the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolatians (2:16).
Repent of adultery with the false prophet Jezebel (2:21-2).
Repent from acting like you’re the walking dead (3:3).
And finally, for the Laodiceans: repent of depending on your riches instead of making a real commitment (3:19).
After all that repenting, this image: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking…”
This changes the way I view this window. Yes, Jesus knocking at the door has to do with “justifying” grace, that saving-moment when the Holy Spirit helps us accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We open the door and let him in. But we might be tempted to imagine that scene without any repentance involved.
Who’s that? Oh, Jesus – is that you? You want to come in? Well – welcome, friend! Make yourself at home! Let’s have dinner together! Oh, and don’t mind the mess; a true friend can come over even when the house is dirty, right? And you’re my true friend! Mi casa, su casa, good buddy!
But if opening the door to Jesus is connected to repenting, then we’re talking about something altogether different.
Who’s that? Oh, Jesus – is that you? Um… listen. I wasn’t really expecting guests. It’s kind of a mess in here. Wanna come back in a few years?
Look, Jesus, I’m sorry – I’m just not ready for visitors. What’s that? You’ll help me clean up? Um… I’m not so sure about that. I mean, I don’t think you’re understanding what a disaster it is in here. How about you just let me clean up a little and then we’ll…
Seriously? Ok then – come on in. See for yourself!
I know, right? I don’t know how I let it get like this. I’m pretty embarrassed. Oh, Jesus, don’t look under the –
…um, would you believe me if I said those weren’t mine? No? Jeez.
What’s that? You want me to help you clean it up? Um, Jesus, honestly… I kind of like it like this. Could we clean over there in the kitchen? I’m totally ok with cleaning that stuff. Let’s start there….
No? You want to start right here? Right now?
You want me to get the trash can?
Well… ok. Ok. If you’re helping me… let’s do this, Jesus. Let’s clean it all up.
One way of opening the door is easy; the other way is hard.
One way is cheap; the other way is costly.
One way is surface-level false; the other way is soul-deep and life-changing.
Jesus is calling us to open the door in that hard, costly, life-changing way. A way that requires us to repent and be changed; a way that allows Jesus to come in and make us new.
Have you ever opened the door like that?
Would you like to, right now?
Open the door to Christ is as simple as… well, as simple as opening a door. It’s what happens when Christ comes into your life that can get hard. But any follower of Christ can tell you: Jesus will stick around as long as it takes. He’s no flaky friend who sneaks out the back door when things get tough. He’ll come in and work on you your whole life long – and then some.
So if you want to open the door and let Christ into your mess-of-a-life, then just pray this short prayer. Say it out loud if you can.
Jesus, I want you in my life.
I have made mistakes. I have regrets. I am not perfect.
I have sinned.
Come in and do your work. Forgive me. Clean me. Make me new.
I need you in my life.
Now, go and find a church near you. As a Methodist, I know how to find Methodist churches – but it can be any church. Go and live among a group of people who have also opened the door and will support you as you grow.