In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the painting—there’s probably one hiding somewhere in this church building. It’s a painting of Jesus, and He’s standing by a door—apparently late at night—and He’s knocking on a door. You’ve seen this painting? But there’s something else that you may not have noticed about the most famous version of that painting: if you look closely, you’ll see that there is no door handle on the outside of the door. The point is clear: Jesus comes knocking on your door, perhaps the door of your heart, and you must open to Him from the inside. He won’t—or in the case of the painting, can’t—open the door to you. And we are supposed to understand that this is how people get saved. This is faith, to open the door to Jesus when He knocks and waits patiently.
Thank God that that’s not true. Thank God that this is not how faith works. Thank God that Jesus does not wait patiently for unbelievers to willingly open their hearts to Him. He’d not only be waiting outside all night, but He’d be waiting forever.
Now, it sounds like it comes from the Bible. This painting looks like it depicts accurately Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says, “Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. Whoever hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” Jesus is speaking to the church in Laodicea, the last of the seven churches to which the Revelation is addressed. Laodicea is the only church out of the seven to which Jesus has nothing positive to say. Everything He says is basically, “Repent.” Out of context, verse 20 sounds like it is commanding faith, but it is actually doing something else: it is asking the question, are there any believers here? Because believers will gladly open the door. Unbelievers will not. Are there any believers left in Laodicea? It is clear that Jesus is asking this question from the Gospel of John (written down by the same apostle to whom the Revelation is given). In John 10, part of which we’re going to hear in a couple weeks, Jesus tells the people that He is the Good Shepherd, and He tells them what sets the Good Shepherd apart from false shepherds and murderous thieves. Those who are false shepherds run away when the wolves come; and thieves climb over the fence, because they cannot get in through the door. But the Good Shepherd comes to the door, and the doorkeeper opens the door to Him. And the sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd, they hear His voice, and He leads them out, and they follow Him. He knows His own, and they know Him. The doorkeeper will only open to the Good Shepherd, and only those who are already His sheep follow Him where He leads.
Or hear what Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, in chapter 12. He tells the disciples to be like slaves waiting for their Lord to return from the wedding feast, so that when He knocks, they can open the door to Him immediately. And—here’s the strangest part—the Lord will get dressed, and He will have His slaves recline to eat, and He will serve them. Blessed are the slaves whom the Lord finds waiting for Him in this way! So you see that opening the door to Jesus is not a metaphor for belief; it is what the believing doorkeeper, the believing slaves, do when Jesus comes. They don’t open the door to see who it is and evaluate His claims to lordship; they open the door only because they know exactly who He is, and they know His voice when He speaks to them. Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking! Look, this is our God, for whom we have waited! And He comes in and eats with His sheep, with His slaves; He leads His own and serves them.
But when Jesus speaks to unbelievers, blessedly He doesn’t wait for them to open the door of their hearts. He brings His word to people in all sorts of ways, through the public preaching of that word, and through the faithful witness of those who believe the words of their Lord, but one thing is clear: He doesn’t wait for unbelievers to rouse themselves and open the door. He didn’t wait for sinners and enemies of God to change before He died; He didn’t wait for them to accept Him before He rose from the dead; He doesn’t wait for people to reach a certain age before He slaps His Name on them and claims them for His own. He doesn’t wait for the disciples to get brave enough to go outside that locked room in search of a risen Jesus. The doors are locked from fear of what the Jews who delivered Jesus over might do to them. The Eleven (minus Thomas) and the others are full of doubt, uncertainty, surrounded by circumstances beyond their control. Does Jesus wait? Does Jesus knock and wait patiently for them to get up their nerve? No, He comes right into the middle of that locked room, in the middle of disciples who loved Him, but who did not believe the word of His resurrection, and He speaks peace to them. He shows them His hands and side, the marks of His crucifixion and death. His own body is the assurance that He is not dead, but alive. And He says, “Peace to you.” He gives them forgiveness, which they are commanded to give to others, just as He has given it to them. He gives them the Holy Spirit, who gives them faith in Jesus. And those disciples rejoice to see their Lord.
But there is still an unbeliever among them, who doesn’t even believe the word of the men with whom he’s spent three years. He is not a doubter, struggling with whether to believe or not. He says, “Unless I see and put my finger in the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Jesus doesn’t knock on Thomas’ door and wait for Him to open. He comes to them again, in spite of locked doors, and says the same word of peace to Thomas. And then He says, here I am. You can touch if you need to. But stop being an unbeliever and become a believer. And Jesus’ word creates what He calls for: Thomas hears, sees, believes, and confesses: My Lord and my God! And from the moment the Holy Spirit is poured out on them publicly, these doorkeepers go around opening the gate for their Good Shepherd; He comes and speaks forgiveness to unbelievers, sinners, and His enemies, and He gives them faith. He gathers His sheep, wherever they might be. And the faithful fling wide the door for their Lord, rejoicing to see Him as He comes to serve with them and eat with them, Himself the lamb and Himself the priest who delivers the sacrifice.
So when you see that picture of Jesus knocking on the door, and there’s no handle for Him to come in by, give thanks that Jesus doesn’t wait for us, but comes in, speaks peace, forgives our sins, and then we rejoice to see the Lord in our midst, listening to Him, as He serves and feeds us the preview of the eternal wedding feast. Then we will know His voice, and wait with joyous anticipation for the day when we can fling the door open, gladly receiving Him when He comes to bring us to the fullness of the feast.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/02/16