Summary: The classic painting and the familiar verse can teach us much about an intimate relationship with Christ. Our verse offers Christ’s solution to a church that has everything except what matters.
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Christ at Heart’s Door
(Projection of the classic painting illustrates the message.)
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Tonight I call your attention to what may be the best known verse in Revelation—3:20. The verse has been vividly illustrated in an equally familiar painting. Let’s use the painting to analyze the verse.
Artist Warner Sallman painted Christ at Heart’s Door in the late 1940’s. Sallman worked as a freelance artist and magazine illustrator in Chicago. In 1994, the New York Times called him the “best known artist of the century.” His fame primarily grew from another painting, The Head of Christ. He completed that work in 1940. It was immediately popular because of what many called “a serene, best friend” presentation of Jesus. It was soon picked up by the Salvation Army and the USO who distributed it in pocketsize to US soldiers. By the time the war ended, Sallman’s Head of Christ was one of the most recognizable pieces of religious art in the world. Christ at Heart’s Door and several other paintings with the same recognizable face soon appeared.
Sallman based Christ at Heart’s Door on our verse from Revelation. In many ways, the painting is a visual parable. Imbedded in the artwork are several clues that help us understand the verse.
We will come back to the painting in a moment. First, a note about the verse. Revelation 3:20 comes in the last part of the last letter to the last church in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Revelation provides heaven’s answer the question “what on earth is God doing for heaven’s sake?” It explains how he is going to make it all turn out alright despite the fact that it doesn’t always look like it now. Before addressing the fate of the world, Revelation speaks to the condition of the church. In seven brief memos, Christ diagnoses the health of his church and prescribes the appropriate remedies. Those words ring just as true for the church of the 21st Century as they did for those seven congregations at the end of the 1st Century. Our verse is among the last words to the last church. Laodicea considered itself wealthy and prosperous. Jesus’ verdict—materially, maybe. Spiritually, the church was bankrupt. Our verse offers Christ’s solution to a church that has everything except what matters.
The focus of the painting like the verse is The Visitor. Who it is that knocks on your door matters. Anyone would open the door a lot quicker for someone he knows than for a stranger. In this case, we recognize the visitor. We’ve seen him before. Of course, the artist’s depiction is only one man’s imagination. No one knows exactly what Jesus looked like. But we understand the idea.
The visitor who stands at the door is a man. He comes in normal human form. Do you know how remarkable that is? The greatest miracle of the Bible is not healing the sick, walking on water, or feeding the 5000. In a sense, it wasn’t even the resurrection. The greatest miracle of all is what theologians call The Incarnation. The Word that with God and was God and by whom all things were created became flesh and dwelt among us. (Jn 1:1-14). If that is true, all the rest becomes credible. All other miracles are small beside that one. Here he stands at the door and knocks!
But there’s just a hint that this is not any ordinary man who stands at the door. He is the Light of the World. He is the very presence of the Living God among us. We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. Demons tremble before him. Darkness recedes. Someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. HE stands at the door. Behold I stand at the door and knock!
This is not just any door. We understand the symbolism of the parable. A door stands for entry, opportunity. A door opens into something. This is more than a door of a house. It is the door of a life. Note the shading of light and shadow that encircles the door. Ever so subtly it forms a heart—the inner life of a person. Sometimes the Bible calls it the soul. Sometimes the spirit of a man. But most often, it just speaks of the heart, that inner part of us that controls our values, our choices, our affections, and ultimately our relationship with our Maker.
You have a heart. So do I. It is the real you. It is the place the Lord of Glory wants to enter, live, and stay. Your heart has a door. Christ stands at the door and he knocks.