Praying For True Revival

                “He sends His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.  He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.  He hurls down His hail like pebbles.  Who can withstand H icy blast?  He sends His word and melts them; He stirs up His breezes, and the waters flow.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 147:15-18

                “I looked again – and there before me was a flying scroll!  He asked me, “What do you see?”  I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.”  And He said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.  The Lord Almighty declares, “I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by My Name.  It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 5:1-4

                David Pao in his Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan,2000, page 176) writes,  “In this chapter, I have shown that the word of God in the narrative of Acts is an active agent that travels to the end of the earth.  The goal of this journey is to conquer the world and to create a community as the true people of God.  Even when the suffering of the ministers of the word is mentioned throughout the narrative, the word itself is portrayed as undefeated.”  Earlier Pao had identified the Word of God as the Lord Jesus Christ actively at work in the world, creating a people for Himself.  “The relationship between the identity of the word and that of Jesus can be seen in Acts 6:5 where it is said that the apostles will be devoted “to the service of the word.”  The Lord whom they serve is of course the risen Jesus who called His followers to be His servants (cf. Acts 26:160.” (Pao, p. 161)

                What David Pao is describing is the focus of the prophetic words of God in both the book of Psalms and Zechariah.  God’s Word is sent out as a living agent confronting the world not only with the holiness of God, but also with the depth of our sinfulness.  This is the foundation of any discussion of revival, or of evangelistic fruitfulness.  To pray for revival is to be praying for the conquering ministry of God’s Word of truth to be going out into our world.  Where God’s Word goes forward sin is always exposed.  The Apostle Paul tells us that, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16-17)  So often we pray for evangelistic fruitfulness, or revival, as if it is something which will touch the life of others, bringing them painlessly into God’s Kingdom, and never coming near us.  Historical revival is another matter however.  When Jonathan Edwards described the revival that he lived through he showed us that this was a sovereign work of God’s Spirit that began with a deep encounter with God’s truth.  People hear the Word of God with deep conviction.  They saw clearly their sin, becoming aware of their desperate need for Christ.  So thorough was the conversion of these people that it began to impact the way they lived.  Others saw in them something real.  The gospel went out and conquered, creating a people who would forever belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

                I believe that this spread of God’s Word is what is at the heart of Zechariah’s prophesy of the scroll, containing God’s Word, which God caused to fly throughout the whole land entering into every house, bringing a curse, conviction of sin, so that each one would be brought to embrace God’s Word and by that great encounter being saved.

                What about you?  Have you met the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ?  Have you encountered His holiness?  Have you been brought to see clearly your sin?  Have you discovered that He did not come just to expose your sin so that you would be convicted?  He came that you might be saved in Him. 

                To pray for revival is to pray that this reality would once again spill over our whole land and that, to paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, “It would begin with me!”

For He Himself Is Our Peace

                “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 2:14-15

                Sometimes we are swept away in wonder over the power and the beauty of the Word of God.  It has a way of sweeping away the cobwebs of our cluttered lives in order to breathe in the pure wind of the Spirit.  It is useful, at times, to step back and take a wide angled view of the Word noting the huge context of the message.   In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul gives us a powerful description of the Body of Christ, the Church in all of its wonder.  God has created something new, a new creation, in which He will overrule all of the distinctions that we draw up in order to determine who we think, is acceptable to God.  In Paul’s world, the Jews rejected the Gentiles, calling them a lesser form of humanity, the Gentiles rejected the Jews calling them the enemies of all peoples.  Each one used human distinctions to reject people who were not like them.  We are guilty of this as well.  We are perfectly willing to accept others provided they change and become like us. 

                Paul tells us, in the wider view that God’s solution is to create one new people in Christ.  There is now no longer Jews or Gentiles, there is now Christians, those who are like Christ.  That is the wide angled view of what God is doing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must take a closer view however.    John Calvin, in his Sermons on Ephesians (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998) draws us in closer with these words.

                “Furthermore, the title that St. Paul gives to our Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that ‘he is our peace’, ought to be carefully considered,”

A.Skevington Wood in his commentary in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978) takes us further as he writes the following.

                “”He Himself” is emphatic (cf. V. 15, “in Himself”).  Christ and no other “has solved the problem of our relationships with God and man” (Barclay, p. 120).  He draws men to God and to each other in His own person.  It is not simply the message He proclaimed or even the message proclaimed about Him that effects this reconciliation.  It is Himself.  There is an echo here of Micah 5:5.  “Peace” is recognised by the Talmud as a name of God.  So Paul can announce that Christ is peace as well as life (Col. 3:4) and hope (Col. 1:27).  The “I am” sayings recorded in the fourth Gospel provided a foundation in the claims of Jesus for such assertions.”

                When we take a close look at what Paul writes here it is clear that his focus is not on the message of Christ which urges us to be at peace with others.  It is that Christ Himself is our peace.  It is only in Him that the deepest needs of our lives are met.  It is only in Him that we are reconciled to God.  Wood points us to a quotation from Micah 5:1-5 which speaks to us about the coming Messiah.

                “Marshall your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us.  They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.  But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me on who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Therefore Israel will be abandoned until them time when He who is labour gives birth and the rest of His brothers return to join the Israelites.  He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Name of the Lord His God.  And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And He will be their peace.”             

Exalting Christ

                “Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

                                                                                                                                                John 12:30-33

                In their book Preaching the Cross, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jn., and C. J. Mahaney argue for a recovery of cross centred preaching in the Christian Church.  This is that one central theme which is able to give power to the proclamation of the Gospel.  It is at the heart of the Gospel of John as the task of Christians everywhere.  In our text Jesus calls us to exalt Him by lifting Him up from the earth.  We preach a crucified redeemer, who was raised from the grave and who is now ever living to make intercession for us.  Three times in his Gospel John returns to this theme of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ.  He does so in John 3:14ff when he writes,

                “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

                Or in John 8:28 when he comes back to this same theme,

                “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the father taught me.”

                In our text the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in His cross the judgement or crisis of the world will take place.  What He means is that it will be that one event in which all sin will be judged.  Satan’s hold on this world will be broken.  For all who will receive it forgiveness will be offered in the Cross.  Nothing is more important than to proclaim this message.  We must ask however what this will look like in our churches.

                John Piper in his chapter in Preaching the Cross, “Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God” quotes extensively from Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield regarding his proclamation of the cross of Christ.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men might they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.” (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970)

                This is what the Apostle John is calling for in his Gospel.  We must be praying that God will raise up people who will exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming the cross centred message of God’s transforming grace.

The Crisis Of This World

                “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will be.  My father will honour the one who serves me.  Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 12:23-28a

                In John chapter 12 something changes.  The Lord Jesus Christ has entered the Temple area in triumph.  Lazarus has been raised back to life from the dead.  The crowds are in a frenzy of excitement about Jesus and Lazarus.  The opposition to Jesus and His word has solidified with the intention to put Him to death.  Up to this point in the gospel Jesus has kept stating that His hour had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; and 8:20).  Now something has changed, a delegation of Gentiles, John calls them Greeks, are brought by Andrew and Philip to Jesus.  Their conversation with the Lord Jesus Christ is not recorded by John.  What he does record for us is the statement which Jesus makes on this occasion.  Something has changed.  Jesus’ hour has now come.  In verse 31 Jesus says that the judgment of the world and its prince has now come.  Literally what Jesus says here is that the time has come for the division, separation, judgment of this world.  The actual word here is crisis.  The crisis of the world has come.  A crisis is an event which brings change.  This is the hour that Jesus has now come to. 

                There is something about the coming of some Gentiles to Jesus which brings Him to the hour of His glorification.  He speaks to them, and His disciples, about what this crisis will require of Him and of them.  The Son of Man is about to be glorified through the cross.  Jesus’ hour is a cross centred hour.  So Jesus begins to speak about how He will glorify the Name of His father through His death on the cross.  He must die so that God’s redemptive purpose can be accomplished. 

                God is glorified through the cross of Christ.  Those who follow Jesus must be those who are crucified with Him.  We are called to heed the call of the Lord to follow Him to the cross.  There is no life for us or for others apart from the cross of Christ.  In fact Jesus tells his audience here in chapter 12 that, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am my servant must be.” We serve and follow Christ crucified.  The disciples, and us today, are called to follow Him to the cross.  Where He is found we are found and that is living the crucified life.

                George Whitefield tells us about this crucified life, which he applies to preachers, but which can be reasonably be applied to all true disciples of Christ when he writes the following.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men will they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labour and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain the earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the multitudes of human lives.” (Dallimore, Arnold, George Whitefield, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1970, Vol. 1 page 16)

Spiritual Mindedness

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:19-22

                A number of years ago, when I first read John Miller’s little book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church I was struck by one of the phrases that he used.  This was that for him faith involved his giving himself to God without reservation, and then taking his courage in his hands and obeying God in everything that God commanded.  I wondered just what Miller meant by such a powerful statement.  It seemed that he was trying to define for us just what a life of faith looked like.  How do we know if we are living by faith or in the flesh?  How do we live in the Spirit, being spiritually minded as we live out our lives?  We use these expressions so glibly.  What does a truly spiritual life look like?

                Of all places to find answers to these questions the book of James seems to be an unlikely place.  Here is a book that seems to teach salvation by works.  At least that is what we think.  However, when we take a closer look we discover that James is really calling us to live a lifestyle which is truly spiritual because it has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  What does such a life look like?

                James tells us that God has willed to give us new birth through the word of truth.  He anchors the Christian life in regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing us to new life through faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the eighteenth century young missionaries like John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield discovered this teaching about regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  Their testimony was that as they came to believe in Christ they found, to use John Wesley’s word, “their hearts strangely warmed.”  They began to preach this Word throughout the villages and towns in Britain and many thousands came to faith in Christ.  They had returned to the Gospel message of the New Testament.

                In tremendously practical terms James outlines for us in his letter this message of regeneration.  It is characterized by the righteousness of God being created within us.  This is not our righteousness it is His given to us through faith.  Almost immediately it begins to work itself out in our lives.  It produces the fruit of righteousness transforming our speech and our attitudes.  It causes us to obey the Word of God.  It is almost as if that word is being written into our hearts.  In fact that is what two Old Testament Prophets said God would do.

                Jeremiah writes, ““The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah.  It will not be like the Covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my Covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.  “This is the Covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

                Ezekiel echoes Jeremiah’s words in this way, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

                                                                                                                                                (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

                James tells us that Spiritual Christianity is a faith that leads us to obey God’s Word through the power of God’s Spirit in all manner of practical ways.  It starts with our accepting by faith the implanted word of God which comes to us in the Gospel.