PROPHETS AND PROMISES
THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR REVIVAL
What is Revival? This was the question we sought to answer in the article “What is Revival?” in this series. We said that revival is an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit of God upon his people bringing new life and power. It is marked by deep conviction of sin with accompanying repentance; overflowing joy at the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ; frequent and prolonged meetings for prayer, praise and preaching. Two other factors give evidence that this is a true revival: an awesome sense of the Presence of God and remarkable numbers of hitherto careless people coming to the Saviour. During times of revival church memberships grow by leaps and bounds.
Revival is given sovereignly by God. We cannot announce it, or predict it, much less plan it. Nevertheless, there is much that we can do and should do if we want God to bless us with revival. I stress that we should PRAY for revival. I doubt there has ever been a revival but that a group of faithful believers have been crying to God for it. They may have been few but they have been faithful – and fervent.
Furthermore, they have based their petitions upon what God himself has said in the Bible. Everything which believers are praying for God to do should have a basis in Holy Scripture. On what biblical grounds may the church hope for revival? Is there a theology of revival? When we pray for revival can we do so with an open Bible pleading the promises of God? What of “The Acts of the Apostles”? Does that book describe the church as it should be or only what it once was but can never be again? The Puritans used to say that we should come before the Lord “with arguments.” What did they mean?
Allow me to explain it like this: suppose we had been granted an interview with a rich, generous philanthropist. We had come with an earnest and urgent request concerning our charitable or spiritual work.
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asks.
“O Sir,” we reply, “we are in great trouble. Our work is floundering, our people are distracted and our effectiveness is weak. Please will you come and help us. We need you desperately.”
Now he will legitimately ask, “Why should I do that? Give me your reasons.”
How ineffective, unconvincing, and even downright lazy we would be if we had no reasons to offer. Such a thing would be unthinkable. We would have prepared our case. Perhaps we would quote from letters received from him in which he had promised to help us. Maybe we would draw his attention to his speeches and writings in which he had declared that our work was something very dear to his heart. We might even be able to argue that he had helped similar work in times past with great effectiveness. Perhaps most telling of all we would remind him that this particular work had been started by him, that we were but his servants, that it bore his name, and that its present state brought dishonor to him personally. Thus, we would plead our “arguments”.
Let us then do some work and study our Bibles together. What has God revealed which is relevant to our case when we cry to him to visit us with his reviving Presence and Power?
1. The PERSON of GOD
Question: The Bible is a revelation of the nature of God. Does that revelation encourage us to believe God would be interested in reviving his people?
Answer: Yes. Consider the following.
a) He is A Living God
Over sixty times God has this designation. For example, Psalm 42:1-2 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Frequently God is described as “living” as if to draw a contrast between the LORD (Jehovah, Yahweh) and other gods which are dead. Idols do not see, hear, speak, or act. The LORD does all of these things. Elijah confronted Ahab with the challenging assertion, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives whom I serve …” (1 Kings 17:1). The whole dramatic event which later followed on Mount Carmel was to demonstrate that the only living God is the LORD, the God of Israel, the God of Elijah. Baal is impotent.
It follows that everything that God owns, that belongs to him and bears his Name, should testify to that. God’s church should throb with life, and God’s people should be a living testimony that they serve a living God. A dead church is a scandal.
b) He is A Giving God
Some fathers are mean towards their children and some are generous. Some fathers are irritated when their children come and ask for things and some are pleased. When I was a little boy I was told, “Those who ask never get!” That absurd aphorism presented difficulties. One had to resort to hints such as, “Phew! What a hot day. I expect many people are buying ice-cream.”
The Bible teaches the opposite, “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). The Lord Jesus taught us that our Heavenly Father delights to hear us ask and, more than any earthly father, loves to give his children “good gifts” when they ask him (Matt 7:9-11). Of course, even generous and indulgent parents cannot give their child everything he ever asks for. He may ask for a bad thing. Similarly, our Heavenly Father. However, we can be sure that when we pray for revival we are asking for a good thing. Jesus said, Luke 11: 11-13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” The greatest gift the Father can give to his church is the gift of Himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Revival is a special and extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit upon the church. Thus, God’s children are taught to pray for the Holy Spirit
c) He cares about his name and those who bear it
Ezekiel 36:21-23 says, “I had concern for my holy Name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Therefore say to the house of Israel, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things but for the sake of my holy Name which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great Name, which has been profaned among the nations, the Name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.'”
See also Ezekiel 39:25-27.
Joel 2:17-18 says:
“Let the priests who minister before the Lord, weep between the Temple courts and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, Where is your God?” Then the Lord will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people.”
We are taught to pray: “Hallowed be your Name” (Matt 6:9), and our Lord Jesus prayed, “Father glorify your Name” (John 12:28). That is why we rightly often pray, “For your Name’s sake.”
So, first the Person of God. Here is a second thing:
2. The PURPOSE of GOD
What is God’s great and over-riding purpose in the history of the world?
Answer: God has revealed to us that his great and over-riding purpose is to glorify his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In glorifying his Son, he glorifies himself.
John 13:31-32 says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, then God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”
John 17:1,5, Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
Phil 2:9-11 says, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What has this to do with revival? Let Jonathan Edwards answer. He writes:
God hath had it much on his heart, from all eternity to glorify his dear and only begotten Son; and there are some special seasons that he appoints to that end, wherein he comes forth with omnipotent power to fulfill his promise and oath to him: and these times are times of remarkable pouring out of his Spirit, to advance his kingdom; such a day is a day of his power.
To sum up what we have considered thus far: Because God is the Living God, concerned for his Name, and determined to glorify his Son; when the church has become formal, cold, lethargic, ineffective, and comatose; when the Lord Jesus is ignored or even despised by the world; or when the church has lost its way – however “successful” its outward appearance may be – then faithful believers might with good biblical grounds plead with God to visit his people, to pour out his Spirit of Power and change all that.
3. The PROMISES of GOD
Question: Has God promised to bless his people with exceptional times of blessing?
Answer: I believe that he has. However, the prophecies and promises recorded in the Old Testament will take a little time to explain. This is because the promised blessings are frequently couched in terms which are political (peace, victory over enemies), and material (fruitful vineyards, abundant harvests, etc.) as well as moral and spiritual (righteousness, joyful worship in Jerusalem, etc.). Furthermore, many if not most of them were, in their immediate context, addressed to Israel as the People of God.
Let’s take some samples from the prophet Isaiah.
2:1-4: “This is what Isaiah, son of Amos saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord‘s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say,”Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
11: 1 and 9: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord…(in that day) they will neither harm or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
35:1,4-8,10: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom…your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool…And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that way…and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion will singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
44:3: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”
Ezekiel’s famous vision of the Valley of Dry Bones recorded in Ezekiel 37:1-14 envisions new life coming into bodies which are dead; and all of the Prophets end on a note of hope and optimism.
Interpretation and Application
Now the moment the prophecies and promises of Old Testament Scripture are examined it has to be admitted that they are capable of different interpretations. Equally able and devout expositors hold differing views on these matters. While some would expect promises of blessing to apply to the church, others would refer most of these passages to the nation of Israel, others to both. Some expect their fulfillment in this age and before the Return of Christ, while others during a future millennial age after the physical return of Christ.
It is not the purpose of this study to consider at length such hermeneutical (principles of interpretation) and eschatological (doctrines of the “last things”) questions, much less to try to solve them. Nevertheless, allow me to list some of the reasons why I do believe these Old Testament promises have relevance to the church and why behind the language of poetry and imagery we should perceive the promise of spiritual blessings.
1. Paul says that all Scripture is profitable to the church (1 Tim 3:16), and the Lord Jesus said that all speaks of Christ (Luke 24:27). Since God then saw fit to give to the church these prophecies they must have something to say of relevance to God’s people. I cannot accept any view which totally robs the church of such a rich and extensive body of Scripture.
2. Revelation is progressive. Thus God’s full and final revelation of his purposes is found in the NEW Testament not the Old. That does not mean the Old Testament is redundant so far as the church is concerned and of no value. It means that the Old must always be interpreted in the light of the New. The New Testament provides the key to unlock the mysteries of the Old.
3. Rom 4:16 as well as Gal 3:6-9,14,29, and 6:15-16, indicate that all who are in Christ are the children of Abraham and heirs of the promises given to that Patriarch. (See my Article on From Harry‘s desk….2017 entitled Arabs, Jews, and Jesus’ People.) Abraham does not have one “seed” but four!
- The Jews – the seed of promise through Isaac (Ex 32:13, Jn 8:31-41)
- The Arabs – the seed of the flesh, through Ishmael (Gen 21:17,18)
- The Lord Jesus Christ – The Messianic seed (Gal 3:16)
- The Church – the spiritual seed – all who are “in Christ” (Gal 3:29)
Therefore, the physical promises given to Abraham’s physical seed may have also a spiritual application to his spiritual seed. For example, it is interesting to note that though Abraham was promised “the land” (Gen 13:14-17) he never inherited it. What he inherited was a spiritual and heavenly land for which the earthly Promised Land stands and for which he was truly longing (Heb 11:8-10). Abraham’s spiritual descendants, we are told, are too numerous to count, live by faith, and look forward to Heaven (Heb 11:12-16).
This shows, by the way, that any promise or prophecy may have more than one fulfillment and that God chooses how and when he will fulfill his own promises.
4. In 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10, the Church is spoken of in terms previously applied to the Jewish nation (a chosen people; a royal priesthood;a people belonging to God;) and in Galatians 6:6 Paul refers to the Church as “the Israel of God.”
5. On the Day of Pentecost Peter referred to Joel 2:28-32, indicating that this prophecy of a spiritual blessing to be enjoyed in “the last days” had now been fulfilled in the gift of the Spirit upon the church (Acts 2:16). This again suggests that all such Old Testament promises may refer, at least to some extent, to this age and not exclusively to some future one. The “last days” is the period between Pentecost and the Return of Christ. In Acts 15:15-17 James attributes the words of Amos 9:11-12 to the events taking place in his day.
The Lord Jesus referred to spiritual blessings in agricultural terms. For instance in Luke 10:2 we read, “He told them (the seventy) “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.;“ and John 4:35 “Do you not say, “Four months more and then the harvest? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Jesus is talking about converts not corn.
A Clarification – Blessing for the Jews
Now some may say, “Just a minute, Harry, you apply these Old Testament promises of blessing to the church but not the warnings of judgment. Those you leave for the Jews. The church gets the blessings and Israel the curses!” The first thing I would say to that is that it is my earnest hope and prayer that God will also pour down saving blessing upon the Jewish people. In fact, I believe he will. Romans chapter 11:15 says “For if their (the Jews) rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” I am among those who believe that God will yet do a great saving work among his ancient people. That is why he has preserved them as a distinct people; notwithstanding fierce attempts to absorb them or destroy them (see also John 10:16). Writes the Apostle Paul, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites [Jews] is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
But second; the church inherits the warnings also. I believe that God does judge an apostate church. That is the message of our Lord Jesus to the church of Ephesus, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev 3:5). And to the Church of Laodicea, “So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16). Alas “Ichabod” could be written across the entrance of many churches that once knew the Presence of Christ but “the Glory has departed”.
Peter warns, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God…” (1 Peter 4:17; see also Heb10:26-31, 12:25-29).
In short then: though the blessings promised are so often in physical and material terms, and though in some cases the immediate reference is to national Israel, I believe we have good grounds for applying these promises in terms of spiritual fruitfulness upon God’s spiritual people, the Church. Dr. A.T. Pierson counted over thirty thousand promises in the Bible, a very large proportion of them (he believed) concerning spiritual renewal.
The Puritans and the leaders of the Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries refer again and again to the revivals which they witnessed as fulfilling these Old Testament promises, and even holding out the expectancy that a golden age of the church would one day cover the globe.
Note also, by the way, when you sing your hymns and songs how often spiritual blessings are portrayed in these Old Testament images. It doesn’t matter whether it is an old hymn by (say) Isaac Watts or a modern worship song we rightly turn to the Psalms and the Prophets. They are our inheritance.
- The Old Testament promised a glorious, victorious, righteous Kingdom when the Messiah comes. Well, HE HAS COME. He came two thousand years ago. That is the glorious message of the NEW Testament. I know his Kingdom is yet to be consummated at his Return and many of the joys of the Kingdom are reserved for the future. The best is yet to be. Heaven, the Resurrection of the Body, the visible and physical reign of Christ, the New Heaven and the New Earth are blessings which we shall inherit in the hereafter. It is important to remember that especially when some want to claim ALL the Kingdom blessings NOW. It is also very important however that we do not forget that Christ inaugurated his Kingdom with his first Coming and taught about it and demonstrated it again and again and again.. Christ’s Kingdom is NOW and also THEN; it HAS COME but it also WILL COME.
- With almost his final words on earth Christ gave us our great commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” which he prefaced with this exciting statement, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples…” (Matt 28:18-19). Satan is a defeated foe. He was defeated on the Cross (Col 2:15). He is not yet destroyed. He constantly seeks to hinder the work of God. But our Lord Jesus is the Victor and has his chain around the neck of this lion. Satan cannot stop the triumphant onward march of the Kingdom of Christ. See Luke 10:18, John 12:31.
- In Acts 3:19 Peter, preaching at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple says, “Repent then and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” What are these promised “times of refreshing?” Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “(It is) as if Peter’s message was this, ‘Well, here you have had the first great sample of the Spirit’s power and blessing. This is going to keep on recurring until the time of the restitution of all things.'”
- Rom 5:12-21 seems to offer the hope that grace will eventually triumph over sin and then Christ’s victory will be seen to be more effective than Adam’s defeat. “How much more” (v15); “how much more” (v17); “grace increased all the more” (v20). It is difficult to see how this can be true unless there are great revivals. In Rom 11:15 Paul seems to indicate that the Jewish rejection of the Gospel has brought great blessing to the Gentile world. One day that rejection will be turned into acceptance (as I interpret it), an event which will mean even greater blessing upon the Gentiles — “life from the dead.”
- The parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (Luke 13:18-21) promise the extraordinary growth of the church from small beginnings. If we take a global view this promise has been, and is being, remarkably fulfilled.
So, we engage in evangelism and we send and support missionaries and we pray for revival because in times of revival like no other times Christ’s Kingdom, authority, victory and power are demonstrated before the world of men and angels.
4 The PRAYERS of the SAINTS
Question: Did people in the Bible pray for revival?
Answer: Yes indeed, frequently. During times of spiritual deadness or apostasy, Psalmists and Prophets cried to the Lord for his forgiveness, his deliverance, his power and his blessing.
Psalm 44:23-26, “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us for ever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”
Psalm 74:1,22: “Why have you rejected us for ever, O God? Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture? . . . Rise up, O God, and defend your cause.”
Psalm 79:9, “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name: deliver us and atone for our sins for your name’s sake.”
Psalm 85:4-6, “Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure towards us. Will you be angry with us for ever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”
Isaiah 64:1, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down that the mountains would tremble before you!”
A wonderful prayer of the prophet is recorded in Daniel 9:14-19, where, after confession and repentance Daniel petitions the Lord thus,
“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act? For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Habakkuk 3:2 The prophet Habakkuk similarly cried to the Lord in his day,
“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy”.
The New Testament period was a time of revival so there is not the same wealth of examples. The first disciples were not likely to cry to the Lord for an outpouring of his Spirit when they were experiencing just such a blessing. What we should note, as of primary importance, is that the first three requests of the Lord’s Prayer are to be for the glory of God. This is a pattern prayer. It is to guide believers how we should pray. It was given to us by our Lord and Savior as a model. It should be ever before us and we should check our praying to see if we are in line with this prayer.
Alas though I occasionally hear this prayer said (although even that practice seems to be dropping out of use) I almost never hear it prayed. It seems to me that prayers in churches these days are dominated not by petitions for God’s glory but for man’s needs. One of the very reasons why I believe the church today needs the kind of revival we are here studying is this very fact. We have become utterly focused upon ourselves. The church should beseech God, the Father in Heaven, to honor his own Name, extend his kingdom, and bring about his will on earth. This is precisely what is seen happening during times of great awakenings, so “The Lord’s Prayer” is a prayer for revival.
5 The ACTS of the APOSTLES
Question: Is The Acts of the Apostles a book of merely antiquarian interest or does it have relevance for us today?
Answer: I believe it is to be regarded in general – though not in every particular – either as what should be the normal state of things, or at least as an example of a “season of refreshing from the Lord” which would be granted from time to time.
After I came to know Christ in 1954 and began to study my Bible I quickly became aware of the marked differences between the churches with which I was familiar and the church in the New Testament, especially as depicted in the Acts of the Apostles. I wondered why. Some said that the church of the first century was unique and that God never intended it to be a pattern of what the “normal” church should be throughout this dispensation. I was not convinced by this argument and I am still not.
Edwin Orr was in no doubt as to the continuing relevance of the Acts of the Apostles. This great scholar of revivals invited an Edinburgh (Scotland) professor to his Oxford Conference on Revival. In his letter of reply the professor stated that he considered the link between revival and the New Testament to be very tenuous. Orr wrote back, “Does your New Testament have a book called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’?”
I remember hearing a tape of theologian Dr. J .I. Packer in which he pointed to the events of the day of Pentecost as the prototype of many outpourings of God’s Spirit, all revivals following this pattern.
The marks which characterize all revivals are plainly there in the Acts or – we might say more accurately – during times of revival the church looks like the church depicted in the Acts.
An Awesome Sense of the Presence of God
Acts 2:43, “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”
If you do not think we should be praying for revival may I ask you this; When did you last go to church and be so overwhelmed by the Presence of God that you were filled with awe?
The mention of “wonders and miraculous signs” has given rise to some controversy. There are those who believe that such happenings should be part of normal church life when God is present in power. In other words, all the characteristics of the New Testament Church – including miracles such as healing, exorcism and even the raising of the dead (see Mark 16:15-18, John 14:11-12, Acts 4:29,30; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
Others believe that such miraculous and extraordinary signs were given of God to jump-start the church and to authenticate the new revelation which was being given through the apostles and prophets (who alone did the miracles??) and which would be inscripturated as the New Testament. Once this revelation had been completed the miraculous was withdrawn (see Matthew 12:38-40; Acts 5:12; Hebrews 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
It is interesting to note that Jonathan Edwards took this view. Note also his expectation of a future golden age of blessing upon the church world-wide.
“The apostle speaks of these gifts of inspiration as childish things in comparison of the influence of the Spirit in divine love; things given to the church only to support it in its minority, till the church should have a complete standing rule established, and all the ordinary means of grace should be settled; but as things that should cease as the church advanced to the state of manhood” (1 Cor 13:11)…Therefore I do not expect a restoration of these miraculous gifts in the approaching glorious times of the church, nor do I desire it. It appears to me that it would add nothing to the glory of those times, but rather diminish from it. For my part, I had rather enjoy the sweet influences of the Spirit, showing Christ=s spiritual divine beauty, infinite grace, and dying love, drawing forth the holy exercises of faith, divine love, sweet complacence, and humble joy in God, one quarter of an hour, than to have prophetical visions and revelations the whole year.”
Though as a pastor/teacher I have studied this question for more than thirty years and could write at some length on it, I must restrict myself to some brief comments.
a) If we are going to say that The Acts of the Apostles portrays the church as it ought to be – overflowing with the life and power of Spirit – then we must have very compelling grounds for excluding anything we find there.
b) Having said that, we should also say because God has once acted in history in a certain way (performed a miracle) does not mean that he must always do so. Neither is it inconsistent with the immutability of God that miraculous activity would be clustered around certain significant events and be rare at other times. The sound of the rushing mighty wind and the cloven tongues of fire which accompanied the Gift of the Spirit at Pentecost were, so far as I know, unique to that special event. They were signs of the Spirit’s power and presence. Even the “other tongues” (languages), though repeated at least twice more in Acts (10:44-46, 19:6) were signs – to the Jews a sign of judgment (1 Cor 14:21-22) and to the Gentiles of grace (Acts 1:8, the curse of Babel is reversed and the Gospel will go to all nations).
c) God is Almighty and may choose to do anything he wants at any time. No Bible believer can say God does not perform miracles. He can only testify to what he has seen for himself. I have no doubt that God works in answer to prayer, sometimes in extraordinary ways. I personally – and my wife and I together – have been humbled as we have seen such gracious answers. While some would dismiss them as lucky coincidences, the eye of faith sees the Divine Hand. Thus, faith is strengthened and the heart humbled in gratitude and worship. Nevertheless, I must tell you, I have yet to see the kind of miracles commonplace when our Lord walked the earth or in the church=s infant years.
On this question this writer, while keeping an open mind, exercises great caution and would advise his readers to do the same. Furthermore, it brings dishonor not glory to the Name of Christ when claims are made for healing which turn out to be false. Or when the “miracle healings” seem always to be those explicable in other ways, leaving the harder cases still in their wheelchairs, in the cancer hospices, or in the cemetery. It was not so in the earthly ministry of our Lord and in The Acts.
d) If we have been turned off by the false claims and embarrassing antics of certain tel-evangelists we must be careful not to over-react and go to the opposite extreme. The Deists banished God from all activity in his own universe and we might unwittingly do the same. He is the living God who inhabits the praises of his people. We should expect him to be at work among us. In fact, we should be crying to him constantly “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down that the mountains would tremble before you!”
Paul’s admonition to the church at Corinth that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor 14:40), would hardly be necessary in most of our churches today. In the New Testament and during times of revival the problems the churches had to deal with were problems of exuberant life. A church member once told a pastor friend of mine, “O Pastor, I do hope nothing supernatural happens here!” I know what she feared but we must be careful that in our caution to reject the false we do not also exclude the true.
During times of revival many extraordinary things happen, some are of God and some are of the flesh and some are of Satan. Leaders in such times need great discernment. But do we not long for the day when it can be said of our gatherings “everyone was filled with awe” (Acts 2:43)? When unbelievers enter “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So, he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!“ (1 Cor 14:25).
Powerful and Effective Preaching
No sooner had the Spirit been given in his fullness than Peter was preaching and the greater part of Acts chapter two is a report of that message (14-42). Please notice how it:
- was anchored in Scripture (vs16-21,25-34);
- centered on the Lord Jesus Christ (v22 his life, v23 his death, vs24-32 his resurrection, vs33-35 his exaltation)
- was very pointed and direct (v36). It demanded a verdict. This was no take-it-or-leave-it, dry as dust discourse;
- brought conviction of sin and offered forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit to all (vs37-39);
- was undergirded by a sound theological understanding of the sovereignty of God in history and salvation (vs23, 39);
- contained a note of urgency – warnings and pleadings (v40). It came from the warm heart of a preacher who, having but recently denied his Lord, had been forgiven and restored;
- demanded repentance, baptism and the discipline and fellowship of the church (vs41-42). These days we try not to demand anything- except perhaps to “come to the front” which many churches have substituted for baptism.
When I read the sermons of preachers during revivals I notice the same characteristics. When the Spirit comes in revival, preaching and preachers catch fire.
O how often have I prayed for unction. Unction means “anointing.”
Some preachers think they have unction if they shout and yell. Others if they tell moving stories and make you cry. Others if they get a big response when they give an invitation. It is not to be equated with any of these things. They can all be contrived and carnal.
Preaching with unction is preaching which has been first set on fire in the place of private study and prayer. It comes hot from the Throne of God. Unction is a such a filling of the heart of the preacher with the power of the Holy Spirit that his message reaches deep and effectively into the hearts and souls of those who hear it, revealing God and changing them for ever.
Reader: pray for your pastor that he may have an anointing from God, as with Paul when he preached at Thessalonica. He wrote, “Our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction“ (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Coming Together as Believers
Acts 2:42 is an important verse. It should be a guide to every pastor, every church and every Christian. It mentions four activities to which those first believers were “devoted“.
They met for TEACHING. This emphasis upon the teaching and preaching of the Word of God continues throughout the Acts.
4:2, “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching…”
4:29,31: “‘Now Lord; consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness’…and they were all filled with the Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
5:28, “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching….”
5:42, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”
6:2-7, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables… we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word… So the word of God spread.”
See also Acts 3:12-26; 8:4-5, 30-31; 9:20, 27-28, etc.
They met for FELLOWSHIP (koinonia). The word means sharing a common life and joy in the Lord. In the Acts we find that the believers did not restrict their gatherings together to once each week on Sunday mornings; 2:46 says “every day they continued to meet together…”
There was such unity among the believers that at one time they even shared all their possessions (4:34-35).
They met TO BREAK BREAD. This probably refers to the Lord’s Supper. However, they also “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (2:46). I suspect that their remembrance of the Lord’s Supper was not such a formalized affair as we have made it. Rather would they frequently enjoy a fellowship meal which would be concluded with a solemn but joyful remembrance of the Sacrifice of the Lord in the way he commanded.
They met TO PRAY. Those first disciples were meeting for prayer before the Spirit came and as they waited for the Promise to be fulfilled. They continued to pray together. Chapter 4:23-31 gives an example of the kind of prayers they offered in the face of threats – and the result: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
They also met TO PRAISE (v47). That is what believers do – and do a great deal – during times of revival. I have never experienced a revival such as it is defined in this series. But I have tasted a little of what it must be like.
I remember when Billy Graham held his great Crusade in 1954 at the Harringay Arena, London. (It was at this Crusade that the Lord saved me.) I stood on the crowded platform of an Underground station waiting for a train. It was Piccadilly Circus where various lines intersect and which is the heart of London’s theatre land and also its sleazy district.
Someone began to sing, “To God be the glory, great things he hath done.” Others immediately joined in until it seemed like hundreds and hundreds of people became a great choir. I could see the people on the platform on the other side of the track. They were singing too. Everyone was singing. There was a distinguished looking gentleman – almost a caricature of a City banker, with his pinstripe trousers, rolled-up umbrella and bowler hat. He was singing. Beside him was a man who looked, by contrast, almost a tramp. He was singing. There were mothers with children singing and teen-age lovers with their arms around each other, all singing. Strangers, in the glitzy hub of London, old and young, rich and poor, men and women, regardless of color or race, united in one thing – the glorious praise of God. I think the only people who weren’t singing in that unusual public place must have been people like me who were crying! Crying tears of joy, for it seemed to me like Heaven.
Yes, the early Christians sang. Even the cruel lashes of the magistrates of Philippi could not stop Paul and Silas singing; nor the limb-twisting stocks of the jail. For, “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them” (16:25). When you are filled with the Spirit, wrote Paul, you sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).
Going out to the lost
The Lord Jesus went UP, the Spirit came DOWN and the church went OUT. That is what the Day of Pentecost was all about. A “Revival” which does not result in a great ingathering is not a true revival. I read somewhere that a Revival is not when believers change churches but when the Holy Spirit changes lives. In the Acts the preaching was followed by a tremendous harvest of souls.
Three thousand were converted in a day (Acts 2:41), and “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Soon the “number of men grew to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4); “more and more men and women believed in the Lord” (Acts 5:13); and “so the Word of God spread…the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
It seems that evangelism came spontaneously. “Those who had been scattered preached [Gk evangelized] the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). They did not have to be cajoled or shamed or compelled to witness for Christ. They could not help but do so. They did not even need to be trained. I am not against training people in good, biblical methods of evangelism. In all the churches I have pastored I have given a series of addresses on Personal Evangelism.
However, I must tell you that during times of revival, as in The Acts, such things become unnecessary. The people are so filled with the Spirit that their hearts overflow with love and care for those who are lost. And the Lord prepares the hearts of those lost people to make them receptive and responsive when they do hear the Gospel and even to inquire after it and hunger for it.
The story of The Acts is the story of churches being planted across the Roman Empire and, despite violent opposition, no place remained unfruitful to the powerful converting power of the Gospel. Revivals always promote missionary endeavor.
So, we have seen that there is indeed a biblical theology of revival and on the ground of that revelation we may cry to the Lord to visit us again with his awesome Presence and convicting and converting Power. We have promises to claim, prayers to guide us and the prototype of the New Testament Church to challenge and excite us. We know that God has purposed to glorify his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to that end has poured out upon his church the Holy Spirit.
We may take the Scriptures and come before him “with arguments” and pray as did the prophet Isaiah, “Oh, that you would rend the Heavens and come down that the mountains would tremble before you!” Or with the prophet Habakkuk, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy”.