Preaching that Brings Revival
Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah 8:6
God had promised through Jeremiah a return from the exile after seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10) and indeed God fulfilled his promise in 586 B.C., raising up Darius of the Medo-Persian empire to rout Babylon (Dan. 5:30). As the people of Israel returned to Judah, due to opposition but also their own worldliness, they were very slow in rebuilding the temple and wall around the city. God raised up the prophet Haggai who challenged the people to rebuild the temple (Hag. 1:2). By God’s grace they answered the call. Later, when hearing that the wall was still in disrepair after many years, Nehemiah was burdened while in Medo-Persia as King Artaxerxes’ right hand man. He wept, fasted, and prayed for days, gaining the King’s favour to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. He did so in fifty-two days. It is within this historical context that Ezra stands, reads the Word of God, and expounds it to God’s covenant people. The response was immediate and powerful. They affirmed it as God’s Word, saying ‘Amen, Amen!’ Beyond this they acted upon what they heard. It wrought humility and a profound desire to worship God. It also brought sorrow because they realized their folly in turning away from the Lord so many times in the past. Ezra told them that that was not the time for weeping. Instead they were to rejoice at God’s goodness.
Have you noticed how many times the reading and preaching of God’s Word brings revival? It happened after the exile under Ezra and Nehemiah. It happened earlier under Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29-31) who brought back temple worship and the Passover. It happened under Josiah when he heard the rediscovered words of the Law, tearing his clothes because he knew he and his people had failed to obey God. Josiah then renewed the covenant with the Lord and brought back the Passover another time (2 Chron. 34-35). It is within this context, however, that the words of Psalm 85 are particularly pregnant with meaning, ‘Restore us, O God of our salvation. And cause Thine indignation toward us to cease. Wilt Thou be angry with us forever? Wilt Thou prolong Thine anger to all generations? Wilt Thou not Thyself revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee? Show us Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, and grant us Thy salvation’ (Psa. 85:4-7). These post-exilic Jews are asking God once again to revive them, to remove his anger toward them, to show them his lovingkindness, to bring salvation to them. And what does this revival look like? In verse 9 we read, ‘Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in the land.’ Revival brings salvation to many. Revival brings glory to the land – a palpable, troubling, disturbing, converting, sanctifying, felt presence of God. Revival is the people of God being saturated with the presence and power of God. In revival people cannot get enough Bible and preaching. One sermon a week is not enough. Hence, the Sunday night service and mid-week service. One reason I know we are not in revival is because people are generally content with one sermon each week, as long as it is not too lengthy or too convicting. They cannot get enough prayer and fellowship. They cannot get enough of telling people about Christ. Revival brings tears – tears of sorrow over sin leading to repentance, tears of joy due to the mercy and grace of God received, tears for Ichabod (the glory of the Lord departing the church and culture), and tears for the multitudes of lost souls who are running headlong into perdition with their eyes wide open.
In a day when many seem to be mitigating the preached Word of God, calling us to a neo-sacerdotalism (emphasizing the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism over against the efficacy of the preached Word of God)1, we all the more need preachers who will preach for revival. How are we to do it? The church and her preacher have only two weapons – prayer and preaching. Nothing else will work. So, how do we preach for revival? First, the preacher and congregant alike must believe that revival is necessary and possible. Surprisingly, this is not even on the radar screen of many western believers. I will go further and say that the revival culture of Acts is normative, that this is always the benchmark of the church and anything short of it is dishonouring the One who gave himself for us. Second, we must pray with the intolerable burden of which I have so often spoken and written in the past. We can have revival in our day if we are willing to pay the price for it – if we are willing to pray, fast, and weep like Ezra (Ezra 10:1) and Nehemiah (Neh. 1:1-4); if we are in such anguish over the state of Christ’s church that we will pull the hair out of our heads and sit down appalled like Ezra (Ezra 9:1-3 ), that we will pull the hair from the heads of our brethren, like Nehemiah (Neh. 13:25); if we are willing to pray with deep humility, confessing and repenting of sin like Daniel (Dan. 9:1ff). Without this kind of sustained burden we have no reason to believe our prayers are effectual. We must pray prayers of supplication, intense passion (Dan. 9:3; Zech. 12:10). Third, as the preacher proclaims God’s Word he comes to his great calling hot with Christ, after hours of prayer, study, and meditation on the Word to be preached; after filling up his heart and mind with the glory of Christ, after feeling deeply and passionately the truths he will proclaim; after believing in the total sufficiency and efficacy of the preached Word through the Spirit’s anointing. He knows he must have the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit fall on his preaching. He knows his gifts, charisma, training, or experience will not bring revival fire. He labours in his preaching and every aspect of his pastoral ministry with the expectation of revival. This kind of preaching brings action. It demands a verdict. Preaching for revival affects the conscience, heart, and will. No one could listen to the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, or Isaiah the prophet without being moved in heart, mind, and will. Some loved the message and embraced it fully. Others despised it and wanted to kill the purveyors of it. When the Holy Spirit falls upon such preachers and their preaching, then the devil and his minions are awakened from hell. They come after the preacher in many forms – discouragement, financial or health crises, sexual temptation, severe opposition from within the church leadership, hatred and disdain from the world. But with the Apostle Paul, the preacher and the congregation are able finally to say together, ‘We have fought the good fight. We have finished the course. We have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for us the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to us on that day, and not only to us, but also to all who have loved His appearing’ (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
- By all means we ought regularly to observe the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Every believer and his covenant children ought to be baptized and we ought regularly to partake of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace, of growing in Christ, of partaking of his holiness. These, however, are to supplement the preaching of God’s Word, not to eclipse it.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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