Why do we speak of the Holy Spirit and revival? Because this is a biblical theme which can be very encouraging. True God-fearing congregations are shrinking and increasingly marginalized in our own society.
1. THERE WERE TIMES THAT ARE RECORDED IN THE BIBLE WHEN MANY PEOPLE TURNED FROM SIN TO GOD.
i] When the word of God was rediscovered. Consider the occasion when the Scripture was rediscovered in the temple of the Lord when King Josiah was 26 years of age. What a change for the whole nation when they rediscovered, read and acted upon the Word. We read, “Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses. Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD. . . . And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. . . .‘Go and enquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD. . . .Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. . . . with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant. . . .the king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD – to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book. . . .the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.” That nation rediscovered the Bible to its peace and unity. It had in fact rediscovered the living God.
ii] When Jonah preached in Nineveh, when with much reluctance the prophet finally came to the pagan city whose whole system he hated greatly. We are told, “Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city – a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’ The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. . . . ‘let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’ When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (Jon. 3:3-10). Jonah went with the bare word in obedience to God and the whole city was changed.
There=0 Aare such occasions in the history of redemption when a nation is stirred, faith in the Lord is renewed, idols are destroyed and many people repent of their sins and turn to God. You might think that this is simply the romantic, folk-story manner in which the Old Testament is written . . . “and they all lived happily ever after.” I want to say most earnestly to you that the above instances are not an invariable pattern of the Bible. For example, in the wilderness wanderings, though there were extraordinary blessings and miracles as in the parting of the Red Sea, the daily manna that came from heaven and the water that burst out of the rock and the preaching of Moses, the people were not revived, but they all perished in the wilderness. Under the mighty ministry of Jeremiah there was no national turning to God. Under the ministry of Elijah, when God answers with fire and consumes the sacrifice on the altar, there is no subsequent turning to God by the people, even with the presence of Elijah in their midst. So there is no naturalistic explanation for those occasions I have drawn your attention to when the people were greatly stirred and broken. There is nothing inevitable about the wonderful turning to God. They were a result of the quickening grace of God. Revival is a sovereign work of God.
Let me give you three similar examples from the book of Acts.
i] In Jerusalem, Peter preached to Jerusalem sinners, concluding “‘Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:36-41).
So a substantial number of people in that wicked city turned to Jesus Christ and became true Christians and the impact on the l and was great. A tide of persecution opened up again the people of God. They could no longer be ignored.
ii] In Samaria. Again we meet the same phenomenon of a whole city stirred when Philip goes to Samaria; “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:4-8). “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12).
Here is superstitious irreligious Samaria, with all its deep-dyed hostility to the Jews, and yet it heard a Jewish Christian evangelist so keenly that multitudes in the country believed that the crucified Jewish Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and they were publicly baptized in his name. That is the grace of God leading3D2 0to a great awakening.
iii] In Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. Again, we meet the same phenomenon– “As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:42-44). “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:48&49). Then at Iconium we are told, “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed” (Acts 14:1).
So the Word of God spread as God’s blessing came upon the gospel as it was preached. That was not invariable; it did not happen in Athens, although a significant little group of individuals professed faith. The Holy Spirit was poured out generously through Jesus Christ. That is the explanation.
– to be continued
– Geoff Thomas