Acts 2:1-11; Luke 22:39-46
“a movement of the Holy Spirit bringing about a revival of New Testament Christianity in the Church of Christ and its related community”
“a renewal of God’s people to do God’s work to fulfil God’s plan.”
Engagement with studying the fire of revival began in my early Christian experience, perhaps ignited by the teaching of Geoffrey Bingham in Adelaide, who had several revivals in Pakistan.
I still have notes from a sermon he preached at Adelaide University (17.6.74) titled, “The Revival we Need”.
It was stimulated by my reading of Jonathan Edwards’ classics, “Religious Affections” and “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God”. It was later fuelled by hearing perhaps the most famous student of Western revivals, J Edwin Orr, preaching at Ridley Theological College Melbourne (c.1980).
The challenging topic of Prayer and Revival presented at a conference in Adelaide 1985 by Paul Yonggi Cho which led me to deep repentance about my prayerlessness. Some subsequent some unusual acts of God in one of my ministry placements in Victoria kept an interest awake.
When I came to Perth to take up ministry in 1988, I was still a young fired up the preacher. The first 4 sermons I preached here were on prayer, by the fourth week the numbers in the congregation had doubled, and when I gave an “altar call” following my sermon on Prayer and Revival, half the congregation came forward. This confirmed my amazingly conceited conviction that I could “start a revival”, an ambition I held for quite a long time.
Over recent years I have been more likely to teach on the disorder that would result if God moved in the power of the Spirit.
Revival without reformation is a recipe for chaos. Whilst most people today think of revival in terms of a mere intensification of our present Christian experience, more miracles, healings, conversions, deeper love and so on, we must consider a genuine biblical revival to involve a restoration of the form of the Church found in the New Testament.
Anything fewer collapses in power struggles, false teaching, immorality and splintering. If the fish which the Lord sends into his net is not to escape through its many tears, extraordinary prayer and unity are to be expected as a preparation for a spiritual awakening.
This caution came to me from hearing a Pentecostal preacher in Mar del Plata Argentina in 1995. After a move of God involving the famous evangelist Carlos Annacondia, 10% of the population turned to Christ (40,000), but after some time only 1,000 remained in the churches. There were “too many holes in the net.”
My thinking and praying about revival was unexpectedly, and cautiously, reignited when I laid hands on a brother a few weeks ago and as I prayed “saw” what happened to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
I saw the heavenly wind and the fiery tongues entering into all the believers. Meditating on this insight I wrote a prophetic article called “Firestorm”. It ended with a challenge for a remnant to gather and pray for the wind and fire of God restoring new creation life in the Church.
About a month ago I was reading an article in the Prepare the Way magazine; which in some ways resembles old fashioned revival teaching, with articles by Andrew Murray, A.B. Simpson, A.W. Tozer, David Wilkerson and the like.
The article was titled, “The lost agony for souls.”
It starts with a quote from the great 18th-century revival preacher, George Whitefield, “O Lord, give me souls or take my soul…there is a passion for souls, a depth of burden for men, care for the flock of God that defies words and sighs and tears.”
Then the early missionary to the Native Americans, David Brainerd, “no amount of brilliant stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep, impassioned sympathetic love of human souls.”
Then followed a description of scenes from the Welsh revival, “the air became very heavy with sighs, tears, and groans…as if their hearts must break beneath the strain.” Other accounts speak of the ministry of Charles Finney, the Hebrides revival and so on in terms of recovering the “lost agony”.
“It appears that we have lost the power to weep, to wrestle, to plead, and to agonise over lost souls.” Evangelistic campaigns come and go but the cities are seemingly as lost as ever.
After reading this article I had to go out and pray. And I had very little to say. There’s no way I can ever return to the sort of revivalist activism that possessed me as a young man. Where to from here?
At the same time, I was in my “stunned state” about revival I believe the Lord was drawing my attention to the subject of “earnest prayer” and to do some teaching on prayer and revival from an embarrassingly different perspective from my past efforts. From a genuinely Christ-centred perspective.
I concluded last week’s sermon by saying, “Whenever God powerfully moves the Church to self-examination it is astonished at its self-centredness and turns to the Lord in urgent prayer. This makes self-examination the first step in revival and the catapult to extraordinary prayer. True self-examination involves a sharing in what Jesus saw of the depths of our fallen humanity in the cross and a sharing in the delivering power of his resurrection.”
A foundational theology of revival isn’t based on ebbs and flows in the spirituality of the Church but will attempt to testify to what happens in the Church as the Spirit grants to us more intense participation in the “revival” of Christ’s own humanity from suffering and death into resurrection. This means the substance of the extraordinary prayer that precedes revivals is sourced in the prayer life of Jesus. This leads us to Christ’s prayers in Gethsemane.
The Praying of Jesus
The description of Christ’s praying in Luke is especially intense. “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:43-44 ESV).
Many early Greek manuscripts omit these verses. Scribes would have been motivated to remove this text as embarrassing because Roman critics argued it showed Jesus lost his composure in the face of death, something a true hero or god could never do.
If we accept these verses as authentic, they give us insight into the extreme limit of Christ’s humanity. (Perhaps second only to the cry of dereliction, Mark 15:34 ESV.)
Matthew and Mark record Jesus in Gethsemane sharing with his disciples, “my soul is sorrowful to the point of death”. Believing that he could die in the Garden Jesus is moved to an “earnestness” prayer beyond our fathoming.
Usually at this point I would focus on Jesus recoiling (Luke 22:42 ESV) with horror at drinking the cup of divine wrath, the judgement of the cross which would separate him from his Father. But in the plan of salvation, there is another element at play.
In Luke (Luke 22:40 ESV) Jesus and the disciples have entered into a time of “testing” (Luke 22:3, 31 ESV) where the devil assaults the purposes of God with special ferocity because it his “hour and the power of darkness/ the time when the power of darkness reigns.”. It is the devil’s “opportune time” (Luke 4:13 ESV), a time appointed by God when he is permitted to attack Jesus and the disciples with exceptional power.
If we take the humanity of Jesus and the intensity of his prayers, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” seriously, we must suppose that without supernatural angelic assistance he could not have persevered (cf. Dan 10).
The writer to Hebrews describes Christ’s Gethsemane experience like this, vs.7 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. vs.8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb 5:7-8 ESV)
It is vital we ask what exactly was it that moved Jesus to such extraordinary prayer. I believe the key to such insight is the language of sonship used in Hebrews and underlying Christ’s unique prayer language, “ “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.” ” “ “My Father” (Matt 26:39 ESV).
In the New Testament sonship is consistently associated with light. It is as the Son of God that Jesus is “the light of the world” in opposition to all darkness.
Because he is the enemy of God and a false father (John 8:44 ESV), Satan is the author of this world’s darkness and totally opposed to the light of Christ.
The conflict between the devil and Jesus is at the level of their deepest natures. Despite this, Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will in Gethsemane means he must accept what Satan wills for his life. He knows submission to the Father will lead him to suffer the experience of Father-abandonment on the cross.
As the tide of darkness flows over Jesus in the Garden every element of his being recoils in anguish and all he can do is pray more earnestly. In the ultimate paradox, he is being led by the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14 ESV) into the “outer darkness” where the will of God will be unknowable because there is no light in the Lord (Eph 5:8 ESV).
“The lordship of God” will be concealed “under the lordship of evil and evil men.” (Barth); no wonder Gethsemane is saturated in cries, groans, tears, wails etc.
Revival prayer is an extraordinary share in the saving intercession of Christ whose light triumphed over darkness in Gethsemane and on the cross.
Releasing Earnest Prayer in the Church
Some of the language used about Christ’s praying in Gethsemane reappears in Acts. Just after King Herod killed James, Peter was arrested with the same fate in mind, “but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5 ESV).
Much the same intense character of interceding comes across when Paul describes Epaphras as “always struggling/wrestling on your behalf in his prayers” (Col 4:12 ESV).
These are life and death struggles to bind the strong man, Satan, and bring down his strongholds. It is this praying which is a sign of revival.
Remember this type of earnest prayer by Nehemiah, “As soon as I heard these words (broken down state of the walls of Jerusalem) I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Neh 1:4 ESV). And the boldness of the psalmist, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (Ps 44:23 ESV).
Why are the characteristics of revival praying, such as heaven-sent persistence, zeal, energy, endurance and tenacity, so rare in the Church today?
Let me try to answer this at a number of levels. Firstly, in terms of the sovereign will of God.
“It is very apparent from the word of God, that he is wont often to try the faith and patience of his people, when crying to him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought, for a season; and not only so, but at first to cause an increase of dark appearances. And yet he, without fail, at last, succeeds those who continue instant in prayer, with all perseverance, and will not let him go except he blesses.”
In the ever-darkening state of our nation and Church in Australia it is not God’s will to quickly answer the prayers of his people.
I was visiting someone recently who was in a state of shock when his 4-year-old came to him after 3 weeks of pre-school and asked, “Can someone have two daddies?” Tasmania is well on the way to having sex on birth certificates optional. Laws in some states (Victoria, Queensland) give latitude for late-term abortions and sex-selection.
Given such intensifying moral and spiritual madness, why isn’t the Lord answering our prayers?
The prayers of many Christians are muted and confused because they are deeply deluded about the ways of the Lord.
I remember when Donna came back from a prayer meeting a few years ago and said the consensus amongst the intercessors was that God would never allow same-sex marriage in Australia.
Those women were not in touch with the wisdom of God in allowing the kingdom of evil to flood our culture.
It should be obvious by now that all the efforts of Christian lobby groups, all our think tanks, worldview institutes, centres for theological education, conferences, singing megachurches and so on are futile to hold back the tide of wickedness without a manifestation of the power of God.
We are missing a living revelation into the means by which the Lord of heaven and earth brings about foundational transformation in the Church and through it, eventually, the surrounding culture. This is conformity to the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Much of the Old Testament, e.g. Judges 2, is a cycle of blessing and prosperity (Deut 8) followed by idolatry and immorality, followed by God handing his people over to their enemies followed by them calling out to the Lord in their distress followed by a miraculous deliverance.
Then the cycle repeats itself. Exile and restoration are woven into the fabric of the biblical story because it is the means by which God gets all the glory and vindicates his own holy name. Humiliation precedes exaltation according to the pattern of the redemption which is in Christ.
There is something drastically missing in our churches. There’s lots of grief in the hearts of Christian parents about the lost state of their children, sorrow in marriages about their deadness to true intimacy, anguish amongst real shepherds concerning the bruised and battered state of the sheep (Ezek 34:11-16 ESV), but very few seem to be in touch with the anguish of God.
It is his glory that is being lost in all the spheres of life. Surely today we are in the latter time “days of Noah” (Matt 24:37 ESV ff.) when the wickedness was so dark on the earth that “God’s heart was filled with pain” (Gen 6:6 ESV).
Surely this is what’s happening before our eyes in Gethsemane, wherein Jesus God’s beating heart is exposed (cf. John 1:18 ESV) in prayer.
In Christ’s vicarious humanity exposing itself to the anguish of the Father in prayer, the Lord is moved in the Spirit to act to save the world. to put this another way, God moves himself to save the world through the prayers of Jesus. Voluntary self-sacrifice through prayer releases divine power to heal all thing.
Prayer as Sacrifice
When Paul exhorts, vs.1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…vs.3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour,” (1 Tim 2:1, 3 ESV), we are once again in the realm of earnest prayer as of first importance to the life of God’s people.
When Paul says such prayer is “acceptable” to God he uses a word found only here in the New Testament but used in various places in the Old Testament for acceptable sacrifices.
Such prayer does what is good and right in God’s presence
As Noah pleasured the Lord with burnt sacrifices and turned away the wrath of God (Gen 8:21-22 ESV), as the sacrifices on the altar burned day and night in the temple, and as fire fell from heaven upon its altar signifying divine acceptance, so the wind of the eternal Spirit came on the praying believers at Pentecost((See Biblical References Acts 1:14 ESV; Acts 2:1-4 ESV bringing the life of a new creation in Christ.
Fire on the altar of our hearts on earth is answered (Charles Wesley “O Thou Who Camest from Above”) by fire from heaven (see also Acts 4:24, 31 ESV).
Prayer is as central to God and his relationship to his people in the new covenant as a sacrifice was in the old, for it puts us in touch with the death, and resurrection, of Jesus the saving Lamb of God (John 1:29 ESV).
Conclusion and Application
Amy Carmichael, famous for her work in rescuing young temple prostitutes in India, describes a time when her community (Dohnavur) was “Overwhelmed with the sudden realisation of the inner force of things” and a “hurricane of prayer continued for over four hours”. One of her girls gives what I think is the most profound way of describing a revival. It was “the day Jesus came to Dohnavur”.
Contrary to our contemporary focus on signs, wonders and preaching, Jesus knew that only self-sacrifice carried out through the presence of God in prevailing prayer could deliver bound humanity from the power of the evil one. This must be our mind too (1 Cor 2:16 ESV).
As a first step, we must accept that God is sovereign over our own personal situation and the state of the churches and nation.
If we don’t accept this we will inevitably trust in our own efforts, especially as they harness the gifts of God and depend on talent, expertise and effort. I see this most conspicuously, though hardly exclusively, amongst thriving Pentecostal congregations.
In his classic on revival, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, written in 1979, Richard Lovelace commented, “Pentecostals are perhaps the truest representatives of the Evangelical tradition [of prayer and renewal] in the twentieth century.”
This is certainly no longer true of Western Pentecostalism whose numbers have exploded but whose spiritual depth has plummeted.
We must confess that the prayerlessness of us all reveals that in our hearts we don’t accept the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty”.
And so we need to petition the Lord for an outpouring of the Spirit who so mightily worked salvation through the prayers of Jesus, especially in Gethsemane and on the cross (cf. Zech 12:10 ESV).
Finally, we need to ask the Lord that if we have no inner burden for a supernatural move of God that he gives us one.
If we do have such a burden, we should get on with praying and the more we pray the more the Spirit will be given to us for more prayer until finally, in God’s time, a great spiritual awakening will come.
MESSAGE, DELIVERED: Date 17th March 2019 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
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