Nehemiah 8:13- 9:3
As we look back thru the pages of history, we discover that in almost every generation, there have been those significant moments of spiritual awakening, when the Spirit of God begins to move in a dramatic and unusual way, to bring many men and women and young people to himself, in what is often called Revival. Church Historian J. Edwin Orr, who spent his life studying the history of Revival in the church defined Revival as “an unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit which brings deep conviction of sin upon God’s people, and the conversion of many others into the kingdom of God” Others have said that revival is like “heaven visiting earth”
Now I think you and I all know what it’s like when we go through those dry, wilderness times in our Christian life. We find as we journey through life, It’s sometimes easy for us to lose our first love for the Lord, for our faith to dissipate, our passion for Christ grow cold. But fortunately, even when we wander from God, he never abandons us. God will never leave his children wandering forever in a spiritual desert. One of my favorite verses has always been Isaiah 45:19: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Because he loves us, and has set his heart on us, eventually there will come that moment when by the rain of God’s spirit will begin to fall, bringing new life, and spiritual renewal and awakening.
One such revival took place just over a hundred years ago, in the villages and coal mines of Wales. In the 1904 Welsh revival, it was estimated that about 150,000 men & women, mostly young people turned to Christ in a period of just a few months. During that time, whole communities were transformed as the spirit of God moved in an incredible way in peoples lives. The crime rate dropped dramatically, pubs & taverns were emptied, as thousands of men & women flocked back to church. The impact of that revival was eventually felt around the world, as people were called to go to the mission field with the good news of Jesus. And there have been other remarkable periods of revival that we could point to, not only here in NA, but more recently in countries like Korea and Argentina.
Here in the later chapters of the book of Nehemiah, we discover a moment when the people of Israel also experienced a significant time of revival, as they renewed their commitment to the Lord. So what do we mean by Revival and what does it look like? That’s what we want to explore this morning. What are the marks of true revival that we find them displayed here in Nehemiah:
1. Revival brings a Deeper thirst for the word of God. As Pastor Laurie set the scene last Sunday, this chapter begins with this amazing scene where all the people gather in the square in front of one of the city gates, known as the Water Gate. Starting from the first light of dawn until noon, Ezra the priest, stood on a high platform that had been built especially for this occasion, & he read from the Torah, the book of the Law, the 1st 5 books of our Old Testament. And as he begins to read, all the people stood up, & listened attentively to what he was reading. Thruout the history of the church, true revival has always been accompanied by a renewed emphasis on the centrality of the Word of God. One of the great contributing factors to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, was Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. Suddenly, people had access to the Bible, written in their own language, that they could read & understand for themselves, & under the leadership of men like Martin Luther, & John Calvin, there was a return to Biblical faith, & a desire to know the word of God.
2. Revival also brings a greater vision of God’s glory and greatness. Revival comes as people capture a vision of the Lord in all his glory and majesty. And that’s what we find here as well. In chap 9, we hear the people praying this prayer:“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” (Neh 9:5-6)
In this prayer, the people recount the faithful activity of God right from the beginning of creation, when in his wisdom and love he fashioned the heavens & the earth & gave life to the whole human race. Then later, out of all the peoples of the earth, God chose a man named Abraham to be the father of his people. He led him out of his home in ancient Ur, and made a covenant with him, promising that his descendants would be given the land of Canaan as an inheritance. And then hundreds of years later, God remembered his people as they suffered under the oppression of slavery in Egypt, and he led them out under Moses. The people are remembering how God has been faithful to them in the past, and continues to do so in the present. And they recapture a renewed sense of his glory and power
3. But Revival also brings us to a new awareness of the true condition of our hearts before God. As we come under conviction of sin, we recognize the need for repentance and to repudiate those patterns of behavior in our lives that are offensive to God. As Ezra read God’s word, the Holy Spirit opened the peoples' eyes & they literally wept when they saw how far far they had fallen from God's law. They pray:"But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands… They were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law.” (Neh 9:16,26) In spite of God’s faithfulness down through the centuries, the OT also records for us a tragic pattern of rebellion, idolatry and disobedience, as the people seemed to continually break the covenants they had made with God.
And so the people of Nehemiah’s day here look back at the history of their nation, and they acknowledge responsibility for the sins of their forefathers. They realize the situation they are in is because of Israel’s rebellion and disobedience down through the years. Yet they realize that through all of this, God has continued to faithfully keep his covenant of love with them in spite of all their failings
4. But revival doesn't stop there either- Revival also brings real joy! Notice what Nehemiah says to the people: "Don't mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." While there is a time & place for mourning over our spiritual poverty, that mourning turns to joy as we become aware of God's willingness to forgive & restore us back to himself. God wants his people to experience real joy! Yes, life is tough sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we have to go around moping and depressed all the time! It bothers me when I see Christians who are always depressed, or always angry! “The joy of the Lord is our strength”
5. True revival results in a deeper commimtment to obedience to the word of God. As the leaders & the people continued to read the scriptures, they discover that during this feast time, they were suppose to live in booths, these temporary makeshift shelters, for a period of 7 days. This was the feast of Tabernacles described in Leviticus 23. There it says that after the harvest had been gathered, the people were to celebrate for 7 days, & they were to build simple shelters made out of whatever branches & sticks they could find, & live in them for those 7 days. Why were they to do this? "So that your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt." And so when the leaders in Nehemiah's day read this, they said "Well, if that’s what it says, then that's what we better do!" & they sent the people out into the hill country to get branches to build these booths. And so the people commited themselves to obeying the word of God. And it says that even from the days of Joshua when they first arrived in Israel, they had never celebrated this feast like they did that week. "And their joy was very great"
So then what does all of this say to us today as we read about the experience of Nehemiah and the people of Israel? Friends, if you get anything out of this message this morning, I hope it is this: The same God who faithfully kept his covenant promises with Israel, who again and again extended his grace and mercy in allowing them to return back to him – the same God who brought revival to the people of Israel here in Nehemiah’s day – he’s the same God who wants to bring revival today – to us as individuals, to our church and ultimately to our nation.
I think it should be pretty obvious to all of us that over the past 40 or 50 years there has been a definite movement away from Christianity & away from God here in our country. The statistics tell us that today only about 15% of Canadians attend church on a regular basis. The process of "secularization", of living life as though God does not exist, has steadily continued over the past 2 generations.
And so the greatest need in our country today is not for a revitalized economy, or a better government, or a cleaner environment, as good as all those things might be. What we desperately need is Revival, a spiritual reawakening, in which many people would experience a new hunger for God, a desire for him to fill the emptiness they feel in their hearts, and a willingness to turn in repentance and faith to the Savior. And in fact I believe that’s exactly what God wants to do, to bring a new wave of revival, a fresh move of his Spirit across our churches, our communities and our country. We may have turned our backs on God, but he will never turn his back on us. I believe we can still see revival come to our nation again, even as it has in the past.
So what needs to happen in order for this to take place? A key verse is 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
First of all, we as Christians in Canada must come before God in an attitude of humility & repentance, recognizing that often we have been lukewarm in our commitment to Christ. That because we are not that different from the culture around us, that we have lost the power to make any kind of statement to the world around us Then we need to pray- pray fervently that God would pour out his spirit on our nation, that there would be a new hunger for God, that he would bring people back to himself. But I also believe that revival needs to begin with you and I. We need to experience revival in our own hearts before we can impact the world around us. And so this morning as we close, let's together ask God to do a work in our own hearts- let's ask him to do whatever is neccessary to bring renewal in our lives, both as individuals, & together as the family of God.