Revival: When We Learn to Tremble at God’s Word – Lessons from Ezra and Joel7 min read
The Word of God is always the means of the Spirit of God to bring conviction of sin and restoration to the Christian community. Apart from the Word of God, there will be no work from God. And as long as we have the idea that we can somehow separate the power of God from the clear, consistent teachings of Scripture, we will never see true revival. God looks to the man who trembles at his Word (Isaiah 66:2), not the man who trades God’s word for what will attract the world. Revival is an intensely practical thing: it comes when we tremble at the Word of the Most High God – and only then.
Coming to Grips with Sin – Ezra 9
Why would a people need revival if it were not for sin? Obviously it is sin, whether in the form of practice or error, that needs to be our concern in pursuing revival. This is where we find Israel in Ezra 9. Men who were supposed to be leaders of integrity had intermarried with the heathens; Israel’s holiness was severely compromised. What was Ezra’s response? Was it, “Oh well, it’s not my place to judge”? Was it, “Well, my interpretation of God’s commands might be different than their interpretation of them”? No, rather it was astonishment and utter grief. “At the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness… I fell on my knees and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said ‘O my God, I am ashamed and blush to life up my face unto Thee, O God.'” In this majestic prayer, Ezra teaches us a number of things that we need to realize if we will take God’s Word seriously.
- He recognized the extremity of sin. Ezra knew there was simply no two ways about the issue. Israel had sinned, and Ezra was ashamed of it. He knew God was abhorred. He knew Israel was continuing in the same rebellion that led them into captivity. The day revival comes for us is when excuses stop being made, when error is seen to be error and sin is seen to be sin.
- He recognized God’s grace. At this point, it was not that God’s grace was their hope (though it would be later), but here it served to condemn their sin even more. God was so good to them in their captivity, and profanity is how they repaid him. What about the privileges Western Christianity has had with the Word of God open and prominent for so long? Have we not forgotten to fight for truth on account that it has been so long with us? Have we not taken this grace for granted?
- He recognized Israel’s lack of excuse. “What shall we say after this? For we have forsaken thy commandments.” This was all Ezra could say. There was nothing to plead their cause. The Word of God was clear, and it was authoritative. And they were so privileged in light of God’s mercy. What could be said for them? What can be said for us? How many revivals have we had in the past, and yet we need another?
- He recognized the greatness of God. The only thing consistent in Israel’s history was God, and that is still true today. “Thou art righteous” was Ezra’s declaration. When considering God’s greatness, the people’s failure was only more evident. Revival sees us for who we are, and it sees God for Who He is. The same standards exist today.
The Dawn of Hope – Ezra 10
It was when Ezra and a company of like-minded people were broken by Israel’s sin that hope began to dawn. So many revival efforts and prayers miss this. Broken people are revivable people. We would find greater profit if we aimed for contrition and confession without revival than if we aimed for revival without these things. God uses people broken over their sin far quicker than he uses wishful thinkers.
But when true contrition comes, there indeed is a need for ambitious people – people who want to see change. This is seen in verse 3, “Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.” These were not people of theory, but people of action. They saw a problem, they grieved over it, and they acted toward the solution. They didn’t act because they thought revival would be interesting to see; they acted, because God needed to be glorified. The same will be true in our case. It is not bad to wish revival – in fact, it is commendable! – but that wish should be secondary to fully glorifying God. It is when we are sold out to God’s glory first that revival can more than likely follow second.
But again, we have to be realistic about the matter. Israel had to be. Instead of the process of purification taking one day, it took three months. The important thing, however, is that it was done. They worked hard. They stuck to it. That, for them, was revival. It may have been monotonous over the course of 90 days, but it glorified God. If we were given revival, would we be ready for consistent, monotonous, and perhaps unexciting work? Would that still be revival for us? Or do we need the emotional superficiality that we see in “mass conversions” today for us to consider the work of God as true revival? It is not that revival won’t be exciting, nor that it won’t be wide-scale. But the point is this: revival is realistic. Let’s get to work and stick to it; God will bless in His time. The main question for us now is, are we ready to obey?
The Fruition of Conviction – Joel 2
Similar grief that we see in Ezra 10 is seen in Joel 2. Notice what God called the people to do:
“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil… Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly… Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?”
People with this kind of willingness before God are those He will certainly work with. Where there is a humbling of the heart, God does His exalting work. “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” The issue with us is not that God does not want to work with us, but that something must be resolved before a real work can begin. We must draw nigh to God. We must humble ourselves, cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts. Then God promises His sustaining hand of blessing. The promise to Israel in Joel 2 was this: “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice; for the Lord will do great things.” The Lord will do great things! This is our hope. This is our aim. This is our passion. We have no reason to doubt the possibility of the work and power of God.
But the question as to whether or not He will do great things revolves around this question: “Do I tremble at His Word?” This was the key in Ezra’s day. This was the key in Joel’s day. This was the key in James’s day. It will be the same in ours. Our time for contrition and confession has come. If we would but take advantage of it, maybe we could see revival sooner than we think. Let us gather with those that fear the Lord; let us take action with them. The Lord will do great things!