“How painfully true it is that in every age divisions have been the scandal of religion, and the weakness of the Church of Christ. How often Christians have wasted their strength in contending against their brethren, instead of contending against sin and the devil. How repeatedly they have given occasion to the world to say, “When you have settled your own internal differences we will believe.” (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John, Vol. 3)
A revival occurs when a person or group of persons isolate themselves from the apathy around them and commit themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to live differently in light of that recovered doctrine. Many people think of a revival as an evangelistic crusade, but a revival is more. Revivals do not start in the world (under a tent or in an arena); revival starts with God’s people seeing their sin for what it is (e.g., the Jews in Ezra 10).
We can identify a revival as having the following 6 characteristics.
- Revivals result in God visiting His people in a way they have not recently experienced. For example, on New Year’s Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and some of their friends held a “love feast” which became a watch night of prayer to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, “The power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.” They felt as if God was personally visiting them in a unique way that they become both fearful and joyful. Revivals always begin with a restoration of the sense of the closeness of the Holy One. Thus, people get on their knees; they pray.
- Revivals elevate one’s esteem for Jesus and the cross. Jonathan Edwards called this one of the distinguishing marks of true revival. For the Christian, the person of Christ is an unavoidable reality but during revival this mark consumes him. Edwards wrote about this in his work The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. He says, “The person to whom the Spirit gives testimony and for whom He raises their esteem must be Jesus – the one who appeared in the flesh. No other Christ can stand in his place. No mystical, fantasy Christ! No light within – as the spirit of Quakers extols – can diminish esteem of a dependence upon an outward Christ. The Spirit who gives testimony for this historical Jesus and leads to Him can be no other than the Spirit of God.” (pg. 30)
- Revivals wage war against any interest of Satan’s kingdom. Again, Edwards says this is a distinguishing mark of true revival. Revivals don’t eliminate sin, but they do fight against it. When revival comes, people are struck by their sin and awake from their sinful slumber. They get on the offensive when it comes to battling sin. They don’t wait for sin to crouch at their door; they attack it before it invades their life.
- Revivals cause a deeper love and affection for the Bible. Since the days of sola Scriptura and the Reformation, the Bible has been vandalized in too many different ways. During revival, the Word of God is not vandalized but prized by all. And the product of such affection is absolute obedience. A.W. Tozer once asked, “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late – and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain precept laid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.”
- Revivals invite fresh love for the Gospel as never before. The sense of God’s nearness creates an overwhelming awareness of one’s own sins and sinfulness, and so the power of the cleansing blood of Christ is greatly appreciated. Thus, as God’s people love the Gospel for themselves, they can’t help but preach it to others.
- Revivals stir up repentance. This is a natural outflow of one’s understanding of their sin and the power of the Gospel. Repentance results in restitution.
When revivals happen, the Spirit works fast, godliness multiplies, Christians mature, and converts appear.
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“Churches that want to influence their culture are so often tempted to think that to be effective they must hide their otherworldliness and become slickly this-worldly. They think they must identity with their culture as if there were no impediments to doing that. They imagine that their chief tool, if not their only tool, of influence is friendship with the world. Churches that actually do influence the culture – here is the paradox – are those that distance themselves from it in their internal life. They do not offer what can already be had on secular terms in their culture. They are an alternative to it. They stand outside of its life. They stand over against it in their preoccupations, because their preoccupations are with the God of their salvation who in his holiness and grace is completely unlike anything we find in life. In life we find preoccupations that are thoroughly this-worldly. The preoccupations we should find in the church arise from the knowledge of God in Christ and from his written Word. Because of this, they are necessarily ‘otherworldly.” (David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant)
|The Image||Scripture References||Significance of the Image|
|Assembly||Acts 19||The church is a gathering of believers.|
|Body||Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18||The church is diverse, but also a unified organism.|
|Branches||John 15||The church is connected to Christ and through Him can produce fruit.|
|Bride||Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 21:9||God loves, leads and honors the church. The church submits, respects, and reveres God.|
|Building||Ephesians 2:20||Christ is the cornerstone of the church and it is built through the proper functioning of its parts.|
|Flock||John 10:14-18, 26-27; I Peter 5:1-3||God cares for the church, leads the church, disciplines the church, and nurtures the church.|
|Household||Ephesians 2:19; I Timothy 3:15||The church and God share an intimacy unlike ay other relationship.|
|Priesthood||Hebrews 4:14-16||Each member of the church can approach God directly.|
|Temple||I Peter 2:5||The church is a gathering of worship.|
Since early February, I have been preaching a biographical series on the 12 disciples at my home church in Wichita, KS. We have been sketching their lives throughout the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles when able. I have used such resources as William Barclay’s The Master’s Men, A.B. Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve, and John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men.
Early on, it wasn’t too challenging to gather enough preaching material for disciples like Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip and Nathanael.
My next sermon will overview Thomas, who supplies a fair amount of preaching material in the Gospel of John and from there I will preach about Matthew, who also has plenty of narrative ground to cover in the Gospel he penned. So, that is 8 of the 12 disciples.
Other than 1 of the remaining 4 disciples – Judas Iscariot – the other 3 are as obscure as they get: James the less (or the little), James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus (or Lebbaeus or Judas, son of James), and Simon the Zealot.
So, here are the questions I will attempt to deal with in today’s post: if these 12 men are the early leaders of the church who lead the initial charge of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and will one day rule from thrones in heaven (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; Revelation 21:14), why do we know very little about 3 of them? Shouldn’t all of them get equal treatment from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? It seems from the reading the Gospels that Jesus only really needed 9 disciples.
In short, I don’t know the answer to these questions, because the Bible does not supply it. But, I will speculate.
Could it be that they aren’t referred to much because they were ordinary? It is true that each of these disciples were ordinary, because they were uneducated simple-minded men who came from small towns and embraced blue-collar vocations. But at least 9 of the disciples might have reached “celebrity status” in the early church.
But the reality of the universal church is that most of us pastors are ordinary. Most pastors in the U.S.A. lead congregations of 100 or less. Most of us will never know each other, because most of us won’t write best-selling books, have blog or video posts that go viral, or speak at national conferences.
Perhaps God didn’t want to set an expectation that all of us need to selfishly aspire to be Peter, James or John. Perhaps we need to be content with being faithfully obscure like James the less, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddeus.