This morning I have been asked to speak on revival. My goal is by God’s grace to say something that will cause you to deeply long for revival and set you to praying for it with a passion for the rest of today and everyday until it comes. Most definitions of revival sound something like this—“A sovereign work of God wherein Christ’s church is infused with the life of Christ resulting in the expression of a powerful love for God and other from which personal obedience, effective witness and cultural transformation spring forth.” Central to what is awakened in us as we are revived is an impassioned and intimate love for God in response to a renewed sense of God’s love for us through the gospel. Although this sense of intimacy with God is not all that the revived believer experiences, it is surely near the center. I’m convinced that many of us here this morning serve God diligently and work hard in Christian service, but if you were to make a list of ten adjectives describing your relationship with Christ the words "intimate" or “impassioned” would not make the list. If that's you, your heart needs revival.
It's the same problem the church in Ephesus had as Christ addressed them in Revelation chapter two. He said to them and he says to you, " 1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
So many of us are just like those people. We try to be obedient, but much of the time we our walk with God is mechanical—we’re just going through the motions. We are devout, but dispassionate. We persevere, but we're numb. The Word from Jesus for us this morning is, "Oh, don't you remember how it used to be between us?...when you delighted in me, when you couldn't stop thinking about me--when you were enraptured with me?" Christ is saying, "Oh, delight in me again-- seek after me again-- pursue me again!" For many of you, that kind of relationship with Christ is only a distant memory, but Christ wants your first love back. Revival is at root--all about a radical altering of a believer’s relationship with Christ, This morning, I want to talk to you about an aspect of your relationship with Christ that is often neglected. That is, the fact that by the grace of God, Christ has become not only your Redeemer, your Lord, not only your Friend, not only your older Brother--he has become your Bridegroom—you’re part of his bride, the church.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have many texts picturing God relating to His people as His bride. We see this in the Old Testament especially in the prophetic books. Isaiah 54:5 says, "5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name…” God pictures himself as Israel's husband. Many of the Old Testament references to Israel as God's husband were made in the context of judgment. In Jeremiah 3:14, Yahweh is speaking and says, “Return, faithless people," declares the LORD, "for I am your husband. . .” Ezekiel uses this husband-wife picture more powerfully and more frequently than any other book in the Bible. Verses like 16:32 are typical. "'You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!" The Old Testament makes it clear that the spiritual relationship between Yahweh and his people is a marriage and that God’s love for us is that of a jealous Husband.
In the New Testament, Christ is pictured as the Bridegroom of his bride, the church. John the Baptist described Jesus as the Bridegroom. In the third chapter of John, the Baptist contrasts his role with the role of Jesus by using a marital metaphor. John 3:28-29. "28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. ." John pictures the upcoming wedding between the bride, the church and the bridegroom, Christ and says, "I'm not the groom, Jesus is. I'm only the best man and I rejoice at his delight in his bride."
Paul also taught this element of Christ's relationship to the church. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul is speaking about His ministry to the church and he says, "2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ." Paul pictures himself as the father of the bride and sees Christ as the husband who is waiting to claim her. This truth of the marriage relationship between Christ and his church is pervasive in the Bible. This understanding of revival as a return to a place of profound intimacy with your spiritual Bridegroom is crucial if we are to pray rightly for revival. I’d like to give three truths connecting revival and this intimate or impassioned love for Jesus.
Revival brings a profound appreciation for the depth of Christ’s intimate, impassioned love for you. Today, the moderate wing of the evangelical church loves to talk about God’s love, but never his wrath. Listen beloved, unless you have a good grasp of God’s wrath, it is impossible to know his love! This must be true in light of First John 4:10 which says, “10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I don’t know about you, but when John the apostle—the apostle of love says, “In this is love…” my ears perk up. Did you notice that he defines God’s love in relationship to his wrath? He says that God’s love is seen most clearly in that he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. He doesn’t say that love is found most clearly in his atonement for sin or his death on the cross—he’s more specific than that. No, he says God’s love is seen most profoundly in him sending Christ to be a propitiation for our sins. Propitiation is the aspect of Christ’s redeeming work where he bears the holy wrath of God as punishment for the sins he is paying for. God says—the crowning expression of my love is that I sent my Son in order to pour out my wrath for sin ON HIM—the wrath he did not deserve and which you richly deserve—that is the apex of my love for you.
If you want to spend your time most profitably as you try to internalize God’s love for you—John implies that we must pray that God would reveal his unfathomable love to us as we meditate, not on just the gospel, but in particular—the most powerful expression of his love for us—The Father’s willingness to crush his beloved Son in the winepress of his wrath so that he wouldn’t have to crush you in eternal judgment. That is an intensely personal picture and it’s we must think about it as our Bridegroom receiving the punishment his bride deserved in order to make her acceptable to the Father. That's what the apostle Paul is saying in Ephesians five when, after he has done all this teaching on how husbands and wives should relate to one another, he says in verse 32 "This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church." The difficult thing for all of us is to know the depth of intimacy and passion that God intends for marriage. Some people aren't married and many others aren't experiencing Biblical intimacy in their marriages. So when you talk about the church's relationship with the Christ being a marriage, that doesn’t necessarily convey intimacy to them. So, to make the depth of intimacy God intends clear, we need to briefly explore the definitive Biblical statement regarding the marital intimacy God intends and which is typical of Christ’s love for his bride. An entire book in the Bible is devoted to telling us God's plan for intimacy within marriage—the Song of Solomon. And because God regularly compares our relationship with Jesus to marriage, the Song of Solomon powerfully conveys the kind of intimacy He desires between himself and his bride, the church.
I am NOT saying the Song of Solomon was written solely to describe the church's relationship with Christ—that’s an abuse of this text by people who couldn’t imagine that God would devote an entire book of the Bible to passionate marital love—so they wrongly spiritualized it. But, because the same Holy Spirit who inspired this picture of Biblical intimacy within marriage--that is held up as a model--also inspired the Biblical authors to describe Christ's relationship with the church as a marriage; we must assume that the kind of intimacy we see in the Song of Solomon is the kind of intimacy Christ has for His church. When you think about Christ's impassioned love for you as His bride, you must think about the kind of impassioned marital love pictured in the Song of Solomon. Otherwise, you will not capture His love for you or His church.
Just to give you a brief picture of the intimate and passionate love God has for you as His bride, I have chosen some select verses from the Song of Solomon. These are lines of poetry uttered by the groom to his bride. As I read these, for today--don't think fundamentally about the husband/wife relationship. Think about Jesus and his words directed towards you, his bride because these words represent the depth of intimate marital love Jesus has for you. In chapter 2:13, the bridegroom says to the bride, “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely." Do you hear the eagerness that husband has for his bride? When a beautiful girl is playfully hiding herself from her husband, the husband beckons her to show him her face--he beckons her to speak to him because he loves the sound of her voice. That's the kind of impassioned longing Christ has for you and in times of revival, you experience this! Jesus delights in hearing you speak with him, coming out from your hiding place simply because he loves you. When you fail to pray or spend time with Him, He's not in heaven with a clipboard marking down demerits. NO! He longs for you. His attitude is, “O, "Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely." Christ stands at the door and knocks on the door of your heart. He doesn't pound impatiently--NO! He woos you--He coaxes you. He avails Himself to YOU. Again--that kind of yearning on the part of Christ for His church in NO WAY lessens his holiness, his majesty or His omnipotence. NO! The astonishing, life-changing truth of Christ’s overwhelming love for you is that this intensely passionate, personal and pursuing love comes to you from the Almighty Lord of the universe.
Chapter 4:7 says, “You are altogether beautiful my love; there is no flaw in you." When Christ looks at you, he sees you as flawless because you are wearing his perfect robe of righteousness. This is not the idolatrous, idealized fantasy of a love-struck teenager. This is the sincere, heartfelt assessment of you by the One who knows you better than anyone else in the universe. When Christ thinks of you, he thinks of you as "his love." That communicates the profound intimacy with which he wants to relate to you. These terms may make you a bit uncomfortable and NONE of us would dare say these things about God's love for us, if the Scripture didn't authorize them. If you can’t strongly relate to these pictures of God's love for you, you must plead with God for revival.
Let me give you one more verse--4:9 “9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.” As the bride of Christ, you have captivated His heart. We must see how personal and impassioned Christ's love for you and his church is. Some of you have never, ever thought about this most basic implication for your relationship with Christ coming from this picture of the church as the bride of Christ. But this is absolutely what we need. Our relationship with God is not defined only by the Master/slave metaphor. Our relationship with Christ is rooted in his impassioned love where HE pursues us eagerly and earnestly and we respond to him just as passionately. That’s what happens in revival.
A second supporting truth related to the connection between revival and our intimacy with Christ is: Revival and the intimate relationship with Christ it brings causes you to live a spiritually FRUITFUL life. Any genuine Christian wants to be more like Jesus Christ. They want to have a spiritually fruitful life. And this marriage relationship between Christ and his bride the church tells us quite a bit about how fruit is produced in a Christian's life. In a marital relationship, the Bible calls children the fruit of the marriage or “fruit of the womb” that comes from marriage. Deuteronomy 28:4 describes this covenant blessing from God. It says, "The fruit of your womb will be blessed..." Children are the "fruit" of a marriage. Now, you don't have to be a biologist to know that the fruit of a human marriage—children, are produced by a supreme act of human intimacy. Up until the recent developments in reproductive technology, there was only one way to make a baby and it was through the ultimate expression of sexual intimacy. Children or “fruit” come as a result or product of profound intimacy.
The same relationship between spiritual fruit and intimacy is found in our relationship with our husband, Christ. Paul teaches this in Romans 7:3-4. In this section of the letter, Paul compares being liberated from the law to being a widow. The Christian, being dead to the law is free to marry someone else, Christ. In verse four, Paul says, "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong (literally, be JOINED) to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." Paul is clear at this point. The reason we have died to the Law through Christ is so that we might belong or be JOINED to Christ and the reason we have been joined to Christ is that we might bear fruit to God. We must see this connection between intimacy with Christ and bearing fruit.
Francis Schaeffer brings this out from this passage: "The picture here is overwhelming. As the bride puts herself in the bridegroom's arms on the wedding day and then daily, and as therefore children are born, so the individual Christian is to put himself or herself in the Bridegroom's arms, not only once...but existentially, moment by moment. Then the Christian will bear Christ's fruit out into the fallen...world." You see, it is the fruit of the SPIRIT, not our fruit and we can’t hope to bear HIS fruit, unless we are intimate with Him. It’s a wonderfully pure picture of our walk with Christ. When you come to church, when you pray, when you study your Bible, when you moment by moment walk with Him, do you think about it in this kind of intimate framework? I'm NOT suggesting you visualize yourself literally placing yourself in the arms of Christ, but you MUST understand that THAT kind of personal intimacy with Christ is essential for your life to be spiritually fruitful.
This is what Jesus is talking about in John chapter 15. Jesus is teaching about fruit- bearing as he uses the vine and branch metaphor. In verses four and five of chapter 15 Jesus says, "4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus isn't saying that as long as you are united to him as a Christian you will produce much fruit. No, it’s deeper than that. There are plenty of believers who have been united with Christ for decades, but because their relationship with Him lacks intimacy, they produce only a smattering of fruit. When Jesus speaks of abiding, he is talking about intimacy. Vance Havner said that "God doesn't have favorites, but He does have intimates." When a revived person reads their Bible, they don't look at it as a theological text book, but a personal love letter written to them by their bridegroom who, through its pages, wants to disclose or reveal himself to you. When a revived person prays, they look at it as communing with God, not as bringing a cosmic shopping list. They can't spend enough time in prayer because prayer is spending time with their divine Lover whose love they can’t get enough of. As you become more and more intimate in your relationship with Christ, you begin to have more of His mind, more of his character. You will love what He loves and hate what He hates. People that have good marriages, as the years go by, just kind of meld into one another. Some elderly married couples who have been close for years even begin to physically resemble each other. It’s the same with our relationship with our spiritual Husband, Christ. Only an intimate relationship with Christ can produce a spiritually fruitful life.
A third truth supporting this relationship between revival and intimacy with Christ is: A revived, intimate relationship with Christ causes you to live in PEACE during times of trial. This is important because one thing we all have in common are trials. Sometimes the trials are little things like pressing deadlines or fragile relationships, or it may be a big thing like a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one, but all of us experience trials and it is how believers respond to trials that most clearly distinguishes us from the world. Anyone can be happy when things are going well, but only someone deeply in love with Jesus can sing in times of trial and trouble. Psalm 90:10 says, “10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” That’s pretty stark. To show the relationship between intimacy with Christ and trials, look at Psalm 63. Psalm 63 is a Psalm written by David, during what was probably the greatest crisis of his life. His brilliant, but spoiled son Absalom has organized a rebellion against him and David, along with his men are forced to leave Jerusalem and go out into the desert, running for their lives and living as nomads. He has lost virtually everything--his life is in mortal danger and all of this has come through an act of treasonous betrayal by his favorite son. This is perhaps David’s most severe trial. Yet, notice his response to this situation in Psalm 63, verse one. "1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
That is an incredible way to begin a prayer in this context. It’s astonishing more because of what it does NOT say, than what it says. I don't know about you, but if I'm in David's shoes, my first words would probably be. "God, get me out of this mess!!--Please help me." But David's first concern is NOT about His overwhelming circumstances, but about renewing his intimacy with God. He is earnestly seeking GOD; NOT a solution to His problem. He is physically out in the dry, arid desert, but he says, "my SOUL thirsts for YOU, my body longs for YOU." His body and soul, every part of Him craved God. David didn't want deliverance, he wanted GOD, he didn't want a solution, he wanted GOD. When we're in trouble, most of us are consumed with our problems. They completely dominate our thinking; they keep us awake at night. David stayed awake at night, too, but for a different reason. Verse 6 of Psalm 63 says, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night." Here is a man in love. He’s impassioned about God, not his problems. As his world is collapsing in around Him, David is preoccupied…with God.
The most Biblical way to handle trials is not to focus your energy on solving the problem, because most of the time we can't solve the problem anyway. It often involves someone else who may or may not be willing or able to cooperate. And some problems are simply unsolvable by fallen humans. The Biblical response to trials is not to focus primarily on the problem, but on God. As you spend intimate time with him, the burden lifts. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 11, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." He doesn't say, "Come to me –and I will give you the answer." NO! He says, “Come to me—spend time with me—enjoy intimacy with me and I will take your burden.” He doesn't say He will immediately solve your problem, but he can and will lift the crushing emotional and spiritual weight the problem brings. That happens as we spend intimate time with Him. Philippians 4:6-7 describe this same dynamic. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It doesn't say that God will immediately honor your requests, but as you spend time with Him His peace will settle in around you. Many of us have been driven to our knees by life's trials but after spending time with our divine husband, the burden lifts. The circumstances haven't shifted one inch, but the emotional and spiritual heaviness is gone and we sense God's peace. The more severe the trial, the longer we have to spend with our Husband. This is what they used to call "praying through." It means remaining with God for long periods of time and allowing Him to eventually lift the burden. Nowadays, we want to spend five minutes with God and have him solve all our problems, but God wants our trials to produce a deeper relationship with Him and that doesn't happen without spending significant, intimate time with Him. The old hymn says, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full at His wonderful face and the things of earth (problems, trials, etc.) will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." The secret is spending intimate time with Him to allow the light of His glory and grace to burn through the fog of your problems that separate you from God’s peace. Only a revived, intimate relationship with Christ can produce peace during times of stress.
The answer to losing your first love according to Jesus in Revelation chapter two is to repent and be revived by the Holy Spirit. Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is intended to bring repentance and we have seen his abundant, earth-shattering kindness toward us this morning. Confess to Him that the intimacy has gone out of your relationship with Him and tell Him you're sorry, because if it has happened, it’s not His fault. While he was there beckoning you, coaxing you, wooing you to stay close to him, you gradually turned your back on your Husband—the Lord of the universe and foolishly allowed other things and other people to come between you and your Bridegroom and siphon off your passion for him.
He doesn't thunder his message of repentance to you; he whispers it sweetly as your Bridegroom. He wants your intimacy--he wants your unbridled passion--He wants you to be hopelessly preoccupied with HIM. He wants your first love back. If he wants it—don’t you think he will revive you as you cry out to him? Repentance—which Paul tells us is a gift from God, is a central part of revival. And the fruit of repentance includes near the center—a renewed intimacy with God. That’s worth spending a day (or several days) crying out to God about. I urge you to do that for yourselves and our church, the bride of Christ. May God give us the grace of a heaven-sent revival that will manifest itself in renewed intimacy with Christ, our Husband.
Lord Jesus, I confess to you that I have not loved you with all my heart, soul mind and strength. I have been casual and careless in my relationship with you, my Bridegroom. I have allowed other people and other things to drain away the intensity of my love for you. I have ignored your appeals to me to return to you, my first love. I am sorry for all of this and confess it as arrogant sin. This day by your grace I repent of my sin. I ask you to please come and restore to me my first love and I will love you and enjoy you and serve you with all that is within me. In your precious and beautiful name I pray, Amen.
Page last modified on 4/3/2011
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