“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21–23, ESV)
Most of the time we find that our experiences of shame are due to our sin. Like Adam and Eve who recognized their nakedness after the Fall, shame is now an all too familiar part of the human experience. But in Ezra 8:21-23 we see a good outcome of shame–forced dependence upon God in a time of need.
Ezra was preparing to go back to Jerusalem to restore the temple after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Not only would the long trip be dangerous, but the danger would be amplified because their party would be large and they were to be laden with large amounts of gold and precious items of great value. Ezra would have preferred an armed escort by soldiers (the equivalent of our modern armored trucks) to make this journey, but he was ashamed because he had openly shared with the king the goodness and power of the Lord God. Since this was true, he shouldn’t need escorts, should he? How could he ask for protection by men when he has so openly confessed the power and might of God to protect His children?
What a predicament! The lesson here isn’t that God’s people should keep our testimony of the goodness and power of God under wraps–we actually need to become more vocal about it! Instead, we should do as Ezra did; he chose godly men to accompany him in fasting and prayer to implore the Lord to protect them as they knew He could do. The shame Ezra felt wasn’t in boasting, it was in his desire to live as if what he said about God wasn’t true and yet being forced to live by that truth or be ashamed at taking back what he said about his God.
Let us be abundant in our praise and glorying in the works of the Lord. And perhaps as a side effect we will find ourselves “forced” into living as if our great God is as great as we claim. Now wouldn’t that be something!
“This is not a moment for timid souls. Boldness comes easily when you are in the presence of those who agree with you; it is difficult when you are standing alone in the midst of people who seek your demise. Boldness behind a pulpit is one thing; boldness in a city council meeting is another. Boldness is seen most clearly when you have burned the bridge that would have enabled you to retreat to safety.”
Erwin Lutzer, We Will Not Be Silenced: Responding Courageously to Our Cultures Assault on Christianity, 120.
We are at a critical point in the history of the world and the Church. Should the Lord tarry, our children will look back on these dark and trying days and judge whether we were courageous in the face of great opposition or see evidence of compromise and capitulation. What will make the difference? Can I suggest a few things from Acts 4:8-12, where the disciples ran into their first major confrontation with aggression?
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)
1. The disciples were filled with the Spirit.
This is the only way a group of Christ-followers who were cowering behind locked doors only a few days before could be so radically different. Courage and boldness is not for those of this type of personality. Boldness and courage filled the hearts of those filled with the Spirit.
2. The disciples testified to Jesus Christ.
The evangelical church is scattered and divided about a lot of things today—spiritual gifts, baptism modes, music, methodology, women in ministry, and more. Don’t get me wrong, hese are all incredibly important things. But the primary need for standing firm against the onslaught of the enemy is the gospel message. The heart and focus must highlight the cross of Jesus Christ and the atoning work accomplished. Everything else must be seen in its subordinate place.
3. The disciples upheld the importance of the resurrection of Christ.
The resurrection points to the acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. It is not tangential, but central. The resurrection of Christ points to our own future resurrection and glorification. If you grasp this, then courage is sure to come because nothing—NOTHING—can stop you. Not even death.
4. The disciples never forgot that Jesus was rejected too.
If you forget that they hated Jesus, you might be tempted into the sin of seeking to please man. But if you remember that they hated our Lord and crucified the Lord of glory, then we will not be surprised when they hate us as well—no matter how winsome or loving or kind we might be.
5. The disciples knew that there is no other hope for the world than Jesus.
If a person could be saved through Islam, or Mormonism, or liberation theology, then it would be much easier to just quietly practice our faith privately without any care about others because they’ll eventually get to heaven too. But the message of Jesus was clear—He is the only way to the Father. And that should embolden us because although some people might want to silence us or shout us down, we can’t be silent if we truly love them.
Brothers and sisters, don;t lose heart. Jesus is coming soon, but we have work to do and we can’t allow the shouts of the world to drown us out.
“Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your indignation toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not Yourself revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your lovingkindness, O Lord, And grant us Your salvation.”
(Psalm 85:4–7, NASB95)
What is true biblical revival? Where does revival come from and what needs to precede true revival in order for heartfelt change to occur in each person? And what about the broader culture? How does a revival in the Church spread to a revival in society? All of these questions are answered in these verses, leading us to seek the only true source of life–God Himself!
Although verse 4 is a cry for restoration, restoration was not enough for Israel. They knew that their disobedience betrayed an ugly truth about their spiritual state. They were spiritually dead. They needed to be brought back to life; they needed revival.
When the Bible refers to “revival” we need to know that it is not simply whipping up some experience in the church. It’s not a tent meeting. It isn’t where the Holy Spirit shows up with a special outpouring in a new and fresh way like being slain in the Spirit, or some other ecstatic experience. These aren’t even biblical practices. So, what is a revival?
Walter Chantry helps us to understand it a little better when he writes,
“There have been outstanding periods in the history of the church when the intensified activity of the Holy Spirit has amazed her. Such times are known as revivals. True revivals do not result from some special work of the Spirit of God different from his normal gracious influences! Rather they are the effect of an increased measure of precisely the same power and grace which operate at every time and in every place that the church has been found since Pentecost. In revival times the Spirit’s work remains what it has ever been since Pentecost, namely, the work of inwardly convincing the unconverted by the Word, inwardly regenerating sinners by the Word, inwardly teaching and sanctifying saints by the Word, and inwardly prompting worship of Father and Son by the Word.”[i]
What I want you to see in Chantry’s definition and as seen in Psalm 85:4-7 is that revival, as biblically defined, is a mighty work of God, and not of man. Just like forgiveness, which must come from God’s mercy, so too revival is a result of the mercy of God, or else we would never have it.
Secondly, I want you to see that revival is an inward work of God that results in soul-work—reviving of a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins, bringing them to new life. They are vivified, they are born again. So, when a church wants to see revival, it must recognize that it is speaking of two related but different matters—either it recognizes that it is spiritually dead and filled with many unbelievers who think that they are believers and need new life, or it is speaking of evangelism outside of the church. Often true revival of the church will have the effect of spreading out to the community around it when those newborn Christians begin to live and speak for the glory of God.
With these things in mind, let us turn tour attention to Psalm 85:6-7. Again, “revive” refers to being made alive, to recover life. This verb in Hebrew is in the piel form, which means that God must put into action what the psalmist is asking. To say it differently, just like normal human life finds its origins in God, so too God must bring revival. If God does not bring it about, it will not happen.
There is an amazing picture of revival found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. I’ll leave you to read the passage for yourself. But in it the prophet Ezekiel is shown an old battlefield where there are probably hundreds of human skeletons lying about on the ground. These bones have been here for a long time because they no longer have flesh on them and are bleached out from being exposed to the sun. The Lord asks Ezekiel if these bones can once again become alive. The prophet wisely says that it depends upon God, who alone knows. After all, unless God raises dead bones, they will remain dead.
Then God tells the prophet to speak to the bones….
Notice a few things about this biblical illustration:
The question of whether the bones could be made alive again was not dependent upon the response of the bones, but God-v. 3.
Although it was ridiculous, the means that God chose to “activate” these dry bones was the Word of God as spoken by his servant Ezekiel-vv. 4-10.
Also notice in those words of prophecy that the power for life comes not from the bones, nor from the prophet, but from God alone who can cause these dry bones to live-v. 5.
Finally note that this whole scenario was set by God to show Ezekiel that God alone revives the spiritually dead.
Every time that God saves a person, he revives their dead souls. But that isn’t what we mean by revival—a soul saved here and there. That happens all the time. Revival is the accelerated work of God, whereby a small stream of people saved join together to become a torrent of saved souls. When this happens, the work of God is the same, but He acts in a wider and broader way with more people.
But with an increasing work of God in revival, there is more than just increased activity of the Spirit bringing about saving faith—there is a sudden influx of new Christians whose changed hearts are producing changed lives and then changing society around them.
We need to keep ever before us that when the gospel message changes a heart, it will change a life, and that means changed actions. This makes sense because our allegiances and loyalties are radically altered from darkness to light and from the evil one to Christ. When God changes a heart, he changes a whole life.
In the New Testament, as the gospel swept through the world, people were changed. These changes weren’t a fad, or even popular among unbelievers. These new Christians were despised and rejected of men, like their Savior. They had to survive wave after wave of persecution from the unbelieving world around them.
But they did it.
And as Psalm 85:6 says, if God will bring about revival, it will bring about the result that his people will rejoice in him. You see, rejoicing will not come until revival in the heart has occurred. Revival will not happen until God does his cleansing and saving work in us.
[i] Chantry, Walter, Signs of the Apostles: Observations on Pentacostalism Old and New. Banner of Truth, 1976, 129-30. Italics in the original.
Criticism is a hard thing to deal with. This past week as I was digging through some old files on my computer I found a file that I had labeled “problems.” I currently have a paper file labeled the same in my desk drawer where complaint letters are kept. Thankfully it doesn’t have too many letters in it…yet.
Going back to the other day, I knew that I shouldn’t open the file and look inside, but curiosity got the better of me and I did. Inside I found some letters from when I was a pastor in California. The memories of those occasions had mercifully faded, but the letters instantly brought back those difficult days.
As I reviewed the contents, I could feel myself growing anxious as I repeated in my mind the answers to the harsh and unfair things written in them. Although there may have been small bits of truth sprinkled throughout, these letters represented the worst of the problem issues in my ministry.
You see, whenever someone has come to me with an issue, although it would be easier to push off the person by ignoring them, or tell myself that I know better because God has called me as the pastor of the church, I know that this would be foolish. I have tried to give everyone a hearing who comes and brings a complaint—and often I have had to humble myself and ask forgiveness when I have been wrong. Sometimes I am partially wrong or there has been a misunderstanding. If that is the case, I then have an opportunity to set things right and correct the error-either in them or myself, or both of us.
But these files I have often marked times when a person had come with sinful intent in their heart. They may have been bitter, sinfully angry, or even divisive. Many times they may have also been too cowardly to even speak to me personally and had emailed their complaint. I kept those emails and letters as a record of their words in case the issues needed to be further addressed with discipline, or maybe several meetings so that we could work through the underlying issues that are sometimes at the root of the problems.
The old files reminded me of something else. I am reminded in times when venom has been spewed at me by those who at one time professed to love me and the church, that it is possible—even as a Christian—to become so bitter and angry that we become a pawn in the hands of our enemy. He uses such embittered Christians to sow discord and division in Christ’s Church.
Not every complaint or criticism should be viewed in this way. But when we have truthfully evaluated the complaints brought to us and see that the heart of the complainer has succumbed to the root of bitterness, we must put aside the complaint, leaving it to the Lord. And we must guard our own hearts against becoming bitter ourselves. Instead we must pray that the Lord would free our embittered brethren from their anger, and we must long to see the day when we will be reconciled—whether in this life or the life to come.
“For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.”
(Psalm 75:8–10, ESV)
Trials, difficulties, and challenges have a way of making clear where we place our faith. For those that are believers in Jesus Christ, the times when we are most challenged in our faith offer us a time not only to test the faith we have, but also to grow in our faith and trust of Christ.
“For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (Psalm 75:8, ESV)
The references of God’s wrath being like a cup of mixed wine is a familiar metaphor used throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, wine was often mixed with spices and used for special occasions, usually for the purpose of intoxication.
In other places, this picture of the wrath of God as a cup of wine pictures the wicked as reeling, vomiting, crazed and prostrate. God is giving them what they so richly deserve. He is giving them a dose of their own medicine. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The retribution is terrible, it is blood for blood, foaming vengeance for foaming malice. [If] the very color of divine wrath is terrible, what [must] the taste be?”
But how does this encourage us when we are in the midst of the trials? It once again shows that God is sovereign, in control over the wicked. And the encouragement that we receive is in relation to his sovereign grace that he has poured out upon us.
When you recognize the fact that all of mankind sins “and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the soul that sins must die,” you see that you and I are worthy of this cup of staggering—this cup of God’s hot, spiced wrath.
We are so worthy of his eternal punishment. But God poured out his wrath upon our Savior Jesus instead of us. We received mercy because of the abundant grace of God towards us. And it was given to us because of God’s sovereign choice. Undeserved and overflowing.
8. It Encourages Worship (v. 9)
“But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.” (Psalm 75:9, ESV)
Because of the surety of the justice of God, the psalmist expresses his delight in God through praise. The title “God of Jacob” used sin verse 9 is both an endearing name as well as a covenant name. Although our God is indeed the God of all the nations, the psalmist personalizes his worship by expressing praise that the God of the universe is also the personal God who loves, cares for, and protects his people.
Have you thought much about why you worship God? Most of us would probably say that we worship him because of what he has done for us—for his love of us, most clearly shown in personally saving us from our sins.
But here in verse 9, the psalmist gives us another perspective about praise. It includes praising God for who he is which drives what he has done, including bringing us salvation. In verse 9, the psalmist is praising the Lord for his vengeful wrath which he will pour out upon all unrepentant sinners. Now, to most of us, that seems like a weird thing to praise God about—maybe even inappropriate. “Praise God for crushing sinners and sending them to hell?” Is that right?
To clarify, we shouldn’t delight in the punishment of sinners with a ghoulish delight. But we should see that it is very appropriate to praise the Lord for his justice and hatred of evil, by which he will make right all wrongs, and punish the wicked for their rebellion against God.
Look at Rev. 19:1-3 when you have an opportunity. If you read it, you will see the rejoicing and praise of God’s people. Then in verses 6-18 you will read about two feasts of celebration—the marriage supper of the Lamb (in verses 6-10) and the Great Supper of God prepared for the birds of the air (in verses 17-19).
So, we should think about God more deeply and meditate on him as we seek to worship him. Our Great God is worthy of worship for all of his attributes, not just the ones we benefit from and are tied to our comfort. His so-called “negative” attributes along with his positive attributes all make up the character of God—and everything about our Great God and Savior is worthy of praise.
9. It Drives Evangelism (vv. 9-10)
“But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.” (Psalm 75:9–10, ESV)
There is a question about what exactly the “it” in verse 9a means and how it ties in with verse 10. Some scholars have said that the “it” of verse 9a refers to what God said he would do to the evil. And I think that that is part of it, but not all that the “it” refers to.
There is a bit of a puzzle in verse 10 as well regarding who is speaking, but I believe the most logical and probable answer depends on the word “it” in verse 9. I believe the psalmist is stating that he will declare God’s words of impending judgment. It would read something like this, “But I will declare [the coming judgment of the Lord] forever; and I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.”
And then, verse 10 makes sense. It is a reiteration of what he has already said about bringing low the proud “horns” of the wicked.
Now if that is what it means, then here is what I think that means for us. I think the impending judgment of the Lord should have two responses that impact our evangelism:
First, it should drive us to share Christ because we believe in the reality of the coming judgment of God. How can we say we believe in hell and the torments of a Christless eternity and yet still remain unmoved to share Christ?
And finally, a warning of the coming judgment of God should be included in our gospel messages. Many versions of gospel presentations have been “cleaned up” and sanitized like some Disney movie. No blood or gore. Everything packaged up into a neat and clean “Jesus loves you” gospel. Even John 3:16 is inadequate in itself because “perish” is so vague. Unpack this when you proclaim the gospel. Let sinners feel the fires of hell. Don’t let them go unwarned!
When we remember the fact that our God is seated upon his throne, it changes everything in our outlook. And the reverse is true as well. When we forget or minimize the sovereign rule of God over this world, we also cast ourselves in a place where we were never meant to be, carrying burdens we were never meant to carry. For the unbelieving world, this is how it functions. But for the child of God, may we not only say that Jesus is Lord, but may we live daily in the beautiful light of this truth and embrace each day as a gift from our sovereign God.