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How Revival Comes

Sermon by David Strain on Nov 25, 2018

Zechariah 12:10-13:1

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If you were with us this morning you remember we began to think about the subject of revival. We have a Sunday between stewardship season and Thanksgiving and Advent, which begins next week, and so I thought we'd take time, morning and evening, to think about this important subject that's been a growing conviction of mine that true revival is the great and pressing need of the church in our day. And I say that with a little bit of trepidation because the word "revival" is so widely misunderstood. And so in a few moments, we're going to look at one place in the Scriptures where the character of true revival is outlined for us. Before we do that, I thought it might be helpful if you will indulge me to identify some of the ways that revival, the category of revival, has been commonly misunderstood. And then we'll look at a passage of Scripture that shows us how it should be rightly understood.

The Sociological View

There are essentially four faulty views. There may be more. You may have other categories. These are the four that I thought we should focus on tonight. The first is what we might call the sociological view. Sociologists and historians have looked at the phenomenon of revival, they've analyzed it and considered the psychological and the cultural factors that have contributed to it. And in the most egregious examples, they've explained revival, really they've explained away revival, as a sort of mass religious hysteria. "It can all be explained," they will say, "in light of the political unrest or civil war or economic depression. Circumstances were desperate, you see. People needed an outlet and so they were swept up in this mass religious delusion that allowed them to escape the hardship and struggle of their day to day lives." That's one, dare I say it, particularly cynical view of revival.

The Mechanical View

There's another view, we'll call this one the mechanical view. You may know this is a view given its most complete expression in the 19th century during the second Great Awakening by a man called Charles Grandison Finney. Finney was originally a Presbyterian, so all the ill-fruit of his labors are entirely our fault! He was a pastor, a Presbyterian pastor from upstate New York; he rejected Reformed theology. He developed a system in which he agreed, actually he agreed in some ways with the sociological view. Like the sociologists of our day, Finney also said revivals are not really supernatural things, not in any real sense. But unlike the sociologists who reject revival, Finney said, "No, these natural phenomena that we can manufacture, they're much to be sought after." He actually said you can manufacture revivals. "All it takes is the right application of appropriate techniques" - emotional music, powerful appeals, what were called at the time "the new measures." They're not new to us at all. They were new at the time. Things like an altar call. He called it an anxious bench where people were enticed to make some immediate public response in answer to a powerful, emotional appeal. He said, "If we just learn the science of revival" - that's how he spoke of it, the science of revival - "then we could have them any time we wanted and the church would be much better off for it." And of course that view, sadly, has become the dominant view in American evangelicalism in our day. Where once revivals came, they were given by God, they broke out, now we talk about holding a revival. It's a planned thing involving special speakers and particular techniques that are designed to provoke a response.

Now that view, that approach, depends on a theology that says that a human being isn’t really dead in sin and totally unable to believe apart from the intervention of sovereign grace. No, that view says instead a human being can believe at any time, so long as the right methods are used to persuade him or persuade her. And so this whole array of manipulative techniques designed to overwhelm the will and sway the emotions were deployed to secure the desired result. Have you ever been to a Hell House? Do you know what I’m talking about - a Hell House? So they were popular maybe a decade ago. You still see them occasionally at Halloween. Churches use these things. You sort of walk through and it’s sort of a horror show, I suppose, designed to scare people into the kingdom. It’s sort of the worst fruits of Finneyism really; an attempt to provoke and manipulate a response. And I hope I don’t have to say that we reject that model of conversion and of revival both in its theological roots and in its practical fruits.

The Phenomenological View

And then there's a third model. We'll call it the phenomenological model. The sociological, the mechanical, the phenomenological. That is to say, people have noticed that in revivals across history there have been from time to time some off phenomena that have accompanied the awakening. People have been overcome with the awareness of the presence of God. They've cried out right in the middle of the service under profound spiritual distress and conviction of sin. Some of them have been so overcome that they've fallen to the ground and fainted. And sometimes the phenomena have gripped the imagination of people prone to what used to be called enthusiasm; we might call it fanaticism. And in their fervor for revival, they focused almost exclusively on the phenomena and have taken them to extremes in all sorts of weird and disruptive practices. And so in many churches, you see this perhaps especially and sadly amongst Pentecostal and charismatic churches today, the emphasis falls on the phenomena so that true revival is completely identified with them. And the weirder and the more bizarre and outlandish, the better. So you know there's a real revival if there's an explosion of the weird and the unusual and the outlandish. But a closer look, actually, at the history of revival will show that while phenomena sometimes attend revivals, there have been revivals entirely devoid of them. And where they do occur, the best leaders have not tolerated them but have urged people to be quiet and have sought to minimize and downplay them.

The Affirming but Indifferent View

The sociological, the mechanical, the phenomenological. And those views are all alive and well in the church and outside of the church today. And because they are, I think the subject of revival has fallen on hard times. It’s led to a fourth view. This is the view I think most common in our own circles. We’ll call it the affirming but indifferent view. We affirm that God has, in the past, poured out the Holy Spirit on the church leading to seasons of remarkable vitality and growth, but that was then and this is now. And we really don’t expect Him to do it again. In fact, we may have come to look at revivals a bit like Bilbo Baggins looked at adventures. Blank stares all around! “Nasty, disturbing things.” That’s what he said. Today is the day of small things. We should be content with slight improvements and minor victories. Perhaps we even suspect that revival only makes sense, you know, in less enlightened, less sophisticated days. It could never really happen in our high-tech, social media savvy age. And so the question, remember the question God asks the prophet Ezekiel that we considered this morning - “Can these bones live?” - that’s a question we may actually now be tempted to answer in the negative, “Not these bones. Not today. We’re too sophisticated for that. Too busy, perhaps. Too well educated for that.”

Well, that answer just won't do. As we saw this morning, God can take the dry bones and make them live when and where he wills. And it's time, I believe, that we recaptured a clear and Biblical vision of revival and began in earnest to pray that the Lord might do it again among us. So, that was a long introduction. Forgive me for that, but I hope that's helped provide some context. Now if you would take your Bibles in hand and turn to the book of Zechariah; Zechariah chapter 12 beginning in the tenth verse. We're going to think about the character of true revival should the Lord be pleased to give it. How will it come? What will it look like? What will its marks be? Zechariah 12, beginning in the tenth verse. You'll find that on page 799 in the church Bibles. Before we read, let me ask you to bow your heads with me as we pray.

O Lord, we praise You that ours is the ministry of the new covenant; not of the letter only but of the Spirit that gives life. And so we pray for His fresh ministry to illuminate our minds, to open to us Your Word, to lead us to a place of renewed hunger and thirst after righteousness. For we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Zechariah chapter 12 at verse 10. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.


On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.


And on that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

The message of the prophet Ezekiel that we considered together this morning was proclaimed to the people of God in exile in Babylon. They'd been in Babylon around twelve years when Ezekiel wrote his book. The prophet, Zechariah, on the other hand, is writing to the same people a generation later after they have returned to the land from exile. They are by this time a small and downtrodden group. Their circumstances have left them vulnerable to the mockery of the nations that surround them, to the predations of their enemies. Their former glories are a bitter memory at best. They have rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, at least its walls and its temple, and yet it's only a shadow of the magnificence it once boasted. And now they have been reduced really to a minor, client state of the mighty Persian Empire. Their present situation is bleak and their future looks bleaker still. And Zechariah 12 is written to lift up their discouraged heads and hearts. It speaks about a day when even though the nations will oppose them, in the first part of chapter 12, the people of God nevertheless will triumph, their enemies will be defeated, the cause of God victorious. It's a picture in Old Testament dress. John L. McKie, a commentator on this passage, my old professor who just a few weeks ago actually went to be with the Lord, he says, “This is a picture in Old Testament dress of the invincibility of the church,” the invisibility of the church. That’s how the church will relate to the world around it; that’s the first half of the chapter.

But then in the second half of the chapter beginning here in verse 10, Zechariah focuses on the inner life of the church; not the church in relation to the world but the church in relation to itself. They are discouraged, they’re broken down, they’re weak, insecure. Their future looks hopeless. And so God sends His prophet to call them to look for a new day when the inner life of the people of God will be renovated and revived. And notice in verse 10 how it all begins. “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy.” Spirit there really ought to be capitalized. Zechariah isn’t talking about a new inner-attitude, a change of spirit, an inner disposition in us. Commentators point out that in the Old Testament when this vocabulary of the outpouring of the Spirit is used it is always a reference to the Holy Spirit. Zechariah is thinking of the effusion of the Spirit of God, the third person of the blessed Trinity, poured out afresh upon the church in its weakened condition. We often pray from the pulpit, as I did just a few moments ago, that God would pour out His Spirit as the Word is preached. Maybe you’ve prayed in similar terms in your own devotions, “O God, pour out the Holy Spirit upon us.” That’s a worthy prayer to pray. I hope that you pray it often.

Mark of Supplication

But I wonder what we think an outpouring of the Holy Spirit would really look like. I don't suppose any of us have ever really seen true revival. And so what will it look like? Well, the passage doesn't leave us to guess. It tells us there are four marks of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the church. The first of them you'll see if you look again at verse 10. We'll call it the mark of supplication. Notice the outpouring of the Spirit is characterized as "the spirit of grace and pleas for mercy." The word translated "grace" in our version and the phrase "pleas for mercy" share the same root in Hebrew. The Spirit is the Spirit who gives grace and the first movements of the Spirit of grace in the life of the church is to generate in us a cry for more grace. Older translations read something like, "I will pour out the spirit of grace and supplications." There is a movement of prayer among the people of God when the wind of the Spirit begins to blow again among us. Prayer is the fruit of grace at work. Prayer is the fruit of grace at work. It is the evidence of the first stirrings of revival. A new appetite for prayer - privately, individually, when we're together in smaller groups and when we're together as a whole assembly, we want nothing so much as to plead with God for His glory to be displayed in the church and through the church in the world. The first mark of true revival - supplication.

One of the great historical examples of that took place on the twenty-third of September at twelve o'clock in 1857 in New York City. A man called Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier was serving as a missionary in the Old Dutch North Church on Fulton Street and he decided to hold a prayer meeting. That morning he put a sign out on the street inviting anyone who wishes to come and join him for a season of prayer between 12 and 1 pm in a third-floor room in the church building that he had secured for the purpose. At the appointed hour, he went to the chosen room and waited. Thirty minutes were to pass before he finally heard footsteps on the stair. Eventually, there were six men gathered only for a few moments of prayer. The meeting was soon dismissed but not before another was arranged for the same time the following week. This time, twenty people came. And then forty the week after that. And then on October 14, Wall Street was rocked by the greatest crash in its history to that date and the prosperity that had marked the city was gone almost overnight. And shaken from their material security, people began seeking a better world at last. And soon the Fulton Street prayer meeting drew three thousand people from all walks of life. Within six months, 10,000, 10,000 businessmen gathered every single day in New York City to pray. Quickly there was a general revival that spread from coast to coast.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, right at the same time, four young men from a Presbyterian church in the small tiny little community of Kells, began meeting in a schoolhouse privately, they told no one they were doing it and began to pray for a similar awakening. And it wasn't long before an awakening began there too. More and more people began pressing into the meeting, pouring out actually their repentance before God, and finding mercy in the Gospel. By 1859 there was widespread revival across both the United States and the United Kingdom, all of it sparked by nothing so much as earnest, honest, pleading prayer.

And we could probably multiply stories like that from different eras of the church’s history to illustrate the teaching of our passage. When the Spirit of God revives the church pouring out His grace upon us, the first evidence and mark of it is a movement of prayer, of supplication, of pleas for mercy. It’s not that the church stops working and planning and giving and doing. It is, rather, as we said this morning, that all our confidence for growth, for lasting fruit, for spiritual change lies with the sovereign Lord and with Spirit-wrought grace, and so we’re moved with urgency and fervor to seek Him, and like Jacob, not to let Him go unless He bless us. So the first mark of the Spirit’s work in revival is supplication, a movement of prayer.

Mark of Conviction

Then the second mark, notice in the passage, it's conviction. Supplication then conviction. Verses 10 through 13, "When they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him." That's fascinating language, isn't it? "They will look on me," this is the Lord God speaking, "on him whom they have pierced." God pierced. What can it mean? Well we know, don't we? We can only make sense of these words in light of the cross where the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave Himself a ransom for many. He was, as the prophet Isaiah put it, "pierced for our transgressions." Actually, John 19:37 quotes this verse at the crucifixion to speak of the sufferings of our Savior. There, the Man who is God, was pierced through.


But look at the message of our text. Here is it. Here is the message. When the Spirit of God comes to revive the church, Zechariah says we will taste the bitterness of our remaining sin in a new way. We'll taste the bitterness of our remaining sin in a new way. Before, perhaps, we were able to excuse the little things. Before our consciences were pricked from time to time by a general awareness that we had broken the law of God and not done what we ought to have done and done that which we ought not to have done, perhaps we felt some shame that we have not made as much progress as we ought in our struggle with this or with that behavior. But when the Spirit comes upon the church anew, we see our sins in light of the cross with new eyes. We look upon Him who was pierced, on the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel, and we realize with renewed horror it was our sin, it was my sin more than the nails in His hands and feet that hung Him on the tree. Every minor picadillo that we snicker at and dismiss, every inconsistency that we excuse or indulge, every respectable sin, every long toyed with vice we will see with new grief, paid for in the wounds of the God-Man, pierced for our transgressions. We look upon Him and we'll see how we pierced Him, see what our sin has caused, that we toy with and trifle with so casually. We'll see it as truly as if we ourselves had wielded the mallet that drove the nails home. "Behold the Man upon the cross; my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished; His dying breath has brought me life, and I know that it is finished."


And notice what Zechariah tells us about this deep, personal conviction of sin; this mourning felt by the church. He says it's both intensive and extensive. It goes deep and it goes wide. Do you see that in the text? Verse 10, it is intense, like the mourning of a parent over a firstborn child who has died. Can you imagine a grief more profound? Or maybe better translated, "as great as the mourning," verse 11, at "Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo." That's probably a reference to the terrible grief and outpouring of sorrow that happened on a national scale when King Josiah, the godly king, Josiah, was cut down by Pharaoh Necho and everyone was grieving bitterly. More is going on, do you see, than a brief acknowledgment that we were wrong, "I did it again, Lord; I'm sorry," and we dust ourselves off and move right along. No, no, this is a fresh sight of the sinfulness of sin in all its ugliness still festering there in our believing hearts, and so we begin to mourn in deep conviction of sin. It is intensive. It's not superficial; it's intense.

And it’s extensive; not confined to one or two here and there. Look how Zechariah puts it in verses 12 through 14. The royal family, the great family of David, even the minor branch of that family, the family of his son Nathan, they are swept up in this movement of mourning and conviction. The priestly family, the great family of Levi, and it’s cadet branch, the Shimeites, they’re all swept up in this movement. The great and the small you see. Men and women are swept up in it. All the families that are left, Zechariah says, each by itself they’re all swept up in it. It is a general movement, a pervasive work, that goes deep and it goes wide.

If you were to look at the revivals of Scripture you would see the same mark of profound intensive and extensive conviction of sin. Think about the awakenings under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra right about the time Zechariah was preaching, or the revival in Samaria where Jesus exposed the sin of the woman at the well and she goes on to bear witness to the whole community in John chapter 4. Or the revival at Pentecost in Acts 2 when everyone listening to Peter’s preaching, they’re cut to the heart and they cry out in urgency and in grief, “What must we do?” Or during the Great Awakening under the ministries of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. There were many who could not contain their sense of grief as they see themselves as they really are, believers though they may have been for many years, and they begin to cry out for mercy sometimes right in the middle of the sermon, so terrible was the sight of their sin.

In 1949 on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides there was a mighty revival in the Presbyterian churches there. I've met some people who were alive during those revivals and I wish I could tell you stories of them. Time forbids it for now, but in those crowded meetings under the preaching of the Word, tears flowed everywhere as the Word was preached and the whole assembly, the whole community actually fell under the most dreadful conviction of sin.


I think we often imagine revival to be mainly a season of great excitement, activity, and busyness. Maybe we think it will be great fun to have a revival. But Scripture and history tell us that true revival, when it comes, is a solemn thing indeed. It's a solemn thing. The cross will cast its shadow over us and we will see with new clarity in fresh wonder the sufferings of our Savior that we so love and our sin will never have seemed more abhorrent to us than in those moments. If you pray for revival, this is what you're praying for. Are you sure you really want one?

Mark of Purification

Revival is one marked by supplication and conviction. And thirdly, purification. Purification. Look at chapter 13 verse 1. “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” Looking at the cross certainly exposes our sin, sure enough, but the cross isn’t about conviction only or even primarily. The cross is mainly about pardon. It’s good news. “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. They lose all their guilty stains.” That’s the message, isn’t it? The Spirit of grace does more than make us cry out for mercy. He does more than show us the sinfulness of our sin, show us ourselves as we really are, shattering our self-delusion. He comes and applies Christ to us whose blood makes us clean.

Let me say this to you directly before we close. Zechariah is giving us very clear directions on what to do with our sin, what to do with our guilt. There is a fountain, he says, open for sin and uncleanness. You can come and wash. Come and wash and be clean. The fountain, of course, is a picture of the provision of Jesus Christ, His obedience and His blood. It's a fountain that began to flow when He said with His dying breath, "It is finished." So where should you go tonight? Where should you go tonight to be right with God, to be free of shame, to be pardoned in the courts of heaven, to be purified from dead works to serve the living and true God, to have your conscience cleansed? Where should you go? There's only one fountain that can wash those stains away. Only one Savior who can deal with your heart and my heart. We need to humble ourselves before the Lord, get on our knees before Christ and mourn for our sin and plead for mercy and look on the One we have pierced. When you do, brothers and sisters, he will not stand over you to condemn; He will stoop down to embrace you and pardon you and make you clean.

Mark of Consecration

Supplication. Conviction. Purification. And finally, and really I simply have to mention this and you can look at it on your own later, but in chapter 13:2-6 there’s one final fruit of revival. The fruit of consecration. Idols are smashed, false prophets that once pedaled their lies, bad teaching - it’s no longer tolerated. There’s a new concern for purity of doctrine and holiness of life, not just individually but corporately. Consecration to the Lord becomes the great priority. A revived church is a church that longs for nothing so much as to please the Savior who gave His blood for our pardon.

We desperately need this kind of work of God among us. Jackson, our city, needs revival. Not a sociological or a mechanical or a phenomenal revival - a true, Holy Spirit wrought movement of the Gospel. And it must always start among the people of God. It must start among us. And it only ever will come if we give ourselves to prayer. It will start as it starts in verse 10 when the Holy Spirit comes, the Spirit of grace and supplication, in a movement of prayer. I wonder if perhaps you would take Zechariah 12:10-13:6 and pray your way through it, line by line, and plead with God for supplication and conviction and purification and consecration and may He be pleased to hear our cries and answer and rend the heavens and come down. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, talk is cheap and description is easy. Please send us the real thing, the reality. Stir us up, awaken us from our slumber. Show us how we’ve played with sin. Show us where we’ve ignored it, looked the other way, coddled it, toyed with it. Show us in the wounds of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel what our sin really costs and teach us to hate it. Teach us to mourn over it as we look on Him whom we have pierced and to cry to You anew for mercy. And as we do, O Lord, open again the fountain for sin and uncleanness in the wounds of Emmanuel that we may be made clean and rise in renewed consecration and dedication to Your service, for the glory and praise of Your name. Would You do that among us, for Jesus’ sake? Amen.

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