It’s Time. Revive Us Again.

April 1, 2023

Recently, we’ve been hearing a lot of rumblings about revival in the land. Reports started coming in from Asbury University in Kentucky about young people praying and worshipping round the clock. Visitors soon arrived from around the country and the world. About the same time, Christian movies began to draw record crowds with reports of conversions in the theaters. People are hungry for something supernatural and real. I thank God for anything that can stir the next generation. Indeed, I am convinced that short of an awakening in the United States, we are doomed to slide on toward cultural decay and national demise.

So what do we make of these things? Opinions vary. We hear several different terms used to describe these events: revival, renewal, refreshing, outpouring, whatever. The point is that in some places and in some seasons, God does something special. He pours out His Spirit and refreshes weary Christians, calls the apathetic back to Himself, and hopefully, inspires the Church to reach out to the lost with greater boldness, compassion, and commitment.

Over the last 40 plus years, I’ve seen several episodes of “revival” in various forms and formats. Like most of us, I have spent time praying for “revival” in our churches, our nation, and even in me. For me, the story of Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain is a template of a profound move of God: The presence so tangible, the message so weighty, and the human responses so, well, human. It just rings true. Using Matthew’s version of the story as an outline (with some help from Mark and Luke), let’s see if we can learn something about times of spiritual renewal.

Matthew 17:1-20 ESV

1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Jesus didn’t take everybody. Why? Just a few days before, He had rebuked Peter for resisting the plan. He followed that individual scolding by calling all the disciples to a deeper commitment considering the coming judgment. (Matthew 16:16-28) Could it be that these three, His usual “inner circle,’” were the only ones prepared for what happened on the Mount? Were they the only ones committed to carrying their own crosses? Did the Lord see a hunger in them that the others still lacked?

Revival always starts before the big meeting. God starts dealing strongly with individuals or a group. Those with hungry hearts press in, others walk away. Many just sit around and stay the same, as if nothing is happening. Maybe the first lesson is to let the Lord deal with you personally. Spend time with Him regularly and be ready to follow Him when He says, “Let’s go up the mountain.” He may have something special in store. Stay hungry, my friend!

2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (Luke 9:31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.)

For the men who were with Him, this whole episode is a “call back” to the story of Moses at Sinai. The concept of glory and shining faces was a familiar one, as was the tale of Elijah on Mount Hermon. Many scholars believe that they were standing on the very mountain referenced in those episodes. For sure, these men would have seen the connection. They knew something big was happening.

The presence of Moses and Elijah shows the unity and continuity of the redemption story. From Eden to Ararat to Egypt and Sinai, the story is by one author and treats one subject. Jesus is not the supplanter of the First Covenant, He is the fulfillment of its purposes. Jesus is about to move the whole narrative to a new level as He takes His place as the Lamb, the King, and the High Priest forever. Revival is not a “new thing.” It’s the remembrance, renewal, and advancement of the only thing. Revival reminds us that we are part of a much bigger picture.

4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

When God moves in such power, it’s perfectly normal to want to remain in that rarified atmosphere. We don’t want it to stop. Many times, we get home and try to replicate our experience. We want others to join in, to share in the wonder. This sometimes leads to human-driven attempts to imitate what we saw, but imitation of the real always smells like flesh. It just doesn’t work well.

Every time and every place will have to have revival for itself. God will do it His way for that place in that moment. In fact, as soon as we think we have found the formula for creating revival (or anything else), God is obligated to change it. Otherwise, you and I would think we were in charge. Our job is to stay attuned to what God is saying and doing today, where we are, not to replicate what He said yesterday where we were.

5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

These times of refreshing are an opportunity to hear God anew. As far as we know, the only people besides Jesus who heard this were Peter, James, and John. These were men who had been with Jesus all this time, seen the miracles, heard the teaching, and had only recently reaffirmed that, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They surely knew who He was. And, my goodness, they heard Him every day! Still, God wanted to remind them. They were about to head for Jerusalem for the final act, and there would be immense challenges.

Revival always calls us to remember whose we are, acknowledge Him as Lord, and make a fresh commitment to hear and obey, confident that His way is the best way. This is especially true when times of testing lie ahead. Between this moment and the cross, there remained a series of tests and teaching opportunities that would try their commitment. I believe we can say the same for the Church today. It ain’t gonna get any easier, and the next big leap in the redemption plan is nigh. We need to know that we didn’t just join a religious club, but that we heard God and found a connection to eternity in Jesus Christ. Sometimes the daily-ness of life dulls our senses, even while we are serving God. We need times of refreshing that remind us Who we’re following, that we’re part of a bigger picture, and that only He can help us navigate.

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

The tangible presence of God brings the kind of fear that is described by the word “awe.” It implies reverence, respect, and a genuine realization of the holy. No matter how “spiritual” you may be, the manifestation of absolute holiness will cause your knees to knock. A touch from Jesus and His Word of assurance, “Have no fear,” are the only antidotes. If you don’t get at least a little cowed in His Presence, it’s probably not really His Presence.

I think verse 8 is my favorite sentence in this passage: When they lifted their eyes, they saw only Jesus. The result of an outpouring of the Spirit is simple: we see Jesus more clearly and more exclusively. God has spoken to us in this last hour by His Son. (Hebrews 1:2) He is the Message, the Meaning, and the Messiah. If it’s instigated by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit, it will bring glory and attention to the Son. No man will be necessary, or allowed, to share the spotlight. When He is all we can see, we’re ready to head down the mountain. The world awaits.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

When all they could see was Jesus, they started down the mountain. The work of the mountaintop is done. They are changed. I love that during the stroll, they asked Him questions from their religious upbringing about the coming of the Messiah. They began to understand things that had baffled them. Revival breeds revelation. The stories they had heard all their lives came into focus in a new way. Revival renews our sense of His presence after we leave the mountain. We can walk and talk with Him at every step.

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

This is a very dramatic story. This poor man has a child who is in a terrible condition. We would probably classify his situation as epilepsy of some kind. While most seizures are not demonic in nature, we get a glimpse of the source of this boy’s problem from the fact that he is specifically prone to fall into fire or water. This demon is trying to kill the child!

In his rendition of this event, Mark inserts some interesting information at this point:

14 “And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. 15 Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. 16 And He asked the scribes, ‘What are you discussing with them?’” Mark 9:14-16

The people were amazed when they saw Him. Why? They had seen Him before. What was different now? Was His face still shining? That was what happened with Moses. (Exodus 34:29) Now Jesus comes down from the mountain with his face aglow. When you’ve been in the Presence it changes your countenance. Seeing Him in His glory makes you look more like Him. (3 Corinthians 3:17-18; 1 John 3:2)

This must have been quite a scene. Jesus and the three arrived to find a religious debate in progress. Apparently, while they have been on the mountain in the Presence, the other guys have been engaged in religious disputes. If you want to miss the time of revival, this is the best way to do it: argue with other believers. It happens during and after every visitation. Some won’t like the way it happened, or who was involved, or some of the things said or done by those who were there. Remember Ananias, the guy who laid hands on Saul to receive his sight after his direct encounter with Christ? Ananias didn’t think Saul was the right choice, and even argues with the Lord about it. Will God use people you don’t like? Will people make mistakes? Sure. Does that discount what God does in these times? NO! Don’t participate in the debate, participate in the Presence.

Jesus’ first question when the crowd ran to Him was, “What are you arguing about with them?” Mark records the answer: “Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. 18 And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” (Mark 9:17-18)

Then comes an indictment that may still be appropriate today: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Remember, these guys had the same authority to cast out demons as Jesus and the favored three, but they could not. These men had received instruction and empowerment concerning what to do with demons just days before (Luke 9:1). When the opportunity arose, the best they could do was argue with the scribes. We’re only told that the argument had something to do with casting out the demon. The point is, they couldn’t do it and it was because of unbelief. They had the Word, but failed to act on it.

Jesus came to set the captives free. He modeled it, delegated the authority to do it, and left it with us. The Church is the Body of Christ. When a dad brings his demon possessed son to the Church, it’s criminal that he finds a group of religious fanatics arguing over hypothetical nuances while the child suffers, and the dad languishes. That’s the heartbreak in this story that prompted Jesus to lambast His disciples for their unbelief. They had needlessly prolonged the suffering of a child.

Having the Word, knowing the Word, doesn’t intimidate the devil. It’s the Word you do that makes him nervous. If “revival” doesn’t at some point result in captives set free, then it has failed to reach its purpose. Revival is the dead made alive again. Renewal is the old becoming new again. Refreshing is the stale made fresh again. Outpouring is the dry overflowing again.

Our enemy is happy to let us stay up on the mountain and try to relive the goosebumps. He’s also happy to let us stay at the foot of the mountain and argue over jots and tittles. What he doesn’t want is for believers to spend time in the Presence and come down the mountain with power. The test of revival, or of anything for that matter, is simple: “What’s the fruit?” and “Who gets the glory?” For most of these events, only time will tell.

After this episode, “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51b} On that trek from Hermon to Calvary, they dealt with all the things that endanger every great movement. There was a battle over who would be greatest. The tax man gave them a hard time. The religious folks tried to trip them up at every turn. They debated what to do about folks who were not part of their bunch, but who were using Jesus’ Name. They even wanted to call down fire on another ethnic/faith group, and so forth. Jesus used each challenge as an opportunity to teach, all the way to Gethsemane.

Here’s the Point: Thank God for the mountaintop. No matter how pristine our doctrine, how faithful our service, or how eloquent our oratory, we all need times of refreshing and renewal. Life is draining, and we leak. The days we live in are challenging. Thank God for His holy Presence, His fresh touch, His encouraging words, and the remembrance of Whose we are and why we’re here. Whether it’s a revival or not, only time will tell. Did the glory translate to the street? Were captives set free? Did we stay steady in the face of resistance? Was the Kingdom expanded and God glorified? Did we somehow help to fulfill the ultimate plan of bringing God’s blessing to the nations? Dear Lord, let it be!

Pastor Virgil

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