Sermon Options: January 21, 2024

December 17th, 2020

When Revival Comes

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Every Sunday school student knows the story of Jonah and the great fish. One of my favorite childhood songs comes from that story: “This is the fish that swallowed Jonah . . . gulp, gulp, gulp!”

But the story of Jonah being swallowed, then spit up by the great fish, is not the biggest miracle in this small Old Testament book. The greatest miracle is the revival that takes place in the evil city of Nineveh, when Jonah finally arrives and shares God’s message with the city.

The revival that takes place in Nineveh clearly demonstrates that God desires to forgive those who truly repent and turn to him. Jonah knew that; in fact, that’s why he wanted to avoid this prophetic assignment. He wanted the people of Nineveh punished for their sins, and he was afraid that if they heard God’s words they would repent and God would forgive! He was a reluctant prophet if there ever was one—ample evidence that true revival does not come from the skill of the messenger but from God alone.

One of the great needs of the church in our own day is a divinely given revival—a spiritual awakening that will transform the church and society. What does it take for revival to come?

I. Revival Comes When God’s Truth Is Proclaimed

Jonah didn’t preach a revival sermon—there wasn’t even an invitation and six verses of “Just As I Am”! Jonah didn’t want these foreign people to repent; he wanted God to destroy them.

But what amazing power exists in the simple, authentic proclamation of God’s word, accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit! Even a reluctant prophet like Jonah can’t stop God’s work in this place, and the entire city was transformed.

God does not ask you or me to produce revival—he does tell us to be faithful in sharing his love and truth. If we will simply be obedient in sharing God’s truth, God will take care of the revival. God will produce the transformation.

It doesn’t matter if you are not a trained theologian; Jonah’s message had just eight words! If you are willing to share what Jesus Christ has done in your life, then God can use you to bring revival.

II. Revival Comes When God’s Message Is Believed

To Jonah’s horror, people not only heard God’s message but they also believed it! They took it to heart—they put on their mourning garments, demonstrating their grief over their sin.

It is not enough simply to hear God’s message; we must also accept God’s truth and respond to it in faith. That’s what the people of Nineveh did, and it transformed their lives and their city.

Is God speaking to you now? Is there a word from the Lord for you? It won’t make any difference in your life until you open your heart and mind to the Lord—until you are willing to receive God’s truth into your heart.

III. Revival Comes When God’s Truth Is Applied

Notice the king’s proclamation (vv. 7-9); the people are to give up their evil ways and their violence. Already the people had put on their outer garments to reflect an inner transformation. Hearing the word is not enough; even professing faith is not enough in itself. Authentic faith results in positive action.

Revival is not a matter of hearing only. When we truly believe—when we are willing to make Christ Lord and Savior of our lives—there will be a transforming difference in our lives. (Michael Duduit)

Monitoring Your Investments

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

It is much to Paul’s credit that he somewhat mitigates his advice in this passage by saying directly that it is his advice. On these matters, he says, “I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion” (v. 25). He also sets his advice in a particular context, saying, “I think that, in view of the impending [present] crisis” (v. 26). So what we have here is a contextual opinion.

Yet even though Paul has clearly set forth the limits of his counsel here, it is clear that there is much timeless wisdom in this passage.

I. Counsel for the Moment

For the time and people on Paul’s heart here, this is his best thought. He saw his world about to be transformed and naturally wanted everyone to focus on that reality. If the kingdom of God in its fullness may be arriving momentarily, it makes sense not to let yourself be distracted by lesser, mundane things.

So it seemed unwise to Paul, under those circumstances, for anyone to take on long-term and even problematic responsibilities like those involved in marriage (v. 28). If one was already married, however, Paul says, “Do not seek to be free” (v. 27). His basic advice is, at this moment in history, it was “well for you to remain as you are,” whatever that status might have been (v. 26).

II. Counsel for the Long Term

Beginning with verse 29, Paul gets to the more radical application of this imminence orientation. He stresses again that the “appointed time has grown short.” One should not allow even family responsibilities to distract from one’s highest calling in the Lord. Even deep emotions of the moment, like grief and joy, cannot hold sway now. One cannot allow possessions, business dealings, and other things of this world to dominate one’s attention, because they are all “passing away” (v. 31).

These insights are not limited to a specific time or place in Paul’s ministry. Rather, out of his clear understanding of the illusory nature of the things of this world, Paul offers us the perspective from “higher ground” that is appropriate for all times and places. This new orientation doesn’t mean we cannot cherish the present moment. In fact, it is meant to enhance our ability to experience life in its fullness, for in our present awareness we will also be open to the change that is emerging.

So Paul is not saying, “Don’t be involved in your life and in how it can be developed now.” He is saying, “Don’t cling to your life as it is now; don’t insist on plans that could distract you from what God is trying to do in your life.” It is foolish to needlessly expend energy on the ephemeral and secondary when those things distract us from what is truly important. Don’t worry about circumcision (v. 19), or whether the erasers are all back in line on the blackboard. Don’t focus on the secondary and miss what God is trying to do.

III. Finding Your Place in God’s Time

Paul states the key issue in verse 17: “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” Don’t let peripheral issues and things consume your life and keep you from God’s purpose for your life. Don’t spend all your time watching the stock market and miss the eternal investments God has in store for you.

Here is wisdom: Do less and accomplish more. It is the focus of mind and heart that moves mountains, not spinning your wheels around tasks that are not at the center of your highest calling.

Jesus appeared on a donkey outside Vatican City one day, and messengers ran in to tell the pope. With great excitement they cried out, “Jesus is outside. What shall we do?” The pope answered, “Look busy!”

Paul says it isn’t busyness that makes the difference, but availability to what God wants to do in our lives. (Kathleen Peterson)

Screams and Calls

Mark 1:14-20

I grew up in the time of tent revivals, and sometimes now, in the same way I miss the circus and the Saturday doubleheader, I miss the hot summer nights and the big canvas tabernacles. Dad preached in a tent once, and I can still recall the smell of burlap and hay. I heard my first electric guitar at a “tent meeting,” and later—in the late sixties and early seventies when I began to think of myself as a preacher—I rather liked the idea of being backed up by a rock-and-roll band. Those were the days, weren’t they?

I’ve been thinking about tents and revivals and Dad and stuff because the other day a tent revival preacher rolled into our town. The tent is small, the Winnebago is beginning to rust, but it seems like the real thing. In fact, maybe the tents of my childhood were not that much bigger, the cars not that much flashier—maybe it just seemed so.

Although I haven’t attended the tent revival, I have rolled the car window down a couple of times as I was passing by. This guy is a screamer. Just hearing him sort of chilled my enthusiasm. In my nostalgia for the tents and the bands and the smells, I had forgotten exactly how these guys often preached—yelling, lots of anger and bile, veins bulging and indignation dripping like sweat. The new guy on the vacant lot is pretty typical, I guess. If you were categorizing the tent preachers under biblical precursors, you’d have to put the screamers in the camp with John the Baptist.

I figure that if you went to hear John, you were sure to get hellfire and brimstone every time. He didn’t have a tent or a band, but I bet his veins bulged and his raiment probably smelled like sulphur. And he got results. There’s no doubt about it. So you can’t blame a lot of preachers for taking their cues from John, whose message was “Repent, for God’s kingdom is coming.” You still hear that message.

How different is the example of Jesus, whose message turns John’s on its head. “The kingdom has come,” Jesus says. “Now repent.” And if, when the message was John’s it was pretty much bad news—that folk are sinners and vipers and all—with Jesus there is self-avowed good news: “In spite of it all, you are chosen. So follow!”

Jesus calls, and rather quietly it would seem. Simon and Andrew, James and John—fishermen all, and none of them able to catch a fish in all the Gospels without Jesus help. Jesus presence enabled them to be fishers of people. It is Jesus initiative that prompts faithful response.

Of course, with John and Jesus all that’s necessary eventually gets preached. John will find his way to forgiveness, and Jesus will assuredly get around to judgment. The gospel circle remains unbroken. To me, however, the way they begin is significant. For John, the kingdom’s coming ultimately depends on our obedience. For Jesus, our obedience ultimately depends on the kingdom’s coming.

The difference could hardly be more telling; the telling could hardly be more different. And in both cases, the message is true: the kingdom is coming, the kingdom has come. Now repent. (Thomas R. Steagald)

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