Nehemiah 8:1-3,9 & 9:3
Feeling Revival

Original English Sermon
Authored by Mike Furey

If I read the Bible out loud to you for six straight hours, you would be crying too, but for a different reason. Our ears are not hungry to hear the scripture.

Dr. Frank Minirth wrote*:

Sergei Kourdakov, at one time a member of Russia's secret police, a force developed to persecute and stamp out Christians, wrote a book called "The Persecutor" about his own confrontation with the Word even as he tried to destroy the faith in his homeland. He had his first chance to read and study the words of Jesus because of a young Christian woman named Natasha whom he admired. He wrote, "That night, at the first opportunity I had, lying in my bunk at the Naval Academy, I opened up those pieces of paper and began to read them again. Jesus was talking and teaching someone how to pray. I became more curious and read on. This certainly was no antistate material. It was how to be a better person and how to forgive those who do you wrong. Suddenly the words leaped out of those pages and into my heart. I read on, engrossed in the kind words of Jesus. This was exactly the opposite of what I had expected. My lack of understanding, which had been like blinders on my eyes, left me right then, and the words bit deeply into my being. It was though somebody were in the room with me, teaching me those words and what they said. They made a profound impact on me. I read them again and again, then sat thinking, my mind lost in the wonder of it all. So this is what Natasha believed. The words grabbed my heart. I was somehow frightened and uneasy, like a man walking on unfamiliar ground. I read the words and reread them and put them down, and still they came back to my mind again and again. Those words were leading Natasha to be a better person and help others. They haunted me. It was a feeling totally new to me.

The point is the Word of God is powerful for those who have ears to hear; for those with a felt need. This kind of heart can feel the wooing of the Spirit.

In our biblical text, after these people heard the scripture, they recited the entire history of Israel in their prayer in 9:6-38 and made a renewal of the covenant with God. They made some decisions when they heard the Word of God. They decided to separate themselves from foreign influence so that some men even divorced their non-Jewish wives (9:28). I find it amazing to hear that their marriages had to be dissolved; they reasoned that if Solomon's many marriages with foreigners were the beginning of the downfall of Israel then we must not repeat history and must take action now. No where in the text does it show God's approval of their actions; the point is they sought to honor God and made decisions accordingly even if they appear overly zealous and perhaps mistaken. In fact, it seems their decisions created a sharp wall between themselves and Gentiles. A distinction between Israel and the world of the Goyim was required by the Lord, but this requirement did not call for a separation of contact. The temple had a place for Gentiles to pray. But there was a wall of distinction. This wall became a wall of severance. Such a wall is described in the book of Ephesians. Even the New Testament takes the wall for granted. It assumes ministry to Gentiles was off limits because that was the actual practice for centuries. Here in Nehemiah's day, their zeal was already setting up a wall against priestly ministry to Gentiles who would worship the One true God. The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament calls Gentiles to repent as well as Jews. The Jews were to serve as a nation of priests to guide the world in worshipping Yahweh. They failed to be missionary minded and were left to themselves to self-destruct. God's people need the world, which holds us accountable as ministers. If we serve the needs of the world, it has a cleansing effect, a teaching effect, which opens our eyes to our own sinfulness. It is like the professor who teaches his or her students, yet the professor learns more from the students and is stimulated by student life. But through out its history, Israel has largely been a Jonah and chooses to avoid those Gentiles. But we must share God's love and message if we are to stay holy and pure. We must go into the world with the message to keep from the spiritual incest of feeding off our own limited understanding of God. We continually experience renewal as we share salvation with others. When we lead others to salvation it saves us as well. If we hog our joyous life to ourselves, we become like some warped medieval monastery or closed religious community, separate from the world, but full of in-house intrigue as described by Josephus in The Wars Of The Jews, Decameronian sexuality as described by Giovanni Boccaccio, and twisted mentality as described by Umberto Eco in The Name Of The Rose.

So, the people of Nehemiah's day made decisions out of intentions to worship and serve. They decided to divorce from their Gentile wives. They decided to quit selling things on the Sabbath day (9:31). In Nehemiah 13:15-21
Nehemiah just about gets ready to use force against merchants selling on the Sabbath. Again it amazes me how far he is willing to go in order to preserve faith. How far are we ready to go? And is it possible we go too far in our seeking to be devoted to the Lord? They decided to tithe their goods and money and to levy a temple tax upon themselves to insure the smooth service of the house of God (9:32,38). They decided to live according to the laws of Moses in a diligent manner and to quit being so slack (9:32-39). How could reading the Bible for all those hours at one time lead to such revival? I suggest it is because they read and heard the Bible like Sergei Kourdakov having lived under an abusive imperialistic environment, having been emotionally depressed and wrung out, and oblivious to the truth. Their ears became sponges. They had a felt need.

Based on the context of the text, what are conditions for revival? A felt need. A sense of void. Israel went through hitleresque days in extermination by Assyria in the eighth century before the common era (c. 722 B.C.E.). Israel also toughed out three stages of deportation by Babylon in the sixth and fifth centuries (c. 605 B.C.E., 595 B.C.E., 586 B.C.E). Most of the population was killed off and less than ten thousand survivors were forced to relocate. They had spent seventy years as captives in the land of the Babylonians, who are later conquered by the Persians as seen in Daniel. There the survivors of Israel's premodern holocaust had completely lost the use of their native tongue. Only a few learned scribes could read the original Hebrew Bible. After they read it aloud, the interpreters like Ezra would translate to the audience. Now they have just rebuilt the defensive wall around Jerusalem, but they were just a small province in the mighty Persian empire. In short, they lost the land, their population, their language, and almost their faith. But when they heard the Word of the Lord with their broken hearts, they became new.

Do we really want revival? Or do we just want routine religion and just a happy home? Bless the kids, ma, pa, and grandma, O Lord! One of the older preachers in my denomination said things haven't changed in the twenty-five years of his experience with this group, especially in our region and area. He said there isn't much happening and there probably won't be much happening among our immediate family group of believers. I didn't like hearing that. I'm forced to wonder are we too cush, too satisfied, too asleep? Are our prayers really only "Bless the kids, ma, pa, and grandma, O Lord!"? Revival is born out of a felt need. Revival comes out of pain, grief, loss, tragedy, sacrifice or some felt need. The word "revive" means to live again. What was once down, dead, or destroyed becomes alive again. Out of death comes the touch of God. Out of depression comes release. Out of death comes the resurrection. Out of hard times comes a fresh search for Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if humans were capable of growth during seasons of comfort and fulness? Unfortunately, we are open for growth when we are broken. But can we not teach our hearts to seek the Lord when the grass is green in our lives? Can we not listen to our parents or must we always learn in the school of hard knocks?  Wouldn't it be wise to learn from those who have been there rather than to be burned by experience?
Evangelist Chujoh Gisuke, a Japanese minister, has documented the path of revival in Korea.**  In recent history, South Korea is the country that is experiencing the greatest revival in the history of the church. It has the largest churches in the world. In 1989, pastor Paul Yonggi Cho's church had over five hundred thousand members. When evangelist Gisuke went to Korea to study why there was such a spiritual boom for Christ like never before in history, he had visited during a ten year period at 250 churches, 10 prayer centers, countless places such as jails, prisons, hospitals, factories, and any where people gathered. After ten years of visiting and working with Korean Christians he came to the following conclusions about the revival in Korea:

     1. The social context. A Roman Catholic form of the gospel had been preached in Korea since 1785, but for the first one hundred years not too much happened. But in 1884 two groups came to Korea. Gisuke says the Japanese military came with their terror and the American missionaries with their Bibles. In 1901 the Japanese military began forced settlements in Korea that lasted nine years which involved humiliating, torturing, maiming, raping, and killing. From 1910 on the Japanese military imposed a government that further humiliates and enslaves the Korean nation. After World War II, the Koreans are freed from that rule, but the communists split the country and a three year war ensued. The people had a felt need. The gospel of Jesus Christ was heard and the people's hearts exploded with revival.

     2. A conservative message. The message preached was simple and basic. The simple gospel was preached. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was preached. Not a liberal, pluralist, rational, analytical religion, but the simple faith in salvation by Jesus. They preached, "Jesus saves!" And they were saved.

     3. A conservative practice. The practice of Christianity that was taught was conservative.

  • Prayer. They believed in prayer in Jesus' name. The average pastor spends five to six hours in prayer daily. Churches are open daily for prayer and services are held in the morning and evening and for many churches they are open twenty-four hours. People pray fervently even in winter in unheated buildings or even in the snow at special mountain retreats. No one was in a hurry to end prayer.
  • Love. Christians loved each other. There was a feeling of equality and "democracy" in a nation that was shaped by a caste mentality.
  • Leadership. The pastor was held in high respect as the proxy of Jesus Christ and was expected to be of high moral character.
  • Soul-winning and Evangelism. They believe in telling others about Jesus and do it.
  • In brief, there is nothing special about the Korean revival experience. It is similar to all other revivals that have taken place. There was pain and a problem; people felt God alone could meet their need.

    In U.S. history we've had five revivals or great awakenings according to William G. McLoughlin.*** I have summarized his analysis and mixed it with my commentary as follows. (If you can't be persuaded through reason mixed with faith, maybe I should SHOUT. But I don't think I'll do that for now.)

    The first awakening in the land we now call the United States of America came in the 1730-1740's among Presbyterians and Episcopalians. The influence of the Presbyterians and Episcopalians united the colonies and provided the gumption to resist the stranglehold of the British overlords. It was a war fought by faith. The colonialists made a decision to resist the existing government and rebel, which may not be exactly a spiritually correct thing to do. Yet, we could say God honored their humbled hearts and efforts against the proud and oppressive.

    The second revival was in the days of the frontier. As the U.S. spread out geographically further westward and as people faced hardships in settling, many turned to God. By 1840, the Baptists and the Methodists are the two largest groups.  The many atrocities committed against Native Americans are a great shame to the USA.  The exchanges between "white" and "red" people were not all negative but much of it was.  In spite of the wars and battles, somehow revival comes.

    The third awakening came around 1890-1920. As the nation suffered from the memories of the Civil War it experienced revival. The industrial boom begins. Churches were recovering from a divided nation and begin fighting a fresh attack from Satan via evolution and modernism. Dwight Moody is the preacher for the hour and we see the rise of Pentecostalism move through the land.  Even though slavery was still  endorsed by some denominations after the war, somehow revival comes.

    The fourth revival came after W.W.II and results in large denominations. The atom bomb puts the prophecies in the Bible in new light. There are a church boom and a baby boom. It is the age of the evangelicals. Billy Graham comes out of this revival. 

    The fifth awakening according to McLoughlin is a burst of strange beliefs. It is not so much a Christian revival, but a pluralist religious revival. In the '60's society disintegrated with the God is dead movement and in the '70's many diverse forms of non-traditional "Christianity" develop. I would not call this a true revival. McLoughlin's book covers up to 1977 and since then there has been a major movement of Christianity in the U.S.A.

    In the '70's a lot of people turned to Christ. I am one of them. I was twenty years old back then. However, the type of revival we are having seems shallow to me. The Church in America is very divided and diverse. No one group leads. No denomination is leading the charge. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest denomination with over fourteen million members, but on any given Sunday, you will find about only five million in church services. Most Christians are not very interested in the worship and work of God. Also, this semi-revival is one of splintered groups. If there is a leader of this revival, we might say it was Billy Graham. The Promise Keeper movement is doing well and has the potential to influence this nation for revival. The Promise Keepers hold jam-packed meetings for men all across the USA, but how many of those men are going back to be productive workers in God's churches at the grass roots level? Women still are more involved at the home base of the church. What would the church be without these faithful female believers! The revival in our day and time is not a united revival, but local and regional. In addition, there is a war going on in the USA, but it is a cultural war. Our nation is divided between moral and immoral people. Our morals have gone antibiblical and sinful as a nation. There are many believers fighting to recover our Judaeo-Christian heritage, but it seems to be a losing battle as cries for freedom and separation of church and state rule the day. America has made an idol out of freedom. It no longer knows the freedom that comes from submission to God and laws built on fear of God. Freedom now means sin as much as you want since it is no one's business but your own. So, there is definitely a culture war in progress. Do we feel the need for revival? Not nationally. Probably this nation will not turn back to God until we suffer a military loss or even an invasion from afar. Why do societies of people wait until desolation and destruction before it remembers the resources in God? Why can't we turn to God before trouble comes?

    Do you want to feel revival? The people of Nehemiah's day didn't exactly make the best decisions.  Yet God blessed them.  We could easily criticize each period of revivals in US history for the faults of the people and the decisions they made.  Even Korean Christians can be criticized for some aspects of their revival.  But the point is this: God blesses our humble hearts which earnestly seek him.  We can't wait till we make all the right decisions before seeking him.  So, until our next period of social reconstruction through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can individually experience revival and rebuilding in our lives. Call upon the Lord Jesus to give you a new heart and a new life built around the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus died for your sins and calls you to accept his gift of mercy and eternal life. Do you want him to be the boss of your life or do you prefer to be the captain of your destiny and shipwreck in the end?

    End Notes:

    * Frank Minirth, You Can!, Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1994, pp. 53-54.

    **Chujoh Gisuke, Kankoku Kyookai Hanei No Wake: Nihon No Dendosha Ga Taiken Shita Koto (The Reasons For The Revival Of The Korean Church: How A Japanese Missionary Experienced It), Jordan Press, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1989.

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    ***William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, And Reform: An Essay On Religion And Social Change In America 1607-1977, 1978.

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