There’s plenty of bad news around, but what about good news? Who longs for a spiritual revival, a move of God turning hearts back to Him? A rediscovery of Jesus as our Saviour — and His values in life?
And so, how we become more holy, in order to approach Almighty God who is uniquely holy and separate?
Two years of pandemic precautions and lockdowns haven’t helped church attendance. Even by the most generous interpretation of the statistics, nine out of ten people in the UK have voted with their feet… against church.
However, not everyone has given up on God. There’s residual faith waiting to be awakened, even if church participation is being redefined. That has been the way of every revival in history.
Are you praying for revival? This week (December 19) we hear a clear prayer for revival from the Bible that headlines the message that comes from the set Bible readings (in the Revised Common Lectionary followed by many different churches and chapels, see end of post). Starting in the OT:
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel…. Awaken Your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved… Restore us, God Almighty; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.From Psalm 80:1-7 (excerpt)
Is this a prayer asking God for revival, or a dialogue which believes and ‘calls down’ what He has already promised? In truth it is a bit of both. And the message continues with a challenge to us to think differently. God is Almighty and His ways are higher than our ways. Rather than asking God to bless and prosper what we are doing, we are being challenged to DEFER to His ways — in effect, to let Him be God and do it His way.
And His way, throughout Scripture, has been surprising. His choice of people and situations is often, by the measure of our way of doing things, shockingly alternative.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be our peace.Micah 3:2,4-5
The hearers of this in Micah’s time would have found it difficult to take it at face value. Rulers came from royal families, and royal families came from Jerusalem.
The social gap between city and country was huge. Bethlehem was not on any major route. It was well off the beaten track. To hear what God was saying through the prophet took a lot of imagination — and faith.
We have the benefit of hind-sight, and there are plenty of Bibles in different versions for anyone to read. So we might recall that a former king, the renowned King David, grew up as a shepherd boy in Bethlehem. And it comes to mind that God made a promise to King David that he would have a dynasty to follow him, including a very significant and enduring successor.
Micah’s first hearers probably didn’t make those connections. To them, Bethlehem was just a small remote village inhabited by very ordinary people. One of them, named Joseph, had made the trek north to the busy frontier town of Nazareth, where he found work. And he was betrothed to be married to Mary there. Once again we see God working in an extraordinary way.
A messenger angel named Gabriel appeared to Mary, still unmarried, and told her that by the power of the Holy Spirit she would find herself pregnant and would bear a son. He was to be called Jesus, and He would grow up to be the Son of the Most High, the Messiah and the promised successor to her and Joseph’s ancestor, King David. Her older cousin Elizabeth, who had not been able to have children, was already preparing for motherhood. So Mary makes the hundred-mile journey south to stay with Elizabeth, and they worship God together, reflecting on the extraordinary grace of God in choosing such ordinary, provincial and unknown people like them to further His purpose.
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.Luke 1:46-49
“From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is His name.”
Such an awesome responsibility doesn’t come easy, even to those who are used to responsibility. Both Elizabeth, and her young relative Mary, had a lot to take on board — a lot to accept. You don’t argue with an angel; you accept what you’re told. However, we can see that both Elizabeth and Mary came to a humble and joyful acceptance of God working in their lives. And this is the point: after a while, they were both able to set aside their hopes and dreams, and how they thought their life would be, and defer willingly to God’s greater plan and purpose for them.
But God’s greater plan was more far-reaching than they would ever realise.
Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, was a temple priest — but in the space of a generation, that ritualistic form of priesthood would be abolished. The form of worship practised at the temple in sacrifices and offerings, with a separate caste of priests who acted as intermediaries between ordinary people and God, was never God’s intention.
It was a measure that provided a temporary solution to people’s disobedience and independence. To have any kind of relationship with God, there has to be a remedy for that sin.
And this was a temporary measure, a kind of spiritual sticking plaster, and it had to be repeated over and over again. But everyone was used to that. The whole system had been built up around that.
But in less than a generation, that idea of a separate cast of ritualistic priests would be made obsolete by Jesus the Son of God, who taught that He and He alone is “the Way the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).
Reflecting on this teaching, and by way of additional explanation, the writer of the letter to Jewish Christians quotes a psalm that was very familiar to them. It contains a prophetic statement about how Jesus fulfils this role in the new way.
First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” — though they were offered in accordance with the law.Hebrews 10:8-10
Then He said, “‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.
Becoming holy doesn’t come by more complex liturgical worship, taller and more beautiful cathedral spires, or longer and more elaborate processions with Bactrian camels, although these may help with publicity.
These are man-centred actions which are the modern equivalent of those temple sacrifices. But it doesn’t work that way. This is because Jesus is the Way.
There is no other name on the heaven by which we are saved. It is through Him, only through Him that we who are on holy and defiled can approach and even come to know personally our majestic, mighty, holy and above all, merciful God.
We become holy by being made holy — by being changed inside.
And this only happens when we come to know Jesus, and trusting what He has done for us, and inviting Him in a personal way into our hearts to be Lord of our lives.
It’s not our way but His way. And it is not under our control, but it comes to us as we give up that control — as we defer — to God and receive His unearned favour.
Lord God and loving Father, may we be people who can bend from our will towards Yours, who offer nothing of ourselves but our willingness, and who know that Your kingdom trumps our success,
We pray for revival even though it threatens our comfort. We long for many others to turn to Jesus and find new life in Him.
And we humbly ask that like Mary and Elizabeth we may be found in a good place to play a part in Your plan. In and through Jesus we ask, Amen.
Bible readings for Sunday, December 19:
OT: Malachi 3:1-4
A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord
With OT: Luke 1:68-79
Zechariah’s prophetic song of praise over John, who is to tell people to reach out and receive God’s salvation
NT gospel: Luke 3:1-6
God’s word to John is to “prepare the way for the Lord” in proclaiming the need to turn lives around to His way
NT letter: Philippians 1:3-11
Paul prays with joy for believers seeing the finished work they will become
• See also The Living Word Bible Study for December 19 with verse by verse commentary and reflections