Scripture: Romans 10:5-15
My parents introduced my brother and me to Star Wars at a very young age. Some of my absolute earliest memories are playing with Star Wars toys. I remember when my parents took my brother and I to see Return of the Jedi in the theaters when I was three years old. I grew up loving Star Wars, but eventually that faded. In Elementary school I went through a huge dinosaur phase, and as I got older other things caught my interest. By the time I was in 7th grade, Star Wars was all but forgotten about. It had been years since I had seen any of the movies, and Star Wars had more or less faded into a distant memory of something I used to like a long time ago from a galaxy far, far away. However, on a lazy summer day in between my 7th and 8th grade year that all changed. It was one of those situations where I had to find something to do, because if I complained about being bored my parents would give me something to do. So I went looking through a stack of old movies that had not been watched in a long time. Out of that stack I picked the original Star Wars. It was on that summer day when my fandom was revived, and 25 years later it is still going strong. All it took was a single spark to reignite something that had long been dormant.
That is what a revival is after all, it is a spark. A revival is the return of something that was fading. It is a comeback. Because of how the word has been used and potentially abused over the years, we sometimes tend to have the wrong idea about a revival. In a church setting we tend to associate the word revival with a Billy Graham style crusade only in a tent. We tend to associate a revival with altar calls, sinner prayers, and evangelistic efforts to share the gospel with people for the first time. That is not what a revival is meant to be though. The goal of a revival is not to make new disciples, it is to remind the faithful why they are faithful. A revival is meant to be the spark that renews a faith that may just be coasting by, smoldering, or has gone cold. This morning’s scripture has the potential to bring about a personal revival as it can remind us what sparked our faith in the first place.
This morning’s scripture comes from the middle of a section of Romans where Paul is writing specifically about the relationship the Jewish people have with God in light of the grace of Jesus. This is a concern for Paul that causes him anguish. Paul is writing from a Jewish perspective, so we can miss some of what Paul is emphasizing here. Typically as Christians we tend to not always pay attention to the Old Testament quite like we should, and because of that we tend to miss details like Paul is heavily referencing a section of Deuteronomy in this morning’s scripture. Verses 5-8 pulls several direct quotes from a section of Deuteronomy, chapter 30. This section of Deuteronomy comes after the entirety of the law is given. It is stated that following the law, being God’s people, is not a theoretical. It is something they can actually do and it is right in front of them. This section of Deuteronomy claims that before the Israelites they now have a choice between a way of blessing and life or a way of death and destruction.
The original audience in Rome that Paul what this epistle to is thought to have been a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish audience would have immediately understood what Paul is doing in this morning’s scripture. In verse four, before we picked up this morning’s scripture Paul plainly states, “Christ is the culmination of the law that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Then in the scripture we heard read, Paul intentionally connects Jesus with the way of blessing and the way of life. Seeking to follow God is the way of blessing and the way of life, and according to Paul this way leads to the cross. While Jesus is the savior of Jews and Gentiles, Paul makes the argument that the Jews are already one step towards Jesus because they should already be seeking to follow God. Paul is hoping to revive their faith to follow the way of blessing and the way of life because it believes doing so will lead to them to declare Jesus is Lord.
This morning’s scripture is also a catalyst for revival for us today. Jesus is Lord is the most basic and earliest confession of the Christian faith. The model lifted up in this morning’s scripture is the one that has been used since the very beginning for professing to be a Christian: “If you declare with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Everyone who is a Christian has in some way made that declaration. The way we make it is different. Some of have vivid memories of a mountain top faith experience where God more real than ever before, responded to an altar call, and gave their heart to the Lord. For others this declaration was less a shout and a more of whimper that came as a result of hitting rock bottom. It came from the painful realization that they were on the path of death and destruction and they could not save themselves. Then for others this declaration is more of a demonstration. There are those who were raised by godly parents in the church and some point they came to claim the faith for their own. They declared Jesus is Lord not through a conversion experience, but through demonstrating a faithful life of loving God and loving others. We all make it differently, but everyone who is a Christian has called on the name of the Lord to be saved. We have all experienced the justification of faith. We have felt our hearts and souls alight with the joy and passion of grace. No matter how or when we experienced it, faith is like fire that ignites gives us life. Holding a vague belief of a higher power does not make someone a Christin, and going to church does not make someone a Christian. What makes us Christians is that we have had this spark in our life, a catalyst that made Jesus real to us, and ignited our heart with the love of God.
How long ago was that for you? When did the light of Christ first set your heart ablaze? For some of us it was a long time ago. The thing about fire is that it only blazes as long as you keep feeding it, and many believers have gone through times when that stopped happening. Often our faith takes a back seat because a lot has happened in life. Work got busy, Kids got older and driving them took a lot of effort, a major illness seemed to consume everything, or the life stopped feeling less like an adventure and more like a rut. The fire that once burned so brightly, is now diminished.
We can even get to the point where our faith feels like it has all but burnt out. It may lay dormant, but unless we renounce with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and stop believing in our hearts that God raised him to life then it is not out. In 2002, I was a staff counselor at church camp. In July I pulled a three week stint at Outpost camp. At outpost camp we slept in big tents and everything was done by the fire. By the third week, I had learned a thing or two about how to manage a fire. On the first day of camp, the fire pit was dead and our fire starter was not working. Instead of going to the next site and borrowing theirs I began to dig. I knew there had been fires roaring in this pit for the past two weeks, so I dug through the ash and I felt heat. I uncovered a small ember that still had some heat trapped in it. I put kindling on that coal and gently fanned that heat into flame. Within minutes, what was once only a visible pile of ash was a blazing fire.
If you have ever experienced the life changing forgiveness of Jesus Christ, if you by faith you have ever accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, if you have walked the way of blessing and life, then there is a flame in you. It does not matter how cold it feels, it is not extinguished. Revival is the return of something, so if your faith feels more like a buried ember than a roaring fire it is time to uncover the flame within. Return to your first love, remember God loves you so much that he sent his son to die for you. Be revived by the knowledge that you are forgiven. Be revived that your sins are as far as the East is from the West. Be revived knowing there is nothing that will ever separate you form the love of God.
To have a faith burns brightly does not require you to be a slick-talking, bible-thumping, revival evangelist. One of the greatest revivals in American history had an unassuming beginning. It was 1857 and many were lamenting the spiritual state of the country, especially in the large cities. In these cities the industrial revolution had brought a lot of industrialization which led to lots of workers living in close proximity and working long hours six or seven days a week. These workers were tired. Church and faith were not a priority. Many churches during this time, were also moving out of the city centers to the outskirts where their wealthier patrons lived. A 48 year old man named Jeremiah Lanphier, cared about the souls of those huddled in crowded cities. His first step was to pray, and he put out a flyer advertising a prayer meeting. The goal of this prayer meeting was revival as his flyer stated: “This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen an opportunity to stop and call on God.” The prayer meeting was at noon and it was meant to be a chance for busy people to connect with God and revive their faith even a little bit.
The first meeting was on September 23rd of 1857. Jeremiah Lanphier had the doors to the Dutch Reformed church of Manhattan open at noon. No one came. Finally after half an hour of praying on his own, a total of six men gathered. This was enough for Lanphier to try it again next week. This time close to 20 were in attendance, and by the third week this had doubled to 40. The attendance continued to climb so the weekly prayer meeting became daily, and the tone of the prayer meeting began to develop. The primary prayers being offered up were prayers for the souls of the lost. Those who came and bowed in prayer would often pray by name for the people they knew who did not yet know Jesus.
Within two months, the prayer meeting had grown even more. It completely filled the church. So much so that daily there were three simultaneous meeting in different parts of the building. The desire for prayer was so great that it began to spread throughout the city. At one point a large theater began opening its doors daily for the prayer meeting and it would be filled with over 5,000 people. This spread across the country. Prayer became a daily ritual in places like Washington DC, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. In St. Louis, the desire to pray was so high that many places would three different prayer meetings a day. This was not a time of enthusiastic preaching, it was not a high pressure sales pitch to convert, it was people gathering to pray. It was a revival movement where thousands of people had their cold hearts warmed by the Holy Spirit. God answered all of this prayer, and many people called out on the name of Jesus and believed in their heart for the first time. One report from that era claims there were 10,000 new converts on a single day in New York City alone. The revival of 1857 is the single greatest evangelical effort that occurred in this country’s period, and it all began because six people gathered in an old church to revive their faith.
How is the fire in your heart this day? If it does not burn as brightly as it used to then, may you remember that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and God out of God’s great mercy has saved you. May you earnestly work on revival to keep the fires of faith lit. Like Jeremiah Lanphier may you seek God in prayer, and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit may you get fired up about our Lord Jesus Christ. May that be true for each and everyone one us, may we be a church where revival rolls. May we not keep our revived faith under the basket of this building, but may it be like a city on a hill that shines out in the darkness. May we burn brightly and may we take the gospel and victory found in Jesus to others, because as it is written How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!