Greetings from Reformed Theological Seminary
Last year I was elected chancellor of our multi campus system and I have prayed about a theme as I assumed this service. I have thought about 1 Timothy 2.1-12, and called this time, “Entrusted with God‘s Truth to Multiply God’s Grace.”
For we have been entrusted with almost 50 years of ministry of that truth, invested in over 7,000 alumni, serving all over the world, reaching hundreds of thousands of people, and training up close to 3,000 students, in our campus system today, being grounded by professors who take annual vows to the Confession of Faith and have tenure other than a one year contract (and yet we are blessed with the likes of Doug Kelly, Simon Kistemaker, and John Frame who have ministered for almost 100 years between them!) in the inerrancy of the Word of God, the old Reformed doctrines of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone, and sent out, we pray and labor, with a white-hot passion to extend this vision to many more around the world. Paul said that his hope and glory and crown of boasting were in his people (in 2 1 Thessalonians 2.19-20).
Our hope and our glory will not be how many campuses we have, but how many souls are safe in the arms of Jesus when He comes again.
Introduction to the Series:
I had a noted military leader in the Pentagon tell me, “The greatest threat we face as a nation is that our people do not realize that we really are at war.”
I think the same could be said for the Church. Many have settled into a mindset that Ephesians 6 and the battle in the spiritual realms for the souls of men is just not relevant today. We seem more concerned about the latest trends in worship or styles in preaching or if Simon is going to really be that mean to that kid on the X-Factor. We have become what Neil Postman wrote of some years ago, a people who are “Entertaining Ourselves to Death.” This is a deadly scenario. For the Bible says that we are at war—a spiritual war being waged by the devil, the flesh and the world to stop the kingdom of Jesus Christ from advancing in this nation, or to demolish what has been established. That is why we need the ministries you are supporting.
We have a homeland security department for our physical threats and we need one for our spiritual threats. So I am calling this time together: “Homeland Security: The Church and Home Missions Today: Selected Passages on Revival and Revitalization.” I will bring four messages, Lord willing:
- It is Time for the Church to be Burdened (Isaiah 64:1-12)
- It is Time for the Church to be Optimistic! (John 4.1-42)
- It is Time for the Church to Go! (Mark 6.7-13)
- It is Time for the Church to Pray! (2 Kings 4.8-37)
And so we begin with Isaiah 64.1-12. There is a lot of attention in the presidential primary going into economy. Righty so. But is it really the problem? Or a symptom of the problem? Isaiah’s answer not only helps us to understand the answer to that question, and thus to find the answer, but to join him in a new way of thinking about a solution; for our nation, for our families, for our lives.
This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God.
Oh, that You would rend the heavens!
That You would come down!
That the mountains might shake at Your presence—
As fire burns brushwood,
As fire causes water to boil—
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!
When You did awesome things for which we did not look,
You came down,
The mountains shook at Your presence.
For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.
You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
In these ways we continue;
And we need to be saved.
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
And there is no one who calls on Your name,
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us,
And have consumed us because of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord,
You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand.
Do not be furious, O Lord,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!
Your holy cities are a wilderness,
Zion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful temple,
Where our fathers praised You,
Is burned up with fire;
And all our pleasant things are laid waste.
Will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O Lord?
Will You hold Your peace, and afflict us very severely? (Isaiah 64:1-12).
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever. Let us pray.
Lord, You wrote these words for Your people. Open them to our hearts this evening. Open them to this congregation, these pastors, these elders and deacons, these men, women, boys and girls; that we may be fruitful in Your kingdom; that we may know what we are to do; that we may be saved; and that many others would be saved as well. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Introduction to the Message
Have you ever returned from a missions trip and you are so excited about what you have seen and heard that you wanted to tell everyone? Yet it seemed that as you described the trip and seeing the displays of God’s glory through preaching or sharing His Word or helping to give a cup of cold water, or teach a Bible School class, and describe the reflection of God’s presence in the joyful eyes of those who went to serve, the other person you are telling just doesn’t get it? You feel like you just as well are talking to the wall. They seem disinterested. “They just don’t get it!” you think, between breaths, as you give your report. And this frustrates you. It makes you want to cry.
“Are there tear stains on the empty pews in America?”
I remember having gone to my first trip to Albania to preach there and coming back through London. I was in a black cab going to my hotel, passing monuments of a glorious Christian past, and yet people were passing but them as if they were passing by a Starbucks. I began to unload on the cab driver about how at the top of the Bank of England there is an inscription that says,
“The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalms 24:1 KJV)
I asked him, indignantly,: “Do you know where that comes from my friend?” Before he could answer, I told him, “That is from the Psalms! Or don’t you know where the Psalms are located? That is the Bible my friend! This entire city and civilization was built on the foundation of that Word and just look at the people passing by! One day these will all crumble for lack of spiritual upkeep and then you will know!” I paused, out of breath. He looked at me in the mirror, giving a look of open-mouth wonder, and asked, in his Cockney way, “You wouldn’t be a padre would ye?”
Isaiah had been on a mission trip of sorts. He had been to the very throne room of God. He came back with a message that could be summarized as “repent and believe and follow God.” The cab drivers of Jerusalem knew he was likely a padre too. God, told him, however, that his divine message would go unheeded. Yet Isaiah reveals that he had a heart for the people and he had a heart for God. Jim Kennedy used to tell me, “Michael, to be a minister you must love God, love people, and love His Word. Without any one of those things you will never be useful for the Lord.” Isaiah seemed to have all three working. And in Isaiah 64 he has looked upon the godly foundations of Israel crumbling under the increasing weight of sin and neglect of their faith in God. And so he begins not by trying to change laws, but trying to change himself into a praying man. He calls down God. He believes that without God there is no hope.
Our nation needs hope. Our churches need hope. And so we do. For we see our nation at a point where many of us don’t recognize it. Many are concerned that the foundations, erected by our forefathers, are crumbling under the weight of secularism, and relativism, increasingly antagonistic relations between unbelievers and believers, and worse than all of that, apathy among those who name the name of Jesus.
So what is the plan? I have no 9-9-9 plans tonight. I do have a four-point sermon from the very Word of God in Isaiah 64.1-12 that describes what I need to do and what God will do in this nation today to see the spiritual foundations restored and have a realistic hope for a real recovery.
Here is what I need to do:
We Need to Have God’s Burden—A Holy Dissatisfaction
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—” (Isaiah 64:1 ESV)
When I read God’s Word in its whole, I come to understand that the Word of God begins with a burden. The burden is God’s burden for His own creation. Man was unable to keep God’s law and fell away from his Creator. This grieved God. According to Ephesians 1, God saw this before the foundation of the world and took steps to remedy the problem. After the fall, the rest of Scripture is a record of God working out His covenant of grace; that is, God, by grace, doing for man what man could not do for himself. It is a record of God ordaining that He would come down to fulfill the requirements of His own law and to pour out His divine wrath for sin upon Himself as a propitiation for the sins of man. God was burdened for His own creation.
So the vision of the Bible begins with a burden. Therefore, the church’s missions program must begin with a burden. When we come to understand that burden, when we have a heart and a passion for something that grieves us, that pains us, that creates desire, we then have a vision to go forward with that mission. A biblical vision is a divine solution that lifts the burden.
So I begin this series of messages on a vision for our church by locating in God’s Word the burden that He has given me for our time. I turn to Isaiah 64, for Isaiah was a man with a burden for God’s glory in his own generation. In this passage we may first come to understand the definition of this burden. We see this when we encounter the prophet’s words “Oh, that.”
Job uses this phrase more than anyone in Scripture. He cries out from the deepest part of his soul:
“Oh, that my words were written!
Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!” (Job 19:23).
David uses the same opening in his exasperation over the sin of the wicked:
Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men! (Psalm 107:21).
And Isaiah the prophet cries out,
Oh, that You would…come down… (Isaiah 64:1b).
“Oh, that” is a holy dissatisfaction with the way things are in comparison with who God is. The prophet has seen God, experienced His glory, known His salvation, desired that Israel know Him, and was, thus, dissatisfied.
There is evidence throughout the Bible that Christians are to be dissatisfied. We are enjoined to be content, but it is to be with our circumstances, not with God’s glory!
Moses had a burden. When he first had a burden for his Hebrew brethren, he took matters into his own hands and ended up herding goats in the back forty of Midian. But then God came down in a burning bush, and when Moses took his rod and marched into Pharaoh’s court, that man had a burden for God’s glory.
Paul knew God’s glory in grace and could never be content with ordinary religion. He would sacrifice all, count every gain as rubbish, put himself at risk, and take on any earthly power. For what? That he might know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Paul was a burdened man. He was burdened for God’s glory. He had experienced Christ and thought the world unworthy until every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.
The Reformation could be traced to a holy dissatisfaction in the soul of the Germanic priest, Martin Luther. That paper with the 95 theses that he nailed to the Wittenberg church door was a sign of his holy burden for God’s glory and God’s grace to flow over the land.
There is a song I remember singing with Christians in Wales when I studied there. I brought it back and when I planted a church in Kansas City, I used to gather our core group and sing this and remind them that this is why we were planting a church, because we were desperate for God to come down!
“RESTORE, O LORD, The honour of Your name, In works of sovereign power Come shake the earth again; That men may see And come with reverent fear To the living God, Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.
Restore, O Lord, In all the earth Your fame, And in our time revive The church that bears Your name. And in Your anger, Lord, remember mercy, O living God, Whose mercy shall outlast the years.
Bend us, O Lord, Where we are hard and cold, In Your refiner’s fire Come purify the gold. Though suffering comes And evil crouches near, Still our living God Is reigning, He is reigning here.
Restore, O Lord, The honour of Your name, In works of sovereign power Come shake the earth again; That men may see And come with reverent fear To the living God, Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.”
This is Isaiah’s cry exactly. This was Luther’s and Calvin’s and Whitefield’s and Edward’s and it is ours tonight. Any mission to our nation, for our family, for our own lives to be right with God, must begin with a burden, a holy dissatisfaction. “Oh, that” is the soul cry of a person or a church who has known the grace of God, who has come to know the joy of surrendering his life to the compassionate Christ, and who is discontent until God is glorified and worshipped and enjoyed.
God is calling us to see and experience His own burden in our generation. We must be like Isaiah and say, “Oh, that God would come down” in our community. There are people here who need Christ. Oh, that God would come down to our nation. Oh, that God would come down to the Muslim people; to the African people; to Hispanics in Los Angeles; to smug, comfortable, pretend Christians who are not living to give God the glory.
I pray for a church with a burden for the glory of God.
Isaiah’s “Oh, that” reveals his holy discontent, but the unfolding passage reveals more. We move from what I need to do from God will do.
God will Give the Relief—Genuine Revival
The person who has experienced the living God is burdened for God’s glory in revival. Isaiah writes,
Oh, that You would rend the heavens!
That You come down! (Isaiah 64:1a)
Isaiah is dissatisfied. Isaiah is burdened, and the relief that he seeks is genuine revival.
When Isaiah writes, “Oh, that You would…come down!” do you think he is just interested in springtime revival meetings by a visiting clergyman? Nothing could be further from his mind! The prophet is burdened by a lackadaisical religion. Isaiah doesn’t want religion. He wants God! In this passage we see mountains trembling, fires setting the forest ablaze, water boiling. It is a veritable eruption of divine presence on earth that this man of God yearns for.
This, beloved, is what I pray for. I pray for revival in our generation—a genuine movement of God in which He is honored and glorified in this hour of world history. I know you do as well. But what does that look like?
In 1992 it was my pleasure to preach throughout Albania. Communism had fallen only days before I arrived. I was to do street preaching in Skanderbeg Square, the main square in the capital city of Tirana. I asked my Albanian friend where I should stand. He smiled a sort of mischievous smile and said, “Stand there.” I saw what appeared to be crumbled concrete. Then I saw it. It was a toppled statue of Joseph Stalin. I stood on the crumbled remains of an edifice to a madman who sought to destroy the gospel. From those remains I proclaimed the gospel. I saw the hunger for God in people who crowded around to hear God’s Word. I saw God coming down and transforming souls. When you see the glory of God in revival and then you see the cold, dead formalism of so many in our day, you are burdened. And when you see revival you will never forget it. I love this quote from Duncan Campbell about the revival he witnessed in his country:
“This is revival dear people! This is a sovereign act of God! This is the moving of God’s Spirit, I believe in answer to the prevailing prayer of men and women who believed that God was a Covenant-keeping God, and must be true to His Covenant engagement.”
Paul Johnson, in his wonderful book History of the American People, notes that American history is a history of revival. I look upon our nation; our need; our evangelical churches so often going from one faddish program to another to try to grow members, to use marketing and psychology to build buildings; and I want to cry out, Oh, that God would come down! We need genuine revival, a moment of God that transcends our natural abilities and makes everyone know that God has come down.
May this congregation’s holy dissatisfaction become prayers that are answered with God’s relief—Revival in our land.
There is something else that God will do when we are so dissatisfied that we are moved to desperation in prayer.
God will Give the Result—Reformation
Now note further that Isaiah longs for even more. Isaiah reveals the focus of his burden for revival:
“…make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!” (Isaiah 64:2, NIV).
Isaiah is burdened for reformation as well as revival. The person who has experienced the living God is also burdened for reformation.
Reformation, in the biblical sense, is the transformation of society as the result of a transformation of the human soul because of God’s own work. It is the burden of a child of God who has come to know the glory of God’s holiness. Thus the child of God, like the prophet, is offended that men continue to sin in the face of this holy God. These are people, like the prophets of old, who are perturbed, filled with righteous indignation over a lack of true worship and honor to this worthy God. It begins with a burden for the glory of God, it moves to revival, and then we are burdened that there will be reformation in our day
I remember a childhood friend named Sandy. Sandy was a bully. He was a year older than I and was known principally for his almost uncanny command of an ever-growing volume of curse words. I’ve never heard a more filthy mouth. But another kid began to pray for Sandy and invited him to church. There was a new preacher at our church, and it was an excuse for Sandy to go. Well, Sandy was saved, and he changed. He eventually led his entire family to Christ. He was called to the ministry and is today a greatly used preacher in the Southern Baptist Church. The point is, reformation came to Sandy’s house, and as his heart was changed, his speech and behavior were changed.
We must have a burden for God’s glory in North America today. We are tired of vulgarity on the airwaves of our nation, horrified by abortions being given legal protection, struck with righteous indignation over our great Christian churches ordaining unrepentant sinners to the pulpit, offended by the sexualizing of everything and the open attack by Madison Avenue on our children’s innocence. But are we burdened because we have a burden for God’s glory in our land?
We must surely be a church burdened by the ugliness of sin in our generation and by the bondage and pain and brokenness that go with it. We long for reformation of our land. We pray that God would come down and do something in the hearts of our countrymen, that God would supernaturally renew the minds of our family and our community.
God will do more for us from this passage.
God Gives us the Method—Salvation
But the question comes then, how can we be saved? Indeed, this is Isaiah’s question in Isaiah 64:5:
“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 ESV)
How then can we be saved? (NIV).
And we need to be saved (NKJV).
Our answer is found in Isaiah 64:8:
“But now, O Lord, You are our Father…”
How can we expect an answer to our prayer of, God, come down?
(1) Because of the fatherhood of God
In that one statement we have our hope. We fix our eyes on the very nature of God as He reveals Himself to us. He is our Father. The fatherhood of God assures us that He will answer our prayers.
God as Father desires our salvation, our healing, and the transformation of our world more than any of us could. This is the testimony of Scripture:
…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them… (2 Corinthians 5:19).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16).
Benjamin Warfield of old Princeton taught that the emphasis of John 3:16 is on the love of God in comparison to the wickedness of the world. He “so loved the world.” God’s love is greater than our sin. His grace and mercy are greater than our little rebellion.
This tells me that when I am burdened for God’s glory in revival and reformation, I am wanting what God wants. Yes, and more, my prayers are bound to be answered. For God’s own nature, His fatherhood, assures me that He will come down.
Jesus assures us of this truth when He says,
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).
(2) Because of the work of the Son
The other answer is in Isaiah 64:9:
…do not remember our sins forever… (NIV).
He didn’t. God, before the foundation of the world, made a sacred pledge with Himself, a covenant of grace, that He would assume the sins of His people Himself. Thus, on Calvary’s cross, the central act of cosmic history was conducted. I quote Paul:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteous God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).
Our burdens are lifted at Calvary. And there is our hope; our answer; and the vision of our lives, our churches, and our families. The love of God in Jesus Christ gives us optimism in our day. God will be successful. We may begin the work of prayer, of preaching, and of witness in our day. We may not see the salvation en masse that we long to see, but God’s kingdom will be successful. He will bring them all in. This gives us unbounded assurance and joy over our work as a church. We are on the winning side.
Isaiah 64 draws us into a surprising beginning together. We begin to talk about mission by confessing a holy dissatisfaction and a burden for God to be glorified. We admit our longing for revival and reformation. And we recognize that the answer to our longing is found at the foot of the cross.
I once preached a message on the soul’s desire for God. After the service an elder came to me and said, “I go to church. I pray. I do everything a good Christian is supposed to do. But when you talk about desiring God, I’m lost. When you talk about panting for the presence of God, I have no idea what you are talking about. I know the catechism, but I don’t know about this passion for Christ or this love for Him. Can you tell me what’s missing?” What was missing was a true awareness of God’s glory, of his sinfulness, and of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ at Calvary’s cross. I am happy to say that he came to know that love and grace. To know Him is to love Him and desire Him. To desire Him is to long for Him, to be burdened for His crown rights as King of kings and Lord of lords in our generation.
This leads me to my last concern from this text and my last application to each of you. Isaiah was burdened for the glory of God because he had experienced God’s glory in his own life. If our church doesn’t know God’s grace, if our leaders don’t experience the glory of God in prayer, if our families don’t know His mercy and His peace through seeking Him in prayer and worship in their own homes, then we will have no burden.
I quote the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the matter of praying for God’s burden to see God’s glory:
“We say our prayers, but have we ever prayed? Do we know anything about this encounter, this meeting? Have we the assurance of sins forgiven? Are we free from ourselves and self-concern, that we may intercede? Have we a real burden for the glory of God, and the name of the Church? Have we this concern for those who are outside? And are we pleading with God for his own name’s sake, because of his own promises, to hear us and to answer us? Oh, my God make of us intercessors.”
My dear friends: don’t leave this place until you come to know your sin, your need, His holiness, but also to know His love in sending His own Son to die for your sinful condition. When you know Him in that way and you look out on a world of brokenness and sin and shame—across across the nation, across the city, and yes, across the living room of your own home—then your soul will be burdened to cry with Isaiah,
“Oh, that God would come down…”
Questions for Reflection
As you look at (or formulate) your commitment to missions, to personal evangelism, and to outreach to others in the name of Christ:
1. Is your commitment grounded in the Word of God? (For example: Does it incorporate Christ’s vision for His church in Matthew 28:18-20)
2. What vision from past leaders should continue to be a vital part of your church’s vision for this present generation?
3. What burden (holy dissatisfaction for God’s glory) does your vision seek to lift?
4. How does this chapter help you think about and pray for genuine revival? Can anything less than true revival meet our needs and lift our burden?
5. What condition of your heart must the gospel first penetrate, so that the grace of Christ might spread with revival to those around you (your home, church, etc.)?
Prayer:Oh that my heart would be burdened for Your glory in this generation; Oh that You would send Your Spirit to renew and revive me and your church to take the Gospel of the cross to this generation!”
 “Restore,” by Graham Kendrick & Chris Rolinson ; Copyright © 1981 Thankyou Music.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers/Crossway Books, 1987) 198.
- Let’s Take a Walk (michaelmilton.org)
- Isaiah’s church reform program (johnmeunier.wordpress.com)
- Sifting Through the Ruble: A Sermon Preached after the 9/11/01 Attack on America (Isaiah 61:1-4) (michaelmilton.org)
- Are You a Faithful Witness? – John 1.19-51 (michaelmilton.org)
- Out of Egypt: The Winter of Persecution for Coptic Christians (michaelmilton.org)
- United to Christ (thirdmill.org)