“The greatest threat we face as a nation is a unawareness of our own condition. So many in our nation fail to realize that we really are at war.”
What a Pentagon official told me could be said about 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 technology in worship or the latest controversial book or the hippest new preacher than we are in the reality that the devil, the flesh, and the world conspire against our souls. If we ever doubted that we are in a spiritual battle, the past few days of outright assault on religious liberty should have awakened us. And if that is not enough, just look at the worldliness of our people.
There needs to be prayer for revitalization in the West; support for revival in the Rest. It is good in inaugurating a missions conference to begin, then, with a holy dissatisfaction.
And so we begin with Isaiah 64.1-12. Isaiah has seen the throne room of God. He has seen God’s glory. He has not only a sacred encounter (in Isaiah 6) but a divine calling. He can never be the same. In a way, he can never be satisfied with pious platitudes or shallow solutions or earthly answers. He wants God to come down. It is God’s message to His Church today.
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
One you experience revival you will never forget it.
I remember having gone to my first trip to Albania to preach there. It was right after the wall fell. There was revival in the air. I was coming back home 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,
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. In 1961 then actor and GE spokesman, Ronald Reagan, said that if government intrusion went unopposed we could find ourselves, in our sunset years, telling our children what American used to be like when men were free. We are already there in telling our children what it was like when Biblical Christianity was a primary presence in our nation. 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.
Isaiah 64.1-12 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.
We Need 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, I would say that if it is to be biblical, any outline for a church’s vision 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. 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.
We Need for God to Come Down
I am saying that Isaiah is telling us three responses to this necessary dissatisfaction: There must be a prayer for revival, a position of repentance, and a Plea for Remembrance. Let me explain.
1. When God Comes Down There is Prayer for Revival (vv. 1-4)
Isaiah is dissatisfied. Isaiah is burdened, and the relief that he seeks is genuine revival. The entire passage is a prayer for revival. Especially from verse 1 through 4
Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence. When You did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard of perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, who acts for those who wait for Him.
Oh the passion in this passage! The prophet’s holy dissatisfaction moves him to prayer: his prayer focuses on God supernaturally coming down to the earth which is dire need of His presence and power. Not that Isaiah expects that when God comes down in revival there is a catastrophic reaction on earth, mountains burning, forests aflame, the rivers boiling over. Imagine the Japanese earthquake, the California forest fires and the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami all at once! And the effect? This unmistakable presence of God creates terror in the hearts of those who oppose God and His name is magnified in the earth. Revival happens and this is what it looks like. It is outside of our control. It is an act of God. It is clearly all about God’s timing, not ours, for Isaiah says that God acts for those who “wait.” But the waiting yields climactic revelations. It turns the world upside down. It converts the worst offender and entire nations are impacted.
Beloved our only hope is for God to come down in revival. And what this passage teaches us is that such transformative power, the power that brought Jesus to earth, that turned the cross from an instrument of shame into a symbol of salvation, and made the tomb a sign of hope, is the power that saves us from ourselves. Pray, then, for this in our lives, our families, our nation, and our world. “O God rend the heavens and come down!”
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.
Will you continue as you are? Or after encountering God in this passage will you pray? Will have such a holy dissatisfaction that our predicament becomes prayer for God to come down? There is no other answer to the redemptive goals of Christ in the Church than for God to carry them out through His Holy Spirit coming upon us. There is no other solution for our national and global problems other than a prayer for God to come down and cause us to tremble before His presence.
When God comes down you can be sure there is a prayer that is calling Him. But we see a second result of Isaiah’s holy dissatisfaction that leads to this prayer:
2. When God Comes Down There is a Position of Repentance (5-7)
There is a bad idea out there about passivity in Christianity. If we walk an aisle; if we say a prayer; if we simply adopt an attitude of prayer, then that is “enough.” Yet Isaiah teaches us that there must be a militant rebellion against sin in self. There must be an observable response in the life o the believer to God. Isaiah says,
“You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in their ways.”
Yet this new way of working what is pleasing to God begins with a wholehearted hatred of our sin and a confession of our condition:
Behold You were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities , like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name; who rouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”
Any hope for our lives, for our nation, for our world—and there is great hope because of Jesus Christ our Lord and His grace—begins with repentance. That is, literally, making a turn from everything else to God. Isaiah is so serious about this repentance that he names the sins. Often Paul in the New Testament will name sins. So must we. But to examine our sinful life before a holy God causes God to come down and change us and make us new people.
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 that Sandy became as aware of his sins as others were! And as his heart was changed, his speech and behavior were changed. He began to take hold of God. He began to work righteousness. His militant response to sin, of repenting and transferring his trust wholly to Jesus Christ caused God the Holy Spirit to come down into his life. He was a new man.
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 we are 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 so that we can walk in righteousness before God and Man.
God will do more for us from this
3. When God Comes Down there is a Plea for God to Remember (8-11)
But the question comes then, how can we be saved? Indeed, this is Isaiah’s question in Isaiah 64:5:
“Shall we be saved?” (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…”
When we pray, repent, we also call on God to remember His covenant. This is what Mary did in her Magnificat when she said that in the coming of Jesus God had remembered His covenant. She is one of the best covenant theologians in the Bible!
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).
Look also at Isaiah 64:9:
“…do not remember our sins forever…”
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).
Our burdens are lifted at Calvary. And therein 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. Our mission in the world, for God, can only be met by God. Thus, there is a prayer for revival, a position of repentance, and a plea for God to remember His covenant in Jesus Christ. Then we shall be saved. Then the vision of Isaiah, that the earth would be so affected that nations would be converted, will come to be. We are at war. Christ is our victory. There is none other. Our holy hope is 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.
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 the ocean, 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…”
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.
- A Divine Recipe for a Transformative Thanksgiving: An Exposition of Psalm 100 (michaelmilton.org)
- You Are the Living Legacy of Those who have Gone Before: Another Motivation to Go the Distance in Ministry (michaelmilton.org)
- The Priority of Prayer: 2 Kings 4.8-37 (michaelmilton.org)
- Terry Johnson’s Calendar(s) of Hymns and Psalms for Public Worship (Ligon Duncan) (reformation21.org)
- Repentance and Confession (calvinpca1.org)
- Is Your Imagination Of God Starved? – Daily Devotion By Oswald Chambers (gospelbondservant.com)
- The Lord is Our Reward! (psalmsofpraisewomensministries.wordpress.com)