Church Revival/ Corporate Revival
(Main reference Rev 2:8-11)
Do you know the definition of a good sermon? It should have a good beginning, it should have a good ending, and they should be as close as possible.
So let us see how good my sermon is going to be today.
We are meditating on the topic of Church or Corporate revival this month. Dictionary definitions of Revival includes “an improvement in the condition, strength, or fortunes of someone or something” or “an instance of something becoming popular, active, or important again”. These definitions are the modern and very moderate ones. Extreme interpretations of revival are centered around bringing back something that is dead, or about to die. So the question probably that we need to address is, does our church need revival because it is dying? Dead? Or we just want to improve the condition, make it more active and important again. I will leave that question with you, because your individual views will differ on this and I do not wish to argue about this.
There was a group of churches that got together and had a revival meeting. After the revival meeting the pastors got together and were evaluating the results of the meeting. The Methodist Pastor was very happy and said we benefited from the meeting, and have gained four new families in the church. The Baptist pastor was even happier and declared that his church gained six new families as part of the revival meeting. It was the turn of the Presbyterian pastor; he thought for a moment and said. “Actually, we are also happy that the revival meeting took place. We were able to get rid of ten trouble making families from our congregation”.
Sometimes revival could be misunderstood in terms of numbers. Let us not fall into that trap. Revival could of course mean increase in church goers or church membership, but is that what revival is about? Let us look into the word to find out what God has to tell us today. In the passage that is read out to us, and actually in the messages to the seven churches that Jesus talks to John about in chapter 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation, we see a pattern where Jesus first commends them, then comforts them, then points out their failures and lastly rewards them for their faithfulness. Let me repeat the sequence again, commend, comfort, point out failures and reward. Let me pause right here for a moment and request that we do an introspection right there, and see how we look at our church affairs, how we treat our fellow church members. What comes to us first? Do we always think of things/ acts/ talents that we can commend people for , or is the first thing that comes to our mind is their failures. In the corporate world, we always teach to give positive feedback first before any criticism is given. And we can see that is an ancient wisdom demonstrated by Jesus himself. But how many of us, who claim to be Christ’s followers, who call ourselves Christians, really follow that? Paul exhorts us in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” Can we make a beginning here? When it comes to church matters and church members, can we go by this first before starting to look at their shortcomings and failures?
Let us look at the second aspect of this pattern. Comfort. While all seven messages have this highlighted, the message to the church of Smyrna nails it home, hits a sixer if you prefer a cricketing term, or a home run, if you prefer an American term. In the passage before us, Jesus acknowledges that he is aware of our tribulations (v9). Isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus knows what we are going through as a church? He knows our weaknesses, he knows our failures, he knows our trials and tribulations. And then he forewarns the church about what is to come. He forewarns us that there might be more trials (v10). We must be prepared for a succession of troubles to come. To illustrate the severity of trials and troubles that are yet to come, Jesus uses the analogy of going from impoverishment to imprisonment. However Jesus does not stop at forewarning them about the troubles. He fore-arms them. “Fear None of these things” he says in v10. Then he gives them the comfort that it is only some of them who will suffer more, and that the suffering will be for a limited period, not perpetual. It is sort of select few who were best able to bear it that would go through the additional trials. That is why James 1:2 tells us to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds”. It is a privilege to be chosen for going through trials because trials produce perseverance. One is not put through trails to destroy, but to try them, so that their patience, their faith and their courage etc might be proved and improved for His glory and honour. It is also interesting to note that Jesus starts the message to the church of Smyrna (V8) by reaffirming his own identity and authority. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the end and he is the one who died and rose again, and is alive again. This reaffirmation is required in the context of what is to come after. This is the source of our comfort. It is not coming from some weak source, the comfort is coming to us from the all-powerful and omniscient God, who is alive.
The third aspect of the pattern we see is pointing out the fault of the churches. I will skip this portion, because I know all of us are good in that. We don’t need a sermon to know what is wrong with our churches. We excel in finding what is wrong.
Let us however dwell on the reward part of the pattern. What reward does Jesus offer if the churches revive? “Be faithful until death and I will give you a crown of life” says he in v10. Note the surety of the reward. “I will give”, he says. No one else can snatch it away from his hands. He will give us a crown as the reward. Even more exciting is the glorious promise that follows in v11. “ He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” . The second death is more painful than the first one, because it is an eternal death, eternal damnation. Those who can overcome the issues and sins of today and be revived according to the guidelines given by Jesus will never have to experience the second death, but will have eternal life. Life after the first death of the body. Is that not a good enough reason for revival?
So the first pattern we see in Jesus’ letters to the seven churches is the sequence of the message, commend, comfort, point out failures and offer reward. The second pattern that we see is on the way to revive, or the route to revival that is offered by Jesus. This is what I call as the 3R principle of revival. They are repent, return and recover. You would see this all through the messages of Jesus. Actually Jesus was summarizing God’s message to His people, a message he was trying to make the people understand over many centuries before Jesus. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God tells Israelites “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” He is calling people to repent. This call is repeated in many places. Similar is the call to return to the Lord. In Zechariah 1:3, The Lord says “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.” Once the people repent and return to the Lord, then they can recover their lost paradise, they can recover the lost relationship, they can recover their righteousness. But this recovery is possible only through Jesus Christ. No good living, no suffering, no amount of religious rituals will help us recover our relationship with God. Only Jesus, through his death on the cross can enable us to recover that. Recovering the lost relationship with God is also referred to as reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NKJV) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Here reconciliation is spoken about as an unquestionable privilege and an indispensable duty of Christians.
So here is the question for us this morning. Where are we in our relationship with Jesus? Do we really believe in reviving ourselves and our church based on the teachings of the one who was made sin for our sins? As a church, a body whose foundation was laid on the person of Jesus Christ who is the first and the last, do we act as ambassadors of our founder?
Paul calls it the Ministry of Reconciliation. Isn’t that what church is about? Helping sinners to reconcile to God through our life, ministry, word, and deed? Are we as a church in the ministry of reconciliation? Are we helping sinners to reconcile to God and thus recover the lost paradise? Are we running the Ministry of reconciliation? I will leave us with that question this morning.