Summary: I preached this sermon the Sunday prior to our annual fall revival meetings. The steps Ezra took the people through in this passage were foundational to the revival they experienced in Nehemiah 8 and 9.
1. Fasting is required for revival (8:21-23)
2. Faith is required for revival (8:24-30)
3. Follow-through is required for revival (8:31)
In just a minute, we’re going to read Nehemiah 9:5-6. But that’s not our text tonight. That is the result of our text tonight. Our text is actually going to be a few pages before that in Ezra 8:21-31.
The verses we just read are the beginning of a chapter-long song of praise and confession before the Lord. It came as the result of the experience of true revival in Israel. In Nehemiah 8, Ezra had led the people through a series of revival meetings. Those meetings were incredible. They were incredible because they were real. They weren’t artificially ginned up fits of emotional frenzy. There is no precedent for anything like that being from God in the Bible. Contrary to what most people think, that’s not revival. Revival is renewal. It only comes from the solid exposition of the Word of God and always results in repentance and renewal of relationship with God. It is God-started, God-centered and God-sustained. It comes from the preaching of God’s Word, continues with the study of God’s Word, and carries on with the proclamation of God’s Word to everyone we meet. Let me describe to you one of Ezra’s revival meetings. Look back a couple of pages to Nehemiah 8:1-8:
Where was the music? Where were the quartets and the groups and the special guest singers? If they didn’t have any good singing, how did Ezra work up their emotions? He read to them. As a matter of fact, he read a lot to them. He opened up Genesis 1:1 and read at least all the way through Deuteronomy 34:12. He probably read more than that. And you think my preaching is long and boring. But what was the people’s reaction? Look back at verse 6.
All that emotion just from reading the Book. But he didn’t just stop at reading the Book. Verse 8 says that they read it, interpreted it, explained it, and told them how it applied to their lives—they gave the sense of it. That was their revival meetings. Earlier we saw the result of those meetings. But what got them ready for it? Those people weren’t really that much different than we are. And I can’t imagine just standing up here and reading the Pentateuch to ya’ll. And if I did, I can’t imagine you staying awake, much less hollering Amen and raising your hands. What got them to that place? That place where they were that eager to hear the Word of God? That place where they were that ready for revival? That place where they weren’t looking to be entertained, but were looking for the manifest presence of God in His holy Word? To find that out, we have to go back to Ezra 8. As I said Wednesday night, Ezra and Nehemiah were probably originally one book. And they were more than likely written by Ezra. So, in reality, the revival meetings of Nehemiah 8 and the resulting revival in Nehemiah 9 are really the result of the initial preparation that was made in Ezra 8. Remember where we are in history. Ezra was leading the second group of Jews who were returning to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. Before heading out on the four-month long journey to Jerusalem, he gathered the exiles at the river of Ahava for a time of preparation for what God had in store for them. There by that river, Ezra laid the foundation for the wonderful revival that was to come. I want you to picture what that revival looked like. Picture the meetings where everyone was so eager to hear God’s Word that they stood in anticipation. Picture the spontaneous and heart-felt responses to the teaching. Picture the true, God-honoring, Christ-centered revival that broke out. Now picture that for us, here. That’s what I want for us here. I want us to experience true revival here at Brushfork Baptist Church. Not some sort of emotional man-centered ecstatic event. But a true, God given, Holy Spirit-driven, sin-confessing, life-changing, world-altering revival. But in order for that to happen, we have to prepare ourselves the way Ezra prepared the people there on the banks of the Ahava river. We need to prepare ourselves by looking at three requirements for true revival. First, fasting is required for revival. Look with me at Ezra 8:21-23:
Fasting is required for revival. Oh no—here we go again, talking about fasting. Yes and no. As most of you know, two Sunday nights ago, I called the church to a solemn assembly of fasting and prayer before the Lord. This is our final week. If you choose to participate this week, I would ask that your prayers be focused on asking the Lord for true revival in our church. Scripture is clear that God honors the humble prayers of His people. That’s where Ezra was. As soon as he had gathered up all the people who were going with him to Jerusalem, what was the first thing he did with them? He proclaimed a fast. How much sense does that make? Here they were getting ready to take about a 1000 mile journey and he called them to go without food. You’d think he’d have them load up on good carbs and protein so they’d have plenty of energy for the journey. But those things weren’t on his mind. What was on his mind was humility. Notice in verse 21, he tells the reasons for proclaiming a fast. “That we might afflict ourselves.” “Afflict” is what the word literally means. But it carries the meaning of intentionally bringing affliction for the sole purpose of causing humility. Isn’t that what fasting does? It makes you realize how utterly not in control you really are. How totally dependant you are on the provisions of God. Ezra could see how utterly helpless they really were compared to the hazards of the journey. Can you imagine taking a group of men, women and little children on a 1000 mile walk? And, as we’ll see later on, they were loaded down with gold and silver. Do you think that might attract a few bandits along the way? They weren’t an army. They didn’t even ask for protection by the king’s army. They were on their own. They had a very real understanding of their position. Vulnerable. Helpless. Completely and totally dependent on God. Right down to their most basic need—food. Ezra called them to a place of complete and total dependence on God. The Psalmist asked the question, “What is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou visitest him?” Have you reached the place where you are completely and totally dependent on God? That’s what He requires for us to be revived. Ezra and the people completely humbled themselves before God. And He answered their prayer. He answered their immediate prayer for safe passage, and He ultimately gave them revival. Fasting is required for revival. So is faith. The second requirement for true revival is faith. Look at verses 24-30: