Lent began with Ash Wednesday last week. Lent is a forty day period where Christians around the world “fast” from things that they typically enjoy. It is a reminder of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness when the devil tempted him. There are many fascinating things about the wilderness story. First, the fact that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil may seem perplexing at first glance.
Jesus was left alone with the devil for forty days, minus friends and food. Twice Matthew says that the devil “took” him–once to the pinnacle of the temple and once to a very high mountain. It’s noteworthy that this word in the original language means to take with aggression. It doesn’t necessarily mean by coercion, but it definitely means with aggression. It’s an important choice of words for Matthew. The devil takes. It’s what he does. He’s aggressive. It’s who he is.
At the end of the forty days, Matthew said Jesus was hungry (Matthew 4:2). Then an amazing thing happened: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:11 ESV). The fact that the Savior needed angels to minister to him shows how exhausting it is when the devil has his way with people. Jesus needed revival at the end of forty days. He was exhausted and had just overcome temptation by the devil. God sent his angels to minister to Jesus, and this is important for us who feel weak and tired. It’s okay to cry out in desperation to God when we’re weary.
Just as importantly, we see this pattern laid out in Matthew’s account: the Spirit leads, while the devil takes, and the angels minister. These distinctions are not accidental. Matthew is very careful in how he tells this story. If Christ needed revival, perhaps it’s quite alright if we do too!
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The Israelites cried out to God and he heard their groaning. Therefore, God led them out of Egypt and freed them from horrific slavery and oppression. For forty long years they wandered in the wilderness. God promised that they would soon enter into the fertile region of Canaan, a land rich with milk and honey.
But lest the people think that the land was a reward for their good behavior, God reminded them that it was because of the wickedness of the other people that God was driving them out. “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me into possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 9:4 ESV).
This is a strong reminder that we should be careful not to tout our righteousness and say that God is blessing us because of our faithfulness. Rather, God blesses because of His righteousness. He protects the vulnerable and drives out the wicked. This certainly is good news for people who are facing troubles in their lives. God will lift people out of the mire of poverty and oppression because he is righteous.
Imagine being the victim of some senseless crime where the criminal injures you. You are constantly oppressed and there is no relief in sight. Then imagine someone who is supposed to protect you (say a parent or friend) just keep walking by without offering to help. Sadly, a lot of people have this view of God. They think he is off in the distance watching people suffer without offering any help.
But the Bible paints a very different picture. Remember, God is a God of revival. He rescues the oppressed, clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and cares for the orphan and widow. Israel was under the yoke of brutal slavery in Egypt and they cried out to God. God heard their cries and he acted to rescue.
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant. . . ” (Exodus 2:23-24 ESV).
When God’s people cry out to him, he is not idle. God doesn’t ignore the cries of his people. He responds and rescues. The Israelites’ cry was the beginning of the Exodus story.
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God is a God of revival. Joseph’s brothers hated him. They let jealousy take root and became very corrupt-to the point of throwing him in a well, selling him into slavery, and telling their father Jacob that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. This lie was perpetuated for decades.
Meanwhile, Joseph rose to power in Egypt. He was made second in command to the Pharaoh himself. Joseph interpreted a dream where there would be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. During the 7 years, storehouses were build and grain was piled up throughout Egypt. When the famine was at its worst, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food for their starving family. They didn’t know that the man they were speaking to was Joseph. Later Joseph revealed himself to them and they all wept bitterly.
Joseph forgave his brothers and they brought Jacob and all his siblings into Egypt to live. When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that Joseph would retaliate and kill them. So they lied one more time to say that Jacob left this command: “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you (Genesis 50:17 ESV). Joseph’s response reflects his integrity: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:19-21).
Joseph spoke kindly to them. This story is powerful on so many levels. Joseph’s brothers repented. They not only begged for forgiveness, but they laid themselves down at Joseph’s feet and said, “Behold, we are your servants” (Genesis 50:18). God redeems horrific patterns of deception and sin when there is repentance. The story of Joseph is our story. Even when we sin, God is working His purpose. When we repent, revival can take place. Joseph’s family became well established in Egypt. They were fruitful and multiplied. Through God’s mercy they were spared.
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The name Jacob means “follow” and is also the root word for “heel.” Jacob was a heel grabber in the Genesis account. Even from birth, he grabbed his twin brother Esau’s heel. Later on, Jacob tricked his brother into selling his birthright. When their father Isaac was dying, Jacob tricked his father into blessing him instead of Esau. Jacob rightfully earned his name of follower. Jacob also over took his father-in-law, who deceived Jacob, by taking off with all of his kids, his wives, and scores of flocks.
When he fled, Jacob found out that Esau wanted to meet him. Esau sent 400 men to meet Jacob, and Jacob was terrified. He began splitting his family up in case there was an attack so that at least some would be spared. At one point Jacob was alone. It was then that a man began to wrestle with him throughout the night. Jacob was holding his own then the man dislocated Jacob’s hip.
When morning came, they were still wrestling and the man asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob answered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26 ESV). Then the man asked what Jacob’s name is. “Follower.” Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be follower (Jacob) but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Israel means “he strives with God.” To strive means to go to great efforts to achieve something. It was at this point Jacob realized he was wrestling with God himself.
God allowed Jacob to overtake him in that fight. From the time Jacob was born, he was determined to receive blessings. Throughout his life he would deceive, labor, even beg in order to receive a blessing. It’s fitting that God changed his name to Israel. When Esau met Jacob, he blessed him. He was not coming to kill him; he was coming to bless him! This story is clear evidence that God is a God of revival!
God is a God of revival. He takes the broken and renews and restores it. We often don’t think about the struggles and sacrifices Abraham faced throughout his life, but he endured a lot to become the father of the Israelites. He left his homeland and wandered for many years. He entered Egypt because of a severe famine. He and Lot parted ways. He witnessed the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah. And he impregnated Hagar at the urging of his wife Sarah.
Finally Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own, born in their very old age. He was, by all measures, a miracle child–a gift from God. They named him Isaac, which means laughter. God promised Abraham that through Isaac a blessed nation would rise. Then the unthinkable happened. God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Was this a mistake? Was God just messing with Abraham? It’s tough to imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind.
When Abram and Isaac reached the spot, Isaac asked where the lamb was for the burn offering. Abraham responded, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). Abraham trusted God because he had a lifetime of reasons to trust. Abraham didn’t know what God would do, but he knew God would do it.
In the end, God spared Isaac and provided a ram for the sacrifice, because God is a God of revival.
God is a God of revival. When the world became so corrupt that the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, He sent a great flood. The flood was catastrophic, wiping out both mankind and all the animals. Death and destruction were the result of an incredible amount of wickedness. The world-wide corruption “grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6 ESV).
It’s difficult to fathom what it would have been like to witness the destruction of the entire world. To be the sole survivors would have come with a lot of trauma. There is a phenomenon known as survivor’s guilt, where lone survivors feel guilty for having been spared when everyone else died. We can’t say for certainty that this is what happened, but the Bible tells us that Noah got extremely intoxicated after the ark landed on dry ground.
Though God wiped out mankind, he also established a covenant with Noah. God said, “Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you , your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:17-18). While this story is incredibly tragic, God established revival once again. He brought life and joy by means of promise. Noah was told to be fruitful and multiply. His family lived a long and prosperous life. Revival happened quickly after the destruction.