Date: April 19, 2010
Bible Text: Luke 3:4-6 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
This evening I’d like to preach on the subject of the way to revival. If you will, please turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 3 verses 4-6.
In 1904, all of Wales was aflame. The nation had drifted far from God, spiritual conditions were terrible, people were not attending church, and sin abounded everywhere. But suddenly, like an unexpected tornado, the Spirit of God swept over the land; and where churches once were empty, all of a sudden, they were so full that multitudes had to stand outside and couldn’t get in. Meetings lasted from 10:00 a.m. until midnight. There were three meetings every single day.
Evan Roberts was the man behind it. He was the preacher, but it was far from all preaching. It was much prayer, testimonies, singing, absolutely no advertisement or promotion by man. Infidels were converted, drunkards were saved, thieves and gamblers were saved, thousands were reclaimed, awful sins were confessed, and old debts were paid. The theater left the country because nobody was watching them. It was even said that the mules wouldn’t work anymore because they weren’t used to kindness! And in five weeks alone, 20,000 people were added and joined the churches.
Now, when we read about things like this—and by the way, this was the last widespread revival in English-speaking countries—when we read and hear about things like this, it is normal to say, "Wouldn’t we love to have that." I think many of us have thought that for a few years now. But what we have to remember is that there is a way to revival. Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." That’s the way of salvation.
There is also a way to revival, and it’s a costly way. John the Baptist put it this way in our text in Luke 3 starting with verse 4, "As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." This is the way of revival, and I’d like to look at this tonight.
The challenge that I see in this text is that we are to prepare the way of the Lord. In eastern lands, when an emperor or a king was going to come and visit, he would send men ahead to prepare. They would prepare in many ways. They would rebuild the roads, they would make things look good, they prepared with the governments and in every way. If you are observant, you have seen this. I’ve seen it in Chicago. When some "hot-shot" from another country is going to come, they start filling the potholes, and I’ve even seen them resurface the roads and paint the bridges. They are preparing the way for a king or a president of another country.
And Isaiah and John use the idea when illustrating what needs to be done when preparing for revival. They say, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Now we need to apply these things spiritually to see revival. I have a three-point message, and my prayer is not that you just look at the points, but that you would pray that God gets ahold of your heart tonight, that you might be able to see what must be done to get ready and prepare for revival.
My first point is very simple. We are asked to accomplish our mission as Christians. This is our job as Christians—all of us. "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." He is instructing us to be a way through which Christ can reveal Himself. Many of us, most Christians, I’m afraid, are obstructions instead of a way. We get in the way of the Lord rather than preparing a way and being a way.
Our goal should be to return to the simplicity of the early Christians. If you know your Bible, you know they were often called "the way." They were called "the way" six times in the book of Acts alone. And in Acts we see that the demon-possessed girl had to cry out concerning Paul and Silas, "These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew us the way of salvation." Wouldn’t it be tremendous if those at the mill said that about you? Or at the office? Or the car dealership? If they had to cry out, "This man, or these men, are the way that lead us unto salvation." Ask yourself, could this be said of you? Is your life a way of answered prayer? Or does your life get in the way of answered prayer?
Is your life what is written about in Hebrews, the way to the holiest? When people are with you, are they drawn closer to God? Are you good to pray with? In other words, can people pray easier with you, or are you a hindrance to their prayers? Are you a way to God? That’s the question. We are to be a way, a pathway, a highway. Not an obstruction. Is your life an abundant life, as the writer of Hebrews describes, a new and a living way?
The Apostle Paul wrote about this in Philippians 1:21, "For me to live is Christ...." Now a lot of people quote that flippantly, but can you say that? "For me to live is Christ. My life is Christ." Or in Colossians 3:4, "…Christ, who is our life…" Now that’s getting into it, isn’t it? "Christ is my life." That is what we should be able to say—that God would deliver us from only existing and show us how to be a living way to salvation. A living way, a light shining down the road to tell people how they can be saved.
Again, it might be asked, "Is your life a way of consistent holiness?" II Peter chapter 2 calls it the way of righteousness. Holiness is not a privilege for just a few. Young Christians, you may look at preachers, and you may look at deacons or Sunday School teachers and say, "They are the ones who are to be holy." Yes, they should be holy, but they are not always holy. It is for all of us. It is our privilege. In fact, this is one thing that bothers me about people who come and have a goal to be a deacon or something like that. Our goal ought to be to be holiness. It’s nothing to be a deacon. It’s something to be holy.
Now this should be the standard of every person in this auditorium who names the name of Jesus Christ. This is the will of God, even your sanctification. In I Thessalonians chapter 4, we’re not called to uncleanliness, but unto holiness. Peter says it this way, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy."
I don’t know a lot about Robert Murray McShane except that he died at 27 or 28 years old and he was used greatly for revival in his short life. Tremendous things were accomplished for God. When I read this, it really got ahold of me. It was said that he had one prayer from God for himself. Just one. That prayer was, "Make me a holy man." Think about that. Not a prideful man. Just "make me a holy man." And I think because he was a holy man, God could use him in a tremendous way.
I Corinthians chapter 13 tells us we could give our bodies to be burned, and if it is not in love, it is nothing. The whole chapter tells us how we need to have love. Dr. Andrew Murray said that every single morning before he went out to preach, or before he went out to serve God, he read I Corinthians chapter 13 and prayed, "God, give me love." That ought to be our prayer. "God, make me holy. God, give me a love in my heart." Again, the command is clear, prepare ye the way of the Lord, that is, become a way of prayer, a way of life, a way of holiness, and a way of love so that all men can see the salvation of God.
Secondly, let’s look at the need, or our orders. What are our orders? Look at Luke 3:5, it’s very clear. "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth." John’s job was to prepare the way of the Lord by filling the valleys, by leveling the mountains, by straightening the crooked ways, and by smoothing out the rough places. In the same way, if we are to prepare the way of the Lord, we should take what is in the Word of God and apply it to our lives spiritually. Of course, John wasn’t saying he was going to use a bulldozer and take the dirt from the mountains and put it in the valleys. Look at it in a spiritual way.
First, the valleys of defeat must be filled. "Every valley shall be filled…" What is a valley? It’s a depression, or a crevasse, a division in the earth’s surface. Spiritually, it would symbolize defeat in a Christian’s life. Depression. A valley is a depression. And how many people are defeated by depression even in this room today? You let that old melancholy spirit get you, you are moody. I’m sure some people get irritated at me. "You pick on us melancholy people." Moodiness is a sin! I’m going to just keep on picking on you. It’s a sin!
How much do you accomplish when you are down in the depths, feeling sorry for yourself? It’s a sin! How many people are you going to lead to God while you are feeling sorry for yourself? None. So if you are going to prepare the way of the Lord, you must fill in the valleys of fear, inferiority complex, or just plain feeling sorry for yourself. The valleys of bitterness. The valleys of jealousy or resentment. These things are all inward.
But then there are the outward divisions like exclusiveness. Staying within your own circle of friends. I’ve seen this destroy Christians for over 30 years. This kind of person claims to be a member of Fairhaven Independent Baptist Church, but he has no burden for the church as a whole. He only fellowships with a choice few. There is no effort to be a blessing to other people, but only to impress that choice few. You know what that is? Sin! "Well I just like some people better than others." How do you know if you never even fellowship with them? There’s nothing wrong with liking people and having friends, but there is something badly wrong when you just stick within yourself. I see that even with some of the staff. Some fall in love, and they don’t know anybody else is alive. You can chuckle about it all you want. You know what it is? It is sin! Exclusiveness.
These are depressions or divisions. And if they are found in your life, they are valleys that must be filled if the way is to be prepared. Just picture a road being built. That is what John is talking about here. Picture a road, and you have a valley that needs to be filled in. How do you fill it in? With the Holy Spirit, that’s how. Ephesians 5:18 says, "...be filled with the Spirit." And it is only when the Holy Spirit fills your life that these depressions and these problems can be filled.
But what is the next step? We’re building a road, and we fill the valley, what is the next thing we see ahead? A mountain. The mountains of disbelief must be leveled. "…every mountain and hill shall be brought low…" Mountains of disbelief in your life and mine are holding back the blessings of God. Now think with me. This hit me again this week. The Bible says if we have but the faith of a grain of mustard seed, we can move mountains. Let it sink in. Some might say, "Why don’t we just see these mountains moved?" The answer is simple, but sad. We don’t even have the faith of a grain of mustard seed. We can act like strong Christians; we can talk like strong Christians, but there are mountains of unbelief out there. "Oh, I can’t win souls because...." or "I can’t have the right marriage," or "I can’t raise my kids," or "I can’t...I can’t...I can’t." The mountains of unbelief.
If you are surrounded by mountains of unbelief, then you don’t even have the faith of a grain of mustard seed. And that is sad. We are going to answer to God for that. I really believe it. Just the smallest, minutest faith works miracles, but we don’t think we can win a soul to Jesus Christ after Christ died for him. Unbelief comes from pride. A lot of times people don’t see that. That’s why I preach on pride so much. It comes from pride. Until we are humbled, God can never exalt us. Turn back to I Peter 5:5-6. "…God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." You say, "I just happen to be proud." Then you just happen to be a dirty, rotten sinner.
The biggest fools on earth have the most pride. The person who has the least reason to be proud is the person who has the most pride. He’s a fool. Look at that in teenagers; look at that in the college. It works its way all the way through until people die. Most people do not live for God because of pride, and it starts right down in the high school or something like that, but God says He, "…resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." He goes on and says, "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time."
If we will not humble ourselves, God has to do it; it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God. I’ve seen this happen. It is one of the sad things of ministering for years. When a person is proud, oh yes, God has mercy. But the person who is proud will always be cut down if he doesn’t do it himself; and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
In Daniel 4 we read the story of a man called Nebuchadnezzar, who lifted himself up in pride before God. He thought he was responsible for his greatness and his fame. And in Daniel 4:30, "The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men…"
Now here is a guy bragging, "Didn’t I build this temple? Am I not a great man?" And while the words were in his mouth, God said, "You are going to be driven from men, "…and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws." That ought to teach us something. That is the problem with young people. They look at that and say, "That is just a story; it doesn’t happen." I’m telling you, young and old, it does happen. How can we say we believe the Bible and not believe when God says, "Pride comes before the fall." We all know it, don’t we? Pride comes before the fall! And if we don’t humble ourselves, He will. Every time He will.
After seven years of learning his lesson and being restored to sanity and dignity, Nebuchadnezzar was able to say in verse 37, "Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase." Why don’t we learn from the Book we say is inspired of God? Again I say, those who have the least reason to be proud are usually the proudest. And so, the valleys, when building the road, must be filled. And the hills and mountains must be leveled.
But then, the crooked ways of dishonesty must be straightened. The Bible says in Luke "the crooked shall be made straight." Our dishonesties have to be faced. Think about lying. Why don’t you even ask God right now, "Convict my heart if I am a liar." Dishonesties, Christian. You can make excuses all you want. You can say, "Everybody does it," but it is a crooked way and you are sending people to hell. Lying. Why don’t you face it? Hypocrisies and pretending. People pretend and are hypocritical about the type of Christian they are. In other words, we pretend that we pray when we don’t and that we are pure when we are not. Lies.
I think another serious sin is that of robbing God. I’m not talking about the tithe here, I’m talking about your money. If you know the Bible, it is all God’s, and we have no right to waste it. The people who give the least just waste God’s money. I’m not talking about God’s blessings, I’m talking about wasting. Wasting time. Your time is God’s. You are going to answer to God. Why is it that a person doesn’t use his time for God, and then even the things he says he is going to do for God never get done. How can we do it? Something needs to be done for God, but we put it off. "I’ve got my business." Well, don’t expect God to bless it. You can talk about God’s blessings all you want. You won’t see it until you put Him first. You are on that old treadmill and you’re wondering what’s going wrong. You are stealing God’s money; you are stealing God’s time. You can say, "Praise God, praise God." You are crooked. These are crooked ways of dishonesty, and they have got to be straightened.
You have to go to God and ask for forgiveness. We know I John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But listen, you’ve got to admit the sin before you go for forgiveness. You have to say, "I’m selfish with my time. I put everything that I want in front of God. I’m selfish. I’m wasteful with my money. I just flitter it away." Won’t you confess and forsake your lying and hypocrisy?
I counsel with people sometimes, and there are some people I don’t like to see come to my office. Some people I love to see come to my office. It’s a joy. We talk about the things of God and let them bounce back and forth and just enjoy ourselves. But with other people I have to start raising my voice. I don’t plan to, but I have to say, "Wait a minute!" They are so crusted over with pride, and they are so used to lying to themselves and lying to others. They cannot even understand that they could be a sinner. They are so used to pointing to their wives, or pointing to others, and gossiping and all the rest of that. Wake up! You are crooked. And the crooked ways must be made straight if we are going to see the way of revival built.
Then God says the rough places shall be made smooth. I was talking to John Kenderdine and we were discussing the roads in Zambia and the roads in Cambodia; they must be a lot alike. I think a lot of bombs exploded there or something like that, because if you go about 15 m.p.h. on the highway, you could hit a pothole big enough to lose a car in. Again, the idea is the roads are rough and could slow you down. Remember the early part of this year? Because of the bad weather, we had such bad potholes in Chicago and they were so numerous that they had to grind the whole road down.
You are trying to go down the road for God, and again, we’re picturing building a road for God for others to follow you. We are all bogged down with rough places. How about your marriage? Is it what you portray in public? Then smooth it out. I so often preach on raising kids, and something that bothers me so much is the inconsistency. I can’t see how a person can believe this Book, it is so clear, and then be inconsistent with their kids. I have to say either they don’t love the Book and believe in it, or they don’t love their kids. Because it is easy to raise your children. It’s hard in that you have to be consistent; but if you are consistent, you can raise your children and they can be obedient. It’s always, "Johnny. I said, Johnny! I’m not going to say it again, Johnny!" But you say it again. You either don’t know the Book and believe it, or you don’t love your kids.
We need to be honest with ourselves and stop pretending. What about our church life? Do you really pray for conviction? I know I ask this all the time because I want you to remember it. Did you pray for conviction before you came tonight? Did you take some time and pray, "Oh, God, convict my heart." Or are you so good you don’t need it? Did you pray for your pastor, and the deacons, and the workers of the church, and the people of responsibility, and the staff? Do you have ought against any member of the church? Then you are in sin, and you need to take care of the rough places.
What about friends? In II Thessalonians 3:14 we read, "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." I remember when my kids were growing up, especially when they were teenagers. In some way it would be heard or in some way it would be detected that my kids were not supposed to be with certain other kids on a regular basis. They weren’t supposed to have them as their good friends. I had parents come and say, "Are you telling your kids not to associate with my kids?" You know what my answer was? "Yes." "Why? My kids aren’t good enough?" "No." My answer was, "I’m not going to ruin my kids by trying to be friends with your kids." You say, "You won’t keep many church members that way." Tough. You do keep some kids. Now again, read this. "...if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." That doesn’t mean kids have to be perfect or better yet, the adults.
I don’t mean you are a snob because somebody is not a perfect Christian. But I’m saying—what are your friends like? Are your friends the kind to rebuke you when you sin, or do they encourage you? You are not a friend if your friend watches trash on television and you don’t rebuke him. You are not his friend. Are they the kind who love your church or criticize it? We could go on.
Turn to James 4:4. What about roughness concerning the world? James warns us in chapter 4 verse 4, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." Again, we should not act "holier than thou" to the guys at work. But if you can sit around and talk about the latest video with them, you are going to help send them to hell. You are not preparing the way of Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. You are helping to pave the way to hell. You say you disagree. Try to prove that disagreement. What about your friends? Are you accepted as just one of the guys? Don’t get me wrong. I went to the public high school, and I played sports and was active. I don’t think you run around with your nose up in the air.
When I was in the service, I tried to be decent. But for some strange reason, I was not accepted. I wonder why? I wonder if it was because I wouldn’t laugh at their dirty stories or join in with them? I wonder if it was because they thought I was weird because I went to church all the time. When I first got out of boot camp, they tried to give me a blanket party. Why? I went to church when the doors were open, and they hated me. They didn’t know me, but they despised me.
I say again, we should do everything we can to be kind to the world, to reach the world. But when you become like them, you are taking them by the hand and leading them to the devil. II Corinthians 6:14-15 says, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" How can you feel comfortable? How can you sit around and talk about the latest movies? I’ll tell you how, your heart is full of sin. It’s the only way. Verse 17, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." We are to be separate. Kind, but separate. Loving, but separate. I say again, if they accept you and you enjoy them, you are in rotten sin.
We must also check our work day. Ask yourself if you are totally honest. I read about a spiritual awakening in South Africa quite a few years ago. The police and the authorities were just astounded by the repentance and the restoration by not only converts, but backsliders. There was an article in the Daily Dispatch of East London in South Africa that listed some of the things that were returned. I assume they were shoplifted or stolen. I’ll just give you the list. I found it somewhat interesting. "80 sheets, 24 blankets, 24 jackets, 34 trousers, 11 overcoats, 16 women’s coats, 25 dresses, 27 skirts, 50 shirts, 22 bedspreads, 64 hats, 23 towels, one table and four chairs, 50 pillow cases, 15 scissors, 9 wallets, 4 cameras, 4 wrist watches, 3 revolvers with ammunition, 30 tumblers, an assortment of jewelry, tools, cookery, cutlery, boots, shoes, stoves, frying pans, lanterns, and razors." They meant business to the place where in an embarrassing way, they brought that stuff back to its rightful owners.
During a revival, a religious awakening, in the city of Belfast under the ministry of Pastor Nicholson, it is said that workers brought back (you steel mill workers, listen to this) enough material and tools to build a machine shop and stock it. Now it is sad on one hand, but exciting on the other. It is sad that people would steal these things, but it is exciting that they got right with God. Restoration, Christian, is part of being right with God.
What we’ve listed are heavy demands. That is why most Christians ignore sermons like this or just go through the motions. That is why we don’t prepare the way of the Lord, and of course, we will never see revival until we do. The valleys filled, the mountains down, the crooked ways made straight, and then the rough places made smooth.
Last of all, let’s look at the results back in Luke 3:6, "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Notice that the salvation of God is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. That is seen throughout the Bible. Remember when Simeon saw the baby Jesus and he picked Him up and held Him in his arms? In Luke 2:29-30 he said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Revival is not a mere emotion; it’s much more than emotion. It’s not just an excitement. Revival is ultimately Christ Himself being seen, heard, and felt through us. Revival is Christ being seen through you. That’s why we have to clean ourselves up. It’s the only way revival can come. It’s the only way people can be saved. If we are living in sin, how in the world can He do it? Christ seen in us. That is awesome, isn’t it? He can only live through us when the conditions are met, when the way is prepared. "…all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
Let’s just quickly see what this means. First, I see an unlimited blessing. All flesh. Praise God, "all flesh" is not just within these four walls. If we would see real revival, it would go out these doors, into the streets and the lanes, into the cities like Chicago. It would spread. Having a college is a blessing. It would spread to Belarus, and to Zambia. It would spread to Wales. Not just within these four walls. It would spread to U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel. It would spread to the car dealerships. It would spread through the insurance salesmen. All flesh. "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
Secondly, we see an unmistakable blessing. All flesh shall see. There are always, as the Bible says, signs following when God has His way in churches and individuals. When God starts to work in men and women, they are either drawn to Christ, or they are antagonized. There is no neutral ground. That is why in my older age I have learned not to worry about people who get mad and leave and gossip. It has to be. I’ve learned not to worry if the community talks and hates us. I mean this from the bottom of my heart—we should worry when sinners are comfortable in our midst and when the world accepts us.
Then third, there is an unspeakable blessing. Again, all flesh shall see the salvation of God. This, as we have seen, is the Lord Jesus Himself, God’s unspeakable gift, glorified and magnified among men.
So here is the challenge: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. That is God’s challenge to you and me. "Prepare ye the way of the Lord...and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Accept this challenge, do what we are told, and you will see God’s power manifested in your life. Why would we want to be a Christian in this old world and not see God’s power manifested in our lives? Why would we ever say we are called to full-time Christian service and not want to see God’s power manifested in our lives? From the youngest Christian in here to the oldest, we should want God’s power manifested in our lives.
About two months ago, our book of the month was By My Spirit. It’s the story of a great revival that swept Korea and China in 1906 and 1907. The preface explains how Goforth just started talking, and they wrote down what he said. He was telling of tremendous blessings. But the key to the book is that he read Charles Finney, where Finney said that Christians are wrong when they think they can just ask God for revival. You can’t just ask God for revival, you have to look for sin in your life and get rid of it before you can expect revival to be sent. That’s the key to the book.
Goforth was sincere. He wanted to see revival. It takes years—not days, not weeks, not months. He was sincere. He got to the place, after wrestling with God, where he said, "If Finney is right, I’m going to find out what these laws are, and I’m going to obey Him no matter what the cost." So he went to God and said, "Now what is keeping me from revival?" God laid upon his heart a missionary that he had ought against—the one thing that he felt he had a right to have a problem with. And when God put that on his heart, his first response was, "I’m not wrong; he’s wrong." But God bound him to that. And finally he came to the place where he said, "I have no right to have ought against any man." He got it right, and when he did, revival broke loose; and every place he went, the hand of the Lord was seen.
I guess the moral to that story is, what have you broken? What is standing between you and revival? It may be you are not saved, or maybe you are a very carnal, backslidden Christian and you have to start from scratch. I beg of you, start from scratch. I believe there are many people here praying, "God, I want revival. I want to see the blessing. And I want to prepare the way." Then you ought to pray tonight, "Lord, show me what law it is in my life." I don’t agree with everything Finney said, but I certainly agree with this, we have no right to just ask for revival, we have to prepare the way. If God lays upon your heart some sin that you must get rid of, do it tonight.