Divine Visitations – Man’s Great Hope
By Richard Owen Roberts
For weeks, in thoughtful preparation for these days, I was investigating the term “visit” or “visitation” in the Scripture. I am somewhat surprised and a bit grieved to discover that the more frequent use of those terms in Scripture had to do with judgment and condemnation. Far fewer passages deal with divine visitations that were of the positive revival sort. My intention is to speak on a positive divine visitation, using that incredible song that Zacharias the priest wrote, as recorded in Luke chapter 1.
“And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant – as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
“‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’” (vv. 67-79).
This beautiful song that Zacharias composed and in some fashion sang or chanted, has two stanzas. There are only two long sentences in this passage, beginning at verse 68 and running through verse 79. In the first sentence Zacharias is delighting in giving praise to God who visits men in the form of the “horn of salvation.” The second stanza, which begins at verse 76, gives Zacharias the joy and the privilege of realizing and expressing gratitude for the mission that his own child was called to. This mission focuses upon the visitation which is stated in these beautiful words: “the Sunrise from on high shall visit us.”
The “Horn of Salvation” Stanza
In verse 68 Zacharias speaks these words: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” Let us remind ourselves of when this song appeared. This is at the circumcision of John the Baptist – eight days following his birth. Here in this prophecy it is clearly stated that the visit has already begun. There had been no birth of Christ; no preaching and teaching; no cross; no tomb and no resurrection. But there had been the conception in the womb of the virgin, and thus this salvation is treated as accomplished because God has already set in motion those beautiful matters that end in salvation for the nations.
I heard many years ago someone explaining why our Lord often in dealing with an individual gave him or her another name. This person made the statement, “Christ is not viewing them as they are, but as they are going to be under His power and His influence.” Zacharias is doing a similar thing. Knowing that indeed the virgin had conceived, he is able to proclaim the salvation as if it were already fully and wonderfully accomplished.
In verse 69 we read that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant.” In my mind, the best way I can envision this is in terms of a rhinoceros’s horn. There are many horned beasts, but not many which have a single horn. In this passage the horn is obviously in the singular. Thinking now of our Lord Jesus Christ as the horn of salvation – there is nothing that can stand against this horn. He can root out every evil. He is the One who is on the attack. He is the One who is dealing with our arch enemy. He is the One who has assured victory. He is the One who cannot be defeated under any circumstance. God has raised up for us the horn of salvation!
In the early days of my ministry, I was dealing with a far more victorious church than I am today. Has our Savior lost His power? Has the horn of salvation been broken? Has the enemy become stronger? No! God raised up a horn of salvation and that horn is as sharp and the One behind the horn is as able as ever in the history of mankind to bring about the very salvation that He has promised. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!
So, the Messiah has been conceived. The redemption is underway. And when Zacharias refers here to redemption, he is referring to the purchase that has been made. We have been liberated. Satan no longer has us under his control. We’re not on his leash. He is not giving the orders. He is not in command.
Notice in this passage that the word “remember” occurs. Verse 72 says, “to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant.” There are seasons when it almost seems as if the Lord has forgotten His commitments. But even if there were 400 years of silence that preceded this son of Zacharias, the Lord has not forgotten. Having been led to a burden of revival as a boy of twelve, I have to remind myself from time to time that He might not choose to visit again in my lifetime. But does that give me reason for loosening up? Does that give me grounds for relaxing and forgetting my call? I live in hope that He will visit even this week. But if it is yet a while before He comes among us, as the horn of salvation and as the Sunrise from on high, we must faithfully persevere. I say to young people that a burden from the Lord is a lifetime burden. Don’t lay it aside.
People often say to me, “Brother Roberts, how long have you been preaching along these lines? Don’t you get discouraged?” What reason have I to be discouraged? I wasn’t called to bring revival to pass. I was called to plead with the people of God to repent and return. And although it hasn’t happened in masses, thank God there are individuals who have heard and responded. I’m pleading with you, once you have set your face on this great issue of calling upon God and upon the people of God to make ready for His Coming, don’t lay it aside, no matter what!
Look at verse 70: “He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant” (vv. 70-72). This coming of the horn of salvation, this visitation of the Sunrise from on high, has to do with a covenant, the covenant which cannot be broken: “the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” (vv. 73-75).
That prophecy has only been fulfilled in part. Israel is not yet to the full extent the blessing to the nations that has been promised and I want to remind those of you who haven’t considered this issue that we are plainly told that the day must come when the Gentile church will provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). Don’t lose sight of that. You will never find a record in past history where this has been fulfilled.
Indeed by and large the Gentile church has done harm to Israel. Many Jews today can’t believe in Christ because they can’t believe in those who profess to love Him. In our present circumstance, there is no realistic possibility of hoping that any true Jew will be provoked to jealousy by the conduct of the Gentile church. I can only conceive of one way in which God can keep this covenant and that is to revive us, the Gentiles around the world. What a lovely thing to think of the possibility of that day coming when the church that we love and serve provokes Israel to such jealousy that they say, “This is not right. He is our Messiah first and foremost. We’re not going to let the Gentiles have all the blessing. We’re going to get in on it. This belongs to us and we’re going to have it!”
The church is going to have to change. If you can’t think of any other reason to be burdened for revival, this one ought to grip you. Why not plead with God for revival that will so refashion the church of Jesus Christ that the Jew will insist that it is his blessing as well, and get in on it to a degree that has never happened before in history. God’s covenant will be kept. You can be sure of that. It is clearly said that through Abraham and his seed the whole world will be blessed, and by God’s grace that is going to happen. How precious it would be if we were privileged to be part of that incredible happening!
There is a strong focus here as well upon holiness and righteousness. Look again at verse 74: “to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” People often say to me, “How do you dare to say that?” And I say, “How do you dare not to speak the truth? What have we to fear from man? Some of us may yet die for our faith. We may suffer imprisonment and severe persecution, but oh, for a church that serves the Lord fearlessly and in holiness and in true righteousness!”
The “Sunrise from on High” Stanza
We take up the song in verse 76, in Zacharias’s joy in realizing the child’s mission was to prepare for the Sunrise from on high to visit men: “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (vv. 76-79).
Have you ever dwelt upon that phrase, “the Sunrise from on high shall visit us”? Clearly the horn of salvation deals with the enemy, puts him on the run, guarantees victory for those who are servants of the living Christ, but we obviously live in a very dark time. When the Sunrise from on high visits us, everything is going to take on a different appearance. Things that seem acceptable now will be overwhelmingly unacceptable. Conduct that appears to be perfectly innocent at the moment will be seen with all of its wickedness. Oh, for the day when the horn of salvation and the Sunrise from on high visits us!
When God Visits
Let me speak of seven things that are bound to be affected when God visits. The horn of salvation and the Sunrise from on high will surely touch these seven areas that desperately need touching right now in our lives and in our society.
1) Refocusing Occurs. The first thing is that in every divine visit there is a refocusing that instantly occurs. Things are out of focus today, not only in the church at large but in the lives even of some reading this. We get confused as to what are the real issues. I often address audiences on learning to distinguish what is merely a fruit and what is at its root. Often we get riled up and we fuss over a matter that is incidental, and we have failed to lay hold of the root of the issue. When the Sunrise from on high brings the light of truth to bear upon our situation, things come into focus.
Periodically the issue of Pharisees comes to my mind and heart. They had everything out of focus. They concerned themselves with the material, with personalities, with inconsequential issues. They seemed to find it impossible to focus on the things that God Himself focused upon. The church is pouring countless hours of energy and multiplied millions of dollars into things that simply don’t matter.
Oh, for a visit from on high where everything comes into focus. All of us need to ask in the integrity of our own hearts, am I in focus? Are the things that are on God’s heart on my heart? Are the messages that I deliver the very Word of God? Am I speaking from His heart through my heart to your heart, or am I simply reviewing matters of interest that might possibly have some significance?
In a series of meetings in upper New York State, I felt very clearly to give a series of messages on the man of God’s own choosing. I felt greatly burdened about the book of Malachi, and spent a great many hours poring and praying over that book. The thing that laid hold of me was the issue of the burden of the Lord of which Malachi speaks. I’m asking you now, are you under the burden of the Lord, or is the burden you speak about your own burden? It is certainly possible for any of us to miss the burden of the Lord, and oh, how intense we must be in our study of Scripture to draw near to the heart of God so that what burdens Him is what burdens us and what powerfully impacts the church!
2) Holiness. The second issue that is always incredibly affected by a divine visitation is holiness. How have we managed to divorce holiness of life from imputed righteousness? How does one have the righteousness of Christ credited to his or her account and yet live without any regard for holiness? How can it be that nominalism is now called Christianity and Christianity, which is holiness unto the Lord, is regarded as fanaticism? Oh, for a divine visitation that brings the issue of holiness into focus in our lives so that we truly believe: “...Be holy; for I am holy...” (Lev. 11:44).
I plead with you, take seriously the issue of holiness. When God comes in one of these urgently-needed and marvelous visitations, holiness rises immediately to the fore. Isn’t it wonderful even to review those encounters of men in Scripture with a holy God when they cry out, “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips and an impure heart! Depart from me! I am unworthy!” Oh, for another day when the horn of salvation will root the love of sin out of our hearts and the Sunrise from on high will so shine upon us that every speck of sin within us is brought into the light, and our repentance takes on depths and urgency long needed and finally, by the grace of God, accomplished!
3) Tolerance of sin. Tolerance of sin is obviously connected to holiness, but I treat it as a separate matter. Tolerance for sin is affected when there is a divine visitation. Psalm 51 is a confession and prayer of David, but in particular the words of verse 4: “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight.” We have become tolerant of sin because we fail to keep regularly in front of us the remembrance of whom our sin is against.
One might almost argue with David and say, “David, how could you say ‘against God and against God only’ when you sinned against Bathsheba; when you sinned against your own family; when you sinned against her husband by arranging his death; when you sinned against the nation over which God placed you to rule; when, because your sin was sexual in its nature, you sinned against your own body? How can you say, ‘Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight’?”
He said it because he understood something we easily forget, that the great evil of all sin consists in the fact that it is against God. When God seems far away, when it has been a long time since He visited you, we can in our carelessness forget that all sin is against Him. But when He visits, it becomes so clear that the great evil of all of our sin does consist of the fact that it is against God.
Have you ever sat down with that statement and wrote out the ways in which your sin is against God? It would be a very profitable exercise for you. Let me help with a starter point or two. All sin is against God’s sovereignty. He is the ruler, not you. All the rights are His, not yours. He is the One who has laid down the commandments. He is the One who has stated what is acceptable and what is unacceptable conduct. When you sin it is as if you shake your fist in God’s face, and say, “I do as I please. You are not the sovereign God as far as I’m concerned.”
Another point is that all sin is against God’s creation. In the passage of Romans 8:19-22, Paul makes it crystal clear that the sin of Adam affected the entire creation, so that the whole of creation is groaning and travailing together in pain, awaiting what? The sobering thought to realize is that sin on Adam’s part brought the whole of God’s creative purposes to a standstill. Oh, to join with the trees and the rocks and the rivers and the mountains in a heart-cry for restoration of righteousness, so that creation is again on track and everything in all the universe is praising the Lord. All sin is against God. Take that to heart and let it affect you. A visitation from God always affects deeply our tolerance of sin.
4) Repentance. Fourth, a visitation is absolutely guaranteed to affect our view of repentance. We are living in an age where multitudes of people will not even use the word repentance. But when God draws near, repentance becomes a very urgent issue. You do not make some excuse and push it aside. It is something you know you are going to have to do and do quickly or you’re in eternal trouble, and there is no escape. I have preached hundreds of times upon repentance and may have written the only book in modern times on the matter, without any visible impact. But one day the Sunrise from on high will visit us, and all the church of God will hasten to repent. Oh, that it might happen soon!
5) Leadership of the Holy Spirit. These divine visitations have great impact on our interest in, submission to and delight under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Oh, for a day when the words of John the Baptist become true in our lives: “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me…will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). The baptism in fire is a baptism of purity and passion.
Armin Gesswein was a remarkable man of God, mightily used of the Holy Spirit in many parts of the world. What a delight he was! Just before his death, having just completed a marvelous ministry in one of the Scandinavian lands, he was meeting with his associates planning how they were going to take the world for Christ. Passion! Do you have it? Oh, that the Sunrise from on high might visit us and that every person might know power and purity and passion as the Holy Spirit does His great work in each of us!
6) Fresh Love. These divine visitations always lead to fresh love. A young girl once said to me, “Mr. Roberts, why is it that when revival comes to a church, the only thing that church wants to do is pray?” I said to her, “Were you ever in love?” She turned very red and then she held up her finger and showed me an engagement ring. “Ah, then,” I said, “you answered your own question. You know what happens when you are in love. You want to spend all the time you possibly can with the one you love.” No sacrifice is too great. When one of these precious visits from on high occurs, there is love, a bathing in love – love for God, for one another and for a lost world.
7) Devotion to Work. When the Sunrise from on high visits us, there is a devotion to work, not the dead works that are so much a part and parcel of the church today, but that work which is truly anointed by the Holy Spirit and mightily used. In the first book I ever wrote I included a chapter, “On Repentance from Dead Works.” There is a profound passage in Hebrews 6 about repentance from dead works. It is listed as a foundation doctrine. The church is laden down with dead works.
Oh, for a visitation from on high that gives life to all that we’re doing! If you trace the history of these mighty visitations of God, you find that almost every important reformation and change that has occurred in our society came about as a result of a divine visitation, and men and women came into focus with God.
Right now we need a visit of the horn of salvation and the Sunrise from on high. We know we need it. But do we know that we need it so badly that nothing else really matters, and that we ought to lay aside all that is extraneous and inconsequential? Oh, that we might reach that point that we cannot live without the immediate presence of the horn of salvation and the Sunrise from on high!
We honestly believe, Father, that in addition to our desperate need, in addition to our holy longings, the greatest incentive that we could possibly raise before You in quest of a divine visitation, is the glory that belongs to You that will be rendered when You’re in our midst. Grant, O God, that we shall live to see and to experience and to walk in the midst of Your presence in the church – the glory of King Jesus. Amen.
– Edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2006. Used by permission.