Revival In Light Of God’s Eternal Purpose
By Richard Owen Roberts
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2015 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A. Used by permission.
All true burden for revival begins with a holy passion for God’s glory. But a burden for revival must also include a burden for that which is closest to God’s own heart. I want to put a simple, but an immensely consequential question to you: What is the greatest burden on God’s heart today?
Let us begin with a consideration of words that were spoken to Moses and recorded in Deuteronomy 32:15-22. This is not our text but an essential basis for our text. "But Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked – you are grown fat, thick, and sleek – then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. And the Lord saw this, and spurned them because of the provocation of His sons and daughters. Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom is no faithfulness. They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation, for a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains."
Have you ever considered that passage? Can you see any connection between that passage and the subject of revival? Some might very well be amazed at the word "jealousy." We normally consider jealousy as a sin. But God makes it plain that He is jealous. Do you know that you worship a jealous God? And He is made angry by any one who is careless enough and wicked enough to worship anything other than the one true and living God.
But not only is God Himself a jealous God, He also uses jealousy to accomplish His eternal purpose. He says, "I will make them jealous with those who are not a people…" (v. 21). God, angry with His own chosen people, makes it clear He is provoked to jealousy and will in turn provoke His own chosen people to jealousy by a people who are not a people.
So what is closest to God’s heart? Is it not the people He first chose? Is it clear to you that on the top of God’s list of priorities is bringing His own chosen people back into His fold? The greatest issue in all revival praying and ministry is God’s beloved, chosen people, the Jews.
Now I know that there are a lot of fanciful biblical interpretations around. And there are many people who insist that the Bible does not mean what it says. But I am too old to care about that kind of nonsense. I just honestly believe God said what He meant and meant what He said. And I am perfectly content to live in the light of that.
Passion for God’s Purpose and His Chosen People
Turn now to the New Testament to that passage in the Book of Romans that deals most directly with the portion in Deuteronomy that we have already read. Focus for the moment on the first portion of chapter nine: "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen" (Rom. 9:1-5).
Is the Apostle Paul speaking foolishly when he says, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren"? Well, dear friends, I do not see any real difference between Paul’s words and Moses’ words at the time of the golden calf: "…If Thou wilt, forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written" (Ex. 32:32).
Prayer for revival without passion for God’s purposes is ridiculous. And so let me ask, do you have a passion that is in any way like the passion of Moses or in any way like the passion of Paul? Are you so burdened and concerned that you would be willing to be forever cut off from God Himself if it could mean the salvation of His own chosen people?
God’s Eternal Purpose
So all revival passion, I repeat, is first focused on the glory of God Himself and then secondly focused on the eternal purpose of God. I think that in part we are in the ridiculous mess we are in because we do not know what God’s eternal purpose is. God’s eternal purpose is to save Israel.
You may say, "I thought this was a conference on revival." Well, indeed how can you get closer to the issue of revival than to get in on the inside of God’s eternal purpose? Why do we need revival and why are we certain it is going to happen? We are certain that revival is going to happen because we know that God keeps His word. And we know that He told Moses that He would provoke His own people to jealousy by a people who are not a people – and that is us, the Gentile church. And God’s wonderful promise concerning Israel turning to Christ has not yet been fulfilled.
Let me draw your attention to the last portion of chapter ten: "...At the first Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.’ And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’" (Rom. 10:19-21).
Will you let those words grip you? Imagine God, generation after generation after generation, holding out His hands to His own chosen people and they refuse to respond. And because of that He has a way of getting them, and that will be by making them jealous by a people who are not a people.
But look at what has happened. Most of us are well aware that God Himself has made it clear that to whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). But we have not faced the reality of that. Do you know that if you are a believer you have received vastly more than Abraham, more than Sarah, more than David, more than Solomon. There is not a saint in the Old Testament who received a fraction as much as you have in Jesus Christ. Yet we act is if all God wants from us is, "Oh hi, Lord," then we go on about our way. And we count millions of converts who have done nothing more than salute the Lord and continue in their wicked ways.
Now listen, I am going to talk to you about provoking the Jews to jealousy. And I would like to ask you: How many Jews are provoked to jealousy by your life? How many Jews in your city are weeping even this day because their God has given His grace to you and left them out?
Judgment Against Israel: Neither Total Nor Final
Turn with me now to that incredible passage of Romans 11:1 – 12:2 and let us get right to the heart of this matter. This is not the occasion for a full and complete exposition of this lengthy passage, but my burden is to get you to sense afresh the picture. Here is the question we need to ask: "Was God’s judgment against Israel total?" Verses one through ten in chapter eleven deal with that:
"I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever’" (Rom. 11:1-10).
Let me repeat the question: "Was God’s judgment against Israel total?" And the answer? Absolutely no! Even at that awful point when Elijah thought he was the only one left, God had to say to him, "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal" (v. 4). Israel’s judgment was very real. God took a chosen people and gave an incredible benefit and blessing to them, but they for the most part turned their back on God, and He brought them under judgment. But that judgment was not total. There were always some Jews that were loyal to God.
But in the second part of this eleventh chapter, there is another great issue developed beautifully. Not only was Israel’s being cut off by God not total (vv. 1-10), the judgment of God against Israel was not final (vv. 11-33). Take note of this incredibly important section that affects us hugely: "I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous" (v. 11). O, dear friends, I hope those words have gripped you in the past and will do so much more than ever before in the future. God cut Israel off for your sake and for mine, but with a very special purpose and that is so sweetly declared in the words just read – "But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous."
The passage continues: "Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you" (11:12-21).
Why was Israel cut off? Because of their unbelief. That unbelief was their refusal to obey. It is silly to claim to believe in God and then to disobey Him. That is why our dear Savior said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Israel was cut off for their unbelief. They were the natural branches but God cut them off and grafted us in. Is it possible that we could get away with what Israel could not? Why it is utterly absurd to even think for a moment that we could.
Provoked to Jealousy and Brought to Life
But then we come to the central issue. Why did God cut them off and graft us in? So that we might provoke them to jealousy. What might that look like? We have some help here in the passage: "And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too" (Rom. 11:16).
God is in love with holiness. He is Himself holy and He wants a people who are holy. How do you provoke a Jew to jealousy? By becoming what God intended – holy. Have you ever been seriously gripped by the beauty of holiness? Is there any beauty in all creation anywhere near as beautiful as the beauty of holiness? A church, a Gentile church that is adorned with holiness will be hard for Israel to handle. It will provoke them to jealousy.
Verse 15 states, "For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" Get a hold of that! Can you imagine the Jewish world suddenly coming to life, rising from their depth of sin and unbelief, and the life of God flowing in them? Wow! I would like to see that! Do you understand that this is what God says He is going to do?
Revival in America?
Now someone may say, "I can see this old man might have some legitimacy in what he is saying, but he does not seem to understand that God does not have to use America." Considering, however, that God has accumulated about six million Jews in this nation, far more than any other nation on earth other than the nation of Israel, I do not think it is stretching things to expect that America is going to experience true revival.
My dear friends, would it not be perfectly wonderful if all the Jews in your city began thinking, "This is not fair. Christ is our Messiah. The incredible blessings that Christ brings to His people belong to us. Why should those Gentiles have all these wonderful benefits that are rightly ours?" Now does that mean they are going to curse us? No. That means they are going to join us and they are going to say, "We’re going to enjoy what you enjoy."
Can you conceive of any other way that the Gentile church could provoke Israel to jealousy than by true revival? Now I am not saying it assures America of revival, but it sure adds tremendous weight to my expectation and hope.
But I feel I must give you some of the dangers that we face in dealing with this passage and this incredibly beautiful hope of revival for Israel’s sake. One danger is that by our very selfish nature we tend to cultivate an attitude that places our selfish interest above God’s, and we can overlook His eternal purposes. Often when I hear someone speak on the necessity and the urgency of revival they say, "Do you have any children? Do you have any grandchildren? Ought you not to fervently pray for revival for the sake of your children and your grandchildren?" And the answer is obviously, "Yes!" But what I am asking you to face is that the highest item on the list of reasons why we must pray for revival is Israel and God’s promise! I am asking you to consider if there is any possibility that in your selfish interest you have forgotten God’s eternal purpose? Have you failed to realize why it is you were allowed to enter the kingdom of God? Why it is the incredible promises of the Word were turned in your direction instead of Israel’s direction?
A second danger is the escapist viewpoint that is prevalent in the American church. Over and over people are saying to me, "My one great prayer is that Christ will hurry up and come back and take us out of this rotten mess!" What a shameful way to pray. What an insulting viewpoint that is to God. You want Christ to come back to rescue you from a rotten mess? Do you not care about your own children and grandchildren who are lost and above all else about this incredible promise that Israel will be provoked to jealousy by the godliness of the Gentile church?
A third danger is the danger of being cut off for the refusal to listen and obey. Look again at verses 20-22: "Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off."
Have you been living soberly with the realization that unless you change you are as likely to be cut off as Israel was? God is looking for a people who listen and obey. Israel would not listen and would not obey and God cut them off with the intention of provoking them to jealousy by a people who listen and obey. But if you do not listen and obey how can you suppose to be part of the incredible purpose of God?
A Sense of Urgency
There is an urgency to this issue of revival. All of us know that it is very late for our nation. But by God’s grace we also know it is not too late. But the "too late" may come upon us without our being aware of it. I am asking you to consider how great the need truly is and that what is needed is needed now and not some time in the future.
Let us be sober now. It is our duty to live in such a way that the Jew is provoked to jealousy. And I must ask you, based on the way your life is lined up now, is there any possibility of that happening? Do you not realize that in order to assist God in the fulfillment of His promise to Israel our lives have got to be radically transformed to the glory of Jesus Christ?
The sad truth is most Christians are largely unaffected by God’s eternal purposes. Has that been your case? Have you been heavily burdened for God’s ancient chosen people? Have you said to yourself, "We must have revival for the sake of Israel"? Would it not be wonderful if from this point on your purpose shifted and coincided with God’s purpose and the great gripping issue in your life is to see the Gentile church so adorned with the beauty of Christ that every Jew looking on will say, "That’s not fair. I must get in on what Christ is doing!"?
God’s Love and Faithfulness
Note the latter portion of the passage. "For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" (11:25-28).
Let that grip you! For our sake they are for a season set aside, but for the sake of the fathers they are still in God’s heart. And they will be brought back, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (v. 29). For the sake of the fathers – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – God still loves ancient Israel and is going to bring them back.
Adorned and Consecrated for His Glorious Purposes
And He wants to bring them back through you, through your beautiful life adorned with the holiness of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit so profound and lovely upon you that others look with amazement – an amazement that provokes to jealousy, which in turn provokes to repentance leading to faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
"For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:30-36).
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (12:1-2).
The time is now for all of us to come to the end of ourselves for the glory of God and for the good of His ancient people. What must happen in your life and in your church for Israel to be provoked to jealousy? Deal with it and deal with it now.
– Richard Owen Roberts is the President and a founding Director of International Awakening Ministries in Wheaton, Illinois.