Jesus said, “I’ve come to set the world ablaze.” The characteristic of Jesus is that he called for newness – you must be born again, you must put on the new man, you must have a new vision, you must adopt a new way of life. It is newness which is the characteristic of the Christian faith and if you turn the pages of the Bible, you will see over and over again that the message of God is “I will put a new spirit within you”. That’s in Ezekiel, it was echoed years later in the Gospels and the Epistles.
Therefore we are talking about radical change – we are talking about a change so fundamental that it is a U-turn, if you like. That is what repentance means – a U-turn, a change. And, therefore, if we are considered with renewing a tired society, reviving a Church which sometimes appears to be tired, we’ve got to grasp the radical nature of the commands and demands of Jesus. He says to start with, we must recognise our own failings – if we don’t do that, we can’t be changed.
If society cannot recognise its own failings, it cannot be reformed. And so, Jesus, right at the beginning of his ministry, says repent – that’s the need – admit you’ve got it wrong. Therefore, if we are going to change our ways, we’ve not got to be pointing our finger forevermore at other people’s sins, at other people’s weaknesses or even at other people’s Churches or other religions – that finger has got to come on our heart. And I have got to say I have fallen short, I need this change in my life and I need it urgently, I need it now, I need it here.
So, how does this come about? Well, there are many images in the Bible. Perhaps the most dramatic is the coming of the Holy Spirit, the spirit who is presented in Biblical terms as so radical that he is like tongues of living fire, he’s like cascading streams of water, he’s like a mighty roaring wind, he’s like any influence which moves us, the wind in the sails in our life shifting us forward and, therefore, if we are really serious about needing a change in our life, in our Church, in our society, we need to say to almighty God I need your spirit within me.
Your spirit who is truth – truth, liberating truth, your spirit who is love – limitless love shown on the cross but above all the characteristic of the Christian life is freshness. It is new every morning as the Bible puts it. And therefore as we look at the world, we see tiredness. One poet said the world is weary of its pain. We see things falling apart, very often in the Western world – institutions have grown cold and slow and heartless and Jesus comes along and speaks of a new heart within us.
The Bible tells us of hearts of stone becoming hearts of flesh and blood and if we really want to see renewal in our lives and revival in the life of the Church and revival and reform in the life of the wider society, we start by recognising our weakness and when we confess, God then opens the flood’s doors – when we say I am weak, God, but you are mighty, he then pours out of his spirit, his nature into us and so we begin to see through the eyes of Jesus: Jesus who loved – we love, Jesus who healed – we are instruments of healing, Jesus who went the extra mile, Jesus who loved little children – all this brings freshness and newness.
And you know, talking about freshness and newness, what’s fresher or newer than the laughter and fun and games of little children? And along comes Jesus – you must become as a little child if you are going to enter into my kingdom. Now I like to think of Jesus being at the party, I like to think of Jesus being on the floor being with the children, I like to see Jesus popping the balloons at the kids at their games and rolling with laughter – that is the newness that God wants to bring into your life and into my life.
But if we are honest, there is a tiredness, there is a weariness and it’s because we’ve changed our attitude – we have taken our eyes from the real purpose of life and therefore when we speak about revival, it is not just about a religious revival with great gatherings in the towns, it may include that, it certainly does across Africa and many parts of South America and the Far East, but no, real renewal starts with individual men and women discovering that there is a purpose in life – discovering that the atheists and secular humanist have got it wrong, discovering that their experiment that lasted 40 years and more has been a disastrous failure.
We say very clearly the moment we realise that God has made us, that God loves us, that God has sent his son Jesus Christ to heal, to save us, then we become liberated from all the chains and therefore we become signs of hope to a hopeless world. I am sure that one of the reasons why the Church of Christ has survived over centuries is that it is the living body of Christ, not a cold, dead institution and when it tries to be a cold, dead institution, God rejects it.
The Church of Christ has stood the centuries of persecution, of mayhem, of war and corruption and all the other dark plans cast over it and it’s done this for one reason – that is that Jesus is with us, that the Body of Christ is not only living but is moving – Jesus runs across the pages of history and therefore every Christian Church that is gathering his followers must be a living, moving organism, not a dead institution and it is this life, this life which the world can recognise.
And therefore if anyone asks me about renewal and revival, I always say let it start now with you and with me at this moment. And therefore I am not ashamed to say will you join me in prayer, we will pray for this. Let us pray…
Lord, you know that we live in a world which is dying in many respects.
You know that our culture is so much a culture of death.
You know that over the centuries there has been the bloodshed of war.
But you come that we might have life and have it in its abundance .
So Lord, we pray for new life now within ourselves.
That we may feel your spirit throbbing within us.
That we may experience your nearness Lord Jesus.
That we may know, Father God, that you watch over us and care for us.
Yes Lord, we want newness.
Yes Lord, we want to be renewed.
Come Lord Jesus.