Saturday, February 18, 2023

Why Be Excited About The Beginnings Of The Asbury Revival?


    On February 8, 2023, Zachary Meerkreebs, Envision Coordinator for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, spoke at the chapel service of Asbury University in Wilmore, KY. As I listened to his message, based upon Romans 12:9-21, I did not notice anything out-of-the-ordinary with respect to the service. No emotional manipulation. No typical attempts by the speaker or campus to create something that wasn't there. If anything, the "ordinary" setting of the service is something to look for when assessing the beginnings of a true move of God. (For those wanting to watch the sermon, click on the link here:

    Now before I go any further, I point out this particular service because of the significant events that have unfolded in its wake. As of this post, what as been described by many as "The Asbury Revival", has been underway. This ongoing service of worship songs, prayer, and testimony has proceeded non-stop, for the last ten days. 

    It is of course too soon to offer an overall assessment of the specifics of this extraordinary event. It cannot be disputed on how the events on the Wilmore, KY campus have attracted the attention of many, in both secular media and Christians across the globe.

A word on evaluating contemporary historical events.

    As a Christian, a pastor, and general student of the history, I am cautious when assessing current events. Movements often described as "revivals" will often bear the fruit of what often is humanly contrived, emotionally-manipulated situations. As I noted at the start of this post, it appears that such negatives qualities are absent from the Asbury Revival. 

    Whenever one studies the history of any movement, the best way to attempt an evaluation is to note how it begins and the fruit which follows. As Dr. Vern Poythress has noted in his book "Redeeming Our Thinking About History", historians look at three primary areas: people, events, and meanings. In our media-saturated age, we have virtual first-hand access to the events and people that have made up the Asbury Revival. It is that third piece, "meaning", which will take some time to unpack once the revival concludes. 

    In my estimation at least, it is too soon to evaluate the fruit that will issue forth from the "Asbury Revival". What we can do is consider how this movement began. 

    My attempt here is to focus on one aspect of the beginnings of the so-called "Asbury Revival", which I classify as grounds for positive assessment - the expository sermon delivered by Zachary Meerkreebs. Before I do that, it is vital we all understand what is meant by "revival". 

What is revival?

    Sadly, many Christians and churches today often confuse true revival for what are often-times special services, conferences, animated Christian concerts, and even what used to be efforts made by churches in scheduling Spring or Fall revivals. We use this term "revival" to draw attention to what is is otherwise "not-business-as-usual" in church life. As wonderful as such events may be, they are not revival. 

    Steven Olford, famed Baptist Pastor of times past, offers a definition of revival from his book "Heart Cry for Revival":

"Revival is that strange and Sovereign work of God in in which He visits His own people, restoring, reanimating and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing. Such a Divine intervention will issue in evangelism though, in the first instance, it is a work of God in the church and amongst individual believers. Once we understand the nature of heaven sent revival, we shall be able to think, pray and speak intelligently of such times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19)."

True revival has a cost.

    In returning back to the chapel message I referred to at the beginning of this post, Zachary Meerkreebs, the speaker for that day, noted in his message the need to put others ahead of self. In listening to his message, I was reminded of something Martin Lloyd Jones wrote about revival - namely the cost of it. He writes in his classic book on revival:

"May He (God) so reveal His own glory and holiness to us. May He reveal unto us our utter impotence and hopelessness. May we see these things in such a way that we shall cease from men and look only unto the living God. And then there is no question but that He will hear us and He will manifest His glory and power."

    True revival has a cost. It will cost our time (for the last ten days, students and others have set aside their agendas to seek God). It will cost our control (when God brings true revival, it causes God's people to yield to His will and humble themselves, see 2 Chronicles 7:14). However other authors and observers evaluate the overall movement known as "The Asbury Revival", traits such as "counting the cost" (a principle for discipleship enunciated by Jesus in Luke 14:25-33) will need to be included in their assessment.

So what has made the beginnings of "The Asbury Revival" noteworthy?

    As I mentioned already, Zachary Meerkreebs preached a message in the Asbury University Chapel from Romans 12:9-21. The text for the message is as follows:

"Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

    If I were to observe the one main feature of the beginning point of this revival, it is this: expository preaching. Brother Meerkreebs' message was refreshing to me, for he truly did what is known as "expository preaching". Expository preaching is where a preacher reads the text (which he did, urging those in attendance to read along with him). Then, he proceeded verse by verse through the text, focusing on explanation, illustration, exhortation, and application. Zachary is not a "point preacher". Instead, he used the main theme of the text, "love", to reinforce to his listeners the overall thrust of what Paul, the author of the text, wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

    In the message, he pointed out that there are some thirty commands in the passage - commands that can only find completion when God's love flows through us. A good expository sermon will draw the listener's attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the sermon, Zachary Meerkreebs observed that apart from God's love in Jesus Christ, there is no way possible to fulfill the commands of Romans 12:9-21 through sheer will-power. 

    What was even more wonderful to hear was how he was continuing on from the prior week's chapel message, preached by another professor from Romans 12:1-8. Expository preaching will feature all of those characteristics I enumerated (reading the text, followed by explanation, illustration, exhortation, and application), with the added note of keeping in mind the surrounding context of the passage. 

    An expository message may take a theme and trace it through the Bible. Expository sermons may follow a book of the Bible from beginning to end, verse-by-verse (called by those who teach preaching as "lectio continua"). 

    Expository sermons may also focus upon a chapter, or a section in a chapter, to bring forth the intended meaning of the human author and the Divine Author - The Holy Spirit. As I listened to this chapel message, every feature of expository preaching I listed above was evident. God used this sermon, and the humility of the speaker, to set in motion a series of events which we are observing at this juncture.

The main takeway of the chapel message, and how it is connected to "The Asbury Revival".

    Zachary Meerkreebs' message expounded the text of Romans 12:9-21 to apply the need for God's love to flow through the Christian life. The seeds sown in his message by the Lord evidently took root in the handful of students that remained after the chapel service concluded. 

    In the discussion thread I read under the sermon's posting, Zachary Meerkreebs himself noted how everyone had went to lunch. A handful of students stayed behind to pray with one another. Soon, one student began to confess his sins, followed by another student. What issued forth from this simple group grew to become what is currently now "The Asbury Revival".

Final Thoughts: Expository preaching is behind the greatest revivals of history.

    As I close this post, let me note how God's Word has directly or indirectly begun some of the most noteworthy revivals of times past. Nave's Topical Bible lists the following references for revivals in the Bible:

1. Revival under the leadership of 
    Joshua. Joshua 5:2-9

2. Under Elijah. 1 Kings 18:17-40

3. Under Joash and Jehoida. 2 Kings 
    11:1-12:21; 2 Chronicles 23:1-24:27

4. Under Hezekiah. 2 Kings 18:1-7; 2 
    Chronicles 29:1-31:21

5. Under Josiah. 2 Kings 22:1-23:37; 2 
    Chronicles 34:1-35:27

6. Under Asa. 2 Chronicles 14:2-5; 15:1-

7. Under Manasseh. 2 Chronicles 33:12-

8. In Ninevah. Jonah 3:4-10

9. At Pentecost and post-Pentecostal 
    times. Acts 2:1-42, 47-47; 4:4;
5:14; 6:7; 9:35; 11:20-21; 12:24;
14:1; 19:17-20.

    It is always important to compare contemporary events, spiritual movements, and so-called "revivals" to the measuring stick of God's Word. One can note that in all of the above references, God's Word, whether preached, taught, or indirect in influence, is the Holy Spirit's primary tool in spawning true revival. Whatever will follow from the Asbury Revival, we can at least say it has had a good foundation - that of expository preaching.