A revival is a miracle. It is a miraculous, exceptional phenomenon. It is the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty. A revival, in other words, is something that can only be explained as the direct action and intervention of God. It was God alone who could divide the Red Sea. It was God alone who could divide the waters of the river of Jordan. These were miracles. Hence the reminder of God’s unique action, of the mighty acts of God. And revivals belong to that category. . . . These events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce. Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival.
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful line in all of Scripture than that. Obviously there are many beautiful verses in the Bible; just as obviously, this one would be meaningless without all the rest of them. But I think this one, coming at the climax, may be the best of them all.
Maybe you think I’m making too much of this, but follow me here. I said last week that I don’t believe in immortal souls that live in a spiritual realm called heaven, because what the Bible promises us is the resurrection of the dead into the new heavens and the new earth. More than that, though, this idea that our spirits are immortal and separate things from these bodies that we just happen to wear is completely unbiblical. If you start with that idea, it chops up everything that God is doing. You end up with this division between body and soul, between this world and heaven, between this life and eternal life, and ultimately the idea that this life and this world are only here to determine who’s going to heaven and who isn’t. That’s wrong. The life of the world to come will still be the same life and the same world, even as it will be made completely new.
Look at the picture John gives us. At the center of the city stands the throne of God. No longer will he rule from on high, far above and beyond us, but from right in the center of his people. From his throne—from his authority, from his lordship, from his unchallenged rule—flows the river of the water of life. We’ve talked about this before, that in a hot, dry climate without our modern technology, it was water that determined whether there would be life. If there was clear, flowing fresh water, plants could grow, and animals and people could live. If not, then not.
Here, the city has its own river, which flows right down the middle of its main street—right at the heart of all its business and traffic. Our cities are creators of culture, but they’re consumers of life. They can’t produce the food to feed those who live there, or the raw materials to feed their factories and supply their stores. The culture of our cities consumes the life of our fields and forests. In the new earth, that will no longer be the case. Life will flow from the city of God, for the city will be the place from which he rules the world. His reign will be the source of its life, and the center of its activity.
On either side of the river stands the tree of life. Don’t imagine some great mutant tree here; the point is rather that there won’t be just one tree of life anymore, but a whole double row of them. It won’t just bear one kind of fruit, either, but twelve: one crop for each month, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, one for each of the twelve apostles. Our first ancestors had one chance at the tree of life, and lost it when they chose to disobey God; in the new Jerusalem, the new city, the life of God will be abundantly available to all.
And here’s the key: that life covers and fills and revives everything in this world and every part of our existence. What are the nations? Just as the city is the highest point of human achievement, so the nation is the highest point of human identity. Ethnicity, culture, history, land, belonging, loyalty, home, all these things are tied up and bound together in and by our nations. The enduring temptation to divide the world into “us” and “them” and define ourselves by who we’re not is all tied in there too, and has been a driving force behind some of our most horrific wars. And of course, we give the nations lordship, accepting the authority of our various governments over our lives and bowing to their demands. Having rebelled against the God to whom we belong and who is the one true Lord over all creation, we had to come up with some kind of replacement to give structure to human life and keep it all together. The nations are what we came up with.
And just as God redeemed the city, so he redeemed the nations. All of our culture, as we saw last week; all of our history, all of our land with its beauty and brokenness and all we’ve done to it, all of our sense of home and belonging, all the things that make us “us” and not “them”—all our rivalries, all our conflicts, all the walls that divide us—he took all of it and bought it with the blood of the cross and gave it new life. None of it that is true will be abolished or wiped away, but it will all be made right. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
And yes, I said God redeemedthe nations—past tense, already done. We don’t fully experience that now, but the work is already accomplished, in God’s time; and it has already begun, in ours. The world has not yet been born again, but we have. The new Jerusalem has not yet come down from heaven, but the work of the city is already here, and has been given to us to do. It is our privilege and our honor to do it; it’s a blessing from God to give us a part in his work.
This is why and how we need to think and talk about revival, and pray for it to happen. Revivals are part of God’s work of healing the nations. That means, in the first place, they’re nothing we can control or make happen. As the Rev. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
Second, this means we cannot be tied down to the way we’ve done things in the past. What we’ve done that has worked before may not be what we should be doing now; God doesn’t tend to reuse his methods, lest we put our trust in the method rather than the Maker. What we’ve tried to no apparent effect may be exactly what we’re called to do in this time, as what God is doing now isn’t the same as he was doing then. And just because we try something and it doesn’t seem to work doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing. When it comes to human effort, it’s well said that “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting.” When it comes to following God, though, all bets are off. Often, the faith he uses is the faith that persists in praying and doing his will even when it seems to be pointless and a failure. How long did Noah live with the jeers of his neighbors while he was building the ark?
Third, revival is the only hope for the healing of the nations, including ours. As we look out, we see America swinging away from any respect for Christian faith, and that swing is accelerating. Whole sections of the church think they can hold on to that respect by riding the swing and conforming themselves to what the elite culture demands, but they won’t. The root of the matter is, the rich, the powerful and the influential increasingly want us all to believe that we’re gods to ourselves—because then they’re the biggest gods on the scene, with predictable results—and in the end, the only way the church can conform to that is by committing suicide.
We can’t stop this by writing new laws, because they’ll be interpreted and enforced as it suits those in power. We can’t stop it by electing new politicians, because as they join the elite, many will be corrupted—not all, but far too many. We can’t stop it through the courts, because the courts are part of the problem. As Psalm 146 says, “Put not your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.” Rather, our only hope is in the name of the Lord our God, who made the heavens and the earth, and who will make them all new. America doesn’t need to be taken back, it needs to be healed. It doesn’t need to be reprogrammed, it needs to be revived.
If we would restore the ancient foundations that are crumbling before our eyes, don’t pray for electoral victories, or for the government or the courts to protect Christians from opposition, oppression, and persecution; pray for revival. Pray for God to do a mighty work in all our hearts by his Holy Spirit. It’s our only hope.