One of my favorite songs from “Oh Brother, Where art thou?” was sung by Alison Krauss. You’ve heard it. Here are some of the lyrics,

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way

 O sinners, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O sinners, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray.

As I read the fifth verse of Mark’s Gospel, chapter 1, I had to think of that song. It says, “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” There was a great spiritual revival. It was in anticipation of what was to come. John, the baptizer, was the one to come as a forerunner of the Messiah, as the Prophets foretold. During my five tours to Israel, I ensured our groups had the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River. That was always one of the highlights of the tour. It was an exciting time and was seen as an exercise of renewal. Everyone on tour had already been baptized, but this was symbolic. The cry in and around all of Judea and its capital city, Jerusalem, was the last verse of that song, “O Sinners, let’s go down!” John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins according to Mark 1:3. Baptism is a public proclamation of one’s sinfulness. That’s called confession. Calvin saw this act as the natural outcome of conviction of sin and the outward expression of that at a public baptism. It affects the whole community when it happens. He writes, “But when the mind is effected as it ought, it cannot but give vent to itself in external manifestation, especially when it tends to the common edification, that all, by openly confessing their sin, may render praise to the divine justice, and by their example mutually encourage each other.”[1]

In the history of America, we will find two periods in which “revival” was prominent. Those periods are called “awakenings.”  One blogger says, “They came from God and were sent to wake up a people to their spiritual condition bringing about great conviction of sin and widespread repentance. So, we have the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening in America. They did not come because the Christians had all repented and brought on the Awakening. On the contrary, the Awakenings came as a surprise and brought repentance with it. Iain Murray writes, ‘The sheer unexpectedness of such events bears equally against the view that revivals are conditioned by the preceding actions and efforts of Christians. Those who believe that a certain line of conduct or prayer must secure revival have history against them. Revivals come unheralded. They are, as Edwards witnessed in Northampton in 1735, the surprising work of God’. Of the Great Awakening of 1740, it is said that ‘it broke upon the slumbering churches like a thunderbolt rushing out of a clear sky.’”[2] This is radically different from the “woke” culture of today. It refers to social awareness of current situations. It looks at perceived injustices committed against you, not the injustices you may have committed against God and others. Wokeness calls for action! That action is often very violent. Spiritual awakenings deal with the awareness of one’s own sinfulness and the need for forgiveness.

[1] Calvin, John. 1997. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.