Pentecost (Series B) – May 19, 20, 2018
Some of you, I know, have (EMT) emergency medical training. If the need arises, you can respond with emergency assistance until an ambulance or medical help arrives. One of the basic skills that you are taught, and that you must always be ready to use is C.P.R. – that of breathing life-giving air into another person who has stopped breathing until additional medical attention can be given. Many people have benefited from C.P.R. being used on them, and in a limited sense, we might say that every year many people, who had stopped breathing on their own, have “come alive” again, because some-one took the initiative to “breath into them!”
But C.P.R. doesn’t always work. After only a short amount of time (10-15 minutes) after a person has stopped breathing and the heart has stopped beating, no amount of breathing for the other person, no amount of C.P.R., can bring the person back to life. Everyone knows that except through a miracle (a few of which are recorded in the Bible), a person who has been dead for any amount of time at all, can NOT be brought back to life. That’s why we call it “resuscitation” rather than “resurrection!” However, we are aware of some “resurrections” – the greatest, of course is that of Jesus on Easter! Jesus also raised at least three people from the dead – Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter. Also in the Old Testament, God worked resurrections through both His prophets Elisha and Elijah. And THEN WE HAVE today’s OT Scripture reading from Ezekiel 37!
Ezekiel 37 begins: “The hand of the Lord was upon me (Ezekiel), and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones… a great many bones on the floor of the valley…that were very dry.” (v.1-2) Possibly these bones had been there a long time – from a battle fought years before with no one to bury the dead bodies – the bones exposed, bleached and dried by the sun. Then the Spirit of the Lord asked the leading question: “… can these bones live?” (v.3)
What a question! Because these bones are described as “very dry,” the obvious rational answer is a definite NO! We know that using C.P.R. on someone who has recently stopped breathing may be helpful, but can you imagine anyone doing C.P.R. on a pile of dry bones and thinking that they can “come alive?!” Or can you imagine a doctor, scientist or anyone claiming that life could be brought back to a pile of very dry bones?
Yet Ezekiel is a “man of faith”. The Holy Spirit helped him to know that God is the One who gives life and can take it away. Therefore, truthfully he answered, “O Sovereign (all-powerful) Lord, You alone know.” (v.3) [What a great way to answer questions that go beyond our understanding! – God alone knows the answer!]
Then God told Ezekiel, “prophecy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.‘” (v.4) This was very symbolic of Ezekiel’s work as God’s prophet (and to each of us as God’s “ambassadors” – (2 Corinthians 5:20): speaking God’s Word to seemingly lifeless people. It is equally true today as God’s Word is proclaimed from pulpits, in Bible Classes, during family devotions, by parents and spouses; over radio, TV, written mailings, tape ministries, etc.; but it seems that the hearers are only “dry bones”; often “very dry bones”! “…can these bones live?” (v.3) As God told Ezekiel, so He also tells us: “prophecy (keep on speaking My Word) to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.'” (v.4)
As Ezekiel obeyed (speaking the Word of the Lord to the valley of very dry bones), “there was a rattling sound, and the bones came together… tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” (v.7-8) Again – note the significance of this: When God’s Word is proclaimed, there may be some limited activity, but without “breath” in them there is no real life.
Therefore, the Spirit of the Lord again spoke to Ezekiel: “Prophecy to the breath… and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he was commanded and breath entered them; (the corpses) came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.” (v.9-10) [Do you notice the similarity to the creation of Adam? “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man because a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) [It takes MORE than clay and wind to create life – we most certainly have plenty of clay here in Wichita – and plenty of wind, too – but that doesn’t create life!] It wasn’t until God breathed “the breath of life” into the flesh and bones of Adam; and these “dry bones;” and OUR LIVES that we become alive!
The necessity of regular and frequent breathing to sustain our physical life is easy to see. That is why God uses this same image to teach us about our spiritual lives! Note also the significance on the Day of Pentecost: “they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house … All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:2,4)
Notice also, with “breath” comes “speaking” (a person cannot speak without breath through the vocal chords!) – Ezekiel’s speaking; and on Pentecost: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v.4) Notice then, how it works: Without the “spirit” there is no “breath”. Without the “breath of the Spirit” there is no life. WITH the “Spirit” and “breath,” there is “speaking” and “coming alive!”
A Sunday School teacher taught her very young class to recite the Apostles’ Creed by having each child say a small portion of the Creed, one after another. One Sunday, the class was ready to recite all three articles in front of the congregation. Everything went well (at first). The first student faithfully recited: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The other students continued, “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord…”; one after another doing very well until: “from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” There was a LONG PAUSE. The embarrassed teacher tried to prompt, “I believe in…”; but with no success. Finally, the next little boy said, “The girl who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today.”
Too often, we are “absent” when the Holy Spirit seeks to “breath life” into us – either physically “absent” like the little girl; or “mentally absent” (day-dreaming or preoccupied with other things while God’s Word is read, taught or preached); or because of sin in our lives or stubborn unbelief, we are “deaf” to what is being said!
However, “The Spirit of the Lord… said to Ezekiel, ‘Prophecy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.'” (v.4) So also, we must continue to speak God’s Word in every situation – even if it seems we are speaking to “dry, dead bones”! It is God, the Holy Spirit who “makes alive” as His Word says: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
Today we again celebrate Pentecost, and the assurance that, YES, “our dry bones can live!” And like those disciples on that Pentecost in Jerusalem, we are also “Spirit filled” / “made alive” to live and “speak the Word of the Lord” as God gives LIFE to “a great many dry bones!”
Hope to see you in worship with us next weekend – for Trinity Weekend.
God’s blessings this week.