May 25, 2015

May 24, 2015 - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Theme: Take a Deep Breath from the Holy Spirit

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“There is a spirit in man, the Spirit of God has made us and the breath of the Almighty gives us life and understanding (Job 32:8, 33:4).

When you’re stressed, emotional, fired up, or worried, the advice you most often hear is to take a deep breath. Taking a deep breath helps both regulate your heart rate and blood flow and gives you a moment to calm down and assess the situation. In difficult moments another piece of advice is to count to 10. This helps take your mind off the situation for a moment but it also helps you breathe. We’ve all used these simple techniques or others like them before and they help.

Taking a deep breath can help calm your nerves but it also helps you appreciate life itself. Breathing is one of those things that we so often take for granted. But it’s really vitally important; none of us would have life if we could not breathe. On average, a person takes over 23,000 breaths each day. How many of those do you typically think about? It’s usually not until we have something distressing or dangerous come our way that we stop to appreciate the breath we have. If you’re underwater, in danger of drowning, you can bet you’re going to think about your breathing. If you’re climbing a mountain and the altitude is getting thinner, you’ll find yourself thinking about breath a lot more. If you’re hiding from an intruder and you need to be quiet in order to stay alive, you’ll think about how heavy you breathe. You can’t deny the importance of a deep breath in situations like these. But, for the most part, breath and breathing is something we rarely think about.

It’s not surprising that when we come across things that God has planned to help us out in our physical lives that we also see a spiritual application. A deep breath can go a long way for your body, both physically and emotionally. The same is true spiritually. We focus this Sunday on the One who gives us breath and life – the Holy Spirit. But how many of you think about the Spirit’s work on a daily basis? Like your physical breathing, how often are conscious of it? Very often we operate as if we’re drifting through life without a care or concern for the Spirit’s work or for God’s plan. It’s not until peril or danger comes our way that we really start to recognize things as they are. In those moments, don’t we ever appreciate the Holy Spirit and His wisdom, guidance, and protection?

The Spirit often works in mysterious ways, in the background of the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. Jesus described it this way: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8)." It’s not until the wind blows in our face that we feel it. The same is true of the Spirit’s work. He often goes about His business behind the scenes, using what appears to be common and unspectacular in the Word of God; the same passages and verses we hear so often and know so well. But every now and the wind blows and we feel it. Every now and then we are tested and are left gasping for breath. Every now and then the Holy Spirit comes out of the shadows and we get a glimpse at the power of His work. Pentecost Sunday was obviously such a time. Great signs and wonders were given to show that the promise of the Holy Spirit had been fulfilled. The event of our text for today, in the life and ministry of the prophet Ezekiel was another time of a similar occurrence.

We read the Word from Ezekiel 37:1-14:
The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3 And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." 4 Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them,`O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 `Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 "I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD."'" 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. 9 Also He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath,`Thus says the Lord GOD: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."'" 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say,`Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' 12 "Therefore prophesy and say to them,`Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 "Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 14 "I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.'"

As I read the text you no doubt recognized the high frequency of the word “breath.” It occurs 7 times in our translation. We obviously see that the Holy Spirit is connected to this concept of “breath” because God says as much in our text. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit breath enters into your life. But there’s an even deeper connection between the two – they’re the same word! In the Hebrew, the word for “breath” and “Spirit” are the same. Context determines which idea is being conveyed, but the root meaning of the word is the same.

With this thought, God gives us an intimate picture of His work in our lives. When God’s Spirit enters your life He literally becomes the breath by which you live. God demonstrated the power of this gift to Ezekiel by giving life to dry bones and fashioning flesh around them. What a truly astounding miracle indeed, one that certainly rivals the scene of Pentecost! But despite these amazing effects, the bones, sinews, and flesh remained lifeless until God breathed into them.

This takes us back to the creation of man, doesn’t it? Before God breathed into Adam, he was nothing more than a lump of organic materials. There was no life and no spirit. But God breathed into Adam, the breath of life, and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). This is what we call the soul, or life-force of humans. We all have this breath and life. It’s what gives purpose and function to our material limbs and flesh. It’s what allows us to call ourselves living.

God was certainly pointing to His creative ability by showing Ezekiel this. But the real reason for this sign was for an even greater purpose. Through it we are reminded of God’s creation and His power over life here on earth. But even more importantly, we are given understanding about the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of life that preserves us for eternity. We have life, we have spirit, we have the breath of God – both physically and spiritually. That was God’s point to Ezekiel. Without spiritual life physical life does not matter; it cannot exist. Without spiritual life we are nothing more than a sack of bones. And without the Holy Spirit, without the breath of the Almighty, we don’t have this life.

Think again about how Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit, as wind. Think about God’s picture here to Ezekiel, of the power of His breath. All of these thoughts are wrapped up in the way the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to work forgiveness and life. In our natural state we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Our fleshly mind hates God. Even with a rudimentary understanding of God’s will in Christ we are still unable to accept it. We are utterly helpless, like dry bones in the wilderness. Yet, the Holy Spirit enlivens and enlightens us. Like wind, he moves us in the right direction to accomplish God’s will. Before the LORD showed Ezekiel this truth, described in the previous chapter what Israel suffered from, something we share in a spiritual sense: “Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land (Ezekiel 36:17,20).”

What shame Israel had brought upon itself and this was a recurring theme in the Old Testament. Their wickedness was so great that even the heathen nations were surprised by it, in complete shock that this people had turned away from the LORD and been driven from their promised land. Their spiritual actions were so grievous that the LORD compared it to a woman’s menstrual impurity. How had Israel reached to this point? They forgot who gave them life and breath, not only at the beginning of their lives but by faith in the heart. When you lose sight where your life came from, you lost sight of how you should continue to live. When you follow sin and wickedness your life will not be filled with happiness and purpose. Israel needed to take a deep breath, a breath from the Holy Spirit, a breath of repentance and forgiveness; and that’s exactly what God led Ezekiel to preach about through the vision of our text.

How would this forgiveness be accomplished? How would Israel come to accept and receive it so that they would have life? Not on their own. God ended chapter 36 by telling Ezekiel: “It is not for your sake that I will act, let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.” God acted by His grace alone. There was nothing pure about Israel that they should be saved. There was nothing worthy about their actions that merited God’s love. God acted for Israel, not because of them.

The Holy Spirit works in the same way for us. We are dry, lifeless bones; shadows of the creation we were meant to be; a useless framework which has no being or existence. But God comes and says, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” God’s Spirit works the same for us because we suffer from the same ailments as Israel. And now that you know that the word “breath” is the same as the word “Spirit” it means something very significant when God promises to put breath in you.

The Holy Spirit uses the Gospel of forgiveness to break the hard exterior of our lifeless hearts and return them to flesh that lives and beats. As God breathed life into Adam, He also breathes spiritual life into us. Regenerated and renewed, the Holy Spirit now continues His behind the scenes work in our lives, gracefully moving and flowing through us as the wind moves and flows through the trees. We see Him not, but we see His work. We live with the results.

And now, when this sinful life threatens, when distresses mount up, when anxiety and fear fill our thoughts, when we are weak and timid, when pressures threaten to cave in upon our faith; no matter what happens, we can take a deep breath. Take a deep breath from God’s live-giving Spirit. Breathe fully and confidently with that gift because it is the Spirit whom you breathe. That’s why Jesus called Him the “Helper.” It’s the Holy Spirit who refreshes and relaxes us. He is the one who talks us down from the edge of life’s perils. He shifts the pressure valve in our hearts, releasing the steam that builds up daily. So breathe deeply. Take a moment each day with God’s Spirit.

Those moments come easier than you think. You don’t have to hear a mighty, rushing wind. You don’t have to have tongues of fire upon your head. You don’t have to speak in other languages. You don’t have to see a skeleton rise to life and take human flesh. You don’t need any of those things to have the Holy Spirit.

Our journey today is much like Elijah’s in 1 Kings 19, when the Spirit came to him. The Spirit wasn’t in the strong wind. He wasn’t in the earthquake, nor in the fire; not in any of the mighty signs. It wasn’t until Elijah heard the “still, small voice” that God spoke to Him. God’s Spirit desires to speak to you through the still, small voice of His Word. Will you listen?

God doesn’t come to you because you deserve it but that doesn’t’ mean you can’t get in the way. Just this week I was helping Micah get outside to play with the kids at recess. He was so excited and eager to get out there that he forgot to watch where he was going. Before he even made it past the front steps, he tripped and skinned his knee. Those of you who were there probably remember the screams. Playing was no longer an option; I took him inside, tried to calm him down and said to him, “Take a deep breathe. Relax, you’re going to be okay.” And he was. Five minutes later he was outside telling everyone about it.

We all know how important life and breath from God is. Without it we have nothing, physically or spiritually. But how often do you face plant trying to achieve it on your own? How often have you been tripped up by the spiritual flavor of the week that is propagated in the world? Do you ever feel cornered by stress, anger, or depression? Don’t make the problem worse. Relax, and take a deep breath. Hear the Word of the Lord and the Holy Spirit will do His work. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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