The Gospel

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two Things in Making the Dead Live

In Ezekiel 37 we get a glimpse of what it is like for God to save people and raise them from the dead. It's a physical picture of God giving new life to spiritually dead people. And, there are two important elements that shouldn't be missed.

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Element 1 - Preaching to the dead

Ezk 37:4 - Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'

This first element is absolutely needed. Ezekiel is to direct his prophecy to the dry bones. This is what you might call prophetic preaching. I take this as our cue to preach to the lost and spiritually dead. But now wait, this might seem strange. Why preach to people if they are dead? They can't respond can they? Nevertheless he declares to them that God is going to make them live. This is where we must not doubt the power of God. Whatever God says to preach must be preached, even to the dead. We might be tempted to focus on the impossibility of the task in preaching, but we must ultimately resign our thoughts to God by saying "O Lord God, You know."

In this stage, after Ezekiel preaches, the bones are clothed with flesh, and while this is a good start, the men are actually still not alive. There was still no breath in them (v8). And here is where God gives a second command that we desperately need to take in for ourselves.

Element 2 - Praying for the dead

Ezk 37:9 - Then 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 come to life."'"

This is the second element, praying for the spiritually dead. He is told to "prophesy" to to the "breath." The breath is the Holy Spirit (v14). This time he is not so much prophetically preaching as he is prophetically praying.

Some might object to seeing this as prayer. I can foresee two possible objections.

First objection: this is called prophecy, not prayer. Indeed it is, but what is the content of the prophecy? What is the message? It turns out that it's not really a message at all so much as a request... the prophecy is "Come, O breath." That's not a normal prophesy, that's asking for something. And the context of increasing the people of God like an "army" (v10) was earlier described in chapter 36 as increasing the people of God "like a flock" (36:37). And in that very verse, it is said to come through prayer. He said, "I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them."

Second objection: this prophecy isn't just a request, but even sounds like a command, and that can't be right, for nobody tells God what to do. Yeah, but think about it, lots of prayers in the bible sound like commands if you read them wrong. "Give us this day our daily bread..." "Cause your face to shine upon us..." "Restore unto me the joy of your salvation..." You could wrongly read those as commands too, if you wanted. In our asking, we are indeed pleading with the Lord to do certain things, but never with a high hand. In fact, when we pray, be it for the lost or otherwise, it is actually upon God's invitation. So we should not read this as a command, as if we demand things of the Spirit of God. No, God says, I'm commanding you to pray and bid the Spirit come and breathe life into these bones and flesh. So when we take him up on the invitation and command to pray, we are obeying him. Think of the hymn, "He himself has bid thee pray... therefore will not say thee nay."

It is this second element that we need just as much as the first. We must preach, but we must also pray. Not that I would necessarily stress some tight order in doing either one and how exactly the spiritually dead will be effected, but we know they are both necessary. We need to preach the word of God, and we need to pray for the Spirit of God to come and enliven the hearers.

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And don't lose heart at rattling bones. There may not be true life there yet, but God will send his Spirit as we call out to him. You may be on the verge of a breakthrough, and a great army of people being brought to life and raised up for the Lord.

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