Presentation on theme: "Presentation 37. Introduction Do you despair at the level of spiritual bankruptcy that you find in your own life and in that of the church? God often."— Presentation transcript:
Introduction Do you despair at the level of spiritual bankruptcy that you find in your own life and in that of the church? God often uses despair as an instrument of last resort to empty his people’s lives and to do a new thing in them. And so in the work of God, despair is often the womb of hope. This is the message of this passage in Ezekiel. Remember God had led his people, including Ezekiel, into exile and he had done so in order to do a deeper spiritual work in their lives.
Presentation 37 Introduction Initially, the trauma of captivity failed to produce the desired effect upon the Jewish exiles. They were not brought to an end of themselves. It took the news of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem to knock the bottom out of their lives. For them the temple formed a part of their identity and their essential Jewishness. They were stunned! For the first time they began to question whether or not they had any future as the people of God. Now it was in this their blackest hour that God gave Ezekiel a vision of hope for the future. There are valuable lessons for us here and an application for both our personal and national church life.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair During her first 10 years in exile Israel had been falsely optimistic. She had failed to see the seriousness of her condition or accept that her spiritual bankruptcy was hindering her usefulness to God. Israel thought, ‘God needs us and because he needs us our future is secure’. Because of this flawed reasoning, both the exile’s, and those living in Jerusalem had rejected Ezekiel’s ministry. When he threatened forthcoming calamity, he was labelled a scaremonger. It is not always easy to look in a spiritual mirror and accept the truth about our spiritual condition.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair It is as if there are two windows through which we can look. The window of false optimism, and the window of God’s reality. Israel, looking through the window of false optimism, saw herself as an invincible army and because of her special relationship to God she would always be victorious. In his vision, Ezekiel glimpses out of the window of God’s reality. Instead of an invincible army, he sees a battlefield strewn with skeletons. The bones are described in v2 as being ‘very dry’. They have been picked clean by birds of prey and bleached white by the sun. This army was going nowhere in a hurry! The situation was not only serious - from a human point of view it was utterly hopeless.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair Then as now there is a reluctance to accept the seriousness of one’s spiritual condition. Whenever the suggestion is made that the church is terminally sick there is a desperate rush to the window of false optimism. We conclude, that although the church might not be in the most perfect of health there is nothing that a little strip of religious Elastoplast wont fix. For good reason the imagery God uses in our passage to describe his O.T. church is not that of a vibrant army barracks, or even that of a field hospital, it is a graveyard scene! They were ‘dead useless’.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair We can be very active physically in the life of the church but be ‘dead useless’ to God. As our hearts cool towards God by imperceptible degrees our former passion for God’s glory evaporates like the morning dew reducing our service to a mechanical performance. We dare not rely on our former commitment nor upon the fact that we’ve been issued with a uniform that identifies us as a part of Christ’s army. We fail to grasp that we can mistake the shell of orthodoxy for vital spiritual life. When we look out of the window of false optimism, we may see a mighty army, but does God see dry bones?
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair Unless God intervenes, his people’s false optimism remains intact. It took a major crisis - the collapse of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple to open Israel’s eyes to her true spiritual condition. What might God need to do, to close the window of false optimism on our personal and national church life? It is a humbling thing to be confronted with God’s estimation of our lives! Revival has been described as God’s finger pointing right at me. As we read the records of revival history, there are numerous examples of what happens when God closes the window of false optimism and opens the window of spiritual reality enabling people to see their true spiritual state.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair George Hamilton’s comments upon the Cambuslang revival in Scotland: “I found a good many persons under the deepest exercise of soul, crying out most bitterly for their lost and miserable state by reason of sin; of their unbelief in despising Christianity and the offers of the gospel: of the hardness of their hearts; and of their gross carelessness and indifference about religion... I heard then express great sorrow for these things seemingly in the most serious manner and this not so much from fear of punishment as from a sense of dishonour done to God.”
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair Bishop Kivengere writes of reviving work of God in the African continent; “Jesus Christ is unique, and one cannot be in his presence and not reveal the man he really is. Jesus pulls each person from behind his mask. In the exposure of that bleeding love on the cross, men become what they really are. You may think you are wonderful until you stand in the presence of the One who is purity itself. It is the pure light of God that pierces a man. You can keep up your pretence of being holy until you stand in that light. Then immediately there is nowhere to hide, all your masks are torn away, all your hollow smiles fade. Revival means to be exposed for what we are. The presence of the Lord is revealing”.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Death And Despair Why God does open his window of spiritual reality, which clearly reveals our true spiritual condition? Is it in order to leave us squeezed by the crushing vice of self-despair? No! God does so that we might see beyond ourselves, and gaze upon him, not only as a God of infinite holiness, but as a God of mighty transforming power. How important it is to recognise that our God can change the ‘dead useless’ into a mighty army.
Presentation 37 Vision Of God’s Power And Glory This returns us to the first vision of God that Ezekiel received in Ch. 1v1. for there is an important connecting truth between the two visions. Both were given to Ezekiel in the same place. The first vision in ch.1 depicts the glory, majesty and power of God’s person. And so when God begins to give Ezekiel this second vision, it is as though he is saying, “Don’t forget what you have already seen here”. In other words, “I want you to view the hopelessness of Israel’s condition against the backdrop of my power and majesty”.
Presentation 37 Vision Of God’s Power And Glory This vision of God is a necessary backdrop and preparation for the vision of human hopelessness. We can be so absorbed with our spiritual graveyards and so consume ourselves with grief over them, that we exclude from view the transforming power and consummate mercy of God. How easily we lose sight of the One who can bring life out of death, and success out of failure. Satan knows this and, if he can, he will keep us turned in upon ourselves, obsessed with our failure, for then we are less likely to see God as our Deliverer.
Presentation 37 Vision Of God’s Power And Glory God also draws attention to himself in the expression used to address Ezekiel, “son of man” [first used at the prophet’s commissioning 2v1]. The title does more than stress the prophet’s manhood, it contrasts the glory, majesty and power of God with the littleness, frailty and weakness of Ezekiel. This title would underline the difference that exists between the Creator and the creature. A difference that man has always tries to minimise. During the Reformation Luther reproached Erasmus, the famous humanist, saying, “Your thoughts of God are too human”. When our thoughts of God are too human it is not surprising that we see no way out of our despair.
Presentation 37 Vision Of God’s Power And Glory God asked Ezekiel “Can these bones live” v3. Would we have answered “No”? After all, what can be more dead than a skeleton! Ezekiel’s answer is coloured by his knowledge of a God whose power transcends human limitations. His reply, ‘O Sovereign Lord you alone know’, is an attempt not to set limitations on God?’ Ezekiel is saying, “My tiny, finite mind cannot begin to grasp all that you are able to do.” How refreshing compared to those pundits who tell us what God can and cannot do! There is no spiritual corpse so dead that God cannot quicken it! Do we believe that with reference to the spiritual condition of our own hearts? Can we respond in this way as we view the spiritual graveyards around us?
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope How does God go about the apparently impossible, transforming the despairing and hopeless? How does he transfer men from the cemetery to the army? Ezekiel is told ‘to prophesy/preach’ v4 to the dry bones. You ask, ‘What good are mere words? Surely something more imaginative and practical than preaching is called for? But these are no ordinary words! The preacher has been entrusted with the powerful re-creative Word of God. God’s Word brought creation into being, and his Word recreates a broken humanity restoring it to spiritual life. God’s Word also revives spiritual lives that have become dormant. It is through the foolishness of preaching that God accomplishes his purpose.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope Preaching the Word that transforms the graveyard. In the C18 th the moral and spiritual fabric of the UK. was at a low ebb. The church resembled a spiritual cemetery. But God was at work. He raised up men like George Whitefield and the Wesleys. As they met together at university to pray and study God’s Word, God called them to preach in a spiritual graveyard. They saw God at work! On one occasion, after Whitefield had finished preaching in London, in a place notoriously opposed to the gospel, a burley man approached him and said, “Mr Whitefield, I came to break your head, but through you God has broken my heart.”
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope To preach is to unleash the re-creative Word of God on men. In our passage, there are two stages to this transforming work. Preaching alone was not enough! We read in v8 that although the bones had come together and been clothed with sinew and flesh, the bodies remained lifeless. Ezekiel is told to address himself to ‘the breath’ v9. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ translated ‘breath’ describes ‘God’s breath’ or ‘God’s Spirit’. And so Ezekiel is calling upon the Holy Spirit to assist the Word that is preached. Those who consider preaching impractical will also certainly consider praying for the assistance of the Spirit as impractical! But look at the results in v 10…
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope Kenneth McCrae, a Scottish minister, describes his experience of the unction of God’s Spirit upon his preaching: “From the very outset I felt a power and solemnity descend upon me, which made me seen to lose sight of self and all I knew was that I was preaching Christ to sinners... Throughout the church here and there were bent averted heads and a stillness and solemnity prevailed, the like of which I have never before experienced. Awe seemed to be written on many of the faces, which were turned towards me. As for myself, I was conscious that some mysterious Power was constraining me to preach as I have never preached before”.
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope Revival has been described as, ‘the inrush of the Spirit into a body that threatens to become a corpse’. We dare not think, ‘I am too dead, or my church is too dead, to be revived’, in the light of the graveyard scene that we have before us. Are we burdened about our spiritual state and that of our church? Can we pray that God would grant his Spirit’s unction on the Word that is preached, and grant the illumination of His Spirit in men’s minds and hearts?
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope If men and women are to be converted, if Christians whose love for God has grown cold are to be revived, then it will surely be through this twofold means; the preaching of the Word and the assistance which the Spirit gives when the Word is preached. Can we see the wonderful balance in this passage between the relationship of Word and Spirit - a relationship that we need to emphasise. John Stott writes…
Presentation 37 Vision Of Life And Hope “We use a different vocabulary to describe the continuously needed restoring and refreshing of the church. Our two favourite words are ‘reform’, indicating.., reformation of faith and life according to Scripture, and ‘revival’, denoting an altogether supernatural visitation of a church or community by God- bringing conviction, repentance, confession, the conversion of sinners and the recovery of backsliders. Reformation, usually stresses the power of the Word of God, and ‘revival’ the power of the Spirit of God, in his work of restoring the church. Perhaps we should keep the word ‘renewal’ to describe a movement, which combines revival by God’s Spirit with reformation by his Word. Since the Word is the Spirit’s sword, there is bound to be something lopsided about contemplating either without the other.”
Presentation 37 Conclusion The vision of Ezekiel, given against a background of utter despair, is a vision of hope. We need to grasp that! There is no spiritual condition too hard for God, there is no church too dead that God cannot revive, and so there is no need to permit despair to drive us over the edge as we gaze through the window of spiritual reality. The God of Ezekiel is our God. And through the proclamation of his Word and by the operation of his Holy Spirit he is able to take a pile of dry bones and utterly transform them into a mighty army. Is that not motivation enough to drive us to our knees?