- Scripture Unpacked

Presentation 37
Presentation 37
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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’.
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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?
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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.
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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.”
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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”.
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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.
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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
In other words, “I want you to view the
hopelessness of Israel’s condition against
the backdrop of my power and majesty”.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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Vision Of Life And Hope
Preaching the Word that transforms the graveyard. In the
C18th 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.”
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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…
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Vision Of Life And Hope
Kenneth McCrae, a Scottish minister, describes his
experience of the unction of God’s Spirit upon his
“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”.
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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?
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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
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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.”
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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?
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