The Challenge of Spiritual Awakening
This evening in Spokane we have the first of many prayer gatherings in the Northwest to plead for God to send us revival. “Awaken us to Yourself! Bring us back through repentance to You, O God!” That is our cry and our only hope.
Considering our great need (only 4 percent attending church on Sunday in the NW, declining baptisms and attendance and giving in our churches, the rapid endorsement of godlessness and wickedness in our nation), and recognizing our complete and utter inadequacy to accomplish anything on our own, we are left with only one thing – our God. If strategies and work were enough to overcome the evil one and “win the day for God,” we would be in pretty good shape. But they are not enough and they never have been.
As we consider our challenge, consider the challenged posed by one of the greatest questions ever asked. It was God Himself who asked His servant this question: “Son of man,” He said, “can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3)
Ezekiel stood in a valley of death, full of bones, when God asked this question. Everywhere he turned there were piles of human bones, bleaching and rotting beneath the sun. The utter desolation of this ancient battlefield represented what had become of Ezekiel’s people, the nation of Judah. Judah was in exile in Babylon and her heart was broken, her spirit crushed. The national existence destroyed, ruined forever. Jerusalem was a heap of stones. Tens of thousands were dead. The last King of Judah, Zedekiah, watched all of his sons slaughtered by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar before his own eyes were poked out.
The air was thick with defeatism and despair. And it was to rebuke that defeatist spirit that God interrupted Ezekiel’s thoughts with the question, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel didn’t quite know how to answer. He was too much of a believer to say “No.” But the desperate impossibility of the situation made it hard for him to say “Yes.” And so he answered neither one or the other. Rather he said, “Lord, you alone know.” And then, immediately he got his answer, and his commission in verse 4 – “Then He said to me, ‘Prophecy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’.”
Those of you who are preachers or Bible teachers, isn’t your first thought, especially if you didn’t know the end of the story, “Poor Ezekiel! Prophecy to the bones! Preach to the dead!” Yes, but don’t forget that the foolishness of preaching is the wisdom of God. And the message that God gave Ezekiel was, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”
Do you remember being taught that God always honors His Word, that God’s Word never, ever returns empty? In our world we suffer an incessant, deluge of words. But this word was different. This was the Word of God. One word, if it is God’s, can cut right to the heart. God’s Word can divide and penetrate. It can dissect and cut through the strongholds of sin in a man’s life. God’s Word like a lightning bolt can tear into your heart and change you forever!
Ernest Hemingway is said to have wagered with fellow writers that he could write a story with 6 words that had a beginning, middle and end. They all took the wager. And he quickly wrote 6 works. “For sale. Baby’s shoes. Never worn.” And his friends paid the wager. Great men have all learned the power in a few well-chosen words: “I have a dream,” “Ask not what your country can do for you,” “Tear down this wall.”
Yes, but then there are these words: “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” Or, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.”
God gave Ezekiel a word to say. God gave Ezekiel a word to say! The foolishness of preaching! Yes, the human element in preaching and witness and praying is poor and pathetic and weak. But what if, in spite of the human element, God speaks? What if the words in the Bible are nothing less than Resurrection trumpets blown by the lips of Almighty God!?
So there’s Ezekiel, looking at a valley of bones. But we see in this text some hope. And we see in this text a path to take. Ezekiel responded, “So I prophesied as I was commanded” (37:7). That’s an act of faith. That’s an act of obedience! It’s like in John 9 when Jesus told the man born blind to go wash in the pool of Siloam and the man did as he was told. And he received sight! He obeyed. He believed. He believed. He obeyed. Or what of Simon and Andrew in Mark 1 when Jesus saw them fishing and said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. And immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (Mark 1:17-18). They left their jobs. They left their families. They followed Jesus. They did what He said. Obedience.
Ezekiel prophesied as he was commanded. And when he did there was a noise, behold a rattling, and the bones came together, bone leaping to bone. And the flesh and the sinews and skin covered them. And the breath came too. A body can look like a body and have no life. A people can look like a church, organize like a church, work like a church, and have no life. We must have God’s breath of life. And as Ezekiel saw this miracle unfurled before him, God told him, “This is Israel. This is my people whom I will bring to life. And in whom I will put My Spirit. And I will place them in their own land.”
As we pray for spiritual awakening and revival we are praying to the God who does these things. We are praying to a God who allowed one of the persons of the Trinity, His own Son, become a corpse for 3 days dead – as dead as dry bones. And then – Resurrection! That is, as I understand it, the challenge of spiritual awakening. It is God bringing to life that which is dead – God reviving that which cannot revive itself.
Northwest Baptist Convention