Story for March 26
• It’s not about dry bones, it’s about revival! This is the exciting work God wants us to join Him in, but the flesh will resist
This week we’re hearing God asking if we believe that he wants to breathe new life into us.
That is what is commonly called revival, which has three aspects:
- Restoration of what was lost.
- Resurrection of what has died.
- Renewal of the spiritual dimension of life.
When there is a move of God in revival, commonly all these aspects work together because this is God’s Spirit breathing new life into every part of life. If we think in a compartmentalised way, where spiritual life is about church, and something called secular life happens elsewhere, it’s time to think again. God makes no such distinction. No part of life is beyond His reach. Nothing in our human experience is remote from His interest. It’s our hearts and our day-to-day trusting faith that attracts Him, not our religious rituals, and there are plenty of Bible verses that make that plain.
We’ll hear again the story of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones that, in a dramatic vision from God, he helped to bring to life. This is a foundational story of how God interacts with us. There is perishing and dying as the result of Adam’s sin, but God is always at work in revival. And as those who believe and trust Him, He needs us to partner with Him.
Let’s set the scene with some words from Psalm 130 which remind us that God’s words are sure and life-giving.
I wait for the Lord… and in His word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.
…Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption… from all [our] sins.
From Psalm 130
Now we come to a remarkable vision God gave to the prophet Ezekiel. He was one of the exiles in Babylon and he and the other exiles, wanted nothing more than to be back in their own country and free to openly worship the Living God. A new start, Israel restored to its former spiritual life… Mistakes were made, lessons were learned and God’s mercy and forgiveness will be seen to prevail.
Ezekiel had already had a word about how that might happen in God’s plan. Let’s hear the story now in Ezekiel’s words:
… By the Spirit of the LORD [He] set me in the middle of a valley… full of bones… bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, You alone know.”
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!… I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’
So I prophesied… and as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together… Tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath!… Say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ”
Then you, My people, will know that I am the LORD… I will put My Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”
Then He said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet — a vast army.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 excerpted
Perhaps the key phrase is this: “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord.”
God would not only resettle them, but also reveal Himself in a new way, the way of His Spirit. ‘Breath’ and ‘Spirit’ are the same Hebrew word.
The difference between a body, and a living body, is the breathing. So, by extension, the vision teaches that those who are sound of wind and limb in physical life are further enabled to experience an additional dimension of life, life in the spiritual dimension. This is where spiritual regeneration and renewal come into focus. This is where God has more for us. Jesus the Messiah of God is the one who provides that change.
This is where we are called to consider how God is breathing His new life into us. In the way of natural progression, everything corrupts or deteriorates over time. Even stone becomes weathered, and coastlines erode, gardens die back in winter and we, too, have seasons of losing vigour or gaining it in new growth.
This relates to Ezekiel’s vision which came on the back of his prophetic word about new heart and spirit in Ezekiel 36.
In this next sub-story, someone close to Jesus does die and is wrapped up and laid in the family tomb with much lamenting of the loss. Lazarus and his sisters were, it seems, of an age with Jesus. Lazarus’ death was untimely a shock and all the more as their close friend Jesus could not be reached in time.
But God had a higher plan. Jesus knew this plan and, difficult though it was for him, He had to abide by it. This was to become another incontrovertible sign of who Jesus was — and is. This was a prominent family and all eyes are on them as we hear the story of their testing time.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha… The sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” When He heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus…[but] He stayed where He was two more days, and then He said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” …He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
…He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
…On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met Him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” He asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him.
John 11:1-45 excerpted
This is a story of God breathing new life into someone already dead and buried. So if Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life that can command former corpse Lazarus to stumble out of a tomb and into the light, so He is our resurrection and new life, in a new way of living for Him.
Do we believe that the Lord wants to breathe this new life into us, into our church, fellowships, our families and work situations, our politics and our courts and prisons? If we are to learn to live as those who have a spiritual awareness of what is being discussed and transacted in heaven, won’t that change how we see the world around us? Not as spiritually bereft, but spiritually active and energised, a work in progress but by no means a project abandoned.
This is what this teaching for the Church from Paul’s letter to the Romans is stirring up in us. It is raising our expectation — from what is humanly possible, to what in God’s order is being worked out in us.
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh, but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
But if Christ is in you, then — even though your body is subject to death because of sin — the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.
Let’s go back for a moment to Ezekiel, and mention the word He heard from God — before He was given that arresting, panoramic vision in the valley: And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow My decrees and be careful to obey My regulations. Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT
We’re hearing that God wants to breathe His new life into us. Why? Because that turns us from enemies — following our own disruptive agenda — to people in tune with Him and His mission. Many who know something of God through church attendance, fall woefully short of submitting to God and willingly serving His plans.
And if we are not FOR him, we are AGAINST. The mind governed by the flesh — meaning our priorities, our desire to control, our need for titles and recognition — that mind is hostile to God. We need to have the Spirit of Christ to belong to Christ. Perhaps it would be a better description to talk about the Spirit of Christ having US. And this is what Paul implies, suggesting that if Christ is in us, then the Spirit of Christ being raised from the dead is active in us.
We will have life. And we will find ourselves being life-giving to those around us.
Those who are governed by the flesh, religious-minded people among them, are not going to welcome this life of Christ in us. Never mind — there will be others who recognise something authentically spiritual. They will want this to themselves.
Do you believe God wants to breathe new life into us? As we get to know him better, we realise that this is what God does all the time. People rebel against it, become deceived and confused and lacking heavenly vision and purpose, run amok spiritually.
We can be light bearers for them. And for others, because the Spirit of Christ in us is always at work, doing His renewing work.
- Bible study for groups based on these Bible readings
- This week’s video (on Substack) Do You Believe God Wants To Breathe New Life Into Us? Also on YouTube (wide) and Instagram (tall)