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The Breath of God

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis introduces us to four children who find their way into a wondrous land through the back of a wardrobe closet in an uncle's house. The children, two boys and two girls, enter this magical land called Narnia, with its rolling hills, towering mountains, and rich, deep forests populated by the most remarkable beasts—all of whom can speak. However, they find the land covered with snow, cursed by perpetual winter.

We're also introduced to a wicked queen. She is a usurper to the throne. She is also a witch who is empowered with extraordinary gifts. She is the one who holds Narnia under her spell for this curse of perpetual winter. Lastly we're introduced to a lion. He's a mysterious, wondrous beast who comes from beyond Narnia and from beyond time. He's spoken of in hushed, reverent terms. In fact, when one of the girls asked a beaver, "Is this lion safe?" the beaver responded, "Safe? Oh my, no. But he's good."

This lion, throughout the Chronicles of Narnia, is Christ. This lion lays down his life for Narnia, dies on a stone table, and then rises from the dead more glorious and majestic than ever. In his majestic risen state he proceeds to reverse the effects of the curse upon Narnia. Wherever he goes or leads his troops, the effects of the curse are reversed. You need not see him physically to know he is near. You know he is near because the trees begin to thaw and the crocuses bud and bloom, and the flowers begin to break through the surface of the snow.

Toward the end of the story, Aslan, this lion, leads a troop of liberators into the castle of the wicked queen and finds the courtyard strewn with stone statues. These statues were creatures that had been turned to stone by the curse of the wicked witch. One wonders, as Aslan strides into this castle, how he is going to free those who have been turned to stone. We find out immediately because the great beast strides to the first of these statues, lowers his regal head near it, and breathes upon it. As the breath of the lion touches the stone, the stone ripples into flesh. As his breath fills the lungs of those who were once stone, they awaken and begin to sing and dance and shout the glories of the one who freed them: Aslan, the great and mighty one.

God breathes into us.

This is C. S. Lewis's way of explaining and illustrating the moment of redemption, that is, the moment when God turns our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and brings us out of death to life. It recalls a prophecy that was given to Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 36:26-27. God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new ruach"—breath, wind, spirit—"in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit"— my wind, my breath—"in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

In other words, God says to Ezekiel, "Tell Israel there is coming a day when I am going to change the economy between me and my people. From the beginning of time I have given you laws. I gave you one law in the Garden, and you couldn't keep it. I gave you ten from Sinai. You couldn't keep them. I gave you dozens of ceremonial laws to keep you clean, so you could come into my presence and find my grace. You've been unable to keep any of these. So tell them, Ezekiel, I'm going to come to them in a new way. I'm going to come and breathe my being into theirs. By breathing myself into them I'm going to take up habitation in them. By living in them, I'm going to change this calloused, hardened heart into one that is alive and pulsating with spiritual life, one that is responsive to me. By my living in you, then, I can help and equip you to follow my decrees and find my favor."

This wind, this Spirit of the Almighty, also reminds us of John 20:21-22, when Jesus, resurrected from the dead, appears to his disciples who had huddled in a room. The room was closed and the windows were shut. And Jesus, the resurrected Lion of Judah, appears in their midst. He probably scared them half to death, because Jesus' first words are "Peace. Calm down. It's me." Then he says, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." John continues, "And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"

Turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 3. Nicodemus comes to meet Jesus at night, and he receives some extraordinary words. Nicodemus is at the top of Israelite society, the top of the pyramid. He has been sifted and tested and voted on and scrutinized. He has been PhD'd. He has a resume as long as your arm. He is aged or at least very mature. He is powerful, knowledgeable, an extraordinary man in a culture devoted to God. In Nicodemus's day, if you were to ask an Israelite on the streets of Jerusalem, "Is Nicodemus going to heaven?" they would in all likelihood respond by saying, "If Nicodemus isn't going to heaven, nobody's going to heaven." He is a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin. He is scrupulous in his obedience to the Law, and according to the Law, blameless in the sight of men.

This powerful man comes to Jesus in the evening. He is about to do, he thinks, a favor for Christ. He is about to tell Jesus that he thinks Jesus is okay. He is about to place his imprimatur as a member of the Sanhedrin on the ministry of Christ—the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Now, let's read. "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.'" I am convinced Nicodemus was certain Jesus would be impressed that Nicodemus was impressed with Jesus. How stunned he must have been at what he heard in return:

"In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.' 'How can a man be born when he is old?'" the incredulous old man responds. "'Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!' Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, "you must be born again." The wind blows'"—the pneuma, comparable to ruach—" 'wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'"

What is surprising is what Jesus does not say. He doesn't respond to Nicodemus by saying, "Hallelujah, Nicodemus! You're on the verge of the kingdom. There is a decision yet to be made, and let me describe this decision for you. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. There is a gulf that exists between God and man. That gulf is sin, and I've come to bridge that gulf. Now, Nicodemus, if you would only pray this prayer written on the back of this card and sign your name at the end. You'll be in." Remarkable. He doesn't say anything of the kind. In fact, he says this, "Nicodemus, you have made a determination that by word and by work I am from God. You have come as far as the flesh will take you. The flesh, even the finest decisions of the flesh—philosophical, theological—the finest acts of the flesh—philanthropic, sociological, economic—still give birth to flesh. They still give birth to death. No, Nicodemus. Tonight is not the night of decision. Tonight is the night of a miracle. This miracle comes with the wind. This wind, this breath, you can't domesticate. You can't tell it when to come or where to go. It comes as it will. It comes when it will."

Being born of the wind.

You can say, "Wait till I'm 65. … Wait till I'm out of college. … Wait till I have my kids. … Wait till I've sown my oats. … Wait till I'm married. … Wait." It comes like the wind. You can measure its effect like the ripples on a lake or the rustling of leaves in the trees. But you don't know where it's coming from, and you don't know where it's going. So it is with everyone born of the wind, born of the Spirit, born of God. When I was a pastor, I baptized people. Before I put them under, I'd ask them a question similar to the Apostles' Creed: Do you believe that Jesus is God, born of a woman, conceived by the Holy Spirit; lived sinlessly among us; was condemned by Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day rose from the dead; has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of Majesty; and one day he's coming to call his people to himself?

If I were to ask you the same question, how many of you would confess such things to be true? I have a warning from the Scriptures for you. Even the demons believe, and they shudder. There is nothing deader in history than dead orthodoxy. There is no greater obstacle to a Work of God; no harder rock to break, to transform. Nicodemus was orthodox and dead, and his ilk slew the Author of life. Are you born of the wind? Born of the Spirit? The wind is blowing now even as it was on the night Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, and the implicit warning in the words of Christ is this: Surrender, for there is no guarantee this wind will ever blow in your direction again.

The work of the Holy Spirit.

My point is this: The whole work of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. How many of you can save a soul? There isn't a single person who can save a soul. You can't transform that which is reprobate into that which is glorified. You can't take that which is stone and make it live. You can't take that which is utterly corrupt and transform it into the image of Christ Jesus. You can't fill it and equip it for the work of ministry. You can only be a mediator of that power. You cannot do the work itself. The whole work of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit, and there is no spiritual work apart from the Spirit.

I have a friend who was in my doctoral studies at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. Bill's a country boy from the Appalachian Mountains. We'd be in the midst of work, and he'd get agitated after days in the library. He has a gift of evangelism, and he'd start getting squirmy. I could see it in his face across the library table. Finally he'd explode and say, "I just got to go save some souls!" He was sick of studying; he wanted to go out and tell somebody about Christ. And he'd do it: waitresses, cabbies, everybody. But Bill doesn't mean what he actually says. Bill couldn't save anybody's soul if his own soul depended on it. This work is a work of God. There is no work of God without God.

Bringing bones to life.

Turn back to Ezekiel 37, and we'll come to the crux of it. Right after this prophecy given to Ezekiel in chapter 36, in which God says, "I'm going to change your heart of stone into a heart of flesh," God gives Ezekiel a breathtaking vision. The vision starts in Ezekiel 37:1. "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones." Imagine Ezekiel being dropped into the middle of this arid valley, and he sees bones everywhere. "He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry." These aren't recently dead bones. These are bones that have been dead a long time. They'd been blanched by the sun. They're bare. They've been scattered, not one attached to another. "He asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?'"

He answers, "'O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.' Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones …'" Prophecy is the forth telling of the Word of God. Sometimes it includes foretelling of future events, but always the forth telling of the Word and the intention of God. The Lord says, "'Prophesy to these bones and say to them, "Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath,"'" ruach, wind, "'"enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath (ruach) in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord."' So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but—"

Ah, this prophet. Put yourself in his place. God says preach, so he stands squeamishly hoping nobody is watching, and he starts preaching to a congregation of scattered, blanched, and dead bones. As he starts preaching, stuff starts happening. It starts happening to the left and to the right and around him, bones flying past his nose, dust everywhere. There's commotion, rattling sounds. He's blown away, yet he still keeps watching, still keeps preaching. And stuff still keeps happening. These bones come together, rattling, clinking, attaching, skin covering them. They're lying there. Awesome stuff. How many of you got a lot of stuff going on at your church? Why are you proud of your church? Because of the stuff? "Come to church. We got the best stuff around! We may not have all the stuff, but we're planning on getting it. We got strategic initiatives to fill our church with stuff." Ezekiel preached, and stuff happened. But look what the text says: "But there was no breath in them."

These people were still dead—absolutely dead, positively dead, utterly dead. These people were dead, regardless of what this great preacher could accomplish. This prophet is about to learn the lesson that each of us are summoned to learn. Verse 9: "Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live."' 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 prophesied the Word of God to the dead. Stuff happened, but they stayed dead. Then God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind and summon it from the four corners and say to it, "Come, O breath of God. Now you breathe into these who are slain that they may live." The wind came; and they lived.

Prophesy to the wind.

Our denomination is built and sustained on the centrality of the Scriptures. They are our cornerstone, our foundation. But God is not simply looking for men and women who can faithfully articulate this Scripture to a dying generation. He is looking for men and women who can faithfully articulate this Word to a dying generation and who can prophesy to the wind. It takes one kind of integrity to stand before those who are sinful and dead and apart from Christ and declare to them the Word of truth, to speak on behalf of him who is life to those who are dead. But it takes another kind of integrity to be able to stand on behalf of the dead before him who is life and summon the wind. Why?

Here's the punch line; verse 11. "Then he said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house 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: O 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. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 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 that I have done it,"' declares the Lord."

In sum, this work is my work, and I will share my glory with no one. God says, "Lift up your eyes. Behold me and summon the wind. Pray because this work is mine. In my sovereignty I have placed you as agents of my grace, but that grace is mine; I dispense it through you. I save. I raise up. I save your neighbor. I save your husband. I save your kids."

God commands us to summon him because he's more eager to come than we are to ask him to come, more eager to save than we are to ask him to save. He who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine is ineffably sublime. You must summon the wind. If not, your children will die. If not, your churches will never live. If not, history will condemn us, because we have been here to summon the Spirit on behalf of our Christ.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

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Sermon Outline:


I. God breathes into us.

II. Being born of the wind.

III. The work of the Holy Spirit.

IV. Bringing bones to life.

V. Prophesy to the wind.


God commands us to summon him because he's more eager to come than we are to ask him to come, more eager to save than we are to ask him to save.