“Take a Breather”
Lent 5, March 29, 2020
Take a Breather
Text: Ezekiel 37:1–14
Today, we are going to talk about breathing. Every single time we inhale, our diaphragms contract and move downward so that the space in our chest cavity increases. The lungs then expand, air is pulled in, and with help of a fancy protein called hemoglobin, oxygen goes to the blood. While this is all going on, carbon dioxide is then forced out when we exhale. The whole thing is pretty amazing, and there are hundreds of more details about this thing we call “breathing” that I left out. Given that the average person takes about 25,000 breaths per day, I think this is something you should know.
In our text today, God shows the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel a vision that tells us how important this simple thing of breathing is; the vision shows the resurrection of the whole house of Israel! Ezekiel envisions those who were very dead breathing again, physically. But he’s also seeing what breath can mean spiritually—with a definite pun intended there. We will get to that later. Ultimately, of course, Ezekiel’s vision is a picture of what Jesus does for us: Jesus Gives Us the Breath of Resurrected Life.
So here is how we are going to start this today. We begin by noting that we as God’s people have all kinds of “breathing” problems. Our breathing doesn’t work the way that it should. Perhaps you have, or know someone who has asthma, COPD, and so on. Obviously, there is a lot of talk about COVID-19. For us who are runners, or exercisers, when we push it too hard our lungs tell us. (Turkey Trot PR 2019) We “inhale” all sorts of things that harm us physically (drugs, too much food, too much sitting). We “inhale” all sorts of things that harm us spiritually (greed for a fancier new car, a corner office, a younger/richer spouse).
This is not just true now. Back in Old Testament times, Israel had been “breathing” all the wrong things, and that resulted in their destruction and captivity in Babylon. God gives Ezekiel a vision of what that means for them spiritually. It’s as if they are breathless, “very dry” bones (see vv 1–2, 11). That is really what this vision means. The people of God have forgotten about God, stopped worshipping Him, and now these people are just like a big ol’ pile of dried up bones. They have no “spirit.” The people of Israel are dead, spiritually. (Babylon)
Ezekiel was forced to take a good look at the situation, just as God’s Law forces us to take a close look at our own condition (Rom 3:20). We are sinners just as those folks were 2500 years ago: “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off” (Ezek 37:11, emphasis added). On our own, without Jesus/God, we are lying lifeless in the valley of death, just like the vision in our text.
Now I understand that this is kind of a bleak picture. Things don’t look too good for Israel and they don’t look too good for us. But a breath of fresh air is on the way.
The “Fresh Air” that I am talking about begins with the Word of the Lord (vv 3–4). The Word is living and active (Heb 4:12). You’ve heard that before, right? You have often heard me talk about how important it is for us to be in the Word, reading it, studying it, even memorizing it. Well, in this text we have another reminder of why this is so important.
In our text today, we find a Hebrew pun. You all know what a pun is…I have come up with a few over the years. (“highest caliber” “stiff fine”) Here are some others I found:
I saw an ad for burial plots, and I thought: “That’s the last thing I need!”
I was wondering why the ball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
I wasn’t originally going to get a brain transplant, but then I changed my mind.
Anyways, getting back to our text, we know that the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to help us. And where the Word is, there is also the Spirit. And in Hebrew that word is ruakh. Well, when we go to the text, it says this: “Prophesy to the breath [again ruakh]; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath [yes, ruakh], Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath [one more time, ruakh], and breathe on these slain, that they may live” (Ezek 37:9). Spirit and breath—it’s the same word. A Hebrew play on words . . . a pun, although this is one that doesn’t make us groan.
This is important because this text reminds us that where the Spirit is, there is life. We read: “I will cause breath [ruakh] to enter you, and you shall live” (v 5). “I will put my Spirit [rukhi] within you, and you shall live” (v 14). The Word and the Spirit give us back the breath of life that we lost with sin. And as weird as you may think this piece of the Bible is, we have seen this before. It’s just like the way God created Adam: first He formed him, then He breathed into him the breath of life (Gen 2:7).
With all of that said and noted, now God calls His people to take a breather. Jesus gives us the breath of resurrected life. In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus receives a new breath of life. In fact, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out” (Jn 5:28–29). Remember how very physical the resurrection was that Ezekiel saw (Ezek 37:6–10). The breath that Jesus gives reaches even those in the grave (vv 12–13).
This breath of resurrected life happens because Jesus gave up His breath on the cross. Do you want proof? Remember the end of Matthew?
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Now this breath of resurrected life is given every Sunday here in what we call the Divine Service. Every Absolution is a new breath for a new day. With this breath in you, God sees you as already raised up with Jesus Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). This is our sure comfort and hope, because “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).
Breathing is a big deal, and today God calls us all to receive the breath of resurrected life that comes only from Jesus. So, take a breather! In Him is a breath for the weary, the tired and the burdened (sound like anyone you know?), for the crushed in spirit, for the isolated and lonely. The breath He gives enters into the deepest dryness of your life and revitalizes who you are beyond all understanding. Yes, in Jesus is a breath of life that extends even beyond the grave, so breathe easy, my friends.
In Jesus’ Name.