Ezekiel was a man quite familiar with ministry’s price tag. His audience was a lot more challenging than mine has ever been. Ezekiel’s calling to ministry was also just a bit more dramatic than mine (see Ezekiel 1). My congregation was not always the easiest to get along with, but the house of Israel put the “funk” in dysfunctional. Their ancestors dwelt in a foreign land as slaves and captives, only to be delivered by a cascade of miracles. Those miracles culminated in the splitting of the Red Sea and the spectacular destruction of their enemies before their very eyes. Because of rebellion and unbelief, the house of Israel ended up wandering in a desert for a generation, but God remained faithful, sending His Word—commandments written in stone with His very finger while the Israelites were down on the plain below, busy breaking most of those laws. God led the people with a cloud by day and a pillar of holy fire by night, yet they murmured. When Israel’s sons and daughters were brought into a land overflowing with milk and honey, they soon forgot about their God, serving other gods. Endless cycles of sin followed, as did repentance, judges, good kings, not-so-good kings, and really bad kings. There were also the prophets. Some, like Isaiah, were sawn in two. Others, like Ezekiel, the people kept alive to torment. But despite the pain and hardship Ezekiel suffered, God had a purpose for His prophet.
A preacher named Ezekiel and a people who had become like dead men’s bones (Ezekiel 1). People who were exiled in the lonely valley of a foreign land that had become their grave. No hope, only a once great army now reduced to a pile of sun-baked bones. What is the answer? Speak to the bones, Ezekiel. Prophesy to them. Preach to them, saying, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”
The solution was not a new program to try to stir things up. It was not time to call an emergency deacon’s meeting or tocall the prayer chain. It was time to preach. “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’” Preaching has the power to make dry bones come to life. It has the power to put new sinew and flesh on people’s dead, dry bones and then to cover them with new skin. More importantly, preaching has the power to put breath in people and to cause them to come alive. Preaching can cause the broken and dead in spirit to come back to life and stand on their feet “an exceedingly great army.” A slain army lies motionless in the dust. Dead men’s bones devoid of flesh and life lie dry in the valley. But when anointed words are spoken by God’s servant, a great army rises from the dust as God breathes new life into those bones and they obey the irresistible the word of God. This is transformative preaching at its best. I have determined that I will settle for nothing less in my preaching ministry, because transformation is one of the primary purposes of preaching, and God’s people deserve nothing less than God’s very breath in my sermon’s words. How about you?