Before we conclude this point about dying in the pulpit, let us look to another example from the Old Testament. Johnson (The Glory of Preaching, 25) directs our attention to the Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The valley is a wasteland graveyard filled with the dry bones of a dead army. Asked whether these dry bones can live, Ezekiel responds to God, “O Lord God, You know.” In other words, says Ezekiel, “I have no idea.” God then commands Ezekiel to prophesy – to preach the Word of God – to the dry bones. So Ezekiel begins to preach and something profoundly unexpected happens. The bones begin to rattle and click together. Bones attach to bones, tendons grow, flesh and skin appears, and breath from the Holy Spirit fills their lungs. These dry bones can indeed live. More than that, their living came about by the preaching of a faithful prophet. Reflecting on this powerful image Johnson (The Glory of Preaching, 25) writes:
Why did preaching have that effect? Was it because of something unique about Ezekiel, because of some great rhetorical and oratorical skill? No… Did preaching have that life-giving effect because of the responsive condition of the bones? No. The bones could not respond. They had decayed. They were dead… Then why did speaking the word have that effect? It was because of the nature of the word. The word of the Lord is living and active, powerful and creative. The word of God not only informs, it performs, it transforms. The word of God makes things happen.
This demonstration of the Spirit and of power was effected through Ezekiel’s preaching. However, Ezekiel was not the source of power. Neither was his speechmaking. The power was outside Ezekiel in the very Word of God. It was ultimately the Preaching of the Holy Spirit, through Ezekiel, that gave life to once dead dry bones.
O would that we preachers today might follow the examples of Paul and Ezekiel. Rather than relying on powerful videos, hypnotic musical backgrounds, and funny jokes and stories from our lives, would that we might more readily present the truth in weakness and leave the rest to God. Rather than trying to convince someone into the kingdom, would that we might share the truth of the Gospel with all the strength and proficiency that we have been given and then rely on the Spirit of God to blow where He blows, giving life to the once dead. For, indeed, there is no other way to see the power of God at work in our preaching.
Smith’s concluding remarks (Dying to Preach, 175) are profound and challenging:
Perhaps the greatest threat to the pulpit is the giftedness of its preachers. [Dying to Preach] is offered for a generation that will surrender preaching so that every generation can hear God over our voices, a generation that will bear the cross in the pulpit in order to preach the cross from the pulpit, a generation dying to preach.