Recently, I suffered from a case of Pneumonia. Extreme cases can be deadly because it robs your body of needed oxygen. This got me to thinking about the time Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection. He does something rather curious. The text says, "...and he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' " (Jn 20:22b). Why does he do this?
First of all, keep in mind that both in Hebrew and in Greek, the word for "spirit" is the identical word for "breath" or even "wind." In several passages, including this one in John, there seems to be a connecting between breath, spirit, and life.
For instance, when God created man, the text tells us that, "The LORD God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man become a living being" (Gen 2:7).
Another passage records Ezekiel's vision of the Lord's people who had died and become a valley of dry bones. Their "life" was gone, they were cut off and their hope had perished. However, God told his prophet to say, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.' ... Then He said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army" (Ezek 37:4-10).
Life comes from the breath of God, from the very Spirit of God. God had promised that he would put a "new" Spirit in his people (Ezek 36:26). There would be a "renewal" of life for those who had sinned and had become separated from God (Is 59:2) and therefore died (Ezek 18:4). In fact, he promised that the day would come when he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28), indicating that the promise would not be limited to the Hebrews.
Jesus fulfilled this promise of new life through the Spirit of God after his resurrection. The Spirit would sanctify us (2 Thess 2:13), renew us (Tit 3:5), strengthen us (Eph 3:16). What are we sanctified, renewed and strengthened for? Not only is it for being united with God, but to be agents of God's mission to bring the message of the hope. Take note of this phrase that often appears in scripture. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...." What usually follows is a message from God. The Spirit of God is connected to the message of God. That is why Jesus breathes on his disciples when he commissions them with the words, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you (Jn 20:21).
We have God-breathed words of life that God desires for us to share. People have something worse than pneumonia. They are suffocating in their sin, and will only live if they have the breath of God.