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Can These Bones Live?

Ezekiel 37.1-14



            Resurrection means more than the raising of one man from the dead.  Resurrection brings us a special kind of hope.  It means that God is a God who surprises us by turning things upside down.  He turned the Cross into an instrument of salvation.  He brought new life to Jesus and raised him from death.  This very act reveals the length God will go to show his love for us.  Resurrection means reversals.  It means that God can take all the good and bad in our lives and intermingle it for good.  In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  This is Resurrection hope.  God can take everything in our lives—our health and illnesses, our wise decisions and foolish ones, our ups and our downs—and intermingle them for good.  Have you experienced this kind of Resurrection power in your life?  Our God is a God of Resurrection hope, and we today can live in the hope of the Resurrection in all things in our lives.


            When I was thinking about Resurrection, I recalled the writings of the Prophet Ezekiel. 

His name in Hebrew means “God will strengthen.”  He was a Hebrew priest and ministered primarily in Babylon.  Ezekiel was carried off as a captive to Babylon in 598 BC when he was around 25 years old or twelve years before Jerusalem was finally destroyed.  He received his call as a prophet when he was 30 years old and ministered for twenty-two years.  Recently I saw a photo of a carving of Ezekiel and he looked like he was 80 years old.  I suppose most of us think of the prophets as old men with long white beards rather than the young men they most likely were.  Ezekiel had the difficult task of giving God’s message to his fellow captives who thought that Jerusalem would never be taken nor the Temple be destroyed.  He showed them the judgments that would take place.  He told them that God would permit Jerusalem to be taken by the Babylonians and that the Temple would be completely destroyed.  In the later part of his ministry, he revealed the future restoration of Israel and the coming glory of Jerusalem. 


            One of his prophesies includes a section that might be familiar to some of us.  I learned the song, “Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones” when I was a child.  A number of early singers a hundred or more ago sang it.  Tennessee Ernie Ford sang the rendition that I learned.  It was one of the first Scriptures I recalled when I was reflecting on Resurrection.  It is a peculiar section written in the book of the prophet Ezekiel.  It is the account of when the Lord brought Ezekiel in the Spirit to a valley filled with dry human bones.  The valley was full of dry bones that were bleaching in the desert sun.  It is not an unusual experience for a traveler to encounter in the Ancient Near East.  Huge armies often clashed and the dead lay where they fell on the battlefield.  Scavengers, the wind, the dust and the Sun feasted on the bodies.  It does not take long for bodies to disintegrate in the desert.  I once saw the bodies of thirty sheep that were returning to the dust in the desert in North Central Saudi Arabia.  I am certain they completely disintegrated and became dust in no time.


            Ezekiel looked closely at the bones and saw that they were very dry.  The Lord asked him:  “Son of man, can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3).”  Ezekiel wrote around 600 years before the Resurrection of Jesus.  Wisely, Ezekiel replies, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know (Ezekiel 37:3).”  God tells Ezekiel to prophesy, that is, to preach God’s message to the bones.  The Lord said, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  This is what he Sovereign Lord says to these bones:  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and you will come to life (Ezekiel 37:5).”  Ezekiel prophesied as he was commanded.  He said, “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 there was no breath in them (Ezekiel 37:7-8).”  While the bones began to have tendons and flesh and skin, they were not alive.  They were unable to move. They had no life.  Something vital was missing.  There was no breath in them


            The Lord told Ezekiel:  ”Prophesy to the breath; prophesy son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live’ (Ezekiel 37:9).”  In Hebrew breath and life are connected.  When Ezekiel did what God commanded him … breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army (Ezekiel 37:10b).”  What were formerly dry bones that were disintegrating in the hot desert were now standing and alive.  As the old song tells us: “Dem bones, dem bones, dem bones, Dem dry bones.  Hear the word of the Lord.”  They heard the word of the Lord and they came to life and were alive.  Only the Sovereign Lord can make dry bones come back to life.  This is Resurrection power that comes from the Lord God and it is good news indeed.


            The Lord told Ezekiel that the bones are the whole house of Israel who are cut off, dried up and have no hope.  They had given up.  They believed God had given up on them and abandoned them.  God tells Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel who were captive in Babylon, “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 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 I have done it, declares the Lord (Ezekiel 37:12b-14).”  Through the prophet Ezekiel, God gives his people hope, Resurrection hope, long before Jesus was born.  He gave them hope long before Jesus was crucified, dead, buried and raised from the dead.  He is full of surprising reversals.  Instead of death, he raised Jesus from the dead.   Our God is a God of Resurrection.


            The Spirit is the dynamo of Resurrection power, Resurrection hope and Resurrection action.  In active churches the Holy Spirit moves powerfully.  The Church was created by the Holy Spirit as he came upon them as tongues fire when the Disciples and others met in prayer and expectation seeking the Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit did come with power and the Church was birthed.  The disciples could have given up when Jesus was crucified.  Instead, they trusted Jesus and waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit. 


Do you have Resurrection hope in all its ramifications?  Do you believe God’s Resurrection power brought Jesus to life?  Do you believe that the Resurrection power of God can someday raise you?  In our culture, we tend to believe that old folks are useless and that when we are old we just sit around waiting and doing nothing.  Our culture has taught the lie that when we get old we simply sit around.  There are many stories in Scripture of old people who have the best of their time when they are aging.  Let me give the example of Abram and Sarai.  They were very, very old.  Abram was 100 and Sarai was 90.  Abram was sitting by the entrance to his tent when three angels, messengers of God, dropped by to tell him what is going to happen.  Remember what they told him?  Remember Sarai’s reaction?  The angels told Abram that Sarai, who had never been able to bear a child, that she would give birth to a boy.  One hundred year old Abram and ninety year old Sarai are going to have a baby boy.  Sarai overheard and laughed.  Well, she got pregnant and gave birth to Isaac.  I am not saying that this old folk miracle would happen to anyone here but it reveals God’s power.  This is Resurrection hope and power.  There are other examples of similar miracles of God. 


Resurrection is a good example of God’s reversals.  The people of Israel were taken captive and exiled in Babylon.  They lost hope.  They figured the Lord abandoned them.  They figured that Jerusalem would be destroyed.  They thought the Temple would be completely destroyed.  It is no wonder they had lost hope.  However, they were not wise to lose hope in God.  Instead of losing confidence in God, they needed to remember that God is a God of reversals.  Instead of abandoning them in Babylon, God was going to give them Resurrection hope and would bring them back to their homeland.  God honors his promises.  He did bring them back to Jerusalem and restored the city.  He restored the destroyed Temple.  We do well to trust in God’s promises and recognize that he is a God of hope


            As we get older, it is good to recognize that God made promises that those who trust in Christ Jesus need not fear death itself.  For those who believe in him, Jesus forever changed the way we view death.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Since children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).”  Fear of death is one of the greatest fears that people have.  However, Jesus took that fear away.  We can face even death as we trust in Christ Jesus.  Paul writes, “Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)  Pastor Erin Lutzer reminds us that, “The Resurrection is proof that death need not terrify; the grave has been emptied of its power … The Resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith…the more we know about Jesus, the more its [death’s] power fades.”


            The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley that was filled with the bones of dead soldiers that were drying in the desert sun.  He told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  As he did so, the bones came back to life.  The Lord reveals his resurrection power.  He reveals the power of the Holy Spirit.  Hundreds of years later, Jesus faced death on the cross.  God raised him from death and reveals to us his power over death itself.  We do not need to fear even death itself.


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