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A. Series, exile
B. Last week: Cyril Chavis, could be a part of this series
C. I did not grow up in a Christian environment. And so I was very ignorant of Christian things. I didn’t know the Bible stories. I didn’t know the hymns of the faith. But fortunately I did know and love a lot of spirituals. And one of the songs I knew and loved was Dry Bones:
1. Ezekiel saw dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord. Foot bone connected to the ankle bone, leg bone, knee bone, thigh bone, hip bone, back bone, shoulder bone, neck bone, head bone, now hear the word of the Lord. Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around, dem bones dem bones gonna walk around, now hear the word of the Lord.
D. And what a joyful day it was for me when I first read Ezekiel 37!
E. Ezekiel 37:1–14 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 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 may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
A. A prophet: a prophet is a person God chooses to reveal His word through.
1. Given this vision for the purpose of communicating it to God’s people.
B. The occasion (because it’s important to the message)
1. There are times of ease/overconfidence & times of hardship/discouragement. This was one of the latter.
2. It’s hard enough being separated from your homeland. It’s hard enough being in a foreign place where you are out of your comfort zone and don’t really understand how things work. It’s hard enough being captured and taken away from your homeland against your will.
3. But this was even worse than that.
4. Everyone loves their homeland. But it’s safe to say that the land of Israel meant more to the people of Israel than people’s homelands usually mean to them.
a. God promised a land to Abraham and his descendants.
b. Then came the long wait during the days of the patriarchs, including 400 years in Egypt and 40 years in the wilderness.
c. Finally, in the days of Joshua they entered the promised land and lived in it for around 640 years.
d. During those years, there were a number of times when Israel’s possession of the land was in jeopardy. But every time God stepped in and delivered. And so the Jews expected it to continue.
e. And so when Babylon conquered the land, they thought the invasion would soon be undone. And when they were taken into exile in Babylon, they thought it would be short-lived. But it wasn’t.
f. No matter how much they hoped for it to change, no matter how long they waited for it to change, Babylon was their new home. And that was a real downer.
g. — (Very few of those Jews taken into exile ever returned to the land of their fathers. A few of the children who were exiled eventually made it back as old people, but that’s it. The exile lasted 70 years.)
III. So, what’s going on with this vast valley of dry, dead bones stretching out before Ezekiel?
A. 1-2 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
1. Inside the body, there is a lot of life in a bone. But you know that when a bone is removed from the body, it slowly dries out, until it is dry/brittle. These bones weren’t just dead, they were very dead. So much so that they weren’t even connected to one another in skeletons any more.
2. What does it mean that they are dry and dead? I think v.11 answers that:
a. 11 Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’
3. These people are hopeless. Why are they hopeless?
4. These people are hopeless because they’re cut off. Cut off from what? Cut off from the promised land. But it was more than that. They were cut off from God. They had sinned so much that God had now driven them out of their promised land by means of the Babylonians. And driving them out of God’s land, of course, was symbolic of being driven away from His presence.
5. This is the deadness which Ezekiel faced in his day.
B. This is very relevant to us as well. The fact is, all mankind is in exile. We have been since Eden.
1. We’re not at home here. We were made to live in the paradise of God. But we’ve been driven out. The One we were meant to live with – and share a beautiful life with – has cast us out of His garden home.
2. But not only are we cut off, we’re dead. We’re dead toward God. We’re dead toward each other.
3. All mankind is dead in sin. And we’re not just a little bit dead, we are profoundly dead.
4. And under God’s curse, our planet is dying.
C. It’s easy to be discouraged. It’s easy to be pessimistic. It’s easy to feel like the future is bleak.
1. We see a dead world before us and around us – and even in us.
2. This is why this story of the dry bones is so instructive as to how we should live in this world.
IV. In Ezekiel’s vision, as he was standing there in the midst of this valley of dry bones, God turned the dry bones into a great army. With a great rattling sound, the bones came together, bone to bone. And then sinews were added to the bones, and then flesh came upon them, and then skin. And then they were given breath, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army (v.7-10).
A. What was this exceedingly great army which Ezekiel saw in his vision? Verse 11 tells us: “These bones are the whole house of Israel.” It is the great multitude God had promised Abraham – more than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.
B. In Ezekiel’s day, things looked like there was no way this promise could be fulfilled. God’s people like Ezekiel were understandably discouraged and felt hopeless. But God wanted to remind them that He had not forgotten His promise, that He is not only the God who judges the wicked, but He is also the God who brings the dead to life.
C. The bleakest book in the whole Bible has to be Lamentations, written by Jeremiah during this same time period, and placed right before Ezekiel in the OT. It is 154 verses lamenting was has happened to the promised land and its people. And yet from the barren landscape of this amazing book rises a great mountain of hope in Lamentations 3:21–26, But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
1. And this is the same message Ezekiel is given in his vision of the valley of dry bones.
D. In the midst of the harsh realities of life there is a sure and certain truth: in the mind of God there is a body of people whom He has loved and chosen from before the foundation of the world to be His children (Eph.1:4-5). And in His own good timing, every last one of those people will be brought to life in order to serve the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
1. This is what the Father was talking about in Psalm 2:8, when He says to His Son, “Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”
2. And again in Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
3. This is the same multitude we’re told about in Revelation 7:9–10, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
E. And God wants to assure Ezekiel and the rest of His people, that all the tragedy they have witnessed, and all the failure they have experienced has not thwarted God from fulfilling this promise: a promise which actually began not with Abraham but in the garden of Eden, when God promised that the seed of the serpent would be at enmity with the seed of the woman (Gen.3:15). The seed of the woman was Christ, but also the people of Christ.
V. But before God turns dry bones into a living army, He asks Ezekiel a question: Can these bones live?
A. Now we know the story. We know that God made the dry bones live. So we want him to say, YES!
B. But to Ezekiel, the bones don’t look like they can live. He had never seen a dry bone come to life before. Ezekiel had seen the idolatry of God’s people, He had seen the devastating judgment which had come upon them. It was very hard for him to imagine all that deadness coming back to life.
1. So, his first reaction was to say no.
2. But it was God asking the question, Can these bones live? He probably shouldn’t say no.
3. So, he takes the safe route. He says, “You know, Lord.”
C. We’re so blessed to have been given stories like this, stories which teach us that even when everything looks hopeless and dead, to the point that the bones are dry and brittle, that God can still work, that the story isn’t over yet, that God is the God who raises the dead (2Cor.1:9).
D. You see, deadness – though intense and very tangible – shouldn’t overpower those who believe in the God who raises the dead.
1. When we see our bodies aging and know that death is getting closer, we don’t need to succumb to the hopelessness and despair of the world, for we know the God who raises the dead.
2. When we see robust people shrivel up and die, when we see lush, green landscapes turn into brown deserts, we must not forget about the live-giving power of God.
3. Believers can’t just look at deadness and see deadness. We need to be able to look at deadness and by faith imagine life.
E. The future is bleak only if we don’t know the God who turns the valley of dry bones into a mighty army of living soldiers.
F. One of the reasons it’s so good to study church history is that you realize that when it comes to the growth of Christ’s kingdom, for thousands of years there have been seasons of deadness and seasons of coming to life.
G. And the temptation is – when you’re in the season of deadness – to think that it’s always deadness, and when you’re in a season of coming to life, to think that that is the permanent state of affairs.
1. But that’s not the way it works. It goes back and forth between deadness and life, just like the vision of Ezekiel.
H. In my youth, people were becoming Christians right & left. I could tell you story after story of amazing breakthroughs in people’s lives. And so could many others sitting here. The power of God was on display. It was easy to be hopeful.
1. But now we look back on that time and see what an extraordinary time it was!
I. And today it seems like most of the news we get is bad news.
1. There’s political turmoil and societal strife. Churches are shrinking, evil is being celebrated.
J. And it’s therefore a great time to turn back to the story of Ezekiel. God didn’t ask Ezekiel to believe in His power to give life after a series of spectacular life-giving displays. He asked Ezekiel to believe in His power to give life in the midst of a season of sin, idolatry, defeat and ruin.
K. What we need to remember is that when things go from a season of thrilling miracles to a season of depressing deadness, God hasn’t changed. Perhaps the way He’s working has changed in some ways, but God hasn’t changed. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8).
1. He’s still omnipotent. He’s still the Lord of the heart. He still has power to work wonders.
2. And He has not finished His work in this world.
L. And so, when facing a vast scene of deadness, we’ve got to ask ourselves the same question God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”
a. In your marriage
b. In your church
c. In a relationship
d. In our society
e. In your career
2. It’s easy to think they can’t. But we know these bones can indeed live!
M. So many people are discouraged about the future of the world today! They don’t want to get married, they don’t want to have kids, because those are future-oriented things, and the future looks bleak.
1. But for the one who knows the God who raises the dead, things should look very different.
2. The glorious truth which becomes our strong anchor is that God is not dead. The deadness will never be so dead that God will be sucked into it. He is the living God. He is the God of life!
3. Jesus died. But then He burst the bonds of death once and for all! And now He lives! He sometimes hides Himself – but yet He very much lives!
4. “How sweet to hold a new-born baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives. But greater still, the calm assurance this child can face uncertain days because He lives. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.” – Bill Gaither (56 in green hymnal)
VI. And now we come to the last question from the Ezekiel story: How will these bones live?
A. God says two things about this to Ezekiel,
1. “Prophesy over these bones. Say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” And as Ezekiel prophesied, there was a rattling sound as the bones came together, and then the sinews and the flesh and the skin. But there was no breath in them.
2. And then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath, and say to the breath, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” This is about prayer. Remember that breath = Spirit. This is about crying out to the Spirit of God to come and give life to the dead.
B. So, God has given us two jobs to do, two ways to pursue life in the midst of the prevailing death:
1. To proclaim the gospel of Christ to the dry bones, to proclaim the truth of Jesus coming into the world as a man, living a life of perfect righteousness, dying as our substitute, and then being raised from the dead in triumph
a. It is this truth which God has chosen to use to bring people to new life. We need the proclamation of this gospel to come to life ourselves. And so do others.
b. 1Peter 1:23–25 You have been born again through the living and abiding word of God... And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
c. James 1:18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth (i.e. caused us to be born anew) by the word of truth.
d. Just as it seemed ridiculous to ask Ezekiel to prophecy to dead bones, so it seems ridiculous for us to proclaim the gospel to people who are dead in sin. But there’s another side to it...
2. To call out to the breath/wind/Spirit of God to come upon the bones and make them live
a. Telling others about Jesus by itself is just like going to the cemetery and trying to convince the dead to come back to life. It isn’t going to happen.
b. It requires the intervention of God. Without the miracle of God, the dead just remain dead.
c. And that’s why prayer is such an important part of the process. This story makes it so clear that the work of turning the dead bones into a living army is not being done by Ezekiel, but by God. We are fools if we try to proclaim and convince without also praying.
C. The dry bones can indeed live. But it is a process. An army isn’t raised in a moment.
D. How we are blessed to have some little role in God’s process of bringing this great army to life! And how impoverished we are to be uninvolved in this process!
1. This is one of the greatest blessings of the church: to watch this vast scene take place, this giant valley of dry bones being transformed into a living, breathing army, standing on their feet
2. A glorious rattling! Look around! Every person is a manifestation of this process!
A. Ultimately, what God is doing in this world is bringing this great multitude to life.
1. And yet God doesn’t do this work all at once. It is a work which takes all of history to fulfill.
2. If God can change people’s hearts, why doesn’t He change everyone’s hearts right now?
a. That may look like the wisest thing to do from our perspective, but God is infinitely wiser than we are, and He is working things out according to His own perfect plan.
3. And on that last day, when the great multitude is praising the lamb with a loud voice, no one will be wringing their hands about the valleys of deadness they had to come through in the process.