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Raising Dry Bones to Life

This morning we look at Ezekiel 37 and this strange but beautiful passage that God gives Ezekiel pointing forward to both the re-establishment of Israel, and ultimately, the Resurrection and New Life in the Holy Spirit.

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Good Morning. If you were wondering, yes, our Ezekiel lesson is where the song “Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones” comes from. Not in our hymnal. The song was inspired by this rather bizarre and amazing vision Ezekiel is given, and then told to express to God’s people.

Ezekiel would be in his early 30’s here, and while he is a prophet, he is a prophet in exile with the rest of the Jewish people in Babylon. His story is beautiful and sad. He was taken away as a slave just before he could fulfill his life’s dream of becoming a priest in the Jerusalem Temple.

He is chained and thrown into exile, he hates his captors, he hates his conditions, his job, and Ezekiel is sure God has forgotten him, and God’s people, leaving them to become slaves dying in captivity. Israel has become a graveyard instead of a great kingdom.

If you’ve ever felt God is ignoring you and your complaint, Ezekiel is your prophet. By his mercy, God answers Ezekiel’s complaint. He didn’t have to, but he did. And God gave Ezekiel a job much greater than a nameless priest in the temple, that of an extremely well-remembered preacher of God’s Word. It was not the job he wanted, but the job God wanted for Ezekiel because God knew him.

We begin with Ezekiel explaining that this was a vision. There are seven times this happens in his book. He sees a valley of thousands of skeletons, full of dry bones, meaning long dead, parched in the sun. And God asks Ezekiel, “can these bones live?”

Now Ezekiel is smart enough to know it’s a trick question. If anyone else asked, the answer would be, “of course not.” But it’s God, so he wisely answers, “God only knows!” As Jesus said in Mark 10,

“With man it is impossible, but not with God.”

Now, what is significant is not only what God is about to do, but how he does it. This is basic Christian theology as you walk through the story. Ezekiel is told to proclaim the word of the Lord to dry, disconnected bones, as if they could hear, and command them to listen to God’s Word. Just take a second to picture it.

There are lots of times I review my sermon in front of my computer monitor, as if my monitor could hear me. But I don’t for a second treat it like it could. fam Ezekiel is told “preach to the long dead as if they hear.”

And he does it. And there is a rattling sound, and the bones and sinews start connecting together. The toe bone connected to the foot bone. The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone. And you probably know how it goes. They are covered in muscles, and then skin.

But something’s still missing. And here is where it get’s really interesting. Did you know that in Hebrew, there is one word, “RUAH” which can mean either wind, or spirit or breath, depending on context.

The translators translate ruah as breath because the passage is about to give life, which we associate with breathing. No breath, then no life. And yet, Scripture teaches that it is the Spirit of God who gives life, the Spirit who is like the wind. Recall Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”

To be born again – to be given new life – requires the work of the Holy Spirit who is like the breath, the wind. So, Ezekiel prophesies again, this time to the breath. Breath (Spirit) comes into the bodies of flesh, and they rise to life, “an exceedingly great army.”

A valley of bones WAS how the people of Israel saw themselves. It is the valley of despair, of hopelessness. They believed that they were done as a culture. “Our bones are dried up.” “Our hope is lost.” Why?? “The curse pronounced on us if we broke our vow to serve the Lord alone has come upon us.

These are not empty words, mere exaggerated moaning while feeling down. They knew the warning Moses gave when he brought them God’s covenant. This is so important, because it is finally here, at rock bottom, where they see their own sin, and how horribly they treated God, their unworthiness for God to even listen to them.

And here is why it is such a wonderful passage. The people believed they were cut off, and undeserving of God’s redemption. But what they misjudged is the power of the Lord, as he wanted to establish an everlasting spiritual kingdom with Israel, for the whole world, and again:

With man it is impossible, but not with God.

While Israel had failed, God never fails. And God reveals here, in Ezekiel 37 his plan to remake us without sin in the resurrection. Though we are dead in our sins, He completely remakes us, by his Spirit.

It serves as a great model for preaching as well, and why we try to faithfully preach the world God gives. You see very often “PREACHERS” who tickle ears and tell people things they want to hear. Tell people how good they are, how they deserve good things.

While it may seem you can attract greater audience by telling them how good they are, the Bible teaches us we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and only alive in Jesus Christ, because he first conquered death. We are powerless. We cannot revive ourselves. We cannot think positively long enough or hard enough to bring our dry bones to life.

Sometimes we forget that we once were dead, that our plight was the same as the house of Israel. We can do that when we judge those outside the covenant of Christ. “How can they not believe?” “How can they act that way?” as though we came about our faith naturally and easily. We forget that we also were once dead.

The wonder is not why people won’t believe the gospel but why anyone who is dead is able to believe. It is by the power of God that the work of redemption was accomplished, and it is by the power of God that the dead are given the power to believe and be saved.

And that is also why we can be sure of our salvation in Christ.

We know it is He that brought us to life, and not our own effort or willpower. We were nothing more than dry bones, and yet God redeemed. If he has resolved to save you, do you really think you are too tough for him? If he has resolved to transform you, you can be changed! Listen to the words God spoke to stubborn Israel at the end of the previous chapter.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh

The words of our Redeemer are true for us, if we believe:

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live

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