Summary: From Bones to Brawn 1) See what God did for Israel 2) See what God does for us
Watching our Mum & Me program in action has been an enjoyable experience for me. I’ve been especially impressed with one helper our teachers have - Shep the sheepdog puppet. Shep usually shows up when it’s time for the Bible story. He’s really good at keeping the children’s attention and explaining biblical truths that aren’t always so easy to grasp. Since Shep does such a great job in Mum & Me I thought he would be a big help in sharing the sermon with you this morning. So Shep, what’s our sermon text about today? (Silence as puppet sits lifeless on the pulpit.) Shep! Wake up! Help me out here. What’s our sermon about today? (More silence) I don’t get it. Shep is so lively and animated during Mum & Me why doesn’t he want to help me out now? What? I have to make Shep move by putting my hand inside of him, and then I have to talk for Shep? Like this? (puppet illustration idea by Edward Grube)
Did you know that we are all a lot like Shep, the sheepdog puppet? We don’t have any life in us unless someone else, in our case God, gives us life. That’s what God did for the Israelites in our sermon text and it’s what he still does for us. Let’s find out how God turns us from bones to brawn.
While I used a puppet to illustrate how, by nature, we are lifeless, God used a valley full of dry bones to illustrate that truth for the prophet Ezekiel. Everywhere Ezekiel looked he saw human bones so dry that they were on the verge of turning to dust. God asked Ezekiel if those bones could live. Ezekiel wisely answered that only God knew. Indeed those bones would live because God wanted them to live. And so God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. He was to tell them that they were going to live. When Ezekiel did this, the Holy Spirit entered the bones. He caused them to rattle together into skeletons, and then he caused tendons and muscles to appear on the bones before skin covered them. The valley that was once full of bones was now a valley of bodies. These weren’t living bodies, however, they were still corpses. So God told Ezekiel to prophesy again, this time he was to say that life would enter the bodies. He did as he was told and after Ezekiel spoke God’s Word, the Holy Spirit entered the corpses and gave them life. They all stood and there before Ezekiel was a valley full of living, breathing human beings! From bones to brawn – God had worked a miracle through his Word.
It certainly was some miracle, but what was the point of it? God told Ezekiel: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O 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. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:11-13a). The Israelites of Ezekiel’s day saw themselves as dry bones without hope. Their homeland had been destroyed, and the Babylonians had carried them into captivity. This had happened as a result of their sin. They had scoffed at God’s calls to repent or face destruction and deportation. Now that God had carried through with his threat, there didn’t seem to be the chance that they would ever see Israel again. If not, then how was the Savior to be born there as God had promised (Micah 5:2)? And without a savior their future was indeed hopeless and they were as good as dead.
Although the Israelites had been faithless, God remained faithful. He had promised to send the Savior through the Israelites and he would do it because of his grace. To assure the Israelites that they would one day return to Israel where the Savior would be born, God provided this vision of bones turning into brawn to show his people that God could breathe life into the most hopeless situation. Some seventy years after the Israelites went into captivity, God returned them to Israel.
What God did for the Israelites is certainly wonderful but that was so long ago and we’re not Israelites. Why should it matter to us? It matters because the Savior that came through the Israelites is our Savior from sin. Without Jesus we would be without hope because our sins make us dead before God. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins...Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph. 2:1, 3b-5a). From bones to brawn – that describes what God has done with us. When God’s Word is spoken today or used in the sacraments, the Holy Spirit still goes out and brings dead sinners to life through faith in Jesus.