(We began with this dramatic reenactment of the Ezekiel 37 passage found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lKpzzOEhyY)
What you just saw was a powerful reenactment of the vision that God gave to Ezekiel (the video showed a view of the valley of bones being bought to life while a narrator read the vision from Ezekiel 37). A valley of dead… dry… bones being brought to life again. It seems a little bizarre. But it was a such a powerful vision that it still catches the imagination of people to this day.
Ezekiel had been a priest of God until Nebuchadnezzar came down and captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 587 B.C. Most of the tribe of Judah had been led away in chains… including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Ezekiel. This was a time of hopelessness and despair for God’s people. They’d been punished for their sins… just as God had warned them and now their lives were empty and miserable… and they felt dead inside, as if there were no more future. There was no way out. They were trapped.
And so God gives Ezekiel a vision. He shows him a valley filled dead, dry bones. Bones were everywhere, scattered by wild animals. There seemed no hope of them every being brought back together again. And then God asks Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel 37:3
Now, that’s a dumb question. Of course they can’t live. They’re dead! They’ve been dead for a really, really long time. They’ve been whitened by the sun, dried out by the wind and scattered all over the place. It would take (long pause) a miracle to bring them back together and give them life again. Oh yeah (pause)… a miracle would do it.
Now, Ezekiel’s a pretty smart guy. He knows what God is asking. He knows God has presented him with an impossible situation, and there is no normal/natural way these bones would ever come back to life. Unless (of course) God brings them back to life.
So, notice Ezekiel’s answer. God has just asked if these bones could live and Ezekiel replies: “O Sovereign LORD, YOU know.” (Ezekiel 37:3) God, if YOU decide to bring them back to life… they WILL live again.
For the past 3 weeks we’ve looked at miracles that showed mighty power of God. The Destruction of the Tower of Babel; the Fire and Brimstone that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah; the Sun Standing Still in the Sky for Joshua so he has the extra time to destroy his enemies. And each of these Biblical miracles has been mocked and ridiculed by skeptics down thru the ages, because these things couldn’t possibly ever (ever/ever) happen. But… of course they did. Because, well, God KNOWS (that’s what Ezekiel said: God YOU know)… God KNOWS how to do stuff like that.
And now, God has pulled Ezekiel aside for one of the most important lessons in Scripture. In fact, it’s a lesson taught over and over and over again throughout the Bible. And the lesson is this: God can make these bones live again. God can give life back to that which is dead.
That’s the lesson God gives us over and over again. And it was the lesson He was now giving to the Israelites through Ezekiel: You’re dead as a nation. Babylon has crushed you and has scattered your hopes across a valley of death, and there is no reasonable way you’ll ever be brought back to life. But I can give life to that which is dead! And I WILL restore you as a nation.
Through the prophet Daniel (who was also in Babylonian captivity) God promised that in a period of 490 years, not only would Judah be restored as a nation, but God would "… finish the transgression, … put an end to sin, … atone for iniquity, … bring in everlasting righteousness, … seal both vision and prophet, and … anoint a most holy place.” Daniel 9:24
At that exact year (490 years after Jerusalem was restored) Jesus’ ministry began. And, with His ministry and death and burial and resurrection, Jesus finished transgression, atoned for iniquity… and brought life to those dead in sin.
God had plans for Judah and Jerusalem, plans for hope where once there was no hope. That’s what Jeremiah 29:11 said: “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God had plans for His people to LIVE where once they were dead.
But, what about the original question: Can These Bones Live Again? Can God actually bring a literal physical body back to life? There’s a lot of people who don’t think so.
ILLUS: A few years back, Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University asked a cross-section of America this question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected?” Only 36% of adults surveyed said "yes." There were 54% that said they did not believe, and 10% were undecided. Nearly 64% of Americans answered God’s question: “Do you think these bones will live again” by saying Nope, I don’t think so.” They didn’t think it was possible. Dead people tended to stay dead. (http://www.shns.com/shns/g_index2.cfm?action=detail&pk=RESURRECTION)
But WE believe God will raise the dead. In fact, He already did that when Jesus rose from the dead. And if Jesus rose from the dead we know we will too!! You see, the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection is powerful.
Paul wrote: “(Jesus) was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” I Corinthians 15:4-8
There were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. But were these witnesses reliable?
ILLUS: Charles Colson (one of the men convicted in Watergate) “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it were not true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep the lie for 3 weeks. You’re telling me 12 Apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Impossible.”
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is what our faith is built on. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead… we don’t have anything to offer anyone. But JESUS DID rise from the dead. Which means YOU and I will rise from the dead as well.
That’s why our baptism into Christ was so important. Our baptism is the point in time when we clothed ourselves with Christ. That’s the point in time when we accepted Jesus as our Savior. AND that’s the point in time when we identified with the message of Christ.
Romans 6:3-5 declares: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
We are promised a physical resurrection from the dead because – in our water baptism – we identified with Christ’s death/burial/resurrection.
(PAUSE) But our resurrection from the dead, at the end of time is only part of the promise given us by our risen Savior. I recently ran across an intriguing song written about the prophecy of the valley of dead bones
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI1RAfrmE7g (Fade IN at 0:22 & fade OUT at timestamp 2:50)
Those words speak of what God does for us right now: “God of endless mercy - God of unrelenting love, rescue every daughter - bring us back the wayward son. And by your spirit breathe upon them. Show the world that You alone can save. We call out to dry bones “come alive, come alive.” We call out to dead hearts “come alive, come alive.” Up out of the ashes, let us see an army rise. We call out to dry bones, come alive” (Laura Daigle)
What that song is saying is this: the prophecy of the valley of Dead Bones doesn’t just apply to Judah - it applies to us too. God plans to bring us out of the death of hopelessness to give us life in Christ.
Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So, Jesus tells them a story about a SINNER. An ungrateful son who took his inheritance, turned his back on his dad and left home - blowing it all on fun and friends. But when the money ran out, and so did his friends, life got harsh. He realized what a fool he’d been and decided to come home. But he also realized he’s no longer worthy to be called a son. So he says: “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this MY SON WAS DEAD, and IS ALIVE AGAIN; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.’” Luke 15:21-24
You see… that’s the message of the Gospel. YOU WERE DEAD in your sins.
Colossians 2:13 tells us “When you were DEAD IN YOUR SINS and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God MADE YOU ALIVE WITH CHRIST. He forgave us all our sins”
And Ephesians 2:4 & 8-9 proclaims: “Even when we were DEAD IN OUR TRESPASSES, (He) MADE US ALIVE together with Christ… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Our sins destroy us. They create self-doubt. They rob us of our courage and confidence. They inflict guilt and self-loathing. They make us doubt that we’ll ever be good enough to be good enough that God would ever love us. And most of all, our sins destroy our relationship with God. That’s what we see in the story of the Prodigal Son. We’re told that the prodigal’s sin caused him to leave his Father. And his guilt caused him to stay away as long as he did. And it caused him to say “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.”
You see, because of our sins a lot of people think they need to buy God’s love. That’s why, when people are asked if they’re going to heaven, they’ll say “I hope so!” Why would they say “I hope so?” Because they know they’ve done bad stuff and they think they need to do enough good stuff to buy God’s love. It’s just that they’re never quite sure they’ve done enough to get that done.
But Jesus says, you don’t need to buy God’s love. He already loves you. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” If you’ll accept God’s love on his terms He can take that which is dead in your (your heart/soul/mind) and He can make it ALIVE again. Because God KNOWS how to do that. Son of man, can these bones live again? God KNOWS. And, because God KNOWS how to raise our bones from the dead you can trust Him to raise you out of your sins and ultimately – raise you from the grave.
You simply need to do it on His terms: Believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God and that He died to forgive you of your sins. Repent of those sins. Confess that Jesus is now your Lord and master – that He owns you and everything you possess.
And lastly – and this is the genius of God – allow yourself to be buried in the waters of Christian baptism. It’s at baptism we recognize we were DEAD in our sins, and then we were buried. But that dead person that was buried then rose from a watery grave to be ALIVE, a new creature in Christ.