Sermon for the Festival of Pentecost (5/24/2015)
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Theme: “Then You Will Know that I Am the LORD”
The foot bone connects to the shin bone
The shin bone connects to the knee bone
The knee bone connects to the thigh bone
The thigh bone connects to the hip bone
The hip bone connects to the back bone…
I’m sure many of you are familiar with that children’s song. Be honest though, how many of you know this children’s song is actually an African Spiritual based on our lesson from Ezekiel 37?
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
O, hear the Word of the Lord.
It’s a truly fascinating story, isn’t it? In my opinion, Ezekiel 37 is one of the most fascinating stories in the Old Testament. I mean, the imagination just runs wild with this one.
God plops Ezekiel in the middle of a valley. Ezekiel takes in his surroundings and what does he see? Bones. In every direction, human bones. Countless human bones. Thousands of dead people – people who weren’t even given a proper burial, just left in the open to rot and decay so that all that is left of them is a pile of dried out bones – no gravestones, no flowers, no honor, no dignity, just death.
Then God leads Ezekiel back and forth among the bones – just to make sure he gets the point, right? Imagine what that tour must have been like… eerie, grotesque, dark, depressing. Everywhere Ezekiel looked – death.
And then God asks him that incredible question: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel, a priest of God, a man of faith, says, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
God says, “Prophecy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the 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 cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.’”
Can you imagine that noise – the noise of thousands and thousands of bones rattling as they come together? Can you imagine seeing the tendons, flesh and skin appear – all those skulls suddenly become so many unique faces with bodies?
It’s a fascinating story, isn’t it? It seems to be a vision, but it very well may have been real, in either case it’s a mind-bending, attention grabbing story.
God has always been a good story teller. Think of all the parables (the stories) that Jesus told while he was on this earth. The whole Bible is a collection of God’s stories- true stories told through his inspired authors. God is an amazing story teller, and he doesn’t just tell stories to entertain. His stories always have a point.
So what’s the point here? Why give Ezekiel this crazy story to see and to share?
Well he told us – three times in this story he told us: “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” This is the theme for all of Ezekiel. 65 times in this book God says to the world through Ezekiel, “Then you will know that I am the LORD” (65 times! Three of them in the lesson for today).
“Then you will know that I am the LORD.”
It was a message Ezekiel and his fellow Israelites desperately needed to hear. You see, this story that God shared with Ezekiel, it came to him at a time in his life that was probably one of the lowest of lows for him. From a human perspective his life had been in downward spiral for years.
Not too long ago, Ezekiel had been a young priest serving in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. He got to live and work and worship in the heart of God’s promised land, in the capital city, in that gold covered temple of Solomon. But then Babylon came… and Ezekiel (along with many of the other young leaders of the Israelites) was carted off into exile. And that was just the beginning of Ezekiel’s downward spiral (from a human perspective).
It was in exile that God first came to Ezekiel and started using him as a prophet. And God started using Ezekiel like he used some of his other prophets – as a living example, a living story of the relationship between God and Israel.
So, one day God came to Ezekiel and said, “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead.”
It was Ezekiel’s God-given job to get up the next morning and tell his fellow Israelites, “You watch, my wife is going to die.” And that very night she did… God took “the delight of his eyes,” his wife… and he wasn’t even allowed to shed a tear!… And still the hard knocks kept coming.
Just a few chapter before what we read in 37, Ezekiel received word that Jerusalem had been destroyed. The city that had been the pride and joy, the proof that God was with Israel, was gone. The temple, the very home of God, where he came to dwell with his people, was gone – not one stone left on top of another, the altar was destroyed, all the tools they had used to worship God were now in a foreign treasury.
Could it get any worse for Ezekiel? His earthly life was a wreak – forced to live in a foreign land. His personal life… what personal life? His wife was dead. And now his spiritual life, the temple he had worshiped in as a young man, the place where God lived among men was gone.
What did he and his fellow Israelites have left?
The real hard truth that Ezekiel and his fellow Israelites had to swallow: This is what they deserved. How many times had the Israelites been warned by God that their sinful stubbornness would not be tolerated forever? How many times had they been called to repent? Now the chickens were coming home to roost. The Israelites were reaping what they had sown.
God was perfectly just in all he was allowing the Israelites to suffer, in all he was allowing Ezekiel to suffer – but I’m sure that justice didn’t help them sleep at night. No, Ezekiel and the Israelites were broken. They were heartbroken without a home, without peace. They were just beginning to experience what their sins deserved. They were broken…
So God, the God of not only justice, but also of mercy and love, took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones so that he would know that he was the LORD.
“Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophecy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 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 up 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.’”
This is the point of this incredible story in Ezekiel 37: From death, God would give life. To those living in the pit of despair, God would give hope and peace and a home.
“Ezekiel,” God says, “can these bones live?… Yes, they can. And if I can make these dead, dry bones alive, you better believe I can give you life and hope and peace and a home. And I will. And when I do, you will know that I am the LORD, you will see firsthand what I am like. You will experience what mercy is, and how much I love you even though you don’t deserve it.”…
Christian brother, sister, what is weighing on your heart? What fears, what worries, what hardships, what heart breaks are threatening to drag you into the pit of despair? I know you have them. Maybe you don’t have as much weighing you down now as you have had in the past or will have in the future, but, we all know this weight – the weight of despair in this dark world. We all know what it feels like to be in that downward spiral.
We live in a valley of dry bones, of sorts, don’t we? We live in the valley of the shadow of death. Everywhere we look (just like Ezekiel, and the Israelites) we see the very real consequences of sin. The wages of sin is death and we’ve earned those wages in so many gross and disgusting ways – our spiritual apathy, our pettiness in our relationships with others, our idolatry of earthly wealth and comfort. How many times has God warned us against these sins, and yet day after day we fall into them again (just like those stiff-necked Israelites)?
So we have no one else to blame for the darkness that threatens to engulf us in this valley of death but ourselves. We have no one else to blame but ourselves when the despair of death comes knocking. And when our sin leaves us lying broken in this world, that’s just the beginning of what our stubborn sinfulness deserves.
And yet our God of justice comes to us today with a story, a story about dry bones being made alive, an incredible story about life from death. “Then you, my people, will now that I am the LORD.”
Christian friend, can you, a dry bones, dead sinner live?
Yes, you can. Because if God can make that valley of dry bones come to life, he can give you life and hope and peace and a home. He can. He will. In fact, He already has.
The same Spirit that gave the breath of life to that valley of dry bones, the same Spirit that came on those early disciples on the first Pentecost, the same Spirit that gave spiritual life to 3000 people who heard Peter’s sermon on that first Pentecost – that same Spirit has breathed life into you. When that water ran down your head, and the name of the LORD was spoken over you, dry bones took on tendons, flesh, skin… the dead became alive.
And all of it so that you could know that he is the LORD.
From death, God gives life (spiritual life now, eternal life in heaven!). From the pit of despair, God gives hope and peace… to you so that you can know that he is the LORD, so you can see firsthand what he is like, so you can experience what mercy is, so that you can grasp how much he loves you even though you don’t deserve it.
Know that your God is the LORD, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
Know that he is the LORD who makes the dead come alive.