Sermon by Gareth Dicks 22.05.2022

St Mark's Farnborough - “Can dead bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

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The title of my message this morning is “can dead bones live?”

A turn of phrase that we will often use in a number of different situations is “dead and buried” — that is to say that the particular problem or situation is irretrievable, it is beyond hope.

We realise when there are situations in life that are just impossible, and the sensible thing to do is just to admit that it is “dead and buried” and move on.

But there is also the reality of physical death, we have all at some point lost a friend or a loved one and so we know all about the shock and grief of death - people can try to tell you that it’s just a natural part of life and yet try telling that to someone grieving the loss of a loved one and they will tell you otherwise.

Death is not natural, it is the reality in which we live in since Adam and Eve disobeyed God - Adam was warned that if he “ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge, he would surely die” — God offered Adam and Eve the choice, choose obedience, which leads to fullness of joy and life... or choose disobedience, which leads to grief and death. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they wanted independence from God and wanted to be like gods themselves — and humanity has been under this curse of sin and death ever since.

That’s why the apostle Paul says that “creation groans in the pains of child birth” — you only have to look at the news at any point in the day to see that the world is in a dreadful mess.

Now just as Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, so had God’s people Israel.

In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel begins by warning of God’s judgement on His people for all their idolatry and rebellion against God, which would then lead to them being punished when Babylon invaded them.

So this vision of the dry bones has to do with the people of God in exile for seventy years in Babylon.

1. THE HOPELESSNESS OF THE SITUATION (vs1-2)

In this prophetic vision that The Lord shows to the prophet Ezekiel, He brings him into a valley that was full of bones, and there he was standing amongst all these skeletons in ground - Television pictures of the aftermath of war are probably the nearest that we can get to the horror of what confronted Ezekiel in his vision — this was a dark, grim picture of hopelessness and death.

There are three main things that we learn about those bones.

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1. There was a great number of them — as far as the eye could see and beyond counting, there were skeletons piled up in that valley, enough to make up a vast army.

2. The bones were not buried, the people who had died did not have the dignity of being buried, it was the final insult — it was very degrading in that culture not to have a proper burial.

3. They were very dry, these the bones of those who were long dead had lain there for a great many years. No trace of life or of the recognisable individuals who once walked on the earth, just dry bones.

This picture of the dry bones represented God’s people Judah, the temple in Jerusalem had been looted and destroyed and had been exiled in Babylon for seventy years and the people were all scattered — how could they possibly gather again to worship The Lord as the people of God?

Because they had sinned against God with their idolatry and profaning the name of The Lord, they had been punished by God allowing that evil empire of Babylon to invade them and take them away into captivity.

v11 says: “Behold, they say ‘our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”

Their plight was hopeless - they had sinned against God and turned away from Him, and since God is the source of all life, they were dead and without hope.

And just like those dry bones in the valley, they could not come back to God on their own.

2. THE POWER OF GOD (v9)

So God asks the prophet Ezekiel “Son of man, can these bones live?”

What a question to ask! There he is, standing in the middle of this vast number of dry dead bones and The Lord asks him, “So what do you think? Can these bones come back to life?”

It might seem like a purely rhetorical question, but the prophet Ezekiel has faith in the power of God and responds by saying “O Lord, only you know the answer to that!”

Ezekiel knew that God had the power to raise the dead, both the prophets Elijah and Elisha had raised boys from the dead and there is also the account of a dead man who was buried in Elisha’s grave whose corpse touched Elisha’s bones and came back to life.

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Yes — God has the power to put to death and bring to life, as it says in Psalm 104:29-30:

“When you take away their breath, they die and return to dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”

Ezekiel had no doubt in the power of God to resurrect the dead — even a vast number of dry bones.

The Word has power

So God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over these bones “O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord... I will cause flesh to come upon you and put breath in you and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

So Ezekiel prophesied and the bones came together and flesh came upon them — notice that the bones didn’t have ears to hear, they were dead — but the Word of God has power. At once the bones came together and all the flesh and skin... but there was not breath in them, they were like lifeless statues.

The Spirit brings life

v9 “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.”

This wind, this breath is referring to the Spirit of the Living God.

If you go right back to the beginning of Genesis, when God created the first man Adam, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7)

Going back to Ezekiel, in v10 the prophet says:

“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.”

God will revive His people Israel just like this vision of the re-creation of humanity.

Notice also that in this miracle of raising this vast number of dry bones that we see the Word of God and the Spirit of God at work — the Word has the power to raise those dead bones and put flesh onto them and the Spirit of God has the life that brings them to their feet and back to life.

Do you realise that the only way that a church can grow is when the Word of God is proclaimed and the Holy Spirit brings life?

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The Word of God has the power to challenge us and convicts us - and the Holy Spirit refines us and changes us.

Without the Word of God and the Holy Spirit the Church is dead and just like those dry bones.

In Ephesians Ch 2 we read about how salvation comes about — the apostle Paul says:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” (Eph 2:1-2)

Spiritually speaking, we are all just like those dead bones in Ezekiel, a Christian is someone who was once spiritually dead — someone who followed the course of this world, living their best life now without a thought for God. The apostle Paul describes the old way of life as:

“Following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (vs 2-3)

In other words — the devil pulled the strings, a spiritually dead person just follows the course of the world, in being disobedient to God they were being obedient to the devil and as a result were under the wrath of God like everybody else.

Then come two words that change the course of human history — “But God...”

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5)

Everything was hopeless — but then God stepped in, God intervened, His love for us was so great that He sent His Son into the World and to the Cross to die in our place as our substitute so that we could be brought to life in Christ.

It is God who makes us alive in Christ and not us, we can no more make Christians of ourselves than those dry dead bones that Ezekiel saw could come back to life — salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit bringing a spiritually dead person to life.

THE SPIRIT OF GOD (v14)

Lastly, going back to Ezekiel — The Lord makes a promise to His people in v14:

“And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

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This is referring to the Spirit of God — The Holy Spirit.

Last week, we looked at Nicodemus’ conversation with The Lord Jesus, and Jesus said to him:

“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn 3:5-6)

The Holy Spirit brings salvation and eternal life, a person cannot make themselves a Christian however hard they might try to be a good person or trying to rely on religious rituals — it’s all dead, there is no spiritual life in any of it, without the Holy Spirit.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we had another reference to the Holy Spirit when Jesus says to His disciples:

“The helper, the Holy Spirit, whose the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26)

The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to remember The Lord Jesus’ teaching after He had left them to ascend into heaven and to deepen their understanding of what Jesus had taught them.

These things were then written down, in this - the most precious of books, the Bible, that the likes of William Tyndale, the Bible translator was hunted down like an animal and brutally murdered because he had devoted his life to translating the Bible into English so that we could have it in our hands today.

“And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

God promises to send His Spirit to dwell in those who believe in His Son Jesus Christ.

Do you have the Holy Spirit living in you this morning?

Because only the Holy Spirit can lead you in the way of truth — Do you believe that the Bible really is the Word of God? Do you believe that this message from Ezekiel is true for us this morning?

Is your heart stirred up with a love for God and His Word — do you want the Lord Jesus more than anything else?

Can dead bones live? Yes — because all things are possible with God?

Can God bring life into this place? Yes — but only if we are willing to surrender fully to Him.