Dead Bones that Live (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
When the kids were small, I picked them up from school one afternoon and went to the YMCA. I put them in the KidZone while I worked out (RJ and Wil both loved playing with the other kids). After I showered, I picked the boys up, and Wil started running down the hallway, and he tripped and fell. He hit his pinky on the wall, and he cried for a few minutes and said it hurt, but that was about it.
But over several days, his finger became more and more swollen and it took on a horrible red color. Our PCP was a deacon at church, and I called Scott and he ordered an x-ray; the results were clear—Wil had fractured his pinky. Scott told me to get him to a specialist pronto.
I started calling orthopedists, and I kept being told that they could see Wil in a week or two. Finally, after I had made several such calls, I told one receptionist, “Look, my son has a broken finger, and I was told he had to be seen today. Quit giving me the run around. I need him seen today, and someone is going to see him today.” The doctor suddenly had an appointment for that afternoon.
The physician looked at Wil’s hand and the x-ray. He tossed me a roll of surgical tape and said, “Tape it to the next finger for two weeks, and he’ll be fine.” If I had known that, I could have run to Walmart and gotten tape!
Many of you have had trouble with your bones. Many of you have suffered fractures. Maybe you’ve had a bone come out of joint, and you had to have it popped back in place. Maybe you’ve needed to have a joint replaced. Maybe you deal with painful arthritis. Maybe you’ve had a back surgery where vertebrae were fused together.
I imagine you’ve also found animal bones from time to time. Maybe you’ve found the remains of a squirrel or a mouse or a snake—a few years ago, I found a dog’s skull at Tammy’s parents’ home. But I have never found human remains—and I prefer to keep it that way!
However, Ezekiel found a valley full of human remains. God used those human remains to teach a lesson about what God would do with the nation of Israel. We will keep this passage in its original context, but we also need to learn modern truth from that context: “God can breathe new life into his church.”
Scripture (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Ezekiel saw a valley overwhelmed by dry bones. A great battle where thousands have died has apparently taken place in that valley. In Ezekiel’s day, the greatest curse was to leave an enemy’s body unburied and allow the vultures to eat the flesh. These bones have been in that valley and hot sun for a long time, for they are dry.
God asked Ezekiel if the bones could live, and the prophet replied, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Ezekiel likely knew the bones could live, for God has all power. But Ezekiel didn’t know if God wanted the bones to live or not.
God told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones and to tell them to hear the word of the LORD. The word of the LORD was for the bones to come back together and to live again.
Ezekiel prophesied, and he heard a sound and the bones came back together, sinews came over the bones, flesh covered them, and then skin covered the flesh. But the bones had no breath in them. God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath and to tell the breath to come and breathe on the slain so they could live. Ezekiel did so, and the bodies lived and became “an exceedingly great army.”
The bones represented “the whole house of Israel” who said, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” Ezekiel prophesied during the Babylonian Captivity; the Israelites had been uprooted from their homeland and placed in a foreign land with a strange language and strange customs. No wonder they felt cut off and dead.
God would raise the Jews from their graves and bring them back to the land of Israel; then the Israelites would know Yahweh as their God.
When God placed his people in their own land, he would put his Spirit within them and they would live. God’s putting his Spirit into the people indicates they needed repentance. God sent the people to Babylon as punishment for their idolatry, and the people could return to the Promised Land only through repentance. The night Solomon dedicated the Temple, God appeared to him and said, 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. Ezekiel 37 shows God was keeping his word.
Yes, Ezekiel prophesied specifically to the Jews in Babylonian Captivity; he gave them hope that they would soon return to their homeland. However, if God can restore a nation to its homeland before he raised his Son from the dead, what can he do now that he has raised Jesus from the dead?!
I want us to take the principles from the Valley of Dry Bones and learn this truth: “God can breathe new life into his church.” How can “God can breathe new life into his church?” This passage provides some principles. What must the church do?
One: The church must Admit.
The Jews in Babylon saw their situation; they said, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” If the church is to have new life from God, she must ADMIT her situation.
Ask yourself, “Where does Deer Park need God’s breath of new life?” Think seriously about your answer.
Two: The church must Announce.
The bones lived only after Ezekiel spoke the word of the LORD. If the church is to have new life from God, she must ANNOUNCE God’s word.
People often ask how the church can grow. The answer is simple: Preach the word of God. At Pentecost, Peter preached the truth about Jesus, and his preaching cut the crowd to the heart (Acts 2:37). Peter then continued his sermon (Acts 2:40). Notice why there was a great response to the gospel at Pentecost: “Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
People like to look for the latest gimmick to grow the church. That’s ludicrous—churches grow through preaching the word of God. Yes, you can do many things and attract a crowd, but that’s not the same as making disciples of Jesus the Christ.
There is no substitute for announcing God’s truth. “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). If you want God to breathe new life into this church, you must commit to sound, faithful Bible preaching.
Three: The church must Anticipate.
God told the Jews in Ezekiel’s day precisely what he was going to do: “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. . . . I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” The people could ANTICIPATE what God would do.
This church has every reason to ANTICIPATE what God is going to do here. The God who created the world, rescued his people from Egyptian bondage, brought his people home from Babylon, and raised his Son from the dead is the very same God who operates in this church: Ephesians 3:20-21.
Don’t throw up your hands and say this little church can’t do anything! God can do more than you can think or imagine. Don’t look at what we can’t do; look at what God can do.
Four: The church must Atone.
God told the Jews they needed a new life when they got back to Canaan: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” The people needed to ATONE for their sins and repent.
The church must also ATONE for her sins for God to give her new life. In the Revelation, Jesus called on entire congregations to repent; to the church at Ephesus, he said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev 2:5). When Jesus judges the Deer Park church, what sins will he notice? What sins require this congregation’s repentance?
Of course, congregations are made up of individuals. Jesus acknowledged that in the Revelation: “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4). You know what that tells us? While Jesus judges the entire congregation, he judges the Christians who make up that congregation and he expects those Christians to live properly.
Here’s the question: What sins do you have that might prevent God’s breathing new life into this church? Do you spread gossip and negativity about this congregation? Do you actively participate in worship? Do you seek opportunities to serve? Do you follow the direction of our elders? Do you commit sins against this church which require repentance?
Do you really want the Lord to breathe new life into this church? If so, you need to Admit this church needs new life, you need to Announce the truth of God by supporting gospel preaching, you need to Anticipate the great things God will do, and you need to Atone for the sins in your life.
Do you have sin in your life this morning? Do you need to come to Jesus and allow him to make full atonement for your sins?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.