Can These Bones Live?

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Ezekiel saw something startling.  He saw human bones; skulls and ribs and jaws. They were not in some small grave or a pile but spread throughout a valley.  It probably looked like a holocaust - destruction on a mass scale.  Instead of hiding Ezekiel’s eyes, though, the Lord led him around the valley and through the bones to show him just how many there were.  And as Ezekiel stood there in the valley of dry and bleached bones, the Lord asked him “Can these bones live?”  Indeed, can these dry bones live? 

Now just to clarify, these bones in this vision were God’s people, the house of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah to be precise.  These were the people that came forth out of Egypt with Moses.  They were the people who were in the wilderness for 40 years.  They were the people who had settled in the promise land; however, in this vision, they were dead – all of them.  Long dead – reduced to dry white bones because of their sin and rebellion.

This vision of dead bones depicting the dead-ness of Judah should not come to a surprise to the people of Judah.  The Lord had warned the people of Judah that this very thing would happen.  In fact, God already made good on another warning more than one hundred years earlier when He sent Sargon, King of the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel because of their idolatry and rebellion.

Then only little Judah was left, the last of God’s people.  But they did not learn from what happened to the other kingdom.  God spared Judah, but that did stop the people of Judah from the same path of disobedience and idolatry. 

You see, Judah too chased after other gods.  They set up idols.  They flirted with other kingdoms for security and protection instead of trusting in God.  In a word, Judah had sold out.  They had abandoned God. 

So God let them have what they wanted.  You see, God has a way of letting humanity chase after their own dishonorable passions.  Yes, often as a way of Judgment, God will give mankind up to mankind’s own debased mind.  If people do not want anything to do with Him, He will let them go their own way as a way of Judgement, even if it is the way to destruction. 

And so, we know from history that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and destroyed everything – the temple burned and destruction was unleashed.  Those who survived were marched off to Babylon.  And there they sat.

As a result of the destruction, wrath, suffering, and being displaced the people began to self-exam themselves.  This is how it usually goes with pain and discomfort – people are shaken and sobered up from a spiritual stupor when bad things happen.  In other words, the people knew why Jerusalem was not outside their windows.  It was because of their sin and unrepentance.  And like a dry bone, they ached for what once was.  That is why they cried out “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.”  And they were.

But God does not remember His anger forever; His mercy is everlasting.  To His hurting and crushed children, God sent His prophet Ezekiel, no longer with a message of repentance and wrath, but now with a promise of grace and forgiveness. 

Dear friends, do you realize that this is how God works?  God tears us down that He might heal us; He strikes us down so that He will bind us, and He kills to bring life. That said, God does not merely kill for the sake of killing, His killing is not separate from His bringing to life. God kills ‘so that’ he may bring to life; He strikes down ‘so that’ he can bind up.  He reduces us to the fine powders of repentance so that He may raise us up in faith! 

The same is true for Judah in our Old Testament reading.  The Lord would once again bring His children into their own land.  His glory would return to the temple.  They would again be His people because He would sprinkle them with clean water and wash them of their sins and put His Spirit within them.  “You shall be my people, and I will be your God,” said the Lord.

To drive home the truth of what He promised and to dismiss any doubts that the Lord of heaven and earth can do the impossible, God showed Ezekiel the valley full of bones.  He asked him, “Can these bones live?” 

In other words, can God’s people be given new life where sin, death, and hopelessness reigned?  Can their spiritual dryness be quenched with the water of life?  And the great answer is, YES!

And at God’s command, Ezekiel spoke to the bones: “Hear the Word of the Lord.”  And those dead bones came to life, the Spirit of God was breathed into them, and they became a living army, brought back from the dead according to God’s Word and promise.

And just like the dead bones being raised to life, God fulfills His promises to Judah by giving them life and bringing them out of the valley of Babylonian oppression to life in Jerusalem. 

Now, dear friends, we must not just commit ourselves to the Old Testament reading as a matter of doing a mere history lesson, but we must also confess along with ancient Judah that we too have our idols and false gods, those things we look to for our worth and value, instead of God. We all have stuff and concerns that are more important than God’s Word and God’s will for us.  We fail to learn from past mistakes and fall into the same sin time after time, even sinning against conscience doing what we know we ought not to do.

And all of that sin sucks the life right out of our bones, leaving nothing but a pile of sin parched souls in the pit of hell’s gut pile.

But our Lord doesn’t leave us there in the hellish exile of sin and death without hope.  “Can these bones live?”  Yes, they can!  You see, on Easter evening long ago, when the disciples were in the upper room, Jesus breathed on the disciples while saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus breathing and bestowing His Spirit upon His servants is no different than that valley of bones.  Indeed, the breath of God was breathed into the disciples with sin dry bones, that they might speak that same Spirit of life and forgiveness to others with sin dry bones. 

What this means is that the prophesied word upon the valley of dry bones was not meant only for the people of Judah exiled to Babylon.  It is also intended for you.  In Jesus’ death, our Lord paid the penalty for our idolatry, our mistrust, our sin and rebellion against God.  And that forgiveness He imparts to you and bestows upon you in His Word, spoken at His command through His servant the pastor.

And so, when the breath of the Lord breathes forgiveness, life, and salvation into our aching bones through His Word in the absolution, the life of Jesus Christ is made ours.  Our sins are forgiven as sure and certain as God’s promises are true.

Dear friends, we need that Word of God’s life and forgiveness as much as Judah did in Babylon.  Because even now, like then, as God’s people we sin and rebel against the God.  We need God’s Word – we need His forgiveness spoken over us and into our ears and souls so that we might be forgiven and have life.   

Yes, we need forgiveness and life… and today we actually have it.  You dear members of Zion Lutheran are in Christ alone, having been sprinkled with clean water in Holy Baptism, having the Spirit of life spoken into you through the absolution.  And as God’ forgiven children, you wait for the final and complete fulfillment of what Ezekiel viewed in the valley.  The final resurrection to eternal life of all those slain who have died to trust in Christ. 

That is the greatest part that is yet to come.  Make no mistake about it, the Lord has already fulfilled His promise and so He will bring His promise to completion by His Word calling into graves and resurrecting departed saints who died in Jesus.  And you will be among those who rise because even your bones will live.  So says the Lord Jesus.

In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

This sermon is borrowed in part from Rev. Joshua Reimche.

CLICK HERE to 'Like' on Facebook
CLICK HERE to 'Follow' on Twitter
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean