A Valley of Bones
The title of our message this evening is . . . . and in my mind anyway, there are few stranger books in the Bible than the book of Ezekiel. And while there are certainly sections in this book more odd than this one of a valley of bones coming to life, there are none that have the imagery that captures the imagination and sets it on fire quite like this valley of bones. This vision of dry bones coming to life, taking on flesh and blood and breath, has not only stimulated the minds of theologians and preachers, but has also fueled the imagination of artists and composers. It has inspired such diverse cultural expressions as an American black spiritual to a political cartoon strip in a modern Israeli newspaper. The vision has been interpreted as a direct prophecy of the resurrection of the nation of Israel and as an equally direct prophecy of the resurrection of individual human beings.
The book of Ezekiel was written after the defeat of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. The Northern Kingdom had already ceased to exist; the Assyrian empire had defeated the north some 130 years earlier. It was now the time of judgment for Judah. Why? Most of us should know something about what happened. But if not, let me give a brief history lesson. Right after Solomon, David’s son, who was the third king of the united kingdom of Israel, died, a revolt and near civil war erupted. God intervened and although war was averted the kingdom was divided in two. There was a king to the north and one to the south and they were never united again. One day, when Jesus comes again, they will be. But not until then. The modern Israeli state is not really the same size or composition as the ancient kingdom. The Northern Kingdom lasted around 210 years, and they never had a single king that honored God and did what was right in His eyes. The southern kingdom of Judah had nine kings out of a total of twenty who walked after the Lord, but the kingdom of Judah eventually became so wicked there was really no difference between them, God’s chosen people, and the pagan people that surrounded them. As a matter of fact those who were supposed to be God’s people were often worse.
And so God sent His prophets He sent prophet after prophet, those fiery, passionate men who loudly and boldly proclaimed, Thus saith the Lord. They were not popular men, by the way Men who come proclaiming God’s purity and holiness and human sinfulness and depravity are never going to win a popularity contest, are they? And these prophets were persecuted and killed; they were made fun of, reviled, you name it, God’s chosen people chose to ignore and oppress God’s chosen messengers. And so what happened? God sent judgment.
We could stand here the rest of the night listing all the sins of the nation of Israel, but an easier way to get a handle on it is to look at America and do a little comparison. The similarities between ancient Israel and our nation are so striking you wonder why God hasn’t visited us yet. The nation of Israel ignored its poor; worse, it oppressed them. Sexual immorality was the norm; to even speak of purity invited the ridicule and scorn of others. Sex is just a biological function, right? Just like going to the bathroom You gotta go, you gotta go, right? Worship of the one true God had been replaced with a hodgepodge; a crazy-quilt patchwork of all kinds of gods and religions added onto the pure worship of the living God. Off and on in her history, Israel even practiced child sacrifice, horribly putting their sons on the altar of false gods and burning them in the fire. People, you can say what you want about abortion, but when a nation chooses to end the lives of over 40,000,00 babies on the altar of convenience, you better watch out This can’t last much longer Everyday in The United States 4,000 abortions are performed. And here are some stunning statistics: for every 1,000 live births for white women, there are 184 abortions; but for every 1,000 live births for black women, there are 543 abortions performed. Listen, African-Americans make up around 13% of the population, but about 37% of all babies killed by abortion are black In the last 36 years over 17,000,000 black babies have died in the abortion mills of our nation. You can call it what you want, but this is genocide God destroyed Israel because of her wickedness Why not us?
But in our passage of Scripture this evening we, once again, find a merciful and gracious God. Yes, He will judge sin But He will also forgive sin, won’t He? He will forgive the woman who aborts her baby. And He will provide new life for His people. Most of us, this evening, if truth be known, are living in our own valley of dry bones, aren’t we? We are in desperate need of resurrection life God is willing and able to supply that life Both to us and even to our nation
I. All Them Bones (Eze. 37:1-3)
(1 As I said earlier, being a prophet of God wasn’t exactly a cushy job. You really couldn’t look forward to retirement in the golden years, moving down to Florida, and playing shuffleboard with the rest of the old geezers. The life expectancy of the prophet of God wasn’t all that long. Tradition has it that Isaiah was sawn in half–not a real good way to go. Jeremiah had a wonderful ministry. No one paid really paid the slightest bit of attention to him. He was thrown into a dungeon; they left him sitting there in mud up to his waist. He was rescued from the dungeon, but he finally died in exile in Egypt, far from the Promised Land. Daniel in the lion’s den. He was rescued from the lion’s jaw, but he died in old age in exile. He never saw the temple of his God again. Jonah in the fish’s belly; the list goes on. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:37-38 that the prophets were, . . . . stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and dens and caves of the earth. But there were some marvelous fringe benefits that went along with the job. The relationship between God and His prophets must have been one of such intimacy and power that it perhaps made the persecution and neglect they suffered at the hands of their people more than tolerable. Look at verse one again.
(2 Prophets had dreams, heard the audible voice of God, and saw visions that took them to some incredible places and scenes, didn’t they? In one of the more stunning visions in the Bible, Ezekiel even had a vision of the living God. This passage, in the very beginning of the book, is one of the more amazing passages you will ever read in Scripture. Ezekiel was with his people in Babylonia, far from the sight of the glory of God’s earthly temple. That temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of idolatry, by the magnificence of a mighty pagan empire, Ezekiel received a vision of the far greater majesty and wonder of the glory of the living, unseen God of Israel. Turn back to that first chapter and let’s look at selected verses from it. Look at Eze. 1:1-6. Ezekiel goes on to describe these creatures, these attendants to the living God. These angelic creatures he saw in this vision were so mighty and transcendent that the words Ezekiel used in describing them seem to trip over each other in a confused clamor of ever-increasing grandeur. And all of this vision, the creatures, the wheels, the throne–all of it was suffused with the Shekinah glory of the infinite and everlasting God Look at verses 13-28.
(3 That’s quite a vision, ain’t it? God commissioned His prophet by giving him a glimpse of the likeness of His glory. He did so because times were tough for the people of God. Their sin, their steadfast refusal to keep faith with the one true God, had finally brought God’s judgment on them. They were in captivity, far from home, and all they had left were the prophets God sent to His people. And yet, in the midst of all this anguish, God sent His prophet Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones, after first giving him a vision of His glory. And in this valley of bones, God asks a question. Look at your Bibles back to Eze. 37:1-3.
(4 What would it take to make dry bones come to life? It would take great power, wouldn’t it? It would take resurrection power Often when confronted with the miracles of the Bible, or with other alleged difficulties in Scripture, many people begin to question the Bible, don’t they? As to the miracles, there are really only a couple of places to begin: creation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If this God that the Bible says wrestled with Jacob, sent plagues to Egypt, parted the Red Sea, caused water to pour from a rock, rained manna down from heaven, if this God who did all those things, and more, spoke the entire universe into existence out of absolutely nothing, then putting a little flesh on some bones shouldn’t be much of a strain, right? And if you are still having trouble with the Bible being the only Word of God, if you are still struggling with that truth, then take some time and gaze intently into the miracle of miracles, the empty tomb
(5 And what we all need to do whenever we are having problems with one thing or the other in the Bible is take the fact of the Creation and work forward, then take the fact of The Resurrection and work backward. That something cannot come from nothing is an undeniable fact. And the current scientific paradigm, of course, is the big bang theory. First there was a singularity, or really nothing, and whooosh Pow The universe rushed into being. Sounds suspiciously like God speaking the world into existence, doesn’t it?
(6 And people, the only possible explanation for the existence of the church is the singular truth of the empty tomb When the disciples, now become apostles, began preaching in Jerusalem, preaching Christ crucified and resurrected, the same Jerusalem in which Jesus died and was buried, all the enemies of Jesus, those Pharisees and religious leaders, would have had to do was march up to the tomb, open it up, and point inside to the rotting remains, and this new way, this thing that was later called Christianity, would have died right then. But they didn’t. Why? The tomb was empty. Where’d the body of Jesus go? Did the disciples steal it? How did they steal it from the Roman guard that Pilate had placed around the tomb of Jesus? If this tired, discouraged, and very frightened band of followers had somehow managed to steal the body of Jesus away and fabricate this fantastic tale of redemption, would they all, except for John, have given their lives for a lie that they themselves had made up? Not likely, right?
(7 And so this vision God gave to Ezekiel of a valley of dry bones having flesh and blood and breath given to them by a sovereign and omnipotent God is not too far-fetched at all. And this vision of life coming to the remains of those long dead, of those whose skin has long since rotted, leaving nothing but the ivory of bones, applies to us now as well, applies to us whose skin has not yet fallen off the bone. God is able to give us life, new life.
II. Hear the Word of the Lord (Ezekiel 37:4-10)
(1 Look at your Bibles, verses 4-10.
(2 In the town of Sedlec in the Czech Republic there is a famous cemetery that dates back to the 13th Century. Some 40,000 people who died from the Black Plague in the 14th Century and in the Hussite wars in the beginning of the 15th Century were buried there. Around the year 1400AD a Gothic church of All Saints was built at the center of the cemetery. Underneath it a chapel was built as an ossuary, or a facility for the storage of human bones, to hold the bones unearthed in the mass graves during the construction of the church. This church of bones contains the skeletal remains of these 40,000 people. It is literally a church of bones.
(3 That church of bones is going to remain just that, isn’t it? Or perhaps not! God has promised that those who hear His voice, who listen to his Word, can have life, hasn’t He? We can have new life in our nation and in our personal lives. But only by the Spirit of God, right?
(4 You know, there is a great resurrection coming, isn’t there? There is coming a time, at the end of the age, when the Father is going to come to the Son, and say, “Go get my people ” When the very last soul is saved, the Lord Himself shall descend, and then what? Listen to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (KJV)
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comforte one another with these words.
(5 And it is a great comfort, isn’t it? We don’t like the very idea of death, do we? But the truth of the matter is we don’t like the very idea of being separated from our bodies too much either, do we? Let me tell you something: Heaven is not about us wandering through eternity as disembodied spirits. That notion is as far away from a Biblical notion of the afterlife as Chattanooga is from Tibet. The Bible tells us that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. There will be a solidity to our eternal destination. We will not be hanging around on clouds playing on harps, and getting bored out our minds. Revelation 21:1-4 (KJV)
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
(6 You see, this is going to be a real place inhabited by real people. There will be real flesh and blood folks there in this new Jerusalem, in this new heaven and new earth. Will we be the same as we are now? No When Jesus was resurrected, although initially His disciples didn’t recognize Him, once He allowed it, they not only recognized their Master, but they understood that although changed, there was correspondence to the body that was placed in the grave. It was the same Jesus but with a glorified body. And when He comes again, we will have one just like His. 1 John 3:2 (KJV)
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
(7 And as I said, that is enormous comfort for us, isn’t it? This is the stuff that keeps the night fears at bay, right? All the self-help pablum of the modern therapeutic schools of thought, those folks who teach a power of positive thinking type of theology, pale into nothing beside a truth that claims, not just an afterlife, but one that has the very thing we crave most. People, when life gets to be too much, and it will from time to time, focus on Jesus, and what He has promised us He has promised us a new, real body, not just a cloud to hang around on; and most wonderfully, Jesus has promised us Himself
(8 And this image from Ezekiel, this valley of dry bones coming to life, is a wonderful example of God’s resurrection power. The image speaks to our own personal resurrection that will come to pass when Jesus comes in glory; but it also speaks to the coming resurrection of national Israel, when God will bring that nation out of the ashes of history. It has been partially fulfilled even now.
(9 But I believe we can also take from this passage the hope of our own national renewal as well. Listen, America is desperate trouble. And we aren’t in trouble because of this recession. Recessions come and go in the economic life of nations. Indeed, economic depressions come and go, too. But America’s problem is not an economic one. Nor is it a political one. It doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House or the Houses of Congress. That is not going to change God’s mind one little bit, is it? America’s problem, just like ancient Judah’s problem, is a moral one As a nation we have turned our hearts away from the living God.
(10 Listen, nations come and go, too, don’t they? They rise and fall God reveals Himself in the movement of empires and great nations. America has been a mighty force for the truth of God over the years of her existence. Not in perfection; far from it. But our country has long been a nation that, even though there has never been a time in her history when most of her people have been born again believers, there was, until recent times, a consensus that the Bible and Christianity were at least good things, and not something to be avoided. Now, in our day, we have actually succeeded in not just relegating the glory of the Gospel to a secondary position, but we have somehow managed to allow the great wonder of the cross and Christianity to seem worse than foolish; many Americans have now come to view our faith as actually evil.
(11 Biblical Christianity is seen as intolerant, oppressive, foolish, and something to be ridiculed, scorned, and even legislated against. Many Americans will take a little bit of this religion, a little bit of that religion, and then combine all those components with the parts of Christianity that they like; but they will not take the whole, unvarnished counsel of the living God. We moderns tend to like our religion in a big old pile of mush, don’t we? We like our religion to be one that makes us feel good and allows us to pursue our pleasures without guilt, right? That is where the rubber meets the road, ain’t it?
(12 So, is God going to judge America like He judged the nation of Judah? I can’t know that I am not an OT prophet But I can look at God’s dealings with His people in the past, with His judgment of Judah, and look carefully at what God’s Word tells me as to the reasons for God’s dealings with His people, and then look carefully at my own leaders, my own country, at the church in America, can’t I? And I can look at myself too, can’t I? And I believe I can safely say that we are in a great deal of trouble.
(13 You know, here’s the deal We always ask where God is when disaster strikes, don’t we? We ask where He is when airplanes crash into buildings in our greatest city; we ask where God is when tidal waves, hurricanes, and earthquakes sweep thousands away to their death; we ask where God is when children are abused, neglected, and abandoned; we ask where God is when great economies begin spiraling downward; and we really begin asking where God is when our own personal world comes crashing down around our ears But what we really need to ask ourselves is this: How long do we imagine God will be with us as a people when we have kicked Him out of our schools, our government, our homes, and even from many of our churches? When instead of worshiping the living God we worship at the flickering and ghostly images on our TV screens. Television and other visual media have become the gods of our age. God is a gentlemen. We have told Him we don’t want Him. We need to remember that when calamity strikes and we ask where God is. We are perhaps just reaping the whirlwind of His abandonment of us. His abandonment of us at our own request. You can see this most especially at Christmas time and Easter, can’t you? People, when we have a national debate about whether it is intolerant to say Merry Christmas in a public school building–and decide that we can’t–we don’t need to be surprised when God turns His back on us As a nation, we have told God to go take a hike And guess what? He has
(14 But people there is coming a time when God is going to either judge America for her wickedness, or He is going to send the winds of revival through this land. There is going to come a time when the dry bones of this dead nation will either rise up, with the new flesh of purity, and glorify Him with a holiness not now seen, or there will come a time when God will crush those dry bones and then scatter the dust to the four corners of the earth with the breath of His mouth
(15 What did Ezekiel see? Not America, that is not what I am saying. But the prophet saw the miracle of the nation of Israel being reborn. He saw the miracle of a great army rising up from the ashes of a cataclysmic defeat. The nation of Israel was destroyed, the Temple of God itself torn down, yet God showed His prophet how life could come from all this destruction and death. How was this to happen? Verses 5 and 9 are key, aren't they? Look at them again.
(16 I find this interesting. Throughout the Bible God is the source of life, isn't He? Life hasn't just happened by the chance confluence of random events. Life exists on purpose, right? God made up His mind that He was going to create, and so He did And how does this life, that can only come from God, enter into whatever creature God has chosen to give life to? God breathed the breath of life into everything that lives Genesis 2:7 (KJV)
7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
(17 The Word of God itself, which is a living document, has the breath of life breathed into it by the living God, right? 2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: We know that the phrase inspiration of God literally means God-breathed, doesn't it? Ezekiel saw a vision of his nation coming to life, didn't he? From the ashes of God's judgment he saw His God breath life into the lifeless and dry bones of a dead nation: a nation both spiritually dead and physically dead. Will we see God breath new life into America? Or will we see God's hand of judgment on her? I do not know I do not know
III. Open Graves (Eze. 37:11-14)
(1 Our last passage is one that has much to do with the coming restoration of Israel. Our last passage has much to do with the God who is the only one that has the breath of life. In this last passage God gives Ezekiel the interpretation of this vision we’ve been talking about for the past several minutes. God is telling Ezekiel it doesn’t matter that Judah is lying in tatters, the nation dispersed, and the temple destroyed. God is telling Ezekiel that He, the LORD God, is powerful enough to give life to dead, dry bones. And listen, as we have repeatedly stated, this God, the living Creator and Sustainer of all things, is more than powerful enough to give life to you, too! Look at your Bibles verses 11-14.
(2 What in the world does God want from us? Throughout the Bible there are scenes, stories, and teachings on sin, death, judgment, salvation, resurrection–all to what end? Why? What’s the point? We caught a glimpse of the answer in the very first chapter of this book of Ezekiel, didn’t we? We saw a glimpse of the awesome glory and splendor of God, didn’t we? In Ezekiel’s stumbling way, we felt God touch us with His glory. And that is why everything exists! It exists to glorify this God who loves so much that the love spilled over into a creative act of such proportion that it takes the breath away. And if everything that exists is so stupendous, then what must the Creator of everything be like. And He wants us to see that and glorify Him for His splendor! It isn’t that God is an egoist, it is just that there is nothing more marvelous in eternity beside Him! And hear me now! God wants to give that to you! Give what? Himself!
(3 The letter of Ephesians has one of the greatest verses in the Bible. In this verse, Paul tells why God made us! Listen: Ephesians 2:7 (KJV)
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. I don’t know how many times the word glory appears in the Bible. I did a search with my computer; I stopped counting. There were literally hundreds. Pity the poor atheist who has nothing to live for but this one life. Pity the poor ones who can never quite figure out the purpose of their lives. It’s simple, isn’t it? The purpose of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! That is why He created. That is why God breathed the breath of life into the first man and woman, and that is why He breathed life into you and me.
(4 In chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, the chapter that contains the great high priestly intercessory prayer of Christ, Jesus says these words to His Father: John 17:1-3 (KJV)
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
(5 What stands between us and the glory of the eternal life offered in Christ? One little, dirty three letter word: sin! It is because of sin that Christ came to die; it is because of sin that we must have resurrection power in our lives; it is because we are dead in our trespasses and sins that God must come to us and give us new life. Right? Dead men can do nothing but lie there and be dead! We will only become dry bones, turning to dust and ashes, and blown away by a wisp of wind.
(6 But people, God has promised life to all those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ! And when you physically die and your soul is separated from your body, the one to heaven, the other to the grave, there is an additional promise of a new resurrected body, isn’t there? As we quoted from 1 Thessalonians, there will be a shout and the sound of the trumpet, the graves will open, and we will be reunited with our bodies and off we’ll go!
(7 The nation of Judah was in the depths of despair when Ezekiel wrote his prophecy. Even though they had disobeyed Him, and at times were worse than pagans, God would still hold true to His promise to them. He would breath new life into them, restoring them.
(8 Listen to me now as we close. If the Bible is indeed the Word of God, and it is, then there are promises made to everyone in this room. God has promised, as I said, that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will saved. Right? He will change your life right now and He will change the direction of your life in eternity. Romans 10:13 (KJV)
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. He will change you and put you on a new road, won’t He? 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. God will give you the one thing that will make your life worth living. What did I say that was? God will give you Himself. Paul said in Philippians 1:21 (KJV)
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Do you know this God? He is not hiding; He is there waiting for you. Do you know Jesus? Have you felt the resurrection power of the living God that only comes through the crucified and risen Christ? This Bible moves forward from the OT to the NT on a singular path; and that path ends at Calvary and the empty tomb! This valley of bones in Ezekiel rises in anticipation of graves opening at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and all believers rising in glory to worship at the feet of the Lamb of God forever! Do you know Him?!!
(9 There is only one way, isn’t there? Through a resurrected Jesus! Have you tasted Jesus? There was a divinity school once that hosted an annual picnic, to which they invited the greatest minds to lecture in the theological education center. One year, the guest lecturer was a professor, who spoke for two and one-half hours "proving" that the resurrection of Jesus was false. The professor quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no such thing as the historical resurrection, the religious tradition of the church was groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo, because it was based on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact, never rose from the dead in any literal sense. Upon finishing, he then asked if there were any questions. After a pause of silence lasting 30 seconds, an old black preacher with a head fullof white hair stood up in the back of the auditorium. "Docta Professer, I got one question", he said as all eyes turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began loudly eating it. CRUNCH, MUNCH, " he chewed on that apple. Between bites, he asked, “My question is a simple question",....CRUNCH, MUNCH... "Now, I ain’t never read them books you read"...CRUNCH, MUNCH... "and I can’t recite the Scriptures in the original Greek"...CRUNCH, MUNCH... "I don’t know nothin’ about Niebuhr and Heidegger"....CRUNCH, MUNCH...He slowly, but finally finished the apple. "All I wanna know is: This apple I just ate------was it bitter or sweet?" The professor paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: "I cannot possibly answer that question, sir, for I haven’t tasted your apple". The white-haired black preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at the professor and said calmly, "Neither have you tasted my Jesus." The 1,000 plus in attendance could not contain themselves. The auditorium erupted with applause and cheers. The professor thanked his audience and promptly left the platform. I could repeat and outline all the reasons why I believe the Resurrection of Jesus was a real, historical event. There are many evidences that point in that direction; far more than the evidence to the contrary.
(10 But I will simply say this: Have you tasted my Jesus? Because if you have then you don’t just believe the Resurrection is real, you know it! So, have you tasted my Jesus? Do you know my Jesus? And He is my Jesus! He can be yours too! But you gotta go there to Him, people; there is no other way in all the world to get to the Father except through the Son! There is no way to new life, eternal resurrection life except through the Lord Jesus Christ! John 14:6 (KJV)
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
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