Lent 5a

Preached: March 9, 2008

The Holy Spirit Breathes Life into Dry Bones
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts and moves our lives is Ezekiel 37

The hand of the Lord was upon me. In the Spirit of the Lord, he brought me out and placed me in the middle of a valley. It was full of dry bones. He took me through back and forth over them. Behold! They were very many in the valley. Behold! They were very dry.
He said to me, “Son of man, will these bones live?” I said, “Lord God certainly you know.”
He said to me, “Prophesy about these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord God has said to these bones: Behold! I am bringing breath into you, and you will live. I will put sinews on you, bring flesh over you, cover you with skin, and put breath into you. You will live and know that I, myself, am the Lord.’”
I prophesied just as I had been commanded. There was a sound as I prophesied. Behold! a shaking sound. The bones came together, one bone to another. I looked and behold sinews and flesh came on them and skin covered over them, but no breath was in them.
He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, O son of man, and say to the breathe, ‘This is what the Lord God says: O breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these who were slain so that they may live.’”
I prophesied, just as he commanded me, and breath came into them. They lived and stood up on their feet, a very, very mighty army.
He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold! They are saying, ‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope destroyed. We're cut off.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them, ’This is what the Lord God says: Behold! I am opening your graves and will raise you up from your graves, O my people! I will bring you to the land of Israel. You will know that I, myself, am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my Spirit (breathe) in you, and you will live. I will place you on your land. You will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it. Thus says the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of Jesus:

All hope was gone. They had been ripped from their homes, exiled to a distant land. Their consciences accused them. They had brought this on themselves. And now whatever faith they once had seemed useless. The temple was gone, leveled by the heathens! God had certainly abandoned them. All hope destroyed.

It's for those people that the Lord first gave this vision of the valley of the dry bones. The sixth century B.C. saw the Israelites carried into exile by the Babylonians and Jerusalem and the temple destroyed.

Listen to the laments of another prophet who witnessed the destruction. Jeremiah writes, “The Lord has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary . . . My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed . . . What can I say for you? With what can I compare you, O Daughter of Jerusalem? . . . Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you? . . . You, O Lord, reign forever . . . Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?” (Lamentations 2:7, 11, 13; 5:19, 20).

Can you hear the tears and see the despair? Does your heart break with them? Like God's people of old, we also go through times when all seems lost and hope withers away. Our conscience replays in slow motion the sin that torments us. Over and over again we see our guilt. “Has God abandoned me? Have I cut myself off from him? Why is this happening to me? How long, O Lord, how long?”

When you know that your life is nothing but dry bones and hope is but an empty husk, then listen to what Ezekiel says to you. “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” (Ezekiel 37:4 NIV). Yes, hear the word of the Lord.

A. Hear the word of the Lord

1) How does the Lord show us that without his word we are dry bones?

For you see, when we fail to hear his word with our ears and hearts, then we become dry bones. The ancient Israelites had the word all around them. They had the temple and its ceremonies that pictured the word. They thought they were safe, even though they did not pay attention to what the word said or put it into practice. They did their own thing. They had become dead, dry bones, even though they thought they were alive and healthy. So the Lord showed them reality. He sent the Babylonians. In exile after the temple's destruction, they realized how dead and dry their bones were.

So also, the Lord's mercy shakes us awake. Tragedy, sickness, disease, death, loss, setbacks, failures, mistreatment by others -- he uses all these and more to get us to see that without his word living in our hearts we are nothing but dead, dry bones. Walk back and forth through that valley full of bones, many, many bones, very dry bones. Will these bones live? Will we live again? The Lord God certainly knows.

2) What parts of the vision illustrate that the Holy Spirit brings us life through God's Word?

How does he bring life to dry bones? What does he tell Ezekiel to do? Look at verse four, “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones’” (Ezekiel 37:4 NIV). What does it mean to prophesy? Just keep on reading to see how the Lord explains it. “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” (Ezekiel 37:4 NIV). To prophesy is to say what God says, that is, to speak his Word. And the only proper response from us is to hear that word, just like the dry bones, to hear the word and believe it.

For you see, the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit is in the word of the Lord. Jesus himself put it this way in John: “The words I have spoken to you, they are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). What happens in the valley of the dry bones vividly pictures the truth Jesus speaks. This is all the more clear when you know that the word for spirit and the word for breath is the same Hebrew word, רוּחַ. Whenever Ezekiel speaks of breath coming to give life to dry bones, it's the same word as spirit, picturing the Holy Spirit coming to give life to us.

So watch the scene unfold. Ezekiel prophesies; he speaks God's Word. The bones come together. Tendons connect them. Flesh comes over them. Skin covers them. But there is no life in them, for there is no breath, no spirit.

How does the breath or spirit come into them? What does the Lord God tell Ezekiel to do? Look at verse nine, “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live”’” (Ezekiel 37:9 NIV). The breath came through prophesying, through speaking God's Word. And that's how the Holy Spirit comes to us to give us life. Through God's Word, just as Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you, they are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

Without God's Word there is no Holy Spirit and without the Holy Spirit there is no spiritual life, only dry bones. But where the Word is faithfully preached (and that's what prophesy is, faithful preaching) there the Holy Spirit is actively at work breathing life into dry bones, breathing life into you and me. “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live,” the Lord God promises in verse fourteen (Ezekiel 37:14 NIV). So hear the Word of the Lord and believe it.

B. Hope in the Lord

1) Explain why your hope is in the Lord.

Now as the Holy Spirit brings you life, that life gives you hope. The hope the Lord God gave to those Israelites in exile was the hope of return. He would raise them up from their exile that was pictured as a grave and bring them back to the land of Israel. He would settle them there. They would know that he is the Lord. What he speaks he does. “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken and I have done it” (Ezekiel 37:14 NIV), he tells them.

No matter why you feel like dry bones, whether from sin or rejection or illness or loss or whatever other reasons, through God's Word the Holy Spirit breathes hope into you. This hope is not wishful thinking. It is eager anticipation that confidently awaits what we know for sure will come because the Lord has said so. He keeps his word. What he speaks, he does. For he is the Lord.

He says, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them” (Ezekiel 37:12 NIV). First of all think of that grave opened almost 2000 years ago. You look inside with the women and find it empty. “He is not here,” the angel says. “He has risen just as he said.” This is the foundation for your hope. Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said. He is the Lord God. What he speaks, he does. He has risen because your sins have been paid for. That Good News brings you hope. He has risen, for his blood has purchased you to be his very own. The Lord God calls you, “My people,” just as he did ancient Israel. Yes, you are his blood-bought people. What hope that give!

Next look at the spiritual grave you began life in. We were dead in sin. We had no spiritual spark, no life. We were but dry bones. But through the water and word of Baptism, the Holy Spirit breathed life into you. He ignited the fire of hope that now burns in you. For through the water and word of Baptism the Holy Spirit is actively at work. That is what God promises. What he says, he does. For he is the Lord.

Now look ahead to your physical grave. Your hope built on the foundation of Jesus' resurrection, your hope ignited in you by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, this hope eagerly anticipates your own resurrection from the grave, when your Lord Jesus Christ, comes again in glory on the Last Day. That's the word of God. That's the prophecy yet to be fulfilled. But just as surely as the word of God that prophesied Jesus' resurrection came to past, so surely his word will not fail you. What he speaks, he does. For he is the Lord.

So when you face the sufferings of life, when you feel like dry bones without hope, hear the word of the Lord. Hope in the him. Believe what your Savior has already done for you. See is suffering, pain, and death that ransomed you to be his own. See him rising from the grave. Believe that you too will rise to be with him. The glory that awaits you will erase all suffering, pain, and lose. Jesus himself will wipe the tears from your eyes. No matter how severe your present suffering, even if it leads to death, Jesus has conquered even death for you. You can say with the Apostle. Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 NIV). What hope!

Remember this valley of dry bones. Learn its lesson well. The Holy Spirit breathes live into dry bones, like you and me. He breathes life into us through his Word. So hear the word of the Lord, and hope in him.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313