Pentecost-b

Preached: May 24, 2015

The Lord’s Word Raises Dry Bones
Ezekiel 37:1-14

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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 breathes life into us is Ez. 37:

The hand of the Lord has on me. He took me out by the Spirit of the Lord and placed me in the middle of the valley. It was filled with bones. He took me across it around and around. Oh! There were so many bones over the floor of the valley, very dry bones.

He said to me, “Son of man, will these bones live?”

I said,. “O Lord God, you know.”

He said to me, “Prophesy about these bones. Say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ This is what the Lord God says to these dry bones, ‘See, I am putting breath [spirit] into you so that you live. I will give you tendons, put flesh on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath [spirit] into you so that you live and know that I am the Lord.’”

I prophesied as I had been commanded. There was a noise as I prophesied. Yes, a rustling! Bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and behold tendons and flesh came on them, and skin covered over them. But there was no breath [spirit] in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath [spirit]. Prophesy, son of man. Say to the breath [spirit], ‘This is what the Lord God says: Come, O breath [spirit], from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they live.’”

I prophesied as he commanded me. Breath [Spirit] came into them, and they lived. They stood on their feat an exceedingly great army.

He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Look, they are saying, ‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope perishes. We are cut off.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says: See! I will open your graves and bring you up from your graves, my people. I will bring you to the land of Israel. You will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and bring you up out of your graves, my people. I will place my Spirit in you so that you live, and I will give you rest in your land and you will know that I am the Lord. I speak, and I act’—the Lord’s declaration.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

What’s the greatest miracle that’s happened in your life? Some might point to recovery from a serious illness or making it through a mind-numbing tragedy. Others might point to their success or to their loving family. Still others might say some extraordinary feat or some remarkable chain of events.

The greatest miracle in my life, though, is this: that I believe in Jesus. We say those words, “I believe,” so often. For example, we’ll say them three times in the Apostles’ Creed. How easy to forget what a miracle it is!

What a miracle that I, who began life as dead, dry, lifeless bones—what a miracle that I can honestly say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, my Lord!” What brought life to my spiritually dead soul? What worked that miracle within me? The Lord’s word, in particular, the Lord’s word connected with water in Baptism. And the word of the Lord not only gave me life but also keeps me alive, as it comes to me through the Scriptures and through the Supper. For the word of the Lord raises dry bones. That’s the theme we focus on. The Lord’s word raises dry bones. For you see, his word brings the life-giving Spirit and his word raises a vast army.

A. His word brings the life-giving Spirit

Picture that lifeless valley the Lord showed Ezekiel. He didn’t give him just a quick glance but took him back and forth all around the valley. And everywhere he looked he saw the same thing: bones, many, many bones, very dry bones, long dead.

This deadness brings to mind for us the Apostle’s words in Ephesians 2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live … All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV84). Dead in sin, as dead as dried up bones scattered across a valley.

“Son of man, can these bones live” (Ezekiel 37:3 NIV11) the Lord God asked. Ezekiel knew that no human power could make them alive. In fact human power could not even connect the bones together with tendons or cover them with flesh and skin. Not even modern medicine or genetic engineering can do that. So then how could human power every bring breath and life back into them? Since no human power could do it, Ezekiel simply answers, “Lord God, you’re the one who knows” (Ezekiel 37:3). It’s all in the Lord’s hands—yes, the Lord, the God of unchanging grace who freely makes his promises and faithful keeps them. It was in his hands.

So how did he make dead bones alive? Not with an outward display of might like roaring fire or flashing lightening or a fierce storm. Yet he didn’t do it invisibly either by simply willing it without using any outward tool or means. Rather he tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. What does that mean to prophesy? It doesn’t mean fortune telling or cryptic riddles that can be interpreted to fit many different situations. The text itself makes it very clear what it means to prophesy. Look at what the Lord says, “Prophesy to these bones …” Then he explains what that means, “… say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says …’” (Ezekiel 37:4, 5 NIV11). To prophesy is to speak the Lord’s word. Through his word the Lord raises dry bones. His word brings life.

Why? Because his word brings the life-giving Spirit, the Holy Spirit. That truth is pictured in the text, but it’s harder to see in English. In Hebrew the same word (ruach) can refer to breath, wind, or spirit (either our spirit or the Holy Spirit). Without the breath or spirit, the bones remain dead even after they are connected with tendons and covered with flesh and skin. So the Lord God said to Ezekiel (and as I read this again remember the original Hebrew uses the same word for breath, wind, and spirit), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live’” (Ezekiel 37:9 NIV11), and then later as he explains the vision, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live” (Ezekiel 37:14 NIV11).

This connection between breath, wind, and the Holy Spirit is not unusually for the Biblical mindset. On Easter evening when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 NIV84). On Pentecost the sound of a rushing wind was a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence. So also in this vision of the dry bones, breath connects the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit to the word of the Lord. The Lord’s word raises dry bones because his word brings the life-giving Spirit.

What does this mean for us today? We can make the application to ourselves by quoting the text: “Hear the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4 NIV11). Yes, dear friends, keep on hearing the word of the Lord. For his word is powerful and active. His word accomplishes his purpose for which he sends it. His word is life. For his word brings the life-giving Spirit. Through the word the Holy Spirit made you alive before God, made you alive, you who were once dead in sin as dead as dried, scattered bones. Through the word the Holy Spirit keeps you alive in faith, a faith focused on the Lord your God. For when we hear the word of the Lord, the Holy Spirit opens our minds to know the Lord, to know him as the God of unchanging grace who freely makes his promises and faithfully keeps them, to know him as our Savior-God, who redeemed us to by his own people, redeemed us by the blood of the Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, as the Lord himself says, “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:13). Yes, dear friends, hear the word of the Lord and know that he, the Lord, the God of unchanging grace, is your God. Hear the word of the Lord that has raised up your dry bones, for his word brings you the life-giving Spirit.

And through that word the Holy Spirit makes us a vast army.

B. His Word raises a vast army

Those dry, dead bones that filled the valley, became a vast, mighty army—not some sort of skeleton army you might see in a fantasy or horror film, but a living army of flesh and blood.

But we don’t always feel like a powerful army. Troubles, fears, and hardships harass our supply lines. Spiritual laziness, indifference, lukewarmness, or mindless routine can lull our guard asleep. How easily I give ground to my sinful desires, revealing what a powerful traitor lives within my heart! The worries and cares of life make me wonder whether the battle is worth it. God seems so far away like a distant general. Doubts grow and hope fades.

In Ezekiel’s day, Israel felt that way. He lived around 600 B.C. and served as a prophet to the first groups of people who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem by Babylon. At first these exiles were hopeful of a quick return back to Jerusalem. But during Ezekiel’s ministry, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and leveled the temple. No wonder they said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11 NIV).

But the Lord would show them that he does not make empty promises. He speaks and he acts. For he is the Lord, the God of unchanging grace who freely makes his promises and faithfully keeps them. “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:14 NIV11).

After seventy year of exile, he brought back to Jerusalem a remnant to rebuild the temple. He was keeping his word. Know that he is the faithful Lord. But that was only a partial fulfillment. That remnant was not too vast of an army.

But look at what began on that Pentecost long ago. Dead bones heard the Good News of Jesus and were brought into the church, three thousand were baptized on that day. His word raises a vast army. And the Holy Spirit continued to bring life to dead bones as the Gospel spread, not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well, down to you and me. What a vast army the Christian church is, raised to life by the word of the Lord! Know that the Lord is faithful. He keeps his promises.

And when doubt and hopelessness infiltrate your heart, when you feel exiled and cut off from God’s people, know that the Lord is faithful. He keeps his promises. Although his church looks like a little flock harassed and helpless on every side, look ahead to when the graves will be opened. Look ahead to the return of your King, Jesus Christ. Look ahead to the glory when all his people are called forth from the grave in glorious array and will stand before his throne for all eternity. What a vast army you belong to through faith in Jesus Christ, faith in his word! What a miracle faith is, a miracle worked by the word of the Lord! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

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

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