Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Day of Pentecost—Series B 8:00 a.m.)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 24, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for this morning is the Old Testament Reading from Ezekiel 37:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, 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. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
Dry bones cannot live. They have no flesh. They have no skin. They have no breath in them. Dry bones have no life. The people to whom these bones belonged have no life. The prophet Ezekiel is a witness to the ultimate “valley of death.” These bones do not make up skeleton shapes on the surface of the valley—they are scattered about here and there all over the surface, victims of the scorching heat. “Can these bones live?” God asked Ezekiel. No, they can’t.
They cannot live. It’s a human impossibility. Do not think for one moment that Ezekiel can possibly put together these bones into complete skeletons. Do not believe for one second that this exceedingly great army can be resurrected by anything that Ezekiel or anyone else can do. Even if we grant the possibility that Ezekiel could but one skeleton back together, it would only remain a lifeless connection of bone to bone. Ezekiel cannot make flesh and skin. Ezekiel cannot put breath into this corpse even if every bone was in place.
In spiritual and divine matters, we discover a frightening comparison. Anyone, from infant to adult, who does not have saving faith in Jesus Christ, can in absolutely no way, on the basis of their own natural powers, create for themselves the new life of faith in Jesus. Instead, the person, from infant to adult who lives in unbelief, is completely dead to the good—completely corrupted. To use the comparison set up by the Old Testament lesson, people without faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are nothing more than a valley of dry bones. Oh, they very well may be walking about with hearts beating and lungs breathing, but they are lacking real life, spiritual life, eternal life. And just like Ezekiel could not put the dry bones back together and bring them to life, neither can any individual cause himself or herself to come to faith in Jesus, getting eternal life by their own powers or abilities. “A person who is physically dead cannot from his own powers prepare or make himself come back to life again. So the person who is spiritually dead in sins cannot by his own strength make or apply himself to acquire spiritual and heavenly righteousness and life.” (FC:SD, II) Sinners, left to themselves, will never be anything more than condemned sinners—a valley of dry bones.
This is a tragedy. It grieves the heart of God to see His crown of creation in such a state of death and decay. He brings Ezekiel to this valley of dry bones. He asks His prophet, “Can these bones live?” Shockingly, Ezekiel (who knows humanly that, no they cannot) yields to the power of His God, “O Lord Yahweh, you know.” In other words, “From my standpoint God, no these bones can’t live. But from yours? With you all things are possible. Lord, you tell me. Can these bones live?” To which God replies, “You bet they can! Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
The Word of the Lord accomplishes that which God sends it out to do. Ezekiel spoke God’s Word and at the hearing of this Word of life “there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
The Word of God accomplished the impossible. Dry bones are brought fully back to life with flesh and skin, muscle and tendon, and with the breath of life. What was once dead is now living. Does not God’s Word accomplish the same things with those of us who are nothing but a valley of dry bones to begin with? We were dead in our trespasses and sins, and the Word of God called us back from death, the death of sin and hell, into eternal life through the complete forgiveness of sins!
God did what is impossible for man to do for himself. God put His Holy Spirit into us and created a brand new spiritual life, an eternal life, in us. This is a life marked with the very forgiveness of sins that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, won for you and me when He suffered death and hell on the cross. In the liturgy of Holy Baptism, the candidate, child or youth or adult, is marked with the sign of the cross upon their forehead and heart identifying them as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that won the forgiveness of sins for us and rescued us from the power of death and the devil. Jesus has redeemed us, lost and condemned people, with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death so that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But we cannot do this without the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Holy Spirit, true God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, has invited and drawn you and me by the Gospel to partake of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who brought new life to our dried out, sinful bones by giving us the saving knowledge of Jesus, our Savior, so that we trust, rejoice, and find comfort in our Lord Jesus. It is this same Holy Spirit who works a renewal of our whole life—in spirit, will, attitude, and desires—so that you and I now strive to overcome sin and do good works.
For most of us, this new life in Christ Jesus began on the day God poured His Holy Spirit into our hearts through the waters of Holy Baptism. Our Baptism Day was the blessed day when God the Holy Spirit revived the dry bones of our soul and brought us to real, eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ in the washing away of our sins. This was the blessed day when God wrote your names in the Book of Life, made you a member of His Son’s kingdom, heirs of life forever with our God in the glories of eternity, which include the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day!
After the “resurrection” of the dry bones, the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Therefore prophesy. . . , 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. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” The new spiritual life begun by the Holy Spirit in Baptism through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is brought full circle on the day of Jesus’ coming again when those who have died in their baptismal faith in Jesus will rise again from the sleep of death. Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, will make alive the same bodies that have died. We believers will rise with glorified bodies and enter everlasting life in heaven with God. In both body and soul, at the Last Day, we will begin the full enjoyment of being with Christ forever.
What great gifts God the Holy Spirit delivers to us! He brings us saving faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior who died and rose for us and for our salvation. He revives our dry bones, dead in sin and unbelief, creating in our hearts the new life of faith and good works. The Spirit guards us in this Christian faith through the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper until the day of our death when our soul is called to be with Christ. Then, at the Last Day, our bodies will rise and we will enter into the eternal celebration as complete people, soul and body redeemed and saved by Jesus. This, then, is the goal of our faith. This is the end we look forward too with great joy. His Spirit is upon us and we will live, both now and forevermore. Amen.