Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45 April 6, 2014
“In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up–then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
The creation story is a story of life, right? From the beginning, God is intent on creating the perfect environment for things to grow. He wants life to take root in this creation of his.
To this end He shapes the formless void, he sculpts the darkness of the deep by merely speaking.
A word from God, and the formless void is filled with color, with light, with life and meaning.
God took the man from the dust of the earth, and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. He is set down in God’s first garden; to tend it, to keep it, to see to the growing of all the good things God had made.
Later, much later in this story, God takes a different man and sets him down in a very different place.
Ezekiel testifies not to a garden filled with life, but rather to a valley filled with death.
In this valley there are bones…lots and lots of bones.
Dry bones…not moist ones. These are bones from which the flesh and the blood and the marrow are gone…long gone.
They’re people. Skeletons. Lots and lots of skeletons.
It was a blessing for Ezekiel that they were notably dry, for that way there wasn’t a stench, and there weren’t scavengers poking around.
The Spirit of God takes him on a tour of this valley, maybe it was the scene of an ancient battle. Maybe it was something like a mass grave after a plague of some kind.
We’ll never know exactly what it was, but I can’t help but imagine God walking with Ezekiel in that valley, not unlike God walked with Adam in the original garden.
In both places, God is present. In both places Life bursts forth, not by human effort, but rather by the Spirit of God breathing the breath of life where it was notably absent.
God alone does this work of growing life in impossible places.
But the question he asks Ezekiel gives the opportunity for him to respond in faith.
Faith in what?
Faith in God.
It’s interesting to me that Ezekiel doesn’t let himself get hemmed in by the possibilities that he can see.
The question is a yes or no question, isn’t it? “Can these bones live?”
Yes they can, or No, they can’t.
But as a Priest and a Prophet, Ezekiel understands something about the character of God that’s easy to overlook.
That is, when God asks you a yes or no question, he’s probably not looking for a yes or no answer.
He’s looking for faith.
The kind of faith I’m talking about is more than just saying “yes” to God, or “no” to sin.
The kind of faith I see in this passage is the kind that says “O Lord GOD, you know!”
It’s a way of relating to God and the world that refuses to be too sure, or too certain of our perceptions.
Don’t be too sure of your perceptions when faced with an impossible situation in a valley filled with death.
But at the same time, be willing to speak what God gives you to speak.
God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones…tell them to hear the word of the Lord! he says…
He goes on to speak of breath and life and sinews and flesh and skin…all things these bones had known at one point (but no longer).
These bones needed to hear this word; these structures that once supported life had fallen into decay and no longer served a purpose.
That’s what prophecy is! It’s speaking life to structures that have failed to support the life they were designed to support!!
This is a story of renewal and resurrection. It’s a story of the impossible becoming possible!
“Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” God goes on to explain to Ezekiel.
And I say this morning that we the church are the new Israel! We are the people of God, grafted in, adopted into His house…
We are these dried up bones in need of this prophetic renewal.
But first it needs to be spoken. (by all of us…I’m no Ezekiel)
We need to hear it…the voice of the prophet speaking the words of God, saying “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act”.
Now, we heard another story this morning, the story of Lazarus being raised from his tomb.
It’s a similar theme…He’s been dead four days.
What’s more, his sisters (Mary and Martha) seem to blame Jesus at least somewhat for his death. After all, they both say “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And it’s true…they sent him word that Lazarus wasn’t doing well, and Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before going to see him.
Wouldn’t we all prefer a Messiah who came when we called him?
I could preach another whole sermon, or even a series on this story…but the one thing I’d like to lift out this morning is something interesting that Jesus says to Martha in verses 25 and 26. At this point in the story, Jesus had been called, he lingered where he was, he got back to Bethany in time to find out that Lazarus had died and had been in the tomb for four days, long enough for his body to begin decomposing.
His bones weren’t dry yet, but his flesh had begun the process.
So he gets there, and Martha, a sister of the dead man, runs out to meet him, and she confronts him.
This passage gives us permission to confront Jesus! (I don’t know about you, but I find that encouraging). 🙂
But that’s not the part I wanted to talk about.
See, Jesus says to Martha, he says “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Up to this point, all they had was a relationship. A friendship. They had shared life together and Jesus had done a lot of pretty incredible things…but He hadn’t yet died, and He hadn’t yet risen.
Yet here he was, claiming to be the resurrection and the life…not only that, he was also basically telling Martha that that belief leads to life… eternal life!!
Now, let’s go back to Ezekiel in that valley for just a moment.
When he answers God, saying “O Lord God, only you know”, and then God gives him words to speak, what did Ezekiel do?
He spoke the words. He prophesied just like God told him to prophesy.
I don’t know what he believed about those bones coming back together…but he believed God enough to trust and obey the word he had heard.
See the difference?
I don’t think Ezekiel’s faith would have been shattered if nothing would have happened, because his focus was more on God and being faithful to God than it was on the bones that surrounded him.
Jesus tells Martha that believing in him; right then, with no miracle, in the midst of her deep disappointment in his performance to that point, in the midst of the impossible situation she was facing, in the midst of her grief…believing in the failure of a Jesus she saw standing before her…that belief is life!!!
And the question he asks her in verse 26 is the crucial question that each of us still must answer…”Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that the Jesus who shows up four days late for his dear friend’s funeral…the Jesus who had the power to heal him but obviously didn’t…do you believe that he is the resurrection and the life?
Do you believe that this Jesus offers a life that will never die?
“O Mortal, can these bones live?”
Martha answers in the affirmative…she believes without knowing the end of the story!
“Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
So what’s our excuse?
Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead…Ezekiel prophesied to a whole valley of bones…we have both the resurrection of Christ and Lazarus to testify to the power and the grace of God, and yet we still question our worth and our place in the Kingdom.
We still cling to our grave clothes, those old ways of living that no longer make sense in the light of resurrection.
I invite you to lay it down again…this Lenten season. Our God grows life in this garden of a world…yet sin still grows like weeds.
Will you pray with me as I close?
…God, you are life, your breath sustains us, renews us, allows us to live in the resurrection even before the grave. Give us eyes to see your Kingdom and hearts to tend the lives you’ve given us. We want to follow you, we want to believe, yet we know that sin is always close at hand, binding us to the ways of death.
Forgive us Lord, for our unbelief.