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Out Of [Death]

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Ezekiel 37:1–14 CEB
The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry. He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?” I said, “Lord God, only you know.” He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.” I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them. He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.” I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company. He said to me, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’ So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”

Out of [the Wilderness]

My guess is that most of us know what it means to wander in the wilderness.
After leaving the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years...
It took 40 years for them to leave behind the mentality of a slave, and embrace a new identity as the people of God.
And I think that most of us know exactly what that’s like…
To find ourselves between where we have been and where God is leading us next.
The wilderness is the place where we wander when we are not yet ready to embrace who God has called us to be.
God has brought Ezekiel into the wilderness - into the middle of a valley filled with bones…
Imagine that you have just come across a valley filled with human remains...
Bones, with every bit of flesh gone from them...
What kind of feeling do you think would wash over you?
It might feel frightening. You would wonder if you were safe...
But these are not fresh remains…
These bones have been here a good long while.
I think, more than anything, it would feel tragic.
You would wonder what kind of tragedy led to the death of all of the people represented by these bones.
There may be a kind of haunting feeling in that space, because those bones are powerful images of death...
Even though the death that took place - too place long ago.
But as haunting as it may seem...
In this valley, God is preparing to do something new.

Out of [the Wilderness]

God speaks to Ezekiel at a very critical time in the history of His people.
The nation of Israel has divided.
The northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to Assyria.
Assyria will fall to Babylon
The Southern kingdom of Judah has fallen to Babylon…
Babylon is the force of the day…
When Judah falls, not only does Babylon control Israel and Judah,
But exiles them as well.
It forcefully removes them from their homes and drops them in other lands.
So it is not just that the nations are defeated,
They’re devastated.
They’re defeated, homeless, they’re in foreign lands…
They’re exiled.
The objects of worship in the lands where they now live do not match their faith.
It isn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who the people worship,
But the gods of their own time and culture.
Their culture is vastly different,
Their values are vastly different…
As we explored just a few weeks ago... exile sounds a bit like today’s world…
The world around us doesn’t care much about God…
It worships the gods of the day – sex, money and power.
It worships at the mall, where a person’s value is determined by what they can spend, rather than by God’s love.
The culture is shifting,
The values of the church no longer impact culture the way they once did,

Out of [the Wilderness]

I think we have to recognize that society has changed pretty dramatically…
And forgive me for sounding a bit “doom and gloom” about it...
The truth is, I don’t exactly feel that way...
I think exile can be a good thing for us...
It calls us to make serious decisions about a faith that can no longer be a casual commitment,
But actually costs something.
Exile is a something that refines impurities out of people,
Because Exile actually has a pretty broad appeal.
Sometimes we mourn what we lose during exile,
But more often, we are tempted by what we can gain...
Because the new land we inhabit is filled with new temptations...
The thing about exile is that it tempts Israel to conform…
And I think if we’re honest, the church conforms to culture far more than we wish it did.
We have a difficult time keeping priorities straight,
And maintaining our witness of Christ to the world…
It’s easier to look like the culture than it is to look like Christ.

Dry Bones

The Israelites look around themselves – Ezekiel looks around – and it’s plain to see that the world, and life as they have known it, has changed.
And the truth is… the reason it has changed has a lot to do with the ways they have compromised themselves.
They were not faithful to God.
They did not long to grow, but longed to live without the demands their faith placed on them...
They wanted to serve themselves and their interests rather than God and God’s interests.
And this morning, some of us find ourselves walking through the same kind of valley Ezekiel was walking through.
We are walking among the dry bones of our lives.
Or the dry bones of a once living faith,
Where there was once life, there is now lifelessness.
Many of us, if we were honest, would have to look at our lives and take an honest look at what is really there.
We would have to admit that where there should be life and victory, there is instead a scattered mess of dry, lifeless bones.
Somewhere along the way, where there was once vibrancy and drive and the fullness of God in our lives,
Now there are dusty, empty bones.
We saw it in the world around us first…
Now we see it in ourselves…
For some of us, those dry bones are a decision we’ve made,
Or maybe an addiction that we struggle with – drugs or alcohol, cigarettes or pornography…
And like the scavengers, vultures and buzzards who picked away at the decaying carcasses of those bodies, the habit is eating away at you.
You have convinced yourself that it does not have control over you, but it is killing you slowly spiritually.
And deep inside, you know that you are walking around in the valley of your defeat.
All around you is the evidence of your helplessness and hopelessness.

Dry Bones

For some of us there may be relationships in our lives that are dry and lifeless bones.
Relationships that should be full of life are now dead because of something said or something done.
Marriages seem to be dry bones, lifeless, dead.
Maybe it’s relationships to family members, to friends, or others in the church, but reconciliation seems impossible.
New life being brought into these relationships seems hopeless.
Instead of life, dead bones are all around.
Some of us have replaced the hope of our lives for the hopelessness of our situations.
Some of us have exchanged dreams for an empty, barren reality…
Some of us have exchanged spiritual vibrancy and the power of Christ in our lives,
For a good deed here or there,
Church attendance,
And keeping up a certain image.
But behind that image – maybe even behind what we can see – are dry bones.
Dry bones are but a sad reminder of what once was…
But before those bones were dry, there was the stench of decay…
That stench is the stench of sin in your life.
Oh, it’s easy to deny…
Fabreez that sin…
But the reality cannot be hidden…
Sin carries the distinct smell of rotting flesh…
If the spiritual realities of sin became physical realities…
Every unkind word would taste of rotting meat,
Every dishonest statement like decay,
Every judgment we speak, every sin that comes from our body,
Would be repulsive to the taste, touch or smell.
Until all signs of life are gone entirely,
And all that is left are dry bones.

Dry Bones

If the wilderness is really the place where people find themselves when they are not ready to embrace God’s call upon their lives,
Then some of us today might need to confess that we’ve been out here in the wilderness so long that those bones are turning to dust…
But I don’t want us to be in a rush to leave…
We can’t leave before we’ve named this valley for what it is…
That’s a difficult discipline at times – speaking the truth of what something really is…
Especially when it is something that lures us and tempts us…
But if we can’t identify this valley for what it really is, we’ll never discover God’s power in it.
We have a tendency to try to dress things up…
We like to call sin “necessity.”
We like to call sin “the best we could do under the circumstances.”
But we don’t call it “sin.”
But the truth is – behind the brokenness in our lives, and our relationships, and the brokenness in the world, there is most often sin.
And we have to learn to name it.
We’re good at naming the sins of others…
It’s a different kind of discipline to name our own sins.
Because it would be easy for Ezekiel and Israel to act as if this valley was some kind of noble place…
“This is the resting place of our brave forefathers!”
No – this is a valley of sin.
These bones are not dry because of brave battles fought,
These bones are dry because they died a spiritual death…
If we can’t name sin in our lives, our communities, our families,
Then we cannot invite life to occupy the space that death once occupied,
Because we’re too busy denying the reality of death…
We cannot repent of what we cannot acknowledge…
I hope that gets heard this morning...
Sometimes sin in our lives festers like an infected wound that we didn’t bother to treat, but have covered in a bandage so we don’t have to see it.
We just don’t acknowledge that it’s there anymore.
That ignored would will kill you.
That sin that we neglect - that we refuse to acknowledge… will destroy us.
But if you can acknowledge it and call it sin… then you can repent.
But it’s so easy to justify sin...
“It’s not gossip when it’s true, right?”
And just one more drink won’t hurt, will it?
And it was only a little white lie… right?
And a big part of the job of the prophet is naming sin as sin…
And a big part of growing spiritually is developing the ability to name sin as sin…
If we can confess the truth of what those dry bones mean…
Addiction, unrepentance, refusing forgiveness, pride, arrogance, spiritual disease,
Whatever sin is in our lives,
Then the question God asks Ezekiel becomes a question for us as well…

Can these bones live?

Can these bones live?
“Can these bones live?”
Can anything be done to change this situation?
Can anything bring freedom and hope to our captive and desperate lives?
Can we be forgiven?
Can we have victory?
Can we find healing?
Can we be made whole again?
Can our relationships be reconciled?
Can we have new life?
Can these bones live?
DO YOU KNOW THE GOD OF ADAM, WHO MOLDED MAN FROM THE CLAY WITH HIS OWN HANDS, AND BREATHED LIFE INTO DUST?
These. Bones. Can. Live!
But you can’t make them live.
Your marriage is hopeless in your hands. Your addiction is stronger than your will. Your capacity to fail is too great. These bones are dead and gone...
Except by the power of God.
There is a temptation to do it ourselves,
To rely on our own strength,
To rely on our wit, our intelligence, or abilities, even our pious spirituality…
But you are not strong, smart, talented or pious enough to put flesh on bones.
Can these bones live?
God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”
“Lord God,” says Ezekiel, “Only you know…”
That’s the right answer!
God knows.
God has the answer.
And the answer to him is always yes.
God can restore. God can heal. God can reconcile.
God can bring life where it seems that there is only death.
God can and says he will bring new life.
In the passage we just read - Ezekiel 37, starting in verse 3 it says:
Ezekiel 37:3–8 CEB
He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?” I said, “Lord God, only you know.” He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.” I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them.

Can these bones live?

God has restored these bones with flesh - But there was still no breath in them.
The Hebrew word for breath is “Ruach”
It is the same word as “wind”
And it is the same word as “Spirit”
Here are these bodies, covered in flesh,
Looking very much alive,
But lacking the thing that makes us most alive –
The breath of God.
The Spirit of God.
These bones were never about the physical reality of death,
This has always been about the reality of spiritual death…
This has always been about living in ways that do not depend upon the Spirit of God…
The passage continues:
Ezekiel 37:9–10 CEB
He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.” I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.

Can these bones live?

Can you imagine what Ezekiel was seeing?
Flesh covering bones,
Breath entering lifeless bodies,
And life taking the place of what was moments ago a place of death?
But this vision is nothing on its own…
This vision is meant for a people…
Ezekiel 37:11–14 CEB
He said to me, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’ So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”

Can these bones live?

The truth is – although Israel’s exile will end and they’ll return to their land,
They won’t occupy the land in the same way they once did.
They’ll still live under the rule of other nations…
But the return God promised – it’s a different kind of return.
God says “I will put my breath in you, and you will live.”
God is bringing the people – like he brings us – out of death, and into new life.
For those of us who have been plucked clean by an addiction,
who carry around the bones of a life riddled by sin that is controlling you, there is hope.
God offers deliverance.
You make think these bones of yours can’t live, but just as God did the impossible in that valley of dry bones, so now He offers you the impossible, life back again.
Deliverance and freedom from whatever obstacle is in your way.
For those of you with broken relationships - maybe between you and your spouse, or your children or siblings - that you think are dead, God says it’s not too late.
It’s not too late to start over.
It’s not too late to reconcile with that person.
It’s not too late for your marriage, for your family, for someone in the church.
God wants and can take those hurts, those scars, those dry bones you have with someone and give them life again.

Can these bones live?

We have a tendency to view the world in which we live and those things and people around us as just a valley of dry bones.
It is hopeless for this world.
Nothing can change about it.
There is no life here.
Things are too bad.
People aren’t going to come to know Christ.
Let’s just sit here and wait for the end.
God is saying to us, the same way he said to Ezekiel, “Speak to the bones.”
Speak to the world around you.
Show love and offer hope to those we think are hopeless, to those we think we are too far gone.
I suspect that there are many among us today, that someone left for dead.
People here today who were once given up on...
Someone in your life said “they are too far gone.”
Who have been told that they would never change.
But God entered your life and restored you to him...
And there are still more out there right now that God wants to breath new life into.
Still more out there God wants to reconcile to himself and to each other.
He is telling us to speak to the bones.
Call them to life!

Can these bones live?

Ezekiel’s vision of despair actually ends in hope.
So how long are going to keep sitting here looking at dry bones?
How long are we going to think things are hopeless?
When are we going to go to the one who has the answer to the question, can there be healing?
Can relationships be reconciled?
Can addictions be broken?
Can I be free?
Can these bones live?
God is the one who has the answer.
God is the one who brings new life.
Why don’t you give your old dried up bones to him and let him give you back life again?
Why don’t you allow him to show you what restoration can look like?
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