Can These Bones Live? The Resurrection Power of God’s Spirit
Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: Ezekiel 37:1–37:14, Romans 8:11
The Holy Spirit
Grace Community Church
Sept. 26, 2021
Can These Bones Live? The Resurrection Power of God’s Spirit
If you have your Bible turn with me to Ezek. 37. We’ll have the passage up on the screen for you to read as well. We are looking at the ministry of the Holy Spirit and this morning we’re going to look at the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament.
Ezekiel was a prophet at the time when Babylon defeated Jerusalem and took many of its citizens back to Babylon as captives. Ezekiel was among the first captives taken. And God gave Ezekiel the unenviable task of confronting Israel with their rebellion and idolatry. “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me.” Vs. 2:3
Ezekiel brought the word of the Lord to his people, telling them that the terrible circumstances they were facing were God’s judgment against them. He often spoke in parables, depicting Israel with such images as a burnt, useless stick, or two promiscuous sisters. He acted out God’s coming judgment by doing things like shaving his head and beard and lying on his side for over a year eating food cooked over animal dung to depict the judgment Jerusalem would face when Babylon besieged her. And all the time Ezekiel knows they won’t listen to his warnings because their hearts are hard like stone.
Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry is pretty bleak and hopeless, but every now and then, God speaks a word of a hopeful future. God is the God of hope! In chapter 11 God promises to put a new spirit in them and replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.
In chapter 33 a refugee from Jerusalem comes to Ezekiel and informs him that Jerusalem has fallen to Babylon and that Babylon has destroyed the temple. Israel is defeated, the temple is destroyed and the Jews that were spared have been taken as exiles into Babylon. This is the bleak picture of where things are at when we come to chapter 37. Let’s read the first 14 verses:
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. 2 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. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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.”
7 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. 8 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. 9 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.”10 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.
11 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.’12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 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.” Ezek. 37:1-14
- A vision of spiritual death and resurrection hope
In Ezekiel’s vision, God brings him by the Holy Spirit to a valley filled with dry bones. It is a literal death valley – everywhere Ezekiel looks all he sees are dry bones. It is a sea of death, and not new death at that. Old death. Long dead. Very dead. Not even the slightest reminder of the life these fallen once knew. They are brittle, sun-bleached bones.
It’s a picture of the spiritual state of Israel. Our physical state will always follow our spiritual state. It may lag behind but it will catch up and Israel’s dry, dead, spiritual state has caught up with her physical state. Her sin and rebellion and idolatry led to spiritual death and now her physical state is completely hopeless.
Everyone of us has no doubt had discouraging times when we had a hard time seeing hope, but I doubt any of us have ever experienced utter hopelessness. I think that’s one of the things that hit me with the state of Afghanistan – the hopelessness. I read about an Afghani who had helped the US being beheaded in front of his family. That’s utter hopelessness. His family may have been left alive, but without hope. Not the smallest glimmer of hope for their country, and the horrifying image of the beheading of their husband and father in front of them burned in their memory.
That’s Israel. The ones that were spared have no life, no joy, no hope. They are slaves living in a foreign land, with the memory of their loved ones being put to death and their beloved city and their temple being destroyed. Dry, dry bones.
God walks Ezekiel around and then asks him, son of man, can these bones live? He’s asking Ezekiel if there’s any hope for these bones and Ezekiel can’t see even the slightest glimmer of hope – these bones are way beyond the reach of hope, the return of life. But Ezekiel is wise enough to know that when it comes to God, never say never. So he says O Lord God, you know.
Then God tells Ezekiel to prophesy the word of the Lord over the bones. When God speaks, even dead bones listen. Ezekiel, speak a word of hope to these bones. They are far beyond any natural hope but God isn’t speaking about a natural hope, He’s speaking about a supernatural hope. God isn’t speaking a word of resuscitation to these bones. He’s speaking a word of resurrection hope to these dry, dry bones. They will live again!
So Ezekiel begins to speak to the bones, before he sees any evidence of life, and as he prophesies he begins to hear rattling noises as the bones start coming together and then sinew begins to form in the joints and muscle begins to attach to the bones, and skin covers the bones. Bones have been transformed into people but they are still lifeless, it’s like the zombie apocalypse. There is no life in them.
What is life? What I mean is why are you you? Now some of your friends and family might be wondering that too but I mean it in the deepest existential way. Why are you you? Why am I me? What is life? We can’t produce it in a laboratory. Life isn’t the mechanical by-product of having all the right parts in the right place. Life is the thing that makes you you, and me me. We call it our soul, the essence that is us. And it comes from the breath of God, the Spirit of God. When God created Adam from dust and clay, all the parts were in place but there was no life until God breathed into Adam. Life comes from the breath – the ruach, the Spirit – of God.
All these perfectly formed bodies are lying in the valley but there is no life in them so God says prophesy to the breath and say to the breath (Spirit) come from the four winds to breath life into these corpses and make them alive. And breath comes into them and they live and stand and become a great army.
What does this vision mean? The first meaning, the one the original readers would have understood is that this is speaking to the house of Israel. It’s a word of hope for their future. God explains that this vision is the house of Israel. They are truly dead and hopeless. The death is real, the graves are real but God is going to rob the grave! God will raise them up from the dead, put His Spirit in them, bring them back to their land, and they will know that He alone is the one true God.
Can these bones live? The answer for Israel, even after all their sin and rebellion and hard-heartedness is yes, God can do it! God prophesies a future hope for His people, one they can’t bring about but He can.God is the faithful, covenant-keeping, grave-robbing, life-giving, God for whom nothing is impossible!
- We need the Holy Spirit to breath resurrection life into a hopeless situation
A second spiritual reference that Bible scholars see in this is that final day when the trumpet shall sound and the graves will be opened up and the dead in Christ will rise to meet Christ in the air.
Just as Jesus died and rose again from dead, the Christian’s hope is that death isn’t the end, on that great day the graves will open up, and all those who trusted in Christ as their Savior will be resurrected in glorified bodies!
Someone might say, that’s impossible. There are countless people who aren’t even in graves, whose bodies have completely decomposed or were burned to ashes. God doesn’t even have bones to work with. Can these bones live? Can long dead, decomposed bodies live again? Can bodies cremated and flung to the wind or poured into the ocean live again? It is completely impossible, but impossible is what God does best. On resurrection day, when Jesus returns, the power of the Spirit will assemble the dust, the bones, the nothing, all those who died in Christ and after assembling them will breath resurrection life into them and they will live forever on the power of that breath! Jesus has given us resurrection hope!
This vision also speaks a brilliant word of resurrection hope to us and a needed Old Testament reminder that we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the church. I’m not talking about this church or that church, there is only one church, the church of Jesus Christ. Every true believer on earth is His church and the power of the Holy Spirit is NOT optional to the existence of the church. It’s the Spirit who breathes life into the church! Without the Spirit, the church has no life!
A church needs the infrastructure of the bones – sound doctrine, adherence to biblical truth – but a church can have all that and still not have life. Don’t get me wrong, we need the infrastructure of sound doctrine in the church just like we physically need our bones. Without our bones we’d just be a mushy pile skin and blood lying on the floor. A jellyfish on land. That’s what a church is when it doesn’t have a sound infrastructure of bones – a pile of mush that doesn’t have the necessary framework for life. We need our bones, the church needs the infrastructure of sound, biblical doctrine. But the infrastructure doesn’t breathe life into the church, only the Spirit does that.
The church needs the skin and sinew to give us form. Think of that as the various forms the church can use to steward the life of the church. Where we meet, what we do. The first church met in homes. That isn’t a biblical rule, that was the form they took. It worked for them. Today most churches meet in a building. That’s not a rule either, it’s just the form that seems to work well today. Some churches sing from hymnals, others sing from projector screens. Some use organs, others use guitars and drums. Some preachers wear three-piece suits, others wear ripped jeans. Local churches take on different forms and we need form to help steward the life, but the form doesn’t produce the life.
God said, can these bones live? Then He brought the bones together and covered them with muscle and skin, but all that didn’t make them alive. It took the Spirit of God, to breath life into them. The church needs the bones of sound doctrine and the skin of some kind of form, but that won’t make the church alive. We need the Holy Spirit to breath life into the church. We need the Holy Spirit to breath His life into our spiritual lives.
It’s the Holy Spirit that saves people. Jesus said you must be born again by the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. Eph 2 tells us that we were dead in our sins (dry bones) but God made us alive in Christ – that is the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit can save a soul by opening their eyes and hearts to believe in Jesus Christ and giving them, as God promised the Israelites, a new heart.
It’s the Holy Spirit that takes out a heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. It’s the Holy Spirit that illuminates our minds to see the heart of God in the word of God (it’s possible to know the word of God and miss the heart of God – just look at the Pharisees). It’s the Holy Spirit that enables us to experience resurrection power in our daily lives.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Rom 8:11
It’s the Holy Spirit who witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God, even crying out in us “Abba, Father”.
We need and we want to have good bones of sound doctrine. We want to have a healthy form to steward God’s work and life (think of Jesus’ parable of the old and new wineskin – a form to hold the wine). But we also need and want the wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through our midst.
Let’s call upon God, let’s heat up our prayers and send them to heaven asking God to breath new life in us and through us to others. Can these bones live? Ezekiel didn’t say, “let me work on that God and I’ll see what I can do.” It had to be God.
Let’s follow Ezekiel’s example and ask the Lord to send His breath from the four winds and breath new life, new power, new hope, new love, new grace, new joy into His people, and through us to a world that needs to see what God can do, what resurrection hope in a land of spiritual death looks like!
Maybe you find yourself in what looks to be a hopeless place. You don’t see a way out. You don’t see a glimmer of hope. You think that loved one is too far gone to ever come to Christ. Your doctor called with news that has gripped your heart with fear. You have too much debt, you don’t have a job, your marriage is falling apart, you’re alienated from your kids. Whatever it is, it may look hopeless to you but it’s not hopeless to God.
When God is in the picture, hope is always in the picture. Pray to God and ask for His Spirit to breath new life into that situation.
As we sing a closing song, if you have something going on that you’d like prayer for, just raise your hand and some people near you will gather around you to pray with you and for you.
More in Holy Spirit
October 17, 2021Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part Three: Sowing to the Spirit
October 10, 2021Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part Two
October 3, 2021Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part One