Can These Bones Live?
The Rev. Timothy Yeadon, president of the LCMS New England District, recently preached the following sermon at the LCMS International Center, Kirkwood, Mo.
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‘” (Ezek. 37:1–14).
I would like to begin this message by expressing my sincere thanks and gratitude for the privilege of preaching here before you today. I never thought a day would come when I would actually be standing here in the International Center because a kind chaplain in Pastor Weedon asked me to give the message for today. And I do so standing before my fellow district presidents, President Harrison and the members of the Praesidium who are the men I respect more than any others on the planet. Plus there are all of you saints here today, my brothers and sisters in Christ. May I also say that as a result of this that I am scared to death, and I pray to the Lord that He might make me worthy of such an honor and request. To be fair, Pastor Weedon helped me out today because when he gave me the text for this morning from Ezekiel he did it with the words that it was indeed a “juicy” text considering the fact that we have just celebrated Easter. I believe I know what he meant by that description of the prophet’s words.
But I have to tell you that as I read from Ezekiel 37 there is not a lot of “juiciness” in these words. In fact, we are talking about death and death as dry and lifeless as you can get as we stand in the valley of dry bones today. I don’t know if you folks have ever seen the movie “The Princess Bride,” but a scene comes to mind. The band of heroes has lost their champion, and they are carrying his lifeless body to a character in the movie named “Miracle Max.” Miracle Max is reputed to be one who can do wonders so they go to him in the hopes that perhaps he can revive their leader. When they get there he says to them, “Now let me first ask you a question. Is this person somewhat dead or is he really dead?” They ask him what he means by “somewhat dead.” He replies, “Well, if he’s only somewhat dead then maybe we can do something here.” “But what if he’s really dead? What do you do then?” “You check the body for loose change.”
These bones in the valley are not just dry. They are “very dry.” The wording in Hebrew is the same as when God looked over creation in Genesis at the very beginning and pronounced that things were not just good but “very good—tov Meod” in the original Hebrew. These bones are not just dry — “yveishot” — they are “yveishot Meod” — very dry. The people of which these bones are the remains are very dead.
And that was a picture of God’s people when Ezekiel prophesied to them. Ezekiel was a prophet who did his work for the Lord in far-off Babylon after the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had invaded the land, burned Jerusalem and the temple in Jerusalem to the ground, destroyed the last vestiges of the royal monarchy in Judah and transported the God’s people off into exile. For them, all that they knew was gone. Their kingdom was gone as well as their freedom. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple where the sacrifices occurred and where the High Priest intervened for the people before God was gone. Their homes were gone. It was all gone. It was all dead.
And that is the condition of all people in the sinful human race before God. They are not spiritually challenged. They are not spiritually crippled. They are spiritually and eternally dead. One of the greatest lies that the devil puts before us, and it lays embedded in our fallen human psyches, is that we can do something to get alive before God on our own. Something inside of us can choose life on our own. Even we saints of the Lord sometimes look within us for some power and even just an inclination to choose life on our own, thinking that somewhere deep within us must be something that can be done, just like the Philippian jailer of Acts 16 who speaks for all humanity when he asks St. Paul and Silas: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” There has to be something I can do.
But do you take seriously the Word of God in Eph. 2:1 that reads, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins”? Dead people do not choose to come to God. There is a popular contemporary Christian song out there that I’ll confess I like to sing to, and I’m not here to put down the song per se. But one of the lines in it that drives me crazy is, “I choose to be . . . holy.” Dead people do not choose to be holy. Dead people do not choose anything. They do not choose to come to life. I know of only one Man in the history of mankind who did that who said of His own life and death: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18), and His name was Jesus Christ. On our own, you and I have only one thing to say, and it is the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are indeed cut off.”
Our only hope is in the same God whose word of power brought all of creation into being. It is the God Who once said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It is His Word that can raise up dead people like you and me. And this is Jesus who saw what we were, and He came to be one of us. He took on flesh and bone and lived the holy life we never could, and He gave us His holiness and in exchange He took our dryness and our deadness. When all hope was gone, He gave us hope, and it was because He became the One who on the cross echoed the words of the sinner: “We are indeed cut off.” He was cut off from His heavenly Father as He, willingly and with love for you, took on your forsakenness and your death and your hell. He did it because of that verse that is fast becoming my favorite in the entire Bible. On Maundy Thursday night, which we all just celebrated as Jesus was facing the worst hell and death that could ever be, He did it because as St. John told us in John 13:1: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
And Ezekiel under inspiration wrote about the day when death would lose its final grip on you and me as these very dry bones come to life with the word of God: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.” I honestly cannot imagine what that will be like or how Jesus will do that as He calls your name to you just like the Risen Lord did for Mary at His own tomb. But a resurrection is coming for you and me, the hope of every single person in this room who had to say a goodbye in Christ to someone they love, to a mother or a father or someone dear to them, to every single person who was told once that there was no earthly hope of living, that cancer was going to win the battle, that sickness and illness and despair would have the final say. But Jesus Christ has the final say.
I don’t know how the Lord will do it. But the Spirit the Lord puts within us as Ezekiel says makes us to know that He is the Lord, that He has spoken and He will do it. It’s like the story of the Amish family that finally had to make a trip to the local mall to buy something the family needed. The wife went off to find what they needed, and the Amish father and his young son went to the center court of the mall to wait for a while. While there, the young boy looked at the elevator that was located there although he had no idea what an elevator was since the Amish avoid anything modern and technological. “My father, my father,” he said, “What are these silver doors in front of us, and what do they mean?” “In truth, my son,” the father replied, “I do not know.” They watched and soon an elderly woman came with a walker, and she slowly approached the elevator and pressed the button. The doors opened, and she walked in and the doors closed behind her. “My father, my father, what has happened now?” “Again, my son, I do not know.” They watched as the numbers rose, and then they paused for a moment, and then the numbers went back down. Suddenly the elevator doors opened and out walked a rather young and spritely and attractive young woman who quickly came out of the elevator and ran off. “My father, my father, again, what has happened?” The father replied, “Again, in truth my son. I do not know, but go get thy mother.”
What will it be like on that last day when the risen Jesus returns and calls His own from the grave to everlasting life that completes the joy their spirits already know in heaven with Him? I cannot explain it, but in the words of my predecessor in New England, Pastor Jim Keurulainen, “On the last day I want to be down in the cemetery, because that’s where all the action is gonna be.”
I cannot imagine the hows and the whys of Ezekiel’s beautiful hope that he gives you and me today under inspiration. I can even say, “I don’t get it.” But then there is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that I get. I know that it’s a done deal. For in that certain Easter resurrection of my Redeemer, I know my fears and my hurts and my terrors are answered because He lives. His resurrection was not only for Him as wonderful as it was; His resurrection was for you and me, for as St. Paul said it so clearly in Rom. 4:25 He was raised for our justification. For the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof that your sins are forgiven and that you no longer stand under the judgment of sin and the power of the death and the devil.
Why? Think about what God’s Word says: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Where there is sin, there is always death. And on that cross, God for our sakes made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). On that cross, Jesus had in Himself every sin that you and I ever committed or will commit and He died for you bearing your death: the wages of sin that should have been yours and mine. Now think about it. On that Sunday morning as His body lay in that tomb, if there was one sin of yours left in Him for which He had not entirely won God the Father’s forgiveness, if there was left one single, rotten sin of yours and mine that His blood did not cover and pay the price for, then Jesus Christ stays dead. Where there is sin, there is death.
But Jesus Christ lives, and because He lives, your sin is gone and your death is gone and your hell is gone. He could not have risen to live if it was anything else but your entire and absolute forgiveness that you have today and the eternal life that is surely yours of which Ezekiel proclaimed so long ago. That is the joy of Ezek. 37:1-14, and that is what we celebrate today for there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
In my life, I have had the privilege of travelling outside the United States to Africa. In fact, it is the only place I have ever gone when I have traveled, and it has include places like Kenya and recently Liberia. Personally I want to go on a mission to Paris, France, under the theme, “The French need Jesus too, you know.” But until then I have the memories of so many wonderful saints in Africa, and among the most awesome are those from the times I have been able to worship with them. Something about the way Africans worship has filled me with awe. Whether it was Kenya or Liberia, when I sat in their ramshackle churches of mud walls, dirt floors and corrugated tin roofs, I remember the start of a Sunday worship where a robed parishioner began by processing into the church carrying a cross. He did it with such reverence and solemnness that you could not help but be moved. Slowly and with strength that comes only from God, that huge cross of our salvation entered into our midst, and you knew that Jesus in His glory , the glory of the cross and the empty tomb, was among us. I know I was not the only one among our band of missionaries who was not fighting back tears as we saw that cross of the Savior handled in such a beautiful way. But then behind that person was the choir of African saints. And when they entered the church to begin worship it was with the words: “Embelle!”
To my dear brother district presidents, President Harrison, Praesidium members, to whom again I say with no false humility on my part to be the men I admire and respect more than any other human beings in my life, and to all of you, may the awe and reverence of the cross of victory, your victory, be yours today. And may the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, which is your resurrection and the resurrection of your moms and dads and Christian grandparents and loved ones and friends who died trusting in Jesus, may that awe and that joy be yours until that day when very dry bones rise up with flesh and blood and life to praise the One who lived, died, rose again, ascended and reigns forevermore for us to the honor of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Amen.
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