Down, but Certainly Not Out!

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In the midst of a hopeless situation, God can bring new life to His people.

Ezekiel 37:1–14 ESV
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.”
Introduction: If you are like most people, graveyards are not among your favorite places to visit. They speak of the dead. There is such a finality associated with graveyard.
They trigger such strong emotional responses. Most people find them to be downright creepy, especially at night.
Today, we are taking a trip to a graveyard. Relax, it is not a real graveyard – just the vision of one that was given to one of God’s prophets as a spiritual picture.
The background of our little trip takes us all the way back to ancient Babylon where God’s people, had been taken into captivity because of their continued disobedience to God. Among the captives was a young priest named Ezekiel whom God called to be a prophet. He gave Him visions related to the future of Israel including this vision of the valley of the dry bones.
The miracle that takes place in this vision is a picture of God reviving his people. Fresh wind and fresh fire are often needed in his church in order to revive and rejuvenate the people of God.

A Grim Picture (vv. 1-2)

Ezekiel was given a very vivid vision of the spiritual and national condition of God’s people Israel. In his vision, he was transported by the Spirit of God to a lonely, desolate valley which had become an open graveyard full of dead men’s bones.
By the way, a valley is a place where you would expect to see life but there was none to be found.
There was nothing left on these bones, no flesh, no muscles or tendons. Just scattered, dried up bones, bleached white in the hot, desert sun.
He emphasized their dryness and deadness saying, “they were very dry.”
If Ezekiel had been taken to a valley filled with people who were dying there would have been a glimmer of hope. Perhaps some would be healed and survive.
If the valley had been filled with the corpses of people who had just died, there would have been the possibility of a resurrection.
Even if the valley had been filled with complete skeletons, there would be some hope. But this valley was filled with very dry, scattered bones.
Not only were these bones dead, there were disgraced. These bones weren’t even given a proper burial. They had long been picked clean by scavenging buzzards.
Of course we know that this passage referred to the whole house of Israel. verse 11 makes that clear.
Even the people of Israel had forsaken any hope for restoration. They looked around at their circumstances, captive in a foreign land and said, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off!”
It was almost like they had given up and were just waiting around for the funeral. They felt utterly hopeless.
It might be tempting for Christians to have similar thoughts when it comes to the state of the church in 2023.
As we are emerging from the pandemic, we have discovered that 1/3 of Americans have stopped attending church and are unlikely to return according to surveys. This is up from 25% prior to the pandemic.
This has happened despite the fact that 4 out of 5 Americans say their lives are at least somewhat if not completely back to a pre-pandemic normal.
This should not surprise us considering that church attendance numbers have been on the decline for over 20 years in every age category.
Add to the fact that the church and Christianity as a whole is facing an atmosphere of increasing hostility. And we are no longer influencing the culture like we should, the culture is influencing us.
Author Trevin Wax, who also serves as VP of Research and Resource Development at NAMB wrote an article about the post-covid malaise that the church faces.
He identifies two current dangers about the future of most churches. I’m only going to share one today. He wrote:
“The first is that the church would begin to prioritize maintenance over the mission. We develop into a “holy huddle” where our focus is on the barracks and no longer on the battlefield. We picture ourselves as soldiers having survived a heavy bombardment and the goal has become, Don’t lose any more ground. Launching a new initiative or moving forward—those elements of the mission don’t occupy our minds.
The danger here, of course, is this: when maintenance replaces mission, the church moves backward. We turn inward. It’s like surviving an illness and then defining “success” as recovering enough to make it back to what we were like before we were sick, but without a greater vision of what we might do with restored health.”
At the risk of offending, let me personalize this a little bit.
Look to your left, then look to your right. What do you see? Look at your neighbor and say, “There are a lot of old folks in here!”
Ten years from now, what will you see when you look down the rows if something doesn’t change?
Dry, dead, disgraced bones.

A Grand Proposal (v. 3)

God asked Ezekiel an important question, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
We might hope that some how, a recently dead body could somehow return to life. No one hopes that scattered, detached bones might live. There is no flesh, no muscle, no tendons and ligaments. The bones are not even connected in any way.
If we were to look at the situation from a purely human perspective, we would be scratching our heads about the answer just like Ezekiel did. “O Lord God, you know.” What he meant was, “Only you know the answer Lord.”
Israel found itself in this predicament being held captive in Babylon because of their own sinful choices.
Their unfaithfulness to God was the problem. 19 times in the Old Testament we are told that these people had “gone whoring after other gods.”
God had warned them over and over again that they would face judgment if they didn’t remain fully devoted to him.
Deuteronomy 30:15–19 CSB
See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not listen and you are led astray to bow in worship to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish and will not prolong your days in the land you are entering to possess across the Jordan. I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,
God could have and should have given up on them a long time before this. But he didn’t. He was faithful to keep his part of the covenant. This is the paradox of his grace. When we least deserve a second chance, God is there waiting to revive and restore us if we will meet His conditions.
Malachi 3:7 (CSB)
“Since the days of your ancestors, you have turned from my statutes; you have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Armies. Yet you ask, “How can we return?”
As we consider the future of his church today - of this church, we must ask the hard question: Can these bones live?
The answer may surprise you.

A Glorious Possibility (vv. 4-11)

Ezekiel was commanded to do some strange stuff here in his vision.
Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Eze 37:4
The Word of God is vital to bringing dry bones back to life.
Illus. “If we want revivals, we must revive our reverence for the Word of God. If we want conversions, we must put more of God’s Word into our sermons; even if we paraphrase it into our own words, it must still be his Word upon which we place our reliance, for the only power which will bless men lies in that.” (Spurgeon)
I believe wholeheartedly that the Word of God has the supernatural power to revive dead souls. If I ever lose confidence in the Word, I pray that the Lord will revoke my calling to preach.
Hebrews 4:12 ESV
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Look at the result of the preaching of the Word.
Ezekiel 37:7–8 ESV
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.
But the Word wasn’t enough to resurrect these lifeless corpses. Something else was missing.
Ezekiel 37:5–6 ESV
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 for breath in the Hebrew is “Ruah” which is also closely identified with the Spirit of God. Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the “Ruah” to breathe on these slain, that they may live.”
In these 14 verses, ruah occurs no fewer than 10 times.
So this is more than the breath of human life, it is the Spirit of the living God!
“Decayed Churches can most certainly be revived by the preaching of the Word, accompanied by the coming of the heavenly ‘breath’ from the four winds. O Lord, send us such revivals now, for many of thy Churches need them.” (Spurgeon)
Unless the Spirit of God breathes life into our weary souls, our efforts to seek revival are in vain.
Obviously we realize that this chapter is all about God’s plan to restore Israel. We are given the intended interpretation in vv. 11-14
God was going to bring them back to life as a nation one again (Raise you from your graves.)
He was going to return them to their homeland of Israel.
They were going to know once again that He indeed was God because he was the one who would restore them.
He was going to empower them by His Spirit.
However, we also see many principles about how God works to revive his church.
In times is spiritual dryness and stagnation, their is only one place to look toward - Heaven.
God’s people must hear his word proclaimed. Confidence in the Word of God must be renewed.
God’s Spirit must breathe new life into his people. We can’t plan our way to revival. It is a sovereign work alone. That is, only God can send this kind of blessing. We are to pray!
Have you considered what it would be like for there to be a genuine, God-sent revival among God’s people?
A revival that restored the church to the salt and light influence in our culture and our community that God intended for it to have.
A revival that was unmistakably, a move of God.
In the words of Pastor Alan Carr, “The days of God’s blessings are not over. The times of refreshing have not passed us by forever. God is still the same God He has always been, and he is still working in supernatural, sovereign ways to accomplish His will in the world.”
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