The Day of Pentecost – (June 4th 2006)
“Can These Bones Live?”
Ezekiel the prophet spoke to a people of Israel who must have felt without hope. They had lost the battle for Jerusalem. They were removed from their homeland, and living in exile. The temple had been destroyed. It must have seemed hopeless. As a nation, they were as good as dead. As God’s chosen people – it seemed pretty hopeless that God would still keep his promises – for them to prosper, and live in that land, and especially that the seed of Abraham would bless all nations.
Ezekiel must have had a hard time preaching and teaching those hopeless people. But as God shows Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones, and Ezekiel retells the story – we see that even the most hopeless situation is not beyond the power of our God in Jesus Christ, who speaks his powerful word, and whose spirit brings life to the dead.
Perhaps you know someone who has had a “near death experience”. The heart stops, the line goes flat, and the person says they feel like they float out of their body, or they go down a tunnel toward the light. But just as suddenly, the doctors work their modern miracle, and the patient is revived – resuscitated. Who but God alone knows what such experiences truly represent – and whether they are what they appear or are some unexplained physiological process.
But one thing’s for sure. Doctors can’t, and doctors won’t revive a pile of bones. Sure, a recently stopped heart can be started again. But it is hopeless – unthinkable to bring a dry skeleton back to life again.
Scripture paints a similar picture, when it comes to us and our sin. We are told we are “dead in our sins” and that we are unable to save ourselves. Our spiritual condition is just as hopeless as a pile of dry bones. Bones can’t decide to come to life. Bones can’t grow new flesh and organs. Bones don’t start breathing just because they want to – bones don’t even want to. They are dead. Hopeless and helpless. So are we, according to our sin.
God asks Ezekiel “Can these bones live?” and the obvious answer, the answer of science and common sense, the answer of human wisdom and experience is “NO!”. But Ezekiel knows God is up to something, and answers, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” God is powerful – all powerful – sovereign. And he knows everything. And he has the answers. Ezekiel’s response is one of faith, saying, “If it be your will, O Lord, you can do it.” And God does..
We’re still not too far from Good Friday. We recall the cross, and Jesus’ dead body – not yet reduced to bones, but certainly beyond hope of spontaneous revival. Speared in the side, just to verify his death. Laid in a tomb for three days, sealed with a large stone and watched over by an armed detachment. “Can those bones live?” Can he do what he said he would? Can Jesus rise from the dead? We know he did. And he is alive forever and for us, his people. And in Him, we are not without hope.
Back to the valley… The Lord then exerts his miraculous power to answer the question, “Can these bones live?” And he shows his power through the spoken word. God has been exerting power through speech ever since he said, “let there be light”.
But he will also speak through a mere man. He doesn’t NEED Ezekiel to do this, but he makes the prophet his spokesman, his mouthpiece. And Ezekiel prophesies. And the Word has an effect.
It brings tendons and sinews, flesh and skin to those dry bones. It creates what was not there. The word does what it says it will do.
So too the word of God that is spoken, even today. Still spoken by mere humans, yet still as powerful as it was “in the beginning”. The word of God is still doing what it says. Bringing new life to souls dead in sin. Freeing captives from the power of the evil one. Destroying and creating, accusing and forgiving, condemning and loving. An active and powerful and living word.
Who can hear about the word creating flesh without thinking of John 1, where we read about the eternal Word of God, “and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us”. Jesus Christ is that living, powerful, active and miraculous word of God which brings his power to bear. Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh, so that he could give that flesh up to death. So that he could do what he said, and not only rise himself, but also raise us from the dead.
Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones was a vision representing the hope of restoration for the Israelites. But in Jesus Christ, a true Resurrection has taken place, and a universal resurrection is to come. We will see something very much like Ezekiel saw – we will see it on a much larger scale, on the day of Christ’s return. As all the dead are raised to be judged, and as we join him for life eternal.
The same word that commanded skeletons to become bodies, now commands the breath of life to enter and give life. Ezekiel prophesies to the wind – and remember the Hebrew word for “wind” is the same as “breath” and the same as “spirit”. So from the wind comes the Spirit who breathes life into these bodies, and they stand on their feet, a vast army. There is hope for the people of God – they will be brought to life by God’s Spirit!
And so it is for us. The day we took our first breath – our first spiritual breath – was when we came through the waters of Baptism. There in Baptism the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us, making each of us his temple, washing away our sins, and giving us a new and eternal life!
The Spirit takes what Christ has won by his death and resurrection, and applies it to each of us individually. He “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us”. He forgives our sins, in Christ. He renews our lives, in Christ. And he draws us again and again to Christ – through the Word and in the Sacrament.
The miracle of baptism, though not such a spectacle as Ezekiel saw in the valley, is an even greater miracle. For at the font, the Living Word, Jesus Christ, sends his Life-Giving Spirit, and we are made new, and clean, and alive forever.
And no, your baptism isn’t just something that happened to you years ago as a baby. It’s something that holds meaning for you every day of your walk with God. Something to be remembered and cherished. Something we can rely on. For it is the very promise and power of God for our salvation. It’s a tangible way we know that we belong to him.
One of my favorite songs by a group called the “Counting Crows” has this line,
“I got bones beneath my skin, and mister...
there's a skeleton in every man's house
Beneath the dust and love and sweat that hang on everybody
there's a dead man trying to get out”
Yes, even for us who are made alive in Baptism, we still struggle with the Old “dead man” within us – “a skeleton trying to get out”. We still wrestle with sin, and death is always breathing down our neck. Hopelessness is a real temptation, living in this world with its valleys full of bones.
But God doesn’t leave us alone in the valley. Christ sends his spirit to guide and comfort us. He brings us again and again to his house, to his table – and here faith is strengthened and hope is renewed. Here we encourage one another. Here we also respond to God’s mercy in Christ.
On this day of Pentecost, we recall the outpouring of God’s Spirit. But we also acknowledge the outpouring of that same Spirit on us – and through Word and Spirit, on account of Christ, by Word and water, our dry bones are given flesh and breath – and we stand – and live, just as he lives and will never die! Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In Ezekiel’s vision, the Valley of Dry Bones looks like a place with no hope. But God speaks through the prophet, and sends his Spirit. May His prophetic Word and Spirit also bring us life, in Jesus Christ our Lord.