Ezekiel 37:1-14 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'" 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin 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 it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'" 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet-- a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'"
Look, there are the bones of hands that were once creative in building castles and spaceships with Legos. Now they are creative in finding new ways to get drugs into the body. There are the bones of hands that once held Barbies. Now they are holding a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other.
Can these bones live?
Look, there is the torso of the little child who used to sit on his grandfather’s lap in church. Now it is the torso of a college student who wants nothing to do with Christianity or church. There is the stooped-over spine of a single mother who is daily overwhelmed with stress and work and parenting. There is the skull of a soldier who is suffering from PTSD after seeing his buddies killed in war.
Can these bones live?
Look, there are the feet that used to run alongside his child’s bicycle when the training wheels were removed. Now they are the feet of an old man who must use a wheelchair and walker. There are the rickety bones of a lonely 80-year-old grandmother who only has her arthritis to keep her company.
Can these bones live?
That was the question that the Lord asked the prophet Ezekiel. In a vision, God placed Ezekiel in the middle of a valley. It was full of bones (Ezekiel 37:1). These were not just any bones. They were the bones of God’s chosen people. “These bones are the whole house of Israel,” the Sovereign Lord explained to his prophet (Ezekiel 37:11).
The Lord had called Ezekiel to preach the Word of life to a people who were dead. The whole of Israel had rejected the Sovereign Lord time and time again for generations. Finally, the Lord disciplined His children by having them carried off into captivity in Babylon. They were a people who had been conquered by a heathen enemy, their church had been destroyed, and their land had been taken. They were now living in exile in a strange land, dealing with a strange culture, and listening to a strange language. They were scared. They were unahppy. They were depressed and dejected. They felt like living bags of dry bones. As a people they cried out, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11).
The Lord asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live” (Ezekiel 37:3)?
That’s a good question, isn’t it? It is a timely question. It is an appropriate question.
How often don’t you feel like the dried up nation of Israel? How often don’t you suffer physical pains all the way down to your joints? How often don’t you endure emotional pains that go past your heart and mind and settle in your bones?
You feel doubt, despair, depression and dejection. Doubt that anyone loves you or is concerned about you. Despair that your future looks bleak and scary. Depression that no matter what you do, it will not be enough. Dejection as your body is breaking down, pills are lining your countertop and arthritis and pain wrack your body.
Welcome to the valley of dry bones. Your marriage is frustrating. Your children are wandering from the faith. Your health is eroding. Your stress is unbearable. Your financials are in the red. Your job is ending. Your cancer is terminal. Your dementia is claiming your memory. You feel empty, lonely, withered … this close to death. You are a living bag of dry bones.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, can your tired, old, dry bones live?
No. Dry is dry. Dead is dead.
Unless … unless something from outside the valley enters the dark valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). Something … or Someone. Jesus Christ is that Someone. Jesus entered the valley of death as God took on the bag of bones and flesh at His incarnation. He was so busy ministering to hurting people that He had no place to lay His head. He came to comfort and calm His disciples by moving His feet upon the churning waters of the Sea of Galilee. He placed His fingers into the ears of a man allowing the sounds of life to once again bring joy to the deaf. He reached out His hands to touch a leper, a pariah, whom no one else dared to touch. He refused to move His arms in casting a stone at an adulterous woman. His divine power coursed through His body so that a woman touching His clothing could be healed of her constant bleeding.
These are the same hands and feet that were pierced with nails. The same fingers that were curled in agony. The same head that was crowned with thorns. The same arms that were stretched out in love on the cross. The same side that was pierced with a spear.
His is the body that was dead. The breath of life was gone. His divinely human bag of bones was buried in a tomb in its humiliation. He had entered the dark valley of death.
His is also the body that walked out of the grave alive! The breath of life had returned! His divinely human body was now glorious in its exaltation. He had walked through the dark valley of death and come out on the other side! He had walked through that dark valley so that He might know the way and lead all the dead in Christ to the other side to the green pastures and quiet waters in the valley of the Lord in paradise!
Can dry bones live? They can … but not by their own power. Only when the Word of the Lord and the wind of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord blow through that valley of death.
The Lord said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD’” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)
So Ezekiel prophesied as he was commanded. And as he was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. Tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Until Ezekiel prophesied again and the breath of the four winds entered them. Then they all came to life and stood up on their feet (Ezekiel 37:7-10).
They were brought to life the way all life begins – through the breath of the Holy Spirit. That breath first blew across the newly formed waters bringing life to all creation (Genesis 1:2). That breath blew into clay bringing life to Adam (Genesis 2:7). That breath blew across Ezekiel’s vision and gave hope and comfort to the Israelites that they would return to their homeland and be restored as God’s chosen people. Jesus spoke that breath of life to a little girl on her deathbed, a young man during his funeral procession, and a friend buried four days in the grave. Every one of them received the breath of life back in their lungs.
On the evening of His resurrection, Jesus breathed on His disciples in the upper room giving them the gifts of faith and courage (John 20:22). That faith and courage were evident 50 days later at the Pentecost Festival, when the breath of the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire and the sound of rushing wind (Acts 2:2-4).
Ezekiel heard the rattling sounds of bones coming together. They were the sounds of life. Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus all heard the words of Jesus calling to them. They were the sounds of life. The apostles and Pentecost crowd heard the sound of rushing wind and the apostles’ speaking in unlearned languages. They were the sounds of life.
The hands of those teenagers who are now caught in drugs and alcohol, those are hands that belong to children who were baptized by the water and words of the Lord. The Spirit breathed life and faith into them. He can restore that life and faith once again. Can you hear it?
The torso of the little child who has grown up to forsake his faith; the stooped-over spine of the overwhelmed single mother who is barely holding onto her faith; the skull of the soldier suffering from PTSD wondering where his faith has gone; those are the bodies of God’s people who had at one time and can once again hear the words of the Lord. They may hear the comforting words of hope in a Christian song on the radio. They may listen to the consoling words of encouragement from a friend sharing a devotion or a prayer. They may read the calming words of forgiveness on a family member’s Facebook post or tweet. The Spirit once breathed life and faith into them. He can breathe life and vitality back into what once was dead. Can you hear it?
The arthritic grandparents who are lonely and immobile and depressed. Their pastor visits them to bring them the Lord’s Supper. As they eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, they are eating and drinking life. The Spirit is breathing life and faith into their fragile and frail bodies. Can you hear it?
No one is too small. No one is too dry. No one is too forgotten. No one is too dead. Not for the resurrected Lord and His Spirit of life.
Can these bones live?
Of course they can! When Christ is speaking and the Spirit is breathing! Then dry bones can definitely live again!
There is nowhere that the wind of the Spirit cannot reach. That’s because there is no place in this valley of death in which we live where the Spirit cannot reach with His Word and Sacraments. Wherever there is dryness, He brings the water of life. Wherever there is sin, He brings the forgiveness of life. Wherever there is death, He bring the life that is eternal.
Can these bones live?
In Jesus Christ your bones do more than live. They thrive in His grace. He buries your skeletons in the closet of His grave. He raises you from the death of your sin to life in His resurrection. He breathes His Holy Spirit upon what once was dead. You are forgiven. You made whole. You are alive. Amen.