Some road trip.
Moments ago, he had been minding his own business. He had been preparing for another round of preaching, another round of prophesying, another round of warning the Israelites to stop their evil ways. And as he walked by the Babylonian marketplace where he would grab a morning drink, a piece of bread and begin writing his speech for the day, God intercepted him.
Ezekiel had been picked up, moved by the Almighty hand of the Lord, taken from his daily life and routine to…to…this! Wherever this was!
Ezekiel looked up. He was in a valley – what appeared to be the deepest part – with long mountainous crags on all every side. As his eyes followed the pastures ahead, he spotted what appeared to be clumps in the distance. Maybe they were piles. Some kind of bramble.
He took a few steps in that direction, until his sandled foot stubbed against something. He tripped, but kept his balance. Then, he turned around to see what his foot had a struck. In the ground, he saw something small and yellowish brown. He couldn’t quite make out what it was. Curiosity got the best of him so he got down on his knees and brushed the dry dirt away hoping to discover what it was.
When he did, he backed away in horror.
It was a skull. A dead bone.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that this was exactly what the piles in the distance were. Bones. Lots of them. Everywhere.
The Spirit of God 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. (Ezekiel 37:2)
I. A Lesson in the Valley
Ezekiel found himself wandering through the valley. Bones were everywhere he looked. Jawbones to his left. Leg bones to his right. Piles and piles of death – fading reminders of the people who once owned them.
Now…they were motionless. Dead. Lifeless.
It kinda reminded Ezekiel of the Israelites. For years he had been commissioned by God to warn his fellow countrymen about their sins. He had explained that the reason they were captives in Babylon was their sins and their only way out of Babylon was repentance and patience – patience in waiting for the delivering hand of God.
But the people’s response was MEH! They hadn’t seemed to care. They were lifeless. Their faith…was dead.
Ezekiel’s thought process was interrupted by the booming voice of the LORD: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel looked at the pile nearest him. A shin bone that used to walk. A knee joint that used to bend. A shoulder socket that used to reach for a bottle of wine. They had moved, sure. But death had crippled them. These bones were worthless. Anyone knew that.
…This wasn’t just anyone speaking to him.
God, you are the expert. You are the Creator of heaven and earth. You are the One who formed Adam, the very first man, out of clay! God, You alone know.
God responded, “Prophesy to these bones. Prophesy 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.’”
Wait a second? God, you want me to talk to the bones? The Israelites were one thing, but now you want me to prophesy to these bones? These things aren’t living. They aren’t moving. They can’t hear me. They don’t even have ears!
But…you are God. And…no one is watching 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. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them…
A foot connected to an ankle bone. A fibula and tibia met up like long lost friends. Ribs flew through the air and forced Ezekiel to duck for his life. Then, little stitches appeared at the joints…like some sort of invisible hand was cross stitching a pattern across them. Muscles formed in clumps at the biceps, the delts, and the quads. A skeleton near Ezekiel’s feet suddenly had a six pack. Then, skin. It draped down like a blanket and covered up all of these insides into one cohesive, identifiable body.
…but there was no breath in them.
And God spoke again.
9 “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
Ezekiel paused again.
First, bones and now the wind? You want me to preach to the wind? The forces of nature that only you control? You really expect me to get them bring these bones to life? Would it even do that?
Could it even do that?
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered the bones; a loud noise like a tornado rushed in from all sides. It blew through the newly formed hair on the bodies, moved the loose cartilage of the ears, and entered into the nostrils. Then, the chests moved. The bodies came to life and stood up on their feet-- one after another – a miracle after a miracle -- a vast army.
And Ezekiel? He stood in awe. Had seen the incredible. God had brought breath out of death!
II. A Lesson in North Raleigh
That’s a pretty sweet Bible story, isn’t it? How awesome would it be to see a science room filled of bones come to life and be real people? Because of the bones, it probably doesn’t get told as much in Sunday School as Noah’s ark, but it’s still pretty sweet.
And it’s not without some very real and very important lessons for you and me as we try to do ministry in North Raleigh. Take a look at these few:
1) We Too Were Bags of Bones
In order to get this bone for the kids lesson – I asked one of my friends who teaches elementary science for some help. She got back to me with a message about all the different bones that she could bring. Dog shin bones, goat thigh bones, even a cow skull. She wisely thought the cow skull would totally distract the kids and lead to me using control over the kids during the kids lesson. (I need reviews like that more often).
But it got me to thinking – all these different bones – all these different places – unless your are an A+ college biology student, you might not know what bones goes where, what kinds of animals it’s from and where it goes in the skeleton.
Isn’t it the same with God’s perspective of us? We are all sinners – dead in spirit – dead in faith. God looks down at us and he can’t tell apart the one pornography from the other. It’s easy to get the gossiper confused with the liar. The one God can’t tell if he should label it a racist, an adulteress, a thief or a strange combination of all three!
What I’m trying to say is that apart from Jesus – God sees us all as a pile of good as dead, useless, worthless, sinful bones.
Read it yourself in Ephesians 2:1 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
Now you might argue:
I’m not so bad. I was pretty good apart from Jesus. I might be a bit better now, but I was no slouch back in the day either.
I’m without him right now and I think I’m doing just fine. I don’t need anyone’s help and I don’t need God’s.
Have you ever downloaded an app before? When you download an app what do you expect it to do? Probably what it says it’s going to do. If you get an app downloaded, and it constantly freezes all the time, if it sends the Angry Birds in the opposite direction of the way you were flinging them OR if you every time you touch the DELIVER PIZZA button on the Pizza Hut app, you get sushi – the app is broken. It’s worthless.
God made you and I to serve him. He made us to devote our lives in love to him. He made us to serve others completely selfless all the time, all the time, all the time.
We haven’t done that. None of us have. There’s nothing we could do to fix that! Apart from Jesus, we were dead in sin.
If you are apart from Jesus, then that’s how God views you – dead. He sees your life as a rotting, deteriorating mess of an experiment – the only thing for which it's good, being an eventual decomposition into the soil where other bones can be buried too.
You were dead in your sins, but God made you alive with Christ.
2) God Brings Breath from Death
Do you know what’s really interesting? The Hebrew word for breath that we read in Ezekiel is RUACH…it’s also the exact same words that we translated as WIND. Two definitions; same word.
But there’s one more definition for RUACH. Do you know what it is?
Suddenly, it makes complete sense as to why the breath brought life from death, because the Holy Spirit was with the breath.
And the Holy Spirit is God.
And God has no problem bringing breath from death.
That’s what he has done to all believers. He worked the RUACH, Spirit worked through the RUACH/Breath of His Word to bring use to life. He breathed forgiveness into our sin burdened lungs. He took our sin rotting heart and gave us a heart of joy in the Lord. He lifted us up to our feet, dusted us off from our sins, and helped us take our first steps for the Lord.
God brought breath from our death.
If he hasn’t yet, that’s my prayer for you. It’s God’ s prayer for you, too.
In fact, that’s why he took on flesh and bone. It’s why he lost his breath on that cross. It’s why he took another breath in the tomb that first Easter morning – because every breath he took, all along the way – was to give you that a breath of FRESH AIR – to bring breath from death!
3) Let the Breeze…Out?
If you’ve got animals, there maybe be times when you need to let him some fresh air. Truth is: animals can stink the joint up. If you don’t have animals, maybe it’s the kids. If you don’t have kids, ladies, it’s probably the husband.
So you let the breeze in! You need fresh air. Glade has spent millions of dollars perfecting outdoor, fresh scents for just that reason.
But…what if the stink isn’t inside? What is the stink is outside?
You watch the news lately? This world stinks. It’s filled with sin and hatred and immorality! It’s filled with racism, selfism, and I’m-better-than-you-ism. Our world wants nothing to do with God and the morality is where it is because that is the case.
So…Let the breeze out!
Remember what God told Ezekiel? He told him to speak to the winds. He told him to say what He, the Lord, had said. He asked him to prophesy – which, in its simplest format – means to share God’s Words.
You’ve got the same power, because you have the same word. When you speak about your Savior to a sin burdened friend, that word of God has the ability to bring life to their souls!
Pray for the opportunities. I had the chance to do that this past week. I went to visit a friend from my assisted living ministry who was in the hospital. I got there and she was tired, sad, and honestly not looking all that good.
What did I do? Not much. I read Psalm 46 – “The Lord is our Refuge and Strength, an ever present help in trouble!” And the Spirit did his thing. Her spirits were lifted. A breath of fresh air in that dank, hospital room. Her spirit was breathing again!
You do the same.
And remember: Ezekiel did that and the winds came from all over from the North and the South; the East and the West.
That’s God’s plan. To fill the earth with the winds that bring breath – with the wind of his Word. From far north of Iceland to the down under of Australia. From the Far East of China to the far west of Arizona. From Durham to Clayton. From Cary to Knightdale. From I-540 to I-440. From Falls of Neuse to Six Forks.
Wherever you’re at. Speak God’s Word. Breathe a breath of fresh air into this world.
And God? He’ll do what he does. He’ll bring breath from death. Amen.