I want to talk today about the death. Yes, you heard me correctly; death. It’s not something we think of as being a positive and uplifting message, but I believe this is what God would like for me to talk about today.
Now, I know what you are probably thinking; “Oh great; he is going to use scare tactics to get us to convert.” That’s not the case, I can assure you. Typically, if religious people take the stage and talk about death, they are evangelists selling Jesus as fire insurance. But I promise that is not me. I believe in having a greater reason to seek Jesus than just a “get-out-of-hell-free card.”
But let us talk about that for just a minute. I promise I’ll get back on topic. Most people would say that Jesus’ purpose was death. I would say that one of the purposes on His life was fulfilled in His death, but He has a story both before and after that one event.
If Jesus’ only purpose was to die, why didn’t He do it at the age of twelve? Does not the scripture record that He was to be about His Father’s business even then? Why then did He wait until He was thirty before even starting His earthly ministry? Could it be He had to experience life just like us so He could identify with us? And why did He have a three year long ministry if His only purpose was to die? Most of that ministry wasn’t preparing Him for death but rather preparing us for life.
I can give you the message of salvation in four verses. The first is Romans 3:23, which says; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now, that doesn’t just say some; it says all. Me, you; everyone. We have all sinned, no matter how small or big the sin, or how abundant or scarce the frequency; this applies to everyone.
The next verse is three chapters later in Romans 6:23, which says “For the wages of sin is death…” So, already we find that we are all sinners and that the consequence of our sin is death. Fundamentally, there is an issue. If I just left it open like that, it would seem completely hopeless, would it not?
Ok, let me come back to that. I said I was going to talk about death. So, what is it that you think about when you hear the word “dead?” I’ll give you a moment to think about it.
When I think of the word “dead” I think of a rotting carcass on the side of the road, like an armadillo that just got too close to a passing car. I admit that is not a pleasant thought, but that is what I think of when I hear the word dead.
What kind of emotions are tied with death, whether based on what I just mentioned, or based on your own thoughts when dwelling on the topic? Sadness? Hopelessness? Finality? Anger? Depression? Loneliness?
Consider for a minute your own experiences with death. Maybe you have been fortunate and you have never experienced someone close to you dying. But I would imagine death has affected most of us in some way at some point in time in our lives. Maybe a grandparent or a parent. Maybe a sibling or cousin. Maybe a best friend or someone you knew in school. Maybe even a child.
I have experienced a fair amount of death in my life, but probably the greatest death I have experienced was the death of my father. He died about fifteen years ago when I first started college. He died of cancer. I was a fairly new believer and when he was diagnosed, I refused to believe a word the doctors said. I had complete faith that God would heal him. So much so, that I rarely even visited him in the hospital. As I look back now, he and all of my family probably thought I didn’t love him or care about him that much considering how little time I spent with him those last few months. But I had no doubt he would be healed.
But that was simply not the case.
Death is inescapable and absolute. The number one cause of death in this world is life, for one out of every one who is born will die. We cannot change that fact. But we can change our perspective regarding it.
In Ezekiel 37, starting at verse 1, we have the following;
1 The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.
Now, consider this situation. Imagine you are just chilling, minding your own business and God just up and takes you to a valley. First of all, that would likely freak anyone out. Granted, it says it was in the spirit and some might argue it was all a vision or a dream, but I want us to look at this as being physical; as if it actually happened, because if we look at it as being non-material or only symbolic, we miss a very rich aspect of this story.
So, Ezekiel was just doing his own thing, probably praying or something, then the next think he knows, he is at a valley. And in this vast valley, there are a bunch of bones. That has got to be scarier than a graveyard because at least in a graveyard they actually buried the bodies. What were all these bones doing here? Perhaps a large battle took place in this location years ago and the bones were all the warriors that fell. There’s really no telling. But, nevertheless, there are a bunch of bones. And what do bones represent?
But, not only does he say they are bones; he emphasizes they are very dry, in fact this particular translation stated they were completely dried out. So now I ask the question; how dead is dead? Does it matter they are dry? What if they were wet bones? What if they still had a little muscle on them?
Really, how dead is dead? Is it in a hospital bed about to breathe its last breath? Is it just got hit by a car but haven’t assessed the situation yet? Is it laying in a tomb covered in grave clothes for nearly a week? Is it when the buzzards no longer have anything to eat from the remains? How dead is dead? How bad is it really?
The reason I ask is because I believe the writer of this story wanted to convey the sheer hopelessness of this situation. And I believe that we, being a temporal people, bound by time, relate how dead something is based on the time that has elapsed since the death occurred.
In Jesus’ ministry, He healed a lot of people. On a couple of occasions it was told to Him; “If you had only gotten here sooner…” speaking forth the seemingly hopelessness of their situation.
Maybe you feel this way right now. Maybe there is death in your life. Perhaps not in a physical sense, but maybe you are coping with the hopelessness of your situation. Maybe you feel as if you’ve killed some relationships with some decisions you’ve made. Maybe you feel your actions have caused so much death in your life there is not help or restitution available to you. And the dryness of the bones of your situation speak to the depth of the hopelessness you feel. Death can come in many forms, but the result is typically some strong emotion which drags us down.
Maybe the death running rampant in your life causes you to ask the following questions:
How bad do I have to be before I no longer can receive forgiveness?
How lost do I have to be before I can no longer be found?
How screwed up do I have to be before I can’t be made whole again?
How dead will I have to be before I can no longer be resurrected?
I believe the writer of Ezekiel understood these questions and the death we face within ourselves as flawed humans. This is why he emphasized the dryness of the bones, for it gives the impression that absolutely all hope was lost.
Or maybe we’ve come to the bargaining phase and we start to list off our sins, saying;
“If I had only _____ just a little bit, I could still be redeemed,” as in;
If I had only told one little white lie, I could still be redeemed
If I had only went to one wild party, I could still be redeemed
If I had only slept with one promiscuous person, I could still be redeemed
If I had just tried weed and nothing else, I could still be redeemed
If I had just had one beer, I could still be redeemed
If I had just tried one way of illegally making money (hustling), I could still be redeemed
If I had only lashed out in anger once, I could still be redeemed
If I had only bullied one kid, I could still be redeemed
If I had only been jealous that one time, I could still be redeemed
If I had only let my selfish ambition get me that one time, I could still be redeemed
The list could go on and on. The Bible tells us that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. And he does. But understand his battlefield is our mind. These questions come from a sense of condemnation, whether that’s fed from ourselves or the enemy or religion. There are religious people that turn their nose down at those of us who are not perfect. But I can tell you what the Bible says in Romans 8:1; “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” You do not have to live in that condemnation. You do not have to continue with that death.
To continue in the passage, it says;
2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3 Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
Can the bones live again? What kind of question is that? Of course not! They are bones, long since been forgotten. They are dry and completely devoid of life. Yet God asks Ezekiel if these bones could live again. Why do you think He would ask that? What do you think was going through Ezekiel’s mind at that moment? I mean, really? When God asks you such an absurd question, how do you respond? How do you think he responded?
You see his response at the end of verse 3;
“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
That seems like a very wise response to me. But let’s read on.
4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD ! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
Now, how would you respond to this? Imagine being in the midst of a valley of very dry bones and God asks you if they can live again. Then, He tells you to prophesy over the dry bones. Not only did He ask him to prophesy over dry bones, but what He asked him specifically to prophesy seemed the most ludicrous thing of all; that they would live again.
It is not as if He asked to prophesy over a pile of wood saying that they would become a house. That would probably be a little more plausible, for we know it is possible to build a house from a pile of wood with some carpentry skills and some work. No, what He’s asking is the equivalency of prophesying over the pile of wood that it would become a tree again. That just doesn’t happen, right?
How would you respond in that situation? Now, I’ve probably lost some people here. Granted, He was talking to a prophet so it’s not an odd request for God to ask a prophet to prophesy, but what if God asks you to speak forth in faith over a dead situation in your life?
I’m going to let that one sink in for a minute because if I were to guess, He probably already has asked you to speak forth life into your dead situation, but likely you’ve laughed it off as crazy and pointless. After all, how could these dry bones live again? How could the death within me be revitalized? It’s dead and gone. It’s beyond all hope.
Ezekiel had a choice to make; he could choose to look at the hopelessness of the situation and decided that mere words could not change the fact that these bones were far too dry to live again, or he could choose to simply obey God. What do you think he chose?
7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley.
And this is where I would freak out. Did you hear that?! Seriously, I know we’re in a church service and we are supposed to act all faith like and what not, but most of us likely just do or say religious things because we are supposed to, not believing something will actually come from it. And we don’t know if Ezekiel actually believed it was possible or not. It could have been that he was simply being obedient. We have no idea if this happened because of Ezekiel’s faith or his obedience. I want you to ponder on that for a moment.
7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8 Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
So, God tells Ezekiel to speak over some dry bones and he does and all of a sudden the impossible happens. Not only do the bones start shaking, which would freak me out, but they start moving, forming complete skeletons. Then, all the muscles and blood vessels and organs start to form and skin covered them all. This is nothing less than a miracle. The impossible has happen and they don’t even have the breath of life in them yet. God could have stopped right here and it would have been no less of a miracle. I mean have you ever seen bones come together of their own accord, form a skeleton, and flesh form from nothing before? Seriously, how is Ezekiel not freaking out right about now?
This is an image of God speaking things into existence. If you read the Book of Genesis, God spoke, and it was. There is power in proclamation. We were made in His image and possess the same attributes as God. We have that power to, but we refuse to believe that is the case. It is easier to trust what our eyes show us than it is to listen to what God tells us.
But there is more to this story;
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
How many of us really believe that God can raise the dead? How many of us think it’s a good story from a fictional time that really has no relevance to us today? How many of us say these are good stories, but they are probably just that; stories.
Again, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over a dead situation, for even though these were no longer a scattered valley of very dry bones, they were still completely dead. So, we’ve moved the time table up for those of us that are time-bound. In all honesty, these bodies were just as dead as they were when they were a big pile of dry bones, but for some reason, to us, it is a lot easier to believe God can breathe life into these dead bodies than it is to believe God can resurrect dry bones.
God asked Ezekiel to prophesy over the dead bodies. Is this what God is asking of you today? Is He telling you to make a declaration, breathing life into your dead situation? Even if your faith may not be strong enough yet to believe life is a possibility for you anymore, will you simply be obedient and speak forth?
10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet…
This can be you. I have no doubt He is speaking to you right now. He’s asking you to look past your dead situation—past your reality. For God’s truth can supersede and change reality. And the truth is God wants you to live.
When that army of dry bones stood up, do you think any of them were ashamed of their past? No! They were a part of a chosen people; a group involved in a miracle—they didn’t have time to dwell on the insignificant; on the past. Why? Because they had a future. As dry bones, they had no future, but God showed up changed that fact. And just like these dead bones, you have a future!
Let me go back for a minute to the beginning. I said I could give the plan of salvation in four verse but only shared two of them. I read Romans 3:23 and part of 6:23. I stated where I left off that is seemed like a hopeless situation, but the verse doesn’t end there. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” See there is a gift that God offers us. He saw our sin. He saw that all of us fell short of His glory. And He saw that the result of that sin is death. He saw the problem. But He did not see fit to leave us to our death sentence. So, He offers us a gift, and what is that gift?
You see, I wanted to talk about death because I wanted to show that death does not have the final say. Paul proclaimed; “Oh death, where is your sting?”
The third verse is John 3:16. This is a very popular verse most everyone can quote; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever may believe on Him shall not parish but have everlasting life.” This is an important verse because God reveals many things in it. First, God’s motive, which is love. Second, the how of the redemption; He revealed the cost of the gift, which was God’s only begotten Son. Third, how the gift is applied on your behalf; simply believe. Forth, the gift itself; everlasting life. Not death, but life.
And the forth verse is Romans 10:9, which says “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” You believe in your heart and confess with your mouth. Again, we see a person’s utterance as being the pivotal aspect of a person’s deliverance, as well as the belief that God can raise the dead. After all, if you can’t believe that God could raise Jesus from the dead, how can you believe that He could raise you out of your death?
Now, back to Ezekiel.
10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
You are no good to the Kingdom of God if you are dead! Stand to your feet!
There is purpose in death. Lazarus died and it was sad but Jesus brought him back to bring glory to God. Jesus died, making payment for our sin, but death could not hold Him down! God rose Jesus from the grave to bring Himself glory. And you are no different. You are God’s testimony to those you come in contact with. What the enemy meant for your destruction, God will use for His glory.
If there were a mirror here instead of a stage, what would you see right now? Would you see a valley of dry bones or would you see an army? I don’t need a mirror. I look out into this crowd and I see an army. You may see dry bones, but I see an army.
You see dry bones, but I see an army.