TEXT: Ezekiel 37:1-14
I felt the powerful presence of the Lord, and his Spirit took me and set me down in a valley where the ground was covered with bones. He led me all around the valley, and I could see that there were very many bones, and that they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?’
I replied, ‘Soverieign Lord, only you can answer that!’
He said, ‘Prophesy to the bones. Tell these dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord. Tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them: I am going to put breath back into you and bring you back to life. I will give you sinews and muscles and cover you with skin. I will put breath back into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’
So I prophesied as I had been told. While I was speaking, I heard a rattling noise, and the bones began to join together. While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles and then with skin. But there was no breath in the bodies.
God said to me, ‘Mortal man, prophesy to the wind. Tell the wind that the Sovereign Lord commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and bring them back to life.
So I prophesied as I had been told. Breath entered the bodies and they came to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army.
God said to me, ‘Mortal man, the people of Israel are like these bones. They say that they are dried up, without any hope and with no future. So prophesy to my people Israel; and tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel. When I open the graves where my people are buried, and bring them out, they will know that I am the Lord. I will put my breath into them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land. Then they will know that I am the Lord. I have promised that I would do this – and I will. I, the Lord, have spoken.’ (TEV)
‘The Lord and giver of life.’ That’s what the Nicene Creed calls God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a good description – one that comes straight out of the Bible.
This ‘Lord and giver of life’ is the subject of a graphic vision recorded in the 37th chapter of Ezekiel. Our text takes us into the heart of this vision, and shows us what can happen when the Spirit of God goes to work. In a striking way, this vision of God’s Spirit in the valley of dry bones shows what we mean when we confess that he’s: The Lord and Giver of life.
The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach. It’s one of those Old Testament words that’s wonderfully expressive. The word ruach means ‘breath’. The Spirit of God is the breath of God. In the beginning, God formed Adam out of the dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. That’s when Adam became a living being. Unless God breathes life into a person, there’s no real life there.
Many people who think they’re enjoying life to the full are simply walking corpses because they haven’t received the Spirit of God’s breath of new life. In some ways they’re like Matchbox cars. Put them on a downhill slope and they run alright; but they come to a stop when they hit the bottom because there’s no motor in them. The Spirit of God is the motor of your life! He makes you actually come alive, instead of just looking alive!
The Holy Spirit ‘breathes’ life into a person by pointing that person to the breathless body of the crucified Christ, and then to the living, breathing body of the same Christ, who was raised from the dead to never-ending life. The Holy Spirit points you to the Christ who died for you, to pay the wages of your sin. He’s your only way to forgiveness and salvation. The Holy Spirit breathes the name ‘Christ’ into your ear, and brings you to spiritual life through faith in him. And then he keeps Christ right at the centre or your life. He’s the Lord and giver of life!
The Hebrew word ruach also means wind. The Spirit of God is like the wind, Jesus once said: invisible, but powerful. You can’t see the wind, but you can see what the wind does to trees and house roofs in a cyclone … or to a candle when you blow on it.
You can’t control the wind, and you can’t limit the Spirit of God. Like the wind, he goes where he wants and does what he chooses. He gives his gifts and powers where he chooses, and not necessarily where some people in their presumption try to program him!
You mightn’t be able to see the wind, but you know where it’s been because you can see what it’s done. You mightn’t be able to see the Spirit of God, and you mightn’t necessarily see the extraordinary signs of his presence that some Christians insist on. But you can always see where he’s been at work in the lives of ordinary people like yourself.
The Holy Spirit’s like fire. Wherever he is, life starts to crackle. Like fire, the Holy Spirit refines away sin. And like fire, the Holy Spirit has to be treated with respect. You daren’t grieve the Spirit of God with persistent unbelief. That’s the one sin our Lord said would not be forgiven!
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the ‘Counsellor’, the ‘Comforter’ – the great strength-bringer. He breathes new spiritual life into the dead bones that litter this world. He creates a new breed of strong and enduring people – people who know how to take the discomforts of life wthout giving in to despair. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of real life!
In a vision, the prophet Ezekiel was taken on a tour of a valley where the bones of dead soldiers were scattered everywhere. It may have been some place where the Babylonian army had smashed the resistance of God’s rebellious people. The prophet looked at the bones of his countrymen with a heavy heart. As he looked, the Spirit asked him: ‘Can these bones come back to life?’
‘Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that’, the prophet replied. But then God commanded Ezekiel to proclaim new life in those dry, bleaching bones. He did so, and they sprang to life.
The people to whom Ezekiel described this vision knew very well what he meant. Their nation was dead, and they felt dead themselves, living in exile in a strange country.
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ they were asking. ‘Yes’, Ezekiel said to them, ‘they can be restored to life again. The people in exile can be set free. They can return to their homes. The Spirit of God – the Lord and giver of life – can put flesh and sinews back on those dry bones. He can, and he will.’
The people to whom Ezekiel told this vision knew they couldn’t restore themselves to life – life that’s more than just walking around like the living dead. Ezekiel said that when the Spirit of God goes to work it’s like coming back from the dead. It’s receiving a heart of flesh instead of a heart of cold stone. It means coming to life, as life was intended to be – warm, vibrant, and loving. This is possible only through the Lord and giver of life: God’s Holy Spirit.
I wonder if your life seems dreary at times … whether you feel you haven’t got much to live for. If so, you’re asking the question of our text: ‘Can these bones come back to life?’ The answer’s a ringing ‘Yes’! The Spirit of God gives life to dry bones, and he’s already done that for you: put warm flesh and sinews on what might seem to you to be nothing but a skeleton. He did that in your baptism. He’s the Lord and giver of life!
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ Do you ever feel that it’s a battle to hold onto your faith, to keep on believing? Take fresh heart! The miracle of Ezekiel’s vision can happen to anyone! No matter what low point you may reach in your life, no matter how weathered the bones may be, the strong, life-breathing Spirit of God can join bone to bone, and bring you to life again, in Christ. He can change what may seemto be impossible deadends in your life into roads that are bright with joy, and promise, and service!
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ Has the spiritual life the Holy Spirit implanted in you somehow become paralysed? Have you lost your energy to live for and serve Christ and his church? The Spirit of God can change that! He can inject new life and energy through his dynamic gospel word about the living Christ. Through this word, he can change you into someone pulsing with new joy and new spiritual vitality. Those creaking limbs of yours can become supple and flexible again!
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ This is a question that’s often asked at the graveside of someone who’s been near and dear. Ezekiel’s vision gives a confident ‘Yes’ to mourners. As St Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the grave will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you’. Those dry bones you see lowered into the grave or committed to the elements will live again in a new and glorified life. Ezekiel assures you of that!
The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. He gives his gift of spiritual life to a person in much the same way as a baby’s born. In fact, rebirth or regeneration is the theological term that’s often used to describe this process, whether it takes place through baptism in infancy or through a meeting with the living Christ in his word, later in life.
A baby’s life normally begins in the setting of other people – father, mother … family. The new life that comes through God’s Spirit also generally begins in the setting of people – the church. A lot of people today see the church as simply some sort of human ‘establishment’ or ‘institution’. Some criticise the church because it’s made up of people just like themselves! They can only see the flaws and hypocrisy in other members!
The church has its weaknesses because it’s made up of people like you and me. But the church is the creation of the Spirit of God. Wherever the church is, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ the great sin-bearer, and offering his sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there the Spirit of God himself is at work, bringing new life to dry bones.
By his Spirit, God brings new life to the dry bones of individual sinners. By his Spirit he links people with that new life into fellowship – the fellowship of faith in his church. Those dry bones become a vital part of the Body of Christ as they begin to move and function together in him.
This is your call, and this is your role in the church and in your congregation. Christ’s people aren’t just like carrots in a garden: each one distinct and each one growing separately. They’re like branches, growing together out of and drawing nourishment from the one Vine, which is Jesus Christ himself!
‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, Jesus once said. In a vine, each branch grows from the trunk and produces fruit for the overall good of the whole vine. In the church, when the sap rises in those branches, when dry bones come to life again, things happen!
When the Spirit of God brings this kind of life to you, Christian love takes on a new dimension. Confidence takes over from fear. Doubt gives way to Spirit-given conviction. Uncertainty gives way to hope. Lethargy gives way to action, sluggishness to service. Indifference turns into a vital concern for people – their welfare, their faith, and their spiritual life. You live as you’ve never lived before, giving and extending yourself in loving service to others … and to Christ.
That’s why the Spirit of God has called you to follow Christ and has sealed this call in your baptism. That’s why he’s built you as a living stone into his church and into this congregation. It’s why the church exists.
And so Ezekiel’s challenge to you today is to let the Spirit of God continue to rejuvenate you and fill you with a new measure of his life. Let the Spirit of God use you in a mighty way to build up and extend the whole Body of Christ, and particularly this congregation. Take his call seriously, and God will take you seriously, and work in and through you in a mighty way!
The unbelievable happened there in the valley of bones. The unbelievable can always happen where God’s Spirit goes to work in and through people who’re committed to Jesus Christ. The very fact that you’re here – a sinner, now a saint – is unbelievable when you stop and think about it! And this kind of miracle can keep right on happening every day, as through the power of his word, the Spirit of God frees you more and more from the death-grip of sin, and makes your new heart of flesh beat with a new life, a new love, and a new power to serve.
The Spirit who brings new life to dry bones can and will do this because he’s the Lord and giver of life. Amen.
Robert J Wiebusch