Can These Live?
I love studying science. Science has answers to many of our questions in life. Science has unlocked mysteries of the distant universe. Science has unleashed the energy of the atom. Science has peered into minute cells and discovered many of the wonders of life. And yet, for as much as science has taught us, there are many mysteries that remain unsolved. Perhaps the greatest is the mystery of life itself. Where did life come from? What keeps it going, and why do living things inevitably die? If something is dead, is it possible for life to be restored? From a purely scientific perspective, many of these questions remain a mystery.
You may have heard of a remarkable scientific discovery that was recently published. A group of scientific researchers were studying pig’s brains. The scientists, in the laboratory, were able to restore some brain functions at least 10 hours after the pigs had died. Now they didn’t bring the pig brains back to life or restore any kind of consciousness, but it’s started a real conversation in the scientific community about how we understand death, and what happens in mammalian brains after death.
There’s a common saying—that while there is life, there is hope. Even if a person is terminally ill, as long as that person is breathing, that person can hope to recover—even if it’s only a faint hope. If the heart stops beating, medical technologies such as CPR, or advanced ventilators can keep a person alive for some time—albeit the wisdom is such a course may be questioned in many cases!
There are people today who pay a lot of money so that, when they die, their body would be cooled and “cryogenically frozen,” to preserve it indefinitely. That way, in the future, when technology figures out how to cure the disease, their body could be thawed and revived, and treatments given, and they could live again. It’s a rather faint hope—but nonetheless some people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for that hope.
But apart from being cryogenically frozen, it doesn’t take long after death, before all hope is gone. Once a body begins to decompose, even the most brilliant scientists will most likely give up the attempt to restore life.
So it was, that the ancient prophet Ezekiel was taken off in vision to a great valley. Now, a valley in ancient times was the place where great battles would be fought, and you might imagine that God would show Ezekiel a vision of some great battle, or of some great beasts, like the prophet Daniel or John the Revelator saw. But no, there are no great beasts or great armies. The only sound was the eerie rush of the wind, broken by the voice of God speaking to him. But there, spread out before him in the valley, was the evidence that once, many many years before, there had been a great army. I say, they had been there. The army had never left—they were still there, or what was left of them. It was as though they had been utterly defeated, so that none was left even to bury the corpses. But they were not corpses. No, the corpses had lain on the ground until, long since, the flesh had rotted away, or been eaten by the birds and wild animals. Even the stench which no doubt had hung over the valley for years had now dissipated. The processes of nature had taken their course, and all that was left of these great and mighty men were skeletons, lying on the valley floor. Over the years even the bones had become scattered, so that now you couldn’t tell which bone went with which skeleton. Year after year, they had lain there: a valley of dry bones.
The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”Ezekiel 37:1-3
Now the question is preposterous, really. If it had been anyone else who asked the question, any sane person would have laughed it off! Who can give life to a dead corpse—much less a skeleton? But these were even skeletons—these were only bones—and at that, these were dry bones! If anyone else had asked the question, he would have laughed it off—but this wasn’t anyone, this was God asking Ezekiel the question.
Now, if Ezekiel was thinking, Ezekiel should have remembered a story—a story from the Bible that he probably learned when he was a child.
The Bible tells the story of how God made man in the beginning:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.Genesis 2:7
That was the man, but where did the woman come from?
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.Genesis 2:21-22
This was the same God who was now talking to Ezekiel—the God who had made the man from clay, and who had turned a bone from Adam’s side into a living woman. Now God asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Even now, Ezekiel dares not to answer—so he evades the question with a safe response:
So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”Ezekiel 37:3
Lord, I won’t even dare to believe that these bones could live, but I know You can do all things. You know!
Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’Ezekiel 37:4
Now I have to wonder—how does he expect the bones to hear them? There are no ears to hear. There are no minds to listen. Only bones—dry bones! But the Lord says, “speak to them anyway. I know they can’t listen. I know they can’t hear, but speak to them anyway, because I can hear you!”
Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”Ezekiel 37:5-6
Now I have to mention something here. This isn’t a sermon about dry bones. Nothing in this text is talking about dry bones, or Ezekiel, or anyone else. This is, pure and simple, a message about the Word of the Lord—because there is power in that word of the Lord! There is power in God’s word, to raise the dead to life. And there is power in God’s word, to raise the spiritually dead, to spiritual life.
You know every so often when I’m driving down the road, I see a sheriff’s car driving slowly down the road, and a big black hearse following along, and then a long line of cars with their headlights on. And I pull over to let the funeral train go by, and I wonder—I wonder who it was? Was it someone’s grandma? Maybe someone’s mother or father, brother, sister, aunt uncle? Worse yet, what if it was a child? And my heart goes out to them, for a moment, and then I drive on down the road.
You know when Jesus was walking on earth, one time he was coming up to the village, and lo and behold, he here comes a funeral train. And the mourners come by, and then he sees the mother, and he knows that there in the coffin lies her only son. So, he doesn’t care that it’s a funeral—he interrupts the funeral! He goes over to that coffin, touches the corpse, and it’s no longer a corpse! The young man gets up, gives his mother a hug, and they all go back to the city! Now that’s the power of God, my friends! Resurrection power!
Perhaps the saddest scene of Jesus ministry is the picture of Jesus weeping by the tomb of His friend, Lazarus. Jesus had proclaimed to Martha in John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.’” And there at the tomb, though He wept, he commanded the tomb to be opened, and called the sleeping Lazarus to come back to life!
Yet only a few days after He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus—the One who had Himself raised the dead, was hung on a cross. The body of One Who had triumphed over the grave, was lain lifeless in Joseph’s new tomb. And like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, the hopes of His followers were dried up and gone. Their master was slain. The One who had vanquished the grave, had Himself been buried in the tomb, and his body was guarded by a roman guard.
Not just the hope of the disciples, but the Messiah of God—the One Who was to redeem Israel, had been condemned and crucified by the malice and envy of the priests and rabbis. It would seem as though the hope of the world had been crushed. Had the disciples been asked the question of Jesus body, that Friday night: “Can these live,” the answer would likely have been much less hopeful than that of Ezekiel. Jesus was dead.
And so it was, that dreadful Sabbath day, that Jesus body lay resting in Joseph’s tomb. Until early in the morning, that first day of the week. And on that morning, the whole story changed. No longer could the tomb contain Him. Jesus, the King of Glory—the One Who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life—took up His life again, and in that act He triumphed over the tomb. He declared to John in Revelation 1:18 “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
And in the resurrection of Christ lies the hope of every Christian. Our very life—our very existence—is staked on this wonderful truth—Christ has risen from the tomb!
But what does it mean for us, practically? How does Christ’s resurrection—an event that happened 2,000 years ago, affect us personally, today? Certainly, as we have said, the resurrection is the central pillar of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, as Paul argues, Christ would still be in the grave. Without the resurrection, we would, like the Buddhists or the Muslims, simply be another religion that reveres a dead prophet. Our faith would be in vain, and the whole system of Christianity as we know it would unravel.
But beyond that, my question is this: What does Jesus resurrection mean to you? Can you and I experience this power in our lives, individually, today? What about in our church?
With this question in mind, let’s go back to Ezekiel’s vision—the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is taken to this great valley, where not one, but it would seem that a vast army has been slain. Not recently, but many, many years ago. And over the years, the forces of nature have taken their toll, and all that is left of this vast army, is a valley of dry bones.
How many of you can look at your life, and feel that your life is worthless? Perhaps you’ve had an experience with God in your life, but that was some time ago. And now, your spiritual life has languished. The breath is extinguished, and all that is left in it’s place is an outward skeleton—the bones—without the life.
Perhaps you look at your family, or even our church, and we remember what it once was, but as we look at things now, it would seem, there’s only a few bones that remain. The programs that used to excite us, are now simply a routine. We look at the empty pews, and still many of us can name those who used to sit in them, but now have passed to their rest, or have dropped out of attendance. We sit through the Sabbath School and listen to the sermon—but sometimes we wonder, “Where is the life?”
So Ezekiel stands wandering in this valley, when God commands Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones.”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone.Ezekiel 37:7
Picture this: the whole valley starts shaking! Ezekiel isn’t standing on the side of the valley, remember—he’s standing in the middle of it, and all these bones start moving, and shaking, and flying together, and I can just imagine he might be getting a little terrified. Watch out, here comes a bone. Jump over this one, dodge that one. ‘Cause those bones that were all out of place, are getting back in place. God is working and you’d better watch out!
My friends, when God starts working, things start moving. People don’t like change. I can almost hear it now: “My great grandmother put that bone there! Wait, no, that’s the ankle bone of my great uncle George, you can’t move that one.” But the bones start moving around. Thing start happening, and it can get a little scary! And it can get a little messy and smelly, too!
Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.Ezekiel 37:8
Wow—what a miracle. Instead of bones, now, there are bodies. Lots of bodies. But they’re still dead bodies.
You know sometimes in church we start to get excited when we get programs going, and people coming to church, and we think we have life in the church. And compared to dry bones, it’s wonderful. But God isn’t finished yet. Just having things going in church, doesn’t mean it’s alive. And in our own lives—just because we read God’s word, and spend time in prayer, doesn’t make us Christians. Those are like the bodies—they’re good and necessary, but it isn’t enough!
God hasn’t answered the question yet—what was the question? “Can these bones live?!!!” Not “can these bones become bodies?” But in order to live, they’ve got to have bodies, so they’re one step closer to life.
But God says “don’t get excited about all these bodies—I’m not done yet!” You see, it says “there was no breath in them.”
Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” ’ ”Ezekiel 37:9
This vision in Ezekiel requires nothing short of the creative power of God. When God made Adam in the beginning, (remember?) He first formed the body out of clay, and then it says that He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Now he says to the wind “breathe on these slain, that they may live.”
So it is, in our own lives, in our families, and in our own church family. My friends, we need the experience the resurrection power of God. Nothing we can do, in ourselves, will make it happen. It is only the breath of God—His Holy Spirit—who can breathe life into the deadness of our own spiritual lives. It is only His life that can breathe life into our church. Not a good pastor. Not more or better programs. Not even strong and dedicated members—as important as all of these are. It is only the power of God—and with His power, He can make the driest bones life again!
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.Ezekiel 37:10
An army—a mighty army—from a valley of dry bones. The Lord goes on in the passage to give the interpretation of this powerful vision—how the dry bones represented the house of Israel who had gone astray from God, and how God promised to bring them back to Himself and restore them to life.
Life—resurrected life! I believe Jesus words in John 14:19 make the truth Jesus resurrection practical to every one of our lives today: “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.”
“Because I live” Jesus says, “you will live also.” Because He lives, our lives gain purpose and meaning. In fact, because He lives, we can also live.
So, friends, as we contemplate Christ’s resurrection this season, I ask you: as you look at your own spiritual life, do you see perhaps nothing more than dry bones? I ask you the question, then: can these bones live?
Look at your family. How many of us have close members of our family, who have lost their way spiritually? They’re wondering in a desert, and we fear for their eternal destiny. Though we cannot judge, it would seem their spiritual lives are like a valley of dry bones. My friends, can these bones live?
As we look at our church family, do we realize that by ourselves, we are nothing more than dry bones? It’s so easy to criticize our church—to point the finger, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I want to ask simply: can these bones live?
Can we pray, today, to experience His resurrection power in our lives, in our families, and in our church? If so, we’d better get ready for things to start shaking!