The hand of the Lord was on 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, “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, breath, from the four winds 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 people 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: 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.’ ”
I start my life this morning, 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.” (v. 1) I see in the headlines that ISIS continues to threaten. I read about a biker gang shootout near Waco, Texas. I think about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I think about how cold he was toward his victims. I think about his trial and how it turned out. I think about it all. I move on quickly after I pray about these things.
I head to the office. I grab for my prayer list. It’s long this week. I start to work through it. I pray for someone who is running from God. I pray for a marriage that’s struggling and another one that just ended. I pray for someone I’m told about who thinks Christianity is bunk and that Christians are weak. I pray hard and then I leave it with the Lord. I have to because a text has just come in. And then a phone call. And then an email. They’re all about people who know someone or are someone who somehow are in need of more spiritual life.
I’m not telling you this because my experience is somehow unique. I’m telling you this because it isn’t. You can relate to this. If you think about how your life works and the people you know through it, I have no doubt you see this too. Ezekiel sure did. In fact, God wanted to Ezekiel to understand the spiritual dryness of the people around him so clearly that he actually transported him to what seems to be an entirely different spiritual plane or visionary place inside the cave of his own mind. You know what he saw? Bones. Bones. And more bones. “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.” (v. 2) It’s was all sort of soul killing and mind numbing for Ezekiel. His writing just breathes that. The Spirit gives him the grand tour back and forth, back and forth they go over the floor of that valley. And it’s not just bones lying around that he sees. And it’s not just many bones lying around that he sees. Ezekiel says it’s very many bones. And it’s not just bones that were dry. And it’s not just bones that were very dry. Ezekiel pointedly says, “Behold, it’s very dry bones.” Do you see it? Ezekiel is getting slammed with a tidal wave of bones both in terms of quantity and quality.
And then it comes. A question. Interesting timing, isn’t it? The Spirit has really come after him with truth. He shows him and shows him and shows him dry bones. Ezekiel’s dry bones represent the deep death of the hope of God’s people. He wanted Ezekiel not only to be told, but to experience the dryness of their view of life – that life was a godless, cruel machine that haphazardly spits out lives, effects, and causes with no true rhyme or real reason. He not only wanted him to be told, but to experience the dryness of their despair about the world as they said, “God must’ve taken his hands off the political levers. We can’t even live in our homeland.” God wanted him to not only be told but to experience the massive number of people in despair who believed infertility was random; that marriage difficulties were something God couldn’t or wouldn’t help with; and that God simply wasn’t interested in career trajectories. He wanted Ezekiel to get in a deep and profound way how firmly the people believed their present lives were devoid of God’s intervention; and their tomorrows were hopeless. It’s as Ezekiel stares all this in the face that God comes and asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (v. 3) And this is how he answers, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (v. 3)
Now I suppose we could give Ezekiel some props for that answer. I suppose we could say that he was simply deferring to God’s sovereign, ruling activity saying, “Lord, I’m just a son of man. What do I know? You tell me.” I suppose we could see it that way. I suppose we could give him the benefit of the doubt. I suppose we could assume that Ezekiel was standing there eyes aglow and waiting for God to show him what he was about to show him. I suppose we could pretend this is humility in the face of a very majestic question. I suppose we could do that, but that ignores Ezekiel’s reality. He had been beaten down. He had experienced way too many bones that were far too dry. He didn’t decide he couldn’t answer the question because he didn’t have the right knowledge. After all, he was God’s prophet. Ezekiel didn’t say whether the dry bones could live or not because he didn’t have the faith to answer.
And he was one of God’s prophets. If that’s true for him as he looked around at the spiritual piles about bones and their dryness, what about us? I remember sitting with an undercover cop and his wife doing some marriage counseling. And I remember seeing something in him that I knew too well. A deep, deep cynicism about people that wants to dig in and wants to stay. He had seen how people really are; how unmovable; how difficult. I saw clearly in him what we also can conclude about the people around us too. That our friends won’t listen to the gospel. That our grandkids will never come to faith. That the same people who hurt me this week at work will hurt me again next week. That the men you date or marry can’t or won’t spiritually change. That the political realities currently surrounding us aren’t and can’t be used by God to advance his kingdom.
That’s real life. That’s how it looks and that’s how it feels. That’s why God’s question to Ezekiel is so relevant. It’s not just Ezekiel who’s faced with people like that. It’s us. And so it’s also us to whom the Sovereign comes, people who see the dryness of the bones as well and their abundance, and wants to know how we would answer, “Can these bones live?” I know that if my soul gave voice to itself in the most honest way I might say, “Sovereign Lord, when I think of the people in my life – how far they can be from you and how damaged they really are, I’m just not sure. You tell me.” You know what that is? That’s not a humble answer to a majestic question. That’s not ignorance or lack of knowledge. You know what that really is? That’s not being sure if God can still give life here – if he can really do it. And that’s not humility or ignorance. That’s coming to realize that of all the dry bones out there in the world, the driest can belong to me.
You know what God’s answer was to that truth? Prophecy was. The speaking of God’s Word was. God said, “Prophesy,” son of man. Prophesy! “Say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” (v. 4) When God called from deep to deep. When he made something from nothing, God spoke. When the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali lived in darkness, God spoke in that darkness. He spoke his Word, his message wrapped in flesh. When that Word encountered the dead body of his friend Lazarus, he spoke into that tomb. Prophesy. God’s creative, energetic, dynamic, sustaining, life-giving Word. That’s what God showed Ezekiel next. God wanted Ezekiel to not only to be told but to experience the power of God’s spoken Word. And so when he prophesied, he not only saw flesh, tendons, and skin rise and cover the bodies, he felt the rattling – the quake of the earth under his feet as bone came to connect to bone, each with divine force. He saw it. He felt it. He experienced it – the power of prophesying in people’s lives.
Then in the vision God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy again.” Call to the four winds to breathe into these slain that they may live. He did. “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” (v. 10) This was so personal and so impactful for Ezekiel. This writer is someone who’s just grasping… who’s doing everything in his power to communicate what this was like for him - how soul enlivening, and how power emitting. Ezekiel prophesied and in his vision he watched this army come to its feet and live. And he just loses it. His style breaks off. He’s clearly overwhelmed. It’s almost like his eyes are bugging out of his head. You just can’t capture that in English. He said, “an army, great very, very.” With the two “verys” just trailing off, just hanging at the end of his sentence. Sort of like his jaw must’ve physically and his soul spiritually.
You know what I wonder? I wonder how and where this vision happened. Was this some kind of unknown spiritual plane to which Ezekiel was taken? Was this a place somewhere inside Ezekiel’s own mind? Did the Spirit create there an experience where he really saw and he really experienced the rattling during that resurrection? How did Ezekiel experience this and where did it all happen? It’s interesting to think about that for sure. But there’s something else here to think about that’s not only interesting, it’s faith giving. There’s something else here that’s not only fun to speculate about, but is also something to set our hope on. Do you know what it is?
The fact that the Sovereign Lord did so much more than play this out deep in Ezekiel’s mind. The fact that the Sovereign Lord did so much more than let Ezekiel experience this on some unknowable, unreachable spiritual plane. The fact that the Sovereign Lord prophesied to real dry bones in the world. The fact that the Sovereign Lord prophesied right here in this spiritual plane. The fact that this for the Lord is far more than some massive metaphorical show of power. The fact that the Sovereign Lord spoke to these dry bones and caused tendons and sinews to snap into place right here. He gave us life. He gave us faith and hope in Jesus when we had none.
That’s what Pentecost is all about. Did you catch that? After the Holy Spirit made his presence known with tongues of fire and the sound of blowing of a violent wind, do you remember how the Holy Spirit began to do his work? On Pentecost, God empowered the Apostles to preach and so they spoke to the people in words they could understand. That’s what the tongues were for. For speech. For words that could communicate Jesus. The Apostles preached. Because it’s not supposed to be a secret. It’s not supposed to be guess work for us about how to access the Holy Spirit’s Pentecostal power. We know. God’s Spirit gives life through his words. That’s Jesus’ word with friends this week. Or I should probably say, it’s Jesus words this friends. It’s the preaching of Jesus that gives us life.
And it does work. Sure, yes, historically on Pentecost the Spirit brought life to 3,000 people through the preaching of the apostles, but just as importantly – against every expectation, against every rationale, and against every possibility – right here in this moment God’s Spirit is speaking more life into our souls. Do you see that? We are the fulfillment to Ezekiel’s prophecy about dry bones, “My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them.” (v. 12) What do you do with that? How do you handle that? What do you do when you see the spark of faith that celebrates Jesus’ justification just as much you do in the person sitting next to you? What do you do when you look around and all you see in here is wall to wall spiritual life? Miracle after miracle after miracle. Not just inside the cave of your mind. And not just on some other spiritual plane, but right here in this soul when there is so much that wars against it.
It strikes me that the Sovereign Lord never went back to re-ask the question. “Son of man, can these bones live?” I wonder if Ezekiel wished he could’ve taken his answer back and given a better one. If he wished he could’ve gone back and massively affirmed the Lord, “Yes, they can, Lord. Of course, they can. You can speak life into anything. Even me.” But maybe I’m being a bit short sighted. Maybe Ezekiel did answer the question in his own, overwhelmed, faith deepened way when he saw the power of the prophesy so clearly in his vision. Maybe that’s why he said, “An army great, very, very.” Maybe that’s what I’m up here doing right now too. Maybe I’m answering the question in my own way. Maybe that’s why you’re here too. No, not maybe. That is why we’re here. We believe in the power of prophesy. We believe in leveraging the power of God’s Word on our hearts week after week. We believe in not just a past Pentecost, but also a present Pentecost – one that is happening even now as God speaks and the Spirit gives us life. Happy Pentecost Peace Family! Amen.