Hope of the Resurrection

Sermon by Andrew Triolo on May 29, 2016

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Download Audio

If you will take your copy of God’s Word and turn to Ezekiel chapter 37, it’s found on page 724 and 725 of the black pew Bibles before you. In the early chapters of Ezekiel, up unto our passage today, there is a great judgment. It is doom and gloom, and for good reason, because Israel has turned to idols. They have worshiped the creature instead of the Creator and God exiles them. He sends them away. They longed for a great return home, but at the news of Jerusalem being destroyed they are distraught; they are heavy with burden and they don’t know what to do. They give up. They have no hope in what lies ahead. The city has been struck down, is what has been told to them in chapter 33. Jerusalem was no more. There were no more walls. There was no more temple. They had nothing to return to. But at that point, Ezekiel’s ministry changes. His word to them changes in that he brings a word of hope to them after hearing that Jerusalem has fallen. It is a turnaround in his ministry. He seeks to speak about things to come and we’re going to look at some of these things that he will speak of. Let us go to God in prayer before we do so!

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this evening. We thank You for the resurrection that we have through Your Son, Jesus Christ. We pray that as we look at this passage tonight that You would open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear more about how You have called us out of the darkness and You have saved us and You have resurrected us and brought us to Yourself. And we pray all these things in Christ’s wonderful name, amen.

Hear now God’s holy Word:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then 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.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.’”

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our Lord stands forever.

When Christopher Columbus was on his voyage to the new land, his crew was threatening mutiny. They were long at sea and they were tired and they were disgusted at the conditions they were in and when they looked around, all they saw was an open ocean. They saw no landing point. They saw no hope. They were tired. They were scared. But one day, they saw an encouraging sign. This is what Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal:  “They saw sandpipers. They saw green reeds floating on the waters. They saw poles. They saw more cane. They saw one piece of wood that looked like it had been worked on with iron, floating on the swells. The crew of the ship, Nina, also saw signs of land, a small branch covered with berries. Everyone breathed afresh and rejoiced at these signs. They saw something floating in the ocean that was green and had berries. Land was close.” What was a gloomy situation for them before, when they looked around and saw nothing, when they looked ahead and saw nothing, when they saw this branch they saw something; they saw something to look forward to.

And as these men threatened mutiny because of their dark and desperate situation, in spiritual darkness we have no ability to see that which we truly need. And what we truly need is revival. What we truly need is renewal. In this valley of bones in our text, shows us a situation just like this. As Ezekiel sets to talk about the future, he aims to communicate that God is going to resolve all of the issues that they are facing. They are going to go back to their land. They are going to have a restored city. They are going to have a restored temple. There will be a new king but Israel needed this revival inside them. All that was present to them was complete devastation, utter despair. They were wallowing in their own misery and he aims to point them away from this and towards a hope that’s found in the work of God as He resurrects His people. So in light of our passage tonight, we will see that we have a great hope in the resurrection of the dead, a great hope in the resurrection of the dead. And we will see this tonight in three different parts of our passage. The first one, we will see a picture of our hopeless state in verses 1 and 2. And secondly, we will see the power through the Word of God, and lastly, the power through His Spirit. In order for us to see what we have in God, oftentimes we need to see what we have without Him. So let’s first look at this hopeless state we are in.

  1. A Picture of Our Hopeless State

And what a revolting place this must have been. For Ezekiel to even touch a dead body would make him unclean. It was a miserable place for him to be but this is how our text begins. The Lord leads him into this place of death, this place of despair and darkness. “The hand of the LORD was upon me and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me out in the middle of the valley and it was full of bones.” So Ezekiel is being accompanied by God. He’s being led into this valley and he’s being placed right in the middle where he can see everything around him. Skeletons make us uncomfortable. Imagine if you were surrounded by them. Verse 2 then says that “He led me around among them.” He’s given a tour of this valley, and all of its residents lying there, and he sees everything – bone after bone, skull after skull. And he makes several observations. Let’s take note of these here! And he says, “Behold, there were many on the surface of the valley and they were very, very dry.” The word that Ezekiel uses here to communicate how dry these bones are communicates that they were dry in the highest of degrees. There’s no getting around this. This valley holds no life and they’ve been here a very long time. This is a picture of hopelessness, despair, and barrenness and no hope in what lies ahead.

In western Maine there used to be a town called Flagstaff which now it’s called Flagstaff Lake. In 1950, this town was part of a dam project that was going to be flooded in this area. And the residents, when they found this out, they stopped repairing their town, they stopped improving their town, because they knew at one point in the next couple of months everything would be covered with water. Why would we fix our windows if we know that there’s no point in fixing them? Why would we scrub down the town’s welcome sign if no one was going to see it and be welcomed by it in a few months. So week by week, the whole town became more and more rundown, more unkempt, more lowly. Where there is no hope in what lies ahead, there is no power in what lies in the present. When there is no hope in what lies ahead, there is no power in what lies in the present. I can’t imagine living in a town where I watched my town go to waste, where nothing was taken care of. These folks watched their town go to ruin because they looked ahead and they saw absolutely nothing. There was no future. And as Ezekiel is brought into this valley he sees the same type of place – a place with no hope in what lies ahead, no hope in the future. To them, there was no power in the present, at least that they could see.

Our Spiritual condition Apart From God

And we’re reminded here of our own state apart from God. We’re reminded of the spiritual darkness that we live in apart from Him. Our confession in chapter 9 tells us that “man, by his fall into a state of sin, have wholly lost all ability of will and any spiritual good accompanying salvation. So as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself or prepare himself thereunto.” When we are spiritually dark, when we are spiritually lost, when we look towards the future and we don’t see anything, we are living in this very state. We cannot see what lies ahead because of spiritual death. But even when we’re in the midst of a place like this, even when we’re in the midst of a place of hopelessness and despair, remember how our passage began. God led Ezekiel into that valley. The hand of the Lord was upon him and he led him out in the Spirit. God was working first. God entered into this valley with Ezekiel to show him what He was going to do, how He was going to bring His people out of this state that they were in.

For the spiritually dead, this is a reminder that God needs to begin a good work through us, that He would call the spiritually dead out of such a darkness. For those that have fallen into sin, it’s a call back from your sin, to bring you away from that and call you to Himself so that He may give you true life. We are spiritually dead when we live for this world, when we live for ourselves. But we are spiritually alive when we trust and hope in God, and trust and hope in the resurrection that He will bring on the last day. So in order for us to know what we have in God, oftentimes we need to see what we have without Him, and this is what it is – spiritual death. And this is the picture that Ezekiel paints in verses 1 and 2.

  1. Hope Through the Power of His Word.

But God shows Ezekiel exactly what He wants Israel to hear over these next couple of verses. He provides their first glimpse of hope and that first glimpse is the hope through the power of His Word. The hope through the power of His Word. So as Ezekiel is surrounded by these bones, God asks him what seems to be an absolutely ridiculous question. “Son of man, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel, knowing that it’s so hard for him to answer this question because by his own power he cannot make this happen, he says, “Lord, you know! Only you know!” And instead of giving Ezekiel a clear-cut answer, God chooses to display the power of His Word by asking him to preach to these bones. He says, “Prophecy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.’” What does one say to a dead valley? How does one begin a worship service to a congregation that is physically dead? Do you say, “Take your Bibles and please turn to chapter such-and-such of such-and-such book”? They have no ears to hear. They have no mind to comprehend. What do you say to such a place? But God provides exactly what is needed. It’s only by God’s Word that anything can happen in this valley.

The Power of God’s Word

So listen to the power of what’s happening here as Ezekiel opens his mouth to speak God’s words. He speaks the very words of God in verse 5 and 6 and he looks back. And what does he see? He sees God’s words in action happening right before him. He sees the bones coming together. He sees muscle and flesh wrapping itself around these bones and all he had to do was tell them to do that. That was the power of God’s Word working through this situation. Ezekiel sees the powerful effects of the Word of God and God could have made it happen in the blink of an eye, but He chose to have Ezekiel speak to these bones. He chose to display the power of His Word by breaking the silence of this dead valley with the rattling noise of bones and flesh coming together. He’s resurrecting that which is dead through Ezekiel simply speaking the words of God.

When Jesus heard about the sickness of His dear friend, Lazarus, these were His words from John chapter 11. “But when Jesus heard of it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.’” And then Lazarus did in fact die. And when Jesus had arrived, he had been dead for four days. He is very dead. Our bones in our passage, they were very dry. But He arrives at the grave and He cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And by the power of Christ’s word, the man was resurrected and He came forth. There was no grand demonstration. There was no grand formula Christ had. There was nothing more than words that caused this man to come forth. This is the power of God’s Word – to bring life to the lifeless. The Lord tells Ezekiel, “Prophecy to these bones. Say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.’” So as Ezekiel prophecies over them, he’s speaking God’s words to them. God says, “Preach. Preach new life. Preach the Word of God.” And as he begins to do this, things begin to happen. That’s the power of God’s Word in our lives. The dead receive life. And just as Jesus said of Lazarus’ illness, “It is for the glory of God so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” That’s why God works to restore us. That’s why He resurrects the dead – to bring glory to Himself so that He may receive the credit. God calls me out of death for one purpose – to bring glory to Himself. And that’s the great hope that we have in the resurrection. It’s through His Word, because His Word brings life! His Word is powerful!

These words had caused these bones to rise but Ezekiel makes this observation at the end of verse 8. He says there was no breath in them because he recognizes the promise that the Lord had said earlier, “When I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live.” This valley was given life, beginning with His word, and now as God breathes His Spirit into these bones, they will truly be alive and resurrected.

  1. The Hope We Have Through the Power of His Spirit

So let’s look at the hope that we have through the power of His Spirit. The life in these bones is not yet complete as they have not yet received the breath of life. We think of Genesis chapter 2 verse 7 when it says, “Then the Lord God formed the man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature.” Adam needed the breath of life in order to become a living creature. These bones need the breath of life from God. They need His Spirit to be living creatures. Ezekiel prophesies to the bodies and they took on flesh and as he prophesies to them, the Lord says, “Prophecy to the breath, prophecy 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.’” I don’t want us to miss what is happening here. In Hebrew, the word for “breath” is “ruach.” The same word also communicates wind. And it also communicates Spirit. To the breath, “Come from the four winds, breathe on these slain. Pour the Spirit into these dead, into these slain so that they may truly live.” God is breathing His physical Spirit through this breath, through this wind, so that they may live. “They stood on their feet an exceedingly great army.”

And after doing this, God speaks to Ezekiel and we see Israel’s hopeless estate once again when he says, “These bones are Israel. ‘Behold,’ they say, ‘our bones are dried up and our hope is lost. We are clean, cut off.’” He is saying, “This is My covenant people. They have forgotten My promises. They have forgotten what I have told them. They have forgotten all the things that will come true because I have said so by My Word. To them, things seem hopeless but here’s what I’m going to do,” is what God says. He’s going to open their graves and return to their land. The Spirit operates under the authority of God for the purpose of glorifying God. This is what we see here. By the authority of God does the breath enter these bodies and give them life. For this purpose – “so that they know that I am the Lord.”

Paul’s Conversion Experience

The Apostle Paul knows very well of the power of the working of the Holy Spirit. On the road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9, Paul is blinded and ministered to by Christ and asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?” And the men that accompanied him took him into the city afterwards and for three days he had no sight. He drank no drink and had no food. And then the Lord sent a man named Ananias to see him and here’s what he tells him. He says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me, so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He was filled with the Holy Spirit and what happened? Something like scales fell from his eyes. He was able to see. He had new life. He was rejuvenated. At one moment, he was so spiritually dead and broken and enslaved to his own sin, and the next moment when he had received the Spirit, the scales fell, he saw Jesus, he took faith, and believed.

Ezekiel’s vision of the resurrected dry bones offers Israel a picture of the power of the Holy Spirit. These dry bones can live because God will have them live. The scales may be lifted from their eyes so that they may see that there is hope beyond the grave. There is hope beyond their current situation, which is this valley. Just because they are living in this right now does not mean it will always be that way. God will save them. God will bring them back to the Promised Land. A dead valley with no future is now alive through the breath of the Spirit of God. Do you ever feel like this valley does? It feels stale; life feels hopeless. The world is too strong and there’s too many laws that make being a believer so hard. There’s too many opponents. There’s too little ahead and there’s too little now. Do you ever find yourself being like Israel saying, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost? We are clean cut off.” Sometimes it feels like we’re going through the spiritual motions. Sometimes we don’t see the power of the Spirit working in our own lives.

Our Hope in the Resurrection

This is a call for us to remember what God has done, to remember the hope that we have in the resurrection, because apart from that we have no life and we have nothing to look towards. Where there’s no hope in what lies ahead, there’s no power in what lies in the present. With no resurrection, we have no hope in anything. But with the hope of the resurrection, we have every bit of hope that we need. He provides that for us. His promises are always true. He’s the only one in this universe that when He says something, it will happen. Christ conquered death so that we may live. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no reason for us to say that our bones are dried up and our hope is lost and we are clean cut off. His Spirit has the power to take those words and throw them away like the trash that they are and replace them with words of victory, victory through the resurrection, victory through Christ.

The Necessity of the Ordinary Means of Grace

In reading this passage, we must remember that this restoration that Ezekiel witnesses to is aimed at fulfilling the Lord’s promises that He made with His nation. This is a powerful God fulfilling His promises to the letter. With the emphasis on the Word and the Spirit, this is a reminder of the importance of the ordinary means of grace in our own lives – the preaching of the Word, the taking of the sacraments, prayer. Our former minister, Ligon Duncan, says this of the ordinary means of grace. “They are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people and they aim to see the qualities and the priorities of the church reflect Biblical norms.” Under the means of the public reading and preaching of God’s Word, we hear God’s Word spoken to us just like these bones were spoken to and we receive life and we receive hope and we receive grace. As we hear these words and are changed by God’s Word speaking to our hearts, we must pursue the means of grace, we must hear His Word spoken to us. The confirming, sanctifying, and assuring value of the sacraments reminds us that of the covenant that God has made with us in Christ’s sacrifice that was also made for us, we are reminded of how powerful prayer is in our lives. This is how the believer communicates with the one that created him. These things are often under emphasized in our lives. We often forget to make them a priority. This is a call for us to remember what God has done and we remember by hearing what He has done. We remember by taking part in the sacraments, reminding us and spiritually strengthening us as we look to Him. As we pray and communicate with our God, we should do so with thankful hearts looking back at where we were and the helpless state that we were in and where He has brought us and saying, “Lord, thank You. Thank You for conquering death. Thank You.”

To those that have fallen into sin, there is a great hope for you in the redeeming work of Christ. Romans 7:5-6 says, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But we were released from the law having died to that which held us captive so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” Just as these bones laid hopeless, just as they stood in their wallow, in their terrible situation that they felt like they could not get out of, God calls us out of that. They were returned that they may glorify God. They were brought out of that. Return! Hear His Word! Be reminded daily of what He has done for you.

If you are here and you are on autopilot, coasting through life, coasting through spiritual life, remember that you were saved from something to something. You were saved from death to life. There should be a change. There should be something that manifest itself outwardly in our faith. Our faith is not alone. Our faith is accompanied by works because they show that the Spirit is working through us. We’re not saved by our works but our works show that we are being changed daily. Do you see that in your life? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away, and behold, the new has come.” Pursue the means of grace! Pursue them in your life because they are so beneficial for us. Sit under His Word and be reminded that we are called out of the darkness to glorify a majestic God.

And if you are here and this is new for you, if you have never heard this Word before, if you have never looked to Christ and known that apart from Him there is no hope, this is a message of resurrection for you that you may be called out of the darkness, that you may be drawn to Him. What has no life can be redeemed by God and by God alone. Will you trust in that? Because when the Spirit works, He does so under the authority of God for the glory of God. “For when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth and He will not speak on His own authority but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” When we are born again, we see a part of this resurrection. We see the spiritual resurrection that God gives us through making us new creations. God begins the resurrection spiritually and completes it physically on the last day. He says, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore. I have the keys of death and Hades.” If this valley of dry bones has no reason to fear, then neither do we. Neither do we. Remain in His Word. Continually ask for His Spirit so that you may walk in His statutes and keep His rules and obey Him daily because that brings Him glory and He is our God and we are His people. We are given access to eternal life through this spiritual resurrection that is given to us through the working of God’s Word through us and through His Spirit. They work together to change us and bring us to Himself and that will be completed on the last day because on this day the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. Hear the voice of the Son of Man and find hope in the power of the resurrection in your own life.

Let us pray!

Gracious Father, we are reminded in this passage that it is only by You that we can receive life, Lord. You have called us out of the darkness and You have called us to a life of glorifying You. We ask that that would be our prayer tonight – that we would look to our lives to honor You in everything that we do. We thank You for the resurrection. We thank You that You have conquered death for us, for we cannot do that on our own. Only You could. We pray that we would remember what You have done for us and that our lives would reflect that in everything that we do. We pray this in Christ’s holy name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.