Can these bones live? From disillusion to hope. HM, 26-03-’23
Ezekiel 37 :1-14,
The message of this morning is about hope, out of disillusion. Both the story of the valley of dry bones, and the story of Lazarus speak about disullusion and death which are turned into hope and life. I don’t know how you are here this morning, and what situations you are, but my hope is that the word of God will speak into your life. That his word and his spirit will turn death, defeat and disillusion into joy, hope and life.
Warned – Defeated – Exiled – Disillusioned
Ezekiel was a priest who prophesized during the years of exile in Babylon.
For many years God had send prophets to his people Israel to warn them. They should be dedicated to God, and abandon the idols. Some periods the Israelites were able to do so, but very often they failed to follow the LORD their God with their whole hearts.
At first the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and had become part of Assyrian empire. A bit over 100 years later, around 600 years BC, the Babylonians overpowered Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. Many of the people, especially those in higher positions were exiled and brought to Babylon. This was the end of Israel as a nation. Israel had become a province of the Babylonina empire. There was no more king from the line of David on the throne, and worst of all the house of God on earth, the temple was completely destroyed.
The people of Israel were disillusioned. They had always considered themselves as a special people, choosen by the God of heaven and earth to be his people. With astonishing miracles he had brought them out of Egypt; he had made a covenant with them on mount Sinai; he had given them the promised land Canaan; He had lived among them in the temple, where they could bring Him their sacrifices. Yes, they had not always been faithfull, but why did he allow the enemies to overpower them so completely? Why has He completely abandoned them? Why not left them any hope?
One of the exiles was Ezekiel.
He was from a priest family and was in his twenties when he was brought to Babylon. The destiny of his life had been to serve in the temple upon reaching the age of 30, but that future is destroyed. However, though he is far away in a foreign land, God speaks to him and gives him powerfull visions.
One of these visions we have read this morning in Ezekiel chapter 37.
- Vision of a valley full of dry bones. Imagery of a former battle field. A defeated army, killed bodies of which only the dry bones are left over. God takes Ezekiel to that valley, back and forth, and asks “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answers “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
- “Prophesy to these bones ‘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. 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.’”
→ rattling noise – bones together, tendons and flesh and skin – but no breath.
- Prophecy to the breath “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
→ breath came into them, alive, stood up on their feet, a vast army.
- Prophecy to the people of Israel ‘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.’”
→ We know that this vision of a promise is fulfilled. After about 70 years the exiles were allowed to go back to the land of Israel. They did rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, they did rebuild the temple. Thet did rise as a nation.
- Can these bones live? Yes!, this wasn’t the end for the people of Israel. These defeated dry bones could live again! The impossible has happened! Death turned into life, disullusion turned into hope for Israel.
This brings us to the story of Lazarus.
Jesus meets up with Martha just outside of the village Bethany. Her brother Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, has passed away 4 days ago.
Martha is mourning. She not only sad, but she is disillusioned as well. Lord if you had been here, my brother woud not have died! Her feelings are understandable. Jesus has healed others, but not her brother Lazarus, while they as a family were so close with him…………………………………. Why?
From another story we know that Martha is a hard woking woman, serving the needs of others. We can imagine she has done everything she could to care for her brother when he felt sick, but she couldn’t prevent him slipping away into death. In this story we also learn she is a woman of faith. She is convinced Jesus could have heald her brother if He had been around. She also expresses her believe that God even now will give Jesus whatever he asks.
But when Jesus tells her: “Your brother will rise again”, it seems that message doesn’t help her in her current need: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” It’s a comfort for the far away future, but not for now.
But then Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”
It’s difficult for her to believe that Jesus has the power over death. That he can do this impossible miracle of raising her brother from the grave after being dead for 4 days. She does not answer Jesus’ question directly, but expresses her faith in who Jesus is: “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
When Martha’s sister Mary arrives, she falls at Jesus’ feet, weeping and expressing the same disappointment that Jesus wasn’t there when she needed him to heal her brother. All the villagers and friends who have followed Mary to Jesus are weeping.
And Jesus as well was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. He is not standing there with a serene smile, knowing he will soon do a miracle and bring Lazarus back to life. He is one with the people in that moment of grieving. He feels the pain caused by death. There, in front of the grave, we read the shortest sentence of the Bible: Jesus wept.
The friends and relatives around them see this and say “See how he loved him!”
Jesus not only loved Lazarus, he loved the whole world, he loves you and me. Because of love Jesus came to this world, and didn’t stay outside. Jn3:16 For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
This is the core of his mission: love for us! He weeps because he knows our pain, our feelings of lonelyness, of despair.
Once more, deeply moved, Jesus went to the tomb, and tells the people: take away the stone! What a dramatic moment:
- Martha is shocked: But Lord, there will be a bad smell! She believe Jesus can do miracles, but raising her dead brother is beyond what she can imagine. However Jesus says: Didn’t I tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?
- The people have been weeping, but now all attention goes to the grave were some of them do take away the stone. Howver Jesus looks up to heaven and says “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
- With a loud voice Jesus calls out: Lazarus, come out!
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face. Stumbling. Jesus says: take off the grave clothes and let him go.
Jesus did this miracle for the benefit of the people, for the benefit of us: Jesus is sent by God the Father to this world, to free us from any fear, even the fear of death. He is stronger. Nothing is impossible for Him!
Lazarus was raised to life, but it was temporarily, he still had to die later. However Jesus has shown that death is not the final word. As Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life.
The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
We have looked at 2 stories this morning:
Can these dry bones live? The answer was yes. The defeated and devastated people of Israel did raise up and rebuilt their temple and their country.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the death. His power is unlimited.
He says: If you live by believing in me you will never die. Do you believe this? That is a question for you too.
Do you believe this?
What is the situation you are in today?
Are you at a dead end in your life? Are you disillusioned about things in your life? You believe in Jesus and try to live with him, but life has not been as you had hoped for. Maybe disappointment that Jesus was not there when you needed him. Maybe you have done everything you could to solve the problem, but you have concluded it has failed. ‘Unless a miracle happens’ you might add without actually expecting it anymore.
In the vision of Ezekiel, it was God’s work to bring the bones and flesh and skin together. It was his spirit who brought life in these bodies. In the story of Lazarus, it was God’s work as well to bring him back to life.
Do you believe God can do a wonder, a miracle in your life? That he can do the impossible? He weeps with you about the things that have gone wrong, but he also wants to give you hope and turns things around.
I want to end with a prayer from the letter of Ephesians 3:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.