- John 1:11-14
- Ezekiel 37:11-28
When our Lord met with his disciples after his resurrection He took them through the Old Testament with these words:
These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”” (Luke 24:44, ESV)
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scripture, and He continued—and this is a very important lesson for us to understand too: and said to them,
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:45–48, ESV)
What happened in Jerusalem during that Passover, had been announced hundreds of years ago. More than 700 years earlier Isaiah pointed forward to the stem of Jesse, the One who would be the
… branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isaiah 11:1–5, ESV)
Then, 100 years later Jeremiah proclaimed about Him,
Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”” (Jeremiah 33:20–22, ESV)
That was our message last week.
Other prophets prophesied about Him too. Our chapter from Ezekiel this morning speaks the same message.
Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not captured and sent into captivity like Ezekiel, who was taken into Babylonian captivity when he was about 30 years old. Most of his book was written away from the promised land. He was among the exiles God deliver his prophecies to Ezekiel. In essence, what Jeremiah was telling from the ruins of the Promised Land just before the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was proclaiming from a distance. What Jeremiah witnessed as God’s judgement on a desolate land and city, with the Temple and city walls, pulled down and burned to the ground, God gave to Ezekiel in visions.
Ezekiel 37 is a description of the people of the Lord during and after their deportation away from the Promised Land in bondage under the brutal rule of Nebuchadnezzar.
God gave Ezekiel a vision of the spiritual state in which his people were: they were like a valley filled with dead bones.
During May 1994, about 900,00 people dead in one of the most brutal mass murders in Rwanda. Mostly Tutsi protestant Christians were killed by Hutu soldiers. A friend of mine, Dr Peter Hammond who heads up Frontline Fellowship, visited Rwanda not immediately after the massacre. He writes:
I can never forget the overwhelming stench of death as I walked knee-deep, and sometimes waist-high, amidst corpses in churches in Rwanda. The plague of rats, feasting off the bodies, the millions of flying and crawling insects and suffocating odour of death is not something that one can ever recover from. The killers did not merely kill people in churches, they killed church workers, pastors, ministers, priests and nuns. However, the most shocking aspect of the anti-Christian mass-murder was how many people responsible for the slaughter were trusted members of congregations! The Rwandan holocaust exposes the emptiness of the superficial and self-centred easy believism which all too often masquerades as the Gospel. Compromise and moral cowardice helped cause the catastrophe.
The world did nothing. Almost nothing. As a matter of fact, the United Nations ignored all the reports which warned that this was going to happen. Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, the Commander of the United Nations Mission to Rwanda later wrote in his book, Shake Hands With the Devil, wrote:
“I know there is a God, because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelt him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God!”
Ezekiel did not have an experience like this. His experience was in a vision. There was a valley of dead bones.
Who was there? God and the prophet.
It is significant that this encounter was initiated and led by God. He had all the reason to not be there. He people had forgotten him. They worship other gods and idols, rather than Him. Their cities were filled with blood. They disregarded one another as people of God, the rich exploited the poor. They employed all the tricks in the book to defraud them of life, belongings and even life. They sacrificed their children to foreign gods. Their land became worse than what it was before God destroyed the heathens before them when they occupied the Land of Promise. Priest, prophet and king were worthless, and the people whom they ministered to swallowed up every bit of false teaching as sweet pudding. They murdered the prophets of God and couldn’t care to hear what the God of the Covenant want them to hear. 2Chronicles records it this way:
But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” (2 Chronicles 36:16, ESV)
They were spiritually dead. As God had promised through the prophets, He turned against them and made them a curse and ridicule of the nations. Of the city of David, the Temple and the sacrifices nothing was left. They were like a forgotten army, overcome by the enemy, but left to the birds of the sky to pell off their flesh until there were only bones left.
But God was there! He did not even forget the dead bones! He acted as if the bones belonged to Him.
This is astonishing! Why would God be interested in dead bones?
Let’s jump a few hundred years into the future. Let’s repeat the words of John 1 again:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1–5)
Let’s read a bit further:
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:10–11, ESV)
And yet, God sent his Son. Why? The Bible gives us the answer:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)
What Ezekiel saw in his vision was the faithful God at work to restore his people. They could do nothing; they were dead bones. The work is of God who would start from scratch. Against all logical expectations, God would do what is logically impossible: He would bring dead bones back to life, even in the sight of their rebellion against Him when they were still alive.
God took his prophet to the scene and asked him, what seems like a rhetorical question: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Can people who died in the German and Soviet holocaust live? Can tonnes and tonnes of dead bones get themselves together, get up and walk? It a rhetorical question which has the answer in itself. No!
So, why did God take the prophet there? What would you answer God if He asked you that question? Let’s put it in different terms. Can a spiritually dead Australia live? Is it possible that those who once confessed to be Christian, those who went to church some decades ago, those who lived by Biblical standards but since have abandoned them to the point that they trample upon the sanctity of live and marriage, those who gave a place to the Scriptures in parliament, councils and schools but now openly deride its message and openly rescue the who still stand by its principles—is it possible to restore those who now are spiritually dead?
Let’s be honest, we have given up. Our attitude these days is that all is too late. Nothing is possible anymore.
Yet, Ezekiel got his orders from God: Prophecy to these bones, and say to them, here the words of the Lord.
It was in similar conditions that our Lord sent John:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” (John 1:6–8, ESV)
The life-giving Spirit of God
My dear friend, let’s not despair the message given to us because the success of this message is not in our hands. Ezekiel got this promise from God:
“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37:5, ESV)
This is another version of an earlier promise God gave to Ezekiel:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
Listen to what happened:
“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.” (Ezekiel 37:10, ESV)
Out of dead bones rose an army!
The Commander of the new Army
Who is the Commander of this army?
“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes.” (Ezekiel 37:24, ESV)
To this promise God added:
“I will … set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Ezekiel 37:26–27)
Of course, God fulfilled his promises to his people when he sent them back to their country 70 years later, but this promises of the dwelling place were ultimately fulfilled when Jesus came. And this is the message of Christmas.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV)
Both Ezekiel and the other prophets before and after him, as well as John, referred to Christ, the Messiah.
The silence is broken
Between the Old and New Testament, 450 years of no prophecy left the people of God in darkness. They returned to their evil ways and worshipped other gods. But then, the silence was broken. God spoke a new creation into existence. His Son was the Word, through whom all things were created. His mission on earth was to raise up a new people of God. Who are they? Jews? Good people? Religious people? No. Listen:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13, ESV)
Once they were spiritually dead, part of the dead bones family. Some were not even part of the Jewish people. They are those who are born of the Spirit and are grafted into the family of God by God’s own will. They heard the message about Christ, the promised Messiah, they believed it, and they now are children of God. Through Christ, they have fellowship with the Father. In his family are people from all nations, tongues, tribes and nations.
This is the message of Christmas. Do you believe it? Have you become a child of God? You will know, because the difference is like being dead and being alive, like being a skeleton and a healthy body.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 December 2019