Sermon by Ulrike Unruh
The prophet Ezekiel had a strange dream. Indeed one might call it a nightmare as he was confronted with a whole valley filled with dry bones. And they were VERY dry bones. Ezekiel must have felt very depressed as he looked at this vast array of bones. What terrible, senseless battle, had taken place here that had left so many dead? In ancient times victorious armies buried their dead, but the defeated army often had to leave their dead on the field of battle. They would be left there as part of their humiliation and degradation by the conquerors. As the horror of it filled his mind, a voice asked:
Can these bones live?
Ezekiel doesn’t want to say “no” but neither does he say “yes”.
I mean, to human logic, piles of disconnected, dried out bones are the very opposite of a living person. They speak of death, and defeat, not life. How could they possible live?
However, Ezekiel knows that God doesn’t always operate on human logic, so he simply says:
“God, You know the answer”
Then Ezekiel is asked to do a strange thing-- He is asked to prophecy to these dead bones. He is told to tell the bones that God will make them come back together and will put new flesh and skin on them, and that God will breathe into them life and they will live. Then they would KNOW that God is God.
So Ezekiel starts prophesying to these dry, dead bones, telling them they will come to life. Suddenly things really get exciting. All of those bones started rattling and moving about. Arm bones found shoulder bones, skulls leaped up on top of vertebras that were forming backbones, and soon the valley was filled with an army of skeletons.
But that was not the end, the skeletons began to received sinew and flesh and skin.
They began to LOOK like people--there was just one major problem-- they were still dead bodies.
Then God spoke again to Ezekiel and asked him to prophecy once more to all of those dead bodies.
“Prophesy again saying: “COME from the four winds, OH BREATH, and breathe ON THESE DEAD BODIES, THAT THEY CAN LIVE.”
As Ezekiel obeys a great wind blows over them and they began to breath-- and there in the valley that had been filled with dry bones, now stood a vast army of living people.
What does this strange dream mean. Yes, we could see in it as the final resurrection . But that is not the basic meaning here.
We read there in Ezekiel 37 that, “This is the whole house of Israel saying there is NO HOPE, all is lost all their bones are died up.”
During Ezekiel’s time, Israel was being taken captive into Babylon. They were defeated, first by their own sinful natures and then by the conquering armies.
Ezekiel was not prophesying to literally dead bones, but to the “living dead” who needed spiritual life.
Now I discovered something interesting as I was studying. I discovered that Ephesians chapter two is the New Testament parallel to Ezekiel 37. Oh? Do I hear you asking? You never heard of Paul talking about a valley of dead bones in Ephesians?
Well, lets see what Paul says: in Ephesians 2:1
“You were dead.”
Do you see it there in Ephesians 2:1?
“You who were dead.”
What type of death is Paul referring to?
“You who were dead in trespasses and sins.”
It is evident this is not speaking of about the death of the grave. Here he is speaking about living people who are spiritually dead. Spiritually, left to themselves, all human beings are dead. Dead on account of the sins and trespasses in which they walked in time past (Eph. 2:2) To be dead in trespasses and sins and to be the children of disobedience is one and the same thing.
Back in Ezekiel’s day, Israel had fallen deep into sin. Though they were still alive physically they were experiencing the spiritual death, for in following after sin they separated themselves from God and life.
This death is being dead to spiritual things. Sin is a disease, a deadly disease, a fatal disease, as far as the human heart is concerned.
Paul, in another place (Romans 7:20) cries out “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death.
He continues to tell us that to be carnally minded is death, and that it places us at enmity against God and His law and makes it totally impossible for us to please God.
This is a sad condition to be in.
Let me ask you a simple question.
Can a dead person give himself life?
(speaking in the literal sense)
Can a dead person give himself life?
NO of course not.
In the same sense we can ask --can a person dead in sin give himself life?
The answer is NO- there is no way-- A person dead in sin cannot give himself spiritual life. So what do we have?
We have a world full of dry lifeless bones-- just like the story in Ezekiel--A world dead in transgression and sin.
BUT we hear the question:
“Can these bones live?”
Can the spiritually dead, come to life?
Ezekiel 37:14 God said “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live…….
In Ephesians Paul utters those famous words which are so characteristic of his writings.
First He describes the hopeless state human beings find themselves in, but then he totally turns the situation around with two simple words
--- BUT GOD
Yes, when God steps in everything changes. Ephesians 2.4-5
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins,…….…. Does what? What does God want to do for us?
Read it with me in Ephesians 2:4-6
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us (made us alive) together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: What a promise . The book of Ephesians is full of such wonderful promises. But now, let’s explore this a little further.
First we were presented with the totally hopeless condition of mankind apart from Christ. Then we read this wonderful promise which God has given to us.
Now, we may ask, how does God give us this spiritual life?
What actually takes place?
Earlier in the book (Ephesians 1:7)
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
What a blessed thing the forgiveness of sins is to one who is being spiritually awakened and senses the awful weight of guilt from all their sins. How precious the gift of forgiveness which Christ imparts on the repentant soul.
We can picture this experience as a mother and her small child.
Little Johnny, playing outside, finds this nice puddle of water, he splashes and plays in the water, not even noticing that he is getting wet, and muddy. Why there is mud on his shoes, his pants his arms, his legs. There is even mud on his face.
He comes running to door of the house, and mother says-- “NO YOU CAN”T COME IN HERE with all that mud on you-- you’d totally ruin the rugs and furniture.
There’s no way that mother is going to allow little Johnny to run around the house in that condition.
Now what can little Johnny do to make himself acceptable. He can rub at the mud-- but that just smears it all over himself even more. He can jump back into the puddle, but that will just make it worse.
He can’t do anything in and of himself to make himself fit to enter the house.
But mother, who loves that little fellow very much, and knowing he wants to come in, takes him and washes him and puts clean clothes on him, and gives him a big hug, and now he can be in house!
That’s what Christ did for us in a spiritual sense-- His blood washes away the guilt of our sins, He clothes us with His robe of righteousness!
However, this is not all.
Forgiveness is not all that God does. The person who is forgiven and dressed is still like those bones in Ezekiel that were put back together again and dressed in with flesh and skin--
Remember the first phase in that story-- how the bones were put back together and flesh and skin covered them.
What was still wrong with them at that point?
There was still no life in them!
When did those dead bones actually stand up and live again?
It wasn’t until the breath of God was placed within them-- the Spirit of Life, that they came to life!
Just putting the bones back together again and covering them with skin wasn’t enough-- though it was the essential first step-- it was absolutely essential! But it wasn’t enough the bodies were still dead.
And so it is with the spiritual life. Knowing we can find forgiveness at the cross is absolutely essential. It is the grand offering of Christ for the forgiveness of sin so our lives can be put back together again and we can be clothed and covered with His righteousness, but it is not enough.
We must have the BREATH OF LIFE-- the spiritual life, giving us LIFE.
In Ezekiel 36:25-27 We read:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will keep My judgments and do them. You shall be my people and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleanness.” Simple OUTWARD cleansing is just not enough as long as inwardly we are still dead.
What is it that we need?
We need a spirit within us! We need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in order to have life. We need that new heart and new spirit that is promised.
In addition to the promise of forgiveness Paul in Ephesians says God raises us up together with Christ.
It says He made us alive together with Christ.
So what do we need?
We need Christ-- Christ in you, the hope of glory. We need to abide in Christ like the branches must abide in the vine if they are to have life. We need His Spirit dwelling within.
However, there is much talk about having the spirit in various persuasions now, and Ephesians warns us about the fact that there are two different types of spirits. How can we tell the difference?
In Ephesians 2:2 there is the spirit of the world, the spirit that works disobedience and causes people to walk in the carnal sinful lusts of the flesh and the mind.
That is the spirit that left us dead in trespasses and sins. We need to be careful of that spirit for he does give the illusion of offering life. This spirit of disobedience often offers intense activity in doing the desires of the flesh, but ends in moral and spiritual ruin. There is a way the seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death.
But God gives us HIS SPIRIT-- His spirit of life, which leads us into TRUTH.
Let’s read Paul’s prayer:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
We are not just raised up to new life symbolically, this is not something that happens outside in some legal transaction, no, we are raised to a whole new way of life!
This spiritual experience is a reality in our very lives. It is manifest by our actions and way of living.
Before, we are dead to the way of Christ, engaged in worldly things, but once God’s Spirit comes into our lives, we become dead to sin, but alive in Christ, walking with Christ.
Did you catch an amazing phrase that is repeated in those texts we just read: We are raised from the death of sin to what?
To sit together in heavenly (places) in Christ--
Already, according these texts, we have entered into a heavenly experience of fellowship with God and of life in His presence. Yes, it is still by faith, but that faith is certain of the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1) We partake of heavenly things, enjoying heavenly things, as we walk and talk with Christ here on earth. It’s not just theory, it’s real!
Let’s look back at that little boy all covered with mud. He cannot cleanse himself, his mother does it for him. But is there something more-- is he now “cleansed” so that he can go and play in the mud again. Or is he cleansed so he can enjoy the warmth of his family and sit with them in the home, and join them in their activities. Is the mind to be changed so that cleanliness becomes a desired attribute, and fellowship something to be treasured?.
Hopefully our cleansing is not like a story in one of my students readers. The story is about two dogs, Wags and Tags, whose owners decide they need a bath. After much chasing and coaxing they get the very reluctant dogs into the tub and scrub them down. The dogs are now nice and clean, but they haven’t been changed -- obviously not for on the next page, we see the dogs back in the mud dirtier then they were before their bath.
Is God powerful enough to change our lives from “living in transgression and sins” to living a life of righteousness? Can He really change us from dead dry bones to people who enjoy sitting in high places with Christ?
Ezekiel 37:14 we read that God promised to put His spirit in us so we shall live! In Ezekiel 36: 25-27 we read that not only will God cleanse His people, but He would give them a new heart and spirit.
How great is God’s power? Can He accomplish what these texts promise He will do?
Paul says in Ephesians that God’s power is exceedingly great toward those who believe.
How does Paul illustrate the exceedingly great power of God?
Paul points us to the experience of Christ, and the power which raised Him from the dead to illustrate God’s power.
Let’s consider what sin had done to Christ? Even though He was good, gentle, loving (perfect) what had the forces of evil done? What had the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience inspired people to do to Christ?
Sin is not just making a “mistake” sin is a driving power toward destruction and death. Sin even sought to extinguish God Himself. For Jesus was Emmanuel --which means God with us. He was God in human flesh come to walk and talk among us!
Yet what did those “dead in trespasses and sin” do to Jesus the Son of God?
They did all in their power to mutilate, kill, and destroy the giver of life Himself. As we see Christ on the cross we can see that sin is death-- for sin is death . Christ, (who had no sin, ) on taking upon Himself our sins took upon Himself DEATH.
To all onlookers it appeared that sin and death were the victors, even over the Son of God Himself. Christ was dead, a stone was placed over the tomb, a hundred soldiers stood guard.
This was one battle when it appeared that good was totally conquered and all hope was fled into the valley of dry bones.
Is there a power greater, and stronger than this evil that seemed to have conquered? Is there a power that can actually defeat sin and death?
How much power was necessary to take Christ; who was bearing the guilt of all the sins of the human race, who was mutilated, disgraced, dead, ,--
How much power did it take to raise Him from the lowest depths, to which OUR sins had sent Him. and raise Him in triumphant and glorious newness of life, and place Him on the right hand of God on His throne in heaven?
Yes, Christ rose from the dead! He is victorious over sin and death!
That same power can raise us to life, we who were dead in trespasses and sin, carrying the guilt of our sins, can, through His blood be forgiven, and more, He CAN make us alive spiritually, together with Christ and make us to sit with Him in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
He can raise us to spiritual life, breaking the cords of sin, to live in newness of life above the worldly turmoil.
To be spiritually alive one must be conscious of divine realities, one must have the faith that is sure of those things which are not visible to human eyes. There is a fellowship with God that is real and vital and meaningful.
It is in this sense that we can live in high places with Christ, right now!
A person doesn’t need physical sight to experience spiritual realities.
We’ve heard of Fanny Crosby who lost her physical sight at the age of six. Yet she provided the church with some of its best loved hymns, including “blessed Assurance”, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” and “To God Be the Glory”. Her writings reveal the faith and trust in God, peace, and joy that characterized her life. She was so in love with Jesus that when asked if she would like to be able to see, she answered that she would not, “because when I get to heaven the first face that shall gladden my sight shall be that of my Savior.”
Those who are spiritually alive will sense the presence of heaven with them right now.
Further in the chapter here in Ephesians (Ephesians 3:16-19) we read
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
For God is concerned with the “inner” man--
Ezekiel wrote that God would give a new heart and a new spirit.
Paul writes that the Spirit of God quickens and strengthens the inner man. What does that mean?
It means that our whole natures are changed, when we invite Christ into our lives and He dwells in our hearts. It is not simply for the joy and comfort of God’s children. It is not simply to make it easy or pleasant. But it is that we might be rooted and grounded in love.
We all know what happens during a storm to trees who do not have deep and strong roots. Loggers sometimes leave a few trees standing to “seed” the area that was logged. But those trees were used to having other trees all around them. Never having been exposed to strong winds, they failed to develop a strong root system. Once the support of the other trees was gone, those trees who were not rooted and grounded fell with the first strong wind that came along.
When Christ quickens our lives we are like the trees whose roots sink deep into the soil and take hold of the very springs of unseen life and love, so no matter how much the winds blow, we will not be moved. We are anchored in Christ.
Yes the whole experience of being spiritually alive and strong is due totally to our relationship to Christ. He alone can give spiritual life to the spiritual dead. We are dependent entirely upon our vital union with Him. This is a gift, for by grace we are saved, not by works.
However, Paul quickly tells us works do none the less have their supremely important place and part in this experience . Christ didn’t resurrect us from being dead in “trespasses and sin” in order to allow us to live in trespasses and sin--
Ephesians 2.10 says
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. But now we see those works in their proper place. We could not be happily doing God’s will while we were dead in trespasses and sin. Good works that are acceptable to God are not done by spiritually dead people.
Good works come in a life that is spiritually alive and in tune with Christ.
Good works should be performed by us because we have been redeemed and awakened to spiritual realities and we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” God delivers us from sin and transgression and gives us new life, by faith in Christ, in order that works of holiness and purity and love will flow from our lives habitually and continually. For if we walk with Christ, and He dwells with us, we will do the things of Christ.
Paul goes on to say that we are adopted as the children of God Ep. 1:5 and that through Christ we are heirs of a wonderful inheritance, that in all ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
What a wonderful God we have to fill our hearts with thanksgiving.
He is our life and our salvation. Thanks to His wonderful gift and power we can leave the valley of dead, dry bones and awaken to spiritual life.
With Christ we can reach new heights-- Paul says we can sit with Christ in heavenly heights! Each day let’s look to Christ and press on to the new heights with Him.
“Lord lift me up, and I shall stand
By faith on heaven’s tableland
A higher plane than I have found
Lord plant my feet on higher ground.
Let’s sing #625 in closing.
I want to live above the world,
though satan’s darts at me are hurled,
For faith has caught the joyful sound
The song of saints on higher ground.