Ezekiel 1-3, 37.1-14, 1 Peter 3.8-22
In Ezekiel 37 we read the most obvious Old Testament passage on the Resurrection of God’s people. In this passage the “dry bones” are God’s people, not unbelievers. These dried-up bones are the House of Israel. Our song this morning entitled “Dry Bones” came from a situation of a prodigal son who was raised in church but fell away from God. So the song reflects good theology of the meaning of this passage – it is about the God’s lost people!
This passage is extraordinary, unusual in its visionary understanding of what we consider New Testament doctrine on the Resurrection through Jesus Christ. (And, by the way Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it is his title or his job.) Ezekiel gets “carried away” with his vision. He finds himself spiritually, and possibly physically, located in a valley of dry bones. This is the scene of a battle, a war between those who are socially, economically, culturally, and religiously different from Israel. Most likely this was a war fought by Assyrian, Chaldeon, or Babylonian armies against Israel. Israel was often attacked by other countries because of its prime real estate as a trade route and fertile lands for crops.
When we reflect on the vision, we discover that God’s voice begins the transformation process. God calls forth the resurrection, and awakens the dead. Next, there is great movement, even an earthquake of activity causing the rustling among the bones. Then there is connectivity, flesh and skin come upon the bones. The bones are fully restored, but there isn’t any life in the bodies. It takes more than God’s invitation to bring someone to life from a dead situation.
In this passage God specifically informs us that it takes his breath just like with Adam in Genesis (1-3). The ruach or breath of God must come from the four corners to complete the animation of the person’s life. This wind of God’s breath is described as four-fold in its nature representing the complete authority of God to cause life to begin in a dead body.
We might be tempted to stop at the awe and wonder of resurrection. God’s voice has spoken and God’s breath has given life to the dead bodies. But in Ezekiel’s vision we hear that there is an army that stands on its feet ready for action under God’s command. Resurrection was never intended for just one person’s salvation but for the community of faith. God’s purpose is to bring us together, an army of his people to take action on his behavior. (Don’t miss the fact that the dry bones represented Israel’s lack of vitality; they were a dead sect – hopeless.) Our salvation stories are never for ourselves, but for the whole of the community. The Apostle John says it this way in Revelation 12.11, we overcome by the blood of Jesus and our testimonies.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let’s go back and remember who Ezekiel was and why this vision is important. Ezekiel’s testimony begins in the community of Israel. He has been commissioned with a powerful vision, call, and prophetic voice (Ezek. 1-3). He anticipates the fall of Jerusalem, the departure of God’s glory from the Temple, and the journey of the people into exile. The promise of restoration is described: one day restoration will come. The challenge of Ezekiel’s testimony is described in detail; people are stubborn and hard-headed (Ezek. 3.1-27). They rebel against God’s authority.
At this time in history they have been sent into exile without homeland, family, friends, food provisions, a future, but particularly without their God. They are morally bankrupt and spiritually empty. They are “cut-off” from God Himself. Israel, God’s chosen people, have become lifeless at every level of their being, even the scavengers have picked their bones completely clean. There’s nothing left. Their only hope is for a moral resurrection and a spiritual revitalization.
Rebellion is a theme across the Scriptures, and there are remarkable outcomes to rebellions – people died without God’s blessing. Rebellion leaves people swallowed up in the ground, mauled by bears, and dropping dead at Peter’s feet as a result of disregarding the leadership that God had placed in their lives. This kind of disregard and rebellion destroyed the nation of Israel. The most dangers notion is that God’s people are alive when they only have the appearance of being alive. There are times when we realize that our bones are dry, but many times we fail to understand our own moral failures. We must seek God daily for revitalization in humble surrender.
It is important to understand how prominent Israel has been prior to this vision. Israel had it all – they were well cared for by God. The nation of Israel was an internationally acclaimed people whose God other nations feared throughout biblical history. The surrounding people knew that the Israel God, Yahweh, protected the people. To be sure God’s power over the history of Israel was well-known. The neighboring people know that this God parted the Red Sea to defeat Egypt. This God made Moses’ face shine brightly. This God would be so holy that no one was allowed to enter the holy place of the Tabernacle for fear of being struck down with God’s glory. This God was known to bring a plague to the Philistines and death to an innocent bystander who touched the Ark of the Covenant. This same God raised a young boy who was struck down with an aneurism through a prophet’s prayers. This God of the Old Testament stories is the same in the New Testament.
We see God’s power all through Jesus’ ministry, and the ministry of his followers. We know this power continued to be demonstrated through Peter and John who made the lame to walk and the dead to rise again. We know this power to be present in the follower of Jesus, Ananias, who healed Saul/Paul from blindness. This power continues to move among us today. We are filled with the same power that came on the 120 disciples in the upper room, what we understand as Pentecost. We are recipients of God’s power when we come under authority. Our responsibility is to surrender to God’s will, prayer is effective only when we surrender to God’s authority in our lives.
The Prophet Ezekiel and the Apostle Peter have a lot in common. They both understand the essential point of grace: coming under God’s authority. In Peter’s first letter he calls the church to express humility and mutuality in love in light of our call to self-sacrifice according to the will of God, even if suffering becomes a way of life. Jesus demonstrated this meekness and humility by restraining his personal power as a suffering servant for the sole purpose of conquering sin and evil. Jesus achieves the victory without using or threatening to use the power of God. Jesus understood the value of coming under authority of his Heavenly Father. And, it is accepting this understanding of coming under authority that we can be filled by the Holy Spirit.
We can be sure that God desires to speak to us and breath into us his life in the Spirit. Our surrender to God’s will and his authority in Jesus Christ is the key to Kingdom of God. When we believe in Jesus as our Savior – the One who takes away the sin of the world, and accept his Lordship over our lives, then we are given the fullness of the Spirit of God. There is great responsibility with being a Christian. When we are endued with power from on high, we possess the same ability to do the miraculous things that were done in the Scriptures – both Old and New.
According to my mentor and Wesleyan Historian Bob Tuttle in his article on John Wesley and the Spirit Gifts, “Wesley clearly believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were relevant for the church in any age. He defined them. He described them. He experienced them. He defended them.” I’m paraphrasing Tuttle’s works here… John Wesley wrote in his journal from August 15, 1750 that he was fully convinced that the early church believers walked in the spiritual gifts because they were real scriptural Christians. When men began to ridicule whatever spiritual gifts they had not received, and called them ungodly, then the gifts diminished. When the church becomes no different than the culture, real scriptural Christianity fails to exist. Wesley always believed that love was the more excellent way of salvation, however, believers should earnestly seek the gifts that would turn an unbelieving heart toward God (Works, 7:27). You can read Tuttle’s work at https://ucmpage.org/articles/rtuttle1.html.
To be sure God seeks to empower us with his voice and his breath. God longs for us to become his army ready to do his bidding in the world around us. When we willingly come under his authority, we are endued with power to do the miraculous – bring others to saving grace in Jesus Christ. Hebrews offers us this admonishment, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart!” If you have heard God’s voice today, and long to experience the resurrection of your dry bones… If you have experienced God’s breath today, and find yourself filled or re-filled with his Spirit… If you are ready to come under God’s authority to become the army of God to do his bidding… The opportunity is yours today!