Pentecost – B LSB #502
Text – Ezekiel 37:3
And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
CAN THESE BONES LIVE?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one Ezekiel just painted is strikingly relevant to what happened on Friday in Texas. The hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel & as he was set down in the middle of a valley that was full of bones. God’s Spirit led him around among the bones & they were very dry. It was a valley full of death.
Ten people were killed in Santa Fe, TX. In just the count of human bodies – a far cry from a valley full of bones, but the ten who were murdered, though on a smaller scale, present the same picture that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Two days ago, that high school in Texas was full of death. Ten people murdered out of the twisted confusion of sin.
People want to ban guns. They want to blame parents. The suspect might have been bullied, or he could be mentally ill. Do you think maybe our heavenly Father knows what caused the slaughter? Will anyone in the realm of politics dare to name the real cause? I hope that people are hearing about it in churches this morning.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Romans 6:23 gives the answer – plain & simple: “The wages of sin is death...” Whether brought by cancer, or by accident, or by premeditated murder, the underlying cause is always the same. Everything in God’s creation has been poisoned by sin. Because of it, everyone living is at the same time on the road to death.
No matter what road you are traveling in life, each & every one of them winds up at the same sign – Dead End. This universe, this planet, & the human beings occupying it, are so corrupted & poisoned by sin that you & I – like Ezekiel’s valley of bones – are full of death. Antietam & Gettysburg, Normandy & the Battle of the Bulge, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, each of those names is well-known for death on a massive scale, not as punishment for any specific sin, but simply as the result of human sin in general. God’s creation has been poisoned, & because of it – people die. Because of sin you & I will die.
Yahweh is the source of all life & rebellion against Him always brings death, no matter what form. The plain & simple truth is this – “The wages of sin is death.” The crazy thing is this – the answer to death is just as plain & simple. 2 Chronicles 7:14 provides that answer:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven & will forgive their sin & heal their land.” Would you say that our land needs healing? When Jonah finally went to Nineveh to warn them of God’s impending judgment they believed Him & repented.
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, & He did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10 ESV) It hardly seems possible that the people of our nation will turn from their evil ways. The Israelites never turned more than half-heartedly from their evil & eventually lost their place as God’s people.
Will any of the leaders of our nation dare to place the blame where it truthfully belongs? Will any of them dare to address the real issue? Anymore, would our people even vote for the truth? History tells us the answer will be no. There just won’t be enough people voting for you if your campaign slogan is, “Repent! We are all a bunch of sinners.”
That has to be done by the people of God. It is not just our job, it is our calling from the very moment the heavenly Father says to each of us individually, “You are mine!” It is God’s design, & tremendous blessing, that Christian parents always bring their children to Him for Baptism at an early age. Listen to what God said to Abraham in Genesis 17, & I want you to
focus on His use of the word covenant:
“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you & your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me & you & your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, & it shall be a sign of the covenant between me & you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.” (17:9-12a ESV)
At a mere 8 days of age, parents are instructed by God to bring their sons to Him that they too might personally be called into covenant with their heavenly Father. Covenant is not a common word for us, but basically it means to create a relationship with someone. As we see with the command to circumcise at 8 days, God doesn’t wait for the child to decide on his own.
In OT circumcision Yahweh was creating a relationship between Himself & the male children. Today, in Baptism, Yahweh creates a relationship between Himself & all children – male & female. In a real way, when God creates that relationship, He is bringing us out of the darkness & in to the light. Our Lord is bringing us out of death & in to life.
In the context of Ezekiel, what was left of God’s people was exiled in the pagan nation of Babylon. In a sense, for a time, they were a dead people. They had wandered from their heavenly Father & followed pagan gods, so Yahweh gave them their heart’s desire. He did so that they might see the folly of their ways. Ezekiel describes how they felt while in exile:
“Our bones are dried up, & our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (37:11b ESV) They were a people unable to rescue themselves. It was as if they were a valley full of dry bones. Their future looked hopeless & destitute. They were, like the people in Santa Fe, TX are this morning, surrounded by darkness & death.
In Ezekiel’s day, the people of God, like Christians in our nation today, are surrounded by the darkness & death of a culture that is wandering away from their heavenly Father. In the 33rd chapter, the prophet Ezekiel was instructed to write: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV) It is our calling, as the people of God, to be taking that message out into the valley of dry bones.
The Spirit of the Lord took Ezekiel & set him down in the middle of a valley that was a sea of scattered, disconnected bones, & He said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Had another human being asked the question, it would have been laughable. As you & I look at the culture we live in, might God be saying to us, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
To be honest, we’d have to answer, “By our efforts & commitment there’s no way!” It’s why, for several years now I’ve held the 1st confirmation class of the year at a cemetery, & I ask, “What is the problem with cemeteries?” The answer is that everyone there is dead! It’s like a garden of very dry bones, yet we put them there as a sign of hope!
All the school shootings are a sign that our culture is rapidly becoming a valley filled with very dry bones. “Son of man, can these bones live?” It is a laughable question were it not for the fact that it is the Lord of life who is asking. For thousands of years, Christians have been burying bodies, & now ashes, in cemeteries in the sure & certain hope of the resurrection!
In the coming days there will be families in Texas burying their dead. I pray that they are Christian families who have that same sure & certain hope of the resurrection of the dead that is to come. Romans 6:23 begins harshly enough, but it does not leave us in despair: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin is the cause of all the suffering in this world, whether it be the horror of a school shooting, or a terrorist attack, from the brutal action of war, or simply death by illness or a freak accident. If we as the children of God had been following our calling with confidence the media, & our politicians, would be talking about the true cause of those deaths in Texas. If we had been the salt of the earth as we were called to be, the leaders of our nation would not be turning attention away from the truth & placing blame on guns or parents or mental illness. You & I & our culture have become like a valley that is full of very dry bones – hopeless & full of death.
And still, Yahweh asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And He does not ask out of foolishness or sarcasm. Our Lord asks because He wants to assure us that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” At the death of Lazarus Jesus told the man’s sister, “I am the resurrection & the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25 ESV)
The problem with cemeteries is that everyone there is dead. For that reason some people are very uncomfortable with being there. Yet, God does not take Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones in order to frighten or depress him. Yahweh takes the prophet there in order to give him hope. Yes, these bones can & they shall live! So the last words of the Gospel reading proclaim:
“Therefore prophesy, & say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves & 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, & raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, & you shall live, & I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14 ESV)
After thousands of years of history, the Israelites eventually lost their place as God’s people. That is how completely they failed. They would become like a valley full of very dry bones. Jesus became the New Israel. He took their place in order to rescue them from the exile of sin because without Him God’s people were unable to turn from their wicked ways.
“Repent! We are all a bunch of sinners,” would certainly fail as an election campaign slogan. Unfortunately, even as God’s children we fail to repent perfectly, & when we do repent we almost immediately fall back into our sins. If the truth be told, you & I are unable to turn from our evil ways. Murder & disease & war will always be with us in this life.
Sinful human beings, & the plans of sinful human beings, are just not capable of rescuing
us, no matter what any politician or even religious leader may promise. This reading from the book of Ezekiel, with the valley full of dry bones, is about the full-fledged rescue of sinners from sin. And it is not merely a generic rescue of all them bones, but an intimately personal rescue of individual sinners from each of their individual sins.
Jesus, the true Israel, has taken the place of His people that we might be holy in the sight of our Creator. Jesus was raised from death to eternal life, that our bones might no longer be dry. Finally, Ezekiel tells us why our God does all these things: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:14b ESV)
May you all know the Lord from this day forth forevermore. Amen.
Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven, ever one with the One who is Three, from the Father you came, words of peace to proclaim, come & comfort us, speak tenderly. You, the fragrance of life we are seeking; fill Your temple, Your altar make clean. Joyous shelter of love, gracious friend from above, in Your care we are resting, serene. Holy Spirit, the fire celestial, Who on Pentecost came as foretold, to descend from on high & the Church occupy as the cloud filled the temple of old; all the baptized You seal with Your promise, all believers Your gift there receive, so that all the elect – all in Christ – may expect to enjoy what by grace they believe. Amen. LSB 502:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet