Can these bones live?
Can these bones live? Have you ever asked a question like that? When might you ask it?
You might ask such a question during a time of ill health, as you think about death, when contemplating strained or broken relationships, or when considering situations in the world.
You might ask such a question about the church as you see decline in your congregation, in Christianity more generally, or as you think about division, conflict, and other examples of our brokenness in the church.
You might ask such a question when you are so overwhelmed by guilt that you cannot hear the good news of God’s grace – his promise of complete forgiveness and restoration.
On the fifth Sunday in Lent we heard how God gave Ezekiel a vision of a valley full of dry bones and asked, “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37).
The people of Israel, exiled in a foreign land, had been reflecting on how their ‘ways’ and their ‘deeds’ had brought disgrace to God’s name (Ezekiel 36). In exile they had come to see the extent of their unfaithfulness toward God and were genuinely sorry for it.
However, so great was the sorrow over their sin that they were unable to hear the wonderful promise of forgiveness and restoration God gave in Ezekiel 36. (E.g., v. 24-28). They were still saying, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (Ezek. 37:11).
In the vision God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the dry bones. The bones suddenly came together, tendons and flesh appeared on them, and skin covered them to form human beings, yet without breath. God then told Ezekiel to prophecy to the breath of God to breathe life into the lifeless bodies. They came to life and stood up – living and fully restored human beings.
God was saying to Israel, “I will forgive your sin. I will again give life to the lifeless bones of your nation. I will restore your faith and your hope.”
How might you answer if God asked a similar question when you were overwhelmed by sorrow and grief because of your sin, or by sin’s consequences in this broken world.? Can these bones live?
What ‘object lesson’ does God show you, his New Testament people, to inspire hope in your hopeless situations?
God’s greatest ‘object lesson’ is Easter. The Son of God, our Saviour, was declared dead by the Roman soldiers, taken down from the cross, and laid lifeless in a tomb. Can these bones live? You know the answer! On the third day Jesus was raised to live forever.
God’s Son “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Because Jesus’ bones can live, you can rest assured that, by faith in him, you will also be forgiven and restored in the sight of God for all eternity.
God’s other great object lesson brings the good news of God’s forgiveness and restoration closer to home – your own baptism. You were once dead in your trespasses and sins. That was your condition from birth. Can these bones live?
God’s Word breathes his promise over you and into you, saying, “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4). Can these bones live? Sure, they can!
Yes, it is appropriate to reflect on your sinfulness and need for repentance, as Israel did. It is appropriate to come to God in daily repentance, acknowledging how your ‘ways’ and ‘deeds’ bring disgrace to his holy name; to consider the consequences of your sinfulness, in this life and for eternity.
But do not remain there. Don’t fail to hear and receive the good news of God’s forgiving and restoring grace, won for you in the death and resurrection of his Son and given to you personally in baptism.
Whether you are struggling with the effects of your own sin, or going through hardship, God’s Spirit can breathe forgiveness, new life and hope into every situation, on every day of our lives.
Even in the struggles of the church we can cling to the hope once expressed by author, G K Chesterton in reply to someone’s comment that the church was dying. “Of course!” Chesterton replied, “Christianity has died many times and risen again, for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
We have that same God who knows the way out of the grave, so let us trust his Easter promise that these bones can live!