(excerpt from the sermon)
Sermon Series: The Year of Re
We spend our entire lives fighting the dust, and in the end, the dust wins. Now the question is (knowing that we have that death cloud hanging over us, and it's there, knowing that in a real way, we have dead bones, we are dust): How can we be revived? You know, Victor Frankl survived the death camps of World War II and he wrote a famous book called Man's Search for Meaning. In the death camp, he noticed that death was imminent. Death could happen at any moment, at any time when you're in the death camps. It could happen the first day you get there, the second, or any day after. In the book, he said that when people are faced with death like that, they respond in one of three ways. First of all, some people just became bad. They lost all their principles. They betrayed their brothers, they exploited people, they became informers. Anything they could possibly do to survive. Others just gave up. It was too much. They just dried up. They laid down, literally curled up in a ball, and died totally despondent. But there was a third category. The third category became heroic.
They showed incredible courage. They were sacrificial, they were loving, they were kind, and they were helpful. So the question is, what was the difference? And he says it depends on your hope. If you had a hope that suffering and death could take away from you, then you didn't last very long in the death camp. If the totality of your hope consisted of how much money you had, status or wealth, then when you got to the death camps and all that stuff is gone, then there is no hope of recovery. Most people, he wrote, did not have a hope that could stand up to death. Their hope was only the things in this life. And, therefore, their hope began to crumble. In fact, the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that if we have hope only in this life, then we of all people are most miserable. Suffering and death will take everything you hope for in this life and then you too will wither away. Unless you have a hope that can transcend death, you’re dry bones with no hope and no future.
Now that's the spiritual aspect to that and that's why we know something's wrong and we need a revival. However, what we're being told in the story is this: Ezekiel 37:7 says, “So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then He said, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.” Now notice the progression. In verse seven, the bones become skeletons, they're assembled. In verse eight, the skeletons become flesh but they're still corpses. And then God says, let's bring in the four winds, the breath of God, which is in verse 14, the Spirit of God. And God breathes on these dead bodies and that's when they come to life. There's a metaphor here.
You are dead, as a nation, God says, but I'm going to bring you back to life. I'm going to give you your hope back, your future back, your identity, your culture, your nation, and your people. I'm bringing it all back. And God did keep His promise. But even though He kept His promise, they knew that they had the same problem you and I have. There's a bigger problem, even though we come back into the land, there is a spiritual exile. That's that dualism you see in the passage. The bigger problem is that we're exiled from home, we're all going to face death. And that is the ultimate exile. And they knew there was a greater return from exile, a greater escape than this. And they were right.
Do you remember in John 20, how Jesus physically appeared to the disciples, and what did He do? He breathed life into them. He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Same word, by the way, Greek-Hebrew equivalent.) This is about Ezekiel. The Holy Spirit is not only a sanctifier, He's a life-giver. A deposit guarantees what is yet to come. So when Jesus said to the disciples: Here's what I'm saying, I'm about to lead the ultimate return from exile. The Old Testament takes you back into the land and brings you back home. The New Testament disciples receive the Holy Spirit. I'm about to breathe on you and lead you to the ultimate return out of exile. I'm about to get you out of the ultimate problem of death itself. Which means that you'll always have an enduring hope, always have a future, always be a nation, and always be a people. I'm going to breathe the Spirit of life into you. And because I was raised from the dead, so also shall you be raised from the dead.
You have ultimate hope. There's an infallible hope that the death camps, or anything else, can’t take from you. Not cancer, not any other kind of illness, not old age, not debilitating, disintegrating things of any kind. There's a hope that nothing can eradicate. Death, where is your sting? Do you remember what Paul said? Grave, where is your victory? The more I see this, the more I see this as trash talk. Paul is actually trash-talking death. He's saying, you got nothing. God has breathed His life into me. You don't want any of this. You can't touch this. You better think again. If you try to lay me low, death, you'll only raise me higher. If you try to destroy me, you'll only recreate me into something greater than you could ever imagine. George Herbert said it this way, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel makes him just a gardener.”
Death is the first fruits of life forevermore. Now here's the question. We've got this physical return out of exile for Israel. We've got this return out of spiritual Israel, the church. How does all that happen? How are the dead bones raised? What does God do? God doesn't just snap His fingers and suddenly the bones come to life. Did you notice that? He asks a preacher to speak to the bones and then the bones come to life. God says to Elijah, preach the word to these dry bones. The meaning of that is so profound. It means that the truth, spoken word, the truth is the vehicle for this hope getting into your life. Do you remember what Paul said in Romans 10? It's a beautiful passage.
“How, then, can they call on the one they've not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. And if you have any hope of being raised from the dead, spiritually and physically speaking, if you hope to come back to life, to wake up, you have to hear, understand and receive the truth. That's why there are so many dead men and women walking. That's hard to do in our world. It's counter-cultural. We're being told there is no truth. In fact, I hear this all the time: You Christians claim to have the truth.
Why can't you just say that you have something that gives us peace and joy and leave it at that? Why do you have to say that Jesus Christ has come to earth and that He was raised from the dead? Why can't you just see it as a symbol? That makes you supreme, or your religion appears to be superior. Now you think about that. Imagine you're part of the early church and you're talking to some people who have no hope, maybe slaves or the oppressed or the poor. And you walk up to them and their life is miserable and you say, “I want to talk to you about Jesus. But He's only a symbol. A symbol that spring follows winter and somehow after bad times, good times will come. Just hold on and things will get better.” Do you think a first-century slave would say, “Wow, that just changes my life. I feel transformed. Now I can face this grinding, poverty, and oppression.” No, only the truth, Jesus said, will set you free. Tim Keller says, “God came in the form of Jesus Christ. He went right into the belly of death and broke its back.” He defeated death in real-time, in real space. Death cannot hold Him because He's Emmanuel, God with us. He is omnipotent. Nothing can keep Him down. And if He breathes His life into you, you too will be raised from the dead. And all who believe in Him shall be saved. And because of Christ, your identity can be rock solid. Your kingdom can be unshakable, your joy everlasting. That is the truth. So first, if you hope to rise from the dead, or I should say be raised by the power of God from the dead, you have to hear, you have to understand, and you must acknowledge the truth.
Second, the passage tells us that you have to have the spirit of God breathe into your life. Ezekiel 36:25-27 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Now, what does that tell you? Do you see the imagery here? We're told that we will be cleansed. Now we know what that means. The new Israel, the new covenant, the church. We know that we're cleansed by the blood of Jesus and that He atoned for our sins. So He's kept His promise.
We're also told that He will give us a new heart and a new spirit. He will breathe life into us and it won't be the same heart or the same life as before. This is a real indicator if you're on the right path. When you truly accept, hear, acknowledge, and believe, you are promised that your heart of stone (the heart that is unfeeling, that is unmoved, that is numb to the things of God that is apathetic and cavalier to God's voice), in God's leading, in God's presence, that heart becomes a beating heart of flesh. One that is alive. And if I can use this word, one that is “woke”, spiritually woke. You're alive, awake, and see things as they really are. You feel things, you do things, new things, a heart that comes alive with passion for the things of God.
That's how you know that God has breathed His life into you. In the New Testament, Jesus calls this being born again; new life. In His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:5, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” Here's the cleansing again and here's the life-giving force. Flesh gives birth to the flesh, but the spirit gives birth to the spirit. You've had a heart of flesh. Now God breathes His spirit, His life, into you. “You should not be surprised at My saying you must be born again.” Meaning, when you hear the truth and you believe it, you're spiritually resurrected. Right now. The physical resurrection will have to wait, but the new birth says that you've had new life breathed into you. You see things you've not before perceived, you feel things that you cannot explain.
You do things that you were not previously able to do. Now the question is, does that describe you? Is that you? Have your dead bones spiritually been raised? Have you been born again? Has God breathed His spirit into you or are you spiritually dried up? Let me help you if you believe that Jesus is a symbol or a metaphor (I'm going to get very direct here and I know we're saved by grace through faith, and I in no way want to appear to be judgmental), I am simply telling you (and I don't know each life, only God knows each life), all I can do is tell you this is what I've gleaned from the scriptures, from Jesus’ teachings, from the teachings of the Apostle Paul. And I'm trying to communicate that, contextualize that, into our day and in our culture. So if you believe that Jesus is just a symbol or a metaphor, nothing more, if you do not believe that Jesus physically existed, died for your sins on the cross in real-time, in real space, if you do not believe that God has deemed that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only substitutionary sacrifice for your sins and that there is no other way to the Father than through the Son.
If you do not believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for those who have come to Him by faith. And you have never acted upon all of this by placing yourself under the Lordship of Jesus Christ with full intent to follow Him in every area of your life, then I can tell you that you have not yet believed the truth, heard the truth, or been convinced by the truth. Therefore, you have not been born again. He has not breathed His spirit on you. Your eyes are not open, your ears have not perceived, and you are still lost in your sins with no hope, no future, and no lasting identity. But guess what, I said you have not yet believed the truth, heard the truth, or been convinced by the truth. It's never too late as long as you're above ground. And God is so patient and merciful.
In fact, you just experienced it. You just experienced another demonstration and extension of the grace and mercy of God. You just heard the gospel and the new birth says: I believe, I understand, and I receive the good news of the gospel. I have been raised to walk in a new way of life. I now understand the connection between confession, repentance, baptism, and new life. I've been awakened, my eyes are open, and I've been born again. I am spiritually woke. And because Jesus was raised from the dead, I also will be raised. When we are born again, we are plunged into that hope. We begin to realize that we're alive forevermore. Think about your eyes being open to that reality, that you're never going to die, that you get wealth and security that is more important than any other wealth or security you can ever find here.
And when your eyes are truly open, when you're really born again, when God brings His spirit into you, you are then enabled to thrive in this death camp while we're waiting for the armies of heaven to come and liberate us so that we can return home from this exile.
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