“Can these bones live?” Can a dry, dusty valley full of bones live? Imagine the valley of bones Ezekiel saw, a valley of many dead bodies perhaps after a battle, laying there, picked apart by the vultures, dried up, and probably very brittle. These bones have moved well beyond the point of smelling bad. They have completely rotted. These are long dead bones. Can these bones live?
Ezekiel was looking over the valley of dry bones that was the Israelite people, the people of God. The people were dead. Dead in sin. Dead in unbelief. The Israelites had no land, it no longer belonged to them. They had no king of their own, they were under the rule of the Babylonians. They had no Temple, no place of worship, no place for the sacrifices to receive the mercy of God. The people of Israel were living in a state of death, life was a living hell. It seemed as though there was no hope and certainly no future life to look forward too.
Can these bones live? So we think and wonder. How can these bones live? How can there be life when so much has gone wrong? Where is there hope and comfort when the people of God are dead and had everything taken away?
We don’t really like to think about death. It’s not very happy. It doesn’t cheer us up. It doesn’t make us feel good. It’s certainly not that exciting or entertaining. Yet the reality is this, every day and every minute since the day you were born you are one step closer to earthly death. Have no fear dear Christians, for you’ve already died. In fact, you were conceived and born dead. Dead in sin.
You see, our culture likes to ignore death. Yet it lives and abounds in it. Our world, our sinful flesh, likes to deny that we are conceived and born dead. We don’t want to hear that we are sinners. Too many would like to cover up or move past death. So we cover it. We embalm bodies and restore them in a picturesque way with makeup so that it looks as though the person never died, or even more cremate so that there is no body to see that are now just ashes. We skip funerals because they remind us we too are dying, we throw parties that celebrate not the resurrection but the life now long gone.
This is the world we live in, the world in which many Christians partake. While ignoring and moving past death, we give no regard to the thousands of unborn children daily murdered or adults euthanized in hospitals, places where life is to be protected. Murders occur regularly, so much so that we turn on the news and read the paper expecting the hear and read of the latest occurrences. Then we move on in uncompassionate hearts as if these are merely political issues to be fought in the courts and news stories to read as we look for the next feel good community page report.
And don’t think just because you are a so-called pro-life, Christian that you are immune to ignoring death. We often live our lives contrary to God, knowing full well that our sin is killing us. How many dry bones do you see daily as they live in unbelief, devoured by the vultures of Satan, and walking around with no breath, no Spirit, in them? Nearly 7,000 die a day in our country, how many does Jesus weep over for they do not know and believe His Gospel, they remain in death and unbelief? How about for you? How often have you doubted the Lord’s goodness as you asked the Lord for something like Martha, “come quickly, your friend is very sick.” Jesus did not come quickly, He waited and by the time He arrived Lazarus was dead four days, well on the way in rotting.
You think Mary and Martha were upset? Martha had cooked and cleaned and worked herself to the point of exhaustion for Jesus. He was their friend who had healed the sick, given sight to the blind, and gave the deaf to hear. You think they were a little upset as the accusingly speak to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I’m a little surprised they didn’t bring out the reality that Jesus had healed from a distance previously and did not here. Yet, Martha shows great faith, even if just a glimmer of hope, “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Can these bones live? You bet. The bones of Lazarus are raised in just the same way the bones in the valley were raised in Ezekiel and raised the same way your dead bones are given life. O bones, hear the Word of the Lord. “I will cause breath,” or better translated, “I will cause spirit to enter you and you shall live.” Ezekiel prophesied the Word of the Lord and the Word made flesh prophesies over the dead bones of Lazarus and speaks over you. As the Word of the Lord is proclaimed the dead bones have life and the Spirit is in them.
Word and Spirit. It’s what we need too. Just as Lazarus laid lifeless in the tomb and the dried bones of the valley laid, we too are dead in sin. He did that which we cannot do, He makes us that which we cannot decide or reason ourselves to be – alive. Dead people can’t raise themselves to life. Dead people cannot rationalize or think their way to life. The dead can do nothing to live again. Jesus calls into the tomb of Lazarus and is the Word proclaimed over the valley. He is the One who gives life to the dead.
As miraculous as it might seem that Lazarus was raised, it wasn’t even the greatest miracle of the day. Jesus does again what we cannot rationalize ourselves to do, what we have no power of decision over, and creates faith in many of the Jews. They now believe in Him who promised that we will never die forever. The Word made flesh does what the Word of the Lord is to do, gives life to the dead, grants faith where there formerly was unbelief.
For some though, they desired to remain dead. Hard to imagine yet it happens regularly. There were those who wanted nothing to do with the life that Jesus gives. They reported it to the Pharisees. They wanted to have life on their own terms, that life should be as they thought. They sought from that day on to put him to death. It wouldn’t take long. Continue reading John’s Gospel when you go home. Only a few days and they make plans to have Lazarus put to death. Really, because it was a way to get to Jesus and attack those who believed in Him. Then comes next week, Palm Sunday, and the triumphal entry.
(For you see, we don’t jump around as much as you might think on these Sunday readings. It’s a narrative. It continuous. Has been every week since Christmas. As the triumphal entry leads into Holy Week we will hear their accusations to kill Jesus because He says He is God. That’s exactly what Jesus said. For the seventh and final time recorded by John He says, “I AM.” He gives Himself the Lord’s name. I AM the resurrection and the life. That’s the context as we head into the next week, Holy Week. Everything is supercharged because the man who says He is the Lord just raised Lazarus to life and people are starting to believe.)
Dear Christians, Ezekiel didn’t tell the bones to get their act together, figure out their life, and straighten up. He preached the Word of the Lord to them. Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to behave better and do more, He didn’t give Lazarus an option to decide but just gave Him life by His spoken word.
You may have been born dead in sin but the Word made flesh gives you the resurrection in the same way. By His Word. He speaks Himself and gives Himself to you the Spirit, the breath of life. His speaks to you and gives you life in Baptism. He calls you out of death and into life. He speaks to you, “your sins are forgiven. You have life.” You are buried in Him who they sought to kill and would soon crucify. To these dry bones the Word made flesh gives us the fruits of His death.
This is why He is here, why He took on flesh. This is what Christmas is all about, the Lord takes on flesh to kill the flesh in His own death and raise it in His glorious resurrection. The Word became flesh. The Word made flesh has forgiven your sin and restored flesh to your dried up bones. For He is the resurrection and the life. He is your life. He is the life of the Church, the people of God. The Spirit given to us to continue to bring us here, the Church, where the Word made flesh is found in body and blood giving life to your dried, dead bones. Your once lifeless bones live in the Word made flesh whose gave His bones in death that you may live with Him forever. Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, for the day of resurrection draws near.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.