Sunday the 2nd of April 2017
Ezekiel 37:1-14 & John 11
The year 2004 was a significant year for me in my life as two major events occurred which changed me. The first one was the birth of my oldest son Josiah. There is nothing that prepares you for the experience of seeing the life of a new person that God has created coming into the world. Even though he is now much older I find myself still thinking about that time, thinking about how it brought happiness and changed my life for good.
Three months later a very close friend of mine who I grew up with in New Zealand died of a heart attack. This man, named Kevin, was a lot older than me and in some ways was a father figure in my life, someone whom I loved and who I cared very deeply for. Kevin was the first person that I had personally known, and had a strong relationship with, to have died so I really did grieve his loss. The other thing that made this hard was that Kevin was openly not a believer in Jesus, which made my grief even more difficult. I distinctly remember looking at Josiah and holding him in my hands after Kevin’s death and thinking: ‘life is so fragile’. For me 2004 was a year about life and death.
The prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading today, knew all about death as he was surrounded by it. He was a prophet at a time when the people of Israel, had been conquered, and were almost at breaking point. He knew the result of God’s punishment of death and captivity for his people because of their sins. Those who were still alive were suffering in their captivity in Babylon because of their arrogance, pride, self-conceit, and, in general, their refusal to trust their God. These people had been decimated and knew full well what it was like to feel hopeless and defeated. For many of the Israelites they were living with such hopelessness that they were waiting to die.
Yet in the midst of this time Ezekiel receives a vision. He saw a vision of a great defeat in a battlefield valley, where the bodies of those killed had not been buried but allowed to decay. This was a brutal vision of death. Ezekiel right in the midst of this vision of death receives this command: “prophesy to these bones” (v. 4). This would have seemed ridiculous, as there were not even any ears to “hear the word of the Lord” that he was to speak. But the word that Ezekiel was to speak, was not his own. No, this word that was spoken is the word of the one who is the Creator, who at the beginning of the World in Genesis 2: made flesh and bones from the face of the earth, awaiting the breath of life; the one who breathed life into his created people. The Lord says to Ezekiel “This is what the Lord God says to these bones; I will cause breath to enter you and you will live” (v5). Ezekiel spoke the word as the Lord said and “… the breath entered them and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.” (v10). God’s word brought life to the dead.
In the Gospel reading from John two women, Mary and Martha, just lost their dear brother Lazarus to death. They knew what it was like to grieve for the death of a loved one. They knew what it was like to lose all hope. Even though our Lord was there, too late in their opinions, Maratha says: “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died” (John 11: 21). You can almost hear her grief.
Right in the middle of her grief over her brother’s death Martha hears Jesus say “Your brother will rise again”, and she responds by saying “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” But Jesus responded “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Notice that Jesus did not just say that he is the resurrection, but that he is the resurrection and the life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is life and he speaks words of life to us. Mary and Martha got to see this as they witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead and in chapter 12 they were even feasting with him again. He had indeed come to life because Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, spoke the word of life to him.
In Ezekiel’s vision, those dry bones were restored to new life and new hope. When the people believed that it was the end for them, that all was lost, and that they were cut off from the Lord (v. 11), God spoke his words of restoration and hope. He will put his Spirit within them, and they shall be restored to their land and live in hope and joy. He united and he restored the whole house of Israel. All hope is not lost in their hopelessness. God speaks and his word accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it. God was speaking his Word of life to a people who were lost in despair.
We all know that death eventually comes to us all, no matter how much we want to deny it. And we know that death is the result of sin. As it says in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. As you and I look around us we hear and see that people who believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, are often laughed at, persecuted, or in some places in the world even murdered.
His church is under constant assault from Satan and his demons. With all of the political correctness in our society the church is under pressure to get with the times. And so, we are tempted to conform to the world, cutting off ourselves from Jesus once again. We all know hopelessness and despair and being cut off from Jesus in our sinful lives. And yet, he comes and speaks his word of life to us again and again in these places.
It is in these places that he speaks his world of life and hope to us. The same word of life that brought the dry bones to life in today’s Old Testament reading is the same word of life the speaks to you and me today in our Lord Jesus Christ, as He is the resurrection and the life.
In order for Jesus to be raised from the dead, he had to die. There can be no resurrection without there first being a death. In order for there to be eternal life, death had to be conquered. So our Lord comes to us as the Shepherd-King who humbles himself and allows himself to undergo the greatest suffering, by taking our sins on him as the Lamb and was killed for us on the great battlefield of sin. And he rose again to life. This is not a life and death story; rather it is an account of death and life.
Because of Jesus resurrection from the dead that we celebrate at Easter, Jesus brings us life in the midst of our dying from our sins. He speaks his words of life to us, words that bring forgiveness, hope and life. And he speaks to us the promise of our resurrection with him from the dead. The resurrection is coming: that is the goal, and it brings hope to a hopeless people, not just death but resurrection. Our God who we worship is a God of life. He comes to us, he breathes his Spirit on us and he brings new life to us, even in the midst of our sins he comes to bring this life.
When Lazarus died and was raised again by Jesus, this was a sign that was to point to the one who would die and be raised for all sinners. Jesus is the one who had the authority to lay down his life in death, but to also rise again to life. And he did this for you and me so that we might have eternal life through him.
Often when we think about our sins we can become discouraged and down hearted because that’s all we see, but I encourage you to see that even in the midst of your sins the one who is the resurrection and the life; the one who has the power to bring life out of death through his word; is the one who is speaking that life to you today in your life.