1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 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. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “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.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”Ezekiel 37:1-14
I got this alligator head as a souvenir on a trip to New Orleans. I like animals and I am amazed at the diversity of life that God created in this world. Alligators and their cousin the crocodile are amazing creatures, but you would not want to get too close to one of them. According to a study on the National Geographic website, saltwater crocodiles are able to close their mouths with 3,700 pounds per square inch (psi). In other words, they could bite through you like someone in quarantine biting into a Cheeto. On the other hand, you can hold a crocodile’s mouth shut with just your hands or for the less adventurous, just a rubber band. Alligators and crocodiles are considered to have the strongest bite in the animal kingdom, but they are weak when it comes to opening their mouths. Humans are weak when comparing our bite strength to that of a crocodile, but we can do something that a crocodile cannot.
God made human beings unique in their ability to speak. Now, it is true that God gave animals ways to communicate through sounds, smells, etc. but humans are much stronger in their ability to communicate than any of God’s animals. People are able to write novels, put together dictionaries and record history that is passed down over thousands of years. Our words have tremendous power when we use them to tell someone that we love them or that we hate them. There are animals in this world that are big enough to bite and eat a person’s whole body, but people have the unique power to hurt the soul. You and I have been given an amazing gift by God in our ability to communicate, and how we use it can take life or give it.
When our words rob others of hope in God, they take life away from someone. In our reading from Ezekiel 37, God gave the prophet Ezekiel a vision of a valley filled with bones. God took the Ezekiel back and forth among the dried-up bones of an entire nation of people. It was a hopeless sight for the prophet. Then God asked him, 3… “Son of man, can these bones live?” The obvious answer was, “No.” Ezekiel was standing in a valley filled with dried bones, nothing could bring them back to life unless the science behind Jurassic Park is actually possible. God made the vision to Ezekiel even more gut wrenching when he said, 11… “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ The valley filled with dried bones was Ezekiel’s people, God’s people. The same people God had grown into a nation of millions in Egypt and given the promised land of Israel flowing with milk and honey, were now a valley of dried bones. Ezekiel served as a prophet to Israel when they had been defeated by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. They had finally turned away from God enough times that he allowed them to be punished by being taken into exile in a foreign country. They failed to speak words of praise to God and failed to share who the true God was with their children, and now they were as good as a valley of dried bones.
Turning into a pile of dried bones does not happen overnight. You hope in the same God as Israel, which means if you turn away from him enough you will end up a hopeless pile of dried bones. The question you need to ask yourself then is, “What is stealing your hope in God?” Before you answer though, you need to understand what hope is. In Romans 8, Paul wrote, 24… “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” The hope we have in God waits for things we do not yet have. So, the more specific question to ask yourself is, “What am I holding on to right now that replaces something God is promising me in the future?” An example would be your health. Holding on to your health can rob you of hope in God because you can get so focused on maintaining a healthy body that you forget God is going to give you a new body in heaven that will never get sick, old, wear out or die. If you put in more time at the gym than time with God, you may lose hope. If you put more thought into the foods, supplements and portion sizes of what you eat than feeding your soul the Word of God directly from the source, from someone who preaches and teaches it faithfully and in large portions, you may lose hope. If you are on the other end of the spectrum that you do not care at all what you put into your body and treat your soul the same way that you don’t care who or what thoughts and ideas about God are coming in through your eyes and ears, then you may lose hope in the true God and begin to follow something fake. If you are so confident in your health that you do not take precautions to stop the spread of a disease that you get sick or get someone else sick, then someone may die before they hear about Jesus. Turning into a pile of dried bones does not happen overnight and losing hope in God does not happen overnight. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4, 16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” You must watch what you put your hope in because it affects your future. God gave Ezekiel the vision of the valley of dried bones to share with Israel and all who believe that the dead have no hope, but the living hope in the Lord.
God asked Ezekiel a question when he was standing in the middle of the valley of dried bones. God asked him, 3 … “Son of man, can these bones live?” And, Ezekiel did not respond with the seemingly obvious, “No, of course not.” Instead, he responded, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Ezekiel knew his own failings and the sins of his people standing in a place where it seemed that all hope was lost, then the Lord breathed hope into his people!
Your hope in God is put the test every day. God has not given you a vision of dried bones, but each day you can find pictures of hospitals overwhelmed, understaffed and unprotected while those affected by the coronavirus lie in hospital beds. Yes, heaven is ours through Jesus, but hope in the future gets clouded by the hazards in front of us. Jesus understands how the hazards you face hurt your hope in him. In John 11, Jesus visited one of his followers named Martha after her brother had died. She trusted that Jesus could have healed him from his sickness if he had come earlier, but Jesus assured her that he could do more than that. John 11:25 “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”” Then, Jesus made his way to the tomb of her brother Lazarus and had them remove the stone from the entrance. And, 43 … “Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”” Jesus raised Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead to show Martha that her hope in him for the future resurrection and life was a sure hope. Yes, there was a temporary side benefit that Martha got her brother back, but Lazarus would die again and so would Martha. This miracle revealed in a small way that Jesus does have the power to bring us back from the dead and give life. A short time after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he was nailed to the cross for your sins. Jesus gave his life to forgive you all your sins and he was raised to life on the third day to give you hope for eternal life in heaven.
The miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was not done to give you hope that Jesus will remove every hazard from your life, but to give you the hope to get through them. Even God’s message to Ezekiel was a promise that went beyond his time. In Ezekiel’s vision, God told him to 12 … “prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” God did allow some of the exiled Israelites to return to Israel from Babylon, but this prophecy was so much more. This was a prophecy of the resurrection for all who believe in the one true God and eternal life with him in heaven.
Through this vision, the Lord breathes hope into his people. Through this vision, God breathes hope into you. This is the answer to whatever is stealing your hope in God. This is the answer to being truly healthy. Now, I know that being healthy is tough right now with many grocery stores struggling to restock, and you might for a time have to settle with eating saltine crackers and spam. I know it is hard to workout at home, when you are not allowed go to the gym. I know how tempting it is to eat junk and be lazy in quarantine. I also know the temptation to think only of your physical body and not your soul, but God has breathed into you hope. Hope captured in these words from Romans 8, 18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” I know you have to deal with health hazards like the coronavirus and not getting proper nutrition for yourself and you kids. I know that you fear losing a family member. I know that being exiled from work, friends and regular life makes you feel anxious, depressed and alone with your dark thoughts.
I also know that when a saltwater crocodile’s mouth is closed it is weak, but when it is open, it is very powerful. When your Bible is closed, your hope grows weak, but when your Bible is open, the power of God is unleashed. When your mouth is closed as a believer it is weak, but when it is open, it is very powerful. Speak the Word of God when hope seems lost. Open your Bibles, open your Bible apps, search videos of your favorite hymns, listen to them and sing along, pray for someone out loud so they can hear your prayer for them. Pray out loud so that they will hear what you trust God can do. They will see that you trust God is the living God who listens and cares, who answers and works. The dead have no hope, the living hope in the Lord. You are alive, not a pile of dried bones. You are surrounded by hazards, but the Lord breathes hope into his people! You are one of his people, you have hope in Jesus, you have powerful words to share about Jesus’ resurrection and life, you have hope to get you through today and you will live with Jesus in heaven forever. Amen.