Greetings! Welcome to Lechem Panim. Our passage today comes from the book of Ezekiel chapter 37. We will look at verses 1-14 during our time together this week and next week. In it Ezekiel writes…
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (ESV)— 1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley;[a] it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath[b] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling,[c] and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had 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 the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
Jesus in the Sunset Picture— Some time ago I found what I think is perhaps my favorite picture of Jesus. And when I first saw this picture, I thought “My goodness, what a beautiful picture.” In it Jesus is peacefully sitting on a hillside looking out towards the sunset. I mean just a beautiful picture. But then I noticed two things. The first is where Jesus is looking specifically. He is not looking at the sunset but at the city of Jerusalem off in the distance. And I thought, “What a beautiful picture of our Lord looking on His city; His temple.” But then I noticed something else. And that is what stands between Jesus and Jerusalem. A withered tree. Now at first glance you might not make much of the tree, but then you look at every other tree in the picture. They are luscious and green and full. But this tree is dead; there is no fruit on it. And the most chilling part of the picture is when you realize Jesus is looking at Jerusalem over that dead tree. Now I don’t know what all the artist was trying to communicate here; but to me it gave me a very vivid picture of the struggle God had had with His people for hundreds of years. They bore no fruit. While they were meant to be that city on a hill; that light to the nations, they instead chose to walk in darkness; in barrenness; in lifelessness; in fruitlessness. They had the appearance, but not the fruit. And therefore they consistently, all throughout their history, fell under the judgment of God, who patiently endured with them, but (because of His holiness) had to send them into captivity in order that they might be brought to repentance and turn back to God; and to the fulfillment of their purpose to be that light and that fruitful tree God called them to be.
But in the opening of the New Testament we see God the Son, coming to His people in the flesh of Jesus Christ; and He finds that same barrenness. And this ought to cause us to ask ourselves what condition God will find us in when we see Him for that first time face to face. Will we be luscious and green, having born fruit for His kingdom? Or will we be like this tree? And the ultimate question we need to ask ourselves is, how can we be made truly alive? How can we have lives that are truly fruitful? And that is what I want to talk with you about today; how we are made alive and can live a life that is fruitful.
Background of Ezekiel-- For those of you who have studied the book of Ezekiel, you will know that it is a book of oracles. Ezekiel was man who, along with several thousand of Judah’s other leading citizens, was carried away into exile. He was about 25 at the time and watched as his people were forced from their homes and driven into exile; exiled because they had broken faith with God and spurned His glory before the people in view of the surrounding nations. And therefore Ezekiel’s message centers around restoring that glory. And, being a member of a priestly family, he is very concerned with recognizing the holiness of God. Therefore sin is taken seriously and judgment must take place; but with that judgment comes also the promise of restoration; a new Israel, which is spoken about clearly in chapter 36, but profoundly imaged in our passage this morning. Go ahead and look with me at verse 1 of chapter 37. Ezekiel writes…
1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
My Wife and Graveyard Drive-bys-- I remember when my wife first came to the states, she was met by many different cultural shocks that surprised her. The first of these was unlimited refills of her drink at McDonald's. It absolutely blew her away that she could go back as many times as she wanted. But another thing that she shared with me that stood out to her as a significant difference between our culture and hers is how we view cemeteries. And what shocked her the most was seeing how many people will drive through a cemetery in their car. This was so strange to her. And she would tell me, "We just don't do that in Ukraine. It's just strange." But for us it is nothing to drive through a cemetery. But in many places in the world it is either disrespectful, creepy, or both. In Jewish culture you would never be so casual about it for the primary reason that they saw these places as unclean places.
A Place of Uncleanness-- So this valley of dry bones was more than just a place of death. Contact with dead things was avoided by the Jews because it made them ceremonially unclean. So we have a place of death; but also a place that, for Ezekiel as member of a priestly family, would have been the height of uncleanness. This should really help the next phrase sink in...
2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
The Bones of Israel-- Now for Ezekiel and the rest of the exiles, that question is very intimate and personal, because he recognizes that those bones represent them in their current situation and condition. They, in captivity, are just like those bones. And you can hear that agony and that sense of hopelessness in Ezekiel’s voice, as he says.
And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
God’s Breathes the Life-- Now Ezekiel, in obedience to the command of God, begins to prophesy to these dry bones. And you have to catch the hopelessness of the situation, because how can Ezekiel ever hope to bring life to these bones. And this is comforting because I have often wondered at times, "God, how am I going to say anything meaningful to your people?" But He is always faithful to remind me that I won't. But if I am faithful to preach obediently, He will. It is not the word of Ezekiel that causes these corpses to rise. It is the Word of God. Neither is it the breath of Ezekiel that brings them to life. It is the breath of God.
God Has The Power, Not Us-- The breath of life is what brings the fruit in any ministry, even in your witnessing to that lost friend or family member. You may speak, but you have not one bit of power to bring someone from life to death. And if you don't approach them with that basic humble understanding, you may do more harm than good. Because it is not your responsibility to save them. All you are called to do is to speak with a humble trust, believing that if you speak the truth in love (and in the right spirit), God will be the one to move in their hearts and bring them from death to life. Life can only come from the breath of God.
5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath[b] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
Human Constitution Paper— Now I want to focus here for a minute on this word breath. It is a very interesting concept in scripture. In seminary I remember I had to write a paper for one of my theology classes. And I remember choosing a topic that I thought would be fairly simple, and that was the human constitution debate; what we as humans consist of; how and what we are made up of. However, I quickly came to find out that the views on this subject are many. Some say you have a soul and body; others say you have a soul, a spirit, and a body; but then you also have questions of how the heart and mind come into play. And though scripture doesn’t lay it all out for us as fully as we would like, we are given at least the most important foundation to the answer to this question in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis.
Genesis 2:5-7 (ESV)-- 5 When no bush of the field[a] was yet in the land[b] and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist[c] was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
It is interesting to me how reflective this phrase Ezekiel uses: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. is of these opening chapters in Genesis. In fact, we see at the end of chapter 36 that God's promise is to restore Israel, and make them like the garden of Eden. And what God is doing here is He’s pointing back to the original moment of creation and saying to them, "I'm going to remake you." How? Just as I made you the first time; I am going to put my breath in you and you will live.
And what God is saying to you and me today is that He wants to do the same thing in our lives. He wants to put the breath of His presence in US so that WE might live. And that breath is His very Spirit; His very presence. Have you received that presence? If not, I want to encourage you to open your heart to Him today. Because in you God wants to make all things new. Let Him do it. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.