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Sunday, December 08, 2013
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A Message from the Bone-yard
A sermon by J. Marcus Merritt.
The Bible says in Hebrews 1 that God spoke in the Old Testament through a variety of means. For example, God spoke through men, through a donkey, and through a burning bush. But in Ezekiel 37, God sent a message through a pile of bones. Imagine a skeleton preaching a sermon to you! This morning, I want us to hear, A Message from the Bone-yard, as I believe that, we too, can benefit from its powerful message.
During Israel’s seventy years of Babylonian captivity, many of the Jews felt as though God had forever cast away His people. They had lost all hope of any future salvation. But God was still on speaking terms with His chosen people. In fact, while Ezekiel was preaching to the Jews in exile, Jeremiah was back in the homeland “proclaiming a similar message of warning and judgment to those remaining in Jerusalem and Judah.” God’s message to His people included the hope of future national restoration.
While this was accomplished on a smaller scale at the end of the seventy years, God’s bigger plan for the Jews is yet unfulfilled. The ultimate Message of the Bone-yard “declares the blessings of future restoration and the messianic kingdom.” Wiersbe concurs, writing, “These promises go beyond the ending of the Babylonian Captivity and anticipate the end times.”
Therefore, we must declare this prophecy to be partially fulfilled by the re-gathering of Israel in Ezra’s day, and the ultimate fulfillment to be somewhere in the future. However, the Message of the Bone-yard need not be lost on the church. There are truths and principles herein which would do the church well to learn. Let us first note:
I. We need to experience the misery of the Bone-yard – vs. 1-2.
God made Ezekiel to walk around the vast bone-yard just so he could experience the scope of the tragedy. The first thing that struck Ezekiel was the ominous mood of the place. There were no signs of life; no children playing, no bustling streets, only absolute, dead, silence. It was a miserable place to be. No one wants to stay in a place of misery and death. As Christians, we need to remember how miserable it was to be lost – totally cut off from God’s fellowship.
We have all seen the images of the NAZI death camps where millions of Jews were brutally murdered. The decision was made by the Allies to leave many of the buildings standing so that we would never forget the horror of the Third Reich. As Christians, we need to be reminded of the walking dead all around us who are but a heartbeat away from the second death. Look around at the bones strewn about your neighborhood.
This was a miserable place because of its:
A. Lifelessness – 1b
The bones had no life. They had no identity, or ability. Dead bones cannot love or even receive love. They are simply wasting away exposed to the harsh elements of the world. Is that the state of the lost? I believe that is exactly right. Unbelievers are dead. They have no identity within the family of Christ. They possess no ability to please the Lord or properly love Him. They are simply wasting away in the harsh elements of life. They are lifeless.
Not only was it a place of lifelessness, but it was also a place of:
B. Shamefulness – v.2
“It was a shameful and humiliating thing for the body of a dead Jew not to be washed, wrapped, and buried with dignity in a grave or tomb.”
For the bones were:
1. “in the open”
This imaginary army was slaughtered in battle and decomposed right where they fell. How degrading it would be to be totally defeated by a superior force, and then to be denied a dignified interment.
They were also:
2. “very dry”
This is an indication of the length of time that the bones have been exposed to the elements. First, the birds, then the scavengers, and finally the worms did their job. Only after many days exposed to the searing heat of the sun were the bones were totally dried; inside and out.
No one wants to stand before God in shame and humiliation, but how can we avoid that scenario? The Word teaches us:
… abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 1 John: 2:28b
But, for those who remain dead in sin, standing before God will be a horrific and humiliating experience. How terrible it would be to remain lifeless and lost.
The misery of the bone-yard is seen in its:
In ancient times, to be deprived of a proper burial was the ultimate degradation. “It was a destiny fit only for the truly cursed.” Wright went on to explain, “These bones, then, are not just evidence of death, but of death under curse.”
In the modern age we no longer think of sin as a curse. We tend to think in terms of “mistakes,” or “poor choices,” or even “flaws,” but God calls sin a curse.
Think about what His Word teaches us:
…for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” . . . But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Gal. 3:10-13 NLT
The Word also teaches us that one day the curse of sin will be lifted.
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: - Rev. 22:3
My dear friend, are you ready to leave the misery of the bone-yard? Won’t you, by faith, enter into the blessedness of God’s family? He is waiting to remove your lifelessness, your shamefulness, and your cursedness.
II. We need to acknowledge the mystery of the bone-yard – v.3.
“Son of man, can these bones live?”
The question of the ages: Can there be a resurrection from death and decay? When one considers the condition of these skeletal remains, the question of verse three seems ridiculous. Ezekiel is so mystified by God’s question that he cannot even answer. Perhaps he went back in his own mind to Job’s question. If a man dies, shall he live again? - Job 14:14a. Whatever Ezekiel thought, he was certainly stumped by this mystery.
Therefore we conclude:
A. This mystery cannot be understood with human reasoning – V. 3b.
“O Lord God, thou knowest.” Or as the Holman translation puts it, “Lord God only You know.”
I would never have envisioned these bones coming to life. My mind simply would not have conceived the notion. Likewise, when I first met that scoundrel, Saul of Tarsus, in Acts 7:58; he was participating in the murder of our hero, Stephen. I would never have thought that he would later become the venerable, Apostle Paul. Saul was one pile of bones that I never would have envisioned coming to life! But God knew it.
Can that heathen who works beside you come to life in Christ? Can your son who is presently dealing drugs become a powerful evangelist or pastor? Keep on praying, Mama, because God can see things that you can’t yet see! God understands things that you don’t yet know!
B. This mystery cannot be solved with human ability – v. 5.
“…I will cause…”
Something as radical as bringing life to a pile of dry bones cannot be accomplished by mere mortal ability. This requires the power of the Almighty!
The Spirit said in Eph. 2:1: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The emphasis now being on the One who is doing the “quickening.” It is only God that can bring a dead man to life. Only God can assemble a pile of bones into a mighty army. My friend, stop trying to be your own Savior and let Christ do the saving! He is only asking for your repentance and faith.
God’s mysterious question leads us to the third principle found here:
III. We need to celebrate the miracle of the Bone-yard – v.4-10.
The miracle was initiated by God through human preaching! God commanded Ezekiel to preach to this pile of bones. Ezekiel said in vs. 7a, “So I prophesied as I was commanded.” He might have thought that it was a waste of time, but nevertheless, he began preaching to the bone-yard! (Kinda like the average Baptist Pastor on Sunday morning!) Nevertheless, God’s miracle was predicated upon human preaching. One might argue that such remains the case. Just consider:
A. The claim of our Preaching –
God has chosen preaching to be the vehicle of His salvation. Through the preached Word, lives are changed, nations are healed, and dead bones are resurrected.
“No magic. No secret incantations. No conjuring tricks with bones. Just the living power of the word of the living God invading the valley of the shadow of death.”
But never lose sight of:
B. The center of our Preaching –
When someone asked the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee why he preached so often from the Old Testament, he replied, “Because on every page of the Old Testament is a portrait of Jesus Christ.” All preaching, whether Old or New Testament in origin, should, at some point, take us to Calvary. Without Christ, our preaching would be vain.
Today, many pulpiteers have abandoned “preaching Christ” for a social gospel, or a “feel-good” sermon. This type of preaching might fill up stadiums, but it won’t bring life into the lifeless. Only Christ can do that.
C. The climax of our Preaching – v.7-10.
Ezekiel’s preaching started “shaking” (see v. 7 also translated “rattling”) things up! Real preaching has a way of doing that! It gets me in trouble sometimes! Through Ezekiel’s preaching, soon there was the coming together of an army. The bones developed the “look” of an “exceeding great army.”
1. The structure of a mighty army – v.7.
This group has the look and form of a mighty army, but they are yet lifeless. Many churches are filled with men and women who, outwardly, look like a soldier in the Lord’s army, but inwardly they are lifeless – void of the Holy Spirit. A dead army can defeat no one! (No wonder the church is as powerless as she is!) The preached Word needs to go beyond our head and lodge into our heart!
A real army must have more than just form, it must have:
2. The spirit of a mighty army – v.10.
Notice that after the bodies formed, it was not until the breath (a picture of the Holy Spirit) entered them that they came to life. This happens when an old dead sinner sits under the power of the preached Word, falls under conviction, turns from his sin and receives Christ. The Holy Ghost breathes life into him. Spurgeon said, “Decayed churches can most certainly be revived by the preaching of the Word, accompanied by the coming of the heavenly breath from the four winds.”
Finally, I want to re-emphasize:
IV. We need to understand the message of the Bone-yard – vs. 11-14.
For, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” – Rom. 8:11
 Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 6, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 743.
 Ibid., 744.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament Prophets, (Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 2002), 227.
 Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 230.
 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Message of Ezekiel TBST series, J.A. Motyer, OT Ed. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 304.
 Wright, The Message of Ezekiel, 306.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 10, 426.