Sunday, April 21, 2024
Sunday, April 21, 2024
HomeAll The NewsPreach the Powerful Word (Ezek. 37:1-14)

Preach the Powerful Word (Ezek. 37:1-14)

A few years ago, my college roommate, Shelby and his wife Janet, Kim and I visited Gettysburg, Penn. — the site of one of the great battlefields of the Civil War. There is a lot of ground to cover, and so Janet came up with the bright idea to rent and ride Segways. We wore helmets and earphones that gave us historical information as we rode through the old battlefield.

While we were having fun, riding, joking and learning a little history, we came to an elevated place, the top of a hill. We were told to stop and to look over the field, and that is when we heard in our earphones, “This is the place where more than 50,000 soldiers were wounded and too many died.”

Our countenance changed as we tried to imagine something so horrible — men who were daddies, sons, brothers, uncles and cousins, lying in that very field. Janet said, she had “no words.” Kim said, she felt “overwhelmed,” and I had no clue as to what Shelby was thinking, but I wanted to leave. I wanted to keep moving. I did not like the powerful emotions behind the feeling of “no words and overwhelmed.” That made me very uncomfortable.

I invite you to Ezekiel 37, where God gives Ezekiel a vision that is worse than a Civil War battlefield. The vision before Ezekiel was not filled with nice headstones or crosses, but a sea of scattered, dried and disconnected bones, scorched by the sun. Ezekiel must have shuddered at this gruesome scene. According to God’s Word, bodies that were left unburied were a sign that they had fallen under God’s curse. These people were not only dead and humiliated but, according to Jeremiah 34, they were cursed.

This horrible, pitiful, scene is a vision and picture of the most hopeless situation a person, family or nation could ever encounter. This is a vision of the most irreversible, irredeemable, unrecoverable and beyond hope situation ever imagined. If that were not strange enough, in this vision, Ezekiel sees himself walking among the bones. But wait, it gets even more strange, God asked him the most farfetched question that could ever have been asked? “Can these bones live again?” But wait again, God makes the vision even stranger. When Ezekiel is commanded by God to preach to these bones. God said to His preacher, in the most hopeless situation ever envisioned, “Preach the Word!”

• God wants the man of God to see the true state of humankind. Why would God give Ezekiel such a gruesome, bone-chilling vision? Ezekiel grew up in a priestly home, where, he had been preparing his whole life to someday serve in the temple at Jerusalem. What a great honor, but it would never come to fruition. Because of Judah’s continued idolatry and disobedience, Jeremiah’s prophecy that the people of Judah would go into exile became a reality. God moved King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to send an army to Jerusalem to capture the city, remove Israel’s king and set up his own leader. He then brought about 11,000 Jews from royal and priestly families to Babylon, including young men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

While this was bad, there was still a small glimmer of hope that the remaining Jews would repent and turn back to God; but no, they continued and even brought false idols into God’s holy temple. Can you imagine having a worship service in your church building where a false god is worshiped along with Jesus Christ? This was appalling, so God moved King Nebuchadnezzar, to send a second siege to bring more judgment and take more Jews to Babylon, and a young priest, 25 years of age, named Ezekiel, is in this group.

In chapters 1-24, Ezekiel pled with God’s people in Babylon to put away their false gods and worship God alone. Even during judgment, they still refused to repent. King Nebuchadnezzar sent his army a third time to totally ransack Jerusalem. He destroyed the temple, burned the city, even plowed up the foundations, took a final group to Babylon and killed or scattered the remaining Jews. Jerusalem was a desolate, dead place in which all hope was gone. Ezekiel would never return and never serve in the temple.

Now understand what is going on here — Israel has been removed from the Promised Land, and they are in the process of being assimilated into Babylon. This meant Israel was about to be no more — extinct, cease to exist.

In chapters 25-32, Ezekiel warned other nations that because of their sin, they were also going to be destroyed and assimilated into Babylonian life. Today, many of those nations no longer exist. This could have been the extinction of Israel. Like the dinosaurs, only bones and skeletons were left to give any indication they ever existed.

It was in this setting, that God gave Ezekiel the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. But why? Why would God give the priestly prophet such a disturbing, hopeless vision? Weren’t things bad enough without God adding more misery? Vance Havner once said, “The tragedy of today is that the situation is desperate, but the saints are not.”

Has anybody been to a gas station lately? We are living in a time when hope is at an all-time low. For over two years, world leaders and media outlets have been promoting fear as I have never seen in my lifetime. We have Washington D.C., the CDC, Wall Street, the World Health Organization, the UN and the world’s leading scientist, Dr. Fauci, telling us why we should be afraid.

We have seen riots, looting, crime, cities on fire, murder and inflation that has not been this high in over 40 years. People are wondering, “Are we on the brink of World War III?” And they keep telling us that it is only going to get worse.

At the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in June of 2020, important business and political leaders from around the world came up with a plan to rebuild the world after the COVID-19 pandemic. They call it the Great Reset and it is already being set in motion. They are telling us the Great Reset, this new world order, is our hope. But I say to you, the greatest pandemic of all pandemics is not COVID-19. The greatest pandemic known to humanity is sin!

Have you noticed all these podcasts and conferences on how to pastor post-COVID? How to get your people to come back? How to do church post COVID? It seems like I get another email every week on this popular subject. I will be honest, I have listened to a few of them, hoping for insight and help; because, let’s be honest, pastoring today is hard and it’s getting harder. Not one of the ones I have listened to has disturbed, challenged or commanded me to do what God told Ezekiel. But I declare to you tonight that this is the answer for post-COVID pastoring and preaching in 2022.

Years ago, some young men came to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and one of them asked him how could they best prepare for ministry. He replied, “If I had my choice, I wouldn’t send you to school, I’d send you to Hell for five minutes, and you’d come back real soul winners.”

That is not a bad idea, but it is not possible, and neither is it completely adequate. But the Lord has a vision that is both possible and completely adequate for God’s man and His people. In verses 1-10, we have the vision, and in verses 11-14 we have the interpretation of the vision. God said these dry bones are the whole house of Israel. While Israel said their bones were dried, hope was gone and they were cut off, God revealed to the prophet that He was going to restore Israel to her land physically someday and He was also going to make them spiritually alive someday. This was written to Israel, not the church or America.

While this vision is about Israel’s restoration, there are great truths taught in both the Old and New Testament that this vision powerfully illustrates for us today in these hopeless, desperate times in which we are living.

• God wants the man of God to know Him and to make Him known. Three times in this passage, God declared, “then you shall know I am the Lord.” The fact that Israel still exists today should reveal to us that God is the one true God and Lord of all. There is nothing He cannot do, including restoring and returning a dead nation. When you think of all the people, leaders, nations and even a few religions that have vowed and tried to get rid of Israel, you just must know that God is what keeps them coming back.

Out of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, the book of Ezra reminds us how God returns and restores His remnant. Rome defeated and destroyed the temple in 70 AD. After about 2,000 years, and what seemed like out of nowhere, in 1948 Israel is recognized as a nation again. Hitler and all the religions have not stopped God’s plan. Only God could make this happen.

It should cause us to stop and ask, “Who is this God who preserves a rebellious people for His name’s sake on a promise He made to Abraham thousands of years ago?” This is the God who never lies and keeps His Word and covenant. God loves to make Himself known to His people. When God sent Moses to Israel to deliver them from Egypt, it was His purpose that they might know Him.

“I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exod. 6:7). As odd as it may seem, we often come to know God the closest and most intimately when we are faced with challenging times, difficult people and difficult leaders and governments.

“Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so” (Exod. 14:4). God is not worried about the World Economic Forum and their Great Reset. He is going to let the entire world know He is Lord. This is a time when pastors and Christians need to come close to God and know Him like never before.

In the New Testament, Paul declared: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10). Some of you may be thinking about now, “I do not want to know Jesus quite that well.” But the Scriptures shout to us, “Oh yes, yes you do.” It is through suffering that our relationship with God becomes less formal, less artificial, less distant and becomes more personal, real and intimate. You have heard the A.W. Tozer quote, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” Why would a Christian man write something like that? Because it is in our hurt and suffering that we really come to know our Lord.

Early in my ministry, I was deeply hurt to the point I wanted to quit, but something good came out of that experience. I came to know my Savior as I had never known Him before. That experience was a paradigm shift in how I would do ministry. Just last week, 40 years after that experience, I was talking with one of my staff members and explaining to him why I do ministry the way I do. Jesus sent me through that storm to know Him and change me.

One of my pastor friends told me, “COVID has killed my ministry.” I did not know what to tell him. As we ate, I prayed for God to give me something to encourage my brother in the Lord. The Lord reminded me of how through suffering we come to know Jesus more intimately in the power of His resurrection. So, I said to him, “Let it die, and know Jesus is the resurrection. Thank God for COVID-19, the master gardener has pruned the dead weight, now let Him regrow and rebuild, because that is His specialty.” Friends, there is no substitute for knowing the Lord.

• God wants you to preach to spiritually dead people. I laughed when I read where Dr. Vance Havner said that “occasionally he would preach in a church where the look on the faces of the people would curdle milk.” Preaching to dry dead bones seems absurd, but the picture God has painted for us here is important to remember. People are dead in sins and trespasses! Sometimes it would seem easier to preach to dead bones than deal with the craziness of real people.

These bones were not the worst crowd Ezekiel had ever preached to before — “And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children” (Ezek. 2:3-4). These dry dead bones are a dreadful picture of the human condition. I would like to remind you that a person without Christ — a person who lives their life separated from God — is in a hopeless state. Sure, they may look like they have everything going for them; but without Christ, they are not living, they are only existing. Paul told us in Eph. 2:1, “And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Sin has not caused people to be a little sick. They are spiritually dead.

Dry bones and real people have no spiritual ambition. They do not seek after God. Dry bones and real people have no spiritual awareness. They do not even know they need to be saved. God set Ezekiel down in a dreadful place — right there among the dead, dry bones. Stop looking for perfect people and the perfect place and preach to dry, dead bones.

• God wants the man of God to preach as commanded. The Lord qualified what Ezekiel is to preach. He did not get to just get up and speak whatever he wanted or take up some agenda or personal crusade. He was to preach the Word of the Lord as commanded. Twelve times in four diverse ways, the Lord qualified what Ezekiel was to preach. He was to preach, “Thus saith the Lord,” “preach what I have commanded you.” He was to “say to them” and “I have spoken.” It is noticeably clear that God did not want Ezekiel to stray from His Word.

I want to tell you one of the most disappointing things that came out of COVID-19 for me. All my life, I have had exceedingly high respect and regard for medical and science professionals like Dr. Fauci. When they would say, “this is the science, here is what you need to do,” I just believed them. I believed what they were saying was true and in my best interest. COVID-19 has changed that for me. I believe some in the medical world have been corrupted by politics and money. That makes me sad, because I want to trust them. Men, we need to make sure we are preaching “thus saith the Lord,” and not second opinion chapter two according to me. People trust us, but more importantly, God has entrusted us with His Word.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:3-5). Our world is gripped in strongholds that are being held there by lies. The only thing that is going to set them free is God’s Word. A few weeks ago, the president of the United States stood before our nation on national television and told a huge fable, which does not follow the Word of God or science. You can outwardly see the difference between a man and a woman. It is obvious to all; science bears it out physically. But not only that, scientists have known for years about the DNA of people. They know a proven truth, proven science that all the surgeries, hormone treatments and whatever will not change a person’s DNA. But because of their own desires, they turn away from the truth and accept this made-up fable. They want us to accept this fable and play along with it like it is true; and if we do not, we are the ones being called bad and evil.

Christian, you are going to have to make up your mind. Are you going to mislead people in order to be accepted and politically correct, or are you going to tell them the truth and be hated? A person cannot be saved until they first understand that they are a sinner and need a Savior. We need to make the gospel clear and plain. Jesus lived, died on the cross to pay for our sins, rose from the dead and whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. All His Word is true above man’s opinions.

• God wants the man of God to pray in the Spirit as commanded. God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy or we would say, pray unto the wind. Ten times in this passage, the Hebrew word “ruach” is used; it is translated spirit, breath or wind. But it is the same Hebrew word — “ruach.”

In Ezekiel’s vision, he preached the Word, the bones heard the Word of the Lord and there was this rattling as those bones began to come together. Then muscle and flesh appeared. They now had bodies, but they were not breathing.

God commanded Ezekiel to pray to the wind, spirit and breath so God’s breath would enter these bodies. What a picture God paints for us here! They are quickened — made alive — as Paul said in Eph. 2:5:“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved.” Preaching does not work without prayer. God never intended for us to preach without prayer. If preaching was just giving information about God or the Bible, it would not require much prayer. Sermons are not meant merely to give information, but to transform. Sermon content alone cannot do this. We need God to set our messages on fire with the Holy Spirit.

Pastors, I did not hear this in any podcast or conference on how to come back from COVID-19, but every pastor must learn that there is a secret, silent, sacred place every preacher must hide away and confess our utter helplessness without God. If you were to raise the lid on my pulpit in Waxahachie Texas, there is a scripture printed and taped inside the pulpit. When we moved into our new building eight years ago, the first thing I did was make sure this scripture was put in place to always remind me. The movers were there and said, why don’t you stand behind the pulpit and see how you look. I know they thought I was crazy, but I said, “No sir, not until this scripture is in place.” What scripture am I talking about?

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Someone said, “The hope of our preaching is for God to do what we cannot.” Brothers, we must fight for our prayer lives. I wish I could stand here and tell you I do this so well, but I do not. But I know this, our Father delights to speak through prayerful preaching.

There is an old hymn written by George Atkins that explains it well: “Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God; Will you pray with all your power, while we try to preach the Word? All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down; Brethren, pray and holy manna will be showered all around.”

Know this, there is no hope unless the wind, spirit and breath of God is blowing. But if you ask, seek and knock, it will be given, answered and opened.

Now, I have purposely saved Ezekiel’s response to God’s question for last.

• God wants the man of God fully convinced that God is our only hope. When God asked Ezekiel “can these bones live,” he replied, “O Lord God, you know.” Ezekiel did not presume upon God; neither did he doubt God’s ability. Instead, he put the ball back in God’s court.

In the gospels, Jesus had been healing and doing all kinds of miracles right before the disciples’ eyes. A multitude had gathered. Jesus had preached. They had been there a while and their stomachs were growling. The disciples come to Jesus and said, “send the people away” because they are getting hungry. But Jesus said, “you give them something to eat.” Jesus was testing them to see if they would look to Him to provide the meal, but they did not.

Will the Lord test us? I believe He does, and I believe He will test every single one of us, not just once, but repeatedly. How would you answer this question brought to Ezekiel in a hopeless situation, or to the disciples, or after a pandemic? Did you know there are more than enough promises in both the Old and New Testament that we can stand with great confidence and preach the powerful Word?

There is nothing in this Book that says God’s Spirit cannot or will not do a great work. It does not depend upon your age, your degrees or if COVID-19 is raging all around us. We cannot breathe love into marriages, health into bodies, obedience into children, passion into churches or morality into society any more than Ezekiel could breathe life into those dead bones. But he was convinced, with all his being, that God’s Word, with God’s Spirit, preached in obedience to God’s command, can raise the dead and do what God wants done.

The nation of Israel is not going away, God will make sure of it. That should give us great confidence in the Word of the Lord. Preach the Word because we serve a God Who can rebuild, restore and resurrect. This is no time to quit. This is the time to recommit and rededicate to preach the Word. God has chosen us to preach His Word in one of the most hopeless times in the history of the world. God has commanded us and, whether we believe it or not, preaching the powerful Word of the Lord is mankind’s only hope. Preach the Word!