The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”’” So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them (Ezekiel 37:1-8).
Congregations do not get any deader than the one to which Ezekiel preached. These folks weren't simply apathetic; they were quite dead. They were so dead that they were even past rotten. They were dusty, dry bones. If you think that your church is a spiritual wasteland, imagine the view from Ezekiel's exalted pulpit.
As Ezekiel beheld the desolation that was the House of Israel, the Lord queried him saying, "Can these bones live, Son of Man?" Look at the beauty of Ezekiel's answer: he said, "Oh Lord God, you know." In case you didn't catch it, that's prophetic code for, "I have no idea. You tell me." Ezekiel did not know if these bones could live again, and he definitely didn't know if they would live again. So instead of speculating and pontificating on possibilities, he simply said, "I don't know, Lord, but you do."
Notice what happens next: The Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy to corpses. He did not bring them to life so that Ezekiel could speak to them. Note this carefully and let it sink into your spirit deeply until it changes how you view God's Word and God's work: God didn't bring the bones to life so they could hear Ezekiel preach; God had Ezekiel preach so He could bring the bones to life.
In what way did the bones cooperate with this grace? What service did they perform? I can see no service that they rendered, nor can I see any trait that they manifested that God should do this great thing. What I see is a faithful man of God, preaching the very words of God to a bunch of dead bones, and as he prophesied, the bones began to come to life. Look at what the text says:
As I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them (37:7).
Why should it surprise us that the Word of God should work so marvelously amongst the dead? Did God not speak to nothing in the beginning and form worlds? Are we not dust ourselves? Have we forgotten that the gospel is "the power of God"? (Rom. 1:16). Surely this confidence is nearly lost in the evangelical church. A brief survey of modern church tactics will readily demonstrate that targeting age groups, upbeat music, paying attention to demographics, good marketing, and clean nurseries are the means by which churches grow. These things will attract crowds, but they will not rattle dead bones, and they certainly will not build a church.
This past Sunday morning we had a good attendance for Father's Day, and at the end of the service I invited every man there to join me for breakfast at 6:30am at a local restaurant to talk about the sermon, the Bible, spiritual things, or whatever. Not one man showed. I had (and have) high hopes that such a thing might be a productive part of a men's ministry, and I know many of our men could benefit from such spiritual conversation.
I sat alone in a restaurant Monday morning and I read Ezekiel and I thought of my church. I thought of men who attended Sunday morning who need to be in the Word of God. I wondered if the time was bad, or if I needed to simply work harder at relationships so that they may feel comfortable eating breakfast with me. It was an impromptu invitation with little publicity, but that was on purpose. I was trolling for fish to see if I would get a bite. So far, no nibbles.
Can it be that someday I will eat breakfast with a score of men eager to discuss the Word of God? Could it be that someday our church will radiate confidence and joy in the gospel so our church will be a beacon to the lost world? Could it be, O Lord, that these dead bones will awake and find that they are strong in the Lord? It could be that this gospel will yet wake the dead; we won't know until we try. Where there is gospel, there is hope.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.