March 19, 2008

Dry Bones and Living Souls

The following was originally presented as a sermon at the Eufaula Adventist Church in Alabama. We’ve left intact many elements of oral delivery.—Editors. 

2008 1508 page24 capILL MY FATHER (OR MOTHER) ever be reconverted? Will my son (or daughter) ever come back to Christ? Will my neighbor ever accept Jesus as Savior? Will my family ever become Christians? Will the person with whom I’m studying the Bible ever commit their life to Christ?

Such questions have filled the minds of Christians in every generation, from the time of Christ until our day. What answers does the Bible give?

Travel with me in time back to the approximate date of 570 B.C. Ezekiel had received his prophetic call near the age of 25, in 597 B.C. His ministry took place in the country of Babylon, his congregation consisting of Hebrews in exile.1

After nearly 40 years of captivity in a heathen nation, many of Ezekiel’s “congregants” had despaired of ever returning to the Promised Land of Israel. Apparently forsaken by God, many of them who once had hope now gave place to doubt and fear. How did God look upon His people?

Valley of Bones
In Ezekiel 37:1, the prophet says: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.”*

Bones—the absence of life and the symbol of death. Bones—the reminders of what were once living beings. Bones—the silent clarion call that the wages of sin is death. A valley full of bones.

2008 1508 page24As we look upon the vast multitude of humanity, we behold what looks like a valley of bones. We see those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). As we contemplate our own families perhaps, we think of those who follow the pleasures of sin, rather than the Savior from sin. As we ponder our loved ones outside of Christ, we realize that we are beholding those who go forth as dead men walking—alive, but spiritually dead; awake, yet in carnal slumber.

Joel 3:14 speaks about “multitudes . . . in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” As we behold this “valley of dry bones,” God tells us that they are in “the valley of decision.” Among our loved ones, some are deciding whether to respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirit and walk in the way of life. Some are contemplating the peace they once had with God and the joy of sins forgiven. Some are longing for that heavenly home that they have learned about. Some are yearning to come home again. “Multitudes in the valley of decision,” says the Lord. God sees hope where we see despair. God sees life where we see death. God sees living beings where we see only bones.

In Ezekiel 37:2 we read: “And [God] caused me to pass by them round about.” Each day of our lives, as we mix and mingle in the sea of humanity, we are like the ancient prophet—in the valley of bones. As God “caused [Ezekiel] to pass by [the bones] round about,” God also leads in our lives to bring us into contact with those who are in “the valley of decision.”

And as we follow God’s leading, we will come into contact with those who desire to be free from the bondage of sin. We’ll meet those who were former Seventh-day Adventists, those who long to be right with God again, but don’t know the first step in the pathway of salvation.

Is God leading you through the valley today?

Hope for Such Sinners
In Ezekiel 37:2 we read that “there were very many [bones] in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.” Bones of the dead lying in the heat of the desert sun soon become as hard as stone. Sinners who continue in sin soon come to possess hardened hearts. Continual practice of sin closes the heart to the presence of Jesus, and persistence in willful rebellion to God blinds the eyes to the beauty of Christ.

So Ezekiel hears the question: “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Eze. 37:3). God asks us, Can your loved one, dead in sins and pursuing the things of the world—can that loved one live again? Can the person with whom you’re studying the Bible—who seems so indifferent to Christ’s love—can that person live again? Can that church member—the one who goes to work one Sabbath each month; the one who has no devotional life; the one who goes to parties on the weekend and drinks alcohol “to be social”; the one who is carrying a child out of wedlock—can any of these live again?

In our shortsighted humanity, our initial response may be, “I don’t think so.” We may become so discouraged as to give up hope for our lost loved ones. We may feel that our efforts are of no avail. We may weep for the callous indifference we receive when we plead with souls to come to the Savior.

 However, Ezekiel’s response gives us much to contemplate: “And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest” (Eze. 37:3). God knows the heart of each one. God knows the end of the life story of all. God knows where to put the period in the sentence of life. God knows how to put bones back together again.

Too often, we spend time in board meetings deliberating whether or not those in our communities will respond to the invitation of life. Too often, we allow precious moments to pass trying to decide if we should witness for Jesus to someone on the subway, until the golden moment is gone. Too often, we contemplate the challenges and obstacles to evangelism, while dry bones lie strewn across the desert floor in the valley of sin.

 “O Lord God, thou knowest.” The wise man Solomon tells us, “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (Eccl. 11:5, 6).

When we’ve learned the divine science of soul winning, this will be our prayer: “O Lord God, thou knowest” what words I should speak to the sinner on the downward path of destruction; what Bible text I should use to reach this man’s heart; how much time I should spend praying for my lost father or mother; how important it is for me to live according to my profession so as to influence a sinner in the way of life. Thou knowest how to save a soul; I don’t! Thou knowest how to make “dry bones” live again!

Is God Still in the Miracle Business?
To Ezekiel it would take a miracle for those dry bones to live again. According to all known laws of biology, it’s impossible—unless one looks to the Lifegiver for a divine miracle. And it takes exactly that—for a person lost in sin to be converted.

In Ezekiel 37:4-6, we read: “Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”

The vast multitude of humanity seeks primarily after one thing—life. How can I earn more money so that I can live a better life? How can I get a better education so that I can get a better paying job and enjoy life more? How can I improve my marriage so that I can have a happier home life? And a message of life is what God bade Ezekiel to proclaim unto those “dry bones,” the same message He bids us proclaim today as we “pass by round about” all the “dry bones” in the “valley of decision.” A message of life—not death; holiness—not sin; truth—not lies; love—not lust; honesty—not self-seeking; Christ—not Satan.

Death Giving Way to Life
How did the prophet respond to God’s bidding? We read in Ezekiel 37:7, 8: “So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.”

2008 1508 page24The first thing we note in these verses is that when God bids us proclaim His message of life, it is not a request; it’s a command. Ezekiel tells us: “So I prophesied as I was commanded.” To leave sinners on the path to destruction is not an option for the sincere Christian. “Every true disciple is born into the kingdom of God as a missionary.”2

Second, we learn that there is a certain amount of awe—or shall we say “divine astonishment”—in our soul-winning efforts. Ezekiel says: Behold a shaking, and the bones came together. Click! Clack! Pop! Bone attaches to bone and ball joints go into their sockets! Ligaments and sinews appear where there were none! Flesh begins to “grow” over the whole organic structure. What a divine miracle! That which was only bones now has flesh and sinew. That which was dead has a new life.

We share in Ezekiel’s astonishment when we see individuals whom we’ve given up as lost begin to respond to God’s invitation of life. We share in his astonishment when we see individuals addicted to drugs, alcohol, and sex leave those things behind to follow the way of life. We share in Ezekiel’s astonishment when we see persons committed to a life of Sundaykeeping embrace the Sabbath truth. We witness the divine miracle of life before our eyes! What awe and reverence for God should fill our hearts!

Third, we learn a vital truth of all soul-winning efforts, namely, that sinners remain sinners until they receive the “breath of life,” the indwelling Holy Spirit. Ezekiel states in chapter 37:8: “And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.”

Individuals may adopt some points of truth into their lives for a variety of reasons—including perfectly selfish ones. But only a life fully committed to Christ, under the fullness of the indwel-ling Holy Spirit, matters in the end.

Thus we read in Ezekiel 37:9: “Then he said unto me, Prophesy unto the wind [Hebrew, “breath”], . . . Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

 The converting power of the Holy Spirit—how we need it in our individual lives! The converting power of the Holy Spirit—how we need it in all our soul-winning efforts! Giving information in Bible studies is not enough. Disseminating truth in public evangelistic efforts is not enough. Or simply learning techniques of persuasion. No, it’s the converting power of the Holy Spirit that is essential. We need to pray, “O breath, breathe upon these slain [in the battle with sin], that they may live!”

Ezekiel 37:10 says: “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”

 Earnest prayer must attend our efforts to save souls, or else all will be in vain. When we take time to petition the throne of grace, then we will see a new life in our own souls, sinners pass “from death to life,” churches revived, and “dry bones” live again.
*All Scriptures quoted in this article are from the King James Version.

1“Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, sec. 2: Authorship,” Study Bible (Pacific Rim Press, 1997), p. 871.
2E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 195.

At the time he wrote this article, Edwin Cook worked as a minister for the Gulf States Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and lived in Anniston, Alabama.