John 11:17-27; 38-45
“’God Gives Life to Dry Bones’? Isn’t that the Old Testament reading? Then why is Pastor Bodden preaching on the Gospel lesson for today? This guy is such a loose cannon.” Don’t worry. Hold on, because these readings, in fact all of our readings for today fit together so well. In fact, let’s start in our Old Testament lesson. Crazy, I know, but just trust me. In this section from Ezekiel We see that in maybe a dream or a vision God brings his prophet to a valley filled with dry bones. Maybe not the ideal vacation spot, but perfect for what God wants to show us. He asks Ezekiel, “Can these dry bones live?” Now of course the answer is no. There is no life in these bones. But Ezekiel answers, “Lord God, only you know.” That’s a much better answer. And so God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. “Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.” What good is that? What can God’s Word do to the dead, the unliving? The…wait. Wait just a minute. Are those bones really coming together? Are those tendons forming and attaching the bones? Is that really flesh appearing, and skin covering everything? But that doesn’t mean anything. Wait. Do you hear that? Is that really the breath of life in them? How can God give life to the dead? Now God gave this vision to Ezekiel not to talk about the physically dead, but the spiritually dead. During Ezekiel’s time, so many of God’s people had given up hope and had abandoned trust in him. God told Ezekiel “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11) We know people like that today. The world is filled with those who are walking and talking but do not have faith. Those who seem to be fully alive, but really they are facing eternal death. God says to us, “Can these dead bodies live? Can these unspiritual, unbelieving people live?” And then we look at all of the problems around us and we might be tempted to wonder “Why does God use times of hardship and difficulty. Times like we are in right now? Can anything good come from them?” The best response to all these questions is simple: “Lord God, only you know.”
Let’s jump into our Gospel lesson. Just some background: this is a very hard time for the family of Martha and Mary. Their brother Lazarus has fallen very sick so they quickly send word to Jesus who is just a short ways off. Jesus gets the message but he decides not to go see his good friend Lazarus. At least, not right away. In fact, he tells his disciples that Lazarus won’t die from this sickness. Finally, two days later he tells them that they are going to see Lazarus. But there is another twist. Jesus tells them that while they were waiting Lazarus has died. Just a couple of days ago, Jesus promised that his sickness wouldn’t end with his death. And usually Jesus is pretty on top of these things. What’s going on? “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15) The problem that the disciples see is that Lazarus, Martha, and Mary live in Bethany which is really close to Jerusalem. Just a short time ago Jesus was almost killed at Jerusalem for saying that he is the Son fo God. If word gets around there were some who might try and come and kill Jesus. “Jesus, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.” But Jesus was set on going so the disciples bravely say, “Let’s go die with him.” I’m sure that promise is going to eat at them later.
Martha heard that Jesus was coming so she meets him on the way and you can tell by her reaction that she is filled with grief. “Lord, you should have been here, then Lazarus wouldn’t have died!” It’s never a good idea to blame God. But it doesn’t mean that Martha didn’t have faith. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:22) Martha thinks that Jesus has arrived too late. She doesn’t realize that he showed up exactly at the right time. Mary is in the same boat: her reaction isn’t in our Gospel reading for today but she says basically the same thing to Jesus. And it’s not surprising. There are times that Christians struggle with God’s plans. We trust him. But we have questions for him. Maybe even especially at times like right now. We have fears we want God to put to rest. We have needs that we want fulfilled. We want to know “why” and “how long”. Instead of trusting in God’s goodness we demand him to react.
Martha and Mary deserve to have Jesus just walk away. Who are they to question God? How dare they demand answers. Terrible things happen in this world. God promises us that, and here they are complaining to the one who brings the promise of something far better. How dare we think that God isn’t doing exactly what we need him to. How dare we think that God should answer to us.
But that’s not how God reacts. Jesus brings peace and comfort. He tells Martha “Your brother will rise again.” Martha again shows her faith. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) Thank God, that even through struggles and worries God keeps faith in the hearts of believers. That even during our times of concern, he still keeps us firmly in his grasp. And then Jesus comes to us and gives us every reason to trust.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:25-27) What beautiful peace. To know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. That not even death can divide us from the eternal life God has won for us. To know that our sins, all of our sins, have been forgiven in Christ. That he has rescued us for Heaven. Do you believe this? Through the faith worked in our hearts we have the same answer as Martha. “Yes, Lord. We believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” That knowledge gives us peace even in troubled times.
What happens next is amazing. Jesus is led to the burial place of his good friend Lazarus. He tells the people to roll away the stone. They don’t want to at first: “Jesus, he’s been in the grave for 4 days. The body has been decaying. Opening up the grave would be…terrible.” But Jesus insists “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”(John 11:40) Can these dry bones live? Can they breath? “Lord, only you know.” After a beautiful prayer Jesus calls out “Lazarus, come out!” And don’t you know it: the one who was dead had risen from the grave. The dead bones had life and breath. An amazing miracle. But that still doesn’t answer the question: can these dry bones live?
We live in a valley of dry bones. All around us there are those who act like they are alive, but they aren’t. When their death comes they won’t get back up. Because they don’t have faith in God. I’m not talking like Lazarus. I’m talking eternal life. When their time of Grace, their time to know who God is, comes to an end, all they will know is eternal death. Unending pain and sorrow. Hell. Everywhere we look we see those who belong to the valley of dry bones. All because they don’t know who Jesus is or that he has suffered and died to take away their sins. You see them when you go to work, watch TV, talk to them over the fence between your yards. Maybe they are even in your family or among your best friends. Those bones are so dry and so dead and so lifeless. They have turned away from God for so long, denied him for so many years. God comes to us and asks: “Can these bones live?” Our first reaction might be “Of course not! They don’t love you. They don’t know you! They have rejected your promises. No, they can’t live.” But let’s take a lesson from Ezekiel. Let’s realize that the God who cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the grave knows exactly what’s possible. Let’s be like Ezekiel: “Lord God, only you know.”
After all, look at us. We were once dried and lifeless bones too. Until God worked faith in our hearts, we had one destination and it certainly wasn’t heaven. But God came to us. He spoke to us through his powerful Word. He breathed faith into us, a faith that trusts his promises and shows us who our Savior is. He took us and made us alive. Not just physically alive, but with the sure and certain hope that even when the Lord closes our eyes on this side of Heaven, that we will have eternal life with him. Just as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we read from earlier: “And 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 because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11) We have been made alive. He has released us from the grave. We live forever with our God. So even in times of fear. Even in times of threat and concern for what’s going to happen to this world we trust our God. Let’s not question God. Let’s not demand answers. Instead, because we are dried bones who God has brought to life, let’s put our trust in God who knows every answer.
Look at the world. Can those dry bones live? “Lord God, only you know.” That is true. And just as God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones in the valley, he tells us to do the same. He has given us his Word through which he works and tells us to share it with all of the people around us who need to hear the message of God’s love and forgiveness. And remember that God alone gives life to dry bones. Let’s see God work life and breath in the dry bones all around us. “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Amen. (John 11:25-26)
The peace of God , which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.