What Good Is Life?
Our God is an amazing teacher. For our God isn’t just content to speak about what he wants us to know. He goes even farther. He shows us. This morning in these words that the Lord speaks to Ezekiel we see how true this is. In the opening words of Ezekiel 37, we read: “1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” (Ezekiel 37:1–8 NIV)
So the Lord takes Ezekiel out into a vast and wide valley. And all throughout the valley there were bones. The Lord had him go throughout the valley from one side to the other. And Ezekiel concludes that not just are there many, many bones filling this valley, but they are very, very dry. There is no way these bones could come to life. They will just remain there and slowly turn to dust.
But then the Lord take an amazing action. He orders Ezekiel to speak God’s word to these dry, dead bones. So that’s what Ezekiel does. He prophecies to these dead bones. And the bones attach to each other. The tendons and sinews grow. And skin covers them from head to toe. And through this the Lord teaches Ezekiel (and us) a powerful lesson. It isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to have bones and bodies. You need more. You need breath and life. So that’s exactly what the Lord provides next: “8 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet — a vast army.” (Ezekiel 37:8–10 NIV)
Ezekiel prophecies and speaks to these bones. And through what he says, the Lord gives these lifeless bodies breath and life. Ezekiel then looks over this deep and wide valley and sees a vast army, a fighting force of God’s people.
Now, you would think that when these bones were given life, the first words out of their mouths would be words of thanks, adoration and praise. But that’s not what we hear at all. Instead we hear prayers and pleas to the Lord, that he would help them: “Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11 NIV)
Tendons and sinews wasn’t enough. Breath and life wasn’t enough. And these words here tell us why. What good is life if it’s followed by death? What good is life if eternal punishment is what follows life? This vast army of Israelites recognized the massive barrier in front of them. They saw their sin. Again and again in the Old Testament the Lord was faithful to them. But they were not faithful to him. And after he begged them to repent, generation after generation, he sent the Assyrians to crush them. And then when they didn’t repent, he sent the Babylonians to finish them off. And now, as Ezekiel speaks these words, the Israelites are no longer in Israel. Instead they exiled away from Israel. They see their spiritual adultery. And they also see its consequence. They do not deserve the promised land. They do not deserve to live with the Lord forever. They do not deserve for him to take them back, just as a wife who cheats on her husband does not deserve to have him take her back. And so they cry out and shout out to the Lord, “what good is life? What good is life if it is followed by death? What good is life if it is followed by hell?”
And that question that they ask is the same question we ask this morning. For we too have been adulterous. Our faithful Lord has done only good to us. He gives us food, shelter and clothing and then we forget about him. He gives us jobs and homes and we pretend that these came from us. He forgives our sins and we treat this as an excuse to go out and return to our sins like a faithless bride returning to her adultery.
This vast army of Israel, this fighting force of God’s people had a barrier between them and their Lord. And they admitted it. Do you? One of the great sins we can fall into is that we might recognize that we have made mistakes. But we then don’t recognize both that we have sinned and how damaging these sins are. They drive a wedge between us and our Lord. They divide us from God and from each other. Our sins deserve death. Our sins deserve hell. And so, what they ask, we do too: What good is life? What good is life if it’s followed by death? What good is life if it’s followed by hell?
The Lord answers their pleas and prayers in two ways. First, he says, “12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.” (Ezekiel 37:12–13 NIV)
The first answer is that he will raise them from the dead. These people had to go back to Israel for there in that dry and dusty land the Messiah had to be born and grow up. There in that land he had to take away the sins of the world. The only way they had any hope is if they as a people could go back to Israel and live there. So the Lord promises that he will raise them from the dead and bring them to Israel. And many died before they could travel back to Israel. And when Judgement Day comes, he will raise them from the dead and give them back their bodies. And so, if death follows their earthly lives, then after their earthly lives, the Lord gives them eternal life.
And the same promise is there for us too. Jesus rose from the dead. That is the great proof to our Father that the payment Jesus made to take away the punishment of our sins was enough. That is the great promise to us that when we die, we will rise.
And so they cry out, “what good is life?” And he tells them that he will raise them from the dead. But there is one final answer: “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”” (Ezekiel 37:14 NIV)
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Today is the day we look at and rejoice in the work the Holy Spirit does. And here in these words the Lord promises to place the Holy Spirit in them. And this Holy Spirit gives two amazing gifts to them: First, he brings forgiveness to them. Second, He gives them faith to trust the promise that he speaks to them. And he does the same today. On the Last Day he will raise our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. And because Jesus paid the price that our sins deserve there will not be hell waiting for us. Instead there will be heaven waiting for us.
Now let me ask you the simple question: Do you believe this? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit will raise our bodies after we die? Do you believe that he will give us heaven instead of hell? And my dear friends in Christ, isn’t it wonderful that we can be honest? Isn’t it wonderful that we can say both ‘yes’ and ‘no?’ You can ask me any day and every day if I believe that when I die I will rise from the dead and find my place in heaven. And any day and every day I can tell you, “no.” For every day there will be this sinful nature that tries so hard to rob me of my trust in confidence in Christ. But there also is a “yes” voice too, isn’t there? The Lord has placed his Spirit in me too. And that other voice is louder and stronger. This new nature in me says “yes” when my old nature says, “no.” And because this new voice and new nature is from the Holy Spirit and not from me, it will drown out the doubt that other voice speaks. And that voice inside of me is the same voice God has given to you.
What good is life? What good is life if you die? What good is life if a well-deserved hell awaits us? That is our prayer. And the Lord responds, reminding us that he will raise our bodies from the dead and give us his Spirit to believe it. Amen.