Dry bones

Awake My Soul, John 12:1-18, 31 March 2013

Big Idea: God has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

Happy Resurrection Sunday! Many refer to it, appropriately, as Easter, though others find the pagan roots of the name disturbing. Whatever you call it, it’s a great day…and a great time of year. For many of you, today signifies the end of lent and you can go back to eating meat or watching TV or whatever you gave up for the season. Today signals that it’s time to be spring, whether it feels like it or not!

“Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.” - Martin Luther

You may not know it, but today is actually the unofficial first day of spring, also known as baseball’s Opening Day (though the Tigers don’t start until tomorrow). Of course, the real celebration is that of the resurrection of Jesus. This is the Super Bowl, Academy Awards, 4th of July and New Year’s Day all wrapped up in one celebration, a celebration that comes once a year but is actually celebrated every day for followers of Christ.

We’re in the middle of a series studying the Gospel of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends, John. Last week we were in chapter 12. Today we are skipping ahead to chapter 20. The seven chapters in between tell the account of the week beginning with Palm Sunday that included the Last Supper, the crown of thorns, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. In future weeks we’ll go back to them, but following our remembrance of Christ’s death on Good Friday, we jump to the resurrection account.

Let me state up front that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are wasting our time—not only now but every time we gather, every moment we pray, and every minute we spend reading the Bible. The resurrection is the pivotal moment in human history, the day in which everything changed, literally.

Paul, once one of the greatest enemies of the movement of Jesus Christ, became one of His most ardent followers and said

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Put another way, if Jesus is dead, our faith is dead. Our hope is dead. Our life is dead.

But for more than 2000 years people have been searching for the dead body of Jesus and what have they discovered?

Nothing! Nada! Zip!

What a difference nothing makes!

God has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (1-2)

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) (20:3-9)

Peter and John raced. John says he won!

No thief would’ve taken the time to fold the grave cloths!

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. (10-12)

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (16)

He knows your name, too!

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (17-18)

I think it’s great that women are the first people that see the resurrected Jesus. He did so much to liberate women and this is no exception. They are the ones who get to tell the eleven disciples that Jesus is alive!

God has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

Jesus is not the only example.

Last week in John 12 we looked at the story of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was not the first—nor the last—person to come back from the dead. There are elements of The Walking Dead that are real!

Matthew’s biography of Jesus includes one of my favorite images in the entire Bible.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54)

Matthew’s Jewish readers would recognize this bizarre episode of the Walking Dead as similar to yet another example of God resurrecting the dead. The account is found in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. The context is the people of Israel, an exiled nation longing to return to their homeland.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

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. 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. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 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.’” (4-6)

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. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. (7-8)

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.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet — a vast army. (9-10)

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.’ 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. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 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.’”

God has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. (Isaiah 26:19)

“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)

God has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have a strong theological meaning for Matthew...and for us. God is restoring Israel, and on the back of Israel, He is restoring the nations, the Gentiles...us! Jesus’ death and resurrection were not isolated events in ancient history, but the most powerful and vivid reminder that our God is the God of salvation and restoration.

It’s easy to dismiss the resurrection of Jesus as merely an historical event. He came back from the dead, but He’s God, right?

Yes, but God has a habit of resurrecting the dead—not only Lazarus and Jesus and these dry bones, but also us today. As a pastor, I’ve had a front row seat watching God at work, resurrecting the dead. Here are a few examples:

  1. My friend who was on the verge of hopelessness and despair, lonely and broken. Since she surrendered her life to the risen Christ, she has come alive. Her soul has been awakened and she’s a new creation.

  1. Several years ago some dear friends approached my wife and I and said their marriage was a wreck. Lies and infidelity had invaded their relationship. After years of hard work and the risen Christ, their marriage has come alive. Their relationship has been awakened and they are not only together but now helping other seemingly hopeless marriages.

  1. In 2009 a family I know had more than $300,000 in medical bills that were not covered by insurance. Aside from their mortgage, they ended the year debt-free as God awakened their finances.

What about you?
What is dead that only God can resurrect? A relationship? Your career? Your broken body?

Don’t misunderstand me. God is not a cosmic genie waiting to obey our every command. He is, however, the author of life (Acts 3:15). He is life. As we saw a few weeks ago, Jesus said

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Did you catch that? Jesus
is life—the way, the truth, the life. He is the only way to the Father. He is the only way to life.

Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like himself before he takes us to heaven. This is our greatest privilege, our immediate responsibility and our ultimate destiny. - Rick Warren

God has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

He wants to offer you life—eternal life…and rich, wild, and abundant life now (John 10:10). He wants to awaken your soul. He wants you to live a life of freedom, faith, hope and love. Jesus died so that you might have life!

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