Shelby G. Floyd
It is good to see all of you and we are glad to have Ken and Polly back today. Reviving the church! That is our topic today. The song we just sung—”Revive Us Again,” goes right along with our theme. In the text of Revelation 3:1-6, Jesus was speaking to the church at Sardis—one of the seven churches in Asia. He said, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Jesus said that about Sardis near the end of the first century.
The Church of Christ began about 33 A.D. in the city of Jerusalem. 3000 people became Christians on the first day that the kingdom of God was established (Acts 2:36-47). Afterward it is said, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, and others went on three evangelistic journeys throughout the Roman Empire. And they established churches all over that empire. Paul even had the desire to go to Spain and other places with the gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15-16). But, by the end of the first century we have the apostle John inspired by the Holy Spirit writing to one of the seven churches located in Asia. He said, “I know your works, you have a great name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).
Our lesson today is the need to revive a dead church! “Revive us again, oh Lord.” Sometimes God’s people go to sleep spiritually, and then they end up dying. And the church is a dead church. It is normal for all of us to have a high and a low. But we must be careful, for if we stay on a low, we die spiritually!
This lesson today is from Ezekiel 37. And in this setting God’s people were exiled to Babylon about 580 years before Christ. They went to sleep spiritually in the land of Canaan—the promised land, where they had gone after all their years in slavery while down in Egypt. And because they had strayed away spiritually, God determined to send them to Babylon in bondage! Under Nebuchadnezzar they were removed to Babylon under a cruel king for 70 years! And while there in Babylon they died spiritually and that can happen also to a church. Churches can have a great beginning, a wonderful history, and then end up dying spiritually. That is happening to some congregations today. Churches flourish and then die spiritually. And that is what happened to Israel in Babylon.
Ezekiel said, “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” (Ezekiel 37:1). The Lord set Ezekiel down in a valley of dead bones. That is not an adventure any of us would like to take! One of our former elders, my son-in-law, and I took several trips to Civil War battlefield cemeteries—like Manassas one and two. I never have enjoyed going to cemeteries, because it is just a place with a lot of dead bones. I want you to get this picture of what Ezekiel saw in this valley. It is a place of bones—no people, just dead bones. God tells Ezekiel that he is going to put life back into all of these dead bones.
THE HAND OF THE LORD
Therefore we also can be asleep, be discouraged, and lose all hope, but God can make us live again. He can put new life into the church. He will do that when we abide by his instruction. In order that the church may be revived and find new life, we need the hand of the Lord to come upon us. The Lord’s hand really means the power of the Lord, because his hand is powerful. So Ezekiel said, “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.” (Ezekiel 37:1).
We definitely live in a world that is asleep spiritually. We conclude that a church can be in a valley of dry bones. The hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel, and when God’s hand comes upon us it means his power is upon us, and his power is great. The apostle Paul described the power of the Lord to the church at Ephesus: “and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:19-2 NKJV). If you want to know how powerful God is, well Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a new tomb, but God raised him up and seated him at his right hand. That is how powerful God is!
We read about God’s power in the New Testament as it is applied to the gospel message: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). His mighty power is also revealed in the letter to the Hebrews: “for the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God is therefore very powerful!
THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES
Next we notice that Ezekiel saw the very dry bones in the open valley: “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. 3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord God, You know” (Ezekiel 37:2-3). God asked Ezekiel if these bones can live. He answered, “O Lord, you know.” That is a good question. And we ask that question when we lose our loved ones in death. When we bury them in the silent city of the dead, we ask, “O Lord, can these bones live, will we see them again?” We rejoice that he has said, yes they will all live again at the last trumpet sound! (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
These verses in Ezekiel inspired the writing of a meaningful and inspiring spiritual song. We do not hear this song much anymore, but I looked it up on the Internet and listened to several groups sing it with spirit!
Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones
Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones
Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones,
Hear the word of the Lord.
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Now hear the word of the Lord.
God probably smiled when that song was written and sung with spirit. God’s word was so powerful that a song like that written to inspire those who seemed to be without hope! Symbolically it describes that God’s people are brought back to life spiritually as well as the resurrected life at the last day.
Ezekiel went around the valley of dry bones, and he noticed they were very dry, and there was no life in them. But God’s power can make these dry bones live again. Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” God is not asking Ezekiel that question for information. He asked that question to emphasize that only He can bring these dry bones to new life!
What is the application of this for us today? It is that like the church at Sardis, without the power and Spirit of God, the church of today will be a dead church. God does not want a church to be a lifeless body. He wants to breathe new life into the body of Christ! The church will come alive when it hears the word of the Lord.
HEAR THE WORD OF THE LORD!
How was the valley of dry bones ever to live again? They would live again by “hearing the word of the Lord.” “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). “Again he said to me, prophesy to these bones, and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4). Dry bones must hear the word of the Lord, in order to live again. A church that does not focus on the word of the Lord will die spiritually. God’s people must hear the word of the Lord. The Spirit of Christ comes into the church when we hear, heed, listen to, and apply the word of God. Remember Jesus defeated the devil every time he was tempted by quoting the word of God (Matthew 4:1-11). So the power of the word of the Lord will cause the church to come alive. This is because God’s Spirit dwells in the word. Therefore this applies to the valley of dry bones and to the church! Then God’s people will be a vibrant church serving the Lord.
GOD CAUSES THE BONES TO LIVE
Then God addressed these dry bones, Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 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.” ’ ” (Ezekiel 37:5-6). Remember that Israel is dead while they are in Babylon. They have no life in them. They are discouraged, they have given up all hope, they do not believe they will ever see their homeland again, and they have given up! But God says, “You are like dry bones, but I am going to put flesh on you, sinews on you, and breathe new life into you and you shall live!” They are going to be alive again for the Lord.
This reminds us of when God created Adam out of the dust of the earth. Adam was body, bone, blood, and flesh. But he was not alive until God breathed into him the breath of life: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Breath in the Hebrew language is ha-ru-ah and is defined breath, wind, life, and spirit. This is equal to the word pneuma and defined spirit in the New Testament.
Ezekiel prophesied as the Lord commanded, “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. 8 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 37:7-8).
Can you visualize all of these bones coming together out there in this valley? But they were not alive. They were just a bunch of bones, blood, and flesh bodies. They were not alive because there was no breath in them. The church today needs some spirit and breath and it, instead of a lot of dry bones that have no life in them and not accomplishing anything. So the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” ’ ” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (Ezekiel 37:9-10).
I think that might also be a picture of the church. The church of Christ can be a great army of the Lord. But a lot of dead bones is not going to accomplish anything. A church where there is no spirit, no breath, no enthusiasm, and no desire to be on fire for the Lord, will that church ever win any victories for Christ? A dead church will never accomplish anything for the Lord! Therefore the hand of the Lord, or the power of the Lord can make a church alive, dynamic, and courageous as the great army of the Lord! The gospel is the power of Christ unto salvation! It can convince, convict, and convert a lost world.
What is the lesson in all of this for us today? When the church comes alive, it will make a great noise. People will know that the church is in the community and that it means business. It will be a great army, going out with the sword of the Spirit to defeat Satan and his minions, and to convert a lost world to Jesus Christ.
That is the application God made to Ezekiel about Israel becoming a great army standing up for the Lord,
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’ ”(Ezekiel 37:11-14).
Did you know that historically, God actually restored these people back to their homeland in Canaan? How did God bring that about? God can work through people and nations to carry out his will. There was a great king who ruled at this time and his name was Cyrus the Great, who ruled the Persian Empire from 600 – 530 BC. He was known as a tolerant and ideal monarch. Cyrus conquered many countries. It was in 587 BC that Cyrus proclaimed to set the captives free to go back to Jerusalem. According to Ezra 1:1-11 he ordered and helped to rebuild the house of the Lord, and restore the furniture that had been taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. (1)
Cyrus was a Persian, which is the country of Iran today. The God of Israel moved Cyrus to give the Emancipation Proclamation to let the Israelite captives go free and to return to their homeland! He let the exiles go free! And so figuratively, they were like a valley of dry bones that came back to life and stood like a great army. God sent them back home!
And that is what God can do with the church today. God can make the church stand up like a great army. And we all want the heartland church to stand up and go forward with the Lord. Do we have those today who want to go forward with us as we stand and sing?
(1) If you would like to study the entire timeline of 70 years in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:12), go to this article on the internet:
Copyright © 2023 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon Sunday morning, February 5, 2023, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142 firstname.lastname@example.org