Ezekiel had it tough. About 2600 years ago he was asked to prophesy to the people of Israel about the destruction of Jerusalem and their temple. It wasn’t exactly the easiest job in the world. At one point ‘the hand of the Lord’ was upon him and the Spirit of God took him out and set him in the middle of a valley of dry bones. God asked him – can these bones live? Ezekiel gave the spiritually correct answer – “Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. God then told him to go and prophesy to the bones ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”. (Ezekiel 37)
In Scotland today we ask the same question.
As I wander the streets, listen to the conversations on the buses, read the newspapers, am tweeted and facebooked continually, I am convinced that we are so often in a valley of dry bones. And I cry, “Can these bones live?”
I hear the sound of the politicians talking, arguing and trying to persuade us with their sound bites, self-deification, plastic images and unreal promises. I watched the whole of the seven leaders debate last night and was just profoundly depressed afterwards. Yes there were some good ‘performances’ but that is just what they were ‘performances’. I found it to be shallow, superficial and lacking any real vision, backbone or reality. I cry, “Can these bones live?”
I feel the clamour of those who hate God and his people. I see the hatred in their eyes, hear the anger in the voices and read the contempt in their words. I observe how the poison of materialism, secular humanism and enlightenment rationalism have sapped the spirit of the Scottish people and I cry, “can these bones live?”
I listen to the chatter on the radio, see the bleakness and brokenness in people’s eyes, watch the young out on the bevy on a Saturday night, see the degradation of the beggar on the street, weep at the confusion and pain of the woman whose son has just committed suicide, and I cry, ‘can these bones live?”
I experience the lies, joys, pains, heartaches, confusions, stresses and sins of people all around. I see the broken promises, the ridiculous vain glory, the escapist delusions, the false religions, the distraught parents, the abused child, the dysfunctional families, and the destruction of sexual confusion and I cry, ‘can these bones live?”
I stand at the bedside of a young father, dying with cancer, fearful for himself and his family. I see the doubt, the pain and the fear in his eyes. And I hear his unspoken question “can these bones live?”
I look at the Church. Full of false teaching, confusion, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, pietism, traditionalism, cultural compromise, super-spirituality, ignorance, arrogance, anger, despair, wishful thinking, power politics and the spirit numbing deadness of those who profess Christ, but have forgotten him, and I cry, “can these bones live?”
I examine myself. And I don’t like what I see. A self-righteous heart. A darkened mind. And a fragile body. And I cry, “Can these bones live?”
And the only answer is. “O Sovereign Lord, You alone know”.
And the Lord replies.
Prophesy. Prophesy my word to the bones. Preach the Good News. Go and tell the dead to rise. Say to everyone – there is good news for you.
Tell the Politicians – hear the word of the Lord. Christianity is not to be used as some kind of tool for social control, or some addendum for your greater glory.
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2). Without vision the people perish. You are servants of the Lord. Serve him and not your own glory.
Tell the People – broken, confused, hurting, lost, – hear the word of the Lord.
Preach good news to the poor.
bind up the broken-hearted,
proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God,
comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Tell those who are wandering in the spiritual wilderness, like sheep without a shepherd. The Good Shepherd as come – and he is calling you.
Tell the Mockers – Hear the word of the Lord. Wisdom calls aloud in the street,she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out,in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you
and made my thoughts known to you.
But since you rejected me when I called and no-one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
“Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.
Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord,
since they would not accept my adviceand spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
Tell my People. Hear the Word of the Lord. “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place…
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life…
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols….
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you….
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name…
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2 and 3)
Tell your Heart – Hear the word of the Lord. I am greater than your heart. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. Though outwardly you are fading away, yet inwardly you are being renewed day by day…until the day breaks and the shadows flee.
Tell the Dying – Hear the word of the Lord. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”
And so, this Easter in Scotland, I stand as a broken person, in the midst of a broken people. I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips. And God asks me (and all his church) to tell everyone his word. As in the days of Noah, Ezekiel and Paul our task is mission impossible. We speak to people who are dry bones, who cannot see and who are dead in sins and trespasses. …but his Spirit will go before us, to open hearts and minds, convict of sin, righteousness and the judgement to come and bring new birth, new life and spiritual resurrection. How do we know this? Because He is Risen. Now everything is possible. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and nothing he tells us to do is impossible. O send your light forth and your truth!