Sermon Options: March 26, 2023

March 1st, 2020


EZEKIEL 37:1-14

Psychologists tell us that everyone dreams at least two or three dreams each night; we just don't always remember them. But a dream like Ezekiel's stays with you!

Ezekiel is standing around the coffee and doughnuts with the other prophets one morning. It's still ten until eight, so he says, "You're not going to believe this dream I had." Another prophet wipes the powdered sugar from his mouth and says, "Tell us about it."

He tells how the Lord set him among a parched pile of bones. The Hebrew meaning implies he crawled among them. Insects had long since eaten the flesh away. They had become brittle. Then God spoke, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel responded, "O Lord GOD, you know." The old prophet knew that anything is possible with God.

Then God commanded Ezekiel to preach to those bones. Picture an old country church with a cemetery beside it, only with bones scattered everywhere, bones outside and inside the church. Then God asks you to preach a sermon. Ezekiel's sermon went like this: God is going to breathe new life into you. Life-giving breath. That's Ezekiel's dream. Israel's bones had dried up. What happened was the Babylonian exile.

Exile is realizing we are vulnerable, not as individuals but as a group. Imagine a church full of dry bones.

Ezekiel preached, and there was a rattling noise. The bones began to move, only they weren't breathing.

So God told Ezekiel to call forth the breath of God from the four winds of the earth. We miss it in English, but there's a wordplay in Hebrew. The word ruah is used ten times. The term can be translated as "breath," "wind," or "spirit." All three are used here. Ezekiel is led by the ruah (Spirit) of the Lord, who sends his ruah (breath), which comes from the ruah (winds) of the earth.

This passage conjures up images from Genesis 2, God breathing life into the creation. God's breath gives us life and sustains us every moment. What a dream! A church where bones come back to life. A God who makes impossible dreams come true. Who'd have dreamt it? (Mike Graves)


ROMANS 8:6-11

The miracle of salvation is beyond human comprehension when viewed from the perspective of redeeming fallen human nature. While the act of faith is so simple in terms of believing in Christ, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is nothing less than a bona fide miracle. In this text, Paul describes the unfolding of spiritual maturity after an individual steps into the life-giving experience of salvation by grace.

I. We All Share a Sinful Nature
Paul describes our fallen human nature in these verses. This nature needs redemption, which is accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The "mind" or thinking of human sinful nature is "death" (v. 6). Death was introduced in God's creation through the disobedience of humanity's progenitors, Adam and Eve Rom. 5:12-21). Since that corporate act of disobedience, fallen human nature has been moving uncontrollably toward ultimate death. Paul continues to define the character of sinful nature beyond its obsession to be driven toward death. The sinful mind is hostile to God (v. 7). Literally, there is an opposition in the mind-set of our sinful nature to God's nature and ways. The unregenerate mind does not submit to the righteous requirements of God. In fact, Paul notes that it does not even have the capacity to do so. Finally, Paul says that those living under the control of the sinful nature cannot please God (v. 8).

This description of fallen human nature as disobedient, unpleasing, and hostile toward God (the giver of life) highlights its ultimate goal of death. Around us each day are news stories giving graphic details of extreme examples of the fallenness of humanity. Those realistic accounts and Paul's theological description bring a dark prospect for the future of humanity. This pessimistic view, however, only directs our attention to a necessity to transform and redeem this fallen nature. In contrast to this dark picture, Paul exhorts us, "You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit" (v. 9). There is more to the story than our sinful nature.

II. Christians Also Bear the Nature of God
For persons who have the Spirit of God in them—that is, those regenerated by grace through faith (an act of the Holy Spirit)—the picture of sinful nature is different. For believers, there is an ongoing process in which this old nature is being destroyed. Paul declares that the power of sin in our bodies is dead, but we are spiritually alive because of righteousness (v. 10)—Jesus Christ is believers' righteousness.

This redemption of our nature, this transformation of our spiritual character, signifies not only the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (v. 9) but also our identity with Christ. We are the possession of Christ, bought with his atoning sacrifice. The purpose of redemption was to return humanity to its rightful place in relationship with its Creator. The sense of alienation and isolation has been with humans since the Fall, and it is part of our society today. Redeemed nature abolishes that alienation to make us joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

III. Christians Also Enjoy a Promise of Eternal Life
The last verse of the text raises a final issue in regard to the Holy Spirit's miracle of redemption: resurrection. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives within each believer. The presence of the Holy Spirit not only seals redemption for believers but also promises an eternal quality of life given to the mortal bodies. The Holy Spirit not only regenerates but resurrects. The promise of that miracle in the life of a Christian is as sure as Christ's resurrection. (Joseph Byrd)


JOHN 11:1-45

Several years ago a highlight of a pilgrimage to Israel was a visit to the traditional tomb of Lazarus. In Bethany, some two miles from Jerusalem, we saw the beautiful present church and explored the ruins of churches built on that site to mark the tomb of Lazarus since the fourth century. Taking a candle, I went down the twenty-three steps into the tomb of Lazarus. Just a small, dark room, but a room tied to one of the most beautiful stories in the New Testament, and a shadow of Easter.

We realize from the various references in the Gospels of Luke and John that Jesus was especially close to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, a family in the little village of Bethany. Their home was a haven from the hate of his enemies, an island of calm amidst the turmoil of his ministry. But tragedy strikes even in the midst of this peaceful scene. Death, the most common experience of life, lays its icy hand on Lazarus, Jesus' friend. And we note that people haven't changed in the two thousand years since that time—like us, they send word of Lazarus' deepening illness to the One they want near them in this crisis. But Lazarus dies before Jesus returns, and friends gather from Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside.

There are confusion and anguish and even anger toward Jesus on the part of Mary and Martha. When Martha first goes to meet Jesus on his return, Mary stays at home to be with the friends. When Mary quietly leaves to see Jesus, the friends follow her, thinking she has gone to the cemetery to weep there. When Jesus stands crying at the tomb, the bystanders murmur softly, "See how he loved him." People haven't changed.

I. Miracles Remind Us of God's Glory
One of the great lessons of this story is found in the hesitation of Jesus when he gets word that Lazarus is sick. Jesus waits two days before starting for Bethany. The reason is twofold. First, this sickness is not for death, but for the glory of God. Can it be true that our sickness and trouble can also be said to be for the glory of God? Can God be glorified in whatever befalls his children? Jesus lingers because his waiting, until Lazarus is dead and buried, is part of this event being used to glorify God. Second, Jesus lingers because he is, no doubt, struggling to find the response to this illness that will both help his friends and be true to the will of God.

When Jesus reaches Bethany, he faces three problems. First, Lazarus has been dead four days. The Jews thought the spirit lingered about the body for three days, but then as the body began to show signs of deterioration, the spirit left and all hope was abandoned. Lazarus had been buried for four days. Second, many Jerusalem Jews were gathered in the home. Naturally, they would not do him harm in such circumstances, but word would get to the authorities. Here we see the gospel prefigured. Coming to bring life to his friend jeopardized Jesus' life. And, third, the sisters are confused and even angry with Jesus. Martha's frustration (v. 21) gives way to hope as she says that she knows whatever Jesus asks of God, he will receive. Perhaps she remembered the claim of Jesus recorded in John 5:21: "Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes."

When Mary sees Jesus, she also expresses her disappointment that Jesus was not there in time—the sisters had plenty of time to talk about that. We should notice that with Mary, Jesus cannot talk about it; he is filled with emotion at her tears and the weeping of those with Mary. "Where have you put him?" "Lord, come and see!" What a turnaround! We remember Jesus inviting the first disciples to "come and see" where he, the Light and Life, was staying—here a brokenhearted woman bids the Lord "come and see" where death rules! Jesus wept. It is a softer Greek word than the wailing of Mary and the crowd, but surely as deep. They stand before the tomb. At the command of Jesus the stone is removed from the grave, while the grieving sisters look on in fear.

II. Miracles Point Us to God's Presence
"Lazarus, come out!" shouted Jesus. And he did, still bound in the grave-wrappings. What a moment! "Loose him, and let him go!" Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story is not that Jesus raised a man who had been dead for four days, but that some people who saw it apparently didn't believe it! (See vv. 45-46.)

III. What's the Point of the Miracle?
When we look carefully at this miracle, we see that it is meant to convince people not that Lazarus came back from the grave—although he did—but that Jesus had come from God. Look at the prayer of Jesus just before he called Lazarus out (vv. 41-42). The raising of Lazarus is a sign pointing to the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus' resurrection is all that Lazarus's raising was not. Notice several points. First, Lazarus could come out only after men rolled away the stone—not so with Jesus' resurrection. Second, Lazarus came forth bound in the grave-wrappings, symbolic of the fact that he would need them again—not so Jesus, whose grave-wrappings were left in the grave because he would need neither wrappings nor grave again. Third, Lazarus returned to his daily round of sin and struggle—Jesus returned to heaven. Lazarus was merely a shadow, a sign pointing to the reality of Jesus' resurrection.

IV. Believest Thou This?
Now let us go back to the conversation of Martha with Jesus as she met him at the edge of Bethany (v. 23). Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again. Martha believes in the resurrection at the last day, the Judgment Day. We will all—both good and bad—be resurrected. That's not a special Christian doctrine; the simple hope of the resurrection of the body is not at the heart of Easter. Don't pin your hopes of victory over death on the resurrection of the Judgment Day. Many people are going to be resurrected, only to be sent away forever from the presence of God.

Jesus wants Martha to go beyond the teaching of the resurrection of the body: "I am the resurrection and the life." Apart from Jesus, that resurrection we will all experience is just a replay, at the end of the world, of the raising of Lazarus—no new life. Jesus is Lord of death, Lord of life, Lord of the resurrection. To believers, death is not important: those who have trusted Jesus are not dead but have made the transition to a more beautiful, eternal life with Jesus. Those who are alive and believe in Jesus will never really die—we will fall asleep and wake up at home in the Father's house.

Martha earlier said she knew as fact that her brother would rise again on the last day. Now she says, in faith, that she believes, trusts Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who is to come into the world. I ask you the same question: Do you believe Jesus is the Christ? The true meaning of Easter is found not by belief in the fact of a resurrection, but by commitment to a person, Jesus. For only that trust will avail to apply the blood for cleansing of sins, for the defeat of death. (Earl C. Davis)

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