The Gospel Among the Dry Bones

As we have seen over the last several posts, God has given us a glimpse of the coming gospel, the coming new covenant, the coming Christ in the pages of the Old Testament.  But God also pulls the curtain back a little farther in places, and delivers clear and straightforward promises about what the coming message of good news will be like.  In Ezekiel chapter 36, we see one piece of the future new covenant; the promise of a new heart and a new Spirit.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ez 36:26-27).  What a promise!

In the very next chapter, God gives the prophet Ezekiel a stunning visual of what this new breath of life in God’s people will look like.  God brought Ezekiel out to a valley that was full of dry bones; “very dry” according to chapter 37 verse 2.  God asked Ezekiel if these bones could live again.  Ezekiel, wise to God’s ways, replied that God only knows.

God asked Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, promising the bones that they would come to life; connected by sinews, growing over with flesh, covered by skin, and full of breath.  So in verse 7, “I [Ezekiel] prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone” (Ez 37:7).

Soon the bones were covered in sinew, flesh, and skin.  But they still had no breath in them.  Then God said to Ezekiel, ” ‘Prophesy and say to the breath, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.” ‘  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ez 37:9-10).

Ezekiel prophesied.  The wind of God’s Spirit blew through the valley of dry bones.  And an army of people came to life.  A few verses forward God explains what happened when the bones came to life.  “And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life” (Ez 37:14).

The wind that brought the bones to life was God’s Spirit.  And it is a foreshadowing of the same wind that will bring life to us.  “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit … And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting … And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 3:8, Acts 2:2,4).

God’s Spirit has brought life to us; a life of peace, joy, love, wisdom, confidence, and compassion.  And God has place us in a world of people who, even though they look like they are moving, in a spiritual sense, they are dead.  They are lifeless and confused.  They are like dry bones in the valley.

The culture of death and confusion so prevalent today is a result of a world of “dry bones”.  These bones are not the enemy.  They are prisoners of the Enemy, just as we were before Christ came into our lives.  And there is no government program, no rise of capitalism, or rise of socialism, or climate improvement, or international engagement, nor any progressive or conservative public policy that will bring these dry bones to life.

Two thousand years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the answer to a valley of dry bones is the same as it has ever been.  We need the Spirit of Christ to blow through, in a rushing wind, and bring life to this valley of dry bones.  It is our only hope for life, truly abundant and full.  This is God’s offer of life in Christ to us.  This is what it will be like and look like!

The Gospel and the Fiery Furnace

Here is a familiar story from Daniel chapter 3.  Three Jewish exiles had risen to places of administrative prominence in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.  Their names?  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  And their day of testing is a gospel lesson in faith.  Let’s summarize the story.

King Nebuchadnezzar had constructed a golden image of himself on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  The image was 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide.  Pretty imposing.  On the day of dedication for the image, all the government officials were gathered before the image and instructed that “at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up” (Dan 3:5).  The punishment for non-compliance was being “tossed into a furnace of blazing fire” (Dan 3:6).

Jumping ahead in the story, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow and worship the image when the music sounded.  Their insolence was reported to the king.  The king called them out and proceeded to give them a second chance to comply.

But the men did not need a second chance as they explained to the king.  “If it be so, our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:17-18).

Well, Nebuchadnezzar flew off the handle, ordered the furnace cranked up seven times hotter than normal, and had the men bound and thrown inside.  Let’s stop the story right here for a second and look again at the incredible statement of faith from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

In essence, they are saying, “We have faith to believe that God can deliver us from the furnace, but even if He does not, we are all in.”  Staring at what appears to be certain death, this is quite a claim.  Notice that their faith is not tied to their physical rescue, but to the God who is in control.  They affirm that even if God does not deliver them from the fire, they will not worship other gods.  With or without physical deliverance, their faith is in the one true God alone.  Again, their faith is not dependent on an outcome.  It is dependent on a person; the character and person of God Himself.

But God does deliver them from the fire.  When the king peered into the furnace, “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Look!  I see four men loosed and walking about in the middle of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!’ ” (Dan 3:25).  The fourth person may have been Jesus Himself coming to the rescue of His chosen ones in response to their faith.

After all, that is how He came to you and me.  Jesus’s offer of salvation is available to all.  Everyone is invited to come to Jesus.  But the invitation must be accepted by faith.  We must respond to His invitation with a “Yes, I believe.  My faith is in Christ alone.  I am all in.”

The faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated in the Old Testament is the same saving faith required of us to join Christ’s family.  The gospel message in the fiery furnace is the message of Jesus’ rescue of those who place their faith in Him.