8A Church is not an option extra for Christians Ezekiel 37:1-10

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
O, hear ye the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna’…WALK AROUN’…
Dem bones, dem bones gonna’…WALK AROUN’…
Dem bones, dem bones gonna’…WALK AROUN’…
Now hear ye the Word of the Lord!”
We just heard in Ezekiel chapter 37 how the Lord God took the prophet Ezekiel into a valley full of old dead dry bones and how God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones,
`Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. … 9 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.'” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet- a vast army.
This is a beautiful picture of the way the Holy Spirit the breath of God brings life from death. It was originally a picture from God for Ezekiel to give hope to the nation of Israel. It is also a picture of the way that God the Holy Spirit takes each one of us as individuals, dead as dry bones because of sin, and brings us new birth by breathing new life into us. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit who brings us eternal life is the firstfruits of heaven, the first instalment, the seal, the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance,
“The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little bit of heaven on our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” (2 Corinthians 5:5 The Message)
The Holy Spirit works inside every believer to prepare us for heaven. And God the Holy Spirit also transforms the church from a merely human organisation into the living Body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. There are many parts, but one body.
The life of the Church doesn’t come from our human activities. The life of the church comes from the work of the Holy Spirit who unites all believers, every one of us, Christians of every denomination and of no denomination.
So Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is also a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit bringing all of us together as believers into the glorious Body of Christ.
Very sadly, when we look at the state of the church in Britain today, some might think it was pretty hopeless. We could easily be depressed by the spread of secularisation and religious pluralism along with the rise of materialism, consumerism and celebrity culture. We can see post-modern relativism and post truth creeping into the church as they have across society. We see numerical decline even in Baptist churches. And we may be most discouraged by the ways that so many churches are being led astray by false teaching and false teachers, abandoning beliefs held by Christians across the centuries in important issues such as the nature of salvation, the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to the Father, and the nature of Christian marriage.
Sometimes when I look at some churches, and at the denominations, it is hard to see the body of Christ. Instead I am reminded of perhaps the greatest horror story of all time, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In that novel a medical student took spare limbs from dead bodies to make an artificial man which he brought to life with the energy of lightning. This man-made monster has been the classic theme of horror and science fiction films and television. The whole picture is terrifying in its ugliness. A body made up of stray limbs, angular, disjointed, sluggish – a revolting body constructed by a man rather than a body beautiful as God creates and intends bodies to be. Very sadly when we think about the church as the body of Christ, the spectre of Frankenstein’s monster can loom large. As we look at individual congregations and at churches denominations, we can be faced with a disturbing question. Are we really living and working together as the beautiful body of Christ as God intends? Or does the church sometimes seem more like a Frankenstein’s monster? Especially to all the people outside church life, do we appear to be any more than just a jumble of limbs, not fitting together, not working properly. Are we too much a man-made organisation and not enough a God-fashioned organism, more like a business than a body?
The human body is a truly amazing creation. Just think of some of the things a human body can accomplish when all the parts are working together in harmony. Somehow it is hard to imagine Frankenstein’s monster throwing a discus or doing the pole vault or the triple jump. You can’t envisage Frankenstein’s monster playing a violin concerto. The church needs to be the body of Christ and the bride of Christ, not the bride of Frankenstein or some Frankenstein’s monster.
Many people may well think that the church in Britain today looks more like a valley of dry bones than the living vibrant body of Christ. We look much more like the Exiles scattered across Babylon, trying desperately to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. Without God’s intervention, the churches are indeed in a hopeless situation. But Ezekiel’s vision gives us a message of great hope.
3 He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘Sovereign LORD, you alone know.’
Humanly speaking, the church seems to be, if not long dead, then certainly dying. At best, the church sometimes looks like Ezekiel’s description of the dry bones when God’s salvation was only half way through.
7And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Sometimes the church looks like skeletons with tendons and flesh and skin and bones, but with no breath in them. But nothing is impossible with God. He can bring our dry bones back to life. And he can breathe the breath of life, His Holy Spirit, back into us again, just as he did in Ezekiel’s vision and just as He did for the Israelites in Exile.
’ 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
What the church needs, what we all need, is the Holy Spirit of God to come and breathe life into us again. We need to come to life and stand up on our feet as the vast army of the Lord! We need revival!
13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live,
We need a fresh Pentecost – a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the promises in Ezekiel and in the book of Joel. We need God to renew his church! We need God’s love and power breaking in and sweeping us away! The mighty river of God’s love flowing through us cleansing and refreshing and sweeping aside the barriers in our lives. We need to be rescued from what A.W. Tozer called “the graveyard of orthodoxy … doomed to live out your days in spiritual mediocrity!” (AW Tozer Root of the Righteous pp 55-56). We need the breathe of life to sweep through us. God can bring a valley of dry bones back to life. We need to come to life and stand up on our feet as the vast army of the Lord! Come Holy Spirit. Lord send revival. And let revival begin with me! God can take dem bones dem bones dem dry bones and bring them to life into a mighty army, the glorious body of Christ. So why does it sometimes seem this is not happening?
I usually give you a 3-point sermon. Instead this morning as a special treat I am going to give you my one and only three song sermon. My second song is this.
“Like a mighty tortoise, moves the Church of God.
Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod.
We are much divided, many bodies we.
Lots of different doctrines, not much charity.
Backwards Christian soldiers, fleeing from the fight
With the cross of Jesus, nearly out of sight!”
Perhaps that’s a rather cynical view – but sadly that’s the way many people outside the Christian faith see the churches. They don’t see the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation – all they see are arguments and divisions in the body of Christ. We need to be reminded of how far we still have to go before the world sees the Church as we should be, His new creation, the beautiful bride for whom Christ died.
So what can we do to become more the body of Christ and less of a man-made monster? To begin with, the apostle Paul wrote: “We must grow up in every way to Christ who is the head. Under His control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint and sinew with which it is provided. So, when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love” (Eph 4:15-16 Good News Translation). If the parts of the body are going to build each other up in love, each separate part needs to be working as it should. Every Christian needs to see himself or herself as part of that body and play the part God has given them to play. Church is not an optional extra for Christians.
Next, Paul summed up what every Christian should be doing to foster and promote the unity of the church in one phrase: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Christians do not have to create unity in the church. We already have so much in common which draws us together. “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). The word “one” appears seven times in those three verses. “Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness” (Eph 4:6 The Message). All three Persons in God the Holy Trinity are included there. Christians should be united as one because God in Himself is one.
The church is already one. The part which all Christians have to play in God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation is very simple: all we have to do is not mess things up. Keep the unity – don’t break up the unity of the church. This can be very hard. Some people are very difficult to please. We can all find things to criticise and fall out about. We need to work hard to stick together, to move on with God as one body and one family, keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should be one, as God is one – this is our witness to the world. “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (New Living Translation).
So how can this happen? The answer again is so very simple. My third song is one that I heard long time before I became a Christian.
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know that we are Christians by our love.”
I never went to church or had any connection with Christian things until I was 16 years old. But then at that age I met a group of young people. Isn’t it true that sometimes children and young people can show us adults the way? These young people belonged to lots of different churches but they met all together during the week. In their group meetings and in their everyday lives they lived out that song. I knew they were Christians by their true Christian love for each other – and for me. So I became a Christian too.
This is why we need to learn to worship and work and witness together as Christians – for the sake of a world that is rejecting and ignoring God.
In His High Priestly Prayer in Gethsemane in John 17, Jesus prays “that all of them may be one, Father… so that the world may believe that you have sent me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.
The unity of the church is our witness to the world. May they know WE are Christians by our love. This was Jesus’s New Commandment to his church.
John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
It is the work of God the Holy Spirit to put divine love into our hearts so that Christians can truly love each other as Christ has loved us. We’re going to be together in heaven for a very long time. Let’s start to love each other as Jesus loves us BEFORE we get there! The apostle John tells us, “We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:19-20). God commands us to show His kind of sacrificial love to this sin-spoilt world. And He gives us other Christians to practise on. If we can’t even be bothered to love each other, how can we begin to seek and save the lost?
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. The Holy Spirit is working in Christians to bring us together to be the beautiful body of Christ. But we don’t always look like that. We each need to play our part and to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. We need to love each other as Jesus loves us, because the church needs to be and the world needs to see the beautiful Body of Christ – not a Frankenstein’s monster!

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