AGCC Sun. a.m. 9/14/1997

(see similar message 7/3/91)



TEXT: Ezek. 37:1-14

INTRO: One of the more frightening words in the English language is "HOPELESS"!

History is replete with the examples of "hopeless" situations, however, in the hands of God those "hopeless" situations are merely opportunities for God to reveal Himself! God allows such conditions to exist and in them He calls us to Himself...such circumstances help us see our need of God and His hope.

ILLUS: When a famous Rabbi was asked what kind of curse it was in the creation story for the serpent to have to eat earth, since this was a food that would always be available, he answered: "Man is condemned to eat bread by the sweat of his brow, so that if he wearies of his labors he will cry out to God. Woman is condemned to bring forth children in hardship, so that if her pain proves too great she will weep before God. Especially in their distress they remain linked to God. But God has given the serpent everything it needs, so that it will never turn to Him again."

In Fact, if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that what can seem hopeless today can be full of hope tomorrow! Even in the natural realm this is true:

a. Once simple infections used to kill people, today with the knowledge of antibiotics we hardly flinch at the news of many kinds of infections, they are more nuisances to us now, years ago they were hopeless and deadly diseases!

b. Years ago a drowning victim in a cold lake was left alone if he had been under for more than a few minutes, we now know that such people can often be revived even after being under for up to an hour in very cold water!

c. Not too many years ago people with bad hearts were given up as hopeless as their heart muscle failed, today a new heart can be transplanted and life can be restored for many many years of high quality living!

If man can alter "hopeless" situations into ones with hope....imagine what God can do!?

PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that nothing is hopeless when God gets involved....and when we involve God in our lives! Even the most hopeless of situations can be reversed by a God who offers great hope!

I. POSSIBILITIES 37:1-8,11-13

A. Hopeless Situation? 37:1-3,11

1. Ezekiel's early ministry was one of harsh judgments on God's people for their rebellion.

a. He was in captivity in Babylon with many of the Jews, while he prophesied to the captives in Babylon, Jeremiah prophesied to the Jews still living in Israel.

b. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel told Israel that God's judgment hand was on them for their constant rebellion to God....and that they should accept the punishment and turn from their sins...but Israel refused.

c. Therefore, for many years Ezekiel proclaimed a harsh life for Israel.

2. After about 7 years of preaching Judgment hoping Israel would turn from their wicked ways, nothing happens...Ezekiel becomes silent for about 13 years!!!

a. Perhaps there was a sense of "it's no use, they are hopeless!"

b. 7 years of warnings hadn't done looked hopeless.

3. After 13 years of silence however, Ezekiel once again begins to speak to Israel in captivity...only this time he is broken for them. Instead of harsh judgments, he begins to preach God's desire to heal them and help them .... hope can't be far away!

a. With a new message of hope, Israel might respond

b. Hope is what people need in order to recover from life's painful situations!

ILLUS: Several years ago a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child. She took the boy's name and room number and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I'd be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn't fall behind the others." It wasn't until the visiting teacher got outside the boy's room that she realized it was located in the hospital's burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. She felt that she couldn't just turn and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, "I'm the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs." The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" Before she could finish a profusion of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: "You don't understand. We've been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment--.It's as though he's decided to live." The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?" --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 292-293.

4. What would seem absolutely hopeless to Ezekiel (long dead dry bones coming alive again!?) is no match for a God of power and life!

a. It is important to note that when God shows Ezekiel this valley of dry bones that God puts him down in the "MIDDLE" of matter which way Ezekiel looked there was no life, no possibilities in human terms...from every angle it was hopeless by human standards!

b. The earthly perspective looked impossible.

5. No wonder when Ezekiel is asked by God whether these bones could live again he answered like he did: "LORD, YOU ALONE KNOW!" (37:3b)

a. Ezekiel knew God too well to say "NO"....his faith in God's power would not allow him to say "NO"... however,

b. His human reasoning said "NO"...but his heart knowing God says "POSSIBLE" he gives the non committal response of "Lord, you alone know!"

c. How many times have we responded to similarly hopeless situations as Christians...too afraid not to have faith, but too logical to believe at the same time!

B. Helping Strength 37:4-8,12-13

1. Ezekiel is told to do a strange thing: "PREACH TO THE BONES"...!!!

a. This doesn't seem like much of a solution!

b. Hadn't he already done this for about 7 years..and then he waited silently for about another 13 years without any changes in Israel..after 20 years, what point is there in preaching again?

2. His message is different this time however, instead of harsh judgment, he is to preach "LIFE" to these dry bones!

a. How badly our world needs to hear the "Word of Life"!

b. Where people lose their hope...they cease to offer help!

c. We are living in a day when people have lost hope and so they have also lost the desire to help!

ILLUS: A young woman was brutally attacked as she returned to her apartment late one night. She screamed and shrieked as she fought for her life, yelling until she was hoarse -- for thirty minutes -- as she was beaten and abused. Thirty-eight people watched the half-hour episode in rapt fascination from their windows. Not one so much as walked over to the telephone and called the police. She died that night as thirty-eight witnesses stared in silence.

Another's experience was similar. Riding on a subway, a seventeen- year-old youth was quietly minding his own business when he was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach by attackers. Eleven riders watched the stabbing, but none came to assist the young man. Even after the thugs had fled and the train had pulled out of the station and he lay there in a pool of his own blood, not one of the eleven came to his side.

Less dramatic, but equally shocking, was the ordeal of a lady in New York City. While shopping on Fifth Avenue in busy Manhattan, this lady tripped and broke her leg. Dazed, anguished, and in shock, she called out for help. Not for two minutes. Not for twenty minutes. But for forty minutes, as shoppers and business executives, students and merchants walked around her and stepped over her, completely ignoring her cries. After literally hundreds had passed by, a cab driver finally pulled over, hauled her into his taxi, and took her to a local hospital. -- Improving Your Serve, by Charles Swindoll

3. The world is standing by with no hope...and no help....BUT God and His people must be standing by "PROPHESYING TO THE DRY BONES" ...PREACHING LIFE!

a. We alone have the message of hope!

b. We alone have the source of help!

4. Sure enough, this time when Ezekiel "preaches life" to these bones, there is a rattling sound and they come together again...there is a reaction this time when there wasn't in his earlier ministry of judgment!

a. Impressive things happened, bones came together, flesh came on them again...

b. but it was not complete...notice that although there was now a vast field of human beings says, "but there was no breath in them." (37:8b)

c. Preaching alone was not enough, although it certainly got things going, it certainly rattled things up!

II. POWER! 37:9-10,14

A. Holy Speech 37:9

1. Now Ezekiel is asked to "Prophesy to the Breath" ... he had spoken to the dead, now he is to speak to the giver of other words "PRAY"!

a. Preaching must be accompanied by Prayer!

b. The word, "BREATH" here in Hebrew is the same word translated "SPIRIT" (Ruach). Ezekiel's "speaking" to the "breath" is a symbol of praying to the Spirit of God!

c. We cannot simply preach to the world, we must also pray to God if we are to see real life come to the hopeless dead!

2. Evangelism has to be much more than simply proclaiming (preaching) God's Word to the lost, we must also be praying for God's Spirit to move on those we preach to!

3. It wasn't the preaching that brought the breath back into them, it was praying that did that!

ILLUS: I'd rather be able to pray than be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught his disciples how to preach, but only how to pray. D. L. Moody --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 417.

4. After "speaking" to the "Breath" happened to these long dead souls!

a. What is your life like....and what is your prayer life like?

b. The difference between looking alive and being alive can be prayer!

5. Even some of the greatest minds have come to know the powerful truth that prayer draws God's life into our hearts and mind!

ILLUS: The brilliant scientist Sir Isaac Newton said that he could take his telescope and look millions and millions of miles into space. Then he added, "But when I lay it aside, go into my room, shut the door, and get down on my knees in earnest prayer, I see more of Heaven and feel closer to the Lord than if I were assisted by all the telescopes on earth."

B. Holy Spirit 37:10,14

1. As Ezekiel "speaks to the Spirit" there is a movement from corpses on the ground, to a standing breathing army!

a. What a different scene from the valley of dry bones!

b. Now there milled around scores of living souls...a vast army ready to take on the world again.

2. God's plan is to put His Holy Spirit in His people...for us to be people of the Spirit, not people of this world!

3. The hopeless impossible scene that reflected the outlook of Ezekiel's earlier ministry was now very different...

a. because he had "prophesied to the bones" (PREACHED GOD'S WORD)

b. and because he had "prophesied to the breath" (PRAYED TO GOD)

4. Ezekiel had combined "faith and action" and the results were spectacular!

a. He had to not only believe...but act too!

ILLUS: The drought of the past winter threatened the crop in a village of Crete. The priest told his flock: "There isn't anything that will save us, except a special litany for rain. Go to your homes, fast during the week, believe and come on Sunday for the litany of rain." The villagers heard him, fasted during the week and went to the church on Sunday morning, but as soon as the priest saw them, he was furious. He said, "Go away, I will not do the litany. You do not believe." "But Father," they protested, "we fasted and we believe." "Believe? And where are your umbrellas?" --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 188.

b. Combining prayer and action there is no hopeless situation!

5. If God can raise an entire nation back to life after being so long dead, what can He do with those "dead" people we know today?

6. If God can remedy a very hopeless situation back then, what can He do today?

7. What would happen to a nation, a state, a neighborhood, a family, an individual if we began to proclaim a living God...and pray and act like we believe it?

8. What hopeless situation are you facing today....and do you know now what to do?

CONCLUSION: Ezekiel looked at a backslidden nation and saw little hope of any spiritual things happening. In the midst of what seemed impossible however, God comes and promises HOPE and HELP...God will revive His people! This renewal will come from 2 things: (1. Preaching the Word (2. Praying! The deadest place and the deadest person....and even the most hopeless situation can come alive with God's help! KEEP HOPE ALIVE!