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Worship Series: Undefeated - Our Journey to the Empty Tomb
Worship Theme: Undefeated by Death
First Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (EHV)
Gospel: John 11:17-27 and John 11:38-45 (EHV)
Hymns & Songs: Remember Your Love, Come Alive (Dry Bones), CW110 My Song Is Love Unknown, He Will Hold Me Fast (in worship folder)
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
Message: Undefeated by Death
My dear friends in Christ,
Throughout this Lenten season, we have seen Jesus fight against and defeat everyone and everything that comes at him. Way back in week 1, we saw his battle against Satan begin in the Garden of Eden. The LORD promised to send a Savior to crush Satan’s head, and that’s exactly what Jesus did. In week 2, Jesus did battle with skepticism. Abraham could have been skeptical of the LORD’s crazy promises. Instead, the LORD’s words inspired confidence and Abraham went, believing what the LORD said. Week 3 showed us Jesus conquering blindness—healing a man born blind, and opening our eyes to see who he is and what he has done for us. Last week Jesus took on dysfunction. Jacob’s family was super dysfunctional, but the LORD used that dysfunction to carry out his plan to save the world from a terrible famine. So far, the scoreboard reads Jesus—4, Visitors—0. Undefeated! Today we’ll see Jesus face the ultimate enemy—death. Will this battle tarnish his UNDEFEATED record? Let’s see what happens!
Let’s take a moment and review what’s going on at the time Ezekiel served as the LORD’s prophet. The Jews no longer lived in the Promised Land. Because of their unfaithfulness and lack of love for the LORD, he had sent the Babylonians to attack them. Led by a man named Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian army left Jerusalem’s walls in piles of rubble. They plundered the Temple and burned it. Then they led the people away to the land of Babylon. As they trudged away from Jerusalem, their homes, and their fields, they wept in sorrow and despair.
In Chapter 36, the LORD made a promise to his people. He told the mountains, “But you, O mountains of Israel, will shoot forth your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel, because they will soon come back” (Ezekiel 36:8 EHV). The LORD would not forget about them, or leave them in Babylon. He would bring them home again!
God’s people couldn’t see that happening. Their hope was dried up and gone. The LORD showed the prophet Ezekiel a graphic vision of their hopelessness. “The hand of the LORD was upon me. He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley, which was full of bones. He had me pass through them and go all over among them. There were very many on the valley floor, and they were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:1–2 EHV). That’s how the people felt. They felt like they were a pile of dry, dead bones. Their bones were so dried out that there wouldn’t be a snip of DNA to be found. They were dried out, bleached bones. The people were saying, “Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We have been completely cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11 EHV). Everything they had known—their land, their homes, their temple, their regular way of life—was gone! They were HOPELESS—filled with despair.
Can we identify with their situation? When we walk through our houses during these days of “Stay at Home,” we see the same scene before Ezekiel—a valley of dry bones.
- Toys and Legos scattered all over the floor...
- Dirty dishes and empty Coke cans left lying around...
- Crumbs on the floor and dust bunnies in the corners...
- Teens with controllers in their hands and glazed eyes from all the screen time...
- School time and assignments hanging over heads as family members vie for bandwidth...
- Adults with a vacant, haunted look after staring at a computer screen and working all day while dealing with kids’ questions and the dog’s need for attention...
Oh, there is no life here anymore. Our bones are dried up as we struggle through our new “normal.” Our hope is lost—as soon as we hear someone is ill with COVID-19 what’s our first thought? They’re going to die. We have been completely cut off from family living far away, from loved ones in the hospital, from jobs, from income. How quickly life can become HOPELESS!
The LORD didn’t want Ezekiel and the rest of his people to live in despair and HOPELESSNESS. Twice he told Ezekiel, “Prophesy.” The first time he was to: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’” (Ezekiel 37:4 EHV). As soon as Ezekiel prophesied (preached) to his silent audience, a miracle happened. The dry bones rattled together. While Ezekiel watched, tendons formed and held the bones in place. Muscle grew over the bones and tendons, and skin covered each body. Incredible! Impossible! Ezekiel watched it happen. Despite the first miracle, the bodies were still dead.
The LORD told Ezekiel to prophesy a second time: “Prophesy to the wind. Prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind that this is what the LORD God says. From the four winds, come, O wind, and breathe into these slain so that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9 EHV). As soon as Ezekiel called out to the wind, breath entered all the lifeless bodies and they came to life. Incredible! Impossible! The wind brought the breath of life, and death couldn’t hold onto those bodies.
How could this possibly happen? There’s a hint in the Hebrew. The word for wind in Hebrew is רוּחַ. It can also be translated “breath” or “Spirit.” All of a sudden, verse 14 makes more sense in this vision: “I will put my Spirit (רוּחַ) in you, and you will live. I will settle you on your own land, and you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:14 EHV). Through the Word of the LORD the Spirit would breathe life into his people. He would bring HOPE out of HOPELESSNESS. Hope—they wouldn’t be stuck in Babylon forever. Hope—they would go home and live in the Promised Land once again. Then they would realize that the LORD keeps his promises. Only the LORD could bring HOPE out of HOPELESSNESS!
Doesn’t that sound good right now? We listen to the news and everything sounds hopeless. Minnesota won’t reach the peak of COVID-19 infection until August. August? How are we supposed to keep our heads up and full of hope when we don’t feel it, and even in the moments we find a little joy, something tries to suck it right back out of us?
Today it’s my turn to prophesy to the valley of dry bones. We are that valley! We all feel helpless and hopeless, like our bones are dried out and we are dead. The LORD promises to put his רוּחַ , his breath, his Spirit in us and we will live! When we hear the Word of the LORD, the Spirit of God fills us. Just like those dry bones filling the valley, his Word brings us rattling back together, covering death with the pattern of life. The Spirit breathes life into souls that were “dead in ... trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1 EHV). We come back to life, a vast army of the LORD’s followers, rescued by his Word.
The LORD made that life possible by sending Jesus into the world. The apostle John said this about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:1,14 EHV). Jesus is the living Word of God. His voice brings freedom from sin. “Take heart, son! Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2 EHV). His voice breathes hope—we are forgiven!
His voice brings life. We heard it in our reading from John 11 just a few minutes ago. As Jesus’ stood in front of his friend Lazarus’ tomb, he told the mourners to roll away the stone. He shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43 EHV). The Spirit breathed new life into Lazarus and the man obeyed Jesus’ command. He walked out of his tomb. Jesus—1. Death—0. Still the champion! Jesus brings HOPE out of HOPELESSNESS!
Could you use a little bit of that? I know I can. Breathe in me, O Spirit of God! Fill me with your words so that I can make it through another challenging week of isolation and quarantine. Dry bones, hear the Word of the LORD! “The LORD is gracious and righteous, and our God is compassionate. The LORD protects the inexperienced. In my weakness he saves me too” (Psalm 116:5–6 EHV). His Spirit fills me with hope for the day, so I can do work from home on the internet, keep up with the housework, or clean my room, or pick up my toys and keep on functioning.
Dry bones, hear the Word of the LORD! We can turn on our computers and watch the latest devotions or services on Salem’s website along with many others. We can catch up on Time of Grace videos. We can open up devotion books and read about God’s promises. As we read, and listen, and study, and spend time in prayer, the Spirit of God breathes the breath of life into our hearts and souls. The empty, glassy stares dissolve into clear sight. God helps us understand his purpose for our lives in such a time as this. We can breathe the message that God brings HOPE out of HOPELESSNESS for everyone, especially the people around us who don’t know Jesus. They need to hear it too, so invite them to hear the Word of the LORD!
Don’t forget about how long that HOPE lasts. Hear the Word of the LORD from the apostle Paul: “For I conclude that our sufferings at the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 EHV). We are facing all kinds of challenges with COVID-19, along with the fact that life goes on. There is so much to do that life in general feels overwhelming. Paul reminds us that no matter what we are going through right now, the LORD has something great waiting for us on the other side of the grave. Remember, “Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the grave. And I will rise when he calls my name. No more sorrow, no more shame, I will rise on eagle’s wings. Before my God fall on my knees and rise. I will rise.”1 Jesus has defeated death. He is UNDEFEATED and he brings HOPE out of HOPELESSNESS! Amen!
1 “I Will Rise” Chris Tomlin | Jesse Reeves | Louie Giglio | Matt Maher © 2008 sixsteps Music. CCLI License # 630266