New Life for Tired Bones

New Life For Tired Bones   Ezekiel 37:1-14

Audio:

Introduction

The legendary cheerful gift giver we refer to as Santa Claus has his origin in the life of St. Nicholas, often called Father Christmas. Nicholas was a Bishop in Myra, modern Turkey.  According to legend he was a wealthy man who was widely known for his generosity – a trait that inspired the story of Father Christmas as a bringer of gifts on Christmas Day. Nicholas died December 6, 343 AD. Most of his remains have been held in a Basilica  in Italy, since 1087,

Saint Nicholas

where they are buried beneath a marble altar, but over the years relic fragments have been acquired by churches around the world. A few days ago a newspaper in the UK reported that Oxford University analyzed a bone fragment that was owned by a priest in Illinois. There may never be any way to prove definitively whether or not the bone really was from St Nicholas, but it does date to the correct historical period.

Our text today is from a vision of the prophet Ezekiel and relates to some ancient bones. This vision is both poetic and prophetic. Ezekiel preaches to a people in captivity because of their own sin, and lets them see how God views it using the imagery of bones. (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

There are three views of life presented in this poetic prophecy that we should reflect on today.

1. LACK OF LIFE a valley of dry bones. (Ezekiel 37:1-2)

This is not the valley God intended it to be. It is what it has become because of separation from God. The Psalms reflect this same kind of thought.

Psalm 38:3 There’s nothing in my body that isn’t broken because of your rage; there’s no health in my bones because of my sin.

Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart helps healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

In the absence of God there is no life.

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own, that we’re not able to direct our paths.

 “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.” Rick Warren

The bones of Israel scattered throughout the valley remind us that when we wander away from God we wander away from everything that gives our life meaning, purpose, and eternity.

Can these bones live? Only God knows. (vs. 3)

2. LOOKS LIKE LIFE – they’re moving but not breathing! (37:4-8)

Some may be away from God and lack life, but there are some who may be closer to God but only have the appearance of life. The thing about sin is that it is deceptive.

Appears Benign. ”What would you expect? Sin will not come to you, saying, “I am sin.” It would do little harm if it did. Sin always seems “good, and pleasant, and desirable,” at the time of commission.”  J. C. Ryle

Appears Wise. “See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.” Colossians 2:8

Appears Fun!  Don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character. Sober up by acting like you should and don’t sin. 1 Corinthians  15:33-34a

Appears Religious. “Thousands are deceived into supposing that they have “accepted Christ” as their “personal Savior”, who have not first received Him as their LORD.”  A. W. Pink

Ezekiel saw quite a sight … bones that lacked life came together and it looked like they had life, but it was just an appearance. Until God spoke.

3. LORD OF LIFE I will put my breath in you and you will live

New Life For Tired Bones…

New Life only comes from God (37:9-10). Israel didn’t regain life until God gave it. We only find life when we embrace the Lord of Life.

New Life Brings Hope to the Hopeless (37:11). God still recognized the bones and named them. When we have no hope, we still have hope in God.

New Life is possible through God’s powerful promises (37:12-13). Resurrection, eternal life, salvation.

New Life is found in the hearing of God’s word (37:14). Are we listening to Him?

Conclusion

John 11:25-26 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

To embrace the new life in Jesus we need to leave behind the old bones of living away from God and living in the deception of sin. The Good news is that the free gift of eternal life awaits the sinner who wants to come home and the one who has yet to give their life to Christ. When we consider the gift of eternal life that God wants to give to all of us, we should never accept life without Him, or life that just looks good on the outside – to to embrace the gift of eternal life today – it keeps us from slavery and opens us to a continual supply of His Spirit … not just once a year but always.

Psalm 51:8 Let me hear joy and celebration again; let the bones you crushed rejoice once more. 

LifeGroup Questions

1. There are many stories about St. Nicholas. One poor man had 3 daughters with no dowry to marry them off. They were destined to live in slavery but mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. What are your Christmas Eve traditions?

2. This story in Ezekiel 37 is a report of a prophetic vision that Ezekiel had. In the vision he preaches to a valley of dry bones. How do you think it felt for Ezekiel to preach to a valley of dry bones? How can we relate in terms of bringing the gospel to a world dead in sin?

3. Christmas is a hard time for many people. What are some ways we can bring new life into the ‘dry bones’ of the Christmas season when people feel discouraged?

4. Read John 15:1-5. Jesus makes it clear that as God’s people, we do not possess life in and of ourselves. What are some ways we can continually draw life from Jesus?

5. Today John said that sin is deceptive in appearance. 

*Appears Benign.

*Appears Wise. Col. 2:8

*Appears Fun!  1 Cor. 15:33-34a

*Appears Religious.

As a group, think of an examples of each one of those.  Why is it so easy to be deceived by sin?

6. As the lesson closed today, we read Psalm 51:8 which says, “Let me hear joy and celebration again; let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.” Go around the group and let each person share one thing that brings them joy and celebration because of their  relationship with God.

Next Week: Isaiah 55:1-13

Resources

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/father-christmas-bone-fragment-saint-nicholas-oxford-university-researchers-italy-christianity-a8094356.html

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=39

Preacher’s Post

We ran the following in our church bulletin this week. I think it’s a great reminder of the importance and vitality of the Word of God. JD

There It Stands

Empires rise and fall and are forgotten—There it stands.

Dynasty succeeds dynasty—There it stands.

Kings are crowned and uncrowned—There it stands.

Emperors decree its extermination—There it stands.

Despised and torn to pieces—There it stands.

Storms of hate swirl about it—There it stands.

Atheists rail against it—There it stands.

Agnostics smile cynically—There it stands.

Profane prayerless punsters caricature it—There it stands.

Unbelief abandons it—There it stands.

Higher critics deny its claim to inspiration—There it stands. Thunderbolts of wrath smite it—There it stands.

An anvil that has broken a million hammers—There it stands.

The flames are kindled about it—There it stands.

The arrows of hate are discharged against it—There it stands. Radicalism rants and raves about it—There it stands.

Fogs of sophistry conceal it temporarily—There it stands.

The tooth of time gnaws but dents it not—There it stands.

Infidels predict its abandonment—There it stands.

Modernism tries to explain it away—There it stands.

Devotees of folly denounce it—There it stands.

It is God’s highway to Paradise. It is the light on the pathway in the darkest night. It leads business men to integrity and uprightness. It is the great consoler in bereavement. It awakens men and women opiated by sin. It answers every great question of the soul. It solves every great problem of life. It is a fortress often attacked but never failing. Its wisdom is commanding and its logic convincing. Salvation is its watchword. Eternal life its goal. It punctures all pretense. It is forward-looking, outward-looking, and upward-looking. It outlives, outlifts, outloves, outreaches, outranks, outruns all other books. Trust it, love it, obey it, and Eternal Life is yours.

A. Z. Conrad (1855-1937)

Faith Under Fire!

 

Faith Under Fire      Daniel 3

Audio:

Introduction

What would it take to renounce your faith? Peter by the fire renounced his knowledge of Jesus. Persecuted Christians in the world today are faced with life-or-death faith decisions every day. Our text is a story about three men of faith who stood up to a nation.

Nebuchadnezzar built an idol and demanded that everyone bow down to it. Three Hebrews would not bow down to the idol. Even under threat of death – to be thrown into a furnace and burned alive – they would not. The furnace was prepared…

Daniel 3:21-27 (CEB)  21 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound, still dressed in all their clothes, and thrown into the furnace of flaming fire. (22 Now the king’s command had been rash, and the furnace was heated to such an extreme that the fire’s flame killed the very men who carried Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to it.) 23 So these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell, bound, into the furnace of flaming fire. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in shock and said to his associates, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” They answered the king, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25 He replied, “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt! And the fourth one looks like one of the gods.” 26 Nebuchadnezzar went near the opening of the furnace of flaming fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. 27 The chief administrators, ministers, governors, and the king’s associates crowded around to look at them. The fire hadn’t done anything to them: their hair wasn’t singed; their garments looked the same as before; they didn’t even smell like fire! 

We are not under threat of death for living out our faith, but our faith is under fire today in many different ways.

Faith Under Fire

Pressure from Friends (1 Cor 15:33 Don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.) The desire to be liked is a strong one. Our faith can take a beating from our desire to conform with our friends.

Pressure from Culture (all forms of media). We can never trust our culture as a basis of God’s truth – we will be misled every time. Romans 12:2a Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds .

Pressure from Temptation. 2 Timothy 4:10aDemas has fallen in love with the present world and has deserted me… I don’t know what Demas loved about the world, but it was enough to draw him away from Christ. We have to be cautious that we are not taken captive by the temptations we face.

Pressure from our Fears. We feel pressure because we face losing relationships. We feel pressure because we face our own weakness. We feel pressure because we face our Lord. Matthew 13:20-21– falls away when trials come. Instead of a faith under fire, have a faith on fire!

Faith On Fire

The three young men faced quite a challenge – a fiery furnace that was so hot it killed the men who tended it. What two things did they teach us about a faith on fire?

Faith on Fire Believes in a God who is Able. He may rescue  / He may not rescue. Our faith is in God, not in what He does for us.

Isaiah 55:8-9 My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans.

Faith on Fire Believes in a God who is Present. He is not far away, but rather near.  Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego were not alone in the fire. God was with them. We sometimes think trials mean that God is not here, but maybe it means he is closer than ever! Because of their faithShadrach, Meschach, Abednego were men of courage, conviction, and confidence in a sovereign supreme God.

How Do We Cultivate a Fired Up Faith?

A Heritage of Faith that Begins at Childhood. These three young men were brought from Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar gave them new Babylonian names. Their parents were people of faith. Original Names:

*Hananiah (The LORD has Been Gracious).

*Michael – Who is What God Is?

*Azariah – the Lord has helped

Their parents had named each of these young men in demonstration of their dedication to the Living God. Parents, what are we doing to instill in our children a heritage of faith? Bringing them to church/Sunday school/youth group are all great. But it all falls second to a life of faith at home. Not everyone was blessed with a Christian home… and not every child stays with Christ. But this is our best effort for the future of faith for our children.

A Habit of Sticking to Convictions.

Daniel 1:8-10 Daniel decided that he wouldn’t pollute himself with the king’s rations or the royal wine, and he appealed to the chief official in hopes that he wouldn’t have to do so.Now God had established faithful loyalty between Daniel and the chief official;10 but the chief official said to Daniel, “I’m afraid of my master, the king, who has mandated what you are to eat and drink. What will happen if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men in your group? The king will have my head because of you!”

These three Hebrews and their friend Daniel would not eat the royal food and wine presented to them. It was offered to idols and they didn’t want it. What conviction to tell their captors that they would only eat certain food! Not afraid of the consequences. Do we stick to our convictions or are we washed about like waves of the sea?

Ephesians 4:14-15 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ…

We can never have a fired up faith without convictions

A Hope Beyond our Circumstances.

Daniel 3:17-18 If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us. 18 But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.”

They had no reason to believe that they would walk out of the furnace but that didn’t change their decision.

2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil action and will save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and always.

Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Conclusion

The fired up faith of these three Hebrews led to the change of heart of King Nebuchadnezzar. He then recognized the power of the true God of Israel.

Daniel 3:28-30 Nebuchadnezzar declared: “May the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be praised! He sent his messenger to rescue his servants who trusted him. They ignored the king’s order, sacrificing their bodies, because they wouldn’t serve or worship any god but their God. 29 I now issue a decree to every people, nation, and language: whoever speaks disrespectfully about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s God will be torn limb from limb and their house made a trash heap, because there is no other god who can rescue like this.” 30 Then the king made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prosperous in the province of Babylon.

If we fail to have a fired up faith, how will the world know the wonders and awesome power of our amazing God!

LifeGroup Questions

1. What is your favorite fire-related activity? Grilling Out, Bonfires, Fireplace, Burning leaves, Lighting Candles or something else?

2. Read Psalm 135:1-7; 15-18. There is quite a contrast between the living God and the dead idols. Idolatry is a sin we do not often confess. Maybe we have trouble identifying it. What is the difference in having something you’re very interested  in… and treating it as an idol? How would you know if something in your life was being treated as an idol?

3. In the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch did a study that demonstrated that people often conform. He invited 8 men to take this test with a series of cards. 7 of them had secretly agreed to give a wrong answer. The 8th man was unaware of  the conspiracy. 75% of the men conformed to the group when it was wrong. 

*Why do you think we are always in danger of conforming to others around us?

*Can you remember a time (maybe a religious discussion) when you were the only one who held your opinion? How did that feel?

*What can give us the strength to be different from the crowd around us?

Resource

4. What does fire often symbolize in Scripture? Can you give some examples?

5. Nebuchadnezzar (and others) saw four beings in the fire, not just the three Hebrews. How do you picture that in your mind? What did Nebuchadnezzar see? Some suggest it was an angel; others that it was Jesus Christ. What part did that play in the King’s change of heart?

 Here is a link to art from some Christians in 300 a.d.

6. The great preacher of another generation, Charles Spurgeon, said of this passage: “Duties are ours, events are the Lord’s.” What does this statement mean to you? Do you agree with it?

7. Why is God’s presence more precious than his deliverance?

8. As you consider the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, what is the one thought you have that stands out  the most?

New Wednesday Series: Surprise the World!

New Wednesday Night Series!

Starting Wednesday, November 29th we will be studying Michael Frost’s excellent little book with with a big message called SURPRISE THE WORLD. (Amazon link) The subtitle of this book is: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. This will be a great study to end our year with and to focus on a new year of outreach to our community.

Using the acronymn BELLS, Frost encourages us to embrace simple habits with big impact: Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, and be Sent. These are ‘surprises’ to a world that is self-focused and often unaware of the joy of the Christian life.

November 29 – SURPRISING THE WORLD

December 6 – CHANGING THE WORLD ONE MEAL AT A TIME

December 13 – THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS JESUS

December 20 – Christmas Gathering

December 27 – THE SENT ONES

Everyone is invited to join us in the fellowship hall each session as we talk about how to live in such a way as to surprise the world!  JD