In Ezekiel 37 the prophet is given a vision of a valley filled with skeletons, the remains of thousands of dead people. The Lord asked Ezekiel if those dry bones could live. ‘Can the dead really live again?’ was the question. “O Lord,” Ezekiel replied, “only you know that.”
In John 11 Jesus talks to a corpse. Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, had died, and by the time Jesus got there he had already been in the tomb for four days. He was not yet a skeleton as in Ezekiel’s vision, but his body was definitely decomposing. So Martha objected when Jesus said that the stone should be rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. “Lord,” she said, “by this time there will be a bad odor.” Jesus had told them, ‘Your brother will rise again,” but they were thinking he meant on the last day, so they did not know why he would want that stone rolled away. “He who believes in me,” said Jesus, “will live again. Do you believe this?” he had asked them. Yes, they said– but perhaps they were, like Ezekiel, wondering if that was possible? When the stone was rolled away Jesus said to the corpse, “Lazarus, come out!” and the dead man came out. Now, it is for us to wonder: Did that really happen? Can the dead live again?
One day, in the not too distant future, you will be what is described in those texts: decomposing flesh and then a pile of bones (or perhaps, a little box of ashes). That is what becomes of us. There is nothing in the natural realm that suggests there will be any more to our story than that. Nature moves in just one direction, from birth to life to death. There is no back and forth as in John 11 or Ezekiel 37. Dead is dead and that is the end of the story.
But in the Bible we see much more. The Bible opens our eyes to a whole new dimension, or it would be better to say, a whole new Kingdom– God’s Kingdom. And there, in that realm, death is not the end of the story, but only one incident in an ongoing story. In that realm, skeletons can come together and flesh can come upon them and they can breathe and live again. And in that realm, people can rise from the dead and come walking out of their tombs.
Your life and soul and spirit are not limited to your fragile, temporary, aging, aching body. Your life is God’s creation, God’s gift, and God’s possession; and he can put your life and spirit in this body for a while, and then when the time comes for this body to die and be buried or burned, God can just put the rest of you, your soul and your spirit, somewhere else, in some other body. Is that so impossible to imagine? Think about it. God put your life and spirit into this body. Why can’t he, when the time comes, take it back and put it somewhere else? Jesus said to Martha in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, WILL LIVE, even though he dies…”
A grieving widow was talking to her minister. “Where’s Eddie now?,” she asked. Her husband had died almost a year ago, and it was so hard for her to get used to him not being there anymore. He had been there, by her side, for 63 years, and then he was gone. “Where is he now?,” she asked again, staring sadly at the big old recliner where he always used to sit. She went on, “I know what you believe, pastor, and you had a real nice funeral sermon about heaven and seeing each other again. And I know that’s what the Bible says, and Eddie and I have always believed that. But how can that be? Eddie’s body was so old and worn out, and then so filled with cancer, and now he’s dead and buried. How can he live again?” (continued…)
Ezekiel 37:1-4 — The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
John 11:25 — Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”
John 11:43b — …Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Forbid, O Lord God, that my thoughts today should be wholly occupied by the world’s passing show. Seeing that in Thy lovingkindness Thou hast given me the power to lift my mind to the contemplation of things unseen and eternal, forbid that I should remain content with the things of sense and time. Grant that each day may do something so to strengthen my hold upon the unseen world, so to increase my sense of its reality, and so to attach my heart to its holy interests that, as the end of my earthly life draws nearer, I may not grow to be a part of these fleeting earthly surroundings, but rather grow more and more conformed to the life of the world to come. Amen. –John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer