The Resurrection of the Dead
July 28th, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-28-85 8:15 a.m.
And the Lord wonderfully bless the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message. In preaching through the Book of Ezekiel, here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, we have come to one of the most dynamic and traumatic and meaningful revelations in the Bible. And if you will, turn to the thirty-seventh chapter of the book, and I shall read the first ten verses; Ezekiel chapter 37:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
And He caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
And the Lord said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, Lord, I do not know; God, Thou knowest.
Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to bone.
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
They were dead corpses.
Then said the Lord unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
I would submit it to anyone that any vision like that, in any literature, would rivet the attention of those who saw it or listened to it, much less to expound upon it.
The background of that vision can be easily discovered in the life of the prophet Ezekiel. He experienced the horrors and the terrors of the Chaldean invasion [Ezekiel 1:1]. And the mark of their tracks were awesome to behold; valley after valley were left behind by that cruel and ruthless army, every inhabitant in it slain [Ezekiel 37:1-10]. And so universal the death, there was no one left behind to bury the bones and the vultures came out of the sky and ate the flesh. And the wolves descended out of the mountains and tore apart the corpses. And the sun beat upon the bones and whitened them, and the heat of the summer dried them; a vast charnel house. And in the midst of that desolation and death, God asks the unusual and amazing question, “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3].
When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, He said, “She is not dead; she just sleeps,” and they laughed Him to scorn [Luke 8:52-55]. These are not bodies, they are not even skeletons; they are bones disjointed and scattered throughout that charnel house of desolation. “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:1-3].
Scripture is so fraught and laden with meaning that one revelation will hardly ever exhaust its profound spiritual meaning. So in this vision there are four tremendous revelations. One: the ultimate and final restoration, resurrection, revival, of the nation Israel to their own land. Number two: the partial restoration of Israel under Zerubbabel the governor and Ezra the priest, when a few of them returned back to the land. Number three: a parable and a picture of the resurrection of the dead. And number four: a dramatic presentation of the rebirth, and the regeneration, and the resurrection of the fallen and condemned and sinful soul of man.
Briefly, in the few moments that we have to speak of each one of those dynamic lessons and spiritual revelations from this vision of Ezekiel: number one, the restoration and the revival and the resurrection of the nation Israel. It would be hard for us to enter into the devastation and hopelessness of the people of God when they saw their temple destroyed and the people led away into slavery [Psalm 137:1-4]. The temple: that’s the place where God said, “My name shall be there” [2 Chronicles 7:16]. The temple is the place where they approach God. But now there is no altar, there is no sacrifice, there is no priest, there’s no sanctuary, there’s no Holy of Holies; there is no approach to the great Jehovah God [2 Kings 25:8-9]. And not only was the priest carried into captivity like the prince and sold on the auction block as a slave in the markets of Chaldea [2 Kings 25:11, but there was no kingdom [2 Kings 25:18-22]. There was no nation; the land had been emptied of its people. There was no Hezekiah and no Josiah to represent the great Lord God of heaven. The lord of the earth and the lord of the land was now Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 1:1-2], and the land of God lay in utter desolation.
We read in the Scriptures when Nehemiah visited the sacred city he had difficulty riding his beast through the vast debris of destruction [Nehemiah 2:13-14]; the gates burned, the walls torn down, and the holy Mount Zion emptied of its great temple [Nehemiah 2:13-17]. And then God asked, “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3]. Can this nation be resurrected? Can this land be rebuilt and this city re-erected and this temple reconstructed? God asked that, not Ezekiel. It never would have occurred to him that such a thing could ever be. That’s not in the mind of man, but in God. It’s a marvelous and wonderful thing that when the bones are most dry and the land is most desolate, that it is then that the word and the power of God goes forth [Ezekiel 37:4-6].
And the rest of the Book of Ezekiel, as we shall see, is the prophecy of the return of the people to the land; of the reconstruction and resurrection of the nation, of the rebuilding of the temple [Ezekiel 40:1-48:35]. And may I turn aside and say, as I preach through these continuing chapters, I’m going to bring a current issue of the National Geographic magazine that describes the men of the Hasidic conviction in Israel today that are preparing to rebuild that temple. These things are of God.
Number two: it is a picture and a parable of the resurrection of the dead. Death is the one universal common denominator of all mankind. If we had a visitor from Neptune or from Mars or from one of the other planets to come and visit us, he would describe the earth as, “This is the place in which to bury the dead. It is appalling.” And the misery of mankind moves inevitably and inextricably toward that final day when we die.
Now God asked that same question again, “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3]. Is there life beyond death and the grave? When you look at the corpse, you’d say no. When you look at the corrupting body, you’d say no. When you look at the grave, you’d say no. When you look at the powerless of men, you’d say no. When you look at all of the instruments of state, or culture, or life, or civilization, you’d say no. But God says yes [Ezekiel 37:5-6]. The power of regeneration, and resurrection, and rebirth, and re-life is in Him [Luke 20:38]. God says yes.
It’s a remarkable thing in the Old Testament, in the adumbrations of the glorious gospel of the new. In that beautiful song of Hannah she says, “God raises us up from the grave” [1 Samuel 2:6]. In that marvelous passage in Job 19, “The worms through this skin destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom my eyes shall behold” [Job 19:26-27]. In the glorious [sixteenth] Psalm of David, “He will not allow His Holy One to see corruption”; God shall raise Him from the dead [Psalm 16:10]. In the beautiful, ecstatic, poetic voice of the court preacher Isaiah, “They that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the shadow of the valley of death, upon them light hath shined” [Isaiah 9:2]. Daniel exclaims, “Many that sleep in the dust of the ground shall rise, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt [Daniel 12:2]; adumbrations of the resurrection of the dead.
When we come then to the revelation of the New Testament, the whole faith is built around that exclamation, “He is not here. He is risen from the dead” [Matthew 28:6]. He is alive! He is alive! And the heart of the gospel message is “Because He lives, we shall live also” [John 14:19]; the resurrection, the raising from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
The third: it is a picture and a parable of the resurrection, the rebirth, the regeneration of the soul. As God looks upon our world, we are dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. Our iniquities have separated us from the Lord God [Isaiah 59:2]. We are cast out; our bones are very many, and they are very dry, so much so that an Elijah could say, “And I, I alone am left” [1 Kings 19:10]. So much so that apostle Paul could walk through the great Athenian city of the Greeks and say, “My spirit is moved within me because the city is wholly given to idolatry” [Acts 17:16]. What would he say did he walk through a modern city worshipping mammon, worshipping pleasure, worshipping fame, money, a thousand things, but not worshipping God? As John would say in the fifth chapter of the first epistle, “The whole world lieth in wickedness [1 John 5:19], dead in trespasses and in sins” [Ephesians 2:1].
But not only the world, but the church itself. In my reading through the works of preparing this message, one of the men describing a survey of the churches said, “Only thirty percent”—you think of that, that leaves out seventy percent—“only thirty percent of the people in the church give any evidence of being regenerated.” What a tragedy! What an unthinkableness! Only thirty percent, thirty out of a hundred of the members of the church give any evidence of being converted.
I read this week, one of the men called the church “an organized hypocrisy.” I read this week where an intermediate refused to go to a show because he said, “I’m going to church,” and he refused the appeals of his companions to go to the show. He’s going to church. So he went to church, as he felt as a Christian he ought to do; he went to church. And when the church services began, he looked around for his Sunday school teacher. His Sunday school teacher wasn’t there. He looked around for a deacon that he knew. The deacon wasn’t there. He looked around for others that he knew. They weren’t there. And the boy got up and went to the show. He felt it wasn’t important for them to go to church, neither was it important for him. That’s a tragedy! That’s a tragedy; an unspeakable judgment of God.
“The bones are very many, and the bones are very dry” [Ezekiel 37:2]. But God says, “Can these bones live?” [Ezekiel 37:3] And the Lord God says yes [Ezekiel 37:5-6]. “This my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:24]. There’s always the possibility of great revival, and resuscitation, and regeneration among people; people in the church, there’s possibility of revival; and people outside the church, the possibility of being saved.
Charles Darwin made an extended journey over years and years in a ship called the Beagle. From 1831 to 1836, he went through the South Seas, and he went to through the southern part of our Atlantic Ocean. And when he got down to the tip of South America, there’s a country at the bottom, right at the tip, called Tierra del Fuego, and when Charles Darwin visited the Tierra del Fuegans, he said, “I have found a people so low, so depraved, so bestial, so subhuman in character and conduct, I have found the missing link between the animal ape, the anthropoid, and the human being; the Tierra del Fuegans.” And he wrote, “All the missionaries in the world would not be able to reach them.” That’s what Charles Darwin said. He had found that missing link between the ape and the man. That word spread throughout the world, of course, because Charles Darwin was the most famous scientist in this last century.
And the missionaries assigned themselves the task of going down to the Tierra del Fuegans. And this is what Charles Darwin wrote. “It shames me as I remember my prophecy of failure for the missionaries. Their endeavors have met with marvelous success.” Then he wrote to the London Missionary Society, “I shall feel proud if your committee shall think fit to select me as an honorary member of your society.” And in that same letter he enclosed twenty-five British pounds for gospel missions, amazed at what the missionaries had done with those Tierra del Fuegans.
No matter who he is or she is, no matter what their culture or depravity, there’s always the possibility of revival, of resurrection, of rebirth, of regeneration, always and everywhere; in the church, out of the church, in any city, in any house, in any home, in any business, in any life. Everywhere, there’s a possibility of intervention of God.
Now let me speak of what God says are the instruments for this regeneration, this revival, this resurrection. What does God use to bring this about in human life, in human hearts, in human homes, in our soul? How does God do it?
First of all, there are two ways that God does it, and the first is by preaching. He says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy upon these bones, and say, Thus saith the Lord God” [Ezekiel 37:4-5]. Prophesy; now to us prophecy means foretelling the future. It has no meaning like that in the Bible. Prophecy means preaching; it means addressing, proclaiming, declaring the Word of God. Prophesy, preach, preach.
Now may I point out, that is why it is tragic beyond any description to pass by the preaching service and to pass by the exposition of the Word of God, for that is the instrument that God uses to change our hearts and save our souls. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Not that the preaching, the content is foolish, but that the method is foolish. This is God’s way, which to the world sounds foolish, it’s God’s way of regenerating the soul, the preaching of the gospel. “Son of man, prophesy, preach to these dry bones,” these dead hearts, these lost souls; preach to them [Ezekiel 37:4].
We’re not saved, then, we’re not regenerated by incantation, or by hallucination, or by striving after esoteric experiences or far-out and emotional repercussions. Nor are we saved by genuflection, and by recitation, and by litany, and by incense burning, and by all kinds of ritual. Nor are we saved by social amelioration, or civic betterment, or all the things that minister to the body. We are saved through the preaching of the gospel; “Prophesy.” ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” [1 Corinthians 1:21].
I can well imagine, I can well imagine Ezekiel before such a command as that. “Son of man, preach to these dry bones, these hard hearts and these lost souls. Preach to them” [Ezekiel 37:4]. I can imagine the demurring and the hesitancy and the timidity of Ezekiel before such a command. I can well imagine reason speaking in his mind, in his voice, saying, “That is foolishness.” And I can imagine that common sense whispered to him in his other ear, “That’s useless. Preach to dry bones, dead hearts, dead lives, indifferent spirits; preach to them.” That’s what God said [Ezekiel 37:4]. That’s what God says to us. No matter the indifference in the man, deliver him the message of God. No matter the idolatry of the city, bring to it the message of the Lord. No matter what, preach, deliver the message of God, testify to the love and grace of God. Do it [Ezekiel 37:4].
And then something remarkable happens. It is not of us; it is of the Lord. God does it. God works by pieces; He works by installments; He works by moments; He works by movements. As the prophet began to deliver the message of the Lord, as he preached to that valley of dry bones, there was a moving, there was a stirring. And bone came to bone; and joint came to joint, and sinew covered, and the flesh covered, and it lay there, a great valley of bodies [Ezekiel 37:7-8]. That’s the way the Holy Spirit works! [Genesis 1:2; John 3:5-8] God works that way. The man finally listens; he hears and hears and hears, and one day he hears and there’s conviction in his heart, and there is repentance, and there is acceptance, and there’s faith, and there’s confession, and finally there’s the whole man giving himself to God. As the Lord said in the parable: first there is the seed, then there’s the blade, then there’s the stalk, then there’s the bud, then there’s the bloom, and the flower, and finally, the fruit [Mark 4:26-29]. So it is with God. God works by moments, by movements, by installments, little at a time, piece at a time! And the miracle comes to pass under the preaching of the gospel [1 Corinthians 1:21].
Now that leads to the second thing: not only does God use the instrument of the preaching of the gospel to save the lost [1 Corinthians 1:21], but it must be accompanied by prayer to the holy, regenerating Spirit of God. “And the Lord said to me, Prophesy, speak, unto the ruach, ruach.” That can be translated “breath”; it can be translated “wind”; it can be translated “spirit.” All three of those are the same word, ruach. “He said unto me, Prophesy unto the ruach, prophesy, son of man, and say to the ruach, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, from the ruach, O breath, O ruach; Come and breathe on the slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the ruach came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet” [Ezekiel 37:9-10].
Preaching must also be accompanied by appeal to the breath of God, to the Spirit of God, to the wind of the Lord. Preaching alone cannot do it. That great valley was filled with corpses, but they were dead. Their hands were stiff. Their eyes were glazed. Their tongues were paralyzed and silent. They needed breath [Ezekiel 37:8], ruach, the Spirit of God. We can preach forever and the people not be saved; the exposition of the Word of God, stand here as a Demosthenes or as a Savonarola forever, and the people are not saved. The message must be accompanied by the regenerating Spirit of God, the ruach of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of God. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My ruach, by My breath, by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. It is God that opened the heart of Lydia, the first European convert [Acts 16:14]. It is God’s Spirit that must open the heart of those who listen and hear the preaching of the gospel of Christ [John 16:8].
And that’s why our appeal to the Spirit of life and regeneration and resurrection; “O ruach, O breath of God, O Lord” [Ezekiel 37:9-10], and sometimes with strong crying and tears [Hebrews 5:7], pleading at the throne of grace [Hebrews 4:16], “Lord, Lord. It is not in our power, it is not in our ableness. God must convict; God must convert; God must regenerate [John 3:3-8]. And, Lord, we pour out our hearts unto Thee; O come.”
O Spirit of the Lord, prepare
All the round earth our God to meet;
Breathe Thou abroad like morning air,
Till hearts of stone begin to beat.
[from “O Spirit of the Living God,” James Montgomery]
Holy Spirit breathe on me,
Fill me with pow’r divine;
Kindle a flame of love and zeal
Within this heart of mine.
Breathe on me.
O Holy Spirit of God,
Breathe on me.
[from “Breathe on me, breath of God,” by Edwin Hatch]
“And the Lord breathed on His disciples and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath, the ruach” [John 20:22].
Breathe on me. Lord, Lord, breathe on me. Fill every heart; move every spirit; speak to every soul. O Spirit of God, breathe on me. That is the presence and power of God that can remake the soul, reborn the heart, regenerate the life, save us from a world of death and condemnation, and present us someday in the presence of His glory [Jude 1:24]. God does it. The Lord does it.
Our time is spent and we must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, while we sing that invitation, make that decision for God; answer that appeal of the Lord now. Do it now in your heart. And when we stand in this moment and sing our appeal, in this balcony round, there’s time and to spare, down one of these stairways, and on the lower floor in this press of people, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me; the Lord has spoken to me. God has breathed on me. God has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life, accepting Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or, “Putting my life in this dear church,” or, “Answering God’s call in my soul, and here I stand.” Make that decision now. And when we stand, you stand. That first step, down the aisle or down one of these stairways, it will be the most beautiful and precious decision you’ll ever make in your life. And in the name of God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy ruach, the Holy Breath, in the name of God, I welcome you. Do it. Bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.