The Greatest Need In The Church

Bible Book: Ezekiel  37 : 1-14
Subject: Revival; Church, Need of

It has been said that there will be no survival without revival. America has the appearance of prosperity and success, but the political; the military; the financial; the moral and the spiritual infrastructure of this country is growing weaker every day. And our hope is not on Wall Street, and it is not in Washington. It is in God. We need revival.

Too many churches are content with the status quo, which is marked by a general deadness that is occasionally interrupted by some kind of spiritual shock treatment that produces an occasional spark of life. I for one am not about to be content with anything that resembles death when God is in the business of reviving the dead. In our text we're going to discover how the breath of God transformed a desolate bone yard into a dynamic battalion of marching men.

In Ezekiel 37 the revival of these bones symbolizes the restoration of the Israelites from their captivity. It is also an emblem of the Jews' ultimate return to the land of promise. Furthermore, this text figuratively portrays God's power to enliven the church and surcharge it with the dynamic of the Holy Spirit.

I. The Descriptive Place

Our text indicates that the prophet Ezekiel was transported by the Lord to an ancient valley of death. Ezekiel's place of divine appointment was neither attractive nor promising. But no one ever had a more definite call. Look in verse 1 of our text (read). "The hand of the Lord" and "the spirit of the Lord" were operative in the prophet's life. Ezekiel had been directed and delivered to a place of death and desolation by divine mandate. This was Ezekiel's divinely ordained preaching assignment.

Actually, the Lord never promised Ezekiel a life of comfort and ease. In fact, I want you to notice what God said to Ezekiel when he called him (read Ezekiel 2:3-4). Sometimes the preacher will find his congregation rebellious and unreceptive. When Isaiah exhorted Israel to obey God, his message was not received with gladness. In fact, he said to Israel, "...thou art obstinate, and thy neck is as an iron sinew, and thy brow brass" (Isaiah 48:4). When Stephen defended his faith before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, he encountered a defiant audience. He said, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, do ye always resist the Holy Ghost..." (Acts 7:51). Dr. Vance Havner said that occasionally he would preach in a church where the look on the faces of the people would curdle milk.

I think, however, I would rather preach in a place where there is defiance and resistance than in a place where there is death. I think I would rather preach to a convention of atheists than to a valley of dry bones. Despair is rational and hope is absurd in a situation like the one encountered by Ezekiel.

I used to go to church on Saturday nights, turn on the pulpit lights and practice preaching my sermon to an empty auditorium. Every Saturday night I followed the same routine. I would wax eloquently before that lumber yard of empty pews. I never expected any response, and I never got any response. Until one night three mischievous teenagers decided to spook me. They knew about my Saturday night routine and had arrived at the church ahead of me. They had entered the worship center and were quietly lying in the pews at the back of the building. I was preaching that sermon complete with inflections of the voice and gestures of the hand and the pounding of the pulpit. At one strategic point I raised my voice for emphasis, and those three teenagers sat up in the pews and said, Amen!" That was the last time I ever practiced my sermon in church on Saturday night.

Sometimes you'll have a church meeting where there are just a lot of empty pews. Sometimes you will have a church meeting where the pews are just full of a lot of empty people. In either case, there is a deadness that prevails. May God forbid that kind of death ever prevailing in our church. May God forever deliver us from being bone- yard Baptists. Far too many churches are characterized by the pitiable and repulsive spectacle of bones that have been dried and bleached by years of exposure to worldly compromise and spiritual draught.

Poor Ezekiel! Assignment: the bone yard! That was the descriptive place to which he had been sent by God to preach his message.

II. The Desperate Predicament

When Ezekiel actually surveyed the situation and saw all the bones, he observed that "there were very many in the open valley" and that "they were very dry." It was a scene of silent desolation. The valley did not contain skeletons, but an indiscriminate mass of bones so thick that the plain was white with the chronic leprosy of death. As we ponder these bleached bones picked clean by the vultures and scattered about in hopeless confusion, let us think of some of the characteristics of death.

For example, for a dead person there is no purpose. Try to discover the purpose of a dead man. He is incapable of having goals and dreams and ambitions. A corpse does not establish objectives and execute plans.

A number of years ago the former Olympic champion Bob Richards was visiting a Sunday School class in Long Beach, California. On that particular Sunday he met an overweight grade school girl wearing thick glasses. She obnoxiously insisted to Richards, "I am going to become a great tennis champion."

The renowned Olympic hero thought the girl's dream was an unrealistic fantasy. However, Billy Jean King had a purpose firmly planted in her heart. Her discipline, persistence and determination vaulted her into the tennis arena and consequently lifted her into the winner's circle to be the champion she wanted to be.

At fifteen Mark Spitz declared that he was going to win seven Olympic gold medals. At the 1968 summer games in Mexico City he won two gold medals. He was sorely disappointed, but he reaffirmed his goal and trained with greater intensity and commitment than ever. Four years later at the 1972 games in Munich he set seven Olympic records and won seven gold medals, just as he had predicted six years earlier.

Another man at 65 years of age looked back over his life and saw only a mountain of failures. He had spent much of his career cooking and washing dishes in a little cafe. When he received his first social security check for $105, he was so despondent he contemplated suicide. However, instead of taking his life, he screwed up his courage, reviewed his life and decided to assert himself as a cook. He went to the local bank and borrowed less than $100 against his next social security check. He went to the supermarket and bought some chicken and fried it as only he could. This determined retiree then began to go from door to door in Corbin, Kentucky, selling that chicken. That was the beginning of the Colonel Harland Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken enterprise.

But, you see, Billy Jean King, Mark Spitz and Harland Sanders all had something that the deceased do not have. They had a purpose; a goal; an objective. And we need to remember that "where there is no vision (purpose), the people perish..." (Proverbs 29:18). Examine yourself! Are you spiritually alive? Do you have a divine purpose for your life? Do you have a heavenly vision to direct and motivate your destiny?

Secondly, a dead man has no passion. There is no fire; no zeal; no appetite; no emotion; no heart; no driving force in the chest cavity of a corpse. A dead man is utterly insensitive to his surroundings. He is moved neither by that which inspires laughter, nor that which prompts grief.

Would to God that we had the passion of Jeremiah who said, "But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones..." (Jeremiah 20:9). Would to God that we had the passion of Peter and John who said, "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." And once again the passion of Peter, who said to Jesus, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee" (Matthew 26:35).

But, you see, those who are dead can never enter into this passion, this intense empathy with Christ; this passion for godliness for a lost world, for a growing church. A corpse cannot rejoice when a prodigal son returns home. A corpse cannot praise God for spiritual victories. A corpse cannot weep when a despairing soul wanders away. Dead men have no passion. Those who are insensitive to spiritual realities and have a "ho-hum" attitude toward the things of God are giving more evidence of death than life. Unfortunately, it is evident that many in our churches have spiritual rigor mortis. There is no spiritual purpose or passion in their lives.

Another trait of death is no productivity. People, corporations and churches that are vibrantly alive are productive. But death is marked by sterility, stagnation and barrenness.

The Bible tells us that the church at Sardis was dead. It had a reputation for being alive, but was no doubt living only in the afterglow of a glorious past. The altars were empty, the baptistery was covered with cobwebs and they There are churches today with stately buildings, impressive budgets and engaged in endless activities, but the atmosphere of their worship service resembles the mortuary chill of death. They're in the path of the grim reaper's swath and the stench of their decomposition is already ascending toward the nostrils of God.

One preacher was asked about the health of his church and replied, "Obviously the folks in my church don't love each other because I haven't married anybody in the ten years I've been here. They don't love God because no one ever comes to the altar to make a decision for Christ. And sometimes I wonder if God even loves them because He hasn't seen fit to call any of them home to heaven during the past decade. Otherwise, everything is going well in our church."

There is no purpose, no passion and no productivity in death. The valley of dry bones which Ezekiel saw was a picture of deadness and desolation -- a desperate predicament. To test Ezekiel's faith, the Lord asked, "Son of man, can these bones live?" (verse 3). The situation looked hopeless! Just as we're about to write "mission impossible" over this desperate predicament, we are reminded of the missing factor -- the sovereignty and the omnipotence of God.

So in respond to the Lord's exploratory question, Ezekiel wisely answered, "O Lord God, thou knowest." Presumption would have responded in the affirmative, "Yes." Unbelief would have replied with a disconsolate "No." The confident response of faith is forever, "O Lord God, thou knowest." The genuine believer knows, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

III. The Directed Prophesy

Look in verse 4 (read). Surely God placed Ezekiel in this most unpromising situation to demonstrate the power of the preached Word.

Can't you just imagine the first reaction of Ezekiel! The command to address the constituents of this rather unkempt cemetery is incredible. Ezekiel could have remonstrated with the Lord and said, "You mean that you want me to preach to all these dry, bleached bones? What am I supposed to say?

Deadly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God to join together this ankle bone to this leg bone."

To say one word of exhortation or admonition to a valley of bones requires great faith. Ezekiel had no doubt been encouraged by a gallery of saints who had demonstrated a marvelous confidence in God. There was Abel who had given evidence of a great faith by offering "a more excellent sacrifice" than Cain. Noah had demonstrated a remarkable faith by preparing an ark and warning a recalcitrant and unresponsive society of a flood for 120 years. Abraham's sojourn to the land of promise was an example of outstanding faith. Moses' choice to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures that abounded in Egypt marked him as a man of faith. Surely the knowledge of these stalwart men of faith motivated Ezekiel to obey the command of God.

This valley of death, however, offers Ezekiel a faith-stretching experience. This scene is full of all kinds of dramatic possibilities. Before this wasteland of disconnected skeletons stands a man to whom has been committed the word of life. Will the "quick and powerful" word of God make a difference in the midst of death? Is the promise that God's word shall not return to Him void valid? Can men be saved, revived, or resuscitated by the foolishness of preaching? Yes, a thousand times yes! When a man of God stands in the power of God to preach the word of God, many miraculous things become wondrous possibilities.

Of course, you know that the Gideons International have thousands of testimonies about the power of the word of God to change lives. One such story revolves around a man by the name of Bill Stallings who today is an active member of a church in Durham, North Carolina. Nineteen years ago this spring Bill Stallings became the recipient of a Gideon New Testament. He did not bother to read it at the time, but he did put it in a shelf over his desk with other books.

At the time he received this Testament he was drinking, he was on drugs and he was working three jobs a day in order to keep his habit going. Most of the money that he made was going for whiskey and drugs. Very little of the money was allocated for meeting the needs of his family. One of his jobs was in an adult bookstore. His wife was fed up with the whole mess and finally left him. His life was one colossal disaster.

But on July 2, 1982, an order came in for him to repair a lock. And since he needed to know more about this lock, he reached up on the shelf for a lock book. The little green Testament actually fell into his hand. He opened the first few pages and found Scriptures to read when you're depressed, and Scriptures to read when friends leave. He read these and more and was late in repairing the lock. He felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and asked Christ to forgive him of his sins, to come into his heart and make him a new person. He read the prayer on the last page of the book, then prayed it himself and signed his name and dated it.

Suddenly he felt free. The chains of his habits and sins had been removed. He went to the phone and called his daughter and told her what had happened. After work he went to where his wife was living, told her what had happened and asked her to come back, which she did. The word of God made a powerful difference in his life.

The word of God will arouse the dead and prepare the people for battle.

IV. A Definitive Promise

God's promise to the dry bones through Ezekiel is recorded in verses 5 and 6 (read). Actually, this prophesy consists of God's promise to resurrect the nation of Israel. The status of the nation was deplorable. The distinctiveness of Israel had vanished through compromise. The religious festivals, Temple rites, Levitical priesthood and commitment to the law had virtually disappeared. Their deplorable condition is now appropriately symbolized by the dry, disconnected bones.

Indeed, the Jews have been buried among the nations of the earth as bones scattered over a parched desert. The promise of God is that He will one day gather together the Jews from the ends of the earth and return them to their land.

But these verses not only have a primary application to the Jewish people, they have a tremendous interpretation for the modern day church. Just as one day God will chasten, cleanse and restore the Jews by the power of His Spirit, even so He has the power to cleanse, revive and restore to power His body, the church.

But let it be clearly and firmly stated that the restoration of Israel and the revival of the church is possible only through the intervention of God. The church cannot resuscitate herself. To try to enliven and operate a church in the energy of the flesh would be like trying to operate a factory on a flashlight battery. Our efficiency turns out to be deficiency without God's sufficiency.

We can agonize, organize, emphasize and publicize, but we cannot produce a genuine revival. If real renewal comes, it will have to come from God. God can always do more in one service than we can do in a year of service. How wondrous is the power of God! The psalmist declared, "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God" (Psalm 62:11).

Dearly beloved, the God who breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life, and the Lord Jesus who breathed upon the disciples and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit," is the same God who can breathe upon a bone yard and transform it into a mighty, marching, motivated battalion of believers. To the broken, barren, impotent church, our great God makes the promise of a renewed and revitalized life.

IV. The Deliberate Process

A real revival generally is the result of a gradual, deliberate process. For example, there were several stages in the restoration of this "exceeding great army" in Ezekiel 37. The first indication that the transformation, or reviving, was about to occur was a "noise." In verse 7 Ezekiel informs us that "there was a noise." Some scholars interpret this "noise" as the trumpet blast or "the voice of God" which in the end of this age will proceed the resurrection of the dead. In I Thessalonians 4:16 it says, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout."

When David wanted to know that moment at which God would have him move his army out against the Philistines; that moment at which God's grace would be poured out to quicken his endeavors, God said, "And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself" (II Samuel 5:24). When David heard that noise, he launched his attack to conquer his enemies. The military assault was signaled with a "noise."

In the New Testament, when the kingdom of the Messiah was to be established, and the apostles were to beat down the devil's kingdom, they were told not to attempt anything until they received the promise of the Spirit. In Acts 2 we read that the coming of the Spirit was signaled by a noise, a sound. "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:2).

Listen! Listen! Spiritual renewal starts with a sound. Do you hear anything that hints of revival? Is there a noise on earth that is ascending to heaven? Is there a noise in heaven that is descending to earth? There was a "noise."

Next there was a "shaking" to follow the noise in this deliberate process of God. There was a holy commotion! Some have identified this "shaking" as an earthquake. Others have indicated that it must have been something like the vibrations of some peals of thunder accompanying the divine prophesy. Some say the shaking came about as a result of the rustling of bones beginning to come together. Sometimes God introduces some of His mightiest works with a triumphant tremor.

Consider the words of Acts 4:31. "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness."

Following the "noise" and the "shaking," we learn that "the bones came together, bone to his bone." All the dry, scattered, disconnected bones began to be properly consolidated. This miracle of bones being connected reminds us of the old spiritual, "Dem Bones." In verse 8 we're informed that "the sinews and the flesh came upon them and the skin covered them above."

A deliberate process of assembling an organization has taken place as these dry bones have become skeletons clothed with flesh and encased in skin. That which started out as a bone yard has now become a full-fledged mortuary filled with orderly rows of cold, beautiful, compact corpses.

Please observe that the situation is vastly different, but not at all resolved, because dead is dead. Some are beautiful when they die. Others are ugly. Some die in their youth. Others die when they are well stricken with years. Many have been dead for years and their bodies have disintegrated into dust. Some who have recently died appeared to have the blush of life still upon their countenance, and give the impression of being in a deep sleep. However, every deceased person is marked by decay and corruption.

Many churches are not so much symbolized by the valley of dry bones as they are by the assembled skeletons clothed in flesh. The designated hour of worship may be punctiliously proper, and yet void of the breath of God. The church must beware of going through the motions of an external religion that is empty of life and spirit and power.

Having prophesied to the dry bones, Ezekiel must now prophesy to the wind; to breathe on the slain and make them live. The proclamation of mere man has obviously accomplished all that could be accomplished from a human perspective. The dry bones have assembled and been covered with flesh to form a proper appearance. There was a congregation, but not a commotion; an assembly, but not an army. The all-pervading breath of God was the one essential missing ingredient.

Breath is the most important element in the process to produce life. Remember that the word "breath" is a translation of the Old Testament word "ruach" which can also be translated "wind" or "spirit."

With the breath of life infused into these corpses, they come alive and stand up as an exceeding great army. Jesus said, "It is the spirit (breath) that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). The breath (spirit) of God can awaken to newness of life both the dead sinner and the defeated saint.

Having considered the deliberate process God used to bring revival to a bone yard, we must now consider:

V. The Divine Performance

Now, instead of a valley of dry bones there is a living, loyal, united, mighty army. That is precisely what a revival will do - it will make an indifferent, lifeless, lukewarm church into a mighty, militant, marching army.

Both the restoration of Israel and the reviving of the church is a divine performance. Notice what God said in Ezekiel 37:13-14 (read).


Years ago in the Civil War battle of Kennesaw Mountain, a 20-year-old Union captain was terribly wounded. He lay bleeding upon the battlefield with his chest "blown open." A medic stopped, saw his condition, bent down to try to detect a heartbeat and concluded that the young officer was dead. That battlefield marked by heaps of bleeding flesh was another valley of death.

The wounded captain had been left for the night in a pool of blood with no bedding but the ground; no roof but the canopy of heaven; no pitying eyes but the stars; no sound but the call of the nightingale; no companions but his fallen comrades, and no hope but the power of prayer.

Back in a New England village the young soldier had a mother and father who were devout Christians. They believed in the power of prayer and had been interceding for their son all through the months of fighting. He went to Yale University and had his faith challenged and destroyed. He became a rebel and was known and registered as an infidel. There were those who would have rejoiced if the battlefield had claimed his life.

That body, however weak and wounded, held on tenaciously to the slightest remnant of life. A myriad of thoughts marched through his brain in dramatic succession that night on the battlefield. The instruction and admonition which he had received from his godly parents came back to him. That battlefield suddenly became an altar, and that young man was saved by the power of a sovereign God. In the midst of a theater of death, God breathed into him the breath of life.

At the breaking of dawn the next morning, a platoon of soldiers came to retrieve the dead and found the captain still breathing. They took him to a hospital. As soon as he was able to make a request, he called for a chaplain and told him of his conversion and of his intention to be a committed Christian.

Everyone thought the bleeding soldier had been mortally wounded. The medic had left him for dead. The stretcher bearer gave him no hope of survival. His comrades thought him to be no longer among the living. However, God in His grace and power saw fit to lay His hands upon that boy who had been shredded by shrapnel. Jesus, the One who walked in Galilee, took a stroll through that battlefield that night and entered the heart of a boy whose only hope was in God. That which was accomplished on that field of battle was of God -- a divine performance.

By the way, who was that bleeding boy and whatever became of him? He was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1879. He served as pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, and later founded the Baptist Temple, developing it into one of the most important churches in America. He started a night school for young preachers which subsequently became Temple University. This man also founded Samaritan Hospital in 1891. He wrote twenty books which have been widely read and marvelously influential. Because of the life of this man, Russell Herman Conwell, thousands of souls have been saved, and many more have been enriched because of his invaluable contribution to this land we love.

When you speak of divine performance, you are speaking of a blessed, beneficial, intervention of God. What Russell Conwell did for the cause of Christ and the good of man resulted from the touch of God upon a life that appeared to be no more than a corpse in a field of death. Perhaps you need the touch of God upon your life. Perhaps you need to experience the divine inspiration that occurs when God breathes into you His quickening power. He can enliven you to be a part of a mighty, spiritual army. He can quicken you so that you can become a vibrant, vital soldier of the cross.