Grace in a Graveyard
The Bible is filled to the brim with amazing portraits of God’s grace. All throughout its pages, God desires to reveal himself as the sole, sovereign Savior and you as the destitute and desperate sinner. Our God delights in saving the wretches and wrecks like you and me because he wants us to see is that we should “never dare to doubt the possibility of your being forgiven.” (Spurgeon, 31) Regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what’s going on right now, God’s grace is stronger!
If you read Ezekiel 36–37, you’re given another incredible message of God meeting our mess with his mercy — rather, our deadness with his deliverance. The prophet Ezekiel’s ministry occurs during a time of great darkness. Confusion, exile, and violence plague the nations. The whole world was riddled with war and conflict. It’s in this darkness, however, that there comes a vision of hope, a portrait of grace. The divine promise of Ezekiel 36 gives new life and new hope with the promise of a “new heart” and a “new spirit.” God declares, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezek. 36:25–27) And so it is that we are made to see that God the Father is so bent on his holiness and glory that he will do whatever it takes to be given the honor that’s due his name. When his honor is cast aside, he does whatever it takes to restore it, to “vindicate the holiness” of his great name. (Ezek. 36:23) In fact, “Christ is so in love with holiness,” writes the Puritan John Flavel, “that at the price of his blood he will buy it for us.” (73–74)
Chapter 37 begins with God giving his prophet a vision, a vision of a valley “full of bones” (Ezek. 37:1) — dry, lifeless, white bones, the last remains of a long-forgotten battle. God then inquires to his messenger, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3) That is, Is there any way for life to be restored here? Is there any way for these bones to flourish and fight once again? Is there any way to be free from death, the grave, and darkness? Ezekiel responds, “Lord, you alone know the answer to that.” God’s command at first seems pointless (Ezek. 36:4), but he assures his prophet that he will perform the impossible. (Ezek. 37:5–6)
All throughout this chapter, the remains serve as a representation of the lost soul before Jesus invades. These dead bones serve as the perfect emblem of us before Christ: no true life, no faith, “no spiritual motion; no inward desires after God,” notes John Gill — no strength or ability to redeem, deliver, or regenerate themselves. Apart from Jesus’s quickening Spirit we can’t do anything good or righteous. Even our “good works” are tainted with sin. (John 15:5) “Spirit” (Ezek. 37:1) and “breath” (Ezek. 37:5) originate from the same Hebrew word, thus creating the beautiful imagery of the Spirit without the Spirit we’re nothing but dead bones, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:10), “entirely lifeless, helpless, and hopeless,” Gill continues.
But God’s grace invades this deadness, this darkness. The gospel infiltrates dark spaces to showcase the Light of the World — to put on a pedestal the Hope of the Nations, the Savior of the Lost, the Broken. “But God!” (Eph. 2:4): this is, perhaps, the single greatest two-word phrase in all of human history. For, without God, without Jesus, without his enlivening Spirit, we’re nothing but a valley of dry, lifeless bones.
Redemption exceeds creation: the one is a monument of God’s power, the other of his love. O the infinite stupendous love of Christ in raising poor lapsed creatures from a state of guilt and damnation! (Watson, 282)
It’s because of this love that we have life at all! Notice all the “I wills” in chapters 36–37. It’s not us who “do” the work, it’s the Spirit working through us. This resurrection-life is all of God, all of grace. His mercy on helpless enemies, Christless sinners, lifeless bones, flows from his own loving heart, not from anything we’ve done. Salvation and new life, in every respect, is owed to God; “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.” He spoke this hope into existence and then performed it himself. (Ezek. 36:14) Everything we are we owe to Jesus, God’s “unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15; Eph. 2:4–9) When we’re made alive, when dead bones breathe again, they stand on their feet (Ezek. 37:10), “they stand in the grace of God,” notes Gill, “and on the foundation [of] Christ.” The Spirit, the very Breath of God, comes “the four winds” and breathes on us (Ezek. 37:10), and raises us up together (Eph. 2:7) so that we may fight and enter the fray as an exceeding great army.” (Ezek. 37:10) That we might fight, live, and prove this resurrection-gospel to the world.
God’s desire is self-disclosure. He wants the whole world know of his amazing holiness and grace. (Ezek. 37:14; 36:23) The plan of God is for us to live and marvel for all eternity over the incredible kindness and love of God. It will take all of eternity to fathom God’s love, and those who are saved will never plumb the depths of it. God wants to be known, he wants to be pursued. And by the imparting of his breath, his Spirit, we’re made alive to pursue. We’re raised to “newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4) To “mount up with wings like eagles.” To “run and not be weary.” To “walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40:31) To follow hard after him. (Ps. 63:8) Therefore, though you may be weary, you may be spent, you may be broken-down, feeling lifeless and helpless amidst utter darkness, we may cling ever-tighter to the Word of Grace and be renewed, restored, recreated . . . be made alive!
John Flavel, The Fountain of Life: A Display of Christ in His Essential and Meditorial Glory (New York: American Tract Society, 1855).
Charles Spurgeon, Seven Wonders of Grace (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1877).
Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity: In a Series of Sermons on the Shorter Catechism (Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle, 1833).