TODAY’S READING: Ezekiel 37–39
Repeatedly over time critical battles have been fought in narrow spaces. Defending armies strategically chose valleys or mountain passes to make their stand, for a restricted space balanced the field when the attacking army had superior numbers. A balanced field did not mean less casualties but more, for the defended space was so strategic it must be taken at any cost. Ezekiel’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones evokes images of the consequences of a fierce battle and the deadly cost paid by its warriors. The fact that the bones were many and dry signifies the attacking force not only overwhelmed the defenders, but that the battle happened long ago. The territory and the battle were lost, seemingly irretrievably. Can these bones live?
Algeria was home to Tertullian and the great church councils of Carthage. Today, it’s overwhelmingly Muslim and the bones of the church fathers are dry and bleached in the valleys of time. Can these bones live? Alexandria was home to Athanasius and Origen; now it’s a city of approximately 13 million Muslims. Can these bones live? The Arabian Peninsula provided the first worshipers of baby Jesus and the first bishops to the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon; now it’s the cradle of Islam. Can these bones live? Rome, Antioch, Damascus, Ephesus, and Ireland were once home to bishops, revival centers, and missionary sending bases; now they host secularism, paganism, idolatry, and decay. Can these bones live?
The missionary heart never stops believing that God can breathe new life into dry bones, that God can revisit old battlefields with new Spirit, that God can open up graves and cause the dead to rise (Eze. 37:12). The God who can make dry bones live can certainly unite all the peoples of earth under His magnificent rule. There will be one Shepherd over us all (v. 24). His tabernacle will be among us, and He will be our God and we His people (v. 27). And all this so that the nations will know that He is God (v. 28). The missionary spirit starts with believing that God will bring the dry bones of lost, resistant peoples to the life of His Spirit and that this life is found by the nations in the knowledge of God.
Ezekiel 37 and 38 are apocalyptic (revelatory) chapters in this same understanding: God wants all nations to know Him and He will use all His power and glory to affect His glorious goal. Both resurrection (life from the dead) and apocalypse (death to the living) have the same goal: that the nations would know the Lord. “That the nations may know Me” (38:16) is the goal of all life and death recorded in Scripture as the Lord plainly explains: “Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord… And I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in security in the coastlands [Europe]. Then they shall know that I am the Lord… Surely it is coming and it shall be done” (38: 23; 39:6, 8).
Can these bones live? Can the ancient peoples be resurrected to new life in Christ? Surely it is coming and it shall be done. The first missionary act is to believe that the dead will rise and that life and death are both wisely wielded to lead all peoples to the knowledge of God.