dry bones

Many books and articles have been written on the topic of evangelism from how to do it successfully to how to keep the converts, the content of evangelism and even how to be bold for the timid ones. We have gurus who for ages have been doing it and praise God for the fruit and their great insight.

It occurred to me, however, that evangelism is a rather interesting ministry. It is not always exciting and it is not easy and here’s the reason; it is a ministry to the dead so to say; a mission impossible of resurrecting dead men.

The famous story in Ezekiel 37 is a striking one; Ezekiel is carried by God’s spirit to a valley. It’s more of a vision than the dramatic whirling of Elijah. The valley is not with flowers and flowing streams but with bones and lots of them and in his assessment they were very dry. Well, the Lord has brought Ezekiel here for practical lessons and asks ‘can these bones live’?  Answer: ‘O Sovereign Lord, You alone know’.

The Lord then asks Ezekiel to prophesy or proclaim to the bones to live which he does dry_bonesand the result is shocking. The bones come together bone to bone and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them. He again, on the Lord’s command, calls for breath and they stand on their feet. And behold a great army! It sounds like what happens in Hollywood horror movies (I think they might have borrowed ideas from this).

What is this all about anyway? Well, we need not overthink as Ezekiel explains the vision. This is an illustration of the nation of Israel, they are the dry bones – lost hope in captivity in Babylon in oppression and their country was ruined and they are under the yoke of the most powerful king at the time, they are as good as dead – but the comfort is that in that impossible situation God will raise them again to life by restoring them back to their land.

The promise is made massive by the fact that God will not only restore Judah who is in Babylon back to Jerusalem. He would also restore everyone else including the other 10 tribes of Israel that had been assimilated by the Assyrians many years ago so that they can become one nation of 12 tribes again just like they were in the time of King David. And David who was long dead by then would be their king not for 40 years but forever. Not only that but that people will not be rebellious like before but would walk in God’s way faithfully. This is not just a miracle of being alive physically but also spiritually. And there will be no more ‘by the rivers of Babylon songs’ again for they will dwell there forever and God’s temple will be there never again to be robbed by Nebuchadnezzar; such a great thing! Can this happen? Only You Lord knows…

The vision will be partially fulfilled when the people of Judah return home to rebuild their nation led by Nehemiah, Ezra and Zerubbabel. But even greater when Christ the son of David comes, dwells among us (Emmanuel) as the temple through whom we offer sacrifices to God, brings both Judah, Israel and all nations to himself and is still reigning almost two thousand years after and will continue to do so forever.

But what does this have to do with Evangelism?

I think Ezekiel is essentially doing what an evangelist is called to do, being taken to a valley of dry bones, dead men and women. Paul uses the language of dead men in Ephesians 2, unconverted men and women are dead even though physically they are alive, you can say they are walking dead. They might be arguing and talking and even agreeing and disagreeing but the fact is that they are dead. And the question of them coming to life is as difficult for us today as it was for Ezekiel. We don’t have that experience, we don’t have any course that handles the resurrection of people, we only study them as dead (post-mortem) but do not how to bring them back to life. We know what to do in case someone is angry, bored, illiterate, injured, fainted or goes into a comma but not if they are dead. And if that be the case we must learn to answer rightly like Ezekiel, ‘O Sovereign Lord, only You know’. I guess the ‘’knowing’’ here is more than just having knowledge but also being able to or having the ability, as it were, to bring them back to life.

Here is the big lesson for evangelism – we do not know, only God knows and better still we cannot bring dead people back to life only the Author of Life can. It is a mission impossible for any human being to bring back the dead. It is, therefore, a surprise when God invites us to such a mission, and we must learn from Ezekiel; we don’t know, we cannot do it.

The starting point of evangelism is to accept defeat; our weakness and our inability. It is an invitation first to ‘know’ the Lord, of His power and his working. Evangelism is for the building of faith of a believer not in them doing stuff, but faith in the Lord they believe in, it is being invited by God to his garage where he shows you how He does it. It is like being invited to that time before time began, chapter zero of Genesis and being with the Father, Son and the Spirit as they created the universe and everything in it. It is hearing the Word of God ‘’let there be’’ and seeing the lights shining, the waters flowing, the birds and animals coming. That is evangelism for us; witnessing God do the miracle of raising the dead; seeing grace manifested in our very eyes.

Evangelism then is about believers first; about their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Being awed by the greatness of our God and moved to cling more to Him. Seeing grace at work as God calls the dead (spiritually dead) to come back to life and turn from their old futile ways to put their trust in God.

As we see people being saved, leaving their old ways and turning to Christ, we watch with amazement and wonder, like Ezekiel witnessing the bones come together, and then flesh and finally breath. We praise Him to whom salvation belongs not just for others but even for us.

Although it is God who raises men from the grave he invites us to witness this not as passive members but as active ones; he gives us words to say (prophecy), and as we speak His words dead people come to life. The Lord calls us to share the good news of Jesus, to tell the story of a Saviour, we repeat his words and as we do that we see men waking up, running to Him for salvation. As a result, we come to ‘know the Lord’ and they come to know the Lord.

Therefore, ministry to the dry bones is possible because it is the ministry of the One who has the power to raise them from death to life.

As I had mentioned, this is not an article that answers all questions on evangelism but one that seeks to challenge our view of evangelism so that we think on its practicalities that could be different from one person to another and from one context to another.

This article has been written by Peter Kamau. Peter is on the staff team serving as a Ministry Training Facilitator and is passionate about missions.

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