Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Can These Bones Live Again?

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:17-45

There is a problem here in John 11, a problem that has given fits to Bible translators for centuries. It’s in verse 33: Jesus sees the weeping of Mary and the wailing of the crowd, and he becomes angry. The problem is that’s what the text says, but many translators just don’t think it fits with the rest of the story.

Many different attempts have been made to resolve the difficulty. One way to resolve is just to find a different way to translate the Greek verb. The verb is ENEBRIMESATO. The literal meaning is “to snort like a horse.” That certainly sounds like an angry work. So translating as something weak like, Jesus was troubled or moved in his spirit, just doesn’t really work.

Often the solution to a translation problem like this is to go and see how the word is translated in other places. But the word only appears three other times in the whole New Testament. Two of those times are in Matthew 9:30 and Mark 1:43. And those seem to have a very different context. In those cases, the word seems to mean “to give a stern warning.” There’s still a sense of anger or indignation, but it’s obviously a different use of the word.

That leaves us with only Mark 14:5 to help us understand the word. In Mark 14, it describes the reaction of some people to the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume at Bethany just before his death. They become angry, indignant at the apparent waste of such an expensive ointment. So the word clearly means anger or indignation. It’s a word used when someone has done something wrong.

How does that fit into John 11?

Some have suggested that Jesus is angry at the ravages and pain of death. The problem is that from the beginning Jesus has made it clear that he intends to act in this case and that God’s glory will be seen. So that’s not a good answer.

A second suggestion is that Jesus is angry at the crowd for showing fake emotion over Lazarus’ death. Pious Jews made a point of going to grieve with a family in mourning. And it’s easy to suppose that there are a few there who are just putting on a show of emotion, but there’s nothing in the text to support that argument.

So we’re left with the best option: Jesus is angry at Mary, Martha, and possibly the crowd for their lack of faith. Now Jesus was certainly not without sympathy for

Mary and Martha. When Mary wept, Jesus broke down into tears. But he was also indignant at their lack of faith.

The story tells us that Lazarus was in the ground for four days. That’s important because the folk wisdom of the day was that for the first three days after death, there was a small glimmer of hope. They believed that a person’s spirit hovered over their body for three days. But after three days, decay set in, and the spirit left. This was probably their best explanation for something like a coma, where a person might appear dead, but sometimes recover. And of course, without some kind of modern medical assistance, it’s unlikely a person would recover after more than three days in a coma.

Martha comes to Jesus first, and says, “If only you had been here.” Jesus assures her, “Your brother will rise again.” And she says, “Yes, but not until the day of the resurrection.”

Then Mary comes to Jesus, and she says, “If only you’d been here.”

When Jesus weeps, the crowd says, “Look how much he loved him. Why couldn’t he do anything for him?”

And when they come to the tomb, and Jesus says, “Open it,” Martha says, “Oh, but we can’t. It’s been four days. He’s going to stink by now!”

Nobody seems to think Jesus can do anything. Does no one believe God can give life to the dead?

Consider the story of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel ministered among the Hebrews who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. They’d given up hope. There was nothing left for them. They were cut off from the land of the promise. They felt like dry bones, not just dead, but hopeless. And maybe Ezekiel felt like he was preaching to dry bones when he proclaimed the word of God to them. No matter what he said, they didn’t respond!

God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live again?” And Ezekiel doesn’t answer the question. “Well, you know if they can or not.” Maybe even Ezekiel couldn’t believe the dry bones could live again. Maybe he’s no longer sure God can give life to the dead.

What about the Church? I’m afraid there are a lot of churches that feel like valleys full of dry bones, dead, and without hope. They can only remember the “good

ol’ days.” They can’t look forward to any more good days. And maybe there are a lot of pastors who feel like Ezekiel. When someone asks if their congregation can live again, they say, “Only God knows.” Trust me, I’ve heard a few of them say that!

And I’ve also heard a lot of church members who sound like Mary and Martha: “If only,” they say. “If only people still cared about the church. If only our children hadn’t moved away. If only Reverend So-and-So were still here.”

Do we believe God can still give life to the dead? If the answer is yes, then don’t talk about our church as if he can’t. Let’s stop saying things like: This place won’t be around much longer. I don’t see much hope for us. We’re just trying to keep the doors open. Let’s stop talking as if God can’t give life to the dead, and start praying that he will and acting like he will.

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