Mohler: Ministers must preach God's grace to 'dry bones'
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--God calls ministers to faithfully preach to people who are spiritually dead with full confidence that God uses the Gospel to impart spiritual life, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Aug. 24 during the annual fall convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Preaching from Ezekiel 37:1-14 -- the prophet's vision of the valley of dry bones -- Southern Seminary's president said the vision is a parable that is abundantly applicable to a modern culture in which spiritual death reigns.
"We live in an era of spiritual death -- a rebellion that has progressed so far that most cannot even remember the God they chose to disregard and disobey," Mohler said. "There is amongst so many in this culture the judgment of God as seen even in the absence of their knowledge of an absence [of God].
"The postmodern reality is seen in the fact that we now live in culture surviving on a residue of Christian commitment to a Christian inheritance, but a culture that no longer thinks of God as anything but a concept. Perhaps nothing encapsulates the modern spiritual mood as a sigh of resignation, 'Whatever.' The spirit of moral rebellion now emerges as a substitute for meaning and truth."
Spiritual deadness and decay are not limited to secular society, since many present-day churches reflect the deadness and spiritual sterility of the culture around them, Mohler said.
Armed with Ezekiel's confidence that God is mighty to save and to send revival and reformation at His own pleasure, the minister must proclaim the truth of Scripture, even to a congregation that exhibits little to no signs of life, he said.
"God can do whatever He wants to His glory, and He will do whatever He will to His greatest glory," Mohler said. "He has shown us time and time again that He glories in bringing life out of death. That is the very essence of the Gospel."
Ultimately, Mohler said, every Christian will have to answer for himself the question God posed to Ezekiel: "Can these dry bones live?" Because of the power of the Holy Spirit which attends the preaching of the Gospel and because of the truth that God is sovereign in salvation, Mohler said believers must -- by faith -- give the same answer as Ezekiel because it is the correct answer: "O Lord God, you know."
"Ezekiel answered in a way that affirmed the holiness and the sovereignty of God and put the question back to the only One who could answer it, who was the very One who asked it," Mohler said. "Ezekiel's answer was an utter trust mixed with humility and wisdom. It becomes a paradigm for how we must answer."
Mohler told students that they have given at least an implicit answer by the fact they are enrolled at Southern Seminary. Contemporary society might scoff at preaching to dead men, but ministers must do it because they have been called by God to proclaim the message that brings spiritual life from death, he said.
"If you believe that these bones cannot live, then why are you here?" Mohler asked students. "This is not a spectator sport, not a sporting event, not a spectacle. You had better not be here because you are trying to find yourself.
"Why are you here? Out there is a valley of dry bones. Your very presence here shows that you believe, 'Oh Lord God, you know whether these bones shall live.' ... We believe that the Lord God may give life to dry bones. There is a precedent."
In Ezekiel's vision, the dry bones began to rattle to life and the skeletons were covered with muscle, flesh and skin. Then their nostrils were filled with the breath of life. All this happened when Ezekiel obeyed God's command that he prophesy, telling the dry bones, "Hear the word of the Lord."
The vision is a picture of both the proclamation of the Gospel and the sovereign work of God's Spirit in imparting life to a dead sinner, Mohler said. While Ezekiel's vision had a historical context set within God's dealings with His chosen ethnic people, it is ultimately fulfilled in Christ and points both to the future resurrection of the body and to God's promise to His people, he said.
Though the culture has largely rejected Ezekiel's God, Mohler said he is hopeful because of the explosive growth he has witnessed recently at Southern Seminary. With at least 800 new students enrolled for fall semester bringing Southern's enrollment near 3,700, Mohler said he is encouraged because so many have answered God's question -- "Can these dry bones live?" -- in the manner of Ezekiel by surrendering to God's call.
"In this kind of age, what in the world could explain that?" Mohler said. "There are other things you [students] could be doing. There are other opportunities you could have followed than to come here [and take part] in the deadly serious task of preparing for Christian ministry. That gives me hope. It gives me great hope.
"Brothers and sisters, 'Can these bones live?' How can we as an institution ever fail to give the right answer to that question? We have lived through this valley by God's grace. How may we ever forget the only answer we can give? 'Can these bones live?' 'O Lord God, you know.'"