Besides the opening vision, this pericope is probably one of the most well know parts of the book of Ezekiel. Rich with imagery and evocative description, this section reads like a spooky story with an unbelievable ending. It is a well-known section which lives in our imagination in song, art, and drama. It is also a wonderful text to preach during Lent. The Gospel surprise in our reading is made even more remarkable because the Lord has nearly wiped His people off the map earlier in Ezekiel (see chapters 9, 10, and 12-16, just to name a few). So nearly thorough and horrifying is the description of God’s judgment on His people, we are left to wonder if any will be saved? That is the surprising and unimaginable end to this pericope. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” God will take the people He has devastated and left for dead, and He will resurrect them! What an amazing word of Gospel. They did not earn it or deserve it. In fact, the only thing they earned was their death and judgment. Yet, God will change His attitude towards His rebellious and idolatrous people and raise them from their graves. They will be His living people once again.
The key to unlocking the Gospel potential to this text is to focus on the relation of Ezekiel the prophet to God, and how He obediently speaks the words of life and resurrection over the dead nation so they may live. This participation between God and Ezekiel is key to developing our proclamation. “The first ten verses of the pericope describe the dialogic vision, in which the prophet participates, as he does in other comparable scenes in the book (1:1–3:15; 8:1–11:25; and 40:1–48:35).” This is key because in “this vision Ezekiel’s prophesying has a direct bearing on what happens.” Here we have an opportunity to develop our theological confession for the sermon around the teaching of Christ’s active and passive obedience and how they lead to our salvation. Christ Jesus earns our salvation by His obedience to the Father. Since it is clear from scripture (Ezekiel) that we humans failed to keep God’s Law perfectly and without sin, Jesus does it for us. Steven Mueller describes it this way:
“This is called His active obedience. He is born under the Law’s demands (Galatians 4:4), lives a sinless life, and fulfills all the commands of our righteous God. This obedience was expected of all humanity, but only Christ was able to do this. He lived the life that we were meant to live, a life of holiness and perfection. He does this as our substitute so that His obedience is credited to us.”
But we still have another problem. Our sins accrued a debt before God we could never hope to or afford to pay. So again, from Mueller:
“Christ is our substitute by taking the punishment we deserved: The punishment of death. This is his passive obedience where he voluntarily took our fate upon himself (Isaiah 53:5–6).”
The implication for our Gospel proclamation is derived from these concepts. Just as Ezekiel was obedient to God and spoke the word of resurrection over the nation of God’s people and they went from death to life through this prophecy, so Jesus, our prophet who is greater than Ezekiel, in obedience to the Father spoke not just a prophecy over us, but the very Gospel by which we will be raised from death to life. Jesus speaking His Word over us is active obedience to the Father. Jesus will also impute to us, by grace through faith, the riches of His passive righteousness as well. That is
“He (Jesus) did not deserve this suffering or death but chose to pay the price of our sin. His life was of such great value that He has paid the penalty for all humanity. Notice that in this substitution the sin is not forgotten. God does not ignore or arbitrarily forget sin. The penalty is truly paid. God’s justice has been satisfied. Moreover, it has been paid in God’s way. Blood has been shed (Hebrews 9:22) and God’s wrath has been covered (Romans 3:24; 1 John 2:2). He exchanged our sinfulness for His righteousness, and we are reconciled with the Father.”
All of this is on account of Jesus’ surprising and unimaginable death and resurrection!
Jesus speaking His Word over us is active obedience to the Father.
If we bridge the Ezekiel text and the death and resurrection of Jesus with the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), then we will have a progression for the sermon which can accomplish our goal for preaching and have a story in Lazarus to really connect with our hearers. This brings us to our structure. Since we will be progressing from Ezekiel to Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, to Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead, perhaps we can use the Thematic Structure called: Cause and Effect.
“This structure considers a topic as part of a larger active system of causation. The sermon may unfold the system of causation in one of three ways: Naming the causes that lead to the topic; naming the effects which proceed from the topic; or analyzing the topic itself as embedded in a system of causation. In listing causes and effects, the preacher may consider a serial process of causation that works like this: A leads to B which leads to C. When working with serial causation, the preacher needs to be wary of a slippery slope argument. When working with a parallel body of information, the preacher needs to offer some indication of importance among these items (why they are listed in this sequence) and be wary of confusing causation with correlation.”
Here is how this structure might work:
A: Ezekiel is told to speak a word and he obediently does. Ezekiel’s word gets us to pay attention to a prophet who would raise people from the dead with a word.
This leads to...
B: Jesus who is a greater prophet than Ezekiel. He was sent to do the Father’s will (active obedience). Jesus raises people from the dead like Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21–43, Matthew 9:18–26 and Luke 8:40–56), the widow of Nain’s Son (Luke 7:11-17), but especially we want to focus in on Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Jesus raises them from the dead with a word. Here we can develop the Gospel for our hearers by connecting them to the reality that Jesus will call their name too, and they will come out of their grave as well. He does this by the power of His eternal Word. Jesus raising Lazarus gets us to pay attention to Him and see He is the prophet who raises people from the dead. Therefore, we should pay attention to Him and follow Him in Lent and all of our lives for every need.
This leads to...
C: In paying attention to Jesus and following Him, we see God raised Jesus from the dead on our behalf (passive obedience). Listen to Romans 8:11 in the New Century Version: “God raised Jesus from the dead, and if God’s Spirit is living in you, He will also give life to your bodies that die. God is the One who raised Christ from the dead, and He will give life through His Spirit that lives in you.” Or again in Acts 2:24 in the English Standard Version: “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” Jesus Himself spoke and prophesied about His own death and resurrection. It all came to pass just as He said it would (Luke 13:33; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31). If Jesus can raise others by His word and be raised just as He said He would, then Jesus can raise us too! Even if you are dead in your sins and trespasses (like Ezekiel’s hearers and all peoples) or when you literally die (Lazarus), He can raise you from the dead because He is “the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah Ezekiel 37:1-14.
 Steven P. Mueller, ed., Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology, vol. 3, Called by the Gospel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 222–223.
 Ibid., 222–223.
 Ibid., 222–223.