Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Deathbed Conversions

Thoughts on Ezekiel 37:1-14.

If you have been a Christian for very long, you may have heard of "deathbed conversions". What this means is that someone has come to faith in Christ at the very end of his/her life. Maybe it's the 87-year-old man who has rebelled against God his whole life. Maybe it's the 34-year-old mom who is in the final stages of liver cancer. Whatever the case, God seems to use the reality of death to open their eyes and hearts to the gospel. It is truly an amazing miracle, but I want us to think about deathbed conversions in a different way today.

At one time in my life, I taught a Sunday morning Bible study for juniors and seniors in high school. At the end of class one week, I announced that everyone should come prepared to go to breakfast at Burger King the next time we gathered. When that day arrived, we piled into the church van and headed out. On the way to breakfast, I took them to a local cemetery. You see, we had been studying the end times, and I told them to use their imagination and picture what the resurrection from the dead would look like when Christ returns.

As we drove through the cemetery in silence, I couldn't help but think of evangelism. Evangelism? Yes, evangelism. It seems to me that all conversions are deathbed conversions. Now, it is true that not everyone who hears the gospel may be physically dying, but Ephesians 2 clearly tells us that apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins. Whether it is preaching on Sunday morning, door-to-door evangelism on Tuesday night, or coffee with a lost friend on Friday morning, our evangelism is the calling of dead men to live.

Picture it this way. Imagine a grassy cemetery full of headstones. There are bouquets of flowers adding color to each grave. In the midst of all this stillness, silence, and death, you see a man. He stands alone, weeps, and calls out for all these dead men, dead women, dead boys, and dead girls to be raised to life. Imagine going to the morgue at your local police station. After being let in, you pull out a drawer, revealing a corpse. You look at the tag and say, "Stan, get up from there...you can have life if you'll just start breathing!" This is evangelism...telling the dead that they can live if they will only respond to the offer of life.

What's the problem? The problem is this...dead men don't crawl out of graves. Stan's not getting up out of that drawer any time soon. The unsaved masses aren't going to be saved simply because we have called out to them. They won't be saved because they've got bouquets of church membership cards, donation records, baptism certificates, and the marks of "turning over a new leaf" to decorate their spiritual corpse. Something is missing.

That something is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. Here, we find Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones. Miles and miles of bones fill the vision, and God has Ezekiel prophesy to the bones so that they might live. Ezekiel prophesies over them, and bones begin to form full skeletons, followed by muscle and skin (v. 7-8). There was still a problem. Even though they didn't look quite so dead any more, there was still no life. Next, God has Ezekiel prophesy so that breath comes and enters each body, making a massive army (v. 9-10).

Now, only a fool would think, Boy, that Ezekiel...he sure does have a powerful ministry. Ezekiel had no power in ministry apart from the great hand of God. In explaining the vision in verses 11-14, God says what He will do for the house of Israel. He is going to open graves and cause them to live. He is going to give His Spirit as the very Breath of the soul. If you notice carefully, God uses the phrase "I will" four times here. Bringing the dead to life is an act of God, not of man. This is what was missing before. Dead men don't crawl out of graves unless God gives life. Stan isn't getting out of the drawer unless, as Jesus called Lazarus, God says, "Stan, come forth." Church membership, baptism, giving, and a changed life only find their meaning once God has revived the spiritual corpse.

So, when we evangelize, we are not telling moral people they can be better. We are not telling people, "Hey...you've got a great life...it can be even better with Jesus." We are telling the dead to get up and live, and we are trusting the hand of Almighty God to save. This is why the statement "all conversions are deathbed conversions" makes sense. We are not calling people to salvation as they are on their deathbed. We are calling people to salvation while they are in their deathbed...their grave. May we be faithful callers of the dead, and may the mercy of God show itself in the raising of the dead to life. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.