I get what a zombie is. I was watching zombie movies in the church basement before zombie movies were cool. I’ve seen Night of the Living Dead a dozen times. But what we have now, this is another level of interesting. I know nothing about the current zombie culture, so help me out here. What is this fascination with dead people who won’t die?
I do get that this is a thing, but I have to admit to you that I do not get the appeal of it. This isn’t an “I’m a preacher” thing. This is just me not getting what’s fun about brain eating zombies. Who wants to keep going after you’ve been amputated and mutilated and have had your head cut off?
There are literally dozens of sites online talking about the zombie apocalypse. Even the CDC website has a zombie apocalypse preparedness guide.
Evidently, when it comes to zombie preparedness, location is everything (as quoted from Estately’s blog post by Ryan Nickum). Ryan Nickum has done the math to figure out which states are more prepared for a zombie apocalypse and which ones are doomed.
As it turns out, states with more soldiers per capita will fare better, because soldiers are physically fit, trained to fight, and have access to weapons. Same with states with a higher percentage of veterans per capita. States with residents who rarely get out of their Laz-E-Boy will not escape the zombie menace (this is an actual statistic). States with a lot of martial arts and laser tag enthusiasts will do well. “Yes,” Nickum says. “Laser tag. Few things prepare you better for a zombie attack in enclosed space.” People who like guns and paintball will also do well.
So, given those factors, which states do you suppose are the most prepared for a zombie apocalypse? According to the people who know these things, the top five most zombie-prepared states are: Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana.
Georgia ranked 47th. And don’t bother trying to escape across the border. You’ll only be slightly more protected. South Carolina ranked 37th. The only states less prepared than Georgia are New York, New Jersey and Mississippi. (And of course, Washington, D.C. where the zombie apocalypse is currently already underway, but no one is yet aware of it.)
I believe this fascination with zombies flows from our innate fear of something that’s very real. It is that idea that we might already be a walking dead person. The Urban dictionary says zombies are the opposite of life and are driven to simply undo it, which ends up being a pretty good definition of the enemy of our souls–who is not a zombie, nor a fantasy, but someone determined to take all the meaning and significance out of your life.
Or to keep it out. This is our human condition. In the natural, as it is–without the option of God–it is a dead-end state. No way out. This is why we need a redeemer.
Ezekiel saw the whole thing played out like a scene out of a zombie movie–only this is real life. Look with me at his prophecy in Ezekiel, chapter 37.
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’” (Ezekiel 37:1-11).
We know these bones. We know this valley. Ezekiel speaks to that place we get into where our bones are in order but we’re dead on the inside.
You can look right on the outside, but inside …
You can be quietly, very privately, hurting yourself.
You can be quietly, very privately, clinging to a habit that keeps you numb.
You can be quietly, very privately, barely breathing. No joy. No sense of purpose.
You can look right on the outside but inside you’re dead.
“I was working my calendar and paying my bills and I could keep things in order, but I could barely catch my breath. I was keeping it together and getting things done, but spiritually, there was nothing there.”
Our bones are dried up …
Our hope is lost …
We are in this zombie existence–walking but not really living. This is life at the expense of others. In this state, we will end up sucking the life out of the people around us so we can feel alive ourselves. No joy. No meaning. No breath.
And into this scene, God speaks the $24,000 question: Can these bones live?
Can I make something out this life? Can I start over? Can what I’ve done be redeemed?
Can people who are doomed to death live–really live–and live, even after death?
Because here’s the thing: Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.
That woman who poured oil on Jesus’ head testifies to this truth. Go with me to the last scenes before Jesus goes to the cross in Matthew chapter 26, beginning with verse 6.
This story is like the visual aid for Ezekiel 37. When we get to this story, we’re in the middle of some pretty thick stress for Jesus and his followers. There is a plot to kill Jesus, and he knows it. His followers know it. They aren’t nearly as comfortable with the news as Jesus is. In the midst of that, a woman shows up–a woman who was among the walking dead. We don’t know her whole story. This may have been Mary Magdelene, who was delivered of seven demons during one of Jesus’ healing services. Or it may have just been some obscure woman who had a lot to be thankful for, who became famous that day for a choice she made. It was a choice to live a resurrected life.
I want to ask you to close your eyes and listen to this story and focus on the two people at the center of this scene–a woman who has just come from death to life, and a man who is moving toward death–with people just like her in mind.
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:6-13).
Here is a woman who has encountered Jesus, and now she is living a resurrected life. She’s beginning to live from a place of gratitude. And while she’s doing this thing–anointing his head with oil–Jesus is interpreting this moment in light of God’s ultimate plan. “This isn’t just a nice gesture,” he says. “This–what she’s doing–is connected to my death, the very death that makes her life possible. This is the death that makes grace possible. The death that makes second chances possible. The death that makes gratitude possible.”
And so her anointing is really gratitude for the cross, which teaches us the great paradox of Kingdom living: Though we die, yet shall we live. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will not produce fruit. To gain your life you must lose it.
I’ve told you before about our cat, Grace. This is her, the day Richard Coleman’s children came to our house during the GIC. For those of you not familiar with how cats communicate, let me just translate here. She is saying, “Why? Why did you bring these people here? Why do you torture me?”
Grace has not yet really lived into her name.
And I would feel a lot more compassion toward Grace in moments like this, except that she wreaks havoc on our furniture. She has killed at least two chairs. And I won’t declaw her because that’s just not the way we do it at our house, but I can tell you that things would be different if Grace didn’t have claws. Our lives would not cost as much if she didn’t have claws.
Folks, the cross is how God declawed death. It took the sting out. And right here in this scene, Jesus connects this woman’s act with his death to help us connect with what the cross is capable of. The cross takes walking dead people and gives them resurrected lives.
Go to Matthew 27:51-54, to the moment Jesus died. Here’s what happened the day God declawed death:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
This is powerful and important. It teaches us that there is no longer a barrier between us and God. We don’t need a priest to make sacrifices for us, or to go into the holy of holies on our behalf. We are now welcome to come boldly before the throne of grace, without shame, to seek forgiveness and acceptance from God. We are called and encouraged into an intimate relationship with God.
And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
The treasure in this scene is the word Matthew uses to describe what happened to the earth when Jesus died. The earth shook. The centurion saw the earth quake. The Greek word used here is seismos (I learned this from Max Lucado’s small book, Imagine Your Life Without Fear, pp. 13-19). The only other times this word is used in Matthew are when the stone is rolled away at the resurrection, and then also on the day Jesus calmed a storm. Do you remember that story? Jesus and his followers were out on the water in a boat when a storm kicked up. It must have been quite a storm. Matthew describes it like an earthquake–the disciples are scared witless by it. And they are confounded by just how calm Jesus is in the midst of this earth-shaking storm. In the Mark version of this story, they ask, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
The answer to that question comes definitively at the cross. “YES! Yes, I do care! I absolutely DO care that you’re perishing! I care what it feels like for you who are walking dead through life with no purpose or joy or contentment about you. I care about you who are dying in your sin.”
So, what’s the seismos event in your life right now? Where is the anxiety or fear brewing? Here’s how you claim the cross over that storm: You look dead into it and say, “I will not perish. The resurrection of Jesus is bigger than the power of this moment.”
What would it take for you to believe, truly believe, you will not perish? Not now. Not ever. He cares. And his intention is to give us a resurrection life. A life with power and meaning. And as if to prove the point, it happens right then and there, the day Jesus dies.
The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
This is the answer to Ezekiel’s prophecy. Yes, these bones can live. We will not perish! We are not doomed to a life of walking dead! The enemy of your soul wants you to live a zombie life, but Jesus invites us to live a resurrection life.
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
In that moment, the centurion encountered the truth. An encounter with the cross leads us to both grace and truth. We need both.
This scene in Matthew 27 shows us exactly what we can expect from the cross:
- We get God. With no barriers.
- We get strength for the seismos events of life.
- We will not perish. We get a resurrection life.
- We get grace and truth.
We’ve been to the land of dry bones. We’ve been to the cross. Now, Paul explains what it all means.
“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
Jesus calls people out of death to life. The message of Easter is not “Jesus was dead and now he is alive.” The Message is, “I was dead and now I’m alive and Jesus is the one who did that for me.” Ezekiel heard God say (Ezekiel 37:14) – I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
That’s the promise. So here’s the question: what does your life feel like right now? Are you doing that thing where you get up every day and walk through it, then fall into bed, get up and do it all again the next day: no change, no vision, no resurrection power? Are you existing, but not really alive?
Do you realize there is an option? It is a choice to let the resurrected Christ live in you. And it is a choice to let the cross work on you. It begins (as with the woman with oil) with bowing before Jesus and acknowledging him as the source of resurrection power. And it is proven in the storms.
In his power, there is no perishing.