Pentecost May 15, 2005
224, 234, 226(1-7), 740 [TLH alt.229]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. “I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’”
In the name of the Holy Spirit—the One who works saving faith and brings forgiveness into our hearts—dear fellow-redeemed:
The first book I ever read didn’t have a single word. The book only had pictures and yet, I “read” that book and knew the story because the pictures told the story. As reading ability grew, the pictures shrunk until finally with great excitement I read a book that was free of all pictures. Now, I’m back to books with both words and pictures.
Even when we have the ability to read words, pictures bring the words to life. We might be able to read about a family reunion that was missed, but the picture shows the faces of the loved ones who were there. We can read about the beautiful sunset in the mountains or on the coast, but the picture shows just how beautiful that creation is.
God uses pictures to teach us about Himself. Completely understanding God is impossible for us simple human beings. So God uses pictures to help us understand. For example, He speaks of Himself as having a hand, but God is a spirit and has no hands. However, God speaks of Himself in this way so that we can grasp what it means to feel so secure that it as if we were safely held in His hand. He speaks of having a hand so that when He says that He will lead us and guide us we can have the picture of a father guiding his child as they walk together. From this picture we learn that God is guiding and leading us.
On the Pentecost after Jesus ascended into heaven, God used visual evidence—tongues of fire—to show that the Holy Spirit was being poured out. He used the sense of hearing—the sound of a mighty rushing wind—to bring the people to the place where the disciples were gathered. God used the senses to call the people together so they could then hear the life-giving wonderful works of God in all that the disciples proclaimed.
In this morning’s text, we see the vision of dry bones which God gave to Ezekiel. This is a picture to help us understand just how spiritually dead and hopeless we are without our Savior and without the working of the Holy Ghost; but also to understand what great and magnificent life comes through that working.
This morning, we celebrate the Holy Spirit and His work in our hearts and lives. THE SPIRIT BRINGS LIFE. I. Life that rises from certain death and II. Life that testifies to the Lord.
The view in Ezekiel’s vision is rather stark. We see a large open valley and find it empty except for layers upon layers of dried bones—skeletal remains bleached by the sun, dry, and brittle. There were no ligaments, no muscle tissue, no skin, no life. There is clearly no life in this valley whatsoever.
The people of Israel were that dry and that barren and that dead when they forsook God. In judgment against their rebellion God had allowed the people to be taken captive. In captivity they felt sapped of their strength, sapped of any energy, dry, and thirsting for relief. In captivity and under the chastising hand of God they felt lost, hopeless, and without life. God gave this vision to Ezekiel to illustrate the dryness, but also to give them the certain hope of life in spite of their death.
In the valley of dry bones we also find the illustration of our own spiritual condition. Our souls, apart from Christ and on their own, are those dry, dead, dusty, lifeless bones. In the vision, there is no question that life is not in that valley. Similarly, our hearts have no life without the working of the Holy Spirit. Instead of life there is hatred for God. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). “The carnal (the fleshly) mind is enmity (hatred) against God” (Romans 8:7). All people are born with a carnal hatred toward God. We are born with natural wickedness that opposes everything that is of God and true. This means we are dead because when we are in sin God pronounces His judgment: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Without life coming to this death we would face eternal death. We have a solution in Christ, but we are so dead that we cannot find that solution or bring ourselves to that solution without first having life. Paul says in Ephesians, “You were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). A dead body cannot get up to find life. A dead body needs life brought to it.
Consider the bodies of those whom Jesus raised from the dead. Those dead bodies could not rise up and find life on their own, but Jesus brought life to them. That physical death, the inability to find life, and the lack of life in the valley of dry bones illustrates our spiritual condition. Not only are we sinful and condemned, we have no way to find or bring ourselves to life. It is certain death of the fullest magnitude.
God asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” He answered, “O Lord God, You know.” [v.3] Is it possible for sinners who inherit their sin from generation to generation to be brought to faith? Is it conceivable that people dead in their sins could have the forgiveness of sins and live forever? God knows. He is a God of grace and of power, and yes, it is possible. He told Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. “I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” [vv.4-6]
Ezekiel prophesied—he spoke the Word of God—across the valley of dry bones. The bones rattled and snapped together, bone to bone. Ligaments were added, then skin and flesh, and finally what was once just skeletal remains became full fleshed human beings. But these bodies were still without life. They had the flesh, they had the skin, they had the ligaments, they had everything they needed…except life.
God said, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. [vv.9-10]
Ezekiel spoke the Word of the Lord. That Word brought life to the bones. Likewise, the Word of the Gospel brings life to the sure death that dwells in our hearts. Earlier in Ezekiel, God promised that He would take a dead heart of stone and make it into a heart of flesh with His Word and Spirit. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The Word brings life.
The Holy Spirit works through the Gospel. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). It is the life-giving news that God loved the world so much that yes, it is possible for dead bones to live! Life is possible for the dead because Jesus, the Son of God, came and lived a perfect life and died on the cross to take away the sin. If sin is removed, the condemnation of death is removed. The Word of God brings life, forgiveness of sins and salvation. The Holy Spirit brings life to hearts that were dead. The Holy Spirit gives life to the dry dustiness of unbelief and creates faith in the hearts of sinners. Through that faith God brings the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for all people.
Paul told the Corinthians, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is the Spirit creating faith in Christ through the Word that brings life to dry bones.
The captive people of Israel despaired: “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’” [v.11] The promise that God gave to His people through His prophet was that there would come hope, there would be new life, and they would testify to the greatness of the Lord. “Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it.” [vv.12-14]
There would come a time when a remnant of the captives would return to Israel. Their return would mean more than just going home. The return would mean that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. God promised His people that He would restore them, bring them back, and fulfill His promise of life through the Savior. This would become a testimony to the whole world that He had been faithful to His Word by fulfilling all that He had said He would do.
As the Spirit brings life into our hearts, testimony to the Lord flows out. This testimony comes because the life that the Spirit brings changes everything. As believers with the Holy Spirit working and living in your heart you see things that no one else sees. You see God’s hand guiding and controlling things in this life. The unbelieving world just sees coincidence and luck. You know that all things work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose because You know that God has promised this in His Word (cf. Romans 8:28). You know that you are at peace with God because Christ has established that peace where once there was enmity. You know all of this because the Holy Spirit has enlightened your heart. You know that you have the certain hope of eternal life when you die. You know this because the Holy Spirit has called you to faith and continues to strengthen your faith. You know that there is nothing that can separate you from the love of Christ because the Holy Spirit is present in your heart, strengthening your faith (cf. Romans 8:38-39). You know that the Holy Spirit Himself is pleading before the throne of God when you don’t know what to say. When you don’t know how to formulate your thoughts, your worries, anxieties and cares into a prayer, the Holy Spirit intercedes for you, praying to God for you. “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
The life we have—all of the confidence, all of the knowledge, all of the assurance—is a testimony to what Christ has done and what the Holy Spirit has brought to us. As we enjoy the blessings of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of salvation, the testimony flows out and declares the wonderful works of God to the world! This the Lord has done. He has performed it. He has given us life where once there was nothing but death.
As we go through this life we know that we don’t testify to the Lord as well as we could or we should. We may feel that our bones are dry, that our spiritual strength is sapped, and we may feel cut off. We can have no greater prayer in these situations than to pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in our hearts, to build up our faith, and to comfort us.
Scriptures describe the Holy Spirit as the person of the Trinity who calls us to His side to comfort us, to encourage us, to help us, and strengthen us. However, if we pray all day and all night asking the Holy Spirit to come and strengthen our faith, but never once use the Word of God, then we are ignoring the very tool that the Holy Spirit uses. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Gospel. The powerful Word of God brought life to the valley of dry bones and it is the Gospel that brings life to our hearts that will keep us in the faith. Apart from the Word, the Holy Spirit doesn’t work. Apart from the Word we have no strengthening, we have no life. Through the Gospel working mightily in our hearts, the Holy Spirit forgives our sins by bringing Christ’s salvation to us.
It is not just a passing thought that we celebrate Pentecost. It is a celebration of the Holy Spirit who forgives our sins by bringing us the blessings won for us by the Son of God. We have a Triune God who has saved us. The Father loved us and sent His Son. The Son died for us winning for us the salvation which we could not attain, and the Spirit brings that life into our hearts. Praise be to the God of our salvation! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.