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The Spirit of Life

May 23, 2021
By Rev. David French

Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the day Luke records in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit was given to the men Jesus had chosen to be His apostles. The account speaks of a mighty wind … tongues as of fire … proclaiming the works of God in other languages … and well, just a lot of commotion throughout the city. It’s a reading we listen to every year. Just like the birth narrative of Christ is read from Luke 2 on Christmas, the birth narrative of Christ’s Church is read from Acts 2 on Pentecost.

This year however, I’d like to focus on Ezekiel and his preaching to a valley of dry bones. And it is fair to ask, “What does Ezekiel preaching to a valley of dry bones have to do with Pentecost?” But first, something that might help answer that question is noticing one of the less spectacular miracles of Pentecost that may have snuck under your radar. With all the signs and noise and visions and the preaching in other languages, you might not notice that Peter preached an entire sermon and didn’t stick his foot in his mouth once. And I’m certainly not being critical or judgmental when I say that. I mean, throughout the Gospels Peter is well known for talking and acting without thinking. Now all of a sudden, here’s Peter preaching an amazing Law and Gospel sermon without missing a beat. That too is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.

For whatever reason, today’s reading doesn’t include Peter’s entire sermon. Instead, it ends right in the middle. If you’ve never read it, there’s a lot of very powerful preaching throughout his sermon. Listen to some of the other things Peter preaches: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

You see, Peter never passed up on an opportunity to assign responsibility for crucifying Jesus and proclaiming Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. As Peter came to the end of the sermon, the Holy Spirit produced a response in those who heard. Peter concludes: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’”

The result was the Holy Spirit brought life to three thousand souls. They were dead in their sin and unbelief until the Holy Spirit used Peter’s preaching of God’s Word to give them life in Jesus Christ. And this is where we see the connection to Ezekiel and his vision about the valley of dry bones. God explains that the dry bones are the house of Israel, that is, the house of God’s chosen people that is the Old Testament church. In the vision, Ezekiel preached to the dry bones and God reassembled them and brought the breath of life back into them. In the same way, Ezekiel was to preach the Word of God to Israel and the Spirit, working through God’s Word, would bring Israel back to life. God used the vision of the dry bones to teach Ezekiel that it is through the preaching of the Word of God that the Holy Spirit works to bring life back to His people.

And God never changes. He worked the same way on the hearers who gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot which celebrates the giving of God’s Word in the Torah on that first Pentecost ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. The rumbling sound … the tongues as of fire … all the signs created curiosity among those who heard and saw them, but it’s not until they hear the faithful sermon Peter preaches that the Holy Spirit works to convict them of their sin and offers them life through the forgiveness of sins and hope through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who Paul tells us grafts us into Christ who is our life.

And again, nothing has changed. Spiritually speaking, we all enter this world dead in our sin, as dry bones you might say. As St Paul reveals, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins …,” and again, “… Like the rest, we were by nature objects of (God’s) wrath.” The point is, just as scattered dry bones cannot bring life to themselves, so we who are born dead in sin are also unable to bring life to ourselves. But the Father of all mercy and grace sent His Son Jesus Christ to take on our human flesh. He lived a life without sin, a life we could not live, for us. He offered that life as a sacrifice for our sin on the cross of Calvary, paying for everything our dry bones need for eternal life. We know that this is true because on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. And now He offers you the gift of forgiveness and the eternal life it brings. He wants to bring you back to life.

Here is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes, not to help us, but to us. Just as the Holy Spirit worked through the preaching of Ezekiel to bring Israel back to life … just as He used Peter’s preaching to add three thousand to the holy Christian Church … so also the Holy Spirit continues to use faithful preachers today to bring life and salvation to His people. This is not because we’re so good, but because our God is so merciful. It is not our call to faithfulness, but the Holy Spirits calling us by the Gospel, as the apostle Paul describes it to the Church in Rome, that brings life. He writes: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” And Paul concludes, “… so faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

So, even though signs may be impressive and catch your attention, it is the faithful preaching of God’s Word in all its fullness that the Holy Spirit uses to deliver Christ’s righteousness to each of us. You see, the miracle we celebrate on the day of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit still uses the Word of God, preached by sinful men, to convict and turn repentant sinners to His cross and the forgiveness it offers.

Luther’s Catechism teaches that we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him by our own reason or strength, but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel. The simple truth is we can no more bring ourselves to life from the curse of sin than a valley of scattered and dried-out bones could pull themselves together and regain life. It is the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who does the impossible. Working through the Gospel, be that Word or Sacrament, the Holy Spirit breathes into us the life Christ purchased for us on the cross, that we might know the mercy of the Father, both now and forevermore.

In His name, Amen.