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Ezekiel 37:1–14; Acts 2:1–21

James T. Batchelor

Feast of Pentecost, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, May 24, 2015 

This Sunday is Pentecost.  We are near the end of the Festival Half of the Church Year.  Next week is the Festival of the Holy Trinity and the parament color will be white.  The following week the parament color will switch to green and stay that way until the new church year starts in Advent.

The obvious reading that we have every year on Pentecost Sunday is the sign of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the men Jesus chose as apostles.  The account speaks of a rumbling sound like a mighty wind tongues as of fire the ability to proclaim the mighty works of God in other languages and so forth.

On the other hand, each year of the three year lectionary has different readings to accompany this account.  The Gospel always tells us how Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit.  Since Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit many, many times, we can hear a different reading from the Gospel for this day over the course of the three years.

The Old Testaments readings are a little more diverse.  Last year, the Old Testament reading for series A recalled the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the elders of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  Next year, the Old Testament reading for series C will tell us about the Tower of Babel where God responded to the sin of pride by confusing the languages of humanity.  This year, series B, we hear about Ezekiel preaching to a valley of dry bones.

The question you might ask this year is, What has Ezekiel preaching to a valley of dry bones got to do with Pentecost? The series A reading about the Holy Spirit poured out on the elders of Israel makes sense because it is similar to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  The series C reading about Tower of Babel makes sense because the proclamation of the Gospel in many languages on Pentecost undoes the verdict of the confusions of languages at the Tower of Babel.  But what in the world does preaching to a valley of dry bones have to do with Pentecost?

One of the things that might help us answer this question is the recognition that one of the miracles of Pentecost might slip under our radar.  With all the signs of the rumbling noise and the visions and the preaching in other languages, we might not notice that Peter preached an entire sermon and didnt stick his foot into his mouth once.  Throughout the Gospels, Peter is notorious for talking and acting without thinking first.  Suddenly, here he is, preaching an excellent law-gospel sermon without messing up.  This too is a sign of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.

Sadly, todays reading does not include Peters entire sermon.  Instead, it ends right in the middle of Peters sermon.  There is a lot of very good preaching in the rest of the sermon.  Listen to some of the other things Peter preached in his Pentecost sermon:

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 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:2224)

Peter never lost an opportunity to assign responsibility for crucifying Jesus and proclaiming Jesus Resurrection from the dead.

As Peter came to the end of the sermon, the Holy Spirit produced a response in those who listened.  Listen to the end of the sermon and the response of the hearers:

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

37Now 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? 38And 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. 39For 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. 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation. 41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:3641)

The Holy Spirit brought life to three thousand souls.  They were dead in trespasses and sins.  Then the Holy Spirit used Peters preaching to give them life in Jesus Christ.

Here is where we see the connection to Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones.  God explains that the dry bones are the house of Israel.  In the vision, Ezekiel preached to the dry bones and God re-assembled them and brought living breath back into them.  In the same way, Ezekiel is to preach to Israel and the Holy Spirit will 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 brings life back to His people.

It worked the same way on the hearers who gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost after Jesus ascended into heaven.  The rumbling sound the tongues as of fire all the signs created curiosity among the Pentecost Pilgrims.  Never the less, it was not until they heard the Gospel as Peter preached it that the Holy Spirit convicted them of their sin and gave them new life in Christ.  It was after these faithful Pentecost Pilgrims heard Peters sermon that the Holy Spirit added three thousand souls to the church.

We still need that preaching today.  Spiritually speaking we all enter this world as dead, dry bones.  We are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil.  It is as David wrote in the Psalms: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) The Apostle Paul also wrote: You were dead in the trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1) We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.

Just as dead, dry bones cannot save themselves, so we also are without hope in ourselves.  But the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, took on our human flesh.  He lived the life of perfection that we could not live.  He offered Himself up as a sacrifice for our sin by His suffering and death on the cross.  He has earned everything that our dry bones need for eternal life.  We know that this is true because He rose from the dead.  Now He wants to give eternal life to you.  He wants your dead, dry bones to come back to life.

Here is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes to help us.  Just as the Holy Spirit used the preaching of Ezekiel to bring Israel back to life just as He used Peters preaching to add three thousand to the Holy Christian Church so also does the Holy Spirit continue to use preaching to bring salvation to His people today.  The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel as the Apostle Paul describes it to the Church in Rome:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14How 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? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! 17 so faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:1315, 17)

So, although the rumbling noise, the tongues of flame, and the speaking in unknown languages are quite impressive, it is the preaching of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to deliver Christs salvation to us.  The Holy Spirit invites and draws us by the Gospel to partake of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ.  This is the greater miracle we celebrate on the day of Pentecost: the Holy Spirit uses the words of men, in the preaching of his law, to turn people to the Gospel and the church.

Luthers 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.  We can no more bring ourselves to life from the death of sin than a valley of disconnected 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.  By working through the Gospel as it is preached, and as it is contained in the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit breathes into us the life Christ won on the cross, He gives us Christs victory over sin and death.  He has created faith where there was no faith that you might have life with the Father now and forever. Amen

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