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The Old Testament festival of Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, was one of the big three. It was listed with Passover and Tabernacles as one of the three times each year that the heads of the families of Israel were to travel to Jerusalem for worship. Passover was Israel’s Independence Day. It was a yearly remembrance of the fact that God spared the first born of Israel and brought his people to the Promised Land. Tabernacles was a celebration of the fruit harvest and a remembrance of the fact that they lived in a land that produced such wonderful fruit when their forefathers lived in tabernacles/tents in the wilderness for 40 years. Pentecost was a celebration of the grain harvest when Israel brought their first fruits to the Lord and indicated that they trusted him to provide for them by giving them the rest of the harvest.
As Luke tells us, Jerusalem was filled with people, faithful Old Testament believers who willingly took time off from whatever their jobs were, and spent the time and money necessary to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate, give thanks to God, and offer to him their first fruits. Just as the Lord still calls on us today to set aside time to worship, give thanks to God and offer to him our first fruits, trusting him to provide for us through whatever remains after we have given to him first.
These faithful Old Testament believers were in for quite a shock. Jesus has told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until he gave them the gift he had promised. They did what Jesus asked them to do, not knowing exactly when he would give them this gift. As they were gathered together to celebrate the festival of Pentecost, Jesus kept his promise. He caused people all over Jerusalem to hear the sound of a strong wind. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the word for wind is the same as the word for Spirit, or that Ezekiel was told to prophesy to the four winds to breathe into the slain and give them life. And, as visible sign that he had poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples, he caused what looked like tongues of fire to rest on them. The Spirit gave each of them the ability to speak in languages they had never learned. As you might expect, and surely as God intended, large crowds gathered to see what was going on. Amazed and perplexed they kept saying to one another, What does this mean?
What was going on? Obviously, God was acting. None of these things could be explained as accidental acts of nature. How can you have the sound of wind but not even a candle flicker? How can something that looks like fire rest on people without their hair staring on fire? How can Galileans, not know for being scholars, speak fluently in so many different languages? Peter spoke loudly and clearly and explained that these were miracles of God that were foretold by the prophet Joel. In the last days, those days ushered in by the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit would come and enable people to prophesy. It would be through prophesying that God would work the greatest miracle of all. People would hear about Jesus, and everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved.
Pentecost was foretold through the prophet Joel, but the greatest miracle that happened on Pentecost, and that still happens today, was pictured for us through Ezekiel.
Imagine being in Ezekiel’s shoes! God takes you for a close inspection of a valley that is full of skeletons, human bones dried by the sun and scattered everywhere. Then, instead of asking what you might expect, maybe, “how did this happen?” or “why were all these people slain?” God asks, can these bones live?
You know the first thing that must have come to Ezekiel’s mind because it’s probably what you would think. “No way. Maybe if this were like Jairus’s daughter, someone who had just recently died, whose body was still intact, maybe such a person might be brought back to life, but human bones that are not even connected to each other anymore, how could that happen!” But Ezekiel overcame the thoughts of his human nature and answered in faith, Lord, you know. “I don’t know how such a thing could happen, but you are God. You can do all things. You know how to make these dry bones live if that’s what you want them to do.”
God still presents us with similar questions today. How could all that exists come into existence in just six days? How can Jesus’ body and blood be present in the Lord’s Supper? How can God raise Adam and Eve, or those who were killed in the fires of 911 that even melted steel? Our human nature looks at these things and wants to say, “No way. It can’t happen.” But when that temptation presents itself to us, like Ezekiel, we overcome it with faith by saying, Lord, you know. “You know all things. You can do anything, nothing is impossible for you, not even causing an immaculate conception in the womb of Mary. I admit I don’t know how any of these things are possible. But, if you say they have happened, or that they will happen, I trust your word.”
God’s question can these bones live, implied that he could make them live, but how? That’s the most surprising thing about this section of the word of God. In order to make the dry bones live, he told Ezekiel to prophesy to them, to preach to them. Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
How foolish! Preaching to the living often seems foolish because the majority don’t seem to listen. How much more foolish to preach to dead bones! But that’s the point. Israel was saying that they were like dead bones. They had sinned and God had brought judgment on them. It seemed that he had forsaken them because even the Temple was destroyed and they were captives in a foreign land. Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost, we have been completely cut off.
Maybe without knowing it they were describing what they should have realized all along. What they are describing is the state of all people by nature. Sin separates you from God. You are born dead in sin, like dry bones lying in a valley with everyone else born as a descendant of Adam and Eve. You are without hope. You may be physically alive, but you are spiritually dead, doomed to lie in death valley with not even a drop of water to quench your thirst. You need a resurrection, a spiritual birth, but you can’t do anything to bring that spiritual resurrection about. You are without hope.
Can these bones live? Can those who are born dead in trespasses and sins, like dry bones in a valley, live? Lord, you know. But how? Prophesy to them. Preach to them. Say to them, hear the word of the Lord.
But that seems to foolish. How can just speaking words do anything? How can just speaking words cause a spiritual resurrection? Shouldn’t there be more to it than that? Shouldn’t there be some medicine? Shouldn’t we have to do the work of assembling the bones first, correcting people’s behavior first, before we can expect them to be given life or to be brought to faith?
What happened when Ezekiel simply obeyed and did what God told him to do? What happened when he preached the word of the Lord to the dry bones? What happened when he preached to the wind? As I was prophesying/preaching there was a noise, a rattling, as the bones came together, one bone connecting to another… I prophesied/preached as he commanded me. Breath entered them and they came back to life. They stood on their feet, a very, very large army.
Thousands of dry bones stood before the Apostles on Pentecost. Thousands of people like you and me who were born dead in sin and separated from God; people who could not give themselves a rebirth and spiritual resurrection. And what did God tell and enable Peter and the Apostles to do? Preach to them. Tell them that God sent them the Messiah they were waiting for, but that they killed him. Tell them that God raised him from the dead because he had accomplished his mission of paying for the sins of the world. Tell them that there is salvation in no one else but him.
You know what happened when the Apostles prophesied on Pentecost. Three thousand people, the dry bones of three thousand people who had been separated from God, who had been without hope, came together and the Holy Spirit breathed life into them. They were brought to faith in Jesus. They called upon his name and were saved! All by the power of the word. All by the foolishness of preaching.
By God’s grace the miracle of Pentecost has been performed in you. Like the rest of men you were without hope, dead in sin, separated from God and headed to eternal destruction. But God called someone to be like Ezekiel for you. God called your parents, your grand parents, your pastor, to prophesy. He called someone to preach to you, even when you were a tiny infant. Through the word of the Lord, the Holy Spirit began his work. He put bone to bone, he covered bones with flesh, and then he gave you the breath of life, not physically in this case, but spiritually. He convicted you of your sinfulness. He brought you to see what Israel saw, that your bones were dry, that you were cut off from God and without hope, headed for eternal destruction. And then he made sure you heard about Jesus. He made sure that you realized that he came to take your place; that you killed him because he suffered for your sins. He made sure that you heard that God raised him from the dead; that he accomplished his work, paid for your every sin and reconciled you to God; that in him, and only in him, do you have hope, the certain hope of living body and soul with him forever. Through the preaching of law and Gospel, by the power of the word of the Lord, he gave you life and made you a part of his vast army.
As we look at the world and see how evil it is, as we hear about another school shooting, as we experience all kinds of trouble in this world, God might ask us, can these bones live? Can any of these people be brought to faith and live? His question implies that they can. But how? The same way the valley of dry bones came to life. They same way 3000 were brought to faith on Pentecost. The same way you were given spiritual life. God has chosen through the foolishness of the preaching of Christ crucified to give life to dry bones.
Like Ezekiel, as foolish as it may seem, prophesy to those around you who are without hope. Say to them, hear the word of the Lord. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. Everyone who calls on his name will be saved. Then stand back and watch God work his Pentecost miracle and bring dry bones, those dead in trespasses and sins, to life.