The Spirit Brings Life
We now implore the Holy Ghost For the true faith, which we need the most, that in our last moments He may befriend us And, as homeward we journey, attend us. Lord, have mercy.
Shine in our hearts, O most precious Light, that we Jesus Christ may know aright, Clinging to our Savior, whose blood hath bought us. Who again to our homeland hath brought us. Lord, have mercy.
Thou sacred Love, grace on us bestow, Set our hearts with heavenly fire aglow that with hearts united we love each other, Of one mind, in peace with every brother. Lord, have mercy!
[TLH #231, st.1-3]
God chose the Feast of Pentecost as the day to pour out the Holy Spirit, so that the travelers in Jerusalem would carry the Gospel message home with them. The sound of the wind brought the people to the disciples, the tongues of fire confirmed they had found the right place, and the wonderful works of God proclaimed to them in their own language stirred their hearts. In his sermon, Peter testified to a living Christ who brings life to sinners.
Jesus told the crowd of people that believers' hearts flow with living water. The Holy Spirit is the One who can change a dry heart that is dead in sin to a living heart flowing with love for God and producing fruits of faith.
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
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. It was a book complete with pictures only. Yet, I "read" that book and knew the story because the pictures told the story. As reading ability increased, the pictures shrunk until finally with great excitement I read a book that was free of pictures. When we have the ability to read in words pictures still bring to life the words that we are reading. I can read about the family reunion that I missed, but the picture shows the faces of the loved ones who were there. I can read about the beautiful sunset in the mountains or on the coast, but the picture shows me just how beautiful that creation is.
God, throughout His Word, uses pictures to teach us about Himself. Completely understanding God is impossible for us as simple human beings. There is such a vast difference in knowledge and substance between God and humans that our minds could never bridge that gap. 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 flesh and blood—He has no hands. He speaks of Himself in that way, however, so that we can grasp what it means to feel so secure as if we were safely in that hand of God. He speaks this way so we can grasp what it means to know a powerful hand of God that created all things and controls all things for us. 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 and we understand that God is in the same way guiding and leading us.
Jesus spoke in parables and used illustrations for the same purpose—to illustrate for us the truths of God’s Word. On the first Pentecost, God used visual evidence of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit—the tongues of fire. He used the sense of hearing—the sound of a mighty rushing wind to bring the people to 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. Each time we receive the Lord’s Supper we are receiving that assurance of the forgiveness of sins through our Savior, and physically eating the bread and drinking the wine as sensory proof and assurance of the grace of God.In our text this morning, we hear of 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 what great and magnificent life comes through that working.
This morning, we celebrate the Holy Spirit and His work in our hearts and in our lives. THE SPIRIT BRINGS LIFE. I. Life that rises from certain death and II. Life that testifies to the Lord.
It is perhaps a bit of a gruesome thought to come into a large open valley and find it empty except for layers upon layers of dried bones—skeletal remains, nothing but sun bleached bone, dry, and brittle. There is clearly no life whatsoever. Ezekiel describers them, “Behold! there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.” [v. 2] There were no ligaments, no muscle tissue, no skin, no life.
Israel was that dry and that barren and that dead when they had forsaken God. In judgment against their rebellion God had taken the people into captivity. There they felt sapped of their strength, sapped of any energy, and 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. In our own hearts and in our own spirits without the working of the Holy Spirit there is no life. 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 flesh—everybody born in this earth since the fall into sin—is born with that carnal hatred toward God. We are born with natural evil and 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 of death. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Without help, without life coming to this death we will 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 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 Adam before he became a living, breathing soul. God had formed him in clay. That clay man could not get up and find life, but God breathed life into that clay and he became a living man. When we die on this earth, our souls return to God who made them (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7) and our bodies remain an empty tent (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1ff). Think of 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 did bring life back to them. We know that on the Last Day God will return our bodies to life as well. That physical death, the inability to find life, the lack of life in the valley of dry bones is our spiritual condition. Not only are we hating God by nature, sinful and condemned, we have no way to find or bring ourselves to life. It is certain death of the fullest magnitude.
This is where the life giving breath comes across the valley of dried bones and brings life. 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 generation to be brought to faith? Is it conceivable that people dead in their trespasses and sins could live and 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] So Ezekiel prophesied, that is he spoke the Word of God, across this valley of dry bones. The bones rattled and snapped together, bone to bone, ligaments were added, then skin and flesh and what was once just skeletal remains were put together into 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, but life was still missing.
So 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 prophesied. He 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 and prophesied that He would take a heart of stone—dead—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 so loved the world that yes, it is possible for dead bones to live! It is possible because Jesus, the Son of God, came and lived a perfect life and died on the cross to take away the sin. If you take away sin, you take away the condemnation of death. The Word of God brings life, forgiveness of sins and salvation. To these hearts that were dead, hard, and opposing God the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel, changes those hearts of stone into flesh, gives life to the dry dustiness of unbelief and creates faith in the heart to believe. Through that faith God brings the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for all people when He died on the cross.
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 bringing this life through the Word that brings life to certain death and the dry bones.
The people of Israel were despairing, “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 come 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 the remnant would return to Israel and that would mean even more than just coming 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. That would be a testimony to the whole world that He had been faithful to His Word in fulfilling all that He had said He would do.
As the Spirit brings life into our hearts, out of those living hearts flows living water. Out of believing hearts comes testimony to the Lord. This testimony comes because the life that the Spirit brings changes everything. As believers with the Holy Spirit working in your heart you see things that no one else sees. You see God’s hand guiding and controlling things in this life—knowing that He is in control. The unbelieving world just sees coincidence and luck.
You know that all things work together for good to those who love God to those who are the called according to His purpose because You know that God has promised this in His Word. You know that you are at peace with God because Christ has established that peace where once there was enmity. You know 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—not the efforts of Satan, not the efforts of this world, not the temptations of your flesh—because the Holy Spirit is present in your heart, strengthening your faith, increasing your love for your Savior and impressing upon you that supreme confidence that you have in your Lord (cf. Romans 8:38-39).
You know from the Word of God 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 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 us, bringing to God those requests that we don’t know how to utter. “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).
This 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 living rivers of water flow out and declare the same to the rest of 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 too may feel at times 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, for the Scriptures do call Him the Comforter. He is the person of the Trinity whom God says calls us to His side to comfort us, to encourage us, to help us, and strengthen us. But if we pray all day and all night asking for the Holy Spirit to come and to bless us and to strengthen our faith, but never once use the Word, then we are ignoring the very tool that the Holy Spirit uses. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Gospel. It is that powerful Word of God that brought life to the valley of dry bones 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 the salvation that Christ won for us.
Therefore, it is not a passing thought that we celebrate Pentecost. It is a high festival. We speak of the Holy Spirit forgiving our sins because had Christ come and done all that he did for our salvation but the Holy Spirit had not done His work, we would still be lost. On this day we now enter the non-festival half of our church year. Over the past several months we have considered the life and ministry of Christ and now how that ministry and life works in the hearts of sinners through the Spirit working with the Gospel.
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. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt