Are you on fire for the Lord through the Spirit’s power?
By the power of the Holy Spirit, can you talk in the language of men and of angels?
When you’re asked questions like this, how do you feel?
Do you start to get a little doubtful whether you have the Holy Spirit? Because, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit, then do you really believe in Jesus? And, if you don’t really believe in Jesus, then are you truly forgiven, and will you receive eternal life? So, how do you know if you even have the Holy Spirit unless you’ve had some kind of special spiritual experience to reassure you that you indeed have the Holy Spirit?
When we hear in today’s text where the apostles heard a rushing wind coming from heaven, received the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire, and also miraculously became able to speak in other languages, we might start to wonder why we don’t get the same.
It’s quite possible nothing like this has ever happened to you. So, if you felt nothing miraculous or amazing happen to you when you were baptised or when you were confirmed, or when you became a Christian, it’s quite possible doubts may begin to rise in your minds and hearts.
So, in order to receive some reassurance of the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we may want certain songs or moving sermons or miraculous moments or something else to affect us in some way to reassure us and make us feel that God truly loves us because of these experiences. We may also want to see some of the fruits of the Spirit being harvested in our life.
On the other hand, we might also be scared to receive the Spirit. We may have seen others babble away in another languages with eyes closed, arms raised and were scared by it. Maybe out of ignorance or jealousy we’ve criticised those who seem to be filled with a spirit of some sort and can do special things. It could be that we’re scared to be fired up by the Spirit, because then we might have to do or say something which would challenge us or take us out of our own comfortable little world. In this way we may be afraid of where the Spirit will guide us and what he’ll ask us to do.
But none of this is the point of this text!
St Luke, who wrote this account, is not telling us that unless we hear a rushing wind, unless we have had a tongue of fire on our head, unless we can speak in other languages, or unless we have any other powerful spiritual experience that we don’t have the Holy Spirit.
You see, this is not to be a normative experience for everyone. We’re not being told this has to happen to us.
Although the Spirit came on the disciples in this particular way, this doesn’t mean it’s the normal way for all people to receive the Holy Spirit or that all Christians will experience something like this.
The point of this text, as Peter clearly points out, is that when the Holy Spirit came on these men in such a way, Scripture was being fulfilled, and he even quotes this Scripture from the prophet Joel (2:28-32).
Similarly, when Jesus came to us in human flesh at Bethlehem, Scripture was fulfilled.
When Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, Scripture was fulfilled.
When Jesus rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, Scripture was fulfilled.
Everything that happened to Jesus and the disciples simply fulfilled what was promised by God himself through the Spirit-led prophets of the past!
So, when God’s chosen people received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God wasn’t setting a precedent for us, but he did this in order to fulfil Scripture and so affirm what he’s spoken in the past through the prophets, and now through Jesus and the apostles, is true and trustworthy.
In this way, we don’t necessarily celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit so we can all have our own personal pet flames on our heads or so that we can speak in different tongues, but so that we may celebrate God’s Word being fulfilled through God’s Spirit-filled people as foretold by the prophet Joel. We celebrate God’s Spirit-filled Word is true and still being fulfilled even today.
Therefore, we can celebrate the last days which were spoken about thousands of years ago have now come. We celebrate, because with the Holy Spirit’s coming, the Day of the Lord has begun. We celebrate because people are still being inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word to all nations. We celebrate, because in these last days, people are united in the Spirit in our common confession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, this unity will be seen in a particular way. For example, rather than people glorifying themselves and their own works and achievements, Spirit-filled people will glorify the one true God in their own languages. Spirit-filled people were led to tell you about the good news of God in your own language.
Even in Australia we’re still working to translate God’s Word and speak it to indigenous Australians. In fact, an Aboriginal elder, when he received a bible written in his own language, once said with amazement and wonder: ‘God speaks to us in our language!’
This was a similar reaction of the people from many countries on that amazing day of Pentecost. People heard about the acts of God in their own language! God spoke their own tongue! No wonder many were amazed and perplexed!
In this way, the Church is not based upon a common unity set down by human organisations, constitutions, customs, common languages, or even similar rules, but it’s united through a common confession of faith in the one Triune God through the power of the Holy Spirit, even if that one confession is spoken in different languages and in different denominations.
The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, not so we would have an experience to copy, but so that all people may believe God’s word has been fulfilled and we’re now all being told about the glory of God and his wonderful acts through Jesus Christ his Son.
We don’t have to have a flame on our head, or be able to speak in different languages, in order to have the Holy Spirit.
We have the Holy Spirit when we’re able to speak or sing God’s praises. We have the Holy Spirit when we’re able to pray to God, even in times of doubt. We have the Holy Spirit when we’re able to call on the Lord’s name, and because of this we’re comforted to know we will be saved, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The Holy Spirit is still being poured out today so that you and I and the people around us may hear what God has done in our own language. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us when we’re baptised, when we hear God’s Word, when we hear his words of grace and forgiveness, when we receive the Lord’s Supper, and when we pray through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is active when we hear how Scripture has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in the pouring out of his Spirit to all people. The Holy Spirit is active among us in his word and in his precious sacraments as channels of God’s forgiveness, love, peace and hope. The Holy Spirit is active as he leads us to glorify the Father and the Son by telling others what God’s done for us.
The Holy Spirit continues to call us, make us holy, enlighten us, and unite us so that we may glorify God the Son and the Father who sent him. We have the Holy Spirit because we’ve been led to praise God’s mighty deeds in his Son.
Therefore, whenever you’re asked “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” you can boldly say “Yes!”
We have the Holy Spirit so we may call on God’s name in prayer and praise – with or without any super shows of spirituality or being able to speak in different tongues.
May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us, comfort us, and lead us this week to tell of what God has done for us and for all people through Jesus Christ. Amen!
Gospel Reading: John 7:31-39 Jesus promises the Holy Spirit
31 Many among the crowds at the Temple believed in Jesus. “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?”
32 When the Pharisees heard that the crowds were whispering such things, they and the leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus. 33 But Jesus told them, “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. 34 You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going.”
35 The Jewish leaders were puzzled by this statement. “Where is he planning to go?” they asked. “Is he thinking of leaving the country and going to the Jews in other lands? Maybe he will even teach the Greeks! 36 What does he mean when he says, ‘You will search for me but not find me,’ and ‘You cannot go where I am going’?”
37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ ” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.) 1
First Reading: Acts 2:1-21 The coming of the Holy Spirit
2 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs.
And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. 13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says,‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy. 19 And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. 21 But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 2
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 The gifts of the Spirit
12 1Dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. 2 You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. 3 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.
7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. 9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy.
He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 3
Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. “Text edition”–Spine. (2nd ed.) (Jn 7:31-39). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. “Text edition”–Spine. (2nd ed.) (Ac 2:1-21). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. “Text edition”–Spine. (2nd ed.) (1 Co 12:1-13). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Corinth: ‘I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.’
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father, through your Holy Spirit you gather Christians who worship You with faith in your son Jesus Christ. A universal Christian Church made not of glass, wood and brick, but of people bound together in the Holy Spirit, even during this global isolation. We invite the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus on this Pentecost Sunday, to your glory and honour. Open our spirits to receive the fullness of your Spirit that we may dwell in your love and forgiveness, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome every obstacle in living for you. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
We read from Scripture last week that after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Disciples ‘worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.’
And from acts for this week, we read that when they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer.’ (Acts 1:14 NIV)
I can imagine what some of their prayers might have been: “Lord God, send us the helper Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, fulfil your promise that Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, let your living water flow around us”; and even “Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”. They must have been in prayer almost with one mind. Sharing a common vision of Christ Jesus, and of who they were in Christ Jesus.
And just as Jesus promised, at the right time God responded to their prayers by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon them. It is pretty clear that they had no idea what to expect. And for a time after the wondrous gift, they didn’t really understand what they had been given. I always heard the saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it!” I can imagine their delight and their confusion of what was happening among them.
The message for us this morning, is if we want this same delight, we need to be open to the same confusion and the same blessing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
In the upper room, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the Disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22–23 NRSV)
They surely received the Holy Spirit with his words to them. And they surely received the ability to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness to those who believe. They also received the gift and responsibility to pass this gift of the Holy Spirit to all whom they baptised and said those same precious words, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Just as we received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised, whether this was when we were days old, or as children, or as adults.
As Peter spoke with new enthusiasm on the day of Pentecost, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38–39 NIV)
We have also received the responsibility to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness. Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:16–17 ESV)
With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can with true hearts and sincere determination declare that “Jesus is Lord” of our being and of our lives. And also, with the gift of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, Scripture encourages us to be led by the Spirit. Paul writes in Galatians, ‘if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:18–25 ESV)
Thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our spirit, and display our faith in Christ Jesus by our lives. If we live our entire life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit evident, it will be evidence enough for our eternal salvation. Scripture is clear that salvation comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone, as we discover in the Word of God alone, by God’s grace alone. All this by the work of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism.
And like the Disciples in the presence of Jesus in the upper room, we received at our baptism a part in God’s kingdom and life in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in the book of Romans, ‘We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Just love others.’ (Romans 12:5–9 NLT)
But like the Disciples in that upper room with Jesus; I am convinced that at our Baptism, we did not yet receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit living through us with spiritual gifts.
Gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of others, of the Church, and of the faith to be passed from generation to generation, by the laying on of hands.
Those gifts require a special anointing of the Holy Spirit with power. The Disciples received this in that same upper room when the time was right. Gifts that demonstrated to an obstinate people that Jesus is the Messiah, risen from the dead, and ‘that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’
As Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, ‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.’
From Apostle, to Bishop, to Pastor, Apostolic succession of the gift of the Holy Spirit are passed from generation to generation. The confusion we experience, like the disciples, descending from the upper room at Pentecost, is about what Spiritual gifts we are to receive and what gifts the Holy Spirit will display in our lives.
For some it is simply the truth “Jesus is Lord.” For others, at times and seasons of their lives, God sends a special anointing of his Holy Spirit to do special things for the building up of the Church.
I heard the witness of one Pastor who received a special intuition to leave his parish for a short time to visit India in mission. And God followed this with the witness of a parishioner who spoke of a message for him from the Lord. He had never thought of doing this before, but like Peter called to visit the house of Cornelius, this Pastor felt the urging, and made that visit.
It felt strange to him, because it seemed everything fell into place so easily. His transport was paid for, his visa was simplified, and he left Australia with the message already in his heart that he would spread. He arrived and was quickly drawn to an assembly of thousands, listening to his witness, and seeking his individual prayers. It was as though the Holy Spirit drew them together for just this reason.
He was there for weeks praying for the people of this place and seeing people healed, released from demons, declaring their faith in Christ Jesus, and leaving the prayers with joy in their hearts.
When this pastor boarded the plane to return to Australia, he was convinced that this anointing of the Holy Spirit would be a godsend for his small congregation. He would see it grow to thousands with the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly revealed in his ministry.
But this Pastor was greatly disappointed when none of this happened in Australia. He prayed, fasted, and eagerly sought the power of the Holy Spirit, but was bitterly disillusioned and ended up sadly abandoning his parish ministry. But God was compassionate toward this Pastor who repented of his presumption. He returned this compassion to care for other pastors who were suffering.
The Holy Spirit will not be controlled, confined, or commanded. We can only pray to God our Father for the gifts to be revealed with power, and give thanks and praise for the times and seasons that God blesses our lives with gifts of the Holy Spirt.
As Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3 NIV)
I know and I fully trust that God has touched our lives with his Holy Spirit. Our simple declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ proclaims the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our worshipping community. The love we have for one another witnesses the greatest of gift and fruit of the Spirit that nurtures our faith. And for that I am eternally grateful to God our Father, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour.
We have the example of Pentecost to encourage us as we hold steady to our confession of Christ Jesus. The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in our living Lord Christ Jesus, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Are you a “morning person”? Can you overflow with excitement at 9.00am on a Sunday morning? Certainly the first Pentecost Sunday must have been an exciting occasion for 120 followers of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit entered their lives in a way that permanently changed them and the future direction of their lives. Where the Holy Spirit takes over the management of our lives, it can no longer be “business as usual”. Just as wind cannot be tamed, so the Holy Spirit cannot be subdued or tamed by us. We cannot predict when and where He works.
Pentecost is no isolated event. It is the fruition of the mighty work of salvation Jesus began on Good Friday. We experience the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit as we embrace the cross of Christ, and receive the mighty blessings that flow from it. As we see from St. Peter’s Pentecost proclamation: when a believer is filled with the Spirit of God, he or she becomes a passionate ambassador for Christ and for all the good He did for us by His cross and resurrection. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to carry conviction when we speak about Jesus Christ. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples. Forever afterwards, the Spirit remains stamped with Christ’s character. The Holy Spirit is clothed with the personality and nature of Jesus. We cannot therefore attribute any teaching to the Holy Spirit which doesn’t shed light on Jesus. There can be no exultant, joyous experience of the Spirit of God without a corresponding thankful appreciation of Christ’s sufferings for us and with us.
The first Pentecost Sunday is depicted as an event of international significance. St. Peter addresses an international audience with the universal language of the Gospel. The descent of the Spirit was marked by something visible in fulfilment of Jesus’ desire, “I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already on fire”, but although the tongues of fire were very visible above each of the 120 Christians gathered together, it was what they heard rather than what they saw that made the real impact on their multi-national audience.
What we have here is the miracle of hearing: the miracle of all those present being able to hear the good news of grace, peace and salvation through Jesus Christ, rather than a miracle of speaking in different languages. The crowd asks, “How is it that each of us hears them [that is, the apostles], speaking in our own language (Acts 2:8)?” and in verse 11: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”.
Certainly Pentecost involves a new gift of speech. But even more so, its newness involves a fresh capacity to hear the Spirit of God speak to and convict the consciences of those who are listening to the message about Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Unlike at the tower of Babel, different languages became no longer a threat or obstacle. The Gospel is a universal message for people of every tribe, nation and dialect. Peter and his fellow disciples are so “on fire” with enthusiasm for the wonders God has done through Christ His Son, that their audience thought they’d had a little too much to drink! Hardly likely at 9 o’clock in the morning!
In response to this accusation, Peter delivers the first Christian sermon and one of the most influential addresses ever given, one that radically changed three thousand lives that day. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches from the Holy Scriptures to show how marvellously God fulfils His gracious promises to His people. Furthermore, on the basis of the Scriptures, he delivers a Christ-centred message, as he shows his listeners how to find Christ throughout the Old Testament. Peter points out how God’s Word, rightly applied, speaks into our present situation with its transforming good news of great joy. Only the Holy Spirit could have inspired such a Christ-centred sermon that hits home and pricks the consciences of those who hear it.
The Holy Spirit can cause people of all ages, young and old alike, slaves and those who are free, to prophesy. Prophesying now takes on a new meaning. It now means much more than to foretell the future. “Those who prophesy are speaking to people to give them strength, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3).” One of the names given to the Holy Spirit is “Comforter” or “Encourager”. We all need encouragement like the earth needs rain. Each week, things happen that we never anticipated, things that can all too easily discourage us, or else others say discouraging things to us that sap our courage and depress us. That great Encourager whom Jesus has sent to us, the Holy Spirit, sends us fellow Christians to lift up our spirits and provide us with encouragement tailor-made to our needs. Such welcome, Spirit-sent encouragement gives us the courage to face life again with hope and confidence, and continue the work our Lord has called us to do.
A prison chaplain was so discouraged by the lack of response to his work, both by prisoners and the prison administration, that one Easter Monday, he was going to resign. He went sailing to think it over on the solitude of the sea. Then the inspiration came to him. “Every day that I stay on that job is a victory. I win just by staying there.” Such inspiration is from the Spirit of Encouragement, who seeks faithfulness rather than success from us. We sow the seeds of the Gospel and leave the size and shape of the harvest to the Spirit in His good time. He’s not in a hurry like we are. The seeds we sow may lie dormant for many years before they spring into life. The Spirit of Jesus doesn’t operate according to formulas invented by human beings. There are no four fail-safe acts of Christian love that will always work and win folk for Christ.
The Spirit of the living God uses each of us according to the unique combination of gifts He has given us. Our gifts complement each other’s gifts, talents and contributions. Those of us who have no musical gift, thank God for those who enrich our worship with their musical and singing abilities. God’s Word links being filled with the Spirit with worshipping God with music and singing: “Let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18b-20).”
The same Holy Spirit that creates faith in us also leads us to worship God, for in our Sunday services, the Holy Spirit endows us with His blessings and nourishes and nurtures the fruits of the Spirit in us. There can be no faith in God that doesn’t lead to praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God for the good gifts of Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. “To believe in God is to worship God (Luther).”
In conclusion, the Holy Spirit calls on each of us, on all of us, to pray for and work for the renewal of the Church. It’s too important to leave to others. Revival begins with me.
Come, Holy Spirit, renew my faith, deepen my commitment to You, increase my love for Jesus and those He loves. Revive Your Church, O loving Spirit, beginning with me!”
I felt the powerful presence of the Lord, and his Spirit took me and set me down in a valley where the ground was covered with bones. He led me all around the valley, and I could see that there were very many bones, and that they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?’
I replied, ‘Soverieign Lord, only you can answer that!’
He said, ‘Prophesy to the bones. Tell these dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord. Tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them: I am going to put breath back into you and bring you back to life. I will give you sinews and muscles and cover you with skin. I will put breath back into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’
So I prophesied as I had been told. While I was speaking, I heard a rattling noise, and the bones began to join together. While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles and then with skin. But there was no breath in the bodies.
God said to me, ‘Mortal man, prophesy to the wind. Tell the wind that the Sovereign Lord commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and bring them back to life.
So I prophesied as I had been told. Breath entered the bodies and they came to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army.
God said to me, ‘Mortal man, the people of Israel are like these bones. They say that they are dried up, without any hope and with no future. So prophesy to my people Israel; and tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel. When I open the graves where my people are buried, and bring them out, they will know that I am the Lord. I will put my breath into them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land. Then they will know that I am the Lord. I have promised that I would do this – and I will. I, the Lord, have spoken.’ (TEV)
‘The Lord and giver of life.’ That’s what the Nicene Creed calls God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a good description – one that comes straight out of the Bible.
This ‘Lord and giver of life’ is the subject of a graphic vision recorded in the 37th chapter of Ezekiel. Our text takes us into the heart of this vision, and shows us what can happen when the Spirit of God goes to work. In a striking way, this vision of God’s Spirit in the valley of dry bones shows what we mean when we confess that he’s: The Lord and Giver of life.
The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach. It’s one of those Old Testament words that’s wonderfully expressive. The word ruach means ‘breath’. The Spirit of God is the breath of God. In the beginning, God formed Adam out of the dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. That’s when Adam became a living being. Unless God breathes life into a person, there’s no real life there.
Many people who think they’re enjoying life to the full are simply walking corpses because they haven’t received the Spirit of God’s breath of new life. In some ways they’re like Matchbox cars. Put them on a downhill slope and they run alright; but they come to a stop when they hit the bottom because there’s no motor in them. The Spirit of God is the motor of your life! He makes you actually come alive, instead of just looking alive!
The Holy Spirit ‘breathes’ life into a person by pointing that person to the breathless body of the crucified Christ, and then to the living, breathing body of the same Christ, who was raised from the dead to never-ending life. The Holy Spirit points you to the Christ who died for you, to pay the wages of your sin. He’s your only way to forgiveness and salvation. The Holy Spirit breathes the name ‘Christ’ into your ear, and brings you to spiritual life through faith in him. And then he keeps Christ right at the centre or your life. He’s the Lord and giver of life!
The Hebrew word ruach also means wind. The Spirit of God is like the wind, Jesus once said: invisible, but powerful. You can’t see the wind, but you can see what the wind does to trees and house roofs in a cyclone … or to a candle when you blow on it.
You can’t control the wind, and you can’t limit the Spirit of God. Like the wind, he goes where he wants and does what he chooses. He gives his gifts and powers where he chooses, and not necessarily where some people in their presumption try to program him!
You mightn’t be able to see the wind, but you know where it’s been because you can see what it’s done. You mightn’t be able to see the Spirit of God, and you mightn’t necessarily see the extraordinary signs of his presence that some Christians insist on. But you can always see where he’s been at work in the lives of ordinary people like yourself.
The Holy Spirit’s like fire. Wherever he is, life starts to crackle. Like fire, the Holy Spirit refines away sin. And like fire, the Holy Spirit has to be treated with respect. You daren’t grieve the Spirit of God with persistent unbelief. That’s the one sin our Lord said would not be forgiven!
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the ‘Counsellor’, the ‘Comforter’ – the great strength-bringer. He breathes new spiritual life into the dead bones that litter this world. He creates a new breed of strong and enduring people – people who know how to take the discomforts of life wthout giving in to despair. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of real life!
In a vision, the prophet Ezekiel was taken on a tour of a valley where the bones of dead soldiers were scattered everywhere. It may have been some place where the Babylonian army had smashed the resistance of God’s rebellious people. The prophet looked at the bones of his countrymen with a heavy heart. As he looked, the Spirit asked him: ‘Can these bones come back to life?’
‘Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that’, the prophet replied. But then God commanded Ezekiel to proclaim new life in those dry, bleaching bones. He did so, and they sprang to life.
The people to whom Ezekiel described this vision knew very well what he meant. Their nation was dead, and they felt dead themselves, living in exile in a strange country.
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ they were asking. ‘Yes’, Ezekiel said to them, ‘they can be restored to life again. The people in exile can be set free. They can return to their homes. The Spirit of God – the Lord and giver of life – can put flesh and sinews back on those dry bones. He can, and he will.’
The people to whom Ezekiel told this vision knew they couldn’t restore themselves to life – life that’s more than just walking around like the living dead. Ezekiel said that when the Spirit of God goes to work it’s like coming back from the dead. It’s receiving a heart of flesh instead of a heart of cold stone. It means coming to life, as life was intended to be – warm, vibrant, and loving. This is possible only through the Lord and giver of life: God’s Holy Spirit.
I wonder if your life seems dreary at times … whether you feel you haven’t got much to live for. If so, you’re asking the question of our text: ‘Can these bones come back to life?’ The answer’s a ringing ‘Yes’! The Spirit of God gives life to dry bones, and he’s already done that for you: put warm flesh and sinews on what might seem to you to be nothing but a skeleton. He did that in your baptism. He’s the Lord and giver of life!
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ Do you ever feel that it’s a battle to hold onto your faith, to keep on believing? Take fresh heart! The miracle of Ezekiel’s vision can happen to anyone! No matter what low point you may reach in your life, no matter how weathered the bones may be, the strong, life-breathing Spirit of God can join bone to bone, and bring you to life again, in Christ. He can change what may seemto be impossible deadends in your life into roads that are bright with joy, and promise, and service!
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ Has the spiritual life the Holy Spirit implanted in you somehow become paralysed? Have you lost your energy to live for and serve Christ and his church? The Spirit of God can change that! He can inject new life and energy through his dynamic gospel word about the living Christ. Through this word, he can change you into someone pulsing with new joy and new spiritual vitality. Those creaking limbs of yours can become supple and flexible again!
‘Can these bones come back to life?’ This is a question that’s often asked at the graveside of someone who’s been near and dear. Ezekiel’s vision gives a confident ‘Yes’ to mourners. As St Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the grave will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you’. Those dry bones you see lowered into the grave or committed to the elements will live again in a new and glorified life. Ezekiel assures you of that!
The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. He gives his gift of spiritual life to a person in much the same way as a baby’s born. In fact, rebirth or regeneration is the theological term that’s often used to describe this process, whether it takes place through baptism in infancy or through a meeting with the living Christ in his word, later in life.
A baby’s life normally begins in the setting of other people – father, mother … family. The new life that comes through God’s Spirit also generally begins in the setting of people – the church. A lot of people today see the church as simply some sort of human ‘establishment’ or ‘institution’. Some criticise the church because it’s made up of people just like themselves! They can only see the flaws and hypocrisy in other members!
The church has its weaknesses because it’s made up of people like you and me. But the church is the creation of the Spirit of God. Wherever the church is, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ the great sin-bearer, and offering his sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there the Spirit of God himself is at work, bringing new life to dry bones.
By his Spirit, God brings new life to the dry bones of individual sinners. By his Spirit he links people with that new life into fellowship – the fellowship of faith in his church. Those dry bones become a vital part of the Body of Christ as they begin to move and function together in him.
This is your call, and this is your role in the church and in your congregation. Christ’s people aren’t just like carrots in a garden: each one distinct and each one growing separately. They’re like branches, growing together out of and drawing nourishment from the one Vine, which is Jesus Christ himself!
‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, Jesus once said. In a vine, each branch grows from the trunk and produces fruit for the overall good of the whole vine. In the church, when the sap rises in those branches, when dry bones come to life again, things happen!
When the Spirit of God brings this kind of life to you, Christian love takes on a new dimension. Confidence takes over from fear. Doubt gives way to Spirit-given conviction. Uncertainty gives way to hope. Lethargy gives way to action, sluggishness to service. Indifference turns into a vital concern for people – their welfare, their faith, and their spiritual life. You live as you’ve never lived before, giving and extending yourself in loving service to others … and to Christ.
That’s why the Spirit of God has called you to follow Christ and has sealed this call in your baptism. That’s why he’s built you as a living stone into his church and into this congregation. It’s why the church exists.
And so Ezekiel’s challenge to you today is to let the Spirit of God continue to rejuvenate you and fill you with a new measure of his life. Let the Spirit of God use you in a mighty way to build up and extend the whole Body of Christ, and particularly this congregation. Take his call seriously, and God will take you seriously, and work in and through you in a mighty way!
The unbelievable happened there in the valley of bones. The unbelievable can always happen where God’s Spirit goes to work in and through people who’re committed to Jesus Christ. The very fact that you’re here – a sinner, now a saint – is unbelievable when you stop and think about it! And this kind of miracle can keep right on happening every day, as through the power of his word, the Spirit of God frees you more and more from the death-grip of sin, and makes your new heart of flesh beat with a new life, a new love, and a new power to serve.
The Spirit who brings new life to dry bones can and will do this because he’s the Lord and giver of life. Amen.