From Death to Life
Pentecost Sunday – May 20, 2018
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Acts 2:1-21)
There are a lot of incredible sites to behold in the city of Paris, from the huge Eiffel Tower to the priceless art hanging in the Louvre to the Arch de Triomphe. It’s no wonder then, that every year millions of people travel to witness these historically famous sites. But there is one location in the city that is hidden so well, most people never see it at all. No airplane or satellite or drone can take a picture of it. No road can get you there.
It is a part of Paris doomed to rest in darkness forever. In fact, it is so cold and so dark, the only people who live there…are the dead.
To get there, you must first pass through a doorway called the “Gate of Hell.” Down the stairs you go, descending into darkness. After walking through long, narrow hallways you start to see them. They line the walls, piled up from the floor to the ceiling. They are the centuries old, white-washed bones of the dead. And you can see them still to this day, in their final resting place in the catacombs of Paris.
Does that sound like your kind of destination vacation? Maybe not. Not many would voluntarily descend into chasms of skeletons. The cold air, the enveloping darkness, the eery silence, and the dead stares of skulls might just be enough to send shivers up your spine.
Thankfully, you don’t have descend into Paris’ depths of the dead if you don’t want to. But long ago, the prophet Ezekiel had no choice. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.”
The catacombs of Paris are hidden away in darkness. Yet the Lord brought Ezekiel to an open valley filled with bones. And he wasn’t allowed to simply look from a distance. “He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.” Ezekiel had to inspect these bones!
Then, in the middle of this above-ground graveyard, the Lord asks a profound question of Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I don’t remember that question ever coming up in Biology. The quick answer is, “No.” What’s dead is dead. In fact, the Hebrew question expects a “No” answer.
God follows his profound question with a profound command: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”
But that wasn’t all. The Lord gets very descriptive with Ezekiel’s message, “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.”
But why? Why inspect a valley of dried up bones? Why preach to them? God answers why: “Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
All of this was a living parable. This eerie earthly scene had spiritual meaning. The bones of the dead stood for something. The Lord says, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” In fact, they might as well have been a picture of all of fallen mankind. Us included.
How frightening would it be to walk through the catacombs of Paris and, all of a sudden, find your own dead body among them all! That is how the Bible describes the spiritual condition we were born into: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.” The dead cannot do anything for themselves. That includes us.
Yet in this valley of bones and death, God shows Ezekiel, his people, and us his power and grace. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them.” God gives his people life, as only God can. And in order to give us life, God sent his Son, Jesus, to take our death upon himself.
God isn’t talking about physical life here. He is speaking of eternal life. Listen to what he says in the final verse of our text, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate God’s goodness in our lives as he has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
In order to do that, Jesus, our Lord of Life, had to give himself to death. Our death. After Jesus died on the cross, he was placed in a tomb. Unlike the Parisian catacombs, this tomb had no other dead inside.
Just Jesus. And then, three days later, no one. Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that your deadly sins are forgiven. The waters of Baptism have made you alive in Christ. Eternal life is yours.
But walking through this world can still feel like walking “through the valley of the shadow of death.” You don’t have to visit Paris’ ominous underground catacombs to see the dead all gathered together. We see them every day around us. Those who have not heard about their Savior Jesus, those who do not believe are, in a way, the living dead. And we live among them! They might be your friends, your family, the people you work out with, the people you work for. They are a valley of bones.
But the same Lord who raised an entire valley of the dead in front of Ezekiel, is the same Lord who promises to do the same through his word. And he sends you out like his Apostles on Pentecost to boldly share that life-giving word – that word that brought you from death to life: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Share that life-giving message boldly…and watch as God raises the dead. Amen.