May 20, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel, which was read a few minutes ago.
In 1954, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow wrote a book in which he detailed a list of needs that everyone requires. He drew the hierarchy of needs as a pyramid with needs like food, water, and air as the foundation and morality, creativity, and problem solving at the top. By using a pyramid, he showed what we all know; our basic needs must be met if we’re to obtain other needs like positive self-esteem. Maslow rejected religion, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Christianity isn’t anywhere on his pyramid, and yet he neglected a need more basic than food or water. Without food and water, we will physically die, but without God we will spiritually die. We need the life that God gives, we need it more than anything else, and that life comes to us in His Word.
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones coming to life is meant to serve as a vivid reminder of the power of God’s Word. Ezekiel had his vision around 590 BC, when the people of God had pretty much given up hope. Their captivity appeared to have no end in sight and they cried, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” They were enslaved because they stupidly and sinfully rejected God and they thought it was the end. But God had promised them that they wouldn’t remain slaves forever and Ezekiel’s vision shows that what God says will be done will be done. The Word spoken over the bones gave them tissue, muscle, and skin. The Word spoken over them filled them with the breath of life. The resurrected bones told the people that they could trust God’s Word that they would return home and live again. God said, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.” And He did, because He said He would.
Books typically entertain or convey information. A book may tell you how to fix your washing machine or how to be a better person, but it can’t actually do the work for you. Books can also be wrong! One book will tell you that the only way to get ahead in life is to put yourself first and to heck with everyone else, while another tells you that the only way to be successful is to treat others well. In the end, you’re forced to determine for yourself what the best course of action is. God’s Word though doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves or come up with our own strategies, it gives us what we need.
The Bible is unlike any other printed book. It’s not dictated like an autobiography or letter could be and its source isn’t someone’s imagination. Paul says that the Scriptures were “God breathed”, what we call inspired. He put His Word into the writers and the prophets so they would give His Word exactly as He gave it to them. His Word is without error, without contradiction, without mixed messages. It’s as relevant and as useful as it was when it was first written. The words written by men can be flawed, God’s Word is perfect.
God’s Word isn’t just perfect, it does what it says it does. God told the Israelites that He would give them their lives and their nation back, and He did. So also when God tells us He’ll do something He’ll do it. The Word which created the world out of nothing is the Word that comes to us and creates faith out of nothing. As at creation He spoke and it was, so now He speaks to us and we who were dead in sin are made alive. Our sinful dead bones are given life. His Word give life because Jesus is the Word of Life. When God calls a sin a sin, it’s a sin. And when He proclaims forgiveness, there is forgiveness. Where He gives life, there is life. Where He gives hope, there is hope. The Lord told Ezekiel several times to prophesy which is sharing the Word of God. This is what I do every Sunday and it’s what happens every time you read the Bible. The Bible isn’t like some book that’s has information that may or may not apply to you. Every word is for you, to give you life, to give you forgiveness. You are forgiven! Right now, you are forgiven because God says you are. Right now, you have God’s presence in your life because He says you do. He gives us the Word so that we would know that He is the Lord. And these words are written that you would know God’s truth for you.
Pentecost was fifty days after Easter and the appearance of the Holy Spirit reminds us that the Word of God is His as well. The dry bones were given muscle and skin, but they didn’t live until the Spirit filled them. The Lord 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.” In both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek the word for breath is the same as wind and the same as Spirit. The Holy Spirit was in the winds which filled the bones with the breath of life. The Spirit filled them through the Word. This is why we see the disciples changed so drastically when the Spirit, who came with the sound of the wind, filled the upper room. No longer where they frightened disciples, they were now loud and proud of their Lord and Savior. The Spirit directed them just as Jesus said He would. Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, and He did.
The Word of God is also the source of the Spirit for us, the life-giving Spirit who energizes and encourages us. The Spirit comes to us through our baptism and then repeatedly through the Word. We don’t find the Spirit, or get the Spirit, sitting on a boat or the golf course or anywhere else that is cut off from the Word. He is received when the Word is heard. And it’s not enough to hear it once or twice or even ten times. We hear it again and again because while the story may be familiar, God is still working through it for our benefit. God has given the Word which gives the Holy Spirit as He breathes into us. His Word isn’t something to be heard just for hearing sake. It’s to be received, for when we do, we receive the Holy Spirit who encourages us for this life, who speaks the Word of forgiveness that first came at our baptism, and who empowers us for Godly living.
We hear God’s Word and mediate on it because it it’s also the Word of Resurrection. It’s the Word about Jesus who was put to death for our sins and raised for our justification. He died and rose again that we would die to our sins and rise to a new life in Him. No matter where the disciples went they took the unbelievable news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the face of rejection, torture, and death they never recanted the truth of Jesus Christ. They saw Him alive and nothing would change their confession that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. His resurrection changed them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit who kept Jesus always in their hearts and minds. We haven’t yet seen the risen Christ, and yet we know Jesus really did rise from the dead. The Holy Spirit has filled us with faith and we know that the resurrection is the truth which we believe. The Holy Spirit has changed us just has He changed the disciples. You too have a renewed joy and confidence in the promises of Jesus as they’re recorded in the Bible, for these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
We need a lot of things to survive in this world and Maslow’s pyramid did a good job of showing how they’re related. But life isn’t life without faith and without the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word. Without the life-giving Word we would remain dead in our sins and face a depressing future. Praise God that He has given us His Word which forgives us, renews us, and gives us life. You should read a variety of things, reading is good, but if you really want to live, read and study and mediate on the for it is the Word of eternal life.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen