What Makes the Difference?
When we eat a meal, the ingredients make all the difference in taste and enjoyment. A tossed salad needs a dressing. Some people think certain foods need to be flavored with ketchup. Cooks sometimes omit an ingredient from a recipe, and tasters notice the difference.
God spoke to Ezekiel when he and the Israelites were in bondage in Babylon. God wanted to teach Ezekiel what made the difference with God’s people. It was not a place. It was not a government. It was God.
God used a valley full of bones for Ezekiel’s lesson. God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones, and he did. They began to organize into human skeletons and to take on muscles and skin. They had form but no life. Only when God breathed life into the bodies was there vitality. God makes all the difference in the life of a nation and the life of a person.
I. Observe a Pathetic Situation (vv. 1-2)
God took Ezekiel on a journey to see a large valley of dry bones. Probably a big battle had taken place in the valley with numerous deaths. Casualties had not been buried. The bodies had decayed, and nothing was left but the bones. Ezekiel saw a pathetic sight.
God wanted Ezekiel to see another sight. He wanted Ezekiel to see the pathetic condition of Israel. They had rebelled against God, and they were reaping the consequences in Babylonian bondage.
Any person outside of Christ is in a pathetic situation. Paul says such persons are “dead through the trespasses and sins” ( Eph. 2:1) .
II. Ponder a Wonderful Possibility (vv. 3-8a)
God asked Ezekiel an intriguing question: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel was stunned by the question. He did not know if or how the bones could live. So he answered, “O LORD God, thou knowest.” God told Ezekiel to prophesy unto the bones, and God would cause them to live.
God wanted Ezekiel to know about the possibility of Israel’s restoration. They could return to their land and would become a “light to the nations” again.
No situation is too hard for God. He can take lives ruined by sin and make them beautiful. The possibility for restoration awaits every person who desires God.
III. Notice the Absolute Necessity (vv. 8b-14)
Ezekiel saw the bones organize into skeletons. He saw these skeletons take on muscles and skin; “but there was no breath in them.” God’s breath is an absolute necessity.
Israel would not restore herself. Human wisdom and strength availed nothing. Only God creates vitality in a person’s life. No one can come to life outside the breath of God. He makes all the difference.
God wants to indwell each person with his Holy Spirit. Allowing him to come into life creates changes and gives life. (Harold T. Bryson)
Pentecost and the Reversal of Babel
The story of Babel ( Gen. 11:1-9) is a clear portrayal of the divisiveness and confusion that reign in a world that seeks to exalt itself and discredit God. The day of Pentecost marked that moment in Christian history when the reversal of Babel began. In Acts, Luke says that the believers were all gathered together when the unexpected happened (2:1).
I. Experiencing the Unexpected
Luke’s Gospel closes with the disciples waiting for power and direction (Luke 24:49) . What came in Acts 2 surprised everyone (v. 12). The phenomena that occurred in this event were stranger than fiction. A sound like a violent “wind” (pnoe) introduced the presence of “Spirit” (pneuma). Tongues of fire on people (v. 3) became tongues of understanding that, for a time, completely banished the language barriers of the Hellenistic world (vv. 4-11).
Rational attempts at explaining these phenomena that took place at Pentecost by calling the disciples drunkards just would not work (v. 13). Pentecost was not some mere repeatable, human-induced experience or event. It was a special act of God that marked the start of breaking down barriers—a theme that drives the book of Acts.
From the very beginning of the book, therefore, the message is consistent: nothing can limit or restrict the scope of the gospel (Acts 28:31) , not even the old Babel language barriers! The Holy Spirit can and will break open chains and prisons and barriers. The power of the Resurrection had come to the church through the Holy Spirit, and God was announcing in this special event that the confusion of Babel could be brought to an end through people who wait upon the Lord and receive, or are “filled with,” the Spirit.
II. Proclaiming the Unexpected
The task of God’s people was and now is to proclaim the meaning and significance of the way in which God acts in the world. The sermon of Peter (vv. 14-36) is a marvelous contextualized message in three parts, introduced by three vocative uses of andres (men), which address Peter’s listeners at verses 14, 22, and 29. As such, the sermon provides a model of three aspects of the Christian proclamation.
The message begins where the people are and with what they have experienced. Then it reminds them that the event they have witnessed is fully in keeping with God’s intention in the Old Testament that his “sons and daughters” would someday experience the power of the Spirit (v. 17; cf. Joel 2:28) . The second part of the sermon reminds us that the experience of the Spirit is directly linked to the ministry of Jesus and that his death and resurrection was part of God’s great plan for saving the world (v. 23).
The final part of the sermon points to the resurrection of Jesus as the foundation of the Christian witness (v. 32) and the basis for proclaiming him as Lord and Christ to the world. The only adequate response to such a message is self-examination and repentance (vv. 37-38). (Gerald L. Borchert)
The Promise of the Counselor
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Many Christians are afraid of the Holy Spirit. The “Ghost” of the KJV sounds like a spook. The excesses of some have caused many of us to focus more on what we don’t believe about the Spirit than what we do believe. Pentecost reminds us that the reality of the Spirit’s coming is the birthday of the church.
The Old Testament said little about the Spirit in personal terms. The breath of God at the dawn of creation, the Spirit of God, is an occasional empowerment in the lives of selected heroes and heroines of Israel. Jesus words were “new” teaching in that they spoke of a whole new relationship with the Counselor—his word for the Holy Spirit. The Counselor who had been with them would be in them. There are basic truths about the Holy Spirit contained in these verses from Jesus last words to his disciples before his departure via the cross.
I. The Holy Spirit Is “Counselor” (15:25)
He is not to be feared. He is sent by Jesus and comes from God. He “goes along beside” the believer. We should joyously embrace the Spirit’s ministry in our lives. Paul refers to the Spirit as the “earnest” of our salvation. He is God’s down payment and promise that he who has begun this good work in you will perform it.
II. The Holy Spirit’s Ministry Is to Testify About Jesus (15:26)
The Spirit does not draw attention to himself. The gifts of the Spirit or other manifestations are intended to focus our attention on Christ. Any focus on the Holy Spirit that says more about the third member of the Godhead than about Jesus has missed the point of the Spirit’s ministry. Likewise, we are genuinely spiritual not when we draw attention to ourselves, but as our lives point others to Christ.
III. The Holy Spirit Will Convict the World of Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment (16:8)
We have the obligation to preach and testify about that which we have seen and heard. But we cannot argue anyone into faith. In reality, the Holy Spirit of God must draw men and women to Christ. He is the one who lifts up Christ—the objective standard of God’s righteousness that reveals human sin and portends of divine judgment. We don’t find Christ. Rather, as Saint Thomas observed, Christ is like the hound of heaven who finds us.
IV. The Holy Spirit Guides Us into All Truth (16:13)
The focus here is on spiritual truth. Yet as Arthur Holmes’s philosophy title suggests, “all truth is God’s truth.” The Holy Spirit is God’s mediated presence in the world. He communicates the mind of God to the believer. The test for all spiritual truth claims is: “Does this glorify Jesus Christ?”
V. The Holy Spirit Makes the Resources of God Available to the Believer (16:15)
In the New Testament we are urged to “walk in,” “be filled with,” and “live by” the Spirit. Stuart Briscoe has said: “All that Christ is, He is in us and all that He is in us He wants to be through us. The invitation of the New Testament is simply, ‘Let Him. ”
We have an unlimited resource in the power of God available to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (L. Joseph Rosas)