Pentecost 2024: Dry Bones Live

Ezekiel 37:1-10; Acts 2:1-4

Today is Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers. After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared alive to his disciples during a period of 40 days. Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then he ascended to heaven. 

For the next 10 days the disciples stayed together praying and waiting. Then on the day of the Jewish festival of Pentecost, or Shavuot, 120 followers of Jesus were gathered in prayer. A powerful rushing wind filled the house where they were, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

This was the birth of the church – God’s Spirit-filled family in Jesus. Our church and all churches are the children, so to speak, of that mother church born on Pentecost.

The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was also a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophesy that we just read about. Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones becoming alive was given initially for the Israelites in exile. Around 600 B.C. the Israelites were defeated in war, taken captive to Babylon, and were living in the depths of despair. They were like dry bones scattered in a field without hope.

Amazingly Ezekiel prophesied that they wouldn’t be left in that forlorn condition. As impossible as it might seem, God would revive them and restore them. This happened when the Israelites were freed to return to their homeland 70 years after their captivity.

The greater fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision, however, occurred on that day of Pentecost with 120 disciples. When God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit and brought new life to human beings. God is taking the dry bones of our lives in this fallen world and making us into His family of sons and daughters in the likeness of Jesus. 

God is making human beings whole in Jesus. What does that look like? What can we look forward to becoming as we mature in Christ. Perhaps the best description of that is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. “The fruit of the Spirit,” the Apostle Paul writes, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.”

These are the characteristics of Christ-likeness that God is forming in us:

Love, a wholehearted commitment to God and an unselfish care for others.

Joy, an exuberance for life inspired by God’s Spirit within us.

Peace, an inner tranquility regardless of circumstances, and the sincere effort to live in harmony with others.

Patience or perseverance, a willingness to stick with God and stick with others, even when the things that we hope for take longer than we wish.

Kindness, treating others as we would wish to be treated.

Generosity, an attitude of sharing our material resources, but even more, a largeness of heart toward others that includes them in our circle of respect and love.

Faithfulness, loyalty to God and to others, through thick and thin, come what may.

Gentleness, not forcing our way in life, but letting God’s Spirit lead us.

Self-control, the ability to organize our energies wisely and direct them toward God’s purposes.

These aren’t requirements that we have to meet in order to win God’s favor. That isn’t what they are. When I was a young believer I read about the fruit of the Spirit and I thought, “God wants me to be like that, so I’ll do it!” I went around trying to act humble and kind and loving.

No doubt that was a good thing to try to do. But I wasn’t very successful. Because it wasn’t coming from deep inside. The Holy Spirit was just beginning to work in my life, and fruit takes time to develop. The fruit of the Spirit is the result of a life focused on Jesus. They are the qualities that God is graciously forming in us over time as renewed humans in Jesus Christ.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. Is this the kind of person you want to be? Then you are blessed! Because this is who God is making us!

Let’s talk for a moment about discouragement. At times we all feel like dry bones. When we think about our weaknesses and setbacks, it’s not easy to believe that God will take make something good of our lives.

That’s how the Israelites felt in their captivity as exiles in Babylon. When God showed Ezekiel a vision of dry bones and asked him, “Can these bones live,” the obvious answer was “no.” “No, they can’t,” most Israelites would have said, “it’s all over for us.”

But Ezekiel replied, “Almighty God, you know.” Ezekiel believed that the power of life was in God’s hands. God, who gives life to the dead and will do exceedingly above all that we can hope for.

Jesus’ disciples also felt discouraged even after his resurrection. They rejoiced that Jesus was risen, but they felt they had failed him. At Jesus’ arrest, Peter had been afraid and had denied him three times. And all the apostles except one had run away and deserted him. Jesus was now alive, but they were broken. Yet as the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the disciples, they grew from being fearful deserters into courageous, steadfast men and women of God.

That’s God’s promise to us. All of us need help and healing. As we stay close to Jesus, God is at work maturing us into healed and whole men and women. Making us to be more like Jesus and empowering us to serve God in the world.

God doesn’t heal us for ourselves alone, but also for the sake of the world. As we experience healing ourselves, we can help heal and repair the world, in our own small, or perhaps even large, ways. Our everyday, imperfect acts of caring can touch the lives of our neighbors and communities with God’s grace and love. Every day God is giving new life to dry bones. To us and to those whom our lives touch. 

Because, as one poet has written, “the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with, ah! bright wings.”

Martin Shupack