Acts 2: 32-33, 36-41
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Can you imagine seeing what Ezekiel saw? Dry bones rattling on the ground… sinews and muscles and flesh growing around the bones… and at his prayer, the dead, lifeless bodies, arose, with breath in their lungs and life in their bodies. What an amazing miracle!
What a vivid object lesson. In a spectacular way, God showed Ezekiel this important truth—that he, by his Spirit, brings the dead to life. A few hundred years later, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, God gave another vivid object lesson. What looked like flames of fire suddenly appeared on the apostles’ heads and instantly they had mastery of languages they’d never studied. And the Spirit of God gave them clarity. The light-bulb came on—or rather the flame of fire—and they got it. Jesus was the promised Savior from sin.
But the greater miracle that took place that day took place as a result of the Spirit working through Peter’s sermon that followed. God brought about 3,000 lifeless souls that resembled dead, dry bones to vibrant spiritual life that day.
Today in our sermon text we jump into the middle of that sermon and we see how the Spirit worked through Law and Gospel to bring dead souls to life. And we’re encouraged that our Risen Savior still acts in the same way today. He still sends his Holy Spirit to give life through the proclamation of Law and Gospel.
There are two main teachings of the Bible: The Law and Gospel. The law of course, is what God demands, the standard which everyone must meet to have God’s favor, the standard which no one can meet on his or her own. The gospel—literally, the “good or excellent news”—is what God has done. He has met all the requirements of the law for us in Jesus.
It is though Law and Gospel that the Spirit works to bring life. The old preacher’s adage puts it this way: It is our job to “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” But really that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Like Peter did, we preach the Law and through it the Spirit afflicts those comfortable in their sin. Like Peter did, we preach the Gospel and through it the Spirit comforts the afflicted.
In Peter’s sermon, he began by preaching harsh Law: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
“You killed the Messiah! You killed the one that everyone was waiting for! You killed the Son of God that proved his divinity by his miracles and by his resurrection from the dead!” Wow! Harsh Law, right? Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must have been?
A person got an email from his office manager that detailed a new company policy. He replied, detailing what a dumb policy change it had been. He then went on to complain that the boss that implemented it should really have checked with the managers and other employees before doing something this stupid. He asked his manager, “Is there any way that you and the other managers could keep this moronic boss in check to keep this from happening so often?” It wasn’t until later that day that his coworkers informed him that he had hit “reply all,” sending the email not just to his manager, but to everyone in company… including the boss. Awkward!
Well that awkward moment that that person felt, must have magnified a hundred times over for Peter’s audience. The men and women gathered before Peter that day didn’t just go up against a boss. They went up against God himself and against his Messiah! And they didn’t just send out a stupid email. They killed him! And Peter called them out on it. “You crucified Jesus, the Lord, the Christ!”
Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must have been? Well, yes, you can. You no doubt have felt that same awkward moment, not when you found out you sent out a harsh email, but when you were confronted in your sin. You may have squirmed a bit when your parent called you on your selfish and childish behavior. You have been flushed in the face when your teacher caught you cheating. You may have been embarrassed when your spouse pointed out your sinful, self-serving behavior.
I hope you have. And I hope you do feel that same sense of guilt and shame that that crowd did when they were confronted in the truth. Because that conviction is the first step in making things right—not just with the boss, or your spouse, or your parents, or your teacher—but with your God.
You see, every sin, is really committed against him. When you disobey your parents, you disobey God who says you ought to give them honor and respect. When you disrespect your boss or your president you sin against God who says they represent him. When you hurt your spouse you hurt your God who’s made the two of you one. Your unloving words, your disobedient actions, your apathy, and your failure to live up to your potential, is all rebellion against God. And it is damnable. Sound harsh? It is! But it’s true. Your sin—just one of them—damns you to hell. Like a balloon that is popped with just one pin-prick, perfection is popped with just one sin. And even before you act, who you are by nature damns you to hell.
Notice that Peter’s audience wasn’t just those who were present at Jesus’ crucifixion a month and a half earlier. It was Jews from every nation under earth. Peter said that they killed Jesus! They were responsible for Jesus’ death by their sin. And so are you. One man put it well when he said, “When the story of Christ’s death was first read to me, I cursed Judas and Pilate, the Jews and the soldiers. But when I understood it, I cursed myself, for I, too, have crucified Christ.”
That understanding is important. If you were comfortable in your sin before the sermon started, I hope that right now you now feel afflicted. I hope you are cut to the heart, because it was your sin (and mine) that brought about Jesus’ death. Even if no one else in the world had ever sinned, Jesus still would have had to die for you.
And that’s important to understand because by that message of harsh Law, the Holy Spirit leads you to repent—to cry out in sorrow and grief and shame, “What do I do?!” And when you are brought to repentance, where do you turn? Where do you go when you’re afflicted by your sin? God, through Peter, tells us.
In Peter’s sermon, once he afflicted the comfortable with the Law, he comforted the afflicted with the Gospel: Peter replied, “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.”
Now some want to point to the word, repent, and say there was a condition the people had to first meet before they would be forgiven. But that’s not the way repent is used here. The people didn’t have to produce greater sorrow over their sin. They had already been cut to the heart. Here repent means to turn to Jesus.
This is all Gospel! Peter might just as well have said, “Believe and be baptized!” There was no prescription given of what they must do first. There were no amends that needed to be made. No penance that must be done. No reparations given. They were to be entirely passive and just receive God’s blessings. “Be baptized.” “Receive the gift.” “The promise is for you and your children.” They did nothing. God did everything. He sent the Messiah whom they killed. He redeemed them with his blood. He sent the Spirit through Peter’s preaching to afflict them when they were comfortable and to comfort them when they were afflicted.
And through all that God did, a miracle resulted! The Holy Spirit led them to believe and accept the truth that Peter taught and the dead were brought to life. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” But it wasn’t just for them on that particular day. No! Peter said “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.” That is, for all who are far off geographically—thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, even all the way to Arizona, and for all who are far off chronologically—thousands of years later—even to you and to me.
The Holy Spirit has held up mirror of the Law and has shown us our sins. He’s led us to see that we are helpless on our own and need more than just a guide or a Band-Aid, but a Savior. “What can we do?” But the Holy Spirit answers in the Gospel, “Do nothing.” Jesus did it all. Be entirely passive and receive God’s blessings. Believe that the promise is for you and for your children, for all people of all time! And receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Receive him and the gifts he brings: Faith, forgiveness and peace.
Then, by the peace that God alone gives, may he give you strength to live a life of thanks to him. Save yourself… not from sin, or from death, or from hell. That’s already been done. But save yourself from this corrupt, crooked, twisted generation that surrounds you. Don’t be like them. But be as God wants you to be: selfless, humble, loving and kind, eager to serve others, ready to show love.
On this day of Pentecost, give thanks to God, for his Law, for his Gospel, for his Spirit who’s given you life when you were nothing more than a pile of dry bones, spiritually speaking. Give him thanks for his Word and Sacraments through which he works. And share that Word with others that those, who are nothing more than dry bones spiritually, can be brought to vibrant life spiritually by the Holy Spirit. Amen.