20 May 2018

The Spirit of Life in the Valley of Death

Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are nothing but dust and bones, returning to the ground from which you were taken.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are dead and dying.  For you have no life in you, neither in your body nor in your soul, except by the Spirit of God, the Breath of the Lord.

You have been created for life with God eternally.  It is for that reason that you exist.  But you do not live without the Spirit.  Apart from the Spirit, you continue to exist, only at odds with God and cut off from Him; which is no life at all but a persistent and eternal death, an eternal damnation.

In the final judgment, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the end of days, you shall be raised from the dust of the earth in and with your body.  But if you have not received the Holy Spirit in your body of flesh and blood within your life on earth, and if you have not remained in the Spirit of Christ Jesus within this body and life, then you shall be raised, not for everlasting life with God in Paradise, but for the neverending death and damnation of hell in both your body and your soul.

In the meantime, your body is dying because of your sin, which is (at its heart) the rejection of the Word and Spirit of God and the worship of yourself instead of the Lord.  You die, as all men die, because of your sin.  You live at all only by the grace of God, who gives life and breath to all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and who gives daily bread also to all the wicked.  But all of this is temporary.

The Spirit of God does not strive with man forever.  He continues to strive with man for a season, because of God’s love for man, and because of His desire that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.  But that season of grace will come to an end in the hour of death and in the final judgment.  Then everything will depend on whether you have received and borne the Spirit of Christ Jesus in faith, or denied and rejected the Spirit in sinful unbelief and idolatry.

The fact that you are presently dying and wasting away is a daily reminder of your sin, and thus a daily call to repentance.  If you rely on yourself and persist in your sins, you will perish forever.  For you cannot keep yourself from dying, and you cannot save yourself for eternal life with God.

Even if you do not yet see it or feel it in yourself, consider the world around you.  Do you not hear of death and destruction on a daily basis, both near and far?  People get sick and die at every age.  Terrible storms on land and at sea, earthquakes and fires, devastating accidents, deliberate attacks, and wretched violence are commonplace around the globe, constant reminders of sin’s dire curse.

Whether it be strangers in the news, or loved ones on their sick beds, or your own mortal flesh with all its frailties and flaws, you look about and find that you are set within the valley of the shadow of death, surrounded on all sides, within and without, by dried up bones returning to the dust.

In the very midst of all this death, your only hope is in Christ Jesus, who pours out upon you the living and Life-giving Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel.  And yet, you cannot see Him, nor can you perceive or feel His presence.  Despite the promises of the Lord your God, all that you can see and feel in the world is still dust and bones.  So you wonder if there really is any hope, or if you should simply give up in despair.  Sadness fills your heart, and sorrow permeates your spirit.

Can these bones live?  These dead and dying bones of yours?  These brittle and breaking bones?

Can you possibly be rescued in both your body and your soul, rescued from death and damnation, in order to live with the Lord your God in the good Land that He has promised, in the place that Christ has prepared for you, in His House, in the Kingdom of His God and Father?  Can even you be raised from the dust of the earth to everlasting Life, though for now you are subject to death?

By the Word and Spirit of God, the answer is “Yes,” a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen.”  By the preaching of Christ Jesus, you are raised up and rescued from death and the grave.  Your sins are all forgiven by the grace of His Gospel, your death is undone.  In the Body of Christ you belong to God the Father, you bear the Holy Spirit, and you live, body and soul, now and forever.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God, anointed by the Father with the Spirit in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary — the divine Word by whom all things are made — He has fully entered into your Death Valley.  And there, by His Cross and Passion, by His innocent suffering and death, by the voluntary shedding of His holy and precious Blood, He has overcome the curse and consequences of sin, and He has won the victory for you.

He has come, this true God in the Flesh, this true and perfect Man, to bear your sins in His Body to the Cross, to suffer your death and the righteous judgment of the Law against the sins of the whole world, in order to reconcile God and Man forever in Himself, to receive and bear the Spirit in His Body, and to raise the sons and daughters of man from death to life in His Resurrection.

In perfect faith and holy love, He takes the full responsibility for your sins and hands Himself over to your death.  In the confidence of His God and Father, He is crucified, dies, and is buried in the dust of the earth from which you are taken.  He submits Himself to be cut off from the land of the living.  He traverses the dark valley into the far country of death and the grave, even into Sheol.

For all that, appearances notwithstanding, He is not defeated in His death upon the Cross.  The victory remains with Life.  For God the Father does not abandon His Holy One, Christ Jesus, to Sheol.  He does not leave Him to suffer decay, but raises Him and rescues Him from out of death.

Not only that, but in the Resurrection of Christ all the children of Adam are raised.  The New Man is taken from the dust of the ground.  And the Lord breathes His Life-giving Spirit into His Body.  Thus are dead bones given new life, the dirt is remade in the Image of God, and man is saved for life with God in the Spirit.  The whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth has life in Christ.

As St. Peter goes on to say in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when God raised Jesus from the dead He poured out His Spirit upon Him, just as the Father had done when the same Son, Christ Jesus, was baptized in the Jordan River.  In each case, the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit in His Body, that you might also receive the Spirit of God in Him, as a member of His Body, baptized in His Name.  Thus are you sanctified in body and soul for the Resurrection and everlasting Life.

That is the whole point: What Jesus has received on your behalf, you also now receive in Him by the Ministry of His Gospel, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  The Atonement of the Cross has made it possible, and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead all things are made brand new.  For He pours out the Spirit from the Father upon His Apostles and upon His Church, even to the ends of the earth, through the free and full forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And, as all men die because all men sin, so by the Lord’s forgiveness of sins are all men made alive in Christ Jesus.

His own crucified and risen Body is the Firstfruits of the New Creation, to which you also belong by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  As Christ is anointed by the Spirit of God, so are you anointed by the Spirit as a Christian.  As Christ Jesus ascends to the Right Hand of the Father, in and with His Body of flesh and blood, so are you and all people reconciled to God the Father in Christ, His Son.  You are seated with Him in the heavenly places, even as He is with you here, and pours out the Holy Spirit upon you here within the Household and Family of His Church on earth.

It is here in His Jerusalem, the City of God — in the Upper Room where the disciples of Jesus are gathered in His Name and according to His Word and promise — within the Church, the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all — it is here that the Father pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you through Jesus Christ, His Son, by the preaching of His Word of the Gospel.

God speaks to you by His Son, and in doing so He breathes the Spirit into your body and soul, into your ears, into your heart, and into your mind, unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  He calls you away from sin and death, back to Himself in Christ Jesus.  He raises you up from the dust of the earth and calls you back to life in His Spirit by the Resurrection of His incarnate Son.

This preaching of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen — the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name — that preaching is the Voice of the Holy Spirit, the Voice of the Gospel.  That is the “Noise” that Ezekiel heard in the valley of dry bones, the “Noise” of a mighty wind, such as the disciples also heard filling the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

You cannot know or predict or see with your eyes where the Spirit is coming or going, but you do hear this “Noise,” this Voice of the Spirit in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, and you are given to behold the work that He does by that preaching of forgiveness.  For those who are dead in their trespasses and sin are raised up in faith to newness of life.  Those who have succumbed to doubts and denials, perhaps even to despair, are delivered from the fear and the power of death and the devil.  They are made to stand in confidence and hope, bold and courageous in the face of evil.  They are sanctified in body and soul for life with God, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

All of that is given to you, as well, by the preaching of the Gospel.  That is your life with God in Christ, by the free gift of His Spirit, wherever in the world the Lord has stationed you in love.  As Christ is risen from the dead and lives forever, so do you live by faith in Him, by His Spirit, even here and now, regardless of appearances.  Though dust and bones surround you and permeate your experience on earth, your body and life are not fruitless or futile.  Your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  In the work that God has given you to do, Christ bears in you the fruits of His Spirit.  You love and serve your neighbors in peace.  You praise and glorify the Name of the Lord your God.

Thus do you also speak with new tongues by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  That is to say, not only with your words, but also with your life, with your particular abilities and talents, with the work that you do, and with all that is in you, you glorify God and praise the Lord by confessing the Gospel of Jesus.  It is the Holy Spirit who animates your life in this way, as a true doxology, no less so than He caused those 120 disciples to praise the Lord in all those many languages.

The Gospel itself is the “New Tongue,” as it is also the “New Song” that all God’s people sing in heaven and on earth.  It is the Salvation of Christ that you confess, no matter what your language or profession, no matter your talent and skill.  In confessing Christ, you speak as an oracle of God.  Men and women, boys and girls, disciples of all ages, you all declare the glories of Him who called you out of the darkness into His Light, as the Spirit gives you utterance by the Word of Christ.

The confusion of tongues and the dispersal of the nations after the Tower of Babel is now reversed.  Not by the restoration of a single common language, but by the confession of the one Holy Gospel, the forgiveness of the Cross of Christ and the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.  For there is one Holy Spirit who has called you by that one Gospel of Christ, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified you in the one true faith — who keeps you steadfast in the Word of one God and Father, in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in one Holy Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and in the Communion of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

It is the Spirit who lives and abides and speaks in you by the Word of Christ, so that you confess His Holy Name in all that you say and do.  And by that confession, the dead are raised up and gathered from the four corners of the world into the Household and Family of God.  Thus do they pray and confess the Name of the Lord, together with you and all the disciples of Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father.  They also rejoice, give thanks, and sing with you and all Christians.

Beloved of the Lord, your life and your confession are not meaningless, no matter how mundane they may feel or seem.  Do not despair or give up hope!  The life that you live by faith in Christ, and the work that you do according to your calling and station, are the work of the Spirit of God.  Rejoice that He is manifest in this way, as Christ is confessed and your Father is glorified in you.

Can it be?  Can your dried up, dead, and dying bones live?  Indeed they can.  They do, even now, and so they shall, unto the Life everlasting.  For the risen Lord Jesus pours out His Spirit upon you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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