Bible Tuesday for Pentecost, 2018
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
The prophet, Ezekiel, is having a vision from God. Ezekiel is a prophet to Israel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and was hauled away to captivity in Babylon. In this dream, God shows Ezekiel a battle field long deserted, littered with the dry remains of the fallen warriors. Ezekiel identifies these dead as Israelite soldiers. These dry bones are the result of Israel’s loss to its enemies, which Israel believes is due to ignoring Yahweh and worshipping other gods, even in the Temple in Jerusalem. The captive Israelites, under the thumb of Babylon, feel just as dead and defeated as these bones.
God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Can dead, defeated Israel come to life again? Ezekiel answers, “Lord, only you know.” Then the bones come together and grow connective tissue and muscle and skin, but they are not alive, just as the Israelite captives are “able bodied” but feel so defeated and bereft that they are walking dead. God commands Ezekiel to call the winds from all directions and put their breath into the lungs and nostrils of the reconstituted Israelite army.
Thus armed with this amazing visualization, God now commands Ezekiel to proclaim healing, life, and promise to the defeated, captive people of God.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit,[a] they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
Here is a psalmist who marvels at the world and the ways it works, giving glory to God for all he sees. Water and ships, God made and human made, are both occasions to praise God. Earth quakes and volcanic activity are signs of God’s hand at work.
In the face of so great, powerful, and unfathomable a God, the psalmist asks that those who oppose God’s ways be “consumed”, no longer a part of God’s creation.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
The festival of Pentecost is a Jewish harvest festival 50 days after Passover, hence the name “Pente” – five, “Pentecost” – fiftieth. It was for this festival that Jews from all over the Roman Empire were making pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The disciples and apostles, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother and siblings, were all together in Jerusalem for the festival. Suddenly there was an onslaught of the Holy Spirit upon the place where they were gathered. The roar of gale force winds shook the disciples and filled them with the breath of God. Something like flames alit on each of them. Compelling them out into the crowd filled streets. Each of them began to proclaim the gospel of Jesus in languages heretofore unknown to them. These down home Galilee countryfolk were speaking in the many and varied languages of the pilgrims, all the while fulfilling ancient Israelite prophecies.
Verses 9-11 lists many civilizations and ethnicities, some of which were ancient and crumbled at the time of Jesus, while some were alive and thriving. In recounting this detail, Luke, the author of Acts, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit as a gift for people of all time.
“New wine” – the word translated “new wine” should literally be translated “sweet wine” which refers to both grape juice and to a libation with more alcohol content than the usual wine.
Peter’s sermon is to Jews. Peter exegetes Hebrew scriptures to teach his fellow Jews a new way of interpreting and applying their millennia old faith to themselves. “Yahweh has come to live with us. You killed him, but God resurrected him. Even now, he, Jesus the Christ, calls to you in love and forgiveness. Come, be baptized into life in Jesus, God’s word made flesh.”
“When the Advocate[a] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16 “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have” not known the Father or me. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[b] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[c] sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The word translated “Advocate” is the Greek “parakleet”. (My first pet was a parakleet. There you go, Steve Raap.) Ancient Israelites often imagined Yahweh/God as a the chief divine being in a royal court of divine beings. Satan was the title of the accuser, rather like the prosecuting attorney in modern courtrooms. Parakleet was the title of the defence attorney, the one who pleads to God on behalf of humans. Israelites saw God’s spirit, “hagia pneuma” in Greek, as a physical presence: a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in their wilderness wandering, the wind that brooded over and frothing the primordial waters as God prepared to speak creation into being.
In this passage, Jesus combines the traditions of the Hagia Pneuma and the Parakleet into the one presence of God who will abide with the disciples, the apostles, and all of us for eternity, in Jesus’ own absence. The gospel of John proclaims this dichotomy, Jesus is finite while alive on earth but the Holy Spirit is infinite. Therefore, in order for God/Holy Spirit to be present with all, Jesus must leave earth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains but one grain. But if it dies, it bares much fruit.”
While the Holy Spirit will not be visible in one person as Jesus is God in the flesh, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will continue to reveal the Kingdom of God to the disciples, apostles, and all of us, through the Holy Scriptures, through creation, and through each other.