Walking and Dying With Jesus

The Fifth Sunday in Lent (A), April 2, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [John 11:16]

When we hear Thomas’ words about dying, they are really God’s Words about dying. These Words are first to be taken spiritually that is, they are meant to first point our eyes of faith to a spiritual death, but then they force us to consider our physical death. They are Words that first bring a spiritual renewal and then the long promised physical resurrection, a resurrection from death. Do you think that Thomas was thinking about any of this when he said, “Let’s also go (with Jesus), (so) that we may die with him”? No, I think that these were the words of a pessimist; words of frustration that each of us can identify with. It’s as if they were saying, “Well, all of our hopes and dreams have been shattered, so there is nothing else to do but follow Jesus and die.” In those sentiments, I hear a spark of faith that moves their hearts to believe that if Jesus is leading them, some how, some way, everything would turn out alright. A spark of faith that would latter be revealed in the words of Martha and Mary when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, a full four days after Lazarus had died: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

In our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1–14), we see something similar happening.

The prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon with his fellow Jews, is taken up in the spirit by the very hand of God and shown a vast valley of dead, dry bones. And (the Lord) asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And (Ezekiel) answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Now let’s make sure that we remember those Words. The Lord knows. He knows what the outcome will be when we follow Jesus to what appears to be certain death, and He knows what the outcome will be in our lives when everything around us is telling us that living the life, or dying the death of a Christian should not have this much trouble, this much fear, this much worry. He knows, and because He knows, because He loves you and calls you to follow Him, we know that in the end everything will be well for our souls and our eternal life with Jesus.

Have you ever been so depressed that you just didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning? Some times it may be so bad that you don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. Even the Word of God seems to offer little help; well at least that’s what you tell yourself, when the truth is, the Word of God is the only thing that will do you any good; specifically that part of the Word that promises new life in a situation that seems completely hopeless and dead. And that is what God was speaking to Ezekiel and all of his fellow countrymen who were being held captive there in Babylon. Babylon was a place that seemed hopeless for the nation of Israel; they appeared to be dead as a people. But then God asked a question that was meant to test their faith and then cause it to grow. And where faith is alive and growing there is life and there is hope. “Son of man, can these bones live?” And to this, the weak voice of faith, like that of Thomas and perhaps like ours says, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Do you hear the weak faith? Oh yes, it’s small, the size of a mustard seed I’d say, but it’s the kind of faith that let’s go of all hope that may come from within you or from this fallen world, and instead it simply chooses to trust only in someone greater and outside of itself and this world. It is the kind of faith that will cause our depressed hearts to take notice, and allow our unwilling ears to listen for at least a bit of “good news.”

Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:4-6)] What was God showing Ezekiel? This is an important question, because God is always consistent, so what He is showing Ezekiel, He is showing us. In other words, He is demonstrating something the church, you and I, should know right now, today!

What God was showing Ezekiel and what He is showing us today, is that the Lord who promised to bring life to dead bones in the vision is simply doing the very same thing He did long ago in the garden of Eden… He is Creating life: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. [Genesis 1:26] The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7]

Where does our hope of life come from?

Hope of a future, hope of life always comes from the very Word of God and the very breath of God.

But the Word must be spoken; it must be declared with the wind, Spirit, and power of God, that is it must have the breath of life behind it. “So” Ezekiel in obedience to the Word, speaks the Word “as (he) was commanded. And as (he) prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And (he) looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then (God) said to (him), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he (was) commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [Ezekiel 37:7–10]

At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel prophesied to lifeless bones, and a miracle happened. There was a rattling noise as bone came together with bone. To Ezekiel the valley seemed no longer to be full of disconnected bones but of skeletons. God’s miracle continued, “Tendons and flesh appeared on them.” Now the valley resembled a battlefield littered with corpses. But God’s miracle was still not over. At God’s command Ezekiel continued to prophesy, and breath entered that army of corpses, and they came to life and stood up. Through a vision Ezekiel saw how God would re-create his people now apparently hopelessly lost in Babylon.

Ezekiel carried out his orders and the Lord kept his promise. He did not want to speak, I’m sure, and neither did the Jews want to listen; they were depressed and simply waiting to die. But, when God speaks, His Words carry the mighty life giving power of His Spirit. When He speaks, even the dead in their graves must listen and respond. When a corpse, even one with out ears, or one where all of the atoms have been scattered to who knows where is spoken to, they must listen, and they must respond!

This ought to be a description of our lives. When we are so depressed that even the chirping of the birds and our neighbors laughter and joy cause nothing but irritation and even anger, we have no choice but to listen and respond, as God speaks. As we are carried away by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, we have no choice but to carry out the Lord’s orders, and then watch as the Lord carries out his promises of life within us.

Dear friends, it is the knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will in our lives that will take away the boredom, drudgery, and even the depression we find in life; it is what brings life to dead and dry bones.

It is this very knowledge when received by faith, that will transform our lives. When we realize that since our baptism we have been brought to death with Christ, but then raised to a new and eternal life with Him, that we are not just working for a paycheck, but we are serving our risen LORD and God, who through that paycheck is supporting our families, then that transformation is displayed in God’s power. This is the power of new life.

It is God’s power that teaches us that we are not just studying to get a passing grade in school, but we are instead using our minds to the best we can, because our Lord has called us to be good stewards, or managers of our intellects. It teaches us that we are not just taking care of the kids or grandkids, but we are shaping their souls as God’s own children, and teaching them about Jesus by the way we talk and act.

And through this power of God, we demonstrate God’s power even when we feel depressed and alone, because we know that behind every thing we do is the promise of God, that says “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28] And the Lord keeps his promises, just as he did when Ezekiel preached to those dry bones as he was instructed to.

This morning, just as Ezekiel was obedient to the call of God to prophesy, that is to preach the Word of God so that life could come amongst those who felt as good as dead, I too am called to preach the same message of life and renewal. It has been a long period of Lent, and we are tired, but our travels are not yet complete. We must continue to follow Jesus and learn to die with Him, so that we will live with Him.

So hear these last words:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:11-14]

This morning, some of us may be distracted by tragedy or loss in our lives. Maybe it is the loss of a loved one through death, or the sting of betrayal, or the fatigue and frustration of sickness or old age. Perhaps it is the loss of a job or the lack of one for a long period of time. And maybe, like Martha we have spoken similar words of pain and disappointment to our Lord: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” ‘If you had been with me, I would not be suffering this loss in my life.’ And now, the winds from the four corners begin to blow; the power of the spirit of God begins to fan that spark of faith that still lives in you, and along with Martha you are led by faith to proclaim: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

To Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” And to us, He is saying your hope, and indeed your very joy in life has not left you; I am still with you, and I will never leave nor forsake you.” And as Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” we may say with her, “I know that one day this depression, this sorrow will pass on the last day, when I am in heaven.” And to Martha and to us, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and your (joy of) life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Dear baptized, do you believe this? Then your Master calls to you along with Lazarus, in the same power that brought life to the dried bones in Ezekiel’s vision, and He says: “Come out!” Come out with a purpose and a mission. Come out into a world that is dying and share the church’s story of faith; share your story. Tell others how God has saved you and is saving you. Tell them that how even in the midst of tragedy and disappointment, He is still with you.

Holy week is fast approaching and what a wonderful opportunity it is for us to invite our neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers to come and experience the wind of God that brings life to dead and dried up bones. You can start by inviting them to Palm Sunday, where they will experience the pomp and majesty of our Savior as He rides into Jerusalem upon a donkey, surrounded by the chants “Hosanna,” and knowing full well that be was about to die a criminals death for all sinners. And then, you can invite them to experience the nurturing power of God that was served to the apostles and now you, as we celebrate the last supper of our Lord on Maundy Thursday at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Then as you leave on Thursday night, invite them to come with you again to Trinity Lutheran Church on Good Friday and experience the passion of our Lord, as He suffered and died for every person that will ever live, even for them. And finally, make sure you invite them to experience the source of our joy, the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning. The very exclamation point in God’s Word that assures all of us that one day soon, Jesus will make good on the vision given to Ezekiel, that all those who have fallen asleep in death will rise again in eternal life. AMEN!

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.