LORD, OPEN OUR EYES

2 Kings 6

8 Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”
12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

 

 

How could this happen? It was going to be a great day in Dothan. Sure, there was a little squabbling going on between Israel and Aram, but that was normal.  This wasn’t the age of political propaganda and twitter posts.  Kings and nations simply went out and fought for control.  When the weather warmed up you said goodbye to the warriors and the army men as they went out to protect their families and their nation.  It was normal, especially during this time of the kings of Israel.  God’s people had the God-given obligation to protect the Promised Land.

It was also normal for a prophet to serve God’s people.  During this time period, Joram was king and Elisha was God’s man as prophet.  Even though the kings were often disobedient to God and his prophets, God still kept his promise to love his people.  So, Elisha, by the power of God, was helping Joram, the king, with his battle plans against Aram.

The king of Aram was going a little crazy because it seemed like Israel was always one step ahead.  He thought that one of his staff members was leaking information.  When he heard that God’s man, Elisha, was helping Israel, he changed his target.  Rather than draw up the next plan of attack against the army of Israel, the king of Aram wanted one man, Elisha, and he wanted him dead.  When the king found out that Dothan was the place, “he sent horses and chariots and a strong force” under the cover of night.

The faithful servant of Elisha though it was going to be a great day in Dothan.  He was up and at ‘em early.  Maybe he liked an early morning walk to spend a few minutes with the Lord in prayer and clear his head. Maybe he was going to get the latest news and a cup of coffee.  Yes, it was just another day in Dothan.  But then he experienced one of those moments that no one wants to have.

I imagine if an A-list director was making a movie for this scene the music would be soft and ominous, the lighting would be low and hazy, and the camera angle would start zoomed in at the servant’s face.  Then, the music would start to be louder the camera angle would pan out to reveal the dangerous threat of the Aramean army surrounding the city.

The only thing the terrified servant can muster is, “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?”  What is the Aramean army around you?  What causes such paralyzing fear?  We could make a long list, a really long list, I’m sure, because we all have fears.  Some can be things that cause physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, things that happen to you, your kids, your parents, or others you care about, and things that have happened or could happen.  So many things cause fear.  We could have a long series of Bible studies to dissect each kind of fear that grips us and how Jesus answers each and every one of those fears with his forgiveness, his protection, his love, and his certainty of heaven, which he paid for in full.

It goes beyond fear, doesn’t it?  It’s not just that terrifying things come up in life causing a similar response to the servant in Dothan, “What do we do now?”  When fear grips you, do you know what does not have a hold of your heart? Trust.  See, God has a whole lot of promises that cover all the fears that come up in life.  And when we choose to let the fear into our hearts, that means it is pushing trust and faith out. That servant was failing to trust God’s promises.

God says, “Trust me.  Above everything else, believe what I tell you.”  It’s actually the First Commandment.  And so letting fear crowd out the faith that God has given us is not just being afraid, it’s also being disobedient.

Just think about the things we’ve been hearing in this Easter worship series.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have made a lot of promises to us.  On Easter Sunday, we heard the promise that his life means we have victory over sin, death, and hell, a victory that God will not remove from his children.  Next, Jesus promised his peace will go with us as we are sent out to live for him. Then, Jesus gave us the proper kind of praise, not for ourselves, but for him because of his free gifts of life and salvation.  Just two weeks ago, we were reminded of the beautiful picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.  He never lets us go.  He never stops feeding us, protecting us, and directing us. And last week, Jesus promised that the kind of love he has and the kind of love that he puts into our hearts will give us the right attitude and actions towards each other forever.

That’s a lot of promises.  And Jesus keeps them all.  When for even one day, we aren’t paying attention like we should, we get a little too selfish going our own way, or we think Jesus could be doing a better job, we end being a lot like the servant of Elisha that morning in Dothan.  We fail to trust the Lord, we fail to trust his promises, we fail to obey him because of our spiritually weak eyes.

Too often we are looking at ourselves.  Too often we are looking around us at our earthly circumstances.  Too often we are looking at our life here as the first priority.  Anything that threatens to mess with my circumstances takes my attention, forcing my eyes to move from where they need to be… on Jesus and his promises.

It’s a little bit like Peter walking out on the water to meet Jesus.  When his eyes were on Jesus, he could not see the storm and the waves.  When the circumstances and surroundings started to take his eyes off of Jesus, he sank like a man who’s trying to walk on water.

Elisha’s servant felt sunk, but Elisha reacts as if nothing is the matter.  With a huge army surrounding Dothan with certain doom, Elisha says, “Don’t be afraid.”  In other words, the circumstances didn’t change where Elisha’s eyes were.  God’s promises to protect him and defend him were just as true with the Aramean army surrounding the city as they were the day before they got there.  God’s promises to love his people and save his people from every evil were just as true.  God’s promises to work all things for the good of believers were just as true.  God’s promises to be with us always to the very end of the age were just as true.  What Elisha’s physical eyes were seeing did not change God’s promises, not one bit.  And so, what Elisha’s eyes were seeing did not change his trust and obedience.

There is a way to walk through this life with those kind of eyes.  That’s what Elisha prayed for: “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”  And what did the servant see?  He saw God’s army of fiery horses and chariots all around them. He saw that God’s promises are still true even when circumstances might look dismal.  He saw that God’s power is greater than anything in this world.  He saw that trusting the Lord and obeying him is never going to leave you alone and helpless.  He saw that obeying the Lord and having him as your number one priority is the best kind of eyesight there is.

Jesus has opened my eyes and yours so that we can see it, too. Jesus has opened our eyes to the facts that sins are forgiven, death is defeated, and hell is not an option for Jesus’ followers.  Jesus has opened our eyes to the power of God’s promises to save people not matter what is surrounding us on earth.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see the power of the Word and Sacraments to change disobedient sinners into God’s children.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see God’s law as a beautiful way to say thank you to God for his free gift of forgiveness and grace.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see obedience as a safe thing for us and not a burden.

When you see with these eyes, you are trusting Jesus, you are believing in his power, you are loving him above everything else.  You are being obedient.  See, it’s not a bad word, because God’s not trying to get something out of you or take advantage of you.  That’s not why he wants obedient children.  He wants obedient children because he wants to protect us from danger.  He wants obedient children because it makes us a light that helps others see things as clearly as we do.  He wants obedient children because we have a Father who loves us and wants what it is best for us.

This only possible because Jesus opened our eyes to a completely different kind of life when he rose from the dead.  It’s a life where our eyes don’t see any enemies.  We see the Lord in all his power saving us from any and every possible threat to our eternity in heaven.

God granted a special request to his prophet Elisha so that the servant would not be afraid, so that the servant would have trust, which is loving and obeying God.  And God grants that same request to you every time you open the pages of his book.  There you have his promises and his power.  There you have the path of life given to you through Christ.

We all been like the servant standing in Dothan saying, “Oh no, what shall we do?”  But God changed our sight through the precious blood of his Son, Jesus.  We are now happy to obey him, trust him, love him because he is the one whose power saves us.

Surveying the situation now, how are you liking your chances against any difficult decision, any evil, any enemy, any problem, any temptation to disobey?  Just like that servant in Dothan, our eyes are open. As the psalmist says, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Amen.

 

COMING ALIVE

5.20.18 Pentecost B

 

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

 

Do you know what the Spirit can do?  Have you seen it?  Well, I have, and let me tell you the story.

I was called to be God’s spokesman to his people, Israel.  The hard part of that was not listening to God.  As astounding as his visions were, he was very clear on what I needed to say and write.  The hard part was the people.  You’d think that people who had God’s promises would listen to his Word.  But that’s the thing about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of Abraham or if you are foreigner, a king or a slave – we struggle to listen to God’s words the way he wants us to.

After receiving the call from the Lord, he wanted me to say some things to get their attention.  They needed to realize that what was happening to them was because they had neglected God.  And when that happens that means sin is winning in your life.  When sin is winning in your life, spiritual death is not far behind.

See, God wants his people to be different.  When he spoke with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them his 10 Commandments, the arrangement was that they would obey everything.  Well, Israel was kind of up and down on that.  After they arrived in the Promised Land was a good time, but then they got lazy.  Every so often God would send judges to help them get back on track, but the message never sunk in.  Then came the kings.  David was a good one, his son, Solomon, was ok, but only 7 or 8 others encouraged the people to follow God and serve him alone.

To help the people see their sinful ways and the destruction that sin causes, God called prophets, like me, to preach.  I was in Babylon at the time.  Why Babylon, you ask?  That was the punishment God forewarned.  The people didn’t get the hint that sin is not ok with God, so God sent Babylon to conquer us.  Over about a 10 year period, we were exiled to Babylon.  Everything back home, including God’s Holy Temple, was completely destroyed.

I don’t know if you can imagine how downcast and depressed everyone was.  God had told them in the past what their sins would cause, but that didn’t change a thing, so God had to bring down judgment on His own people.  Even in Babylon, I was given the task to point out their wickedness and God’s disappointment.

After years of visions and proclamations of death and doom, came the day when God brought me to that valley of dry bones.  The closest thing you could compare it to here in America would be Death Valley, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  All around I looked, back and forth I went, and all I saw was death, an utterly lifeless landscape.  It was not an enjoyable place to be.

That is the place where God had a question for me.  “Son of man…” he liked to call me ‘son of man’ because I am just a regular guy and he was not… “Son of Man, can these bones live”?

What would you say? Do you think life could come from a valley of death?  After what had happened with Israel, I had my doubts.  Israel had proven what human people are really like.  People don’t blaze a path to life but a something else, something worse, something deathly.

Israel said they were going to be faithful to God alone.  They said they didn’t want to associate with other sinful and pagan nations and get themselves into trouble.  They said they would remember God’s commandments and his promises.  They said a lot of things.

What really happened?  Their lies lead to idolatry.  When God’s promises were taking too long to come true they found other religions and gods that looked more sensible and pleasurable.  All the things that God had said and recorded for his people took a donkey ride into the desert.  It is tragic to even talk about it.  People, by nature, do not want any part with God.

Do you know anyone like that?  Do you know people who say they will serve God?  Do you know people who promise they won’t follow the wrong crowd?  Do you know some who say they will remember God’s promises, but personal experiences and preferences seem to be good excuses to neglect what God says?  I’m sure you do.  I’m sure you can find someone like that in your neighborhood or your pool of friends.  But I know for a fact you can see someone like that if you take a good look at your own heart.

People haven’t changed much over the last few millennia since I was in Babylon.  The lying still leads to idolatry.  Patience with God’s promises wears thin, so other things can take his place and priority.  Maybe you don’t have wooden gods of Asherah and Baal, but that was not Israel’s only problem.  They got too wrapped up in themselves to pay attention to God’s Word.   And when you put yourself as the be all and end all, don’t be surprised if it all ends wrong.

Do you know what lying and idolatry leads to?  Thinking of my day out in the valley of dry bones makes me remember what the Apostle Paul wrote long after I was gone, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” For Israel, for you and me, and for all the world, those dry bones are about as good as we get.

“Can these bones live?” Only one person knew the answer to that question, so I said, “O Lord GOD, You alone know.” It was at that point that I thought he would give me a clear, yes or no.  But instead, he told me to talk to the bones as if they could hear me.  Just talk!  That was it.

The Lord didn’t tell me to think outside of the box to try or find some new fresh way to connect to those dead bones.  He didn’t tell me about any kind of gadgets and ideas that might work.  He didn’t tell me about computers.  He didn’t say that certain song styles or instruments would raise those bones to life.  He never mentioned a specific style of preaching that would be better than another.  He didn’t tell me about pulpits or pews.  Intrestingly, he also didn’t talk about traditions.  He didn’t say anything about the way it always was.  He didn’t say that the same way is the best way.  He didn’t say stubborn attitudes and unchanging ideas will cause nasty, dried up bones to live.

None of the things that people argue about would do anything for those bones.  I am not downplaying what advancements and blessings can do.  But I know for a fact that anything other than the Word of the Almighty God cannot bring life to a place of death.  Nothing but the Word of God can turn a heart of cold stone, to a heart of life….not even a little bit.  The only thing that causes life is God’s Word.  I was there to witness it.

He told me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” I did what God told me to do and the results were overwhelming.  Simply put, God’s Word worked.  He’s got the power.  He’s got the Word.  And it works. The bones started flying around. And the noise – millions of bones coming together – was more than anything your kids could produce with their toys.

After all the bones came together, the tendons, guts, muscles, and layers of skin formed around each skeleton.  It was vastly different from when I first arrived at the valley.  Some might say that everything was different, but really it was still the same.  The bones now were perfectly in place with all that is needed for life, but the bodies still lay there, motionless.  They were still just as dead as before.

God had done the amazing work, but there was one thing missing.  The Lord gave me more of his words to speak.  “Come from the four winds, o breath, and breathe into these slain, that they might live.”  The breath was not normal.  In Hebrew, that’s the language that I spoke back then and the one I used to write my book, “breath” is the same word as “spirit.” So, when God told me to call the breath, it was his way of telling me to call for the Holy Spirit.

What I had seen in the valley was death, but with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, I saw death coming alive.  The multitude of dry bones came together perfectly.  The flesh wrapped them perfectly. The breath came and filled them perfectly. Where death was, God made life.  This is all God’s handiwork, and it is always his handiwork when death turns to life.

There they stood an army to serve its source of life.  God had created a massive group.  When I had seen armies in the past they had a mission to conquer or defend.  This army was no different.  The Lord did this to show me and all of Israel what he can accomplish with his Spirit.  He can make life.  He can make that life achieve his purpose, just as he said.

What I am looking at right now, is not much different than what I saw in that valley.  God has worked another miracle.  I am not staring at random bones.  I am not staring at death, but life.  This is not something you did.  This is the power of God.  The same power that raised Jesus from death to life continues to work today. Through his Word and Spirit, God brings life.

The Holy Spirit came into you the same way I saw him go into the bodies in the valley.  At your baptism, death was swallowed up in victory.  The Spirit planted the life-giving gospel message of free forgiveness through Jesus Christ in you.  Through the powerful Word of God, he keeps faith living and active.  You aren’t a pile of bones.  You aren’t lifeless corpses.  You are the same army that I saw thousands of years ago standing ready to serve your Creator and your life-giver.

This experience in the valley of dry bones wasn’t just for me.  I had to tell all of those people who were in exile with me.  I had to tell them God’s life-giving message.  But, if you are like the house of Israel, then you also might find yourself focusing on the negative side of things.  They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  In exile, there wasn’t a lot to be positive about.  They had received a just judgment from God.  They didn’t see the sun rising on a new day.

If you ever feel yourself swamped in pessimism, then listen again to what God told Israel because he says that to you, too.  “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”  

Do you know what God did to make this come true? He sent his own Son, Jesus, to conquer the grave, not just for himself, but for all who believe in him. With Jesus’ resurrection, God assures us all that what He told me in the valley is true.  God will open graves and restore life again.

Today is a special festival for you to thank God for life.  When I arrived in the valley, I didn’t see much hope.  Generations after I had gone, it didn’t look like there was much hope for the fledgling church led by the disciples.   But, today there is a different tone.  You are celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I was blessed to see firsthand that death comes alive through the Word of God. Generations later, The Spirit brought the same kind of life through the message of Jesus that Peter and the disciples preached.  3000 joined their numbers during that Pentecost celebration.

The promise God gave me in the valley is still life-giving promise for you. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit has not quit yet.  Wherever God’s Word is, there the Spirit will be with his heavenly breath to bring life.  Amen.