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Meditation 13*

Who Set His Holy Spirit among Them

(Isaiah 63:11)

They have lied about the Lord;
they said, “He will do nothing!
No harm will come to us;
we will never see sword or famine.
The prophets are but wind
and the word is not in them;
so let what they say be done to them.”
Jeremiah 5:12-13

This is what the living God, the Almighty, did on Pentecost: He placed His Holy Spirit in our midst! Not in the middle of the world, but in the middle of the Church. Understand well: not exclusively in the “congregation of the elect,” but in the congregation of confessing members, those who were baptized, those who are served by His Church and through that official service stand in relationship with Him, the Most Glorious. It is in the midst of that community that the Holy Spirit descended or, to put it stronger, in whose midst God Himself placed the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit now really resides there in the midst of that broad, baptized community. His residence there is not only indirectly in and through the Word or in and through the preachers and shepherds of the flock. Nor is His residence merely indirect and figurative in and through the holy institutions of prayer and liturgy, of sacrament and alms giving. It is also a direct presence as God the Holy Spirit in His very Person stands in our midst.

Yes, He resides in our midst, but not merely in the hearts of some individuals who are born again, who have repented and been sanctified, but He is present in the midst of the congregation, in the community of the baptized members. This is so even in the unlikely but possible scenario in which not a single new convert has come to the Light after the previous generation of God’s born-again children have long since moved on to their eternal home.

Yes, even under such circumstances the Holy Spirit stands among us ever since Pentecost Day as a silent Witness, as a barely noticed figure, as a whispering Pray-er, as a fearful Accuser, and as a glorious Comforter, but always in our midst, because that’s where He has been placed by God Himself. He stands there as the Spirit of God, as the Head Person in the entire congregation, as the Interpreter of Christ’s treasure and wealth, as the Replacement of our glorified Jesus and as the holy Messenger, who preserves the communion between Christ and His Bride.

True, the world does not see Him, because it does not know Him. The worldly person sees something of His presence at best very seldom, because He does not come with an external or physical face. Nevertheless, He is there and God’s children see and know Him. It is in and for these children of God that He prays with inexpressible sighings, He, their Inspirer, their Guide, their spiritual and inner Teacher, their Comforter, their God! Whatever happens from here on, whether the Word does it, the Sacrament or the Preacher, these are all merely subsidiary instrumental workings that always receive their initial push and energy from the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not a coincidental agent that blesses everything and makes it all flourish. To the contrary, it is the Holy Spirit who does everything: He motivates, causes and mobilizes it all. He uses the Word, the Sacraments and the Preacher, derives the good news from the Son in order to preach it to you, and all of this in communion with the Son and the Father. The divine order of things as established in the congregation of Christ is as follows: the Father, the Creator; the Son, the Preparer; the Holy Spirit, the Distributor.

That is why the Holy Spirit does not want morality preaching; He wants something much deeper. It is everyone’s duty to “do good.” Anyone failing to do the good contravenes God’s law. But if, in addition, I establish a covenant between myself and you and you contravene the terms, then you do worse. Now you are not merely “not good,” but you are unfaithful.

Let’s take it a little further. If, driven by love and compassion, I continue to warn you, but you mock my spiritual words of warning and harden yourself against my compassion, then you are no longer merely bad and unfaithful, but you now are committing the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:39; Luke 12:10). That can become the situation in the congregation of Christ. That congregation will be recognized by three things. First, whether she does good works, for it is God’s inalienable right to demand that she do them. Secondly, whether she does the good in the power of the covenant of grace that envelopes us. Thirdly, whether she hears and obeys the Word of the Holy Spirit that warns us against our evil and faithlessness or whether she despises and ignores it.

Israel did the latter. It contravened God’s right and thus was bad. It defiled God’s covenant and thus was unfaithful. And when the Merciful nevertheless sent preachers to call them to repent, for the judgement is at hand, Israel dared to ridicule them, “The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them” (Jeremiah 5:12-13). Now, that was to despise the Holy Spirit, to sadden and insult Him. This was the reason judgment needed to break out over Israel.

But what of now? Now, after Pentecost? Now that the Holy Spirit Himself stands in the midst of the congregation to plead for Jesus, to warn us about the world and to burn God’s holy covenant onto our hearts?

What do you think, my reader? Could you ever achieve a depth of suffering to even remotely sense how the Holy Spirit grieves, how deeply He suffers and mourns about how we live in our present age?

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