What Kid Doesn't Like a Ghost Story The Holy Ghost as Vivificator
We move to the 3rd Article and notice the confession has moved from the past tense of what the Son and Holy Ghost have done to what the Holy Ghost is doing daily and richly. We confess in the Large Catechism: This "is the article which must always remain in force. Creation is past and redemption is accomplished but the Holy Ghost carries on His work unceasingly until the last day" (II, 61). And we move from talking about how kids are fascinated by fish to how kids like a ghost story. And yes, I prefer Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit. Spirit and spiritual are considered always good in our age. You don't need the adjective holy', but everyone knows that ghost without an adjective is bad and no one wants to be ghostly.
So, let me tell you kids a story of the Ghost who is holy. He is the Vivificator, that is, He makes alive, quickens, vivifies. And we need to be made alive. We come into the world dead in our trespasses and sins. We come into this world dead to all that is holy, good, or right. We come into this world separated from the only living Thing in all the universe: God.
You can miss this because of the First Article. We confess that "God has made me and all creatures" And, "He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life." You can think that because you feel the thump, thump of your heart you're alive. Because you can see, smell, and feel life burst forth again in Spring that you too are alive. But apart from Christ you're as dead as the dust that Adam and Eve were after the Fall and you were told on Ash Wednesday you are. You're as dead as David realized he was when he faced his sins of adultery and murder. You're as dead as Isaiah realized he was when He saw Christ in His temple.
It's the 2nd Article that wakes you up to your deadness. You are a lost and condemned creature, but doesn't it also say Jesus redeemed you? Yes, but if you just confess the facts of the 2nd Article, you remain dead. That's what we confess: "So it is not enough to believe that Christ was born, suffered, and was raised unless we add this article [the 3rd], the purpose of the history, the forgiveness of sins'" (AP, IV, 51). And only the Ghost who is Holy can bring that history to life for your life. Jesus Himself says the Holy Ghost "shall take of Mine and shall disclose it to you" (Jn. 16:14). You know how we say "the words just came to life"? We've read a book and then seen a movie and one or two scenes in the book jump into reality. Well, that's what the Holy Ghost would do for you in the Passion Reading.
Rather than seeing Jesus in this account see your face. The leaders of the church want to put you to death. The Roman guards are striking you on the head again and again and spitting on you over and over. See your face beneath the crown of thorns; see you wearing nothing but a purple robe. See yourself standing before the crowd and when they shout, "Crucify, crucify" know it's your death they are calling for, and you deserve it.
If you believe this, it's a miracle. It's even a bigger miracle if you believe God took on flesh and blood to take your place. The History of Religion's school says that Christianity evolved from primitive religions. You find me a myth, legend, religion, or creed outside of Christianity that has a god suffering in place of men. O Prometheus suffers for giving fire to men, but he doesn't suffer in place of them. And no matter how a Greek god may suffer he or she still dishes out plenty of suffering. Hercules suffers as half god and half man but he doesn't even redeem his own humanity. Islam doesn't teach that Allah suffers in place of mankind. Hinduism and Buddhism both have karma where you get paid back in one life for what you did in another. And any of the non-Trinitarian cults Mormonism, Unitarianism, and Jehovah Witness at best have Jesus helping you, not suffering in your place to redeem you.
Christianity has that but it's going to take the Ghost who is holy to convince you. Did you see your face pop into focus in the text? Well you know it can't be you because you know you're not innocent. See how many times the pagan Pilate says Jesus is innocent. Hear him declare that Jesus has done nothing deserving death, and while before men you too might not have, before God you most certainly have. See that Herod too found no basis of a charge against Jesus. See that Pilate's wife is given a dream warning Pilate away from this innocent Man. Okay, it can't be you in this text because you're not innocent, so it's innocent Jesus instead of guilty you.
Well, if that's all the Holy Ghost has convinced you of, that's still not enough. All you have is the faith of devils. Augustine says "The Christian faith differs from the faith of devils in the last articles of the Creed: I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting'" (Chemnitz, Loci, II, 500). To believe this you must believe that you have sins you can't forgive by yourself; you are dead in those sins and will stay dying forever, and that you can't believe without the Holy Ghost. The Law which shows sins is written in every one's heart. But after the Fall, it is cloudy, so it takes the Holy Ghost to see just how guilty you are. What is not in our heart at all is the forgiveness of sins, and that no one on their own can choose, move toward, or is inclined towards
Let me tell you a story of the Ghost who is Holy. He hunts and haunts all men everywhere though the Holy Christian Church and the Communion of Saints, to give them the Forgiveness of Sins. Jesus is on trial tonight for all people everywhere. There is no sinner so foul, no person so guilty, no sin so serious that Jesus is not on trial in place of. He is bearing the sins of the world. He is God's Lamb that is to be sacrificed so that the angel of death and damnation can pass-over all humanity. When Jesus finally pays the last full measure the sinful world owed in terms of damming, dying, suffering, crying, John records Jesus saying, "'It has been forever finished,' and bowing the head He did give the Spirit."
The KJV for this is "gave up the ghost." It has come to mean what everyone does when they die, but it is only what God the Son did when He died for the sins of the world. He gave over the Ghost who is Holy, who now hunts and haunts all men through the Holy Christian Church and the Communion of Saints with the message your sins are forgiven; believe it. Regardless of how many, how bad, how longstanding your sins are you are to believe that Jesus suffered and died to take them from you. And when people have fallen away from this faith, He relentlessly haunts them. As an evil ghost reminds people of the evil deeds they've done through echoes in the memory and knocks in the night, so the Ghost who is holy haunts them with echoes of the liturgy of the forgiveness of sins and knocks on the heart by even pieces of the Word.
Take note of what we confess about the Holy Ghost bringing the forgiveness of sins through the Holy Christian Church and stop dissing it. First, neither in the Creed nor in the Explanation do we confess to believe in The Lutheran Church or The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod let alone Trinity Lutheran Church. We confess bigger and broader than any Catholic or Hard Shell Baptist ever did. We believe the Holy Ghost hunts and haunts in The Holy Christian Church which is found wherever the Gospel is preached purely or the Sacraments are used according to Jesus' instructions. But do note that we also confess that the Holy Ghost does no hunting or haunting outside of this Christian church.
The Large Catechism says that "outside it no one can come to the Lord Christ" (II, 45). Luther is even blunter, "'I believe that the forgiveness of sins exists in that selfsame community, and nowhere else; outside of that community nothing can help, no matter how many and great one's good works might be, to accord [merit] one the forgiveness of sins. But within such a community, nothing can bring harm, no matter how many, how large the sins, and how often one has sinned; this remains the reality wherever and as long as one remains in that same unique community'" (Short Form of 1520, in Peters, Creed, 287).
That should have blown your pietistic and legalistic fuses. That is just too much Good News. The Holy Christian Church is the place where you know the Ghost who is holy hunts and haunts. This is not a malevolent ghost, a bad ghost, but a holy Ghost. He hunts for sinners to forgive them in every drop of Baptismal water that poured out of Jesus' heart when He died. He hunts for sinners to cleanse them with every drop of Jesus' Blood that dripped from His hands, His feet, His side. He hunts for sinners to absolve them with every word of Absolution which Jesus gave to the Church on Easter evening. John records, "And with that Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Ghost. Whoever's sins you forgive they are forgiven."
The Holy Ghost hunts for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins to give them life in Jesus' name. And He haunts all those who go astray, fall away, give up or give in. Like an adult carried away by savages as a child recalls an image, a thought, a feeling from another time or place, the Ghost who is holy rattles about the conscience and the heart of those who've been carried away from the Holy Christian Church. It may be at a wedding, a funeral, or by a Word of God anywhere that the Holy Ghost moans "remember this; believe this; come back to this."
Think I'm pushing it too far? Go back to the Passion Reading. See what lengths God went to stop Pilate from condemning the innocent Jesus to death? He sent his wife a troubling dream. A dream is the best God can do with a pagan who has never been inside the Holy Christian Church. It's not the best the Ghost who is holy can do for us who He's made alive through this Christian Church or for one who had been alive within it but now runs away from it toward death. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers IV (20170322); Third Article, Passion Reading 4