Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.
May 27, 2018
By John Partridge*
John 3:1-17 Isaiah 6:1-8 Romans 8:12-17
Have you ever played a team sport?
I don’t necessarily mean that you played on an official team in high school or college. What I mean is, have you ever played a game where the participation of every single person made a difference? Have you ever been in a serious tug-of-war when one of your team members slipped in the mud? Have you ever played baseball when one of your outfielders was caught sleeping and an easy pop-fly dropped right next to them? Have you ever run a relay race when one of your runners dropped the baton? Can you imagine how it would go if the Cleveland Cavaliers had to play their next game with only four players instead of five? When you play as a team, whether it’s sports, or at work, or in the church, doing well requires that every member of the team be an active and involved participant.
This is not only a good example in the physical world; it works just as well in the spiritual world. In Isaiah 6:1-8 the prophet Isaiah is recruited into God’s team in a way that he hadn’t considered before.
6:1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Here Isaiah sees God on his throne in heaven surrounded by angels who proclaimed his glory. Isaiah assumed that any human being who saw God or who witnessed such wonders would die from the experience. Isaiah knows that he is not pure enough to be in the presence of God and he believes that he isn’t good enough to serve God. But then, one of the angels picks up a live coal from the fire at the altar of sacrifice, flies to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that Isaiah’s guilt has been taken away and the price paid for his sins. But after that, God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
Because Isaiah has been purified and forgiven, he is therefore sent out to carry the messages of God to the world.
But “I” is singular and “Us” is plural. Is God using what we might describe as the “royal ‘we’”? Is God referring to himself in the plural just because he can? Or is this a reference to the Trinity? Or is it because God is speaking for himself, all of the angels, and everyone on his team?
It’s hard to tell. But in other scriptures we gain other insights.
In John 3:1-17, Jesus meets a Pharisee named Nicodemus at night and has something interesting to say about the nature of God.
3:1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that there is more to following God than just following the rules. The way that Jesus describes it, following God requires us to be reborn, through the Spirit, into an entirely new life. Jesus also uses the language of reproduction again saying that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Since this is Trinity Sunday, it is also noteworthy that Jesus, the Son of God, is talking about both God the Father and God the Spirit. He is deliberate in naming them differently, particularly when he says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” And so this passage is yet another where we can “see” all three members of the Trinity in the same passage. But in all of this, what Jesus is saying is that Jesus has been sent into the world, by God the Father, in order to save the world, but the agent that brings you into the kingdom of God is the Spirit of God, and it is the Spirit of God that gives us the strength to live a new life in Christ Jesus.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul follows up on this idea by explaining what a new birth, and new life, through the Spirit of God would look like. (Romans 8:12-17)
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Because we have received the Spirit of God, we now have an obligation to love according to the spirit. When we are born of the spirit we must make every effort to put to death the desires of our fleshly body. We have an obligation to be better than our desires. This is why, at least in part, we are said to be born into a new life through the Spirit of God, because in that life, we begin to live differently, to act differently, to place our priorities in different places, to behave more courageously, because of, and through, the power of the spirit that lives within us.
Paul says that we are adopted children of God and our relationship is so close that we call God “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.” And, because we are God’s children, we are heirs, with Jesus, to God’s kingdom, if we share in the sufferings of Jesus. That is, if we do the work of the kingdom of God, completing the mission of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit of God that lives within us. If we do that…, then we will share in the glory of God.
And so from the words of Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul, we find that we are forgiven by God the Father, sent by Jesus the Son of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God to purify ourselves, and to share in the mission, and in the suffering, of Jesus Christ so that together we can rescue the lost and save the world.
God said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
From the beginning, God wanted everyone to know that this was a team effort. It takes every member of the Trinity, every angel, every follower of Jesus, and every one of us.
We can’t get caught sleeping in the outfield.
We cannot drop the baton.
There can be no bench-sitters.
Every member of the team must be an active and involved participant.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.