We’ve been exploring the question – what’s the point of being aligned with a church?
The simple answer to that question is easy to see; it’s only about a foot below your nose. God’s name Yahweh is on the front of your jersey.
Huh? Jersey? What jersey?
OK, I should slow down the train of thought so you can get on board.
In the first post of this series, I contended that following Jesus is a team sport, and you have a role on his team. Last month we focused on our coach – the Holy Spirit – to whom we listen and respond. Today we’ll look at our identity and purpose as members of God’s team.
To properly set the context, we need to journey back to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
On that first day, in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61. The portion of the passage in Luke’s account states what the Messiah came to do: proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind* . This passage has long been considered the mission statement of God’s church.
But I believe Jesus read more of the passage on that day, if for no other reason that the sentence quoted by Luke didn’t end where he stopped. Isaiah’s proclamation continued, listing the blessings the Messiah gives to his people.
Here’s the flow of the passage. I have put the gifts in bold print.
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me… …2 to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61
These are Jesus’ gifts, offered to all. More specifically, to you and me. He gave us three presents when we joined his team.
A beautiful crown (or garland), which represents God’s love for you. You have worth in his eyes – not because of what you have done, but because you are his creation.
A vial containing the oil of joy. This is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, God’s indwelling presence. God desires to be with you. Always.
A garment of praise.
I hope you will always remember the gifts you have been given, but for our post today we will focus on the third. Jesus has bestowed upon you a garment which identifies you as a member of God’s household. His family.
Or, to use our analogy, Jesus gave you a jersey as a member of his team.
Chances are you have two reactions to this concept: You didn’t know you had a team uniform, and you don’t know what to do with it. So … what do we do when we don’t understand something? We check the FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Questions.
Yet Jesus’ Garment Give-away has not been a topic of frequent discussion. Therefore, we’ll make a slight adjustment, and call it RAQ’s – Rarely Asked Questions. Here we go.
What exactly is a garment of praise?
A clue to the answer is found in the last phrase of the passage we read earlier from Isaiah 61: They will be called … a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. The people of God have a sole purpose in life – to display Christ to the world that he might be loved, praised, honored, and glorified. Here’s how Paul explained it:
Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise. **
Why are you calling it a jersey?
Set aside your frustrations about professional sports and college athletics. Think of youth soccer or T-ball – teams are wonderful, and wearing the jersey is a special honor. There’s no better example of a garment that reminds the person wearing it – and declares to everyone watching – who you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for.
When do you wear it?
That’s an easy one. Every day. You only take it off to look for stains, clean it up, and put it back on. But let me explain.
This is a picture of my San Francisco Giants “uniform”, which hangs in my closet. I take it off the hangar and wear it if I go to the stadium to see them play, or maybe to watch a game on TV. It proclaims my allegiance as a loyal fan. I’ve also worn it as part of my costume on Halloween.
Do you see the problem? Has Jesus merely given me something to wear now and then – on Sundays, for example – like a spectator cheering for God’s team? Legions of children have rejected Jesus because they’ve lived with family members who regularly “dress up as Christians” but take the garment off at home or at work.
No. we’re not fans. We’re active members of the team, and our Coach is cheering us on. We wear the jersey every day.
How do you wear it?
That’s a really good question. Thanks for asking. : )
Allow me to answer by starting with another picture of my favorite team.
Imagine something – one of the players in this picture came to the mound to gather with his team, but had his uniform on backwards. His own name was on the front of his jersey, and the team’s name was on his back.
I know; that’s weird. But it’s exactly what believers in our day have done with the jersey Jesus has given us. We put in on backwards – our name is front and center because we’re pretty much living life for ourselves.
The Team Owner's name – Yahweh, LORD Almighty, Our Heavenly Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords – has been relegated to the back of the jersey, little more than an afterthought in our daily lives.
We ask Jesus to protect us and guide us; we ask him regularly to solve our problems and keep us comfortable – and most importantly – to keep that spot reserved in heaven. It’s as though we’ve recruited Jesus to be on our team, as though Jesus would accept that arrangement.
But no. We were given a jersey with God’s name on the front, reminding people who we play for. Whom we love and live for. And we wear it the way it was designed. Every day. Like Paul did.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ***
That seems like a pretty “heavy” garment to wear. Won’t this weigh me down?
Well, you’re right about the “heaviness”. Jesus, the light of the world, passed the baton to us: “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Living to display God’s splendor is no trivial matter. But that’s why we do it as a team, encouraging and supporting each other as we each carry our candles, and picking each other up when we fail and when we fall.
I’m not sure I signed up for this. Is all this necessary?
Actually you did, and yes it is. Jesus is your Lord and your Savior, not your heavenly life insurance policy. What makes it confusing is that we’ve recently used language like inviting Jesus into our hearts. But Jesus is the one who extends the invitation, and it goes like this:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. ****
I get the part about living with a purpose to bring honor and glory to God. But what does this have to do with my identity?
You’re going to have to answer that one for yourself.
When the Holy Spirit came to Mary with an announcement of her role in God’s work, her answer was an affirmation of who she was: I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
So who are you? Are you willing to say to Jesus, to yourself and to your family, to the world: I am the Lord’s servant. Are you able to see yourself as a member of God’s team?
Or at least, can you declare, in the immortal words of John Fogerty, Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today!?
Benediction of Blessing
May you know – truly know – that out of his love God has bestowed you with his wonderful gifts.
May God give you a renewed purpose of living for him as the Holy Spirit directs you.
May you wear your jersey joyfully, seeking to bring honor to your Lord in every facet of your life.
* The full story is found in Luke 4:14-30.
** Galatians 3:27. See Colossians 3:12-14 for further instructions on how we “dress”, and I Timothy 1:15-17 for a practical example of this in Paul’s life.
*** Galatians 2:20
**** Matthew 16:24-25
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM