Online Worship Service, Lent Four, Sunday March 22, 2020
“Almighty God, with whom all things are possible, hear our prayer as we come to You in this present crisis. You are our hiding place. You are our very present help in trouble. We have no other refuge in times such as these. Gracious Lord, You can heal. Your grace can restore to health and give us strength to carry on. We pray for our families, our fellow church members, our communities, our nation, and people throughout the world who are threatened by this outbreak. We pray for peace and orderly day-to-day living. We pray especially that more and more people would turn to You and Your true Word for their salvation in Christ, and for daily comfort under Your protecting hand. We know that You are compassionate, for You have sent Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer the death of the cross in order to redeem us and make us Your own. As You delivered Him from His anguish and death, surely You will not abandon us in this time of great need. As You raised Him from the dead on the third day, so we ask that You would also raise us up with Him from this present danger. O Lord, we humble ourselves before You and confess our many sins. We pray, merciful Father, for Your grace hour by hour. Forgive us and restore us, for You have made us Your own children in Christ. Remove the worries and anxious fears that would crush us. Give us grace to trust in You, whose will is wiser than our own, for we have been baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”
Sermon for Lent Four – Sunday March 22, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-4, NKJV)
John 19:23–24 (NKJV)
23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:
“They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”
Therefore the soldiers did these things.
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who gave up everything to redeem us,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Precious Blood –
We don’t know what Jesus’ looked like… but we imagine that we do. We have different images in our minds, placed there by different artists conceptions of what the man Jesus may have looked like. They seem always to picture him as a fairly attractive man, even though Scripture indicates that we wouldn’t be drawn to Jesus by his outward appearance (Isaiah 53:2). He is pictured – almost universally – as a man with a beard and long hair, but we don’t’ know that is true…because they didn’t take pictures in 1st Century Palestine.
We don’t know what Jesus wore. If he was like most Jewish men, then he had a head covering of sorts that was used to block the sun; an outer cloak; a belt; a pair of sandals; and an inner garment or tunic. While the outer garments are not specifically mentioned by the Gospel writers, the inner tunic is described by the Gospel of John.
We concern ourselves with what we wear and to an extent it is influenced by our society. We are concerned about fashion -- even if we deny it. We choose carefully what we wear, whether attending church or a hockey game. We try to match. Our clothing says something about us.
We can only assume that Jesus was dressed in his own clothing when the Jewish Leaders handed him over to Pontius Pilate in the early morning hours of Good Friday. When Pontius Pilate tried to pawn Jesus off on Herod the Tetrarch, Jesus obtained a new garment, for we are told (Luke 23:11):
“Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.”
When Pontius Pilate had Jesus scourged, they removed his clothing. Afterward, for a time, they clothed him in a purple cloak, perhaps one belonging to a Roman Soldier, and mocked Jesus’ Kingship. They wove him a crown of thorns and gave him a reed as a scepter. When they tired of mocking Jesus (and the Jews by extension), they put his own clothes on him (Mark 15:20) and led him to Calvary to be crucified.
Consequently, Jesus stumbled through the streets of Jerusalem in his own clothes. When they came to Calvary, they stripped Jesus of his clothing, leaving him naked or with a loin cloth. They probably tossed his clothes in a pile and set about nailing Jesus of Nazareth to the Cross and raising it into position.
This morning we take our eyes off the Cross of Jesus and look upon the remarkable dispersal of Jesus’ clothing. We look at them through the eyes of the soldiers. We imagine picking them up in our own hands. We look at them in view of the Scriptures and find that Jesus has provided us with clothing that covers all our sins and we are wearing it now.
Let us pray:
Help me, O Lord, to desire those things that are pleasing to you, to the praise and glory of your Holy name. Order my life and give me wisdom to know what you would have me do, and enable me to fulfill it. Grant me grace that I may falter, neither in prosperity nor in adversity. May I not be unduly lifted up by the one or cast down by the other. Grant that I may rejoice in what leads to you and avoid all that leads away from you. Give me a watchful heart that will not be distracted from you. Grant to me an understanding that knows you, perseverance that waits for you and confidence that embraces you. Grant that I may make good use of your gifts in this life by your grace, that I may partake of your joys in the glory of heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
What we do know about Jesus’ personal effects is revealed to us in these few verses. After nailing Jesus to the Cross and after again mocking Him, they turned to the small pile of clothing removed from Him.
23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic.
They divided up Jesus’ earthly effects. This probably wasn’t their first execution detail. It was for them just another day’s work. It was a custom that the effects of an executed man went to the executioners. They gathered Jesus’ effects into four parts, and divided them among themselves, deciding who got what by lot.
Who would want a dead man’s clothing? Well, the soldiers did and we aren’t told why. Would they wear them or would they sell them? Would they dispose of them or keep them as sadistic remembrance of the detail? We can’t say for certain, but most likely one man received the headcloth, another the cloak, another his belt and a final man his sandals. There were usually four solders assigned to a man, and so each one of them received one of Jesus’ effects as a bonus decided by dice or short straw or some form of lot (Mark 15:24).
We probably find this heartless. The soldiers didn’t even wait for the condemned to expire, but set upon his last earthly property like a pack of hyenas. They treated Jesus as if he were already dead.
The Gospel of John calls to our attention the fact that Jesus had one more personal possession…a tunic.
Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,”
It was an undergarment. It was valuable because it was not pieced and sewn together but woven from top to bottom in one piece. A tunic of this quality wasn’t something that everyone possessed. Since it would be ruined if torn, the soldiers decided to cast lots to determine what lucky man would take it home.
Now to our 21st Century sensibility this seems disgusting. I think it’s fair to say that we don’t generally look to wear other people’s undergarments. Moreover, when we consider the circumstances, that the tunic was likely saturated with sweat and blood, we wouldn’t even want to touch it. We would probably throw it away. Who would wear that?
Its all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. What do I mean by that?
Well, when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see ourselves differently than other people do, no matter what we are wearing. We may see our flaws, but we become numb to them, we justify them. The more we look at ourselves, the more we compare ourselves to others and look favorably upon ourselves.
Very often, we also imagine that when God looks upon us, He sees us in the same way. We aren’t that bad. We are, after all, good people who try hard. Well doesn’t God see us like those dressed in their Sunday best?
Are you sure that you want to hear the truth? It is written (Psalm 14:2-3, Isaiah 64:5b-6):
“The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.”
“…You are indeed angry, for we have sinned— In these ways we continue; And we need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.”
The truth is that before God we look like filthy beggars dressed in tattered, stinky, bloody clothes…even though we think we look washed and smell like fresh lavender. We are filthy sinners and if we were to stand before the Judge, we would most certainly be condemned.
It seems remarkable to us that the Roman Soldiers would want Jesus’ clothing. It’s equally remarkable that we can look at our lives and imagine that we are ‘doing ok’ in God’s sight and that God will accept us as we are. A suit and tie won’t get us a seat at the Father’s table…only an invitation and a perfect, sinless appearance.
So, why would the Spirit of God see fit to record this information? It wasn’t to satisfy our curiosity. There is more to this than Jesus’ possessions finding new owners. This didn’t just happen; it happened as foretold and is reported for a reason.
The Apostle John, who was an eyewitness at the foot of the cross, reminds us that this was foretold more than 1000 years earlier.
This happened, so --
“…that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things.
It was another King, a musically inclined one, who was given these words to speak more than 1000 years earlier. The King’s name was David. He didn’t write these words in Psalm 22 because they happened to him. He wrote these words because they would one day happen to the Promised Savior, the Christ of God. He wrote these words so that we might recognize the significance of the event (Psalm 22:18):
“They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”
It was a matter of greed for the soldiers. These pagan soldiers cast lots for their prize and in so doing they confirmed for us that God’s Word is indeed a reliable witness, a spiritual prize. In fact, in the Psalm, David foretold both the division of Jesus’ earthly garments and the dispersing of a single piece of clothing by lot (‘My garments’ is plural; ‘My clothing’ is singular).
Well that’s interesting, Pastor, anything else? This isn’t mere color commentary. This isn’t an example of ‘setting the scene’ so that our imagination can run wild. This is specific proof, this and every other fulfilled prophecy, that our God never fails to keep His Word. He will fulfill every promise whether it seems significant or insignificant to us.
We don’t know the name of the Soldiers who received Jesus’ headcloth, cloak, belt and sandals. We don’t know what they did with them.
We don’t know which of them received the tunic. We don’t know if he had it laundered and wore it or sold it. It really doesn’t matter, for there is no human garment that can cover up sin, that offers forgiveness of sins and righteousness to stand before God the Judge.
We can say that this happened for a reason, to turn us back to the Word of God, our only reliable guide in uncertain times. It is the Word of God that reveals who we really are and why our first need is the forgiveness of sins. It is that Word of God that reveals where that forgiveness was purchased and won – right there above the gambling soldiers, on the cross in the center.
We – by birth and nature -- don’t have a garment of righteousness that covers our sins. We can’t boast that we have been perfectly obedient to God’s commands or that we measure up. The purpose of God’s Law, especially the 10 Commandments is to reveal our sin and guilt (Romans 3:19-20). It makes clear that no one can be declared righteous on the basis of their own righteousness or goodness.
The facts are plain. God’s Law reveals that our ‘Sunday best’ isn’t good enough. So, God in mercy promised to provide us with a righteousness that is more than enough, with a perfect life credited to us that covers our sins.
The Prophet Isaiah called it a Robe of Righteousness and Garment of Salvation (Romans 61:10).
The Psalmist David prayed that God would deliver him in His own Righteousness (God’s own) (Psalm 31:1).
Since we couldn’t measure up, God sent Jesus to be our substitute. He lived without sin. He paid our debt and suffered for our sins. He bore our guilt and was left alone with it.
Jesus perfect sinless life is credited to our accounts, and God sees us as His perfect Son. When the Roman Soldiers nailed Jesus to the Cross, they also nailed our sins to that Cross. They are paid in full by Jesus perfect Sacrifice.
Today, trusting in Jesus, you are declared righteous by God, justified by faith. As God accounted Abraham righteous by faith (Genesis 15:6), so it is with you who trust in Christ today (Romans 4:1-8).
Our God doesn’t care about fashion. He cares about outfitting us in the garments of Salvation, the righteousness of Christ that covers our sins. We sing of that Righteous Garment in a familiar Lenten hymn – 142:6
“And when Thy glory I shall see and taste Thy kingdom's pleasure,
Thy blood my royal robe shall be, my joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before Thy throne, Thy righteousness shall be my crown,-With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought As Thine own bride, I shall be brought To stand in joy beside Thee.