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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Sing: Hymn 19: 1, 2, 3, 6
Sing: Psalm 22:1, 3, 6
Read: John 19:1-22
Sing: Hymn 21:1, 2, 3
Text: John 19:23-24
Sing: Psalm 22: 9, 10, 11
Sing: Hymn 25: 1, 2, 3
Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,
As we read the account of the suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, then it is easy enough to be overcome with emotion. As we are confronted with the horror that he had to undergo, we pity him as he is mistreated and abused and humiliated by his tormentors. We are moved to tears as we read the account about him being flogged.
Such a flogging was a brutal beating. The soldiers would use a whip which consisted of a short handle to which several thongs were attached. The ends of those thongs were equipped with pieces of lead or brass and with sharply pointed bits of bone. They would lay the stripes on the back of the victim and lacerate the back to such an extent that the back would become a horrible, bloody mess. Often the victims were beaten to within an inch of their life.
After this they humiliated the Lord Jesus even further by putting a crown of thorns on his head and by clothing him in a purple robe and mocking him as King of the Jews. They spat on him and they mocked him and ridiculed him. They did everything to strip him totally of his dignity. Finally they crucified him.
That in itself was one of the most humiliating things you could do to a human being. And then to further humiliate him they hung a note above his head which read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
But in our text we read the account about the Lord Jesus being stripped naked and about the division of his clothes. In the scheme of things, that does not seem such a big deal. Compared to the other things he had to suffer, this seems only a minor detail.
But is it? The fact of the matter is that all four Gospel accounts mention this detail. The apostle John is most elaborate. He even mentions that this had to happen in order to fulfill Scripture.
And so, it is clear that the four gospel writers wanted to make sure that the readers are informed about this apparently minor detail. Why do you think they found this important? Why do they want us to know about his nakedness, and about the division of his clothes? What exactly is the significance of the Lord Jesus being stripped of his clothes? How does that knowledge benefit us?
That is our Good Friday message:
Christ Bears Our Shame by Hanging Naked on the Cross.
1. Jesus’ nakedness;
2. The soldiers’ indifference.
When you see the Lord Jesus depicted in paintings, or in sculptures, then he is normally not portrayed as totally naked. They usually have his private parts covered with a loincloth. No doubt the artists did this because they did not want to portray him in such a humiliating way. It would be too shameful.
However, it is most likely that the Lord Jesus was stripped of all his clothes, and that he was totally naked when he hung on the cross. There is nothing in the text to suggest that he still had some clothes on. And furthermore, that certainly was not the custom of that day either. In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was the usual means of execution. It was regularly done, and we have ancient accounts about how it was done. In all cases the victims were left hanging naked on the cross.
Before the fall into sin it was natural to be naked. Nakedness symbolized that there are no barriers between you and God and God’s creation. There is nothing to hide. There is nothing to cover up. You can go about in total freedom without fear. You have nothing to be ashamed of. As it says in Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
But when Adam and Eve fell into sin, suddenly they became aware of their nakedness. It made them feel ashamed and vulnerable. The harmony between God and them, and between man and wife was broken. They experienced their inward corruption, and realized that their relationship had drastically changed. The harmony was gone. And therefore after they fell into sin Adam and Eve hid. The Lord God had to rescue them from their sinful state. For that reason the Lord God gave them some clothes to wear. From then on in it was no longer natural for a man or woman to go about without clothes.
The kind of clothes that you wear can tell a lot about a person. The soldiers mockingly put a purple robe on the Lord Jesus. Purple is the colour of royalty. It was made from a highly prized dye obtained from the secretions of mollusks native to the eastern Mediterranean. Since approximately 8000 mollusks were required to produce 1 gram of purple dye, purple cloth was extremely expensive. And therefore, only very rich people such as kings could afford such a robe. People are identified by the kind of clothes they wear. Although less so the case now, it is nevertheless also true today.
In the 1880’s Mark Twain coined the famous phrase, “Clothes make the man”. Later he wrote, “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” In those days there was much more of a contrast between rich and poor than today, and that was obvious from the way they were dressed.
Today it is more difficult to recognize a person’s social status by his or her clothes. Clothes are cheap, and just about anybody can pick up a cheap outfit from a discount store. Nevertheless, in order to fit in today, young people are intent to wear clothes that make them stand out and fit in. They want to have clothes with designer labels on them. Else they are not cool. They would rather not have clothes and shoes and other apparel from discount stores such as Wal-Mart.
Clothes make the man. Clothes tell a lot about you. They place you in a certain social class. When you are well-dressed in a suit and tie, or in a nice dress, then you’re likely to get better service and to have access to more places than when you are dressed in casual clothes. Clothes are important.
The kind of clothes we wear is also important to the Lord God. When they appeared before the Lord in the temple, the Israelites had to show respect for the Lord God by making sure that their clothes were clean and not torn or ragged. Our clothes tell something about what lives inside of us. It shows respect for others and for yourself. Clothes give dignity.
When we are stripped of our clothes, then that is a great humiliation. It symbolizes a lack of possessions; it symbolizes poverty. When Job heard about the loss of all his property, including his children, he cried out, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.” He acknowledges that God can make a man either rich or poor. For he complains in Job 22:6, “You stripped men of their clothing, leaving them naked.”
How that is fulfilled with the Lord Jesus on the cross! The fact that he is stripped naked is a fulfillment of the prophecy that he will be made utterly poor; that he has to give up everything that he has in order to make us rich; that he will be stripped of all his dignity.
Think about that hymn we just sang: “He had no form or beauty to command our adoration. He was despised and by mankind rejected” (Hymn 21:2). The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that when the Lord Jesus came to earth he stripped himself of all the glory that he had with the Father. He totally emptied himself. He says in Chapter 2:7 that “he made himself nothing.” His nakedness shows the depth of humiliation that he had to undergo.
To be rendered naked was also a form of punishment. Thus the prophet Isaiah was told by the Lord God to go about naked in order to symbolize what would happen to the Egyptians and the Ethiopians. Those nations did not want to serve God, and they needed to be punished.
Nakedness will also be punishment for the prostitute mentioned in the book of Revelation. There we are told in Chapter 17:16 that she will be brought to ruin and be left naked.
And so for the Lord Jesus to be rendered naked on the cross was part of the punishment for the sin that he bore for us. We deserve the punishment that he received. We deserve to be brought to nothing, and to go about naked. We deserve to be poor. We deserve not only not to have clothes, but also not to have any food or shelter or anything else. For because of our sins we have squandered our rights as children of God. We deserve to be stripped of all dignity.
And so, it is wonderful that the Lord God is so generous with us. It is a wonderful thing that he does not want us to suffer such a humiliation. Already in paradise he clothed Adam and Eve. He not only dressed them but he also made food and drink available to them, indeed everything that they needed for body and soul. He removed the curse because of the promise of the Messiah for all those who believe in him.
But please realize what it cost for us to have these things. The Lord Jesus who is the Almighty King of heaven and earth had to be stripped of all his possessions and all his dignity in order for us to have what we have today. The people hung a sign above his head that stated, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” But this was done to mock him, to humiliate him, to make him a laughingstock. For what did the people see? They saw a pitiful naked man, his skin caked with blood and dirt and sweat. He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53 where it states that “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like the one from whom men hide their faces he was despised.”
In order for us to have dignity and worth and the necessities of life, it had to come down to that low point in the life of Christ. It was the only way that we could receive not only these earthly blessings but also the many spiritual blessings. That is what is most important. The fact that he is rendered defenceless and reduced to abject poverty, shows how much he loves his creation. It shows how much he loves you and me.
2. Do you know what is so terrible? Most of the world ignores the Lord Jesus and what he suffered. Although people in the West still celebrate Good Friday, even with a holiday in countries like Canada, few people have an inkling of the deep significance of this day.
That was certainly the case with the soldiers who divided up the clothes of the Lord Jesus amongst themselves. Just try to picture this scene. There they sit, below the cross of Jesus. They are witnesses to the most significant event in the history of the world. And yet they did not have a clue. It all went right by them. They were unmoved by the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Do you know why? Well, in the first place they were familiar with the suffering of others. These men witnessed crucifixions all the time. It was THE means in the Roman Empire to execute criminals. Crucifixion had become the favourite method of execution throughout the Roman Empire, and especially in Judea, where it was regularly used to make a public example of rioters and insurrectionists. According to the historian Josephus, after Herod the great died, the Roman governor of Syria crucified 2000 men in order to quell an uprising. By the time of Christ, Rome had already crucified more than 30,000 people in and around Judea.
There is a tradition that tells us that when the Lord Jesus was a teenager there was a rebellion near where he lived. The Roman army crushed the rebellion but they didn’t want it to happen again, so they crucified an Israelite every 10 meters along the road for a distance of 16 km, 1600 men and women.
And so you can see that those soldiers who are sitting there below the cross of Jesus had become numb to the suffering around them. They had become used to it. To them it was just another day at the office. These soldiers had performed so many crucifixions that it had become methodical to them. It was their job; it’s what they did for a living. They had become numb. Though they heard the screams and the cries for mercy, they had learned to ignore them and to move on so that they could get it done and go home and have dinner. The cross to them had lost its significance.
Essentially today is not any different. Do you know what the most common religious symbol is in our part of the world? It is the cross. You see the cross on churches. You see the cross in jewellery. You see people crossing themselves. During the last Olympics you even saw athletes making the sign of the cross before their event.
Do the people understand the significance of the cross? Do you and I understand? Why do we do the things that we do? Our primary interest is in ourselves. By nature we are selfish creatures. We want to get as much out of life as we can.
That was certainly the case of the soldiers. All they wanted was to share in the spoils. Even if they did not have much value, as was the case with the possessions of the Lord Jesus. It appears that all the Lord Jesus possessed were four pieces of apparel. The soldiers divided these items amongst themselves. Since those pieces of apparel were of unequal value they cast lots for them. It was likely that those four pieces consisted of the headgear, the sandals, the belt and the outer garment.
But there was also a fifth garment, namely a seamless undergarment. That’s all the people wore under their outer clothing. They did not have underwear like we do today. That undergarment that the Lord Jesus wore was either made from wool or linen. The text says that it was seamless and that it was woven in one piece from top to bottom.
Some commentators suggest that this was a rather expensive piece of clothing. It is likely that the Lord Jesus received this as a gift. Because of its worth the soldiers did not want to tear the garment into four pieces. They gambled for it, as was the custom amongst them. Like today, a lot of gambling went on. They wanted to get as rich as they could.
The soldiers were totally focused on themselves and that is why they did not grasp the real significance of what was going on around them. And that is always a danger, brothers and sisters, boys and girls.
It is a danger for all of us. For we too have been brought up with the knowledge about the cross of Christ. We have been brought up knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins and that through him we may have eternal life. We have heard this since we were little children growing up. But familiarity can be a dangerous thing. Familiarity can make us take the wonderful events surrounding our salvation as normal and expected. It can make us take these things for granted. As if it’s not a big deal.
Well, it is a big deal. It is a great big deal. It is the biggest thing in the history of the world.
As for those soldiers below the cross, it is no wonder that they are not paying attention. They have not been taught what the cross of Christ is all about. And so they are focused on the here and now. They’re focused on themselves. They nonchalantly divide up the material possessions of the Lord Jesus.
But, you and I, we know different, don’t we? We know that these things happened in order to fulfill the Scriptures. The Lord God has a purpose for everything. Whatever evil happens here on earth he uses for our good.
And that is also what he does with the actions of those soldiers. That is also what the apostle John tells us. He says that the division of the garments happened so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.
He speaks about the fulfillment of Psalm 22, as it applied to King David. We sang about that a little while ago: “They pierced my hands and feet; they gloat and, chiding, among themselves my garments are dividing by casting lots.” What happened to David finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout that whole psalm, David relates the agony and pain and suffering that he endured at the hands of his enemies. He too was humiliated and ridiculed. He too was despised and scorned. It was so bad that he cried out to God and wondered why he had forsaken him.
We do not know exactly to what event David is referring. But during his life he had been in some very difficult situations. Of course, it was nothing compared to what the Lord Jesus had to undergo. For you see the Lord God never abandoned David throughout his life. Not even for a moment. For the moment that God no longer watches over his creation, it will cease to exist. We all would cease to exist.
Throughout his ordeals David also comes to the realization time and again that the Lord God watches over him all the time, and that he does not abandon his people. That is clear from what he writes in the end of that psalm. He realizes that God is with him always, even though it may not have felt like it to him at times. And so he cries out, as we will sing in a moment: “Oh Lord, Thou hast not hid from me Thy face.” That is the realization that he came to. He realized that these things happened to him in order to drive him closer to the Lord his God, to make him realize how dependent he is on him for his well-being, indeed for his whole life.
The Lord God looks after us. He provides for us. He clothes us. He never abandons us and that is because he did abandon his son. Jesus stood there; he hung there, in our stead.
But do you know what is so wonderful? God does not just give us physical clothes, but spiritual clothes. He is the only one who can give you dignity and worth. Listen to what the apostle Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes in chapter 5:2 that we long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. He says, “…because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.”
The Lord God promises to give us back the same dignity and worth that we had before the fall into sin. He promises total freedom. He promises that there will be no more barriers. We will put on heavenly clothing. In other words all barriers will be removed. When we die we will not be found naked. And that is possible only because of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who was found naked on the cross, who bore our shame, who suffered in our stead.
Because of him, we will be able to put on the clothes given to him when he rose into heaven. The apostle John had a vision of the glorified Christ. He describes him in Revelation 1:13ff. He writes, “And among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” He gives us here a glorious picture of the exalted Christ.
Beloved, if you believe in him, you will also be clothed with such heavenly apparel. For listen to what Paul says in Galatians 3:27: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
That, beloved, is the significance of what your Lord and Saviour did for us on the cross. He allowed himself to be stripped naked and humiliated so that we could be clothed in beautiful clothes that will never wear out. And so today is a Good Friday indeed. Amen
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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