Christ Above All
Robert C. Shannon
(c)opyright 1989, Robert C. Shannon.
The Clothes of Christ
    Ferdinand Hodler, the great Swiss artist, refused to paint the Matterhorn.  It was, he said, too great for his canvas.  This subject, the clothes of Christ, is too great for any canvas.  The text is all of the New Testament, a text too long to read in its entirety.  But it is possible to highlight some significant verses that point the way.  One might begin with the first reference to the clothes of Christ and compare it with the last reference to the clothes of Christ.

     The first is found in Luke.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).
The last is found in Revelation 19, beginning at verse 11:
And I saw heaven open, and behold a white horse; and he at sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.  His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God (Revelation 19:11-13).
    See the contrast between His first clothes and His last clothes.  When I was young and read that about swaddling clothes, I thought they were something special, something very different and unique.  That's not the case.  That was the perfectly ordinary garment of the Jewish baby.  When a baby was born in that day, they rubbed him in oil.  They sprinkled salt on him because of an old tradition.  They wrapped strips of cloth like bandages very tightly, binding the legs and arms of the body.  They thought that would give strength to the infant.  Those were the swaddling clothes.  They were perfectly ordinary.  To the credit of the shepherds, they were not fooled by that.  They still fell down to worship Him, an ordinary-looking baby in ordinary clothes.

    This last picture of the clothes of Christ is extraordinary.  Here is a vesture dipped in blood, marked with the phrase: "The Word of God."  Put them side by side and they teach us two things about Christ.  He was so much like us and He was so much unlike us.  Those seemingly contradictory ideas are absolutely essential to understanding Jesus.  They are the key.  If you don't know those two things, you will never understand Him.  He was so much like us!  He was so much unlike us!

    In many fields of knowledge there is a key.  Nobody understood early Egyptian history because nobody could read hieroglyphics.  Then they found the Rosetta Stone.  That stone has the same paragraph written on it three times, in three different languages.  One of those languages was well-known.  One was Egyptian hieroglyphics.  The Rosetta Stone was the key that unlocked our knowledge of ancient Egypt.

    Here is the key to understanding Christ.  He was so much like us.  He had a body like our bodies.  He didn't have a body like the Roman god Janus, with two faces, one looking forward and one backward.  He didn't have a body like the Hindu god Siva with four arms.  He didn't have a body like your second grade teacher who had eyes in the back of her head.  He had a body like ours: two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs.  Cut Him and He would bleed . Deny Him rest and He would grow tired.  Deny Him water and He would be thirsty.  Deny Him food and He would be hungry.  Wound Him and He would die.  He was so like us.  But He was so unlike us.  He was tempted as we are tempted, but He never sinned as we sin.  He prayed as we pray, but He never had to pray the way we have to pray.  He grew hungry as we grow hungry, but He never made food the essential thing in His life.  He worked as we work, but He never made work the central thing in His life.  He loved, but He never let it degenerate into lust.  Here was one so much unlike us. It s marked by the vesture dipped in blood.

    Some say it is the blood of vengeance: the blood of His enemies.  That fits the immediate context.  He is God's avenger, the executor of the wrath of God upon men.  We may interpret it that way.  But others say it is His own blood, His precious blood, His atoning blood.  That fits the larger context of the whole book of Revelation, and that would make this the costliest garment ever worn.

    One of the most expensive fabrics in the world is vicuna.  It is made from the hair on the throat of certain goats.  If you had a dress made out of that, it would cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.  Not long ago, they were selling gold lace in London at $151.20 to the yard.  These are rags compared to this vesture dipped in blood, His precious blood.

    So we learn in His ordinary first clothes and His extraordinary last clothes how much like us He was and how much unlike us He was.

    Then let us compare His work clothes and His clothes of wonder. He wore a carpenter's apron.  He came to fill the next to the lowest place in the social structure of His day.  He did not come as a great spiritual leader might have been expected to come.  He did not come as a priest.  He did not come as a scribe.  He did not come as a great political leader, as a king or governor.  He did not come as a great military leader, as a general or a commander.  He did not come as a great business leader, a banker or merchant.  He did not come even as a schoolteacher, or a physician.  He came as a carpenter.  The only thing lower than a carpenter was a tanner.  Perhaps He would have come as a tanner, except then He would have been barred from the temple where many of His deeds were done.  So, He came as a carpenter until He was thirty.  Then He donned the robe of a prophet.

    Finally, in the upper room, He put on the towel of a servant and washed the disciples feet.  That was the lowest job.  The servant who was given the least place in the house was the servant who waited at the door to wash the guests' feet.  That's the place He took.

    It made headlines in the newspapers and was recorded in the history books that John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  The sentiment was expressed far better by Jesus, who said, "I came not to be served, but to serve."  "My father works," He said, "and I work."

    After the resurrection, Jesus met His disciples by the sea.  He fixed their breakfast.  The risen, glorified Christ did not think it beneath His dignity to do that.  He built a fire.  He cleaned the fish.  (What a dirty job that is!)  He cooked their breakfast.  He did not think it beneath Him to do that.

    And in His work He showed us the splendor of work, the dignity of work, and the sin of indolence and laziness.  The Thracians of ancient Greece thought work was a sin and a shame, so they lived by war.  Our Lord thought differently.

    There's a book entitled Dress for Success.  Executives at IBM really believe in that.  They require their people to dress in a certain way.

    Jesus in His carpenter's apron, Jesus girded with a towel, hardly seem dressed for success.  But then once, once, we see Him in robes that befit Him.  On the mount of transfiguration He was changed.  His garments shone as the light.  Those robes of light fit Him perfectly.  They fit Him because we associate light with life.

    Without light there would be no life on this planet.  We associate light with beauty.  All of our colors are drawn from a little narrow space on the spectrum of light.  We associate light with protection and safety.  Now through the laser, we associate light with healing.  How appropriate that Christ, who is our life and who gives a new definition to beauty, who is our protector and who is our healer, should be robed in a garment of light.

    They say that clothes make the man.  Of course, it's not true.  Clothes only reveal the man.  If you see a teenage boy who has always been careless about his appearance suddenly begin spending an hour at the mirror combing his hair, you know something about him.  You know he's found a girl.

    You see someone who is very meticulous about his appearance and you know that here is someone who is concerned about detail.  You see a person who is careless about his appearance and you know this is someone whose mind is on larger things and gives little thought to details.

    We learn a lot about Christ from the clothes that He wears; from His ordinary clothes and His extraordinary clothes, from His work clothes and His clothes of wonder.  We learn the most from His dying clothes and His deathless clothes.

    There was that scarlet robe they put on Him to mock Him.  Where did they get that?  That was the uniform of an officer in the Roman army!  When they put it on Him, it was at the same time paradoxical and proper.  It was paradoxical because He was the Prince of Peace.  They meant to mock Him.  They put on the Prince of Peace a uniform of war.  Yet war and peace are always opposite sides of the same coin.  He is the Prince of Peace.  He is also the captain of our salvation.  He is the Lord of Hosts.  His church marches like an army with banners.  There was a certain appropriateness to what they did when they put the scarlet robe on Him.

    Then at the cross they took His seamless robe and gambled for it.  That touches us.  It was His only possession, and they took it.  He didn't own a home.  He didn't have any money.  He didn't have any land.  All that He owned was that one seamless robe, and they took it.  Not only was it His only possession; it was a very special possession.  It was a seamless robe.  That tells us that it was made with special care, by His mother perhaps, or by some friend and supporter who believed in what He was doing . When they took it, they marked indelibly the difference between Him and themselves.

    He was one who was always giving, and they were those who were always taking.  He had little concern for possessions, and they had concern for little else.  He lived by destiny, and they lived by chance.  You and I have to choose which will be the pattern for our lives.  Will we be givers or takers?  Will we be people who have little concern for that which is material or people who have concern for little else?  Will we be people who live with a sense of spiritual destiny, or will we be people who live by chance?  Having taken His robe, they then crucified the unclothed Christ.

    Artists, people of great sensitivity, have always draped the body of Christ on the cross.  The fact of the matter is that His executioners stripped Him and nailed Him there!  They did it to humiliate Him.  They did it to bring Him shame, but they failed.  He had an inner dignity they could not touch!  Sometimes when I have been going somewhere to speak I have put on my jacket and said, "I've got to put on my dignity:"  But Christ did not put on His dignity, and they could not take it off.  Christ had an inner dignity that they could not take away from Him.  They stripped Him of His friends!  They stripped Him of His pulpit!  They stripped Him of His possessions!  They stripped Him of His robe!  But they could not strip Him of His dignity!

    God saw the unclothed Christ and drew a curtain of darkness over the whole earth.  Then after the resurrection and the ascension He put on Him robes so splendid that they are beyond description. Revelation 1:13 says, "dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest" (NIV).  God clothed Him - clothed Him with power and might and beauty and glory and honor!

    Now see the most wonderful thing of all.  It's in the chapter with which we began.  "There followed him, riding upon white horses, men and women dressed in fine linen, white and clean."  Where did they get those robes?  You know. He put His robe on them - His robe of righteousness, His robe of purity, His robe of sinlessness.  He put His robe on them!  He puts His robe on us!  Over the rags of our self-righteousness - over the filth of our sin - over the twisted deformity of our broken lives!  He puts His robe on us!

I got a robe!
You got a robe!
All God's children got a robe!
When I get to Heaven
Gonna put on my robe!
Gonna walk all over God's Heaven!

How Can These Things Be
Table of Contents
His First Miracle

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