This article first appeared in the March 1, 1969 of the Standard Bearer (Vol.45, #11) and was a Lenten meditation penned by Rev. Marinus Schipper, then pastor of Southeast PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.
The Parting of His Garments
"Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did." John 19:23, 24
"They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." Psalm 22:18
Abundantly full of the most significant contrasts is the life and death of Jesus!
When He made His entrance into the world the heavens brake to allow myriads of glorious angels to announce in heavenly paeans: Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Caressed was He by a loving virgin mother, embraced in the arms of an aged Simeon who could not die until he had seen the Lord's Christ, while those strange but wonderful magi come from afar to pay obeisance to the King Who must be born of the Jews. But when He makes His exodus and departs out of the world He goes out in the company of bandits. Not only is He numbered by them with the transgressors, but they rob Him of all His earthly possessions, even that which must cover His nakedness.
When He made His entrance into the world, He Who was rich became poor and was born in the midst of poverty, the very signs of which were the manger and swaddling clothes. But in His dire poverty He was nevertheless clothed, though it be with swaddling bands which with the manger were indicative of His poverty. On Calvary and the cross, on the other hand, His disrobing was a special symbol and spoke a unique language of God. If angels could have spoken at His death as they did at His birth, they would have brought this message: And this shall be the sign unto you, ye shall find the Saviour stripped and naked, and hanging on a cross. Swaddling clothes are given Him in God's providence at His birth. By that same providence the garments which He possessed are taken away from Him at His death.
How interesting and striking it is to notice also how different is the day of Noah and the day of Christ with respect to nakedness! In Noah's day to look upon nakedness made one worthy of the curse. This indeed was the penalty that fell on that son of Noah who looked on his father's nakedness. In Christ's day, though we are tempted to look away from the nakedness of the Son of God in the flesh, God adjures us, if we would not be unclothed but clothed upon, to stand there and see that nakedness which will clothe all His brethren. Truly the nakedness of the suffering Prophet is divinely necessary to clothe us ragged sinners. It would be our condemnation to look away from Him now. Even here there is life in a look at His naked form.
Then the soldiers took His garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and for His coat they cast the lot!
Thus Christ was disrobed!
Not unusual it was in those days to so treat one adjudged to be criminal! Regulation had it that the property of the condemned was legitimate loot to the executioners of his sentence. And generally it was the centurion, the officer in charge of the execution, to lay the first claim. We know, of course, that in this instance this rule was not followed. For the text plainly states that it was the soldiers who disposed of Christ's garments. Could it be that the centurion was bothered by a much more serious business at the moment? Was he not more concerned about the Person of Christ than he was about His property? Was it not he who moments later was forced to exclaim as Matthew tells it: "Truly this was the Son of God;" or, as Luke informs us: "Certainly this was a righteous man." And so, the soldiers became the legal heirs.
Opinions differ as to His complete or partial disrobing. Some think He retained at least a loin cloth. Others believe He was robbed of all. We believe the latter to be the truth, not only because of the custom of the day as suggested above, but more particularly because of the terms describing His clothing used in the text: the one describing His outer garments, and the other that worn closest to His body. When all was removed there was nothing left. Moreover, the total disrobing was in harmony with the cruelty of that day that intended to bring the most shame upon the convicted and the condemned. This disrobing must have taken place before the crucifixion, and the disposal of His garments after the work of fixing Him to His cross was finished. Then it was time to decide what to do with His effects. Not difficult was it for them to make equal disposition of His outer garments. Each of them received a part. But when it came to the tunic, the undergarment worn next to the skin, they were faced with a difficulty. The garment was all of one piece, without seam. To divide it would have made it useless and worthless. Thus they decided to cast the lot for it to see whose it would be.
The point of importance here is the significant fact that He, Whose right of requisition was solely His, allowed Himself to be stripped naked.
The ass upon which He made His royal entry into Jerusalem He simply requisitioned for the reason that He had need of it. The room where He instructed His disciples to prepare the Passover, He simply took over on the grounds that He had need of it. The money which was in the fish's mouth, He simply lays claim to, that He and Peter may meet their obligation to Caesar. But when it comes to the clothing of His nakedness, His clothes are denied Him. Yea, He denies Himself the right of requisition, and allows Himself to become naked. Indeed, His God and ours denies Him the right to His clothing and ordains that He become a spectacle of shame.
By itself, clothing is not nice. In the state of righteousness there was no need for clothes. Adam and Eve were naked before they fell by transgression, and they were not ashamed. Sin brought with it shame. Hence, our first parents sewed fig leaves to make themselves aprons. And later God provided them with coats of skin. The sinners must learn that it will not do to devise their own covering for sin, but only God can provide their covering, and that, too, through the shedding of blood, the sacrifice of atonement. And when Christ, our Representative in the sinful world makes His appearance, He is fully clothed. But when He pays the penalty of our guilt, He must become naked.
That the Scripture might be fulfilled!
Beautiful prophecy as related in Psalm 22!
Correctly called: The Psalm of the Cross!
Listen to the psalmist utter those meaningful exclamations we hear again in the proximity of Calvary! "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Verse 1). "But I am a worm, and no man." (Verse 6). "All they that see me laugh me to scorn, they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him, let him deliver him, seeing he delighteth in him." (Verses 73). "They pierced my hands and my feet." (Verse 16). And then in Verse 18 we read: "They part my garments among them and cast lots for my vesture."
A Psalm of David, occasioned by his flight from Saul! He laments that the misery which robs him of the experience of blessed fellowship with his God is caused by those who were doing him wrong. They who persecute him are robbers and plunderers. He gives a vivid picture of these plunderers by comparing them with such common ones as are willing to raffle off the clothes of their victim. These plunderers are bent on making him an object of shame. It is questionable whether David literally experienced the losing of his clothes. Better it is to understand that the Holy Spirit of Christ is He Who speaks in the Psalm and is foretelling exactly the way the Redeemer must go.
And so, again, we have here the suffering Prophet fulfilling the Scriptures!
In our former meditation we observed Him actively and deliberately choosing Judas the betrayer. But now we behold Him passively bowing to the will of His executioners—but whether actively or passively—yet fulfilling the Scriptures.
Behold Him, that great Son of David, as He is being plundered on Golgotha! No longer is it His privilege to walk freely. He is fixed to the cross. The soldiers had done their work well. They pierced His hands and His feet as they nailed His emaciated body to the accursed tree. He watches these robbers as they tear from His body His covering. He observes as He loses His claim. He rejoices that He has not erred from the path predicted of Him. While David may have been robbed, it would be of the clothing given to him; but Christ is robbed of all that is His own. The Great Clothier allows Himself to be stripped naked. Caesar has finally succeeded in robbing this Holy Child even of His swaddling clothes.
Nailed to a cross, stripped and naked, and He cannot hide!
Behold Him, Whom heaven will not receive, and earth has cast out of her sight!
So horrible is the suffering into which He is plunged, and so black is the darkness that envelops Him that He feels Himself abandoned as it were into the lowest hell. And there in His loneliness He believes that even His God has abandoned Him. He cries out in His abandonment: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Why must He suffer so?
O, paradox of paradoxes!
The answer is: that a naked church may be clothed with garments that are pure white!
Like our first father, who, having become disobedient and fallen in depravity, knew his shame; so we of his generations stand before God, the Holy One, stark naked in our shame. And because we by nature, like Adam, will not recognize that the only clothing wherewith we may appear acceptably before God must be that which He Himself prepares for us, have gone about making to ourselves our own garments—the fig-leaf garments of self-righteousness, which can only be burned from us by the heat of His consuming wrath. So that, no matter how nice we may seem to appear when God finds us, we are still naked before Him with Whom we have to do.
God Himself must clothe His naked church and that with the garments of righteousness which He alone could prepare.
This is the significance of the suffering of the naked Saviour!
He took our place, and contracted our shame, and as our Representative received our curse and bore our punishment. Following the route of obedience as it was prescribed for Him in the prophetic Scriptures, He allows Himself to be unclothed and to hang naked before God's tribunal; while in love to God and to His church, He brings the sacrifice of atonement that must merit the dispensation of that clothing of righteousness which alone can bear away God's approval and blessing.
Thus the bride of Christ is clothed in pure white and awaits the appearance of the great Bridegroom Whom God has highly exalted because He has so deeply humbled Himself.
Rev. Marinus Schipper was born in Holland, MI on February 8, 1906. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary and was ordained and installed into the ministry at the Grand Haven, MI Protestant Reformed Church in January, 1937. From there, he went to Second (now: Southwest) Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI. in 1939. In 1945 he accepted a call to the South Holland, IL Protestant Reformed Church. From there, he returned to Southwest (formerly: Second) Protestant Reformed Church in 1954. Finally, he went to the Southeast Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI in 1962. He retired from the active ministry in 1978.
Rev.M.Schipper was taken into glory on January 2, 1985.