SOME PEOPLE HAVE HOLY UNDERWEAR. LITERALLY.
“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.‘*
– John 19:23,24 *Psalm 22:18
A TUNIC was the first century equivalent of underwear. It was the long, robe-like garment worn between the skin and the outer garment, providing protection, comfort and functionality. Some have postulated that Jesus was wealthy, and use John 19:23 as their evidence. You see, Jesus was not wearing the common man’s underwear. The soldiers, in the midst of dividing Jesus’ clothes among them, were caught by surprise when they got down to His underwear. As the verse says, “But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” This kind of tunic was considered valuable because of the way it was made. It was the kind of garment not often worn by poor or middle-class individuals. Some have therefore concluded that Jesus’s choice of underwear revealed his wealthy status. They then make the leap to suggest that His followers have a right to claim, pursue and embrace the same kind of material wealth. The thinking goes like this: “Jesus was rich, and and I’m a child of the King. Therefore, I should be rich, too.”
This kind of “theology” espoused by people who embrace the “prosperity gospel”, is askew for numerous reasons too lengthy to explain here, but certainly worthy of mention. The above conclusion royally misses the point of John recording the moment of surprise. If you’re not careful, you too might miss the lesson that applies to us even now, in the twenty-first century. Using John 19:23 as evidence of Jesus’ material wealth royally misses the point of the passage – and the point of Jesus’ intentionality. It demonstrates an extremely sloppy and poor treatment of the biblical text, and reveals the human tendency to pervert and twist the truth for personal gain, even if done unintentionally. (Indeed, one need not be intentional to be incorrect). Human intellect, apart from divine enlightenment, constantly misses the higher intentions of God.
So what was John’s reason for writing about Jesus’ underwear? And, what in the world was Jesus doing wearing a rich man’s brand of underwear in the first place? The point is clearly described in the very next verse (John 19:24):
This was to fulfill the Scripture which says . . .
Jesus’ underwear was set apart for a divine purpose, not merely earthly comfort. It was literally worn to point people to God. Jesus’ underwear was, in the most literal sense of the word, holy.
Still, some might persist about the passage affirming Jesus’ wealth, and the right of every disciple to follow in his footsteps. They could point to the fact that Jesus had a treasurer handling his money (Judas, the back-stabber). John 12:6 says that Judas had “charge of the moneybag”. They suggest that Jesus’ having such a full-time keeper of the moneybag, further supports the premise that Jesus was wealthy. But this conclusion is ignorant of historical fact. It was entirely common, not unusual, for a prominent rabbi to have someone handle his financial affairs. In fact, given the traveling nature of Jesus’ ministry, it would have been understood that someone, even multiple people, would be underwriting the expenses of his ministry. (The same can be said of current ministers who serve God well. Their ministries and lives are often entirely supported through the financial resources of others).
The fact is that we don’t know whether Jesus was rich, poor or somewhere in the middle during his 30 plus years of life on earth. That He was supported financially, through mere mortals, is a no-brainer. Of course He was. He had to be to accomplish what He did. We know from Scripture that Jesus had access to all the world’s riches as the Creator of the world (John 1:2,3). And, we also know from Philippians 2:6,7 that he “made himself nothing”. In other words, Jesus gave up His majesty and everything that went with it – and entrusted His well-being into His Father’s hands. His Father, therefore, ensured that even mere mortals took care of His Son’s needs. If we are to conclude anything about Jesus and money that is a timeless take-away for His followers, it’s this: Jesus knew how to put money to use not for mere personal comfort, but for the glory of His Father. The godly person knows how to convert money into deliberate, strategic vessels that point people to God. To use God’s blessings for merely material matters is to stop short of our God-given calling and potential. Money has a higher purpose than personal comfort. The mature Christ-follower uses money – and all their resources – for something that far outlasts personal comfort and material well-being: the glory of God and advancement of His Kingdom.
So, how did Jesus get his seamless tunic? For all we know, someone could have given it to Him as a gift. How many of us have received gifts from people who are about us? All the more appreciated would a nice pair of underwear be for someone who had an itinerant ministry in the kind of hot and harsh terrain Jesus frequented. For all we know, it could have been Jesus’ only such pair of underwear, reserved for the special occasion of His crucifixion at the hands of ruthless Romans. It wouldn’t be the first time we see the Master Communicator using the perfect prop at the perfect time to deliver the perfect message. We don’t really know how Jesus got it – but we know Jesus was masterfully strategic in its use.
All this leads us the real reason why Jesus was found wearing the expensive undergarment on the occasion of His death.Jesus was a strategist, entirely devoted to the glory of His Father.Everything He did, everything He owned, right down to His underwear, pointed people to His Father, the Scriptures, and the fulfillment of His earthly mission as the literal Lamb of God who would give His life for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. Jesus knew that the seamless tunic would surprise and interest the Roman soldiers. So much so that they would not destroy its value by tearing it up and dividing it. Instead, they would cast lots for it – and in so doing, fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 22:18. The seamless tunic was God’s “bait”, used to lure the Roman soldiers to act in a way that would fulfill the Scriptures and again present Jesus as the Promised Messiah, God’s Anointed, the Christ.
If there is a take-away for the modern Christ-follower, it certainly isn’t about one’s personal right to material wealth. It certainly isn’t about one’s claim, as a child of the King, to personal prosperity. Jesus’ use of his tunic helps us understand that there is no such thing as a meaningless possession when it comes to advancing God’s Kingdom.
If, as Luke 6:40 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher”, then the take-away is stunning – hidden at first from the eyes of us mortals who are too often bent on foolish, trivial pursuits. If everything about Jesus, right down to His underwear, was deliberately done to point people to His Father, and to point people to Himself as the Messiah, then shouldn’t we who claim to follow Him, do the same? Shouldn’t everything we own, and everything we do, have this single purpose as the driving force behind our life and resources?
POINTS TO PONDER:
1. Jesus’ use of underwear was a display of creative, strategic brilliance.If you are a Christ-follower, are you following your Master’s lead? Do you seek ways to strategically use every part of your life, and all your resources to fulfill God’s divine purpose, as Jesus did? 2. Is there any area of your life that you thought was of no use to God, that you didn’t realize could be used to point people to Jesus as Master, Savior, Messiah?
What does your underwear say about God? If you’re like me, there’s a good chance it could say a lot more. I’m doing all I can to adjust my life, accordingly. I hope you’ve been inspired toward the same.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments . . .
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