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February 28, 2024

That the Scripture Might Be Fulfilled

Passage: John 19:23-24

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John 19:23-24  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.   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 that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

I bring you Lenten greetings from your brothers and sisters in Christ at Our Savior’s in Jamestown.

I’m sure many of you have thought about or talked about what is the most important day of the church year.  I don’t think there’s a wrong answer.  If you go by how big a deal the world makes of it, it would have to be Christmas.  We make a big deal out of Christmas too.  And that’s good.  Again, judging by what Walmart does at the front of the store, Easter would have to come in second, and up in Jamestown, I would say we follow the same on the scale of making a big deal out of it.  Easter, we have two services and a breakfast.  For me, the most important day of the church year is Good Friday.  When Jesus breathes His last while saying, “It is finished!” well.  Those are my sins that He poured out His blood for.  The work of my salvation was completed then.  Like I said, no wrong answers.

But how many are methodically reviewing the passion history, week by week, with special services this Lent?  Not as many as they used to.  How many have the opportunity to focus in and drill down.  Like this text before us.  We come to a seemingly tiny and insignificant few verses.  A footnote in the story of Jesus’ passion.  Is it, though?  Unimportant?  To some it is, to some it was.

How about the soldiers?  Roman guards, just punching their time cards, doing what they always do.  Everything about this day’s duty was more or less routine.  Yes, there were large crowds for this triple execution.  But overseeing executions was just another mundane day for the soldiers.  We know there are four of them because of the division they made of Jesus’ clothing, and that jibes with what we know of the Roman order of battle.  The smallest division was called a quaternion, and we can guess there were a set of four soldiers to oversee each condemned man, plus probably others nearby because of the crowds.  The executioners got to keep any personal property of the condemned man.  They didn’t want to divide the tunic:  if they cut it in four each piece might be worth a few bucks, but the whole piece undivided would be worth much more than the sum of its parts. So they gambled for it, also not at all unusual for soldiers.  Throughout history soldiers have found themselves to be people who might not have a lot of money, but who also at times have zero expenses.  That combination leads to gambling.

Why record such insignificance?  Why are four nobodies doing nothing special noted by the gospel writer John in the middle of the greatest event in history?  Even the soldiers themselves would have told you they themselves were no big deal.  Just the bottom man on the Roman totem pole, cogs in vast machine and hierarchy which reached ultimately to Caesar in Rome.  They were bit players in a great story, just not the story they thought.   They did it for the same reason Caesar Augustus ordered a census, the same reason Herod ordered the killing of children, the same reason all kinds of things happened, unwittingly, that the Scripture might be fulfilled as our text says.  What scripture?  The 22nd Psalm.  Here’s the pertinent passage, 18: “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

There’s  whole lot more in Psalm 22 that sounds familiar too.  Listen:  1: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

6-8: “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see Me mock Me; they make mouths at Me; they wag their heads.  He trusts in the LORD; let Him deliver Him; let Him rescue Him, for He delights in Him!”

14-18: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted within My breast.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue sticks to My jaws; you lay Me in the dust of death.  For dogs encompass Me; a company of evildoers encircles Me; they have pierced My hands and feet – I can count all My bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Remember when Jesus told his accusers that he taught publicly in the temple?

22:  “I will tell of Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You.”

Remember how Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit and the Gospel would be preached to all the nations?

27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.”

31: “They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

All of that stuff had to come true, and it did.  Right down to four nobodies throwing dice or drawing straws or whatever they did to settle who got the seamless garment.  At the cross Jesus suffered the loss of all material goods – not that He had that much in the first place. We know that He did not own a house and seemed to depend on friends, especially the women folk, for food and other necessities. The articles of clothing divided by the soldiers appear to be the only material possessions that the Savior owned.   Luke 9:58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

St Paul gives us this picture of Jesus’ poverty: 2 Cor. 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

What a sharp contrast we have portrayed here! While the Savior is dying for sinners, the sinners nearest to the cross ignore Him and take what little He has.  All Jesus had was the clothes on His back.  On Good Friday He lost them too. The soldiers responsible for carrying out the crucifixion helped themselves to Jesus' garments and divided them up between them. One article of clothing, His tunic, they bartered off in a gambling game. They did this in full view of Jesus, below the cross, so He could be a front seat spectator at their fun and games. Little did they know the truth of what was going on! He, their heavenly King, was laying down His life to atone for the sins of the world (theirs too), the Innocent for the guilty. As they amused themselves with their gambling game making light of His suffering, He was showing how much He loved them by purchasing a robe of holiness to cover their sin and shame. Did they come to understand later who Jesus was and the love He had for them, and put their trust in Him? It seems the centurion may have, hopefully more did too. How blessed we are to have a Savior willing to make Himself nothing for us, who let His enemies take everything away from Him, even His clothes, so that we might be dressed in a robe of holiness through faith in His blood.

Remembering Jesus poverty can help us keep our own richness or lack therof in perspective, but above all let’s keep in mind what Jesus won for us on the cross, eternal life.  The seamless garment is a symbol of all that He gave up for us, that the scripture might be fulfilled.

I’d like to close tonight with a reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3:7-10

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.  AMEN.