Clothes Maketh the Man

Clean or Dirty?

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Clothes maketh the man.”  The phrase has always sounded questionable to me.  If it’s just what you’re wearing is that really the whole you, your identity?

If clothes maketh the man, what doth these clothes make me?  I went out to change before the message, I’m sure you noticed.  I’m wearing a t-shirt from yesterday, last night AND this morning.  Not the best of clothes here because this shirt has been worn for nearly 24 hours.  I wore it throughout a lock in last night and, well see for yourself, it shows because of the sheer amount of dirt and stains on it.  And frankly, I’m man enough to admit it (guess it must be the clothes), I smell.

Let’s imagine, just a few hundred years ago when it was not an option to just change into a different shirt.  Except for the extreme wealthy, most has just two sets of clothes, work and church.  You couldn’t go into your closet and change.  There’s a story in the Bible where Elisha is offered a set of clothes by Naaman, a leper just healed by Elisha.  That was a great gift.  If I could only swap between work and church I would have to do something about this shirt.

Naaman trying to give a gift of clothes to Elisha

Everything about this shirt is obvious, people can see this stain and that, if you get close enough your nose will confirm what your eyes see.  I can at least try to take the smell away.  If I put on enough of another fragrance that might mask the smell a little.  Now even though I still stink my overall smell might be passable as long as no one looks at me.

The stains are more difficult.  These days it would be easier to fix, a washer, some detergent, in an hour, a new man.  Sort of, if clothes maketh the man.  Before such machine you would have to find a source of water and prepare for a lot of work.

It wasn’t that easy to clean up that long ago.  Malachi talks about the fuller’s soap as one of the actions of the messenger of the covenant in verses 1-2.  Soap?  Imagine talking about the messenger as Tide or Irish Spring or soft soap, it’s a strange picture.  Soap itself has a history.  Perhaps that history is too short considering people have been occupying close spaces for all of our history.

One legend of soap describes how the two main ingredients came together, in a gruesome way.  According to legend, the word soap, or rather the process of saponification, derives from Sapo Hill in Rome.  Before the cause was even known women who came to wash their clothes found that the washing went faster here at the base of Sapo Hill on the Tiber river.  The clay aided the washing and their clothes came cleaner and looked brighter than elsewhere.  Can you imagine what would make this happen?  It’s the events on Sapo hill that complete this mystery.  On this hill animals were sacrificed and cremated.  It’s from those sacrifices from which the two main ingredients of soap combine.  Tallow, or animal fat from the sacrificed animals, and ash, from the fires of the sacrifices washed down the hill and leeched into the clay on the riverbank of the Tiber River.  There was soap there even without knowing it.

Clean clothes were not easy to create and if clothes maketh the man, that meant you’d have to be willing to work hard to be the best you could.  If clothes maketh the man, what kind of man or woman are you?  Sure clothes give an impression but your first action or your first word can change all of that.  You could have on the finest clothes but what people “see” is a combination of what they know about you.

River washing

God knows everything about you.  It’s a daunting thought, every stain, spot, rip, threadbare and thin part of us is known fully by our God.  Even the smell of our dirt-filled clothes is known to God from our birth to this day.  Our Father in heaven has a plan for us but it’s not to come near us.  That the job of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Like the fuller soap, Jesus is going to create the cleansing, that fullers soap is made as Malachi talks about in verse three, by an offering that is right before the Lord.  It is a offering that is pleasing to God.  This is so unusual in the prophets.  A theme throughout the prophets is that the sacrifices they make at the temple don’t include their hearts, a relationship with God, or a life that reflects God’s life of love through them.

Jesus’ sacrifice was the final sacrifice, made perfectly right by the sinless life of Jesus.  It pleased God completely.  There was a tapestry at the seminary the I really liked but didn’t enjoy looking at.  It was Jesus cross in the middle and the blood of Jesus from the cross was feeding the soil and the grapevines around the cross.  His sacrifice reminds me of the picture of Sapo hill.  His blooed was like taking the tallow and lye of the sacrifice and creating something that would cleanse us.  Not a fullers soap but a fulfillers soap the fulfills God’s will to remake us again into what God originally intended.

Jesus comes to us as that soap.  And the process of being cleansed will be hard work and even painful.  Although you would think that after a perfect sacrifice that pleases God everything would be good that follows, verse 5 says, “then I will draw near to you for judgment.”  He sees the mess we’ve made, he can smell it even if we’ve tried to mask it with other scents.

Jesus comes near and inspects our clothes: you’ve used God’s name to try and get your way, you’ve taken the love between a man and woman and confused and destroyed it, you’ve used your power to hurt those who depend on you, you haven’t cared for those in need in ways that will help them (verse 5).

That judgment would be painful, much like lye burns the skin, it would hurt but in the hands of Christ it would heal.  It is good but it is not comfortable or painless to have our weakness, sin and shortcoming revealed.  Even though the cleansing would hurt God promises that you, my child, will not be consumed (verse 6).  Now if I could I would love to instantly make this disgustingly dirty shirt bright and clean, I can’t.  I could swap it out for a similar shirt but the best cure would be to receive brand new clothes.

Clothed with Christ

Since Jesus has seen, identify and cleansed our sins, he provides us with new clothes.  In baptism God clothes us in the righteousness of Christ.  Jesus’ perfect offering of Himself becomes our protection, our clothing, our identity before God.  In a way, “Clothes doth maketh the man (or woman)” because Jesus clothes us even after knowing every stain, rip and smell about us.  If clothes maketh the man, we are remade completely because of Jesus.  We have a new identity, given by Jesus to us.  This Advent let us pray, come Advent Jesus, we are clothed by you, baptized and forgiven, we welcome you just as you have welcomed us.  Amen

Published in: on December 10, 2012 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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