by Wesley C. Parker
So we come to that day today when many of our kids (and some of us too) will don costumes of many kinds and head out into the waning light in order to receive candy from our neighbours. In Western Europe around the 15th Century, a similar practice called “souling” took place by poor men and women of that day who would dress up as the souls of the departed, and collect “soul cakes” in return for saying prayers for the souls of the dead.
We’re a long ways from that now, both in chronology as well as practice. Yet, if you're anything like me, as kids we did believe to a certain extent that when we tied on that cape, or put on that mask, that we truly were becoming the thing/person we were dressing up as. Hopefully, such illusions have passed for you now, but what if I told you there was a way of dressing up today where you could actually become the person/thing you dressed up as? Depending on the costume, I think many of us would likely jump at such an opportunity.
According to the bible, this transformation is truly possible. The only difference being that what we need is not a costume, but a robe.
Costumes in the bible
One of the most well known stories of costume wearing in the bible is in Genesis 27 where Jacob dresses up in the robes of his older brother Esau in order to steal the blessing from his father Isaac. Yes, the whole trick or treat (blessing or cursing) idea is actually Rebekah’s (Jacob’s mother) and there’s no question God did promise that Jacob would be the one chosen to receive the blessing; that the older brother would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23). But the fact remains that Jacob does not trust in the goodness of his father to bless him, and so he takes by deceit what he did not believe he could get simply by asking. The result is devastated relationships between Jacob and his father as well as the rest of his family.
Sadly, this costume-party is actually only re-playing the very first costume party seen in Genesis chapter 3. There Satan had come to Adam and Eve (in the costume of a serpent) and bred distrust of the Creator into their hearts. And in the end - because they now doubted the goodness of their Father in heaven to bless them with something they wanted – they took in secret what they believed God was withholding from them. This resulted in Adam and Eve dressing up in their fig-leaf costumes seeking to hide what they had done, and this too brought devastation in their relationship with their Father as well as with each other.
And we’ve been dressing up in costumes and bringing about relational devastation ever since. The way this happens in church life today is that we come to God and to each other, dressed up in religiosity and philanthropy; seeking to somehow “trick” God into blessing us and fool everyone else into believing we’re farther along than we actually are. That can be incredibly effective with other people, but never effective with God. And one of the worst parts about costume wearing of all is that – in the end – the only one we really end up fooling is ourselves. This is because when we wear costumes in front of each other rather than revealing our true selves, we miss out on the care of the church becasue we hide our true brokenness, and we miss out on eternal life because we come before a holy God dressed only in man’s efforts to reach God, which are insufficient.
Robes in the bible
And what God calls us to in the gospel is to take off our costumes and to put on robes instead. What makes robes different is that, rather than being something we dress ourselves in, robes are something that God dresses us in.
After the very words from Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes at the outset of His earthly ministry, in vs. 10 we read these words:
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness …”(ESV)
In Revelation 7:14, we read of those standing before God in heaven who have, “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”(ESV) And all of this is pictured in the classic hymn, On Christ the Solid Rock, which so beautifully captures the day when we too will stand before our God in heaven, stating:
“When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne.”
And therein lies the other major difference between the costume and the robe. The costume is something we put on ourselves and which is ultimately false. The robe is something God dresses us in Himself and which causes something previously untrue of us (righteousness) to now become true. This is the “costume” that truly transforms us into what we desperately need to be, viz. one who can stand before a holy God and not be consumed because of our sin.
Jacob recast in robes
God’s plea to His people in Isaiah 1:16 is, “Come now, let us reason together … though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
If that’s true, and we come to know that truth by faith ourselves, it means that now we can truly come before our Father in heaven just as Jacob did, viz. dressed in the robes of another, in order to receive His blessing. Only now, we no longer come deceitfully in the costume of religiosity, but dressed in Jesus’ robes - our true Elder Brother - which actually transform us into worthy co-heirs of our Father’s blessing. Our filthy robes now washed white and made clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for us.
So go out tonight dressed in your best costume and enjoy. But for life and eternity, skip the costume and, by faith in Jesus, put on a robe.