Sunday, December 2, 2012

Garments Of Salvation

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness. – Isaiah 61:10a  (ESV)

That robe of righteousness can perhaps be best understood as the robe of the Creator God of Israel’s covenant faithfulness.  God’s robe of righteousness---covenant faithfulness---is also called the garments of salvation.  What is salvation?  Salvation is redemption and deliverance from the curse of the divine image bearers rejection of God’s covenant and its associated sickness, disease, and death---that which took root in this world because of the rebellion against God that is known as the fall of man. 

In that fall, a creation that had been pronounced as good, in which sickness and disease had no place, indeed, in which it was not possible for man to die, became a damaged creation which bore thorns and thistles, and in which it was now not possible for man not to die, as his physical body would eventually be ravaged by the effects of age.  Isaiah writes that, as part of the fulfillment of God’s covenant, first made with Abraham, that God would clothe His covenant people with the garments of salvation, effectively, reversing the curse of the fall.  This reversal would extend to the whole of God’s creation as well.  That garment of salvation, and the reversal of that curse, is the evidence of God’s faithfulness to His covenant.  It is a robe that it is the evidence of His righteousness. 

Isaiah goes on to gloriously describe this putting on of garments, comparing it to the way that “a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (61:10b).  Is it not significant that talk of what God will do for His covenant people naturally leads to talk of the bridegroom and the bride?  It is in this light that we think of the fifth chapter of Ephesians and Paul writing “Husbands (bridegrooms), love your wives (brides), as Christ (bridegroom) loved the church (bride) and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such think, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27).

Keeping ourselves in the New Testament, let us seek an even fuller understanding of our text, with its garments and robes.  Bearing in mind what has been said about the fall and its effect on man’s physical body, as well as its effect on a previously very good creation, we turn to the fifteenth chapter of Corinthians.  There, we are able to glimpse what the Apostle Paul might have had in mind as he considered Isaiah’s presentation of the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness.  He writes, “Behold!  I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (15:51-52).  Now here’s the key: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’” (15:53-55) 

Paul looks forward to a time when this body that is subject to the stinging and victorious march of the curse of death, will be changed.  Here, it can also be said that that to which he looked forward was also something of a reality when a man confesses Jesus as Lord.  That being understood, Paul looks forward to the time when what is perishable puts on imperishable, and what is mortal puts on immortality.  He looks forward to a time when man will be placed in a renewed creation that is good, and once again, he will find it possible not to die.  This is when it will be said that death has been defeated.  Neither Paul nor Isaiah expected death to be defeated simply because God’s covenant people have passed into some disembodied state sans body.  No, death will be defeated when the curse is reversed and God has put His world right.  This imperishable and immortal body is a garment of salvation, as it is not subject to the curse.  This imperishable and immortal body is the robe of the working out of God’s covenant faithfulness. 

In contemplation of God’s covenant faithfulness, and what it implies, Isaiah goes on to write, “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all nations” (61:11).  It is no accident that Isaiah brings in this talk of the earth and gardens sprouting.  He understands that when God’s consummates His covenant, that the curse will be lifted from all of creation, and all will be renewed.  We find Paul picking up on this theme in the eighth chapter of Romans, when he famously writes about “the creation” being “subject to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (8:20).  It was man that subjected creation to futility because of his rebellion against his Creator; but because God is faithful, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21). 

For all of this, and quite rightly if we believe in Jesus’ Lordship and so find ourselves as a part of God’s covenant people in faith, we should “greatly rejoice in the Lord;” and our souls should, most assuredly, exult in our God.  We are “an offspring the Lord has blessed” (61:9b), and we praise Him for His unending faithfulness.  

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