Who's Wearing the Red Shirt?
Last week I asked whose hands do you want the ball in? This week it's who's wearing the red shirt? This comes from the original 1960's Star Trek series. You knew who was going to die because while other crew members wore gold or blue shirts, the one dying wore red. It's documented that 73% of the time it was the guy in red who died. Of course, if you didn't have a color TV, like we didn't, you weren't clear on who was marked for death. That's not a big deal when it comes to a make-believe TV show. It is when it comes to life. Who's wearing the red shirt in you life?
You are. When you entered the womb you were clothed in red. Psalm 51 tells us "in sin did my mother conceive me." And, "The soul that sins must die," says the Lord in Ezekiel. You're as marked for death as the guy on a mission to an alien planet with 4 other crewmen who is the only one dressed in red. Watch the show in color, and you're waiting to see not if he dies but how or when.
That's you; that me; that's all men everywhere. Before we did anything wrong, simply by being descendants of Adam, we got the red shirt. We sang, "All mankind fell in Adam's fall, / One common sin infects us all; / From sire to son the bane descends, / And over all the curse impends.In guilt he draws his infant breath/ And reaps its fruits of woe and death."
Here's the catch. Though this is the absolute truth, there is no way anyone knows they're wearing the red shirt unless God tells them. Some think they got a gold shirt because of their age. Death is a million miles away when you're not to the point of feeling your age. Some think they're wearing a blue shirt because of health, or because cancer doesn't run in their family and long life does. These folks go on the away mission to another planet thinking they're safe in their gold or blue shirt.
That's how we all think till God in His mercy preaches the Law into our ears and shows us we're wearing red. The Law's main function is not just showing you that you have red on but you're red to the bone. In other words, the Law shows you not just that you do sinful things but that you are sinful by nature. Birds fly by nature. Fish swim by nature. Leopards are spotted by nature. You're sinful by nature. You're naturally a child of wrath. You're actual sins are the symptoms that show you have the disease death. You can treat the symptoms of sin like you can the symptoms of a cold, but can do nothing to cure the disease. Go ahead; take the red shirt off; you'll just find another underneath, and another, and another.
Right now that red shirt ought to be as itchy as wool against your skin and like a bull's-eye on your back. Jesus knows how you feel. He too wore a red shirt. The high priest, that year, "that year" is important, and we'll come back to it, the high priest Caiaphas put it on Him. While the official ruling council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, was in a quandary about what to do about the Jesus problem, Caiaphas was not. "Put a red shirt on Him."
You have to set this up right. The Jewish rulers didn't deny that Jesus was doing many miraculous signs. They didn't deny He had raised a 4-day dead Lazarus. Then why weren't they amazed? When a character does something miraculous on TV people's jaws drop, they are speechless, they are awed and reverent. Not so in Jesus' life. His divine powers were a problem. "If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and then the Romans will come and take both our place and our nation," they lament.
No jaw dropping, no reverencing, and certainly no worshiping happened of One who could raise the dead, heal the sick, free the demonized. Why? Because the people would believe such a one was the Messiah, not the one God promised but the one popular Jewish opinion expected. A Roman stomping Messiah. One who would set up an earthly kingdom to rule after the manner of King David. This Rome would never tolerate, and when Rome wanted to discipline a nation or a city they were ruthless.
Here's where the footnote about Caiaphas being High Priest "that year" comes into play. High Priests were supposed to be for life. The Romans made it a political appointment. This was agreeable to the liberal Sadducees who took the post on those terms. The group called "chief priests" were all those appointed by Rome to be high priest only to be removed for one reason or another. So Caiaphas is high priest "that year" and just as when a president leaves office when the high priest goes so do all the people he put into power under him. The Sanhedrin sees Jesus as the political messiah the people expected and Rome would not tolerate.
Note their first concern is that Rome would take away their place; the second is they will take away our nation. Rome gave Judea a certain measure of freedom. They paid taxes. They garrisoned troops, but they were allowed to keep their distinctive worship practices and not forced to adopt Rome's pagan ones. But all that was in jeopardy and the distinguished ruling council of the Jews doesn't know what to do. Caiaphas the high priest does. Put a red shirt on Jesus.
You get some idea of the proud man Caiaphas was by the way he announced the solution. "You know nothing at all. Neither do you calculate that it is better that one man should die in place of the people than the whole nation perish." The dilemma that has no solution to the rulers of the Jews is as easy as putting a red shirt on Jesus. What dolts. They knew nothing at all. That's what Caiaphas says, but that's not what the Holy Spirit says. The Sprit tells us that Caiaphas is the one who didn't know what he was really saying. And we don't either unless God tells us.
A red shirt is going to be put on Jesus, but it is His Father who puts it on Him. And the Father put it on Him a long, long, long time ago. Revelation 13:8 says that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain from the foundation of the world. Before Adam and Eve were created, let alone sinned, from the time the foundations of the world were laid, Jesus had the red shirt on. When Adam and Eve sinned, God gave them shirts made from the skin of an animal and it wasn't red. No, already then Jesus had the red one on. Go on let your mind spin. How can Jesus be wearing the red shirt before the Fall, before Mary was born to conceive Him in her virgin womb? God isn't bound by time or space. He sees Jesus in the red shirt from eternity. This is a truth stranger than any science fiction show.
In the 1960's Star Trek, there was usually no rhyme or reason why this particular guy should be cursed with the red shirt. Later Star Trek series and other shows in general would often give you reason to want to see this guy dead. He was a jerk, did things the wrong way, or was boastful. There is no reason on earth that the Father should give His Son the red shirt. He was the perfect Son. The most beloved Son in the world, in the universe. The love you feel towards your imperfect children is nothing at all compared to the love God felt towards His Son.
So why does He get the red shirt from His Father? The Spirit tells us. So He could die for the Jewish nation. Notice Caiaphas had called them the people. This unfaithful, political priest still thinks of the nation of Israel as God's special people. The Spirit knows better. They're no longer the people of God. They're one more gentile, pagan nation. Nevertheless, Jesus was wearing the red shirt for them and for all the scattered children of God.
God is the Father of all people without exception. Malachi 2:10 says, "Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?" Acts 17:26 says, "From one man He made every nation of men." And His children were scattered to the 4 corners of the earth from Babel on, and Jesus from eternity has been wearing the red shirt for every last single one of them. In terms of dying for sins, in terms of suffering under God's wrath to pay for them, the rest of the world was clothed in gold and blue shirts. Only Jesus wore red.
And there is no possible way you could know this unless God tells it to you in the Gospel. Unless He tells you that Jesus wore the red shirt in your place, so His suffering, damning, and dying are in your place, you're going to think the suffering, sighing, and dying that come into your life are because of your sins. You're going to naturally think that you've got the red shirt on. That's why everything goes wrong in your life. It's that blasted red shirt you wear that makes your car not start or crash. It's that awful red shirt that brings sickness and even death into your life. And no matter how you claw, and pull, and rip and tear you can't get that shirt off you.
The Gospel says you have no red shirt on at all. The Gospel says Jesus is the One marked for death in your place, and not just a quick, painless death, but a cruel and unusual one because that's how mad God the Father was at sinners. I said "was" because in the Gospel, all of God's wrath was poured out on the One wearing the red shirt, and it was finished.
Come gather under the One who wears the red shirt. Gather under His cross where you are shielded from the lightening bolts of God's wrath. Gather at the baptismal font where your red shirt, even the one you're born with is washed off of you. Gather around the Words that say, "Be of good cheer, your red shirt has been taken from you; put on this blue one." Gather around this altar where the One wearing the red shirt gives you His Body and Blood as a pledge and promise that you're wearing a gold one.
Star Trek's killing off the red shirted guy led to the coining of the term "redshirt." This is a stock character in fiction that dies soon after being introduced. Jesus is a redshirt who dies from the foundation of the world, not for dramatic effect but so that you and I might live beyond the foundations of the world being destroyed. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday in Lent (20140406); John 11: 45-53