Exodus 28:1-5 – “The Garments of Faith and the Calling of God”

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen.” -Exodus 28:1-5 (ESV)

Clothes really do make a statement.

When I was an undergraduate student in college, I was a member of my university’s Chamber Choir. Among the various activities of the Chamber Choir was the university’s annual Madrigal Dinners held each year in early December. For many, Madrigals invoke warm feelings of celebrating the Christmas season: familiar and loved Christmas carols that have been part of holiday traditions for centuries, warm and familiar dishes and desserts, and fun moments spent with family and friends celebrating the coming of the Christ child. However, Madrigal dinners also invoke certain other memories in the hearts and minds of those who have participated in them…

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The Madrigal Dinners in which I participated occurred over the course of three nights during December of my sophomore year. At that time, I was serving as a youth minister for a church in my hometown located about 30 miles away from where I was attending college. I commuted back and forth regularly at that time and was accustomed to making the trip on a daily basis. During the 2nd night of Madrigals, towards the end of that evening’s events, I received an unexpected phone call from the pastor I was serving with regarding the family of one of my youth group members. The family had called the pastor to let him know that the young man’s father was having a heart attack and was being taken to the local hospital and to ask that he and I come. After the pastor called me to share the news, I knew I needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Under normal circumstances, it would have been simple to just jump in my truck and drive straight up the interstate to the medical complex. However, because I was participating in Madrigals, there was an unusual and particularly challenging complication…

I was wearing a full face of makeup.

Let me explain. When participating in Madrigal Dinners at the collegiate level, choir members are required by their professors and choral directors to dress in period costume. For men, this requires choir members to wear 16th century hats, shirts, tunics, tights, and shoes. That’s uncomfortable enough. But, to add insult to injury, choir members – including men – are also required to wear stage makeup. The bright lights required for a professional performance in the context of a darkened auditorium or cafeteria have a “bleaching” effect on the folks on stage. To compensate for this and enable the audience to make out who the individuals are on stage and see at least a reasonable level of detail in their faces, Madrigal production teams utilize stage make up (complete with foundation, blush, eye shadow – the whole nine yards) for both men and women. Needless to say, despite the fact that I had a change of clothes with me, after all of the prep work for the show I was in absolutely no state to go out for a pastoral visit at the local hospital.

So, after getting the call, I knew I needed to act fast. Unfortunately, the production team did not have any makeup removing wipes or materials and I knew I would need to get them from another source. Several of the ladies in the choir had already left by the time I got the call and those that remained didn’t have any makeup removing materials with them. I didn’t have enough time to make it back home before getting to the hospital and the minutes were going by fast. So, I then called my Mom and Sister in a panic over what to do to fix my predicament. They suggested I call up an ex-girlfriend of mine who was living on campus and with whom I was on relatively friendly terms at the time. I called her and asked if she had any makeup wipes I could use (imagine getting a phone call like that from your ex-boyfriend…). I’ll just summarize by saying that effort was a bust. So, as I sat in my truck with the seconds ticking by, I gradually resigned myself to the awful reality that I was going to have to go into Walmart in search of make-up removing materials.

Just so you get the picture, at this point, I was dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a button-up, short-sleeved, dark blue shirt, a pair of tennis shoes (because that’s all I had with me to change into at the time)…and a full face of stage makeup. To say that I dreaded the thought of having to go into my college town’s Walmart in this state of dress would be the understatement of the century. But I had no choice – the family had called and asked for me to come. The man was having a heart attack. And I had to get there as soon as possible. It was around 9 o’clock in the evening. Surely, Walmart won’t be that crowded, I told myself. Most of my professors shopped there during the daytime or early evening hours, most of my college friends went at random times during the day and throughout the weekend, and, at that time, I only knew a couple of folks who worked there, so maybe I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. Or so I hoped and prayed… So, I drove to the local Walmart parking lot, took a deep breath to steel myself, got out of my truck, and walked inside.

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What is Murphy’s law again? Yea…. As soon I walked inside the building, the first person I saw was someone I knew – a friend of mine and a fellow accounting major with whom I had classes. Of course. As soon as we saw each other, he not only immediately recognized me and but also immediately recognized my unusual appearance. He smiled, suppressed what I’m sure was his urge to laugh hysterically, and said, “Hey Jake – how’s it going?” I couldn’t even begin to think of how to answer that question under the circumstances. I looked at him and while I tried to form the words to respond, he said [with a grin], “By the way, the makeup’s in the back of the store if you’re looking for some refills!” Bless his heart…

To summarize my mortifying venture through Walmart that evening, the makeup – and makeup removal materials – were, indeed, in the very back of the store. And, in route to the said back of the store, I experienced a virtual reunion with everyone I knew in the city of Williamsburg, Kentucky. In the span of the roughly 15 minutes it took me to get in and out of the store, I saw professors, dorm mates, classmates, staff members, and even a handful of church members from churches in the area I had visited and served as a supply preacher. By the time I got through the check out lane and back to the truck, I was so embarrassed I could barely speak coherent sentences. So much for going incognito…

Now, on to the truck. You need to understand that the truck I drove in college is not the kind of truck you’d commonly see today. There was no slick, shined up Chevy Silverado or Ford F-150. I drove a 1981 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe pickup that I inherited from my paternal grandfather – with nothing custom or deluxe about it. Don’t get me wrong – I loved that truck and was grateful for it. It was my first vehicle I drove after getting my driver’s license. But it didn’t have air conditioning. It didn’t have internal lights. It had what passed for a heater and defroster that required a supplementary plug-in defroster to be able to see out the windshield during the wintertime – or any time it rained a cool rain. It didn’t even have mirrors in the sun visor. Now, connect this with the fact that I had to remove makeup in this vehicle. At, by that time, around 9:15 p.m. at night. In December. In Kentucky…when it gets dark at 6:00 p.m. Also add to that the fact that I didn’t have a smartphone with its convenient built in LED flashlight and I didn’t even have my mag light with me in the truck that night. How on earth was I going to remove the multicolored mess on my face in a situation like this?! And, lest you’re thinking, “Why didn’t he just go back into the store and use the bathroom facility?” – it, too, was in the very back of the store at that time…and I wasn’t about to make another trip in there.

So, I pulled my truck up under the brightest parking lot light I could find and did the best I could using the rear-view mirror in my “custom deluxe” pickup truck…and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. After what seemed like an eternity (more like 5 minutes, but these things always seem substantially longer and more drawn out when you’re stressed and under pressure), I finally had all traces of the stage makeup I could see or detect sufficiently removed and decided that was as good as it was going to get. I shoved all of the materials back into the Walmart bag, threw it over in the passenger seat, put the truck in gear, and drove as fast as legally possible to get from Williamsburg up to the Corbin hospital. I pulled in the parking lot, parked the truck, and made my way to the CCU unit where the family and my senior pastor were waiting.

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I walked in, greeted the family, got an update on how the young man’s father was doing, we all had prayer together, and then we visited and talked for a bit. Some pastors believe in staying no more than 10 minutes during a hospital visitation regardless of circumstance, but in a moment of crisis, I have found over the years that a pastor’s sustained presence can mean a lot to a family in a time like this. It’s less a function of anything the pastor says in those terrifying and stressful moments and far more a function of the pastor’s presence and reminder of Christ’s love and care for a person or family that ministers in those hard times. As we sat talking, I noticed that my pastoral colleague kept looking over at me with a strange expression on his face. The first few times he glanced at me, I remained focused on my conversation with the family. However, after about the 4th or 5th time, I finally looked over at him and asked if everything was okay. He looked back at me with a deeply puzzled expression and said, “Yea. You just look really….pretty….tonight.”

My heart immediately skipped a beat. I stared back at him for a second and realized I probably needed to see what he was talking about. I looked around the room and saw a bathroom over in the corner. I said, “excuse me,” to which he replied – with a barely suppressed laugh – “no problem!” I went into the bathroom and, to my horror, saw immediately what he was talking about. While sitting in the truck in the dungeon-dark parking lot, I had been so eager to get all of the stage makeup off my face that I had forgotten that my face wasn’t the only thing with makeup. I had completely forgotten that I was also wearing stage eye shadow. Bright blue eye shadow. Because that’s what the young lady on the production team who applied it had sworn I needed to go with my hazel-green eye color. And now, standing in the CCU bathroom at the hospital with a family in crisis, I had no makeup removal wipes to help me – and bright blue eye shadow plastered on both eye lids. All I had was a sink, those rough-as-sandpaper brown industrial paper towels from the dispenser on the wall, and a mirror. Once again, I did the best I could, and scrubbed…and scrubbed….and scrubbed some more.

Needless to say, it was a long evening. Also, needless to say, I brought a great deal of needed amusement and lighthearted laughter to a family in crisis that evening as my pastor mused about how he was going to explain his apparent cross-dressing youth pastor to the rest of the church on Sunday morning. Fortunately, I can also add that my youth group member’s father turned out to be okay. Though he did have some serious medical issues going on, he did not experience a heart attack as was originally feared, and his conditions were able to be treated with medicines available at the hospital and the local pharmacy in the days following.

As you might imagine, that experience stands out in my mind for many reasons – not the least of which is that it reminds me that appearances DO matter!

We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s the clothes that make the man.” There is truth in this – and in more ways than we often realize at surface level. Mark Twain once humorously quipped, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”[1] However, there is a little more to the depth of what clothes can convey than simply the absence of nakedness…or stage makeup…

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In Exodus 28, the Lord teaches His people a series of magnificent truths through the appearance – the garments, vestments, and attire – He prescribed for His High Priest. What is revealed in this passage is not simply a fashion statement on the part of God. Rather, it is God teaching His people about His calling, His holy nature, and His ministry in their lives through the symbolism inherent in how He commanded His priests to dress. The garments of the High Priest symbolize a series of vital truths. However, chief among them is the greatest and highest truth of all – that in a coming future day, the Great High Priest – the Lord Jesus Christ – would come to make perfect, complete, and everlasting atonement for all of the people of God.

God is always the true source of calling (v. 1). It was God Himself who called Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. It was not Aaron, or even Moses, who took the initiative in this call. Rather, it was God Himself. There is an important parallel between this truth and the calling of God as He extends it in and to our lives as Christians today. When God calls us, individually, as His servants to a role in His Kingdom’s work, it is He who does the calling. It is God who makes the choice, equips His choice, empowers His choice, and sends His choice. To think of ourselves as the principal actors in the experience of calling is a theological mistake. Calling is, indeed, a two-way street, but we must remember that we are the respondents to God’s call – not the initiators, strategic planners, or executors of the calling of God. In moments of difficulty and challenge in leadership and service, we do well to remember this. We are not in the roles we are in because we chose them – we are there because He chose them and chose us for them.

God’s calling always has a purpose (v. 1). God sees the needs of His people. He knows and understands those needs – and far better than we, ourselves, do. And God responds to those needs. In the context of Exodus 28, God saw the need of spiritual leadership before His people and He moved to provide for that need. The purpose of God’s calling of the priests was to set them apart from the people for His service – to ordain them to serve Him and to serve His people. The Old Testament priests of God were called to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin (Heb. 5:1; 7:27), show compassion for those who had gone astray and needed guidance and instruction (Heb. 5:2), teach the people (Neh. 8:2, 9), serve as the representatives of God before His people (Lev. 6:6-7; 16:30), and to pray and make intercession for the people (Ex. 28:12; Heb. 7:23-25).

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God symbolized His calling with the garments of the High Priest (vv. 2-5). The garments of the High Priest were to symbolize both the nature of God, the nature expected of God’s servants, and the holy task committed unto them. The garments of the High Priest were to stir dignity and honor in the hearts of the people – not just for the one who wore them, but above all, for the One who commanded them! In the verses which follow in Exodus 28, God outlined the requirements for the breast piece, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, and sash of the High Priest and conveyed before His people what these vestments were to represent concerning Him, His High Priest, and the ministry which the High Priest was called to fulfill.

While the garments of the High Priest had particular and symbolic meaning in the context of the Mosaic Law and the Old Testament sacrificial system, they foreshadow the garments and vestments which Christians are to wear today. However, unlike the physical garments outlined in Exodus 28, the spiritual garments of the Christian are not made of earthly materials – wool, yarn, linen, gold, and the like. The garments of the Christian are the garments of faith!

The believer is to put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).

The believer is to put on the new man – the new nature and new creation we become in Christ (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

The believer is to put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:11).

The believer is put on the armor of light (Ro. 13:12).

The believer is to put on love (Col. 3:14).

The believer is to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3:12).

And, finally, the believer is to put on incorruption and immortality by the power of Christ (1 Cor. 15:53-55).

Why this attire of faith? It is this attire of faith which empowers, enables, and impels us to serve the Lord and His people. No firefighter can enter a burning building without the fire suit necessary to equip and protect him to save lives. No surgeon can enter the operating room without the proper scrubs necessary to maintain sterility and cleanliness in the surgical environment. No diver can engage in sustained exploration of the ocean’s mysteries without the proper SCUBA gear. And no Christian can expect to successfully march forth to do ministry in a lost, dying, and hostile world without the attire of faith which God has given and commanded of us to bear.

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The greatest privilege in all the world is to be called by God to serve Him and to serve His people. And this greatest of privileges is extended to every follower of Christ! We are called to serve in different ways, in different stations and roles, and in different contexts across His Kingdom’s work. But, gloriously and graciously, we are all called to serve. And, by God’s grace, we are all equipped to serve as we follow His commands in putting on the spiritual garments of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel which makes it possible for us to know, love, worship, and serve God. And it is the Gospel which motivates, guides, and compels us in serving God’s people.

Yes, indeed – the clothes really do make the man.

[1] Mark Twain, “Mark Twain Quotes,” Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/12946-clothes-make-the-man-naked-people-have-little-or-no

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