These 3 T-Shirts Tell the Story of Easter Past and Present

You don’t have to wear them, just believe

This is a tale of three T-shirts. A shirt my sister gave me in high school. A shirt my first husband wore when I met him. A shirt my daughter is wearing for Easter. Three shirts, three messages, one Savior. Jesus Christ.

T-shirt No. 1: ‘I’m a whosoever’

If smartphones had existed in 1980, I might have a digital image of myself wearing a gift from my sister Trish.

The gift was a baseball style T-shirt with purple raglan sleeves. On the back where my name might have gone was the phrase, “I’M A WHOSOEVER.” Back in the 1980s, T-shirt stores in the mall allowed you to custom design shirts using decals and letters. Trish’s customization was a nod at John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (King James Version)

(The church we attended called the King James Version not KJV but AV — for “Authorized Version” of Scripture. Hence, “whosoever” instead of other versions’ “whoever.”)

A re-creation of the shirt, with a little help from Photoshop (Image by Sara Dagen).

When I entered high school that year, the trend of having a camera on hand to capture moments in images whenever the mood struck didn’t exist. So I don’t have a photo of me wearing that conversation-opener T-shirt, but I can see it in my mind.

The absence of photos was a family standard — at least the absence of photos of me in my early years — so much so that my siblings told me that I was adopted — and I believed them. My mother refuted their story, explaining she had taken photos galore, just never developed them.

(She said she had kept rolls of film in a bag in the refrigerator for safekeeping. This was before we had digital cameras and had to purchase and develop film — a costly affair that my family couldn’t afford.)

Somehow, all those rolls were trashed — and evidence of the young Sara with them. Personally, I’d always thought that since I was the youngest of five children, the novelty of childhood had worn off, and my parents felt no need to capture little old me.

Or I was adopted.

Now I realize I am adopted. Not into my truly biological family. (I mean, seriously, my mother and my two sisters all had my voice! I can speak to someone who doesn’t know me but knows my sister or Mom and that person will know that I’m related.) Physically, I wasn’t adopted. But spiritually, I am adopted into God’s family.

If I wore my “whosoever” shirt at all during high school, it was to please my sister, to express thanks to her for the gift she had given me, but I was a little embarrassed to wear it, to explain what “I’m a whosoever” meant. My high school self didn’t have the confidence to pull off a “conversation starter” T-shirt about Jesus.

John 3:16 is the summation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of Jesus for our world. God loved the world. God gave his only Son Jesus. The verse indicates that “whosoever” believes in Him will have eternal life, but it doesn’t capture the suffering Jesus experienced to give us that opportunity.

T-shirt No. 2: Isaiah 53

When I met my first husband, Bill, on a summer missions project with Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru), he wore a sports-like T-shirt that had “Isaiah” where a name would have gone and “53” as the number.

A photo illustration of Bill’s shirt. (Image by Sara Dagen)

Isaiah 53 is an Old Testament Bible passage that looks forward to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The chapter shares the details about His death on a cross before Jesus was even born. And, more important, it tells how His suffering and death pays the iniquity for our sins. Here’s part of Isaiah 53 in the English Standard Version:

"He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all ...
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 ... because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors."
(From BibleGateway)

Unlike me, Bill wore his shirt confidently, boldly, as I might have done if I had been surrounded by a group of Christians, brothers and sisters, fellow adoptees of Jesus Christ.

(Granted, people might have thought his name was Isaiah and his number 53. I don’t think anyone thought my name was “I’m a whosoever.”)

John 3:16 is rather like the Christmas part of the Gospel message: God gave His only Son. Isaiah 53 points to the Easter part of the Gospel message: Jesus suffered and died on the cross for you and me. All of us have sinned and the Bible indicates that sin earns death. We have a death penalty.

Jesus, “the righteous one” indicated in Isaiah 53:11, hadn’t earned a death penalty. He chose to die for our sin. John 3:16 says we can each choose to be a “whosoever” — believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life.

Are you a “whosoever”?

T-shirt No. 3: Jesus is King

This Easter — as we celebrate #AloneTogether during #COVID-19 — my daughter sent me an image of a T-shirt she got from church. She’s hosting a Facebook group for watching our church’s online service for Easter, and the shirt was both a gift and a way for her to share that message.

This Easter logo — a mix of a kingly crown, the “crown of thorns” Jesus wore on the cross, the dripping of the paint mimicking Christ’s blood poured out for us — was part of my pastor’s original message series titled “Seven Words from the Cross,” in which he intended to explore the seven messages Jesus spoke as he was crucified.

My daughter’s T-shirt: Jesus is King. (Photo by Laura Wally)

Today’s Easter message was to be the final in that series in the largest indoor venue in our city. The coronavirus interrupted the original series; my pastor, instead, has preached “You Can’t Cancel Church” and other topics with various encouragements for us to be the church as God intended as we worship God #AloneTogether.

It strikes me that today — though his original sermon series didn’t happen — that his Easter message will take place in the largest indoor venue in our city: all of our individual homes. It isn’t limited to our city, either; people all over the world may participate in today’s online service.

One of my interns and I exchanged some chat messages in Microsoft Teams on Friday.

“Happy Good Friday!” he said to me when he started his shift.

I had taught him at a Christ-centered Christian school both in Algebra and in AP English courses. It has been a delight to have a fellow believer work as an intern at the university where I now work. As we neared 5 p.m. on Friday, I sent him this message:

“Have a blessed Easter, despite not being able to get to church. It will be weird, as we aren’t having a family get together or anything. However, HE IS RISEN anyway!”


Today is an odd Easter Sunday. I didn’t attend sunrise service. I won’t busy myself making food or cleaning house or hiding eggs. I won’t gather with my family.

But I will participate in church online and, personally, reflect on what Jesus did for me.

I think of those three T-shirts today. The John 3:16 “whosoever” shirt reminds me of what God sacrificed — His own and only Son — so that I might have eternal life. The Isaiah 53 shirt reminds me what Jesus suffered — a torturous death on the cross — in my place. He paid the death penalty for me.

My daughter’s T-shirt — my church’s Easter logo — pictures the triumph of Jesus on the cross. Yes, it was a place of suffering. His crown of thorns, intended to mock him as “the king of the Jews,” added to his agony — that day.

But the logo — sprayed in gold — shows more than thorns and suffering. It pictures a crown a king might wear. How apt.

Jesus is King. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Easter 2022

Today I am giving this blog post a new title and again sharing it on social media — and turning it into a podcast, too, as Sara’s Shorts. I had read through this post and thought the message of the three T-shirts was worth sharing again.

Yesterday, my son, his wife, my youngest grandson, and I went to visit my daughter’s farm — where she has four newborn lambs (and chickens, pigs, and donkeys). Today, we’ll gather on our plot of land and enjoy an egg hunt and a meal together.

Covid has reached the endemic stage — simply part of our lives, but no longer a paralyzing part. I am thankful.

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