Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – Zechariah
“Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’” Zechariah 3:3-5a
This is like a courtroom scene similar to that in Job with the Adversary standing before the Lord accusing Joshua, who is the priest that represents all of God’s chosen ones. In the previous verse Zechariah mentions that Joshua is “a burning stick snatched from the fire”, and this burning stick is also mentioned in Amos 4:11. The fire is a metaphor for the exile from which the people of God had been snatched out of by the grace, mercy and love of God. The filthy clothes represent the basis for the devil’s accusations – the people of God have been in sin.
So, the question is raised: if Joshua the high priest was unclean, who could make atonement for sin? If he could not make atonement, how could the people be forgiven? The Lord gives the answer in verse four. By His grace the Lord made Joshua fit for service, or clean from his sin, by giving him a new garment. Granted, the Lord made provision within the law for the priests, who were sinners like everyone else to be made clean or fit for service, but what has happened here to Joshua also pointed to the need for a complete and permanent purification within the priesthood which would only occur in Christ.
There are a number of amazing references to Christ within the Book of Zechariah; and with Joshua, whose name means savior, being the high priest, we see a comparison to Jesus, whose name is also Savior and He is our perfect High Priest. I should remind you that this Joshua isn’t the Joshua, the leader of the Israelites after Moses, but Joshua the high priest mentioned in Haggai.
Instead of going into depth about the prophecies of Zechariah and the historical context, I’ll just say at this point that Zechariah is – as was Haggai – a post-exilic (after the exile) prophet, and while Haggai spoke primarily about finishing the building of the temple, Zechariah pertains to encouraging God’s people about the welfare of Jerusalem and its long-term future.
But what I want to briefly discuss here is the beautiful image we see in this story of our salvation by grace alone. In general, humans – but especially Americans because of our original hardworking Puritan work ethic – like to feel responsible or at least that they contribute in whatever they have benefitted from. In this case, if we are told and somehow are convince that we really are sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation, we will do whatever we can ‘make things right’. We may give lip service to the biblical verses that speak of our forgiveness and salvation as being a ‘gift from God’, but we eventually still do ‘what we can’ to be better people, stop certain ‘bad behaviors’, work hard at doing good things, and basically assist the Lord in forgiving and saving us.
But of course, the moment we try to add anything to grace (God’s free, undeserved, unmerited, unearned favor), we cancel out grace. Anything added to grace will completely obliterate grace – it will no longer be grace. So, what the Lord is showing us here in this story about the high priest Joshua and the Adversary, is that the Adversary is correct in his charge against Joshua – the Jews – and all people – of treason – of sin – sin that separates us from the Lord and disqualifies us from being the high priest (in Joshua’s case) or from being a redeemed child of God who will forever eat at His table as one of His children.
But the Lord doesn’t leave us helpless and defensive and guilty before the accusations of the Adversary and the Holy Judge of all the earth – God Almighty. God Himself takes off – removes – eradicates – Joshua’s filthiness – his sin. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ by God’s grace and His grace alone, He takes away our old sinful nature and nails it to the cross with Christ (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11-12; Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a). He literally ‘takes off our filthy garment of sin’, and He takes it off Himself, with no help from us.
And the Lord doesn’t leave us ‘naked’ without a covering! Not only does He take away our sinful nature, He also covers us with the righteousness of Christ. We are now clothed in Christ. We are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3); our ‘robes have been washed white in the blood of Christ (Revelation 7:14); we have put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12); we have ‘put on Christ’ (Galatians 3:27), and on and on it goes.
Again, this isn’t a righteousness that has come to us because we have worked hard for it; deserve it because we are so good; or merited it because of our family background; or that we helped the Lord by “accepting” the gift. Two of the most powerful – and neglected – verses in the Bible that speak of how we come to faith are:
John 1:12-13 (Christians love verse twelve, but they stop and don’t read the entire sentence, which is verse thirteen):
“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God –
13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human
decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Oh yes indeed, we have to ‘receive’ Him, and we have to ‘believe in His name”, but we neglect to notice that verse thirteen tells us how it DIDN’T happen: “….children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will…”. So then, how were we enabled (and that’s a great word – just read John 6:44, 65) to ‘receive’ and ‘believe’? The end of verse thirteen clearly tells us: ‘…but of God.’ We come to faith by God’s doing.
Then we have Romans 9:16 –
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort,
but on God’s mercy.
Once again, it (our election to salvation – just read all of chapter nine!) does NOT depend on man’s desire (for we DON’T desire to be saved on our own) or effort (as much as you may try to earn your salvation), but we are saved, called, elected to salvation by God’s mercy. The verse before this one – verse 15 – says that the Lord will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He will have compassion on whom He will have compassion. And then a few verses later – verse eighteen – Paul adds a bit more flavor to God’s electing grace when he says, ‘Therefore, God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.’ Wow! That’s pretty clear. It is the Lord who decides to show mercy, so we don’t work for it at all.
So, when the angel of the Lord tells another angel to take off Joshua’s obviously soiled and dirty garment (his spiritually dead and rebellious spirit) and put a clean turban on him, this clearly shows the Adversary that he has no more say in how Joshua is treated. God has made him clean before Him according to His good pleasure and ability. And the Father has done the same to you and I if we have come to faith in Christ. He has taken out our heart of stone and given us a living heart (Ezekiel 336:26-27) – Christ’s heart – Christ’s righteousness – Christ’s Spirit – so the Adversary has no hold on us any longer. We’ve been born again – born anew – and if any man or woman be in Christ they are a new creation; the old is gone, behold all has become new! Thank the Lord for His truly amazing grace.