Dressed In His Righteousness Alone
If you will take your copy of God’s word and turn with me to Zechariah Chapter 3 this morning. I have been spending some study time with this prophet as I’m sure you can tell and I will say that there are a lot of these good little Gospel kernals here. I want to start by reminding you of the historical context of our passage and then we will read Zechariah’s prophecy together.
You will remember from Palm Sunday, that the Nation of Judah had been led out into Babylonian captivity for well over a generation. They have come back now from Babylon to Jerusalem to a city and a temple that has been torn down and destroyed. They are the vassals of a foreign pagan and under his burden and call. Zechariah has been given these visions. They have been narrowing in thier clarity and scope, and now we see that God’s message to the people is this: you are opposed, but I have come to give you my righteousness. Let’s read and pray together.
This is a very intense scene isn’t it? We have Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, who we know is just a pre-incarnate Jesus; and immediately we see that Satan has come to accuse Joshua of his sins. He comes to God’s court to accuse Joshua and to challenge his standing before God. Our lives are sit with the undercurrent of spiritual warfare. We may not see it as such. In fact there are two great errors that we must tightrope. The first is to never acknowledge the spiritual reality that is around us. It is to pretend that Satan is not prowling about. It is to deny the unseen evil that lurks about us. On the other hand, we also err when we hyper focus on these things; when we find devils in every flat tire and satan in every spilled cup of coffee. But our text this morning does not give us the room to do this. We are confronted with the reality that we are constantly assaulted with accusations from him.
This is the greatest threat to you and I this morning. Not an ongoing virus,as real as it is. Nor is it social theories or political persuasions. It is not economic ruin or global war. No the greatest threat to us is that Satan would come to torment and accuse us. You may have experienced this personally. There have been times in my life that I have thought about past sins or current sins, and instead of confessing them to God, Satan has come to show them to me and to leave me to wallow in guilt and shame. He comes to us and says “Nobody sins like you do. If you were really a child of God, you wouldn’t have done this. What about your sins ten years ago? Remember what you did then?
And this is what is so dangerous about his accusations. They’re true. He is a liar, but in this moment he does not need to. Joshua stands before God in these putrid filthy robes. These are not just robes that have not been washed or maybe have a mustard stain on the front from lunch. The word for filthy here is also associated with excrement. And Joshua is covered from head to toe. This is how vile our sin is before God. We are not just in need of a handwashing. We do not merely just “smell like the outside” as my grandma would say. We are nauseating before him. We are disgusting in our sins.
So Satan does not have to lie. He does not have to invent false charges to condemn us. The accusations from Satan are often times true. He is a cruel little tyrant; tempting us with the part time pleasures of sin and then whacking us over the head with the hammer of the very sin he tempted us with. He promises us a false joy and then bring only doubt. I’ve been there, in a dorm room alone with my sins laid before me and questioning in my heart “Am I really forgiven? Has God really forgiven me of this sin?” This is the the devils aim in our hearts, to cause us to doubt the mercy and grace of God.
But notice first the defense from the accuser. This is what the angel of the Lord says to Satan,“The Lord rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire” This is Christ’s message to our accuser, “This one is mine. The Lord rebuke you Satan, you don’t get to bring a charge against my elect. These are sins that I paid for.”
He grounds this rebuke in his election and salvation. The angel says to the Accuser, “the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!” We can take up hope in our being among the elect of God. God did not call his people out of bondage from Egypt only to leave them to die in the wilderness. He did not rescue them from the Babylonian captivity back to Jerusalem only to abandon them in Zechariah’s time. And he does not free us from the bondage of sin and the devil to merely leave us here open to guilt and shame.
Peter tells us “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
We affirm this often when we use the Heidelburg Catechism “that I am not my own but belong unto my faithful savior Jesus Christ. Who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and redeemed me from all the power of the devil.”
So then dear Christian, when the devil comes to you with past sins and even present ones, remind him: they have all been paid for by Jesus Christ. As Luther said, “When the devil calls you a sinner, he does you a great savior-because Christ died for sinners” When Satan comes with his long list of sins and failures, hear the glorious victory declared to you by Christ: it is finished! Your sins are forgiven. You have been bought by Christ and the long list of charges against you have been paid for by him. When Satan accuses you, take heart, for Christ has come to your defense.
But second, see what Christ does for us.
And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5 And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.
God sees Joshua in his filthy condition and commands those in attendance to remove the robes from him and says to him “I have removed your inquity from you, and I will put pure clothes on you now. Zechariah is overcome and interjects “Dont forget the turban!” The priests would wear these pure vestments when ministering and the turban was the piece that tied it together. It has written on it “Holy to the Lord”, and as these angels are obeying we see that Joshua now stands before God holy and clean.
So then we see that God does not merely just declares our sins forgiven. We are not just merely paid for. The debt is not just merely forgiven. But also, God removes our iniquity and filthiness and clothes us in His holiness and purity.
But we should notice, the angel of the Lord does not tell Joshua to remove the garment from himself. He does not tell Joshua to rid himself of the iniquity. It is the angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ who does this. Nor does Joshua get his robes cleaned. Those are stripped away and burned. The text reads “I have taken your iniquity away” and “I will clothe you in pure vestments”
So then the good news for you this morning is that, if you’re like me, you can stop trying to clean yourself up for God to make you righteous. You can stop trying to make your efforts and your self justification the means by which God takes delight in you. It is God who bears away our sins. It is Christ who takes away our iniquities. But also notice, that God also says to Joshua, “I will clothe you with pure vestments.” It is not just as if Joshua had never been wearing robes, but rather he gives him the robes of the holy ones.
So then you are free- free from those who say that you must pull yourself up by the bootstraps and white knuckle your forgiveness. You are free from those having to perform. Free from the sin that has clung to you. Christ takes our sin and we receive his righteousness. We are seen just as if we had never sinned and just as if we had always obeyed. The righteousness of Christ is imputed or given to us. It is not our own that we grow like a plant in the sunlight. Rather it is Christ’s active obedience given to us.