Today we’re going to look at Zechariah’s vision of a cleansing God, a God who makes His people fit for service. So we are at the very end of the Old Testament story. The people of God have been released now from their exile in slavery in Babylon and have gone back to Jerusalem. They have to rebuild the ruins, and one of the instruments for this rebuilding is the prophet, Zechariah. What will he say to his people? What do you say to a bedraggled, discouraged, reduced? A huge task is facing him.
We are going to attempt to grasp the vision, which was given to Zechariah, and then we are going to try and understand its significance. Just before we look at the text, these Israelites who have come back from exile are facing a bigger task than our diocesan mission.
Our diocesan mission is an attempt to influence one-tenth of the people around us so that they might be in Bible-believing churches. But the Israelites, in the day of Zechariah, are going back to the ruins of a city and they are meant to be a light to the world. It could not be a more difficult responsibility. They have nothing to boast of, they are not really fit for global anything. But of course, this is not a problem to God, who is able to do the impossible. He is able to make the world with a word. He is able to populate His nation, or His family, by taking a geriatric couple called Abraham and Sarah. He is able to change the world and even save the world by sending a baby. So this is not a big problem for God, and one of the most remarkable verses in the Book of Zechariah, in Chapter 4:6 says, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.’
A Clear Message to His People
So He has a straightforward message to His people, and it begins in Chapter 1:3, and it goes like this: return to Me. The very first thing you need to do, if you are going to be ready for usefulness, is to return to God. And it may be that there are some people here this morning who need that message first. You have drifted a long, long way,and you need to return. But of course, repenting is only half the answer. Who is going to pay for the guilt?
Imagine that somebody returns to God and they confess that they have made a mess and they have caused the mess. Are they going to be any better when they have confessed their sins? Will they get up from their knees and suddenly find they have answers on how to pay for the past, and also improve the future? Probably not. And that is why Zechariah Chapter 3 is so important. It’s the answer to the question, ‘What will we do about the guilt?’ Chapter 3 is one of eight visions that Zechariah was given, and it looks as though he was given all eight visions on one night. It must have been quite a night for Zechariah.
In the visions, which point to the Messiah, we begin to realise that the solution to the problem is the Messiah. So look with me at the vision: look at Chapter 3:1, ‘Then God showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.’
Zechariah is shown a glimpse of God’s courtroom, and he sees that Joshua is on trial. This is not Joshua, Moses’ number two. This is the name of the high priest who has come out of exile with them. He is the intermediary for God’s people. You can read about him in the Book of Ezra.
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We are now in 520 BC and Zechariah, in this vision, sees his national high priest on trial. And the accuser, Satan (the word ‘Satan’ means ‘accuser’) is there to prosecute, but before the accuser, Satan can say anything, look at Verse 2. The Lord stepped in and said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ In other words, God says, before anything can be said: this Joshua is a rescued man, like all the Israelites, he is a burning stick, snatched from the fire. In other words, God is a God who has chosen His people, and He will not allow them to be condemned.
We then see in Verse 3 that Joshua is dressed in filthy clothes. And so Satan really has good reason to accuse him. Usually, Satan twists the truth, to make his case. But here, Joshua is patently a condemned man. Now this word ‘filthy’ is not the filthy of the football field. It is not as though Joshua has dirt stains and grass stains on his tunic. It’s not the filthy of the workshop. It is not as though Joshua has come in with grease and oil on him. The filthy is a repellent filthy. It is a repugnant filthy. This Joshua is repulsive. He is intolerable. He is not fit for company, let alone the company of God. And the tragedy is that he is meant to be standing before God, representing the people of God, and he is not fit to stand in anybody’s company. And so he is unqualified for the job of being high priest. In fact, he is disqualified for the job, and therefore the people of God have no high priest. They have no middle-man. They have no-one to have access. They have no hope before God. The man who has the best hope of getting help from God has no hope. But God has said that he is snatched from the fire. Nevertheless, he is good for nothing.
A Change of Clothes, from Filthy to Clean
Then we come to the second initiative from God, in Verse 4. And that is that his clothes are to be changed. The angel said, ‘Take of these filthy clothes’ and then you see the real problem: I have taken away your sin. The filthy clothes were a symbol of the sin’, and I will put rich garments on you’. And so Joshua is re-robed, he is re-clothed. And Zechariah the prophet is so excited about this, he calls out, in Verse 5 don’t forget the hat: ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ And so they put a clean turban, part of the high priestly clothing, on his head.
So Joshua, in this vision, has been declared chosen. He has been washed of his sin. And in Verse 6 and 7, he has been given a promise. The Lord says, ‘if you will walk in My ways and keep My requirements, you will govern My house, and you will have charge of My courts.’ In other words, you will be an extremely influential man if you will walk in My ways. So God, you see, has taken the initiative to rescue, to wash, and to commission. And this person represents the people of God, and that’s how the people of God are going to have a hope to be His useful servants.
I want to ask you this question which you, I hope, will be asking and that is this: how does God do this legally? This is a courtroom. God is the Judge. At least He has an angel acting as a magistrate. But it is His courtroom, and if He upholds the moral universe and sin matters and evil has to be paid for, how can He just say,’Let’s forget it.’ Joshua, the high priest, has done filthy things. We ought to be disappointed if God just lets him off. We have done filthy things before God, and there is no way we are going to be just let off. I hope you won’t be a sentimentalist about sin and say, ‘Well, I hope he gets it in the neck, but I hope I get let off with just a little bit of a caution. Once you have broken the rules of the universe, somebody has to pay. I hope you won’t get excited by the idea, or even tolerate the idea, that God, the God of the universe, would just say ‘Let’s forget it’. That seems to be what is happening here.
We read on a little further, and we discover that the reason that God can do what He says is in Verses 8 & 9. And He says, ‘Listen. I am going to bring My servant a branch. I am going to engrave a stone, Verse 9 and I am going to remove the sin of the land in a single day.’
In those Verses 8 & 9, we see the reason that God is able to forgive justly and justly employ people in the Old Testament and people in the New Testament. And it is going to be because of the Messiah. It is going to be because of Jesus Christ. He is the branch. He is the branch from whom the fruit will come. And the branch was predicted in the Old Testament, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Listen, for example, to Jeremiah Chapter 23: the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous branch, a King, who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.’ This branch is Jesus. And this branch, Jesus, sacrificed Himself on the cross and removed the sin of the world in a day. That’s what it says (in Chapter 3 Verse 9) He would do and God is able to pardon all who turn to Jesus and ask Him for cleansing.
When Jesus was on the cross, and He died and called out, ‘It is finished’, He paid the price of the sin of the world that day. And these two phrases, in Zechariah Chapter 3:8 – 9, are pure Gospel – servant… removal of sin. And that is Jesus.
The Stone in the Middle
That is why I say that God is able to pardon His people because justice was done at the cross. Now, what is the stone in the middle, in Verse 9: the stone with the inscription? And you will be disappointed if you think that I can answer that question because I am not sure that I can. It comes in the middle of the good news. It comes somewhere between the servant and the removal of sin… there is this engraved stone. You might say, ‘Well, it’s the stone that goes on the high priest’s turban, the stone which reminds him of his role of a holy people.’
You might say, ‘No. It’s a stone that has to do with the rebuilding of the temple, because that is the big need of the hour, to have the temple built.’ It is hard to be sure. The one thing I think we can be sure of is that it is engraved. I think the safest thing to say, given all the possibilities, is that God is carving His promise and His plan right into the middle of what is happening.
So, at the very centre of salvation, is the written commitment of God. He brings in His Servant. His Servant achieves this forgiveness. And God engraves His Word on it. And when you ask whether the Person and work of Christ have any guarantee about it, the answer is,’Yes. God has given His Word.’ There is nothing more secure in this world than God’s Word.
So great is the outcome. Look at Verse 10. We get a little taste of paradise in Verse 10. ‘In that day, each of you will invite his neighbour, to sit under his vine and fig-tree,’ declares the Lord. When you experience this salvation, you will welcome your neighbour, and you will find yourself in a kind of a new harmony, harmony with the world, in harmony with other people. In other words, it’s a little picture of paradise. So that’s the vision of Zechariah. God is the chooser, the rescuer, the washer, the Saviour.
Now you might think that this is very obvious, but after I had finished preaching at the 8 o’clock service, I said to a man who comes regularly, ‘Does this make sense to you?’ And he said to me, ‘I am striving to be worthy’. Little did he realise that he completely misunderstands Christianity. He continues to think that the way to be a Christian is to work for it. He has not grasped that what is needed is a wash, and a wash we cannot give ourselves. We are filthy, and the only hope we have is that God would wash us, through Jesus. And so somehow, this man who has been coming for years to this Church has never actually taken hold of what the Sunday-school members I suspect mostly grasp, which is that Jesus died for me on the cross, and that is how I can be forgiven and right with God.
‘God the Washer’
This message of Zechariah, which is very simple for most of you, may still be a complete mystery to some of you. But I say again, it’s a picture of God the washer. And that is what we need.
I want to say something about the significance of the vision, because you may say, ‘Well, I know all this. I have been in Church for years, and I do understand.’ I want to give you four great consequences of the vision, and I hope this will be very meaningful to you, at least one of them.
First, to be clean in God’s presence is very necessary. There is no doubt that we are going to stand, one day, in the very presence of God. What will you do on that day? The measure by which we will be measured is God Himself. Do you remember that God said, ‘Be holy, as I am holy.’
Jesus said, ‘You must be perfect. You must be clean.’ We, therefore, have a very great need, and that is how to stand before God, faultless. There are only two ways to stand before God faultless. One is to live a faultless life, and we haven’t done that. And the other way is to stand before God, forgiven. And the way to stand before God, forgiven, is to receive the gift of forgiveness. To be in God’s courtroom one day clean, we need more than our best efforts; we need His wash. If you have returned to Him for that wash, you are half-way there, because the returning is absolutely essential.
The second significant thing is that to be clean in God’s presence is possible. The vision in Zechariah Chapter 3 describes God’s solution in very wonderful terms. God is a God who calls or chooses His people and removes their filth, and He reclothes them. He does this because, at the cross, Jesus took my filth and your filth on Himself, and He offers to us His clothes, His righteousness. There is no other way to stand before God than to take Jesus seriously. And God engraves this message – He records it, He writes it, He inscribes it – so that we might have the knowledge of this wonderful Gospel. And when we belong to Jesus Christ, we have uninterrupted fellowship with Him.
I was going to take a minute to pray. And I was about to pray, but I decided first that I would make a quick phone call. And I made a phone call, and I received a message which I had never heard before (you may have heard this message – it goes like this: ‘Due to temporary service interruption, you cannot be connected to the service you require’). So I put the phone down, and I said to myself, ‘There is nothing I can do. I cannot connect with that person. It is impossible’. And then I thought, ‘Well, I’ll pray’ and it gave me a great new joy to remember that no message comes down from Heaven, which says, ‘Due to a temporary service interruption, you cannot pray’.
It’s a very wonderful thing, isn’t it, that once Jesus Christ has forgiven and brought you into fellowship with God, you have uninterrupted fellowship and prayer with Him for eternity. It’s a very precious thing.
When Paul says, ‘Nothing will separate us’, it’s a very valuable message.
What God Requires of His People
The third significant thing of this vision, however, is that God has requirements of His people. You see He provides for Joshua – He washes him – but then He requires much of Joshua. He provides salvation first; He requires service second. Unfortunately, we are so sinful that we settle, often, for the salvation and then decide that we will live our own way. And this is not impossible for the most sophisticated believer here this morning. Do you not find in your own heart that it is easy to say, ‘I am grateful for the salvation, and now I will also have my own way’.
But look at what God says to Joshua in Chapter 3:7, if you walk in My ways and keep My requirements, then you will have this significant role, God says to Joshua, of representing My people, of enabling them to have access to Me, of enabling them to go forward, of enabling them to get on with the building and the whole process of being a people in the world for Me.
In other words, there is much more at stake than just our own selfish requests and desires. The issue begins with salvation. That is very important, but it goes on to service, and once God calls you to Himself, He has a role for you to play and because He has a role for you to play, He wants you to be faithful.
We need in the Church, saved and Godly people. We need people who are saved and walking faithfully, are zealous for Jesus and are full of life. I wonder whether there are people here this morning, perhaps people who have been around for a long time, and you have received all God’s provision of salvation, but you are not walking in His ways, and you are not keeping His requirements. I want to say to you, if you are saved, do the requirements, because the need of the hour is for a saved and faithful people, so get back to it.
The last thing, which is significant from Zechariah 3, is that the order of Zechariah is absolutely crucial. You don’t get to Verse 10 (that is, paradise) without Verses 8 and 9, which is the Messiah and the work of removing sin. Nobody is going to get into utopia unless they go God’s way, and God’s way is the way of Christ and the cross.
I hope most of you who are over 21 have realised by now that peace and joy of paradise is not going to come when we have the right election. I hope you have realised that you are never going to have peace around the world because we put in all the right leaders, one day. It is just never going to happen.
We have to all learn the lesson of the 21st Century, which is that we can’t solve the problem of human sin, and so we can never set up heaven on earth. We cannot set up heaven on earth, we will never set up heaven on earth. The only way to heaven is through Christ and the cross, and that is why we must, if we are going to do our job faithfully through the Church, keep proclaiming the branch – that is the Messiah, that is Jesus – and we must keep proclaiming the removal of sin, which is Christ crucified. And when people believe that, they are on their way to paradise.
Now God, you see, is so wonderful, that He is able to draw people to Himself. He is able to wash them. He is able to recommission them. He is able to use them. That’s what He did with His people in the Old Testament, and that is what He does with His people today.
The vision that God gave Zechariah is full of significance for all generations, and I want to finish with this one sentence to you: which of the verses of Chapter 3 Verses 1-10 is especially significant for you? Because it will be either that you need to return and be chosen; or it is that you need to rejoice in your washing, remember that you are clean; or you need to walk faithfully in His ways, or you need to help in the proclaiming of the branch and the removal of sin. One of these ten verses will be especially significant to each one of us today.