In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On Ash Wednesday, we heard from our God that He does not remember our sins against us. He did not leave His people in exile in a foreign land, nor does He leave us in the self-imposed exile of our sin. Tonight we hear about the high priest Joshua. Other than the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Joshua was one of the two main people in Jerusalem after the exiles returned from Babylon. The other was the governor Zerubbabel, to whom Yahweh says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says [Yahweh of the heavenly armies]” (Zechariah 4:6, ESV).
Zechariah, as we found out last week, means “Yahweh remembers.” Tonight, as we hear the words of the prophet Zechariah, we look in on the fourth of Zechariah’s eight visions: Joshua the high priest is standing before the Angel of Yahweh, and the Accuser is there to accuse Joshua before Yahweh. This is the same Accuser who—as we heard on Sunday—tried to tempt the Lord in the wilderness of Judea. We are not told what Satan has against Joshua, but it is clear that Jerusalem is not worthy of the God of creation, nor is Joshua worthy of the high priesthood. How can God dwell in this broken-down city? Who is Joshua to stand in the most holy place before Yahweh Himself? The work on the temple would not be completed for another four years, and it was nothing like the temple Solomon had built. As the book of Ezra records: “[M]any of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid” (Ezra 3:12, ESV).
And this Joshua, the new high priest for the returned exiles, is clothed in filthy rags. How can he compare with the richly robed Aaron (Exodus 28) or the zealous Phinehas (Numbers 25:1-13)? The Accuser has more than enough ammunition to use against Jerusalem and her high priest. But Yahweh has chosen. “[Yahweh] rebuke you, O Satan! [Yahweh] who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2, ESV)? Satan, you may not bring accusations against the chosen ones of Yahweh, whom He has kept for Himself out of the fire of His judgment.
But what are you, what am I, compared with the holy Joshua? The Accuser would have a field day with us. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6, ESV). My righteous deeds! Your good works! Shredded garments, like wilted fig leaves, covered in the filth of false motives. The best things you have ever done won’t cover you as you stand before Yahweh. Oh, but we know the Law of God, and surely we won’t be judged like the murderer and the rapist! Think again: “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4, ESV)?
O people of God, clothed in rags, repent! You and I stand in the presence of Yahweh, and we are rightly accused. Like Joshua, our only response can be the silence of shame. But Yahweh has rebuked the Accuser with saving action. Hear the Messenger of Yahweh, the Word of God Himself, begin to speak: “Remove the filthy garments from him” (Zechariah 3:4, ESV). Remove her guilt and shame. Remove the stain of his sins. The Messenger of Yahweh stands near, who has taken all the accusation on Himself. To you He says, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (ibid.). “I will bring my servant the Branch,” the new Shoot, the Dawn of Redemption (Zechariah 3:8). Yahweh has indeed brought Him; the Branch of Jesse, Son of David, has come. Like Joshua, there is a stone for you, and it bears the graven inscription of the holy Son of God. “I will engrave its inscription, declares [Yahweh of the heavenly armies], and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day” (Zechariah 3:9, ESV).
And so He has. A single day—a good Friday—and all iniquity is buried in a hole in the ground, never to rise again (cf. Zechariah 3:9 in the Septuagint). On that Day, you and your contaminated clothing were in the mind of Jesus; He remembered you, and it was your name engraved on His hands with iron nails.
Beloved, we have a High Priest without sin, and He goes into the most holy place with our names engraved on His heart (Exodus 28:29). He brings us before His Father in regular remembrance (Exodus 28:29; Romans 8:35; Hebrews 7:25). “[W]hen Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV). A great multitude, who will stand before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes (Revelation 7:9). And He will not forget you. Thus says Yahweh through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/7/17