Grace’s Justifying Righteousness
In his commentary on the prophet Zechariah, Richard Phillips writes, ‘There is a great problem that stands in the way of every utopian dream. It corrupts our every program, condemns all our plans, and confounds all our promises.’ What is that problem? The problem is sin. He continues, ‘Sin is the infection that contaminates mankind and corrodes our every vision and destroys our every hope. Sin is also the guilt that mars our splendor, like graffiti on a newly painted wall, or like a new garment that is dragged through an open sewer.’
The problem of sin affects not only man’s program, but also God’s. God, too, has a program. He has plans, he has made promises, and if he is going to fulfill them he is going to have to deal with our sin. This is what we find in the situation of the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem in Zechariah’s time. God had providentially placed a friendly ruler on the Persian throne and brought them back to the holy city. In the visions the prophet has received so far, God has spoken of rebuilding, of returning in his glory, and of gathering the nations. It would be the achievement of all that Israel was ever meant to be. But, as we turn to this passage in Zechariah 3:1-5, we find that God has to contend with the great problem of Israel’s (and our) sin. Even God cannot ignore or brush aside sin, but must find a solution if his plan is to come true.
The problem of Israel’s (and our) sin is symbolized in this vision by a man named Joshua, who was high priest at that time. This Lord’s Day we will consider how the Lord clothes this high priest in new clothes and what this means for us today.
The NT explains what happened when Christ came and took up the cross: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus took our filthy rags and put them on himself, receiving in our place the punishment those sins deserve. Christ says to all who believe, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you.’ As Paul explains, “He forgave us all our sins…he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14). This is Christ’s reply to Satan’s accusations. And when our consciences receive Christ’s testimony in faith, Satan has nothing left to say against us. Phillips then relates this account of Luther to remind us of this truth.
A black spot on the wall of a castle in Germany bears eloquent testimony to this truth. Wartburg Castle is where Martin Luther was taken for refuge after his heroic stand at the Council of Worms. Luther was immensely productive during this period, but he also felt himself suffering at the hands of the devil. He wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon on May 24, 1521, abut a spiritual depression he had experienced, one in which he dreamed that Satan appeared with a long scroll on which his many sins were written with care, each of them read out one-by-one. All the while Satan mocked his pathetic desire to serve God, assuring him that after all he would end up in hell. Luther writhed in spiritual agony until, at last, he jumped up and cried: ‘It is all true, Satan, and many more sins which I have committed in my life which are known to God only; but write this at the bottom of your list, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’’ Then grasping an inkwell from his table, Luther threw it at the devil who thus fled, leaving the black spot on the wall that bears testimony to his deliverance still.
This is how we should reply to our fears, to our sense of guilt, and to the accusations of the devil: with the blood of Christ that says to us, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you.” Join us Sunday morning as we consider “Grace’s Justifying Righteousness” from Zechariah 3:1-5.
On Sunday February 3 we will have a luncheon immediately following our morning service. The church will provide the meat, drinks and dinnerware, and we ask you to bring the sides and desserts. Please make plans now to join for this time of fellowship.
Grace upon Grace,