Thursday, November 10, 2005

Zechariah 3, part 1: We're free from accusation because God has chosen us

Upon a wall in the Wartburg Castle in Saxony, Germany, is an infamous ink spot where, according to legend, Martin Luther hurled an inkwell in an argument with the devil. Luther said he had a dream in which Satan unfurled a scroll upon which were written all of his life's misdeeds, for which he stood eternally guilty before God's holiness and justice. In a 1521 letter to Philip Melancthon, Luther wrote: "I do see myself insensible and hardened, a slave to sloth, rarely, alas!--praying, unable even to utter a groan for the Church, while my untamed flesh burns with devouring flame."* Accused and attacked by Satan, Luther knew the depths of his sin and unworthiness before God. He knew he deserved the flames of hell.

The reality of wrath and anger as the outflowing results of offenses to God's holinesswere perhaps even better known to the community of Jews returning from the exile, to whom Zechariah preached. Their infidelity to God's covenant had resulted in bloody slaughter, the tearing open of pregnant women, being skinned alive, and even famine so bad that people ate their own children. In the first three night visions given to Zechariah recorded in 1.7 - 2.13, God reassures his remnant of his love and his exceeding passion for them. He is sovereign and aware of their plight and will by no means leave wrongs undone. The day of his glorious return to his people is coming. But how can an unworthy people possibly be met favorably by the God of glory? They knew his manifest presence in the temple was dependent upon holy sacrifices offered by consecrated priests (Ex 29.44-46; 38.28; Lev 16.21). But what happens when even the priestly mediators are now grossly defiled? Is there any hope for man?

The fourth night vision comes like a healing salve. The high priest Joshua ("Yahweh is salvation"), whom we will see more fully in chapter six, is seen standing before God in "filthy" garments. The Hebrew word here is related to the words referring to human excrement and vomit. Such is the vile stench of the priesthood's sin before God! The Accuser (Heb. satan) stands beside him to point out his every shameful deed to God, and rightly so (cf. Rev 12.10).

But look! God doesn't nod in assent or wag a judging finger. No, he says, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" Oh, what beauty is in these words! For God is not against such sinners, but he is for them! Why? First, we see God has "chosen Jerusalem." Mercy to the uttermost will be shown upon filty Jerusalem because of God's election. Wherever goodness and mercy flow, they must come from a Source, whose decision to release them must always be prevenient. Because God's mercy rests upon his choice and not our cleanness--"God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5.8)--we can therefore rejoice along with Paul in saying, "If God is for us, who is against us? ... Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?" (Rom 8.31, 33-34).**

Second, we hear God say that Jerusalem is a "brand [a burning stick] plucked from the fire." The sovereign God who holds the nations in his hands never planned to totally consume the remnant of the Jews, but rather to refine and purify them for service (esp. the priesthood; see Mal 3.3) and turn them back to himself from their bankrupt pursuits (Zech 1.1-6). We who trust in Christ alone have the same assurance: God "has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Ths 5.9). We can never know for sure why painful trials come in our lives, but we can know they are not for judgment; rather, they always come to cause us to fall upon our Lord in helplessness and in need of his abudant mercies.

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*As found in Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Preacher's Commentary, Vol. 23: Micah - Malachi (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992, 330).
**On vv. 1-2 John Calvin writes: "Let us therefore know, that God is not simply the enemy of Satan, but also one who has taken us under his protection and who will preserve us safe to the end. Hence God, as our Redeemer and the eternal guardian of our salvation, is armed against Satan in order to restrain him. The warfare then is troublesome and difficult, but the victory is not doubtful, for God ever stands on our side.
"But we are at the same time reminded, that we are not to regard what we have deserved in order to gain help from God; for this wholly depends on his gratuitous adoption. Hence, though we are unworthy that God should fight for us, yet his election is sufficient, as he proclaims war against Satan in our behalf. Let us then learn to rely on the gratuitous adoption of God, if we would boldly exult against Satan and all his assaults. It hence follows, that those men who at this day obscure, and seek, as far as they can, to extinguish the doctrine of election, are enemies to the human race; for they strive their utmost to subvert every assurance of salvation" (John Calvin, from his commentary on Zechariah-Malachi located at http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol30/htm/TOC.htm.)



1 comment:

Robin said...

Drew! Can you let me know what your email address is? For some reason, I can't find it! Thanks!! LOVE hearing about all your adventures!