Thursday, November 17, 2005

Zechariah 3, part 2: God will remove guilt in a single day

As we've seen in my last post on Zechariah's 4th vision, God has spoken in favor of Joshua and Jerusalem in spite of his utter wretchedness. He now, the symbol of the priesthood through whom all Jerusalem could enter into God's presence, gains hope through hearing these words. How could his heart help but burn within him upon hearing God speak of his gracious approval (v. 2)? Yet his head still hangs low as he stands before the altar in service to God. When this vision was preached in February 519, Haggai had already delivered a stinging rebuke of the priesthood months before (Hag 2.10-14). Will God accept him and his offerings? He is still dirty and helpless.

But God comes and removes his filthy garments, saying to him, "See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you in festal robes." The priesthood has been restored! The hands of God have removed his guilt and clothed him in bright white, in new robes radiant with the splendor reserved for God's own attendants in the heavenly courts. Ah, such grace! We who are equally powerless and defiled have our sins washed away by Christ's blood and are wrapped in pure garments, those of Christ himself, in whom we are hidden before God (Is 1.18; Rev 7.14).

The priesthood has been restored. There is gracious renewal. These are the words of God, the defining characteristics of his actions in history. Is it a wonder that the Bible only contains two chapters on creation, one on the fall, and two on recreation? Everything in between is the story of his redemptive work in history in spite of man's failures.* And here the priesthood is restored: now right sacrifices can be made, paving the way for the God of glory to again dwell with his people (cf. Ex 29.44-46). Hope springs anew for the people of God in light of his incredible mercies.

But sinful, human priests can offer only the blood of goats and calves, which can never fully atone for man's sin (Heb 10.11). If the scope of God's forgiveness and reconciliation are to be in accord with his revealed nature, there must be something better to come. Isaiah spoke of a servant, a tender shoot, who would come and bear Israel's iniquity (52.13 - 53.12). Those words of his were focused on things yet to come. And here God again calls his people toward a blessed future hope: "Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you [the other priests]--indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring My servant the Branch. For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes [or facets]. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it ... and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.

Joshua, the now-"sinless" mediator, points ahead toward God's servant, the Branch. But just who is he? Walter Kaiser points out how all four occurrences of the Branch (Heb. tsemah) correspond with the portraits of Jesus of Nazareth in each of the four Gospels: tsemah as King (Jer 23.5; Matthew); tsemah as Servant (Zech 3.8; Mark); tsemah as fully Man (Zech 6.12; Luke); and tsemah as fully God (Is 4.2; John).** And he is also a stone (cf. Ps 118.22-23; Dan 2.35, 45) with seven facets, which could easily represent either the sevenfold Spirit given to the Messiah (a 'shoot' and a 'branch') in Is 11.1-2, or it could be a poetic representation of the completeness of the coming Messiah in whom is no deficiency. He is wholly competent to save, something Paul is quick to point out in his letter to the Colossian church.

History has revealed that this Branch has been fulfilled in the King of the Jews, the Son of Man and of God, who came to serve and to give his life as a bloody ransom for many. In his death upon barren Golgotha, he bore in his own body the guilt of God's chosen ones, his Jerusalem (Zech 3.2). He now gives us the fulfilled promise of acceptance by God in spite of being lifelong sinners. The removal of guilt and shame in that seems implausible in man's eyes, both to the remnant returning from exile and to us, has taken place and is a true offer to all to be received by faith (Rom 3.25-26). Through Christ, our great and enduring high priest, our sins have been taken away for all time (Heb 10.12).

This gospel leads us to live out our duties to God and to others (and is not the latter inseparable from the former?) "in view of God's mercy" (Rom 12.1, NIV). Christian living in holiness and obedient service to God must always be preached as the result of God's grace toward us, not the other way around. Notice how the charge to Joshua (v. 7) comes after God's forgiveness of him. Anything else is deadly moralism, which benefits us none.

Zechariah's message was for a community and was to result in communal encouragement and peace. What, then, is the communal result of such blessing and comforting grace? "In that day ... every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree" (Zech 3.10). The result is a sharing of blessing, an extension of received grace to others in need. And so it goes in the kingdom of God. Oh, for the day when faith shall become sight!

* This was pointed out by Kevin DeYoung in his sermon "A Survey of Genesis", delivered at University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Mich., on February 6, 2005.

** Walter Kaiser, The Preacher's Commentary: Micah - Malachi. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992, 334-35).