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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Clothed in the Rich Robes of Christ's Righteousness
Text:Zechariah 3:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2023-07-20
Updated:2023-09-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Like a River Glorious

How Blest Is He Whose Trespass 

Jesus, thy Blood and Righteousness       

Man of Sorrows! What a Name

For reading convenience, this sermon is posted in both the NIV and ESV. The ESV follows the NIV.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


NIV
“Clothed in the Rich Robes of Christ’s Righteousness”
Zechariah 3:1-10
 
Those of you who are familiar with the prophecy of Zechariah, know that he received eight visions from the Lord. That is how God often revealed Himself to His people in that time, just as today He reveals Himself to us in His Word. The vision that we read about in Chapter 3 is the fourth vision Zechariah received, and it presents a striking picture.
 
It pictures for us, first, the sinfulness of even the most devout believer. As the passage begins, we see Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. In the Old Testament the high priest was regarded as the most holy of people. He is the one who offered the sacrifices, he represented the people before God, and on the Day of Atonement, once per year, it was the high priest who entered the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was kept in “the Holy of Holies”.  No other person could enter except for the high priest. And then only once per year on the Day of Atonement.
 
God also gave specific instructions as to how the high priest must dress, with “sacred garments to give him dignity and honor” (Exo. 28:2). You can read 43 verses of instructions in Exodus 28. In that chapter the Lord describes the ephod worn by the high priest as “a flowing robe of blue, gold, purple and scarlet yarn – the work of a skilled craftsman.” (Exo. 28:6) – It was truly a beautiful robe.
 
Exodus 28 also describes the breastplate having braided chains of gold, a place for the Urim and Thummim, a turban with a plate of pure gold on which was engraved these words: "HOLY TO THE LORD".  Specific instructions were even given concerning the priests’ linen undergarments, that they extend from “the waist to the thigh.” The last verse of the 28th chapter of Exodus declares: “This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.”
 
Yet, here in this vision, how is Joshua the high priest, dressed? Where is that beautiful ephod, the breastplate with golden strands? The beautifully crafted turban?  Zechariah 3:3: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.”
 
This verse graphically teaches the sinfulness of even the most devout believer. Take Billy Graham, R.C. Sproul, William Hendriksen or Louis Berkhof, or any other Christian leader, whether contemporary or historic like Luther or Calvin or John Knox, or biblical examples like Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, or the apostles, all of them were sinners and were unrighteous in and of themselves. Everyone who has ever lived, except for Jesus, is clothed in filthy rags, until – until there is saving faith in Christ alone. Only then are we clothed in the rich garments of the righteousness of Christ.
 
Consider Isaiah 64:6, written by a holy, esteemed prophet of God’s choosing. He writes: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” You and I, along with all the people who have gone before, have nothing to bring to God except filthy rags. We bring to Him nothing except our sin.                                         
 
A second truth that is pictured so graphically for us in this unique vision, is Satan’s work as an accuser. In verse 1 we read: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.”
 
The name, Satan, is from the Hebrew word for accuser, and we find him living up to his name as he boldly stands at Joshua’s right side to accuse him before God. Satan specializes in the accusation of God’s people today just as he did with Joshua and Job and with so many others in the record of Scripture.  Satan still accuses, not from heaven as before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but he still accuses us very effectively and persistently.
 
The accusations of the devil are altogether different from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins in order to lead us to repentance, and then assures us of forgiveness through saving faith in Christ. On the other hand, Satan accuses us in order to cause doubt in our mind concerning our salvation in an effort to shake and dismantle our faith in Christ.
 
In this vision, we also clearly see the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ, as His righteous garments are put on Joshua the high priest. In verse 2 the Lord rebuked Satan: “The LORD 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 this rebuke to Satan we see God’s great compassion. The Lord realizes that just as a stick snatched from a fire will continue to smolder, so we who are snatched from the grip of sin continue to smolder and burn with sin as we struggle against the evil desires of our own natures, the temptations of the devil, and the allurements of the world. Our old sinful nature is like that burning stick. We are snatched from the fire of hell, but our old sinful nature still burns and lives in conflict with the Holy Spirit within us.
 
Not only does the Lord rebuke Satan, but in verse 4, the angel of the Lord – a pre-incarnation portrayal of Christ – says, “‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’”  And in verse 5: “Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.”  The rich garments, the clean clothes and the new turban all show us that now Joshua has been dressed in the righteousness of Christ as he is presented in perfection to the Father.
 
In a Bible study on Genesis, we used the study guide Joseph and Judah by Rev. Mark Vander Hart. He pointed out on several occasions the significance of clothing in Scripture: Joseph’s coat of many colors was changed to an Egyptian robe and then a prisoner’s garment, and finally a ruler’s robe. Tamar wore the widow’s clothing until she heard that her father-in-law, Judah, was coming to Timnah. Then she put on the clothing of a prostitute with the veil hiding her face to seduce him. And, likewise, Jacob used Esau’s clothes to deceive Isaac as he tricked his father into giving him the blessing that belonged to his brother. In Scripture a variety of clothing is described, usually conveying great significance.
 
As we come to church, regardless of whether we are dressed casually, or in a suit or special dress, or somewhere in between, spiritually there are only two ways to be clothed: Either we are still in the filthy rags of our sin, or, by God’s grace through saving faith in Christ alone, we are clothed in the rich garments of His righteousness.
 
The Essence of the Gospel
 
The scene that is pictured for us portrays the essence of the whole gospel: that we who are unworthy, clothed in filthy rags, are dressed in the righteousness of Christ and presented to the Father spotless and without blame when we truly believe in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.
 
The scene that is portrayed in Zechariah 3 is a remarkable scene. It points us directly to Christ. In the Old Testament, Christ is at times described as “the angel of the Lord”. The definite article, “the”, separates the Lord from other references to angels. When people saw “the angel of the Lord” they realized that they had seen God Himself and often they feared for their lives.
 
And now it is the angel of the Lord who says to Joshua in verse 4, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” It is by the redeeming work of Christ that we are clothed in clean, righteous robes rather than the filthiness of our sin. The clothing of Joshua the high priest, and our clothing with the righteousness of Christ, is only possible because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and redeeming work.
 
But to clothe us in His righteousness required the supreme sacrifice on the part of Jesus. It required a life of ridicule, persecution and humiliation. The humiliation of Jesus Christ is evident throughout his earthly life and it culminates in His crucifixion.
 
By faith in Him alone we are clothed in His righteousness. But our clothing in His righteousness is a result of Him being stripped naked and crucified for our salvation. Do you recall the reason the Roman soldiers cast lots? It was for the seamless undergarment of Jesus Christ.  John 19:23 and 24 describe how “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
 
      ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’
     
       This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled which said,
 
‘They divided my garments among them
    and cast lots for my clothing.’
 
      So this is what the soldiers did.”
 
One commentator notes: “They (the soldiers) did what was shameful. Yet by means of that shameful deed God’s eternal plan was fulfilled. Hence, we pause in abhorrence and adoration! ...Jesus bore for us the curse of nakedness in order to deliver us from it!” – from sin. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, John, pp. 430, 431)
 
Although we commonly see portrayals of Jesus crucified with a small loin cloth, Scripture makes it clear that even His undergarment was taken from Him as “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
 
Christ is also “the Branch”, described in verses 8 and 9, who alone can clothe us in His righteous garments. In verse 8 the Lord says: “Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring My Servant, the Branch.”
 
Verse 9 describes a stone with seven “eyes” – meaning it has seven different facets – on the stone. Although there are different ideas on what the stone is and what it represents – whether it is a symbol of Israel, an amulet, a signature stone, or something else, the conclusion of the verse clearly points to Jesus Christ: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
 
The single day was the day that Jesus was led to Mount Calvary. There He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of all who, by His grace and Spirit's power, have saving faith in Him alone. There, as the ultimate and only perfect High Priest, He offered the ultimate and only perfect sacrifice for sin: He offered Himself.
 
All the Old Testament priests, such as Joshua the High Priest, had to continually offer sacrifices, both for their sins and for the sins of the people they represented. But when Christ, our great High Priest, offered Himself as a complete and perfect sacrifice for sin, He removed sin from us for all time. He never needs to repeat His priestly action. In His words, “It is finished!”
 
Symbolically, that is shown to us by Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father. In the tabernacle and in the temple there was no place for the priest to sit, symbolizing that his work was never finished. By contrast, Hebrews chapter 10 emphasizes that after Jesus sacrificed Himself, and rose again, He then ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father, showing that His work of redemption is completely done; it portrays and proves the prophecy of Zechariah 3:9 that He would “remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
 
Hebrews 10 serves as an inspired commentary on the effectiveness of the finished work of Christ. In verses 11 and 12 we read: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
 
Living as Brands Snatched from the Fire
 
A number of applications spring from this remarkable scene. First, if we have saving faith in Jesus, it is by God’s grace and electing love that we believe. Did you pick that up in verse 2 where the Lord says to Satan that it is “the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem.”?
 
None of us can take credit for our salvation. It is all of God’s grace and His electing love. In the words of Ephesians 2: 8,9 “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” 
 
Because God has chosen to redeem us, we are “snatched from the fire.” As we have seen, the stick snatched from the fire can refer to that sinful nature that smolders within us. But it can also properly refer to how we are snatched out of the fire of hell by the electing love and redeeming grace of our God.
 
The evangelist, John Wesley, was almost burned to death when he was six years old. A fire had broken out in the house where he was sleeping; everyone was evacuated except for him. Just before the roof came crashing down, a neighbor, who was standing on another neighbor’s shoulders, was able to reach up to a window ledge and rescue John from the blazing fire.
 
As you might imagine, that fire stuck in Wesley’s mind over the years. At one point he met an artist, who hearing about the fire, painted it on canvas and gave it to Wesley. Wesley put it in a wooden frame with the words of Zechariah 3:2 written below the fiery scene. Back in his day, he used the old King James Version which reads: “Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?”
 
In this passage we are forcefully reminded that by the shed blood of Jesus, and by His sacrificed body, by the electing love of the Father and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we too “are brands plucked from the burning” by our gracious and merciful triune God.
 
We also see in this passage that if we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we must live godly lives. In verses 6 and 7 the angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.’”
 
Notice that this is not said before Joshua is justified, but afterward. Often the gospel is twisted to make it sound like we have to reach a certain level of goodness, and then God will reach down and cleanse us. But it is impossible for us to cleanse ourselves. As the Lord said in Jeremiah 13:23, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”
 
Biblically, the cleansing is done first. The cleansing is done by God’s grace through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and His shed blood. Romans 5:6 assures us, “For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” And Romans 5:8 adds: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Then, out of gratitude, comes the transformed life that is revealed by “the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom. 1:5)
 
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches the same order. It begins with our guilt, with our sin and our misery, for – have you noticed? – sin and misery always go together. Then the catechism describes at length God’s grace through the giving of His Son. And it concludes with our response of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us. The Heidelberg Catechism is rightly summarized by three words: guilt, grace, and gratitude, or, sin, salvation and service.
 
Our communion preparatory form also addresses that. Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that we must first repent of our sins. Second, that we must trust in Christ alone for salvation. And then, thirdly, it says: “Let each one examine his conscience to be sure that he resolves to live in faith and obedience before his Lord, and in love and peace with his neighbor.”
 
Although in this life we fall far short of sinless perfection, our goal must always be to live an obedient life of grateful service, as we show our thankfulness for God’s redeeming love. If our faith in Christ is real, then there will be a sincere and continual effort to have “the obedience that comes from faith.”
 
A third application: It is only the redeemed who have true security and peace, realized through saving faith in Christ alone. The peace and security of believers is represented in verse 10 by the imagery of the fig and the vine. The fig and the vine were frequently used in the Old Testament to represent peace and security for the Israelites.
 
Unbelievers try to give the impression that they have peace and security. And they certainly desire to have it, yet as Isaiah 57:20-21 says: “…The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’”
 
But we are reminded that our true peace and security comes from saving faith in Jesus. As Romans 5:1 puts it: “…Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.­ Or, in the words of Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
 
There is no peace apart from saving faith in Christ alone, and only when we have peace with God can we also, by His indwelling Spirit, have peace with our circumstances, and peace with others. It is only through saving faith in Christ alone that we have “peace which surpasses – transcends – all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7).
___
 
My mother, who was a widow for many years, had no worldly wealth. But she was very well dressed. She bought all her clothes at used clothing stores and consignment shops. And did she ever get good buys! If you looked at the way she was dressed you would say, “That woman is a wealthy, sophisticated woman.”  But in reality, she had nothing. When she retired, she came and lived with us in Philadelphia because she had no other place to go and had no financial resources to find a place to live when she retired.
 
On the other hand, in our church in Oregon, there was an elderly man who seemed to be poverty stricken. His clothes were worn out. He looked like a street person, and he acted like a street person. He would be seen throughout the week walking through town collecting tin cans in a plastic garbage bag.
 
His nick name could have been “Safety Pin Man.” He used safety pins for shirt buttons and he used them to hold his glasses together. Everyone thought he was broke, and people were amazed that he could afford the small trailer he lived in.
 
When he died, since he had no family, he left everything to the church. His old worn out dresser drawers were filled with certificate of deposit statements, mutual fund accounts, stocks, bonds, various savings and checking accounts, along with silver and gold coins. The church, which had been meeting in a Grange Hall, was able to buy an existing church building that they met in for decades until they bought a newer, larger building.  
 
Anyone who would guess their true monetary value – my mother and the safety pin man – who was a very dear friend of ours, would have been completely fooled. But God isn’t fooled by how we are dressed. In His view, there are only two ways to be dressed: We are either dressed in the filthy rags of our sin and are under the just and proper wrath and judgment of Almighty God. Or, by God’s grace, through saving faith in Christ alone, we are dressed in His righteousness, spotless and without blame before our triune God. And spiritually speaking, the way we are dressed makes all the difference in this world, and it will make all the difference throughout eternity. 
   
By God’s grace, may you and I find that the filthy rags of our sin-stained wardrobe are truly replaced through saving faith in Christ alone. May we have the blessed assurance that they are replaced with the richest, most wonderful of all garments: the righteousness of Him who shed His blood and allowed His body to be pierced. He did so for the complete forgiveness of all the sins of those who have true saving faith in Him alone for their salvation! Amen.
 
 
Sermon outline:
 
See, I have taken away your sin and I will put rich garments on you.”
                                                                                        Zechariah 3:4b
 
     “Clothed in the Rich Robes of Christ’s Righteousness”
                                         Zechariah 3:1-10
 
I.  Zechariah chapter 3 presents a striking picture portraying:
    1) The sinfulness of even the most devout believer (1-3; Isaiah 64:6)
 
 
 
    2) Satan’s work as an accuser (1-2; Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5)
 
 
 
    3) The substitutionary work of Christ, as His righteous garments are
         put on the believer (3-5)
 
 
 
II. Application: The clothing of Joshua, and our clothing with the
     righteousness of Christ, is only possible because of the Branch, a
     clear reference to Christ (8, 9):
     1) If we have saving faith in Christ, it is by God’s grace and electing love (2c),
          as we are “snatched from the fire” (2d)
 
 
 
 
     2) If we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we must live godly
         lives (6-7)
 
 
 
     3) It is only the redeemed who have true security and peace,
         represented by the vine and the fig tree (10), and realized
         through saving faith in Christ alone (Rom. 5:1, 8:1; Phil. 4:7)
 
 
 
 
 
ESV
“Clothed in the Rich Robes of Christ’s Righteousness”
Zechariah 3:1-10
 
Those of you who are familiar with the prophecy of Zechariah, know that he received eight visions from the Lord. That is how God often revealed Himself to His people in that time, just as today He reveals Himself to us in His Word. The vision that we read about in Chapter 3 is the fourth vision Zechariah received, and it presents a striking picture.
 
It pictures for us, first, the sinfulness of even the most devout believer. As the passage begins, we see Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. In the Old Testament the high priest was regarded as the most holy of people. He is the one who offered the sacrifices, he represented the people before God, and on the Day of Atonement, once per year, it was the high priest who entered the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was kept in “the Holy of Holies”.  No other person could enter except for the high priest. And then only once per year on the Day of Atonement.
 
God also gave specific instructions as to how the high priest must dress, with “sacred garments to give him dignity and honor” (Exo. 28:2). You can read 43 verses of instructions in Exodus 28. In that chapter the Lord describes the ephod worn by the high priest as “a flowing robe of blue, gold, purple and scarlet yarn – the work of a skilled craftsman” (Exo. 28:6). It was truly a beautiful robe.
 
Exodus 28 also describes the breastplate having braided chains of gold, a place for the Urim and Thummim, a turban with a plate of pure gold on which was engraved these words: "HOLY TO THE LORD".  Specific instructions were even given concerning the priests’ linen undergarments, that they extend from “the waist to the thigh.” The last verse of the 28th chapter of Exodus declares: “This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.”
 
Yet, here in this vision, how is Joshua the high priest, dressed? Where is that beautiful ephod, the breastplate with golden strands? The beautifully crafted turban?  Zechariah 3:3: “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.”
 
This verse graphically teaches the sinfulness of even the most devout believer. Take Billy Graham, R.C. Sproul, William Hendriksen or Louis Berkhof, or any other Christian leader, whether contemporary or historic like Luther or Calvin or John Knox, or biblical examples like Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, or the apostles, all of them were sinners and were unrighteous in and of themselves. Everyone who has ever lived, except for Jesus, is clothed in filthy rags, until – until there is saving faith in Christ alone. Only then are we clothed in the rich garments of the righteousness of Christ.
 
Consider Isaiah 64:6, written by a holy, esteemed prophet of God’s choosing. He writes: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” You and I, along with all the people who have gone before, have nothing to bring to God except filthy rags. We bring to Him nothing except our sin.                                         
 
A second truth that is pictured so graphically for us in this unique vision, is Satan’s work as an accuser. In verse 1 we read: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.”
 
The name, Satan, is from the Hebrew word for accuser, and we find him living up to his name as he boldly stands at Joshua’s right side to accuse him before God. Satan specializes in the accusation of God’s people today just as he did with Joshua and Job and with so many others in the record of Scripture.  Satan still accuses, not from heaven as before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but he still accuses us very effectively and persistently.
 
The accusations of the devil are altogether different from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins in order to lead us to repentance, and then assures us of forgiveness through saving faith in Christ. On the other hand, Satan accuses us in order to cause doubt in our mind concerning our salvation in an effort to shake and dismantle our faith in Christ.
 
In this vision, we also clearly see the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ, as His righteous garments are put on Joshua the high priest. In verse 2 the Lord rebuked Satan: “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’”
 
In this rebuke to Satan we see God’s great compassion. The Lord realizes that just as a stick snatched from a fire will continue to smolder, so we who are snatched from the grip of sin continue to smolder and burn with sin as we struggle against the evil desires of our own natures, the temptations of the devil, and the allurements of the world. Our old sinful nature is like that burning stick. We are snatched from the fire of hell, but our old sinful nature still burns and lives in conflict with the Holy Spirit within us.
 
Not only does the Lord rebuke Satan, but in verse 4, the angel of the Lord – a pre-incarnation portrayal of Christ – says, “‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’” 
 
And in verse 5: “And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.” The rich garments, the clean clothes and the new turban all show us that now Joshua has been dressed in the righteousness of Christ as he is presented in perfection to the Father.
 
In a Bible study on Genesis, we used the study guide Joseph and Judah by Rev. Mark Vander Hart. He pointed out on several occasions the significance of clothing in Scripture: Joseph’s coat of many colors was changed to an Egyptian robe and then a prisoner’s garment, and finally a ruler’s robe. Tamar wore the widow’s clothing until she heard that her father-in-law, Judah, was coming to Timnah. Then she put on the clothing of a prostitute with the veil hiding her face to seduce him. And, likewise, Jacob used Esau’s clothes to deceive Isaac as he tricked his father into giving him the blessing that belonged to his brother. In Scripture a variety of clothing is described, usually conveying great significance.
 
As we come to church, regardless of whether we are dressed casually, or in a suit or special dress, or somewhere in between, spiritually there are only two ways to be clothed: Either we are still in the filthy rags of our sin, or, by God’s grace through saving faith in Christ alone, we are clothed in the rich garments of His righteousness.
 
The Essence of the Gospel
 
The scene that is pictured for us portrays the essence of the whole gospel: that we who are unworthy, clothed in filthy rags, are dressed in the righteousness of Christ and presented to the Father spotless and without blame when we truly believe in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.
 
The scene that is portrayed in Zechariah 3 is a remarkable scene. It points us directly to Christ. In the Old Testament, Christ is at times described as “the angel of the Lord”. The definite article, “the”, separates the Lord from other references to angels. When people saw “the angel of the Lord” they realized that they had seen God Himself and often they feared for their lives.
 
And now it is the angel of the Lord who says to Joshua in verse 4, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” It is by the redeeming work of Christ that we are clothed in clean, righteous robes rather than the filthiness of our sin. The clothing of Joshua the high priest, and our clothing with the righteousness of Christ, is only possible because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and redeeming work.
 
But to clothe us in His righteousness required the supreme sacrifice on the part of Jesus. It required a life of ridicule, persecution and humiliation. The humiliation of Jesus Christ is evident throughout his earthly life and it culminates in His crucifixion.
 
By faith in Him alone we are clothed in His righteousness. But our clothing in His righteousness is a result of Him being stripped naked and crucified for our salvation. Do you recall the reason the Roman soldiers cast lots? It was for the seamless undergarment of Jesus Christ. John 19:23 and 24 describe how “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
 
      ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’
     
       This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled which said,
 
‘They divided my garments among them
    and cast lots for my clothing.’
 
      So this is what the soldiers did.”  (John 19:23, 24, NIV. The ESV translates “undergarment” (v. 23, NIV) as “tunic” which is proper for the Greek. But their footnote describes the tunic as “a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin.” In other words, it was equivalent to your underwear and to mine).
 
One commentator notes: “They (the soldiers) did what was shameful. Yet by means of that shameful deed God’s eternal plan was fulfilled. Hence, we pause in abhorrence and adoration! ...Jesus bore for us the curse of nakedness in order to deliver us from it!” – from sin. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, John, pp. 430, 431)
 
Although we commonly see portrayals of Jesus crucified with a small loin cloth, Scripture makes it clear that even His undergarment was taken from Him as “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
 
Christ is also “the Branch”, described in verses 8 and 9, who alone can clothe us in His righteous garments. In verse 8 the Lord says: “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.” 
 
Verse 9 describes a stone with seven “eyes” meaning it has seven different facets. Although there are different ideas on what the stone is and what it represents – whether it is a symbol of Israel, an amulet, a signature stone, or something else, the conclusion of the verse clearly points to Jesus Christ: “I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” 
 
The single day was the day that Jesus was led to Mount Calvary. There He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of all who, by His grace and Spirit's power, have saving faith in Him alone. There, as the ultimate and only perfect High Priest, He offered the ultimate and only perfect sacrifice for sin: He offered Himself.
 
All the Old Testament priests, such as Joshua the High Priest, had to continually offer sacrifices, both for their sins and for the sins of the people they represented. But when Christ, our great High Priest, offered Himself as a complete and perfect sacrifice for sin, He removed sin from us for all time. He never needs to repeat His priestly action. In His words, “It is finished!”
 
Symbolically, that is shown to us by Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father. In the tabernacle and in the temple there was no place for the priest to sit, symbolizing that his work was never finished. By contrast, Hebrews chapter 10 emphasizes that after Jesus sacrificed Himself, and rose again, He then ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father, showing that His work of redemption is completely done; it portrays and proves the prophecy of Zechariah 3:9 that He would “remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
 
Hebrews 10 serves as an inspired commentary on the effectiveness of the finished work of Christ. In verses 11 and 12 we read: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
 
Living as Brands Snatched from the Fire
 
A number of applications spring from this remarkable scene. First, if we have saving faith in Jesus, it is by God’s grace and electing love that we believe. Did you pick that up in verse 2 where the Lord says to Satan that it is “the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem.”?
 
None of us can take credit for our salvation. It is all of God’s grace and His electing love. In the words of Ephesians 2: 8,9 “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” 
 
Because God has chosen to redeem us, we are “snatched from the fire.” As we have seen, the stick snatched from the fire can refer to that sinful nature that smolders within us. But it can also properly refer to how we are snatched out of the fire of hell by the electing love and redeeming grace of our God.
 
The evangelist, John Wesley, was almost burned to death when he was six years old. A fire had broken out in the house where he was sleeping; everyone was evacuated except for him. Just before the roof came crashing down, a neighbor, who was standing on another neighbor’s shoulders, was able to reach up to a window ledge and rescue John from the blazing fire.
 
As you might imagine, that fire stuck in Wesley’s mind over the years. At one point he met an artist, who hearing about the fire, painted it on canvas and gave it to Wesley. Wesley put it in a wooden frame with the words of Zechariah 3:2 written below the fiery scene. Back in his day, he used the old King James Version which reads: “Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?”
 
In this passage we are forcefully reminded that by the shed blood of Jesus, and by His sacrificed body, by the electing love of the Father and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we too “are brands plucked from the burning” by our gracious and merciful triune God.
 
We also see in this passage that if we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we must live godly lives. In verses 6 and 7 the angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: “And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.’”
 
Notice that this is not said before Joshua is justified, but afterward. Often the gospel is twisted to make it sound like we have to reach a certain level of goodness, and then God will reach down and cleanse us. But it is impossible for us to cleanse ourselves. As the Lord said in Jeremiah 13:23, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”
 
Biblically, the cleansing is done first. The cleansing is done by God’s grace through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and His shed blood. Romans 5:6 assures us, “For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” And Romans 5:8 adds: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Then, out of gratitude, comes the transformed life that is revealed by “the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom. 1:5)
 
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches the same order. It begins with our guilt, with our sin and our misery, for – have you noticed? – sin and misery always go together. Then the catechism describes at length God’s grace through the giving of His Son. And it concludes with our response of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us. The Heidelberg Catechism is rightly summarized by three words: guilt, grace, and gratitude, or, sin, salvation and service.
 
Our communion preparatory form also addresses that. Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that we must first repent of our sins. Second, that we must trust in Christ alone for salvation. And then, thirdly, it says: “Let each one examine his conscience to be sure that he resolves to live in faith and obedience before his Lord, and in love and peace with his neighbor.”
 
Although in this life we fall far short of sinless perfection, our goal must always be to live an obedient life of grateful service, as we show our thankfulness for God’s redeeming love. If our faith in Christ is real, then there will be a sincere and continual effort to have “the obedience that comes from faith.”
 
A third application: It is only the redeemed who have true security and peace, realized through saving faith in Christ alone. The peace and security of believers is represented in verse 10 by the imagery of the fig tree and the vine. The fig tree and the vine were frequently used in the Old Testament to represent peace and security for the Israelites.
 
Unbelievers try to give the impression that they have peace and security. And they certainly desire to have it, yet as Isaiah 57:20-21 says: “…The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’”
 
But we are reminded that our true peace and security comes from saving faith in Jesus. As Romans 5:1 puts it: “…Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.­ There is no peace apart from saving faith in Christ alone. And, when we have peace with God through faith in Christ, we can also, by His indwelling Spirit, have peace with our circumstances, and peace with others. It is only through saving faith in Christ alone that we have “peace which surpasses – transcends – all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7). Or, in the words of Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
___
 
My mother, who was a widow for many years, had no worldly wealth. But she was very well dressed. She bought all her clothes at used clothing stores and consignment shops. And did she ever get good buys! If you looked at the way she was dressed you would say, “That woman is a wealthy, sophisticated woman.” But in reality, she had nothing. When she retired, she came and lived with us in Philadelphia because she had no other place to go and had no financial resources to find a place to live when she retired.
 
On the other hand, in our church in Oregon, there was an elderly man who seemed to be poverty stricken. His clothes were worn out. He looked like a street person, and he acted like a street person. He would be seen throughout the week walking through town collecting tin cans in a plastic garbage bag. He would redeem them for a nickel per can.
 
His nick name could have been “Safety Pin Man.” He used safety pins for shirt buttons and he used them to hold his glasses together. Everyone thought he was broke, and people were amazed that he could afford the small trailer he lived in.
 
When he died, since he had no family, he left everything to the church. His old worn out dresser drawers were filled with certificate of deposit statements, mutual fund accounts, stocks, bonds, various savings and checking accounts, along with silver and gold coins. The church, which had been meeting in a Grange Hall, was able to buy an existing church building that they met in for decades until they bought a newer, larger building.  
 
Anyone who would guess their true monetary value – my mother and the safety pin man – who was a very dear friend of ours, would have been completely fooled. But God isn’t fooled by how we are dressed. In His view, there are only two ways to be dressed: We are either dressed in the filthy rags of our sin, and are under the just and proper wrath and judgment of Almighty God. Or, by God’s grace, through saving faith in Christ alone, we are dressed in His righteousness, spotless and without blame before our triune God. And spiritually speaking, the way we are dressed makes all the difference in this world, and it will make all the difference throughout eternity. 
  
By God’s grace may you and I find that the filthy rags of our sin-stained wardrobe are truly replaced through saving faith in Christ alone. May we have the blessed assurance that they are replaced with the richest, most wonderful of all garments: the righteousness of Him who shed His blood and allowed His body to be pierced. He did so for the complete forgiveness of all the sins of those who have true saving faith in Him alone for their salvation! Amen.
 
 
 
 
Sermon outline:
 
      “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you,
          and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” - Zechariah 3:4b
 
      “Clothed in the Rich Robes of Christ’s Righteousness”
                                          Zechariah 3:1-10
 
I.  Zechariah chapter 3 presents a striking picture portraying:
    1) The sinfulness of even the most devout believer (1-3; Isaiah 64:6)
 
 
 
    2) Satan’s work as an accuser (1-2; Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5)
 
 
 
    3) The substitutionary work of Christ, as His righteous garments are
         put on the believer (3-5)
 
 
 
II. Application: The clothing of Joshua, and our clothing with the
     righteousness of Christ, is only possible because of the Branch, a
     clear reference to Christ (8, 9):
     1) If we have saving faith in Christ, it is by God’s grace and electing love (2c),
          as we are “a brand plucked from the fire” (2d)
 
 
 
 
     2) If we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we must live godly
         lives (6-7)
 
 
 
     3) It is only the redeemed who have true security and peace,
         represented by the vine and the fig tree (10), and realized
         through saving faith in Christ alone (Rom. 5:1, 8:1; Phil. 4:7)
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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