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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:A brand plucked from the fire
Text:Zechariah 3:2 (View)
Occasion:Public Profession of faith
Topic:Struggling with doubts

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 111:1,5

Psalm 51:2

Psalm 65:1,2,3

Psalm 103:1,4

Psalm 103:2 (after Profession of faith)

Hymn 65:1,2,3


Read:  Zechariah 3; Romans 8:1-11.

Text:  Zechariah 3:2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After this sermon, a number of young people plan to stand up and profess their faith in Jesus Christ and so be received as communicant members of this congregation.  It has been quite the journey for them.  They were all baptized as infants and thereby grafted into the church.  They were raised in the fear of the Lord.  They received a Christian education and many years of Catechism teaching.  And now we see the blessed fruits of all of that, and they will say “Yes” to the promises made to them at their baptism. But here’s the rub:  Profession of faith is no graduation ceremony!  Profession of Faith is no confession that you think you are good enough, nor is it a pronouncement of the church that you are good enough to be a Christian, that you’ve made the grade.  To the contrary, when you profess your faith you are saying that you truly detest and humble yourself before God because of your sins and seek your life outside of yourself in Jesus Christ.  When you profess your faith, you are not holding up your hand for God to choose you, nor are you approaching God to choose Him.  Rather, you confess to believe that God, being fully aware of your sin, has chosen you in and through Jesus Christ.  You confess with thankfulness that although you were conceived and born in sin and were therefore by nature a child of wrath, you were chosen by God as a brand – that is a stick, a piece of firewood that is plucked from the fire.  And you confess that because God chose you in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven and you are cleansed from all unrighteousness. And you are comforted in the knowledge that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This morning I wish to preach to you the Gospel under the following theme:

There is no condemnation for a brand plucked from the fire.

1.    This is by God’s choice.

2.    This is by God’s design.

1. This is by God’s choice.

From Zechariah 1 we can learn that the vision of chapter 3 took place in around November 520 BC.  Previously the people of Judah had continuously sinned before the  LORD, until God sent Nebuchadnezzar against them.  God’s people were sent into Exile for 70 years, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple left in ruins.  Then, in 538 BC, a small remnant of less than 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem, including a young boy named Zechariah, a boy whose name means “The LORD remembers”.  But when they arrived in Jerusalem the people wondered whether the LORD had indeed remembered them, and whether He would bless them and live with them as before.  For Jerusalem was a heap of rubble, a pile of blackened ruins.  The Jews who returned from the exile had good intentions, and began to rebuild the temple by laying the foundation, but then opposition and the hardness of life forced them to stop and so things remained for almost 15 years.  And then the LORD called the prophet Haggai to encourage the Jews to rebuild the temple.  And the people listened to Haggai and so work on the temple began again.

But had the LORD truly remembered His people?  Had He once more chosen Jerusalem for His dwelling place?  The people of Israel had experienced the anger of God against sin.  They were living in a land and in a city that had been reduced to a heap of blackened rubble.  They were not a free nation, and there was no son of David on the throne.  And, although the Jews did not yet know it, it would still be 500 years of struggle before the LORD would send the Messiah.  It would still be 500 years before Pentecost and the fulfilment of the prophecies that the nations would stream to worship the LORD God of Israel.  It would be 500 years of reflecting on this question:  Has God truly remembered His people and chosen Israel once again?  Has God forgiven the sins of His people, and has He returned to His people as He has promised?  Is there truly hope and a future for the people of God?

And closely connected to this question would have been the very temple that the Jews were rebuilding.  Would the temple make a difference?  Would God choose to dwell in that house?  For in the Old Temple the LORD was said to dwell between the cherubim, above the Mercy Seat of the Ark.  But this new temple would be missing that most holy object:  there was no ark of the covenant anymore.  The blood of atonement could no longer be sprinkled on the Mercy Seat as a sign that God’s people were forgiven and could live in covenant holiness before Him. 

And then there was the question of the priesthood.  Would Joshua the high priest, who with Israel had grown up in a heathen land, would Joshua be able to stand in the presence of Holy God on behalf of the people?  Could He stand in the presence of the God whose eyes are too holy to look upon the presence of sin?

Had the LORD indeed chosen Israel once more, and would He look with favour upon His people?  Weren’t their sins too many, and their separation from God too great to hope for a new life with God?  Realistically speaking, what sort of a future could they look forward to?  And in such an environment it would have been very easy for the Jews to listen to Satan whispering in their ear:  “You will never make it.  You are not good enough for God.  You’d might as well quit before you even start.”

And such thoughts and feelings were not limited to the Jews who returned from the exile.  For we might be tempted to ask the same questions.  We sang from Psalm 65, “Our countless misdeeds and transgressions prevail from day to day.”  We also sang from Psalm 51:2, “All my transgressions do I know within, and all my sin is constantly before me.”  And from that we might conclude, “I’m a Christian, but not a very good one.”  And for some of us the shame of past sin and the guilt of our present weaknesses and faults fill us with despair.  And then Satan tries to whisper in our ear, “Who do you think you are, to hope for God’s blessing?  You will never make it.  You are not good enough for God.  You’d might as well quit before you even start.  You are not good enough to be a Christian.”

And if such thoughts were going on in Zechariah’s mind on that night that he had the vision recorded in Zechariah 3, the first image that he saw would initially have filled him with fear.  In his vision he saw a court case about to begin.  In the dock was a man called Joshua.  This was not Joshua the son of Nun, the one who led the people into the promised land.  This was Joshua the son of Johozadak, the high priest in the days of Zechariah.  This Joshua was the one who represented God’s people before the LORD, who offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people, and blessed the people on behalf of the LORD.  And in his vision Zechariah saw Joshua standing in God’s presence, before the angel of the LORD. But to Zechariah’s horror, he saw Joshua clothed not in the purified clothes of the high priest, but in garments that were filthy.  In fact the Hebrew word used is even stronger than that: the clothes that Joshua had on were smeared with human waste.  Joshua the high priest was clothed in filth.  He was absolutely and totally defiled.  And how could someone who was so defiled stand in the presence of holy God?

And this was a problem not just for Joshua, but for God’s entire covenant community.  The high priest was to come before the LORD on behalf of the people to secure God’s blessing for His people and the forgiveness of sins.  And so the high priest had to be very careful just how he came before the LORD.  He was to wear special clothes, holy garments that were designed to display both glory and beauty.  Exodus 28 says that the high priest was to wear special trousers, a tunic and a turban, all made of fine linen.  And in front of his turban was to be a sign that said “Holiness to the LORD”.  And concerning these special priestly clothes Exodus 28:43 says,

“They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die.  It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.”

But now Joshua is standing before the Angel of the LORD and his special clothing is filthy, defiled.  And, what’s worse, there was Satan standing at Joshua’s right hand ready to prosecute, ready to point to the glaringly obvious, ready to insist that Joshua be judged and driven away from the presence of the LORD.  And Satan, we can be sure, knew what it says in Leviticus 22:3,

Say to [Aaron and his sons] “Whoever of all your descendants throughout your generations, who goes near the holy things which the children of Israel dedicate to the LORD, while he has uncleanness upon him, that person shall be cut off from My presence: I am the LORD.”

Joshua the high priest, the representative of God’s people, is defiled and unclean.  In his natural state he was unfit to enter the presence of the LORD.  And if Joshua was so filthy, so defiled with sin, what could be said for the rest of God’s people?  How could they hope that the LORD would indeed return and dwell with them?  Indeed, they would have no confidence in which to boast, no reason to raise their hand in the air and say, “Here we are LORD; choose us for Your special possession.”

But then comes the Gospel, the Good News in Zechariah 3:2.

“And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan!  The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!  Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

Can you try to picture that for a moment?  A filthy Joshua is standing before a Most Holy God.  And the angel of the LORD (who, from verse 2 we learn is himself God), the angel of the LORD says, “This Joshua is Mine!  Satan you have no right to speak against him, for I have snatched him from the fire, I have chosen him for Myself.”

But how could that be?  How could the LORD choose Joshua, and in him Jerusalem, even though He was fully aware of Joshua’s sin? 

I’d like to take note in the first place that Joshua says nothing.  You can assume that he was aware both of the holiness of God and of his own unholiness.  His defilement was graphically displayed in the filthy clothes that he had on, and so there was nothing that Joshua could say in his defence.

I would also like you to note that Joshua does nothing.  He was simply standing there before the Angel of the LORD, and it was not in his power to either clean or remove the clothes he had on. 

But what Joshua could not do, the Angel of the LORD did for him.  The Angel of the LORD said, “Take away the filthy garments from him.”  And then, once the garments were taken away, the LORD said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

And that is the wonder of the Gospel!  Brothers and sisters, those of you who intend to profess your faith today, should we, like Joshua, stand in our natural state before God’s holiness, we would be seen as totally corrupt and defiled with sin.  “Our countless misdeeds and transgressions prevail from day to day.”  It is not a small touch-up that is required to remove sin, not a bit of spot cleaning.  It is not enough for us to try a little harder, to attempt to turn over a new leaf, to make a few changes here or there.  By nature we are polluted and defiled with sin.  But God saw us in our sinful state, He saw us as if we were dressed in filthy garments.  And He loved us anyway.  Indeed He loved us so much that He sent His Son to remove our iniquity.

 “Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’  And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’”  (Zech. 3:4)

“See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”  It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin.  But that’s not all.  For the LORD does not take away our filthy clothes to leave us naked.  Rather, He takes rich clothes that He Himself has prepared and puts them on us.  Jesus Christ takes His own righteousness and He clothes us with it!  His life has become our life.  His righteousness has become our righteousness.  His good deeds have become our good deeds.  And now God sees us who are in Christ Jesus in the same way as He sees His Son! 

And that means that there is no condemnation left!  Don’t say, “I’m a Christian, but not a very good one!”  When God chose you to be His child, He knew who you were.  He knew that by nature you are totally and despicably defiled by your sin.  But He took all of that and in a single day He put it on the back of His Son so that your sin could be removed as far as east is from west.  And not only that but He took all the righteous acts of His Son and He placed those on you!  And that means that God now sees you as being covered with the righteousness of Jesus.  No matter how we might feel – and there are times when we are confronted with our sin and we feel very dirty – no matter how we feel, God rebukes Satan, forbidding Him to say anything against us, and to us He says, “You, my Son, my daughter, are totally righteous.”

“Our countless misdeeds and transgressions prevail from day to day.  But Thou, O God, in great compassion, wilt purge our guilt away.”  There is now no condemnation for a brand plucked from the fire.  This is by God’s choice, by His grace.

And in the second place we will also see that:

2. This is by God’s design.

As Zechariah watches all of this in his vision, and he sees Joshua have his soiled clothes removed and then clothed in new and rich robes, he becomes very excited at the consequences of this not just for Joshua, but for all the people of Jerusalem.  And so he said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head!”  The turban was the final article of the high priest’s clothes that was needed for him to be ready to do the work of a priest.  On that turban was a special plate that said, “holiness to the LORD”  and Exodus 28 says that the high priest was to wear this so that he would be able to bear the iniquity of Israel before the LORD.  So when Zechariah asked that this turban be placed on Joshua’s head, he was asking that Zechariah could act as the high priest before the LORD, and so all Israel could look forward to being cleansed from sin and able to live in the Lord’s presence. 

And then, when the transformation was complete and Joshua had those new clothes on and the turban on his head, his sin was removed and he was once more able to minister on behalf of Israel in the presence of God.  And then in verse 7 of Zechariah 3 the angel of the LORD said,

“If you walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts.  I will give you places to walk among these who stand here.”

Now that Joshua had his filthy clothes removed and his new ones put on, he was once more in the position to minister on behalf of both God and the people of Israel.  And so the LORD commanded him to walk in His ways, that is, walk in all holiness before the LORD.  And he was to Keep God’s command by carrying out his duties as high priest of Israel.  In this way the LORD showed that He was not just concerned about Joshua:  He now wanted Joshua to do the work of the high priest so that the rest of the people also could have their filthy garments removed and they too could be clothed in righteousness and holiness. 

But Joshua the high priest and the other priests with him were not the ultimate way that God had planned to enable Him to choose Jerusalem like a brand plucked from the fire.  The temple must be rebuilt and Joshua must perform the duties of the high priest in anticipation of something greater:  to the coming of God’s servant, the BRANCH.  And that Servant, that BRANCH is our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Jesus God has removed the iniquity of His people in a single day.  Your sins are removed as far as east is from west.  God no longer sees you as clothed in filthy garments, but as clothed in the righteousness of Christ. 

And therefore Zechariah and all the people of Jerusalem could take courage.  The temple must be rebuilt and the ministry of the high priest must continue until the day would come when the Great High Priest, the Son of God, would take the sins of His people upon Himself and in exchange fill them with His righteousness.

And you young people, who intend to profess your faith, you, along with the church of God are also brands that have been plucked from the fire.  You have been chosen by God because of His free and undeserved favour.  In Christ the filth of your sins has been taken away, and now you are filled with His righteousness.  This has all happened by God’s choice and by God’s design.  Believe this good news, and accept it with a thankful heart.  Do not despair, for standing before the Father is your faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.  Now when Satan wants to accuse us, Jesus says, “I object!  All the sin, all the filth and all the dirt of this person has been laid upon Me.  I was bruised for him.  I bled for her.  Her iniquity has been removed and she is counted righteous!”  And God the Father says, “Objection sustained!  Let this one come in.  There is now no condemnation for this brand plucked from the fire.”

And so, rejoicing in the righteousness that is from God through Christ, we may look forward to a glorious future when there will be peace in Jerusalem and everyone will invite his neighbour under his vine and under his fig tree.  For all of you professing your faith today, that’s the promise for you.  It’s is the promise for all of us who are in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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