Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan* standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2And the Lord said to Satan,* ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan!* The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?’ 3Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And to him he said, ‘See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you in festal apparel.’ 5And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him in the apparel.
I am a visual learner. I have to see mentally ‘see’ something it in order to understand and remember it. Being a visual learner meant that when my Sunday School teacher put up her easel and flannel graph toshow us squirming kids a story, she always had my attention for the rest of the hour. To this day my mind retains images of my teacher’s cut outs of Moses leading the Exodus and Jesus feeding the five thousand. I needed to see it to grasp it.
So it is the visuals and images of today’s text that capture my attention. I am drawn into the swift flow of the text by its very first words: “Then he showed me.” The little boy in me sits up to pay attention. The Spirit of God shows us images as vivid and memorable as the flannel graph. Here in pictures is God’s grand story of redemption.
So imagine the scene! Here are four persons spread out before us in a vision shown to the prophet Zechariah: Joshua the high priest (not to be confused with the Joshua who led Israel into the Promised Land), Satan, the Lord God, and the angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ). The scene plays out in the temple in Jerusalem.
Now imagine the story! Joshua the high priest is going into the presence of God to worship, but as he worships he is overcome by guilt. He feels a deep sense of unworthiness to worship and serve the Lord. At that very moment Satan slithers in from stage right, whose very name “Satan” means “Accuser.” Satan has come to do what he does best: to accuse and spread dark clouds of despair among God’s people.
In the picture we see Joshua’s guilt before God in the wearing of “filthy clothes”. So Joshua has not a word to say in response to the accusations because he is guilty. He is silently helpless before the accusations against him. Then enters the Lord God who with but a word silences all accusations against God’s people: “The LORD rebuke you O Satan!” Shut up!
Imagine the story as it continues to play out before our eyes! We see the angel of the Lord now commanding Joshua to be stripped of his soiled garments: “Take off his filthy clothes!” And we see Joshua’s filthy clothes removed, not by Joshua, but by the Lord. Then the Lord calls for Joshua to pay attention, for there is yet more to see. “See, the angel says, “ I have taken away your guilt away from you, and will clothe you in festal apparel.”
After having taken away Joshua’s filthy garments and clothed him in the festal robes of God’s righteousness, a “clean turban” is placed on Joshua’s head. The turban is an essential part of the high priest’s vestments; upon it was written the words, ‘Holy to the LORD” (Exodus 28:36-38). Now Joshua’s turban is clean and white. He is “a brand plucked from the fire”. Stripped of his guilt, God empowers him to minister to others.
Being a visual learner, I now have to imagine you and me into this picture. I imagine that you and I often enter God’s presence and feel unworthy and overcome by guilt. We hear sounds of the Accuser fiendishly hurling accusations against us, and there is nothing we can say in our defense. Then the Lord rushes to our side to silence every accusation against us: “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan.” And then He writes across our foreheads the words: “Holy to the LORD.”
Here’s yet another scene I like to visualize, from the life of Martin Luther. It is the winter of 1521, and Luther is holed up in the Castle of Wartburg translating the New Testament from Greek into German. One night Satan, the “Accuser of the believers” (Revelation 12:10) appears before Luther holding a long scroll listing Luther’s sins. But Luther laughs at and mocks his Accuser, telling him that his list is far from complete. There are yet more sins, Luther tells him, that the Lord alone knows. Wagging his finger at the Accuser, Luther tells him to write at the bottom of his long scroll the words: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
Luther then grabs his inkwell and hurls it at his fleeing Accuser. Tourists and pilgrims have come to the Wartburg Castle for centuries to rub their finger against the ink stain, so that it now is mostly a hole in the plaster.
I read both today’s text and Luther’s story and I can better see and understand what our redemption means. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness can easily shred our thoughts about ourselves and deplete us of any confidence before God or others. Just like Joshua the high priest, we feel our profound unworthiness and stand condemned in the filthy rags of guilt. But then the Savior rushes to our side and through His cleansing blood clothes us in the white robes of His righteousness. And then to the world He declares us to be: “Holy to the LORD.” We are now His hands His voices for making known His redeeming grace to the world.
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
Grace and peace–Tim
Photo by Lawrence OP