Monday, January 27, 2014
Justified! Accepted by God! - Zechariah 3
Zechariah 3:1-2 "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. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
What does it mean to be justified by faith? The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 offers this definition: "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God." Justification is by nature a legal declaration made by God to the sinner at saving faith: "Not Guilty!" "Accepted by God!" In justification the sinner is credited with Christ's righteousness that was lived and paid for in His death on the cross. Such an exchange of one's righteousness in place of another is what Bible teachers call "imputation". On the cross there was not just one, but two exchanges made. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Did Christ become a sinner on the cross? No. However God treated Christ as if He was the chief of sinners. Likewise at saving faith is a sinner made actually, perfectly righteous? No. Yet God deems such a person to be "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned or stated positively "just-as-if-I'd" always obeyed. Such a declaration on God's part is not legal fiction or God saying something that is not true. We are the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ by position. Other realities that describe our relational standing (adoption) and connection to Christ (union) are connected to God's judicial declaration of justification. This truth is taught from Genesis to Revelation and is truly, in the words of Martin Luther, the article upon which the church stands or falls.
To ensure that the truth of justification by faith does not remain in the realm of the abstract, scripture assigns various people and events in the Old Testament in providing concrete illustrations for what is unfolded further in the New Testament. Every doctrine taught in the New Testament has at least one Old Testament event or person that can be used to illustrate that teaching. In today's post we want to look particularly at a man by the name of Joshua the High Priest who was in desperate need of being declared accepted by God. To walk our way through Zechariah 3 we will employ the following headings in relation to the above discussion on justification:
1. Justification's basis - Zechariah 3:1-2
2. Justification's reception - Haggai 1:12
3. Justification's declarations - Zech 3:3-10
The reader may note in the course of this post that we will be appealing to the Books of Haggai and Ezra. Both of those books occurred at the same time as Zechariah's book, and so aid greatly in unfolding the rich truths found in Zechariah 3.
Justification's basis: God.
In Zechariah 3:1-2 we see two possible references to the two Persons of the Godhead - the Father and the Son. We know that scripture declares that God is One in essence and three in identity. Two of the three Persons are being alluded to here in Zechariah 3:1-2. In Zechariah 3:1 we see the Angel of the Lord in Whose presence Joshua the High Priest is standing. Over 15 occasions in the Old Testament mention the Angel of the Lord. Without engaging in lengthy discourse, we will simply say that the Angel of the Lord in Zechariah is a Pre-incarnate appearance of the Son. He is defending Joshua before the prosecuting Satan. The Eternal Son is always at work defending His people. Without a doubt the Son in Zechariah 3 knew that He would become incarnate once walking across the bridge of time through the virgin birth. His then future work on the cross, and Joshua's trust and reliance upon the Old Testament promises predicting such are applied by the Son even in this text. So we can see the first basis or ground of justification - the Son's saving work.
However notice a second basis - the Father's Sovereign choice. We read in Zechariah 3:2 that Jerusalem was His "chosen" city, and Joshua the High Priest was the "brand plucked from the fire". Joshua had done nothing to merit the Father's choosing. He was no more useful than a burnt, charred wooden stirring stick used to stir a fire. The Father's Sovereign choice, rooted totally in His loving prerogatives, snatched Joshua from the flames of judgment. Truly the eternal character of salvation is rooted in what the Baptist Faith & Message calls "God's elective purpose of grace". Romans 9:14-15 reminds us that God has mercy upon whom He was mercy and compassion upon whom He has compassion. God's Sovereign choice is to be credited as to why anyone believes and man's sinful unbelief and freedom to reject is why anyone fails to respond to the Gospel. Only God could design a salvation wherein there is no conflict between His Sovereign choice and man's freely given choice of Jesus Christ. It is plain here that this dual ground for justification is necessary, since salvation has to be planned and paid for before it can be applied. All in all, we can say then that justification's basis is God, however notice secondly...
Justification's reception is by faith alone
Haggai, a prophet contemporary with Zechariah, describes Joshua and others in Haggai 1:12 "Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people,obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the Lord." Let the reader note the underlined words: "obeyed the voice of the Lord". This obedience upon Joshua's part signals the presence of true saving faith already operating in his life. Such faith is described in Romans 1:5 as the "obedience of faith" or "the obedience that comes from faith". Lest the reader think we are dispensing away with the necessity of human responsibility in salvation, nothing could be further from the truth. The gifting of faith from Christ is what becomes the believer's faith and trust in Christ at salvation. A person who is justified by faith has truly, genuinely and freely trusted in Jesus Christ. Faith is the means of receiving justification, while God of course is the basis. Only when that person has trusted, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will justification be applied. Romans 4:3 plainly says about Abraham: "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness".
No doubt, what follows through the remainder of Zechariah 3 is due to the fact that Joshua had trusted by grace through faith in the redemptive promises of God, like Abraham. The reception of justification is faith alone. The basis of justification is the Father's Sovereign choice and the Son's saving work. But notice thirdly...
Justification's declarations. Zechariah 3:3-10
As we peer briefly into Joshua's life, we discover how much he was in need of being accepted by God or justified. We know that his father and family had went into exile. We also know that upon their return to Jerusalem, some of Joshua's relatives had to be released from their priesthood due to lack of evidence for their lineage and fitness to serve. In the book of Ezra, we read of the fear and threats Joshua had to endure from outside enemies and inside his heart. (Ezra 3:3; 4:4; 5:2) Joshua served as a representative before the people and his own life and righteousness was found wanting.
However notice his posture in this heavenly vision: he is "standing before the Angel of the Lord." In other words, because of justification, Joshua is accepted before God for the sake of the Son. The following declarations issued by God to Joshua are echoed in the New Testament regarding what takes place in justification:
1. Right standing. Zechariah 3:3-4; Romans 5:1-2
We see the Angel of the Lord Divinely declaring that Joshua's filthy garments be removed and exchanged for clean robes. Romans 5:1-2 states - "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God."
2. Right relationship. Zechariah 3:5-7; Galatians 3:24-26
Next we see a second declaration wherein the prophet himself is echoing what is undoubtedly a Divine declaration to put a clean turban on Joshua's head. That turban stood for Joshua's office, thus he not only had right standing, but right relationship with God. A High priest under the law could only enter into the most holy place once a year. However in this context, the heavenly temple grants in grace unlimited access and relationship. Galatians 3:24-26 states - "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus."
3. Right representation. Zechariah 3:8-10; 1 John 2:1
Then Zechariah closes out this chapter by noting how in front of Joshua sits a mysterious stone that we know from other scriptures symbolizes the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9ff; Revelation 5:6) 1 John 2:1 tells us - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.'
We have walked our way through Zechariah 3 in an attempt to understand the idea of justification or acceptance with God. We noted first of all that justification's basis is God. The Father's Sovereign choice and the Son's saving work operate as the basis. Then secondly, the means of receiving justification is faith alone. Joshua evidenced saving faith by virtue of the obedience that issues forth from such faith. Abraham and every believer justified in Old and New Testament is credited with Christ's righteousness apart from their good works at saving faith. Then finally, justification's declarations include right standing, relationship and representation.