Meditations on “God of Transformation: 10: Are you too dirty?
Zech 3:1-3 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 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?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.
There is nothing, I believe, that immobilises a Christian so much as a sense of guilt, failure, unworthiness and uncleanness. There are often discussions in Christian circles as to whether or not we are still sinners. The New Testament doesn’t usually speak of us as sinners, although the apostle Paul did say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Note the present tense. However the reality is that it speaks of us more as ‘saints’ but we are saints who sometimes fall, The highly pastoral apostle John spells this out for us: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Yes, the truth is that although sin no longer has power over us and sin isn’t to be part of everyday life, we do still from time to time get it wrong – we sin!
The thing abut sinning is that it makes us vulnerable to Satan’s accusations and the trouble is that he is always half right. Yes, I have blown it, yes, I did not speak as I should have done, yes I lacked grace, and yes I spoke unkindly. All those things are wrong and, in fact, they are all different ways of speaking about the same thing. And then he heaps on the judgment: “A fine Christian you are! Is that how Christians are supposed to behave. I don’t think you are even a real Christian because a real Christian couldn’t act like that. For goodness sake, stop kidding yourself!” And that’s how it works. It starts by pointing out your failure, then generalizes it, then starts speculating negatively about it and then starts making suggestion about how not to carry on being a Christian. He starts from a truth and spreads to lies, because the bigger truth is that although I have blown it, I have not been written off by Christ. He understands and he is there to restore me.
I often think that perhaps one of the first verses we ought to get new Christians to learn is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) It shows us God’s desire is to forgive us and cleanse us but for that to happen when we have got it wrong, we have to be honest and face our sin and confess it to Him. It is vital for our ongoing wellbeing that we each learn the truth of that verse.
In our verses from Zechariah above, Zechariah is given a vision of what is presumably the throne room in heaven where the Lord, an angel and Satan stand around Joshua the high priest. As we’ll see as we read on, Joshua looks a mess; he is dirty. This presumably represents his sin for Satan is accusing him but the Lord steps in: “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?” (Zech 3:2) The reference to Jerusalem says, “I have a relationship with these people, they are my people.” Now Israel had only just recently been brought back from exile in Babylon. Yes, there they had appeared as failures, condemned for their ongoing sins that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, but now the Lord had brought them back to the Promised Land and now they were restoring the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. There is a major restoration / transformation process going on. So yes, Joshua has been snatched from the fires of destruction in Babylon and is now back in Jerusalem serving here. Yes, the past has been black but today is a new day.
Then we see what Joshua looks like: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” (v.3) There is no hiding this and indeed when the angel gives instruction about Joshua he highlights his state: “The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” (v.4a) Heaven deals in realities and the reality is that Joshua needs a serious makeover! It starts – “Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” (v.4b) This is the business of heaven, the work of Christ on the Cross, to take away our sin. We cannot do it, only he can.
Then something fascinating happens: “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.” (v.5) Notice the ‘I’ for Zechariah gets drawn into what happens and as a prophet he speaks the will of God – carry on reclothing him, do a complete job, don’t stop until every bit of dirty clothing has been replaced.
As with the apostle Peter in John 21, the restoration process doesn’t just end with a cleansing and forgiveness, it ends with a recommissioning. There is a job to be done, and yes, there are standards to be upheld but if you will do it, it is here for you.
Do you see the wonders of this transformation? It doesn’t matter how big your sin or how far you have fallen, when you acknowledge it and confess it, He forgives you AND cleanses you AND sets you off on a path of service again. Next to Satan, do you know who is the greatest stumbling block to all this happening? You and me! We can’t believe it can be that good. We feel it is too good to be true and so we want to DO things to make up for our sin, but you cannot ‘make up’, you can only receive the free gift of His grace and receive His forgiveness and receive His cleansing and then just be thankful.
All you can do in this process is confess and then let Him do the rest. The whisper of “It can’t be that easy,” comes from the enemy. Ignore him. When you take communion declare, “I am forgiven. I am cleansed. I am sent. He loves me and is for me. In fact, don’t wait for communion, go and stand in front of a mirror and declare it to yourself, and then go into the middle of your room, look up and declare it to all the unseen onlookers in heaven, and worship and give thanks. Hallelujah! Transformation!