Accused But Vindicated
“He shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.”—Zechariah 3:1
The immediate purpose of this vision given to the prophet is not hard to discover. Joshua, the priest in tattered garments is a picture of the Jewish people in their distress following the many years of captivity. He is ministering before the Lord in robes unfitted for his work. The old adversary of God’s people, the devil, chooses that moment to resist them and seeks to turn away God’s favor from them, but that same angel of the Lord who led them through the wilderness, and sustained them through every past experience, and who one day would come as man and bear the penalty of their sin upon the cross of Calvary—He stands before the throne of God, as their advocate. At His request Jehovah rebukes Satan and blesses the people. Joshua receives a change of raiment in token that their sin is forgiven. The adversary is reminded that if the people are defiled and stained, they are a brand plucked out of the fire, yet bearing evidences of the scorching of the flame. The vision sweeps on to the day of the Lord Jesus and the heart of the prophet is thrilled to see the whole land restored to peace and happiness under the reign of the One who is called “My servant the Branch.”
But for our message today I want to take (with scriptural authority, I believe) Joshua as the picture of all Christian people as they stand in their sense of unfitness, subject to the accusations of Satan. For Scripture tells us that there is one—that old serpent the devil—who accuses us day and night before God. From such accusations there is also before the throne One—our blessed Lord Himself—who delivers and grants a change of raiment, picturing forgiveness and the imputation of His righteousness to every believer. Surely in its New Testament application, there is more for us in this vision than Zechariah ever discovered. May we see the Lord Jesus in all the glory of His love.
There are three things to consider: (a) the priest standing before the angel of the Lord; (b) the adversary standing at his right hand; (c) the angel standing by.
The priest before the Lord.
Who are the priests? The apostles never claimed any office of priesthood above their fellows. They wrote to fellow Christians of their age and said, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.” Every man and woman who knows the cleansing power of the blood of Christ in their soul is appointed to serve as a priest unto God. Every man and woman: for in Christ there is neither male nor female, all are one in Him; and ALL are made kings and priests unto God to pray, to worship, to render consecrated service until the Lord shall come either for them to take them to be with Himself, or gently to lead the spirit into His presence, leaving the body until the great resurrection day. In Joshua, the high priest, there is therefore a picture of every child of God.
He is standing before the angel of the Lord. That is, standing to minister and that is the perpetual position of every Christian. He can claim no time to set apart for his own amusement, no right to be wandering after his own affairs. The true position of every Christian, not only in this hour of worship, but at home, at business, at recreation is to do all things to the glory of God. By day and night to serve Him, to fall asleep with His name on our lips, to awake each morning to the consciousness of His presence. Yes, and to do it all before the angel of the Lord, not before Jehovah Himself, for our God is a consuming fire, but before a mediator. How blessed and glorious to serve before Christ and in Him, to know that my feeble prayers, my poor wretched, defiled service—indeed I myself—are all accepted before God in Him. My tears—He understands, He wept. My sighs, too, He was brokenhearted.
He is standing before the angel of the Lord in filthy garments.
Do you ever feel like that when you serve Him? You are to lead prayers at home and things haven’t been what they ought to be. There have been harsh words and frayed tempers and you say, “How can I pray tonight?” Or perhaps your business has been worrying you and getting you down and you sit in your pew full of distracting thoughts. You say, “I can’t praise God as I should.” But I say to my own heart, I know what it is sometimes to come and preach with such an overwhelming sense of my own unworthiness, that were it not “woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel,” I would never come again! For God knows how hard it is to be His mouthpiece if I am conscious of defiled garments. Perhaps some of you are going to your Sunday school classes, knowing you are bought with a price, but deeply conscious of wrong within and you say, “How can God bless the little ones through me?” Stop! Never let us renounce our service, never let a sense of unfitness keep us from His service. Stand where you are! You are standing before the angel of the Lord, the only place where sin can be washed away. It is before Christ that sin is to be confessed, confess it elsewhere and it is not true repentance. Remorse is repentance made out of sight of Jesus. True repentance is sorrow of sin in His presence. Though you cry “vile and full of sin I am,” there is only one hand which can touch you and make you clean. Stand where that hand is close to you and say, “Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”
The adversary at his right hand.
Satan stands also before the angel to resist Joshua. This seems superfluous for Joshua knows his unfitness. That’s when Satan attacks. He is called Satan, which means adversary. It is far better at least to have such a one as adversary than friend. It is dread business to be a friend of Satan for that means shut out with him to outer darkness, an enemy of God. But to have the devil as an adversary supposes God as a friend. Therefore, there is at least some comfort here. But the devil is a cunning foe, very experienced, more subtle than any other, ripe with years of practice, and a stern adversary who never ceases to vex until we’re out of range in heaven.
He selects the best place for his work and he comes to accuse Joshua before the angel, before God’s own Son. Ah! If he can persuade the Lord to loose His hold on us. If he can only come between the Saviour and us! He knows the only secret of our strength. If he can touch us just there! It is best to leave our case in our Advocate’s hands, he is too clever for us.
He selects the best time for his work. Joshua had on his filthy garments. Surely he felt his need and is conscious enough of his uncleanness without having the devil to attack him. Satan is a great coward. He always attacks us when we are down. When we are in good health, we aren’t often tempted to doubt our God. But pressed in spirit, liver out of order, head aching, tired and exhausted, then comes the serpent and says, “God has forsaken us, we are unfaithful, etc.” The old rascal! Tell me that when I’m fit and by God’s grace, I’m more than a match for you. But to meet me when you know I’m weak is just like the devil! What a devil he is! I can’t give him a worse name than that, but if I could he would deserve it. When conscious of sin, when feeling our unfitness, just then the devil comes along to accuse us. If Joshua’s garments had been clean that day, Satan would have left him alone. But just because he is bowed down with a sense of shame, Satan knows how Joshua hates himself and says, “Now is my opportunity, God will hate him too, for He cannot stand uncleanness. Now I’ll make an end of him.”
You ask me what can he bring against us? Surely the question is, what of the ten thousand things does he choose to accuse us with? Yesterday, impatience; the day before—pride, and the day before that, laziness; before that, temper; and before that, unbelief. Oh! The devil has a great choice. The man who dreams of perfection in the flesh is either a fool or a knave! Those who live closest to the Lord would tell you they never expect that. Perfect in Christ, yes, but complete only in Him. Satan can go on accusing and finding ground for it every day and all day this side of glory, and his sole purpose is our total destruction. What a picture: The child of God before the angel, conscious of sin and unfitness; the devil crying out before the bar of justice, “Condemn him!” And well may the Christian tremble as he knows how true the charge is. But stop! The picture changes.
The angel standing by.
He has been silent until now. He steps to the foreground. He speaks: “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Now concerning that rebuke note that first it comes at the right time. When Satan accuses, Christ pleads. He doesn’t wait till the case has gone against us and then express regret. He is a very present help in time of trouble. There is never a night so dark, that Satan can take Christ by surprise and take you by storm. At the nick of time Christ is there to plead. Secondly, the rebuke comes from the very highest authority. Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan. Not only the Son, but the Father. The eternal God, full of justice is called upon to rebuke. He says, “I have accepted my own beloved Son in the place of this poor sinner with filthy garments. Why dost thou accuse? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”
In the third place it is based on the choice of love. The Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee. If God has chosen His people, then it is useless for Satan to attempt their overthrow. Satan is met with a truth which was settled before the world was, and it is thrown like a chain into his teeth. Let him chomp till he breaks his teeth on it. God hath chosen Jerusalem, that’s enough. Armenianism is grand when all is well, but when the storm runs high and temptation is heavy and there’s business to be done in great waters, then beloved in my spiritual life, I flee to the rock of Calvinistic truth. It is the comfort in every storm. It is the only truth which can shut the devil’s mouth and the mouths of plenty of others sent to accuse. It shuts his mouth and fills mine in every day of extremity. Does God’s love ordain sinners to eternal life irrespective of their works? Does He in sovereign mercy make us His children? Does He choose the chief of sinners and never cast him out? Does He on such terms choose me?
Then that blessed love just fits me and to all my doubts and fears and conscious defilement I can say, “The Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee.” And if anyone suggests that teaching is a license to live as we like, you’ve never tasted of His love or known the constraint of the indwelling Son of God.
Fourthly, the rebuke is so applicable to the case in hand. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Satan says, “his garments are filthy.” Jesus answers, “What else do you expect, he is a brand pulled out of the fire. It had begun to crackle and burn and though rescued, he is still charred and black.”
Christ shuts the devil’s mouth by telling him, “Of course he is black, he is a brand plucked out of the fire. I plucked him out of it. He is what I knew he would be and I have accepted him just as he is. He is not what I mean to make him. He is not what he will be, but he is accepted as he is!”
To such a rebuke the devil had nothing to say! Joshua had nothing to add. There was no need. He is like Haman in the book of Esther, who had a grand plot to destroy the Jews. But there was one thing he hadn’t reckoned on. The Jews had a friend at court whom the king loved—Esther! Satan has a great scheme to destroy God’s people, but one thing frustrates him—the eternal Friend at court who prays and pleads for us. As long as He is there, we shall never fail. The filthy garments are removed, so is sin by the atonement of Christ. You feel unworthy to serve Him: look away to Jesus and lay hold of Him and then, though you will always know you’re a sinner, you will know that you are accepted in Christ, and the haunting fear of sin will go, to be replaced by the knowledge of being complete in Him.
Not only so, but there is the change of raiment—here is Christ’s spotless purity. Oh! The joy of service now, conscious of being arrayed in this. Without blemish from head to foot is every justified soul in the sight of God, and the devil is silenced!
Lastly note that the rebuke is accompanied by a wonderous work of grace (Zechariah 3:4). “Take away the filthy garments from him…I will clothe him with a change of raiment.”
What a picture of sin removed, the defiling garments gone. So is every one of us as children of God, resting in a finished work at the cross and refusing to be shaken out of a position of victory, letting the Lord answer the adversary. What joy! “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither doth He see perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21).
Now in closing, Zechariah had to speak (v. 5), “I said let them set a fair mitre upon his head.” That is, “Now, Lord, finish the work!” Perfectly clothed, now make him serve thee. Righteousness, acceptance are not all. Upon that mitre was written the words, “Holiness unto the Lord.” Let that mitre be put on and never taken off. Too many of us rest in our acceptance before God and discard the mitre, which is not only for state occasions, but always as you serve Him. Go into that service, without doubt or fear—the accuser is silenced—conscious of your acceptance in Christ and holiness unto the Lord your purpose. And the closing sentence of the verse is, “The angel of the Lord stood by.” We shall always need Him, His strength, His comfort, His smile.
If there be any conscious of filthy garments, don’t try to wash them or mend them—look to Jesus.