Selected highlights from this sermon.
Satan is angry. We participated in the fall, just like he did. But through Christ, we are now exempt from God’s wrath—the wrath that Satan will forever endure. And when the opportunity presents itself, Satan stands before God and accuses us. Other times, he makes us feel guilty for things that God has already forgiven.
We are the object of attention in the Lord’s courtroom—Satan on one side, Jesus on the other. Christians can take heart because Jesus has already won the victory.
The last part of this message includes the reading of Joshua Harris’ The Room. You can find this story at http://www.joshharris.com/the_room_my_dream.php
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We’re coming near the end of our series of messages on the invisible world. We’ve learned that it is in the invisible world that God exists–angels, demons, heaven and hell, and of course, we are there as well because our minds actually exist also in the invisible world.
Today we are going to be studying the invisible world and our role in it, particularly as it has to do with Satan and Jesus, and the dispute happens to be over us. What we are going to learn is that as a result of this message we should be able to sleep better than we normally do. We should deal with issues regarding our consciences, and regarding guilt, and it’s all here in God’s Holy Word for us.
I think you’ll discover that every one of us needs this message. I need it. You need it, and of course, as you listen, you’ll also be thinking of other people who also need it, so that I hope that this message has a wide distribution for the glory of God, the honor of Jesus, and the proclamation of His great Gospel.
Our text actually takes place in the third chapter of Zechariah. I wonder if you can find that in your Bibles. I hope so. If you have some trouble you might want to look at the table of contents, and if you are using the Bible that is before you there in the seats, I think it is page 794. If not, you go to the New Testament and Old Testament break and then move backwards and pretty soon you get to the prophet Zechariah whose prophecy is filled with visions and all kinds of interesting predictions about Jesus Christ.
The context is this. Remember that in 586 B.C. the Babylonians came and they captured the Israelites. They destroyed Jerusalem, and then Israel was in Babylon for 70 long years, and when they came back they rebuilt the Temple. But it was also a time of great discouragement because of opposition. The Temple was so small in comparison to Solomon’s Temple that many of the old people remembered. And it is in that context that Zechariah gave his prophecy. What we have in chapter 3 is a vision that he had and he inserts himself into this vision, as we shall see in a few moments.
I want to paint the scene for you. It is a court scene. You’ve all been in a courtroom. There is the presiding judge. It is the Lord, the Angel of the Lord. Your Bibles are open.
“Then he showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the Angel of the Lord.” In the Old Testament when you have the phrase the Angel of the Lord it is a reference to Jesus. We know this because the Angel of the Lord is spoken of as Jehovah even in this passage, but He is also distinct from Jehovah. Who else would be God and yet be distinct from God but Jesus Christ? So in the Old Testament we even have here a reference to the Trinity. When you have an angel of the Lord that is some individual angel like Michael or Gabriel, but when you have the Angel of the Lord, it’s a special designation for Jesus Christ. So Jesus is really the presiding judge, and what I’d like us to do is to look at the various personalities that are involved in this and we’ll see ourselves in a moment, and we’ll understand why God’s Word should be transforming and will be transforming in our lives as well as we take it in.
The first person I want to talk about is Joshua. When you read Joshua, the priest, who is standing there, don’t think that this is the Joshua who fit the battle of Jericho. That’s a different Joshua. That’s Joshua, the great military leader. This is Joshua, the high priest. He led the children of Israel, those who came back from that captivity in Babylon. He was one of the leaders. He was the one who helped guide the building of the Temple, and now he is standing before the Angel of the Lord, and let’s look at how he is dressed.
You’ll notice it says in verse 3, “Now Joshua was standing before the Angel clothed with filthy garments.” Wow! His clothes actually represent the sins of Israel. And what are those sins? Those sins were a sense of syncretism, that is to say the worship of idols along with Jehovah. No doubt some people thought that that was a form of advancement and success, the amalgamation of other religions into the true religion of God, but God saw it as filthy. There was immorality. There was the exploitation of the poor. All the things that the prophets, such as Jeremiah and Isaiah had spoken about, and now Joshua is standing in the presence of a holy God in filthy garments.
We sometimes don’t appreciate this because we forget that in the Old Testament there were specific rules as to how a priest should be dressed. And it always talked about being clothed in fine linen, linen that was clean, and if the priest personally even was in any way unclean he had to bathe himself. After all, he is coming into God’s presence, and here is Joshua standing there in the presence of God, standing filthy. Imagine how he felt.
I remember being invited to an event one time and I went in ordinary daytime clothes, maybe threw on a suit coat. Everybody else was dressed so formally. I remember how I felt so out of place. I felt something like a counterfeit coin in an offering plate. I mean somehow there was something here that said I don’t belong here.
Imagine you are standing in the presence of God. Joshua is burning with a sense of shame in God’s holy presence, clothed in filthy garments, really abhorrent, just as our sin is to God abhorrent.
Well, that’s Joshua. Now let’s look at Satan. What is he doing? Well, you’ll notice it says in verse 1 that he’s standing before the Angel of the Lord. Satan is standing at his right hand to accuse him. Satan is there to accuse Joshua. Satan, the fallen angel, who himself cannot be redeemed because he was not included in the death of Jesus Christ, the one who evidently at one time gave praise to God and was responsible for the choir in heaven, and yet he began to take glory for himself, and he was cast down out of his position in heaven, though he still has some access to heaven today, but he is now irredeemably evil and he stands there to accuse Joshua. And what is he accusing him of? What is Satan saying? Well, we’re not told in the text, but of course biblically we can guess. What he is saying is this. “Joshua, you have no right to stand in God’s presence. For you to be here is an insult to God, and it is a compromise of God’s holiness.”
Now notice this. In a sense Satan is right in what he says. Why is he then rebuked, as we shall see in a moment? He is rebuked for the simple reason that he is doing it with the wrong attitude. Satan is angry with us as God’s people–very angry. What makes him angry is that we participated in the fall just like he did. We deserve hell just like he does, but we don’t get hell. We get heaven, and this makes him so angry to think that human beings who are in the same predicament as he is are exempt from God’s wrath and anger, and he has to endure it forever. So what he is doing is he is accusing Joshua, reminding God that if he accepts Joshua the courts of heaven are going to be defiled. Satan is there to accuse.
Well, there’s a third personality in all of this, and that is the Lord himself whom we have already met in the introduction. You’ll notice what happens in the text.
Verse 4 says, “And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him,’ and to him he said, ‘Behold I have taken your iniquity away from you and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” Wow! Take off his filthy clothes. Get rid of them, and I am giving you garments that are not only pure, but what the Hebrew text really means is garments of royalty, garments of beauty, garments that signify acceptance and prominence and importance. That’s actually embedded here in the text and so Joshua’s clothes, his filthy garments, are taken from him and he is clothed in pure garments, special garments that give him accessibility to God.
Now just keep in mind that Joshua here is representing us also, isn’t he? You know, there are many people who think that salvation is forgiveness, and sometimes we preach the Gospel that way. We say, “Come to Jesus and be forgiven,” and thank God, that is true, but if that is your Gospel it is only half the Gospel. It’s not the whole Gospel because it is not just that God forgives us and then allows us to be standing there naked as if the garments of Joshua were taken away and nothing were given him in exchange. But God says, “I give you a garment of righteousness.” He says, “I give you a garment of honor. I give you a garment that means that you are acceptable to me; a garment of beauty, and a garment of royalty. You are very special to me. You are welcomed and you are received.”
Now in the midst of this Zechariah inserts himself into the vision. You’ll notice it says in verse 5, “And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head,’ so they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the Angel of the Lord was standing by.” Then notice what the angel said to Joshua in verse 6. “The Angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts, if you will walk in my ways and keep my charge then you shall rule my house and have charge over my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.”
What God is saying is this: “You and I are not redeemed just to enjoy our redemption. We are redeemed that we might serve, not that we might just commit the same sins again and depend upon the mercy of God, but that we might walk in the salvation that He has given us, and walking in that salvation, to serve Him with acceptability and impact.” And here at the church, as you know, this fall we are emphasizing the Gospel lived out in service in so many different ways, and God gives Joshua this assignment.
Well, I’ve told you basically the story of the text, but how does this apply to us today? How does it come through the centuries so that you and I not only benefit but that we understand our own predicament and God’s salvation much better? So what I’d like to do is to give you today three transforming truths that I hope the Holy Spirit will use to liberate some of you from your guilt, from your shame, from your past, that you might be able to walk in God’s courts with a sense of confidence and joy.
Number one, remember that Satan still accuses us. Don’t ask me exactly where this takes place because I don’t know, but somewhere in this stratosphere. Somewhere in the invisible world Satan is still able to bring us up into God’s face and to keep accusing God of injustice by accepting sinners who Satan would love to see in hell along with him.
We find this, for example, in the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation. Many believe that this is actually fulfilled during the Tribulation Period, probably the middle of the Tribulation Period. Satan is at war in heaven. Michael and his angels (verse 7) are fighting against the dragon. I love this passage. “And the great dragon was thrown down. That ancient serpent that is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, he was thrown to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ has come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before God.’” Wow! And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word of His testimony.
Satan is still bringing accusation against us, first of all before God, reminding God, as I’ve already mentioned, that we should be in hell along with him, angry and envious. Some Christians don’t think that envy is a great sin because it’s sort of a secret sin, but Satan is envious that we who sinned just as he did ultimately are going to be exalted above the angelic realms someday. You know that! I’ve mentioned that many times in messages that we will be above the angels because angels cannot become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. And so Satan is there continually reminding God that He is unjust to do what He has done, but of course, we know that God’s justice has been meticulously satisfied by Jesus, and so that is the accusation of Satan before God.
But Satan also accuses us. In our Scripture reading this morning we read the text that says that he goes about seeking those whom he may devour. He has two different strategies. One is to lead us into sin, and then the other is after he has led us into sin to tell us that God is mad at us, that we are no longer received. “Who are you, you hypocrite, to sing songs in church? If people knew about your past, you wouldn’t be up there singing in the choir. You are unworthy to come into God’s presence,” And so what happens is we succumb to guilt.
I wish I had more time for this. I’m actually thinking of beginning a series of messages sometime in the future, and I don’t know when, on the conscience, and the clearing of the conscience because there is the necessity to clear it vertically in our relationship with God, but also our relationship with others, and that’s a much longer story. But let me introduce it to you today.
There is such a thing as real guilt. Real guilt is when we feel guilty over things we should feel guilty about. And if you don’t know how to handle that guilt you’re going to do things that will only increase it. It’s a terrible predicament. William Justice in his book talks about visiting a young man who was in the hospital. And he said, “Why are you blowing your mind on drugs?” And the boy said to him, “You should know the answer to that question without me telling you.” He said, “I feel so terrible about things that I’ve done.” He said, “I take drugs because I don’t have the ability to shoot myself to take my own life and I am doing it the slow way, using drugs.”
And Justice points out that when you are dealing with guilt, and you deal with it in the wrong way, you do things that only increase your guilt. What a terrible predicament! Your guilt over things that you have done that you’ve not dealt with is a gift of God, but you must respond to it correctly.
So there’s such a thing as real guilt, but today I want to introduce you to false guilt. Many people are bound by false guilt, decisions that they made that had terrible consequences, but they were made with good intentions. A little daughter looks up to her mother and says, “Mommy, can I cross the street?” and the mother says yes and a car hits the child. For years the mother not only felt regret but deep, deep guilt that hampered her relationship with God. You have to understand that as human beings we sometimes make bad judgments, and though we feel terrible about them and never “forgive ourselves,” let it never be said that that kind of guilt hinders our walk with God.
But there’s another king of guilt, and this is what Satan loves to use. I would think that this would be his preference. He loves to accuse us of things for which we have already been forgiven, things for which we have already confessed that are already under the blood of Christ, and he keeps bringing those things up to drag us down so that every step we make of progress in the Christian life is impeded because of this nagging guilt. Now sometimes it has to do with vertical guilt, and sometimes with horizontal guilt. Today I’m talking only about the vertical–our relationship with God. I think, for example, of a woman who told me that after an abortion whenever she saw a child in a supermarket or wherever that would be about the same age as the child she aborted she had to run away and cry and all the guilt of the past came washing back. I asked, “Have you confessed your sin?” “Yes,” she said, “a thousand times but the guilt will not go away.”
Now friends, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and he is just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from every single, individual unrighteousness.” No matter the past, once it has been confessed under the blood of Christ what you need to do in those moments when it all comes back is to affirm the fact that Jesus paid it all, and you are forgiven. You are forgiven (applause) and you don’t let the past weigh down on your future. Now the question of whether or not her husband knows, and all, that has to do with the horizontal issues that I’m not talking about today, but may at a later time.
So Satan says, “Oh, so you’re a Christian, huh? Look at what you’ve done, and you’re going to go to Moody Church and you are going to sing those songs, aren’t you, you hypocrite? Who are you?” Even over sins that have been forgiven, confessed, and over which we have received cleansing, Satan still harasses us, that’s where he is, accusing us before God and using guilt to do it for us.
That’s the first statement I want you to have. There’s a second, and that is that God continues to give us His righteousness and His righteous robes. In the story that we have before us in this vision, the filthy garments are taken away, and by the way they were filthy. I won’t go into detail, but just assume the fact that the Hebrew text is very vivid here. These were very filthy garments and what happens is they are taken away and he is given pure robes so that he might be able to stand in God’s court, so that he might be able to sing the songs of Zion, so that he might be able to give worship and praise to Almighty God, and to know that he is accepted before God. This has to do in the New Testament of course with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And even for the Old Testament saints, the righteousness of Christ that He would provide was provided for them in advance. They were saved on credit. The righteousness of Christ! “But he made him (that is Jesus) to be sin for us, the one who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ.” God says, “You come to Jesus and I have some new garments for you.” He says, “First of all it is a costly garment. The garment has been bought by the precious blood of Jesus–a costly garment. It is a pure garment. It is a garment as pure as God, and that’s why it is when we die, for those who have trusted Christ as Savior (you’ve heard me say it many times), they will be welcomed into heaven as if they are Jesus because they are clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
So we have here a costly garment, a pure garment. We have also a garment that is a complete garment. It takes care of all sin, both past, present and future. All of your sins were future when Jesus died on the cross, and those sins were already gathered up, if I might speak somewhat precisely, but I think helpfully. Those sins were gathered up and Jesus Christ paid for them. That’s why we sing, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.” Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t confess our sins. Confession maintains our fellowship with God, but our status as sons and daughters remains secure because that garment of righteousness keeps covering us and is ours until the day we die. And we can stand with confidence before God. We can sing with confidence. We can come out of our shame, and that’s another kind of guilt, by the way, and that is the shame that your family or others have imposed upon you that some of you carry. You can get rid of that shame by reminding yourself that you have a new garment. The filthy garment has been set aside. The robe that Jesus gives you is one of dignity and acceptance and worthiness in the presence of Almighty God. And so Jesus has a new robe for us. And it is given to those who believe, and that’s why there is no other way to heaven. There is no other guru or teacher that can possibly do that. You need God to do the saving. It is God who takes away the sin and gives you a new robe, a robe of righteousness and truthfulness and acceptance.
And then there’s a third fact. By the way, remember years ago I mentioned to you I was to speak somewhere and was just overcome with a sense of frustration and anger. I was parking the car and I thought to myself, “You know, I have to preach in a half an hour. How do I preach when all this is going on in my soul with all of this stirring, all this guilt?” And I was reminded of Romans 8. And I said it out loud in the car. Now normally don’t say this unless you are alone or else someone might think you should keep on driving to the local hospital. But in the car by myself I shouted, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather than is risen again and is even now at the right hand of the throne of God who also makes intercession for us.’” (applause) Calmness came to my soul and I remember preaching on the great doctrine of the faith of justification even as I preach it now.
But there’s a third fact and that is that we are caught in the middle in all of this. You’ll notice that the title of this series is The Invisible World where battles are lost or won. We are the big objects of attention, and we’re the objects of attention because there you have God saying, “I’ve received them on the basis of Christ,” and there you have Satan saying, “They are unworthy. They shouldn’t be able to enter into the courts of heaven. They are sinners just like I am,” and he is heaping guilt on us and he is also accusing God of injustice, and he is angry. Thank God he was thrown out of heaven, and in the midst of this we struggle with our past because he is there to remind us of our past, and God is there to remind us of our future and how different the two really are.
I’d like to read a story that occurs in one of the books by Joshua Harris. Listen carefully.
In that place between wakefulness and dreams I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction had very different headings. I knew exactly where I was.
This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system from my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror stirred within me as I began randomly opening the files and exploring their contents. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret, so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.
The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird – books I’d read, lies I’d told, comfort I have given, jokes I had laughed at, somewhere hilarious in their exactness, things I have yelled at my brothers. Others I couldn’t laugh at - things I have done in anger, things I have muttered under my breath at my parents. Each was written in my own handwriting, each signed with my signature.
When I pulled out the file marked Songs I’ve Listened To I shut it, slammed, not so much by the quality of the music but much more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented. When I came to a file marked lustful thoughts I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size and drew out a card. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.
Suddenly I felt almost an animal rage. One thought dominated my mind. No one must ever see these cards. I had to destroy them. In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. I had to empty it and burn the cards, but as I took the file at one end and began pounding it on the floor I couldn’t dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it so strong (as strong as steel) when I tried to tear it.
Defeated and utterly helpless I let out a long self-pitying sigh and then I saw it. The title bore, “People I have shared the gospel with.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer and almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand. I began to weep, sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.
But then as I pushed away the tears I saw Him. No, please not Him, not here. Anyone but Jesus! I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response and in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with a pity in His eyes. I dropped my head and covered my face with my hands and I began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said many things but He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me. Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files and starting at one end of the room He took out a file one by one and began to sign His name over mine on each card. “No,” I shouted. I rushed to Him. All I could say was “No, no.” I pulled the card from Him. He name shouldn’t be on these cards but there it was written in red so rich, so dark, and so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and continued to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed that I heard Him close the last file and He walked back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on the door. There were still cards to be written.
The Bible says in Revelation 12 regarding Satan the accuser, “He overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” because Jesus paid it all and only His blood can cleanse us in the presence of God and an accusing devil. (applause)
Can we pray together?
There are some of you here who have never trusted Jesus as your Savior. You must do that. I urge you to. Even as we pray, you pray and say, “Jesus, today I receive You as mine. Take all my cards signed with Your blood that You became guilty of when You became sin for me.”
Some of you are here and your past continues to haunt you. Jesus is the one who says to you and to me today as He puts His arms around us, “It is finished. The past is gone. The new has come.”
Father, we thank you today for this marvelous account of Joshua. We thank you so much that in Your grace, You took away the filthy garments and gave him rich garments of grace and power. We ask today, Lord, that we will depend upon the righteousness of Jesus, and may we depend upon Him with confidence that He paid it all and that His blood washes away every sin. We pray for all those today, Father, bound by their past, bound by guilt and shame. Liberate them today we ask in the presence of the devil and in the presence of Jesus, the righteous judge in whose name we pray, Amen.
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