Made Clean by Christ
By Ed Vitagliano
The work of the cross and the empty tomb places before all mankind a calling to be set free forever from the bondage of guilt and condemnation.
As Christians, we have passed through the most important season of the year – culminating in Good Friday and Easter. Everything we live in and enjoy as disciples of Jesus Christ flow out of the work of God accomplished through Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.
It is a terrible burden for a person to be in bondage to guilt, chained in a heavy darkness that comes from condemnation. The work of the cross and the empty tomb places before all mankind a calling to be set free forever.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture – Zechariah 3 – contains a powerful portrait of the grace and mercy that comes from the crucified Savior. It centers on a vision given to the prophet Zechariah in which he sees Joshua the high priest in the presence of God.
It is a depiction of the guilty sinner caught in the glare of holiness. Joshua is defiled by sin; Zechariah says the high priest was “clothed with filthy garments.” Satan, the “accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10), is doing just that; he is ranting against Joshua, presumably demanding the judgment due to the high priest. Moreover, as this scene plays out, Joshua is notably mute. What defense can he offer? Guilt comes from sin because we are defiled; oftentimes, Satan’s accusations are accurate.
But those accusations are not the end of the story. In an amazing scene, the angel of the Lord confronts the accuser. “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” (v. 2)
This is counterintuitive to most people who believe in works-based righteousness. We would expect God to agree that Joshua was guilty; as far as judgment is concerned, the high priest is clothed in stained garments. End of story. There is certainly nothing in Zechariah 3 that indicates that the Lord disagreed that Joshua had defiled himself.
What mattered more than all of that, however, was that Joshua already belonged to God. “Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” the Lord asks Satan. Of course, it is a rhetorical question. Yes, Joshua has been rescued from the wrath of God and its punishment; he trusts in the Lord; therefore the Lord shall save him utterly. So, Satan – be silent! The Adversary is heard from no more in this chapter.
The Lord orders Joshua restored. The very symbol of the high priest’s guiltiness – his soiled garments – is removed. He is cleansed and clothed in the attire suitable for an audience with God.
It is the Lord Himself who makes the high priest fit for His presence, and thus it has nothing to do with Joshua’s actions or efforts. In fact, all the man is told to do at this point is to receive the grace of God – to understand and believe it. “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes” (v. 4).
This is a loving and gracious gesture on God’s part – similar to other scenes in Scripture. One of the most well known is in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. When the guilty younger son returns home, figuring that he would have to bargain his way back into his father’s good graces, he is unexpectedly met by mercy instead. “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet … ’” (v. 22).
In the Parable of the Wedding Feast, those who accept the invitation to attend are given wedding clothes by the host as a gift. With the proper attire, the guests are welcomed; without it, no matter how well dressed they are, they are removed (Matt. 22:11-14).
In Zechariah 3:4, the words, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you,” are stunning and powerful. See. How difficult that is for us, even for Christians. See what I have done for you.
In order to see that, however, we have to see Jesus Christ and what He has done for us on Calvary. This passage in Zechariah 3 is plainly messianic, pointing to the work of Jesus, whom God calls “My servant the Branch” (v. 8). Just as Joshua’s sin was removed, the Lord tells the high priest, “I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”
Satan, of course, tries to blind us to that saving work. He does not want us to see. The devil continues to accuse us, trying to bury us beneath the crushing weight of condemnation.
However, the Lord did not simply remove our iniquity at Calvary, He also dealt a ferocious blow against the Adversary. By nailing to the cross “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” (Col. 2:14), God “disarmed” the devil and all demonic powers. Revelation 12 portrays the power of the cross (in my opinion) as also being the moment when “the great dragon … the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan ” is ejected from heaven (v. 9). The triumphant cry is heard: “The accuser of our brethren has been thrown down” (v. 10).
One day, of course, the Lord will “kill the dragon who lives in the sea” (Isa. 27:1), but for now, God’s church is called to victory over the devil. Christians are called to overcome him “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11).
Yes, we sin. There’s no need to deny it when we stand in the presence of the Lord. Rather, we must admit that we have stained our white garments and ask for forgiveness. As the apostle John said in that famous verse, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“See,” the Lord says to us, “I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”