God’s Word for You
Zechariah 3:3-4 Justification
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 1, 2022
3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, dressed in filthy clothes. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And he said to Joshua, “Behold, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”
Keep in mind that this is a vision, and so we should consider why we have the detail of the high priest’s filthy clothes (begadim tso’im). These are perhaps like the “filthy rags” Isaiah laments with regard to our good works, which are never truly good (Isaiah 64:6). But these might be more like the “shabby clothes” James describes when a beggar comes to church (James 2:2), although the language also compares with “let the filthy (or vile) still be filthy” in Revelation 22:11. Returning to the literary fact that this is a vision, we understand that the filthy clothes symbolize the filth of sin no matter what the sin was.
The scene is similar to others in the Bible. Isaiah says, “I am a man of unclean lips,” and an angel touches his lips with a live coal from the altar: “See, this has touched you lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). It was God who forgave Isaiah’s sin; the angel simply showed what had happened in the same way that the angel rolled away the stone of Christ’s tomb. This wasn’t done so that Jesus could escape from the grave; he was already gone. It was done so that the women and the disciples could see inside and know that the tomb was empty (Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:4-6).
Now the angel says to other angels, “Take off his filthy clothes.” The putting off of sin is not something that we do, and it is not something that the angels do for us, but is done by the word of God and the power of God. This is the act of justification. Justification is a judicial, court-room act of God. According to his grace and for no other reason, he declares sinful human beings (who have become guilty and deserving of eternal punishment because of their sins) to be righteous, not guilty, for Christ’s sake. Human beings do not deserve this and bring no merit of their own (our own), but are nevertheless forgiven on account of Jesus Christ. The essence of this act is that Christ’s righteousness is given to us. He is “the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). “In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:24). Paul declares: “Jesus Christ has become for us our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30), and again, “We have been justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9).
This act, which is the imputation of righteousness, is the actual giving of righteousness to the forgiven sinner. It isn’t done behind our backs, as if God simply files our records in a new drawer, or, to use the Bible’s own picture language, that our names are merely erased from one book and written in another (Philippians 4:13; Revelation 21:27). While this image is beautiful and encouraging, we must also recognize that the giving, imputing, imparting, and assigning of righteousness and forgiveness is an actual event in our lives: We stand in this world and before God as forgiven sinners, with the changed garment Zechariah here depicts. It is the robe of Christ’s righteousness that we have been given and which has been placed upon us.
So two things take place for us in our justification, and these are demonstrated here in Zechariah’s fourth vision:
1, Our sins are not counted against us. Our older theologians called this the “non-imputation of injustice and sin” (Calov). David sings: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him” (Psalm 32:2).
2, The righteousness and merits of Christ are imputed to us (set on our account) and given freely to us. Paul writes: “His faith is credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:5), and “through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
The conscience of the forgiven sinner is made lighter because sin and guilt are removed. Then the conscience is strengthened and encouraged because forgiveness and Christ’s merits are freely given. The joy and peace of knowing that this is not up to the individual (for who would ever trust that he was worthy, or had done enough?) but entirely up to God and the power of God through the word of God, is unparalleled. Whether a man is a prisoner or a king, a father, a soldier, a lost traveler or an innkeeper in a tavern; whether a woman is a mom, a nurse, a counselor, a shopkeeper, a Hollywood star, or a hard-working girl whose days never change, whoever knows Christ has true and everlasting peace. They know the gospel of peace through Jesus, who is Lord over all.
Pastor Timothy Smith