[These joyous journal reflections are from my quiet time with God this morning. I hope that you find them helpful in your walk with God...and, more importantly, that they'll incite you, if you don't yet do it, to keep a daily quiet time with God yourself.]
Look: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you...I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 3:3-4, 9-10)
Zechariah was a prophet in late 6th.-century BC Judah. The Persians were allowing God’s people who had formerly been taken into exile by the Babylonians, now vassals of the Persians, to return to their homelands. Zechariah hears from God that the promised land had been wrested from God’s people because of their idolatry and other sins. Now the people were going back and Zechariah encounters the high priest Joshua. (This is not the Joshua who succeeded Moses as the leader of God’s people in the wilderness. This Joshua lived many centuries later.)
Here’s the high priest: In filthy rags, representing the sins of Judah (and presumably his own). But God removes Joshua’s filthy clothes, replacing them with “fine garments.” God’s gracious forgiveness is swift in its impact: He removes the sins of the nation in a single day. And its impact goes beyond those He forgives: Infected by His grace, the forgiven invite their neighbors to sit with them in the shade of their vines and fig trees. God’s forgiveness for us creates within us a humility and a love for others that cannot be contained. I think of the early Christians, the forgiveness of God in Christ, when embraced transforms our lives and our relationships with others, including our unbelieving neighbors.
Listen: This is an awesome passage! Despite being a preacher of the gospel--the good news of forgiveness and new life for all who repent and trust in the God Who comes to us in Jesus Christ, I sometimes cling to my filthy rags. I do this not only in the sense of committing again sins for which I have authentically repented, but also when I allow myself to doubt that God can forgive or has forgiven the sins that I lay at his feet. I give God my filthy sins, lay my sins bare before God, accept the clean garment of forgiven sin, and then cling to the old sins, struggling to believe that God could actually forgive me.
The Gospel of Jesus says that God can forgive all of my sins! So does this passage!
It’s akin to the words of Psalm 103:12: “...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he [God] removed our transgressions from us.”
God calls me to trust that in Jesus Christ, I am forgiven and I am made new. “... if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
No matter how hard it may be for us to accept that God could possibly forgive us, our call is to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh…” (Romans 13:14). In other words, our repentance is only complete after we accept the forgiveness God freely offers through Jesus to all who repent.
Repentance that stops at regret for sin is no repentance.
Repentance that ends in self-recrimination and doubts that God could possibly forgive me is not repentance.
Repentance is composed of a sorrow for sin, a trusting turn to God through Jesus to confess, and grateful acceptance of the forgiveness of God given, not because I deserve it, but because Jesus has earned it for all who trust in Him, including me.
When the power and truth of God’s forgiveness clothe us in Christ’s righteousness, a humble gratitude takes hold, making it possible for we forgiven to love others as we’ve been loved by God.
Respond: Thank You, Lord, for this reminder of Your forgiving grace. Help me to discard the filthy rags to which I so readily cling. Today, help me to cling to Christ alone. Throughout this day, on the half hour, remind me to thank You for Your forgiveness. In Jesus’ name. Amen
[I think Martin Luther had the right attitude as to how Christians should respond to the temptation, whether from the devil, the world, or our sinful selves, to doubt that God forgives repented sin. He wrote, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” AMEN!]
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]