By Stefanie McGowan
I wept in Bible study, recently. In front of everyone… It was the ugly kind, you guys… Where your face gets all distorted and you’re trying really hard to hold back the tears. I had a lump in my throat, my ears were ringing; the profound message I was hearing overwhelmed me and came out in streams of tears. And all I could do was just sit there and soak in God’s grace. I sat in a circle, in a group of women I did not know, and it struck me: the Truth- as if I’d never, ever heard the word before, and I’ve been a Christian all my life.
It was a court scene; a vision from Zechariah, during the time the Jewish exiles had returned from Babylon to rebuild God’s temple. And Joshua, the high priest, was standing before the angel of the Lord (Jesus), with the Accuser (Satan) standing to his right. The high priest was on trial. Every sin that Joshua had ever committed, every bad thing he’d ever done, every wrong move, poor choice, bad thought, every word he’d ever spoken… There was an account, and he was exposed. But as the Accuser went on, there was no need for any false claims, because as Joshua stood bare he had all the evidence he could ever need.
I hung on every word, as though reading Zechariah 3 for the very first time. I’ve read this story many times. But this time, the Lord showed me his character, and I crumbled under the weight of the knowledge of how truly good God is. I couldn’t take notes fast enough as we began in Zechariah 3:1 :
“1Then the angel showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Joshua. 2And the Lord said to Satan, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.”
I had to pause here, to really process what it meant to be plucked from the fire… To be plucked out like a brand and called by a new name as the Lord says, “Wait! This one’s mine,” even though the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
“3Joshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. 4So the angel said to the others standing there, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And turning to Joshua he said, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.” 5Then I said, “They should also place a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean priestly turban on his head and dressed him in new clothes while the angel of the Lord stood by.”
He was a high priest robed in beautiful priestly garments, and yet standing before God, his sin covered him like filthy rags, and the goodness of the Lord intervened. He robes us in righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and replaces our rags of shame with the garments of salvation.
“6Then the angel of the Lord spoke very solemnly to Joshua and said, 7“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: If you follow my ways and carefully serve me, then you will be given authority over my Temple and its courtyards. I will let you walk among these others standing here.”
FOLLOW ME and I will GIVE YOU access… Following Jesus is the only way to gain access to Heaven (John 14:6). And the adversary faded into the background. Not another word, as he dimmed in the shadow of the Advocate- in the shadow of Jesus our Defender!
Can you imagine how Joshua felt? On the day he should have been sentenced to death… he instead was pardoned and set FREE! In the very last book of the Old Testament, Malachi reminds the very remnant people whom Joshua led, about what it looks like to leave this court room scene: “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” Malachi 4:2. You’ll go leaping and jumping and praising God! Can you picture that calf, filled with joy and leaping with each step of freedom? He’s been set free and his heart is leaping! Friends, this is us. And our Defender publicly shames the accuser on our behalf. He plucks us out. He sets us free! “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15), and we are no longer slaves to sin.
There is a price for sin, a cost for freedom. And Jesus Christ paid our ransom as the final sacrifice- the Passover Lamb- when He took on your sin, my sin, our sins on the cross at Calvary. He paid our debt. We’ve been set free. Friends, this is the Good News. Through this news, we can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, because they help us develop endurance, character, and our confident hope of salvation. Through this, we now know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Because when we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us, sinners (Romans 5:1-6). This is how we endure when the enemy is prowling. This is how we give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and how we surrender everything to follow the One who is life itself. This news is how we endure and throw off every sin that trips us up, to run with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1).
This is how our mess becomes a message of redemption. This news silences shame, and leads our hearts to repentance for a life made new in Christ. It turns our testing into a testimony about God’s goodness and his grace. You are an overcomer in Christ. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” Revelation 12:11. Because God is good, your story matters. Because God is good, we overcome the enemy: 1) by the blood of the Lamb and 2) by the word of our testimony. Because God is good, no matter how messy, your story is the perfect platform for God’s glory to shine. Friends, share the truth, expose the lie, and share how a good, good God stood in your place. He plucked you from the fire and set you free to walk confidently in the knowledge that you belong to God. And, “This is a trustworthy saying:
If we die with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.
If we deny him, he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is”
(2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Because God is good.