Sunday, February 24, 2008

Plucked from the fire

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?" Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 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." 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. And 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 of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree." (Zechariah 3: 1-10)

The image we see here is of Satan, accusing one of God's people, the High Priest Joshua, pointing out the filthy garments he was wearing. But we also see God rebuking the enemy for attacking one whom God has chosen and saved from the flames. I came across this passage in an R.C. Sproul video series, Pleasing God, which I just finished leading a men's study through. Pretty good stuff all around, but this passage really stuck with me. Probably because of where I am. It is easy to despair, to look at ourselves and hear the enemy whisper: "Who are you fooling, who do you think that you are?" Satan knows our sins, he knows our weaknesses. Satan knows where to hit us where it hurts. But even as Satan accuses, it is God who justifies. The finished work of Christ on the cross, His shed blood covers our sins, His grace is greater than all our sins.

This is not to say that the sin and failing in our lives is OK, or that we should ignore it or that once saved we have no responsibility to follow God's commands. That would fall into the category of antinomianism. But it is an unfortunate reality that as Christians, we still sin on a daily basis. Many of us, me included, let that failure paralyze us into inaction. When we do that, Satan wins. Satan can't make a Christian become unsaved, but he can accuse a Christian into sitting on the sideline, and that accomplished his purpose as well. It is true that we are still sinners, but it is also true that we are justified. We are Simul justus et pecator, at the same time just and sinner. That is hard to wrap your mind around, but thank God it is true.

The other thing that struck me was that the image of brands being plucked from the fire really describes us all. We were all already in the fire when God plucked us out. A branch in a roaring fire does not get up and remove itself from the flames. In the same way, a sinner does not hear Jesus plaintively, “softly and tenderly” call them and get up and save themselves. It is the Lord God, and He alone, that chooses and pulls sinners from the fire they (and you and I) so richly deserve. It is not that they are intrinsically a better branch, or did something in their existence to warrant being saved but only by the merciful grace of Jesus Christ are they not in the fire.

Modern Christianity paints a picture where we are sitting around neutral in a pile of twigs and God capriciously tosses generally good people into hell on a whim. The Bible tells a different story, one that shows us that whether we are 8 or 80 we are already as good as in the fire, our natural destiny as children of wrath is hell. It is only through the undeserved, almost unexplainable mercy of God that any of us are saved. It ought not be on the Christian's mind to ask "Why aren't more saved", the question should be "Why are any saved?" We stand before our Maker dressed in filthy rags, the rags of of our own works and righteousness and God drapes the clean, white robes of Christ's righteousness on us, covering our sins and showing us justified.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Christian, He has clothed you with the garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness and it is His righteousness, the righteousness of His Son that covers you. He has extended that grace to you because of His grace, His mercy and His love. If you are worthwhile for God to condescend to pluck you from the fire, that means you are valuable in His eyes and that means that no matter how imperfect we are, He values us and that means everything!

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