3 : 1 - 10
Verse 1 is evidence of conflict. If renewal and rebuilding of the Temple, of its worship and of Jerusalem itself is to take place it will not do so without opposition. This opposition is spiritual and Satan is mentioned. In the Old Testament Satan is a spiritual being at odds with the rule of God. Satan criticises and opposes and harasses those who are faithful. Both in the Book of Job and here Satan accuses and tries and tests the faithful to see how well they are intentioned and how sincere and committed they are. In the New Testament Satan, also called the Devil is elevated almost to an equality with God and with great and wholesale destructive power to influence human beings for evil. Satan is said to have a lot of control in the world and it needs redeemed by the Lordship of Jesus. We often talk about ‘the way the world works’ today meaning that the world is not naturally a good place. Goodness has to be won out of its grasp as it were. You probably saw Kate and Gerry McCann still saying that they believe that their daughter Madeleine is alive. If this world was a good place you might agree with them. But you know that it is almost impossible that Madeleine McCann is alive because the world does not work that way. There are hardly ever any happy endings to such cases.
Satan tested Jesus at the start of His ministry and returned at the end to bring about Jesus’ death. Satan entered into Judas Iscariot to betray Him. Jesus warned Peter that Satan’s opposition is like a ferocious lion prowling around looking for people to devour. Satan, said Jesus, has asked to sift Peter like wheat - test him as he did Job. Jesus says he will support Peter through his ordeal and he will recover and lead the Church which he did. Paul talked of an organised conspiracy of evil against the Christian Gospel. He himself knew much accusation and opposition, lots of trial and temptations and real inflicted suffering for Jesus Christ.
Nothing is won easily or cheaply for Jesus Christ in the world today either. Do you want to pay the price of real Christian calling? Perhaps you ‘cannae be bothered’. But at the end of your life you may wish you had. You may think to yourself and Satan may remind you that you had a life opportunity to follow Jesus Christ and you did not take it as seriously as you might have done. You were a lazy, part-time Christian all your days - a clock-watcher - a skiver. You were a minimalist Christian doing the very least you could get away with when you did have the time and talent to do more and even give your all for Christ. The Church of Scotland needs that level of engagement if it is to survive this coming century.
Here in Zechariah, Satan is said to be standing at Joshua’s right hand with an accusation of corruption against the High Priest. Whether a human person is performing Satan’s role here we are not sure. It could have been a political faction pointing out that the Temple was corrupt and in no place to lead national revival. It could have been Joshua’s own sense of sin and unworthiness which is being relayed to him spiritually in his own conscience. That is something we all know as Christians. Thoughts of how unworthy we are and how we have failed in the Christian life. We all need encouragement and upholding and strengthening in faith. We buckle under accusation, spiritual and mental. It is debilitating and paralysing.
The reply to Satan is strange. It is not direct. That is why we use Jesus’ name against Satan. None of us has the spiritual purity or strength to overcome evil by ourselves. We can only pray and appeal to the living Lord Jesus for protection and deliverance. In the New Testament Jude 1:9, says "Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, did not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The LORD rebuke you”. Getting really angry may do some good once in a while but there are better ways of improving situations. Spiritually - we are not supposed to “lose it” as they say today. Oddly enough, an occasional display of anger can have productive effects and perhaps God also treats us that way once in a while. We easily become complacent and over-confident and sometimes we do need to be put in our place.
Joshua is described as “a burning stick snatched from the fire” that is before it is burnt to ashes. One of the greatest Christians who has ever lived used that phrase to describe his own conversion as a young man. It was John Wesley. Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, 23 miles northwest of Lincoln, the fifteenth child of Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna Annesley. His father was a graduate of Oxford and Church of England rector. In 1689 Samuel had married Susanna Annesley, twenty-fifth child of Dr. Samuel Annesley, a Puritan pastor. Wesley's parents had both become members of the Established Anglican Church early in adulthood. In 1696 Wesley was appointed rector of Epworth, where John, the fifteenth child, was born. At the age of five, John was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind, and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a "brand plucked from the burning".
Joshua then had been saved and delivered for better things. He was not corrupt though his office had been. Verse 3 describes him as being dressed in filthy clothes. These clothes represent the condition of the priesthood as described in Jeremiah and Ezekiel when the priesthood was corrupted by idolatry and avarice. These are stripped away from Joshua, and a new set of clean garments point to a restored and revived holiness in the priesthood. Satan's rebuke is complete. He has nothing now to accuse. He is also to get a clean turban reflecting the original practice at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. On the turban then was placed a gold plate saying “Holy to the Lord”. So Joshua is to be seen to be set apart as a good and genuinely spiritual leader of the Temple.
I was asked after last week’s service why I no longer wear ministerial robes. When I came here eleven years ago I thought then I might not wear robes much or at all but I asked and I was told that the congregation expected and wanted me to wear robes and so I did. Many evangelical ministers in the Church of Scotland do not wear robes nowadays. Baptist and independent ministers do not do so either. Brethren preachers of course never wear robes. In the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches priestly robes are very much part of the spectacle and liturgy of worship. In the liturgically less formal churches such as ours, there is a growing sense that ministers and people are one and not separate and that wearing robes is not appropriate. Not wearing robes is a sign of the priesthood of all believers and of the sense that we are equals in God’s sight. I still wear robes for funeral services, marriages and for the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and for other special services. For me it is not a big deal whether I wear robes or not. I see the value of both wearing and not wearing robes. Originally Church of Scotland ministers wore only black robes since the Reformation. The ideas was to diffuse and deny the person and personality of the minister in favour of the role and office. It is however unavoidable in our church that the person and personality of the minister comes through in every word that is said - robes or not. That is why people fall out with ministers and leave the Church because they have not looked beyond the person to the role. Ministers are of course fallible and make mistakes. When they do - they are rarely forgiven. And that suggests a wrong and unnatural relationship between people and minister - a complete misunderstanding of what a Christian community is supposed to be - based and founded on the forgiving love of God to us all in and through Jesus Christ.
Verse 7 offers God’s side of the bargain. “If you will walk in my ways, and if you keep my charge, then you shall also judge my house, and shall also keep my courts, and I will give you places to walk among these standing here”. Walk in the Old Testament is a description of life. It means “If you live as I wish you to live”. It is a challenge. That little word “If”. The idea here is that if Joshua remains faithful and good and does not become greedy or corrupt or violent, then he will be secure in his position at the head of the Temple of the reconstructed Jerusalem. He will be blessed and protected from heaven. Sometimes we take God’s loving protection for granted. Most of us travel safely and live our lives in peace. But it is our Christianity that brings that about. It is acknowledging our need of God’s help that makes the difference.
Verse 8 is enigmatic. It speaks about The Branch. Some see this as a prophecy about Jesus. There are other such prophecies in the Old Testament. And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots (Isa. 11:1). Maybe in its time, however this also refers to divinely appointed and ordained help to build the Temple. Maybe Joshua is daunted by the task and overwhelmed by the scale of the problems. This may be an indication of divine and heavenly, spiritual and supernatural help which is to be given to him. Our testimony should always be “What is God doing in our midst?” “Anything?” “Not a lot” “Why or Why not?”. Our prayerful seeking is the key. If we show the living Lord how sincere we are and how much His name means to us - we can expect to see spiritual returns.
Verse 9 speaks of seven eyes on one stone. This may mean a precious stone with seven sides or facets which symbolises the atoning work of the high priest on behalf of the people, especially on the Day of Atonement.
Verse 10 is more familiar to us. Micah 4:4 says “Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig-tree and no-one will make them afraid”. It is a vision of peace and prosperity. In John’s Gospel 2: 48 Jesus calls Nathaniel to be one of his disciples. Jesus says, “I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree”. This supernatural knowledge is enough to convince Nathaniel that Jesus is the Messiah and that he should indeed follow him. Jesus replies by saying in effect, “You are impressed by just that - you aint seen nothing’ yet”.
This passage speaks of both the physical blessings in the restored nation as well as the physical symbol of blessings in the Messiah's kingdom and the return of the captives to great blessings of grain and sweet wine, possession of the land in perpetuity with divine protection. We should also take heart and rejoice. We should sit in our gardens in summer-time and relax and be happy under God’s love and kindness. We have long cold dark winters and we suffer spiritually as well as physically. Let us take the opportunity of warmth when it comes to soak in the large purpose of life in knowing God through Jesus Christ and in enjoying our Christianity. We are not meant to beat ourselves about all the time. Our faith is meant to be also a daily celebration. Let us not be negative or mean-spirited towards ourselves or others but be full of thankfulness for all that the Lord has done for us and given to us in the bread and wine of the New Covenant and in every aspect of our life and breath.