The Priest In Filthy Garments

The Priest In Filthy Garments

Those of you who have small children at home will be familiar with an experience I had about 10 years ago. Thatcher was one year old and he was eating spaghetti for the first time. As all of you could imagine, by the time he was finished eating he had managed to get himself completely covered in spaghetti sauce with an occasional noodle stuck in his hair, face, arms, hands, clothing, legs, and toes. He was literally covered from head to toe. 

Now, imagine what would happen if we decided to give him a napkin to clean himself up. What would he do with that napkin? He would’ve only made it worse. He would have only spread the spaghetti deeper and wider than he had already managed to spread it. He needed someone else to get him clean.

All of us are covered just like Thatcher, but instead of spaghetti, we are covered with sin. From the moment we are conceived in our mother’s womb, sin covers every part of us. And just like a spahetti-covered-toddler with a napkin, we are helpless to clean ourselves up. 

We are totally depraved. Although we are not as bad as we could be, every part of us is tainted by the effects of sin. Our minds, our wills, our affections and desires, have all been negatively impacted by original sin. There is not a single part of us that remains neutral.

We get a remarkable illustration of this in Zechariah 3. This is the gospel according to Zechariah. It provides a clear picture of man’s need for God, and the only answer God provides to satisfy that need.

In order to be saved God must remove your sin and clothe you in an alien righteousness [Substitution].

Pray and Read Zechariah 3.

Christ accomplishes the work of redemption through three offices:

• A Prophet who can replace our ignorance.

• A Priest who can remove our iniquity.

• A King who can conquer our insurrection.

The purpose in each of these roles is to show—from various angles—how Christ brings about reconciliation between God and man.

Evangelicalism’s critical problem is that Christians often assume the gospel and the work of Christ,” or they find themselves expressing it in a repetitive and formulaic way. I can recall many times hearing the gospel tacked onto the end of a sermon. A sermon on pride might say nothing about Jesus until the very end. “All of this is impossible if you have not surrendered your life to Jesus Christ…” Each sermon concludes with an altar call in order to check off that the gospel was proclaimed.

I don’t mean to disparage those who conclude their sermons with the gospel. Frankly, I think the gospel should be found in the conclusion. I just happen to think it should also be found throughout the rest of the sermon as well!

On the other hand, there is another tendency—and I think we are pointing at ourselves here—to complicate the gospel with a doctrinal litmus test. We pack so much theological argumentation into the basic idea of the gospel, that we find ourselves assuming the worst about other professing Christians. We start to put “scare quotes” around “Christians” who disagree with us on finer points.

That’s not to reduce the importance of doctrine. I went to seminary to be properly trained in Christian doctrine. But, the fact of the matter is that the gospel is not as complicated as we oftentimes make it sound. Yes, there is a depth to God’s revelation that we can never plumb the bottom of. But we also believe that the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand.

It is my hope that you will leave this morning with your heads raised heavenward in awesome wonder that God would save a wretch like me.

The Role of the Priests

Prophets were God’s representative to the people. They were the mouthpiece of God. Last week we considered how Hosea’s words and actions revealed God’s attitude toward his people. 

Priests represent the people before God. He stands before God in place of the people. We see this in Leviticus and Hebrews:

Leviticus 16:32–34 ESV

And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Hebrews 5:1 ESV

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

The priests represented the people before God. Their primary function was to oversee the sacrificial system which teaches us God’s concern for sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin deserves death, but that substitution and reconciliation are possible. The priest serves as a mediator between God and man.

But there were some serious problems inherent within the human priesthood:

1. Priests died. They could not live forever.

2. Priests sinned. They had to begin with an offering to cover their own sin.

3. Humans are worth more than animals. Thus, animal blood could never serve to adequately cover our iniquity.

4. Therefore, the sacrificial system required repeated offerings to cover repeated sins.

Introduction to Zechariah

Hosea was a pre-exilic prophet who warned of a coming judgment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. He also graciously promised a future reconciliation to God’s wayward bride, the Church. We saw that Israel and Judah would be reunited under one head. That prophecy received a partial fulfillment in the post-exilic period under King Zerubabbel.

Zechariah is a post-exilic prophet along with Haggai. They enter the scene over 200 years after Hosea’s ministry was concluded. Haggai called them to the physical task of rebuilding the temple, while Zechariah called them to the spiritual task of repentance and covenant renewal.

Zechariah contains 8 visions:

• 1–2 = Suggest that God is in control and He promises protection to those who return to him.

• 3 = Portrays God’s love and commitment to His people who have returned to him.

• 4 = Shows how a sinful people can find acceptance before a holy God.

The purity of the returned exiles was a major concern. The original hearers felt a sense of letdown as their return did not meet their lofty expectations. Some of them ignored their own remaining sin and became haughty in spirit. Others became paralyzed by shame and poured condemnation upon themselves. This vision corrects both errors.

Don’t we all have something to learn from this. We tend to wax and wane between indifference and helpless despair.

I. Joshua’s  Condition  (1–3)

Verse 1 provides us with the picture of a courtroom scene:

• Angel of the Lord = Judge at the front.

• Joshua the High Priest = Defendant on trial.

• Satan = Prosecutor at the right hand (cf. Psalm 109:6Job 30:12).

Verse 2 reminds us that Joshua was a “brand plucked from the fire”. This speaks of the fire of judgment from exile. The Lord had shown him mercy to bring him out of exile, he had been preserved from death, yet he still had a major problem. And Satan, the accuser, was pointing that problem out—as he loves to do.

Last week I mentioned Ezekiel’s call to bake bread upon human excrement. We see the same root for that word in verse 3, translated “filthy”. You find the term used elsewhere to speak of vomit. In other words, Joshua is clothed in garments that are covered in human excrement and vomit. They are so vile that the stench is filling the courtroom. It represents Joshua’s defilement by sin.

Joshua’s clothes were nothing like the “holy garments” God instructed the priest to wear in Exodus 28. These garments were called “holy” and they represented the “glory and beauty” of God (v.2). They wore a turban that was a symbol “bear the guilt of the holy things consecrated and offered to the Lord” (v.36). 

Garments provide special access to God. These garments were required, “lest they bear guild and die” (v.43). They speak to God’s holiness. You cannot simply waltz into his presence without reverence and awe. You must pause, remove your sandals, and recognize the holy ground upon which you stand.

Joshua is unacceptable. Therefore, he should die.

What about us? Our problem is not a specific sin. God does not withhold his peace from us because we are involved in a particular kind of sin. Sin has affected everything and everyone. We are wholly inadequate to stand before God because every part of us is tainted by sin.

Your problem is not that you are committing a sin, but that you are a sinner. Your problem is not that you have looked at someone with lust, or that you stole a piece of candy in the supermarket when you were a child, or that you – at one time – told a little white lie. All of those are small examples that daily you fall short of the glory of God.

And because of that, you have a guilty conscience (whether or not you believe there is a God). We can respond in one of two ways. Either we can seek forgiveness or we can grow numb in our sin.

› Satan’s accusation is actually true (and Joshua knows it), but rather than condemnation, the result is cleansing.

II. Joshua’s  Cleansing  (4–5)

These pure, clean garments represent Joshua’s forgiveness. They represent the righteousness of God that now clothes him. They represent God’s glory. We see the removal of Joshua’s filthy garments, and the putting on of the Lord’s pure garments.

The removal of sin is not enough, we must also have the righteous deeds of Christ attributed to us.

Notice Joshua’s role in these verses. What did Joshua do? He didn’t even remove his own robe. Someone else removed it for him. Someone else clothed him in the righteous garments. Someone else put the turban on his head. His responsibility was to simply stands there and rest in the righteousness that was graciously imputed to him.

What is the response of the Accuser at this point? He is silenced! He has no ability to bring any further accusation against Joshua.

Romans 8:1 ESV

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

If you are not a believer, your only response to this text is to hear God’s offer. Receive forgiveness! Let your filthy conscience be cleansed by placing your hope in Jesus Christ.

If you are a believer, your only response to this text is to rest in what you have received! Trust that Christ is continually interceding on your behalf just as this passage conveys.

› But let’s see what else this passage teaches us about our salvation.

III. Joshua’s  Charge  (6–7)

We cannot ignore the fact that this charge follows the cleansing that just took place. This charge follows the removal of Joshua’s filthy garments. It was only after Joshua knew that he had been accepted, that he could even hear the charge rightly. 

Now that he has been justified, he can pursue sanctification. It is not the other way around. He doesn’t clean himself up in order to be justified. God must justify him and then he can pursue sanctification, then he can pursue righteous living for the Lord.

Illus: John Calvin, borrowing from Martin Luther, speaks of three uses for the 10 Commandments. He did something interesting in his liturgy in Geneva. Most churches placed the recitation of the 10 Commandments before the Lord’s Supper. It was usually associated with the confession of sin.

1st Use – Curb: Encourage civil obedience.

2nd Use – Mirror: Before Confession of Sin.

3rd Use – Guide: After the Confession of Sin.

3rd use cherished because our inheritance is guaranteed. This third use of the law is what we see taking place in the charge that is given to Joshua following his cleansing. It points to the progressive nature of sanctification. God no longer holds our sin against us, so we ought to strive—by the power of the Spirit—to no longer live in sin. We are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next.

› All of this helps our understanding of the way this chapter concludes.

IV. Christ’s  Completion  (8–10)

This final section is full of symbols that we will look at individually.

Verse 8 tells us that Joshua and his friends are a sign of the Messiah. They point to the Servant-Branch. The Servant brings redemption through suffering (Isa. 53:4–11). This is the Servant Zechariah refers to. Our iniquities were laid on him. Not only does this Servant stand in our filth (sin), but he also receives our righteous deeds as “filthy rags”. Our sins and righteous deeds are clothing this Servant in Isa 53

Then Zechariah also speaks of this Branch who is the King that would appear from the line of David (Jer. 23:5–6Isa. 4:211:1). 

Priests symbolize the work of this servant-king. What they point to is Christ as our True and Lasting Representative who stands before the Father in our filthy garments and defeats sin by paying the penalty of death. The priest who, rather than sacrificing animals, sacrificed Himself. He was the perfect Lamb who was slain once and for all!

This leads us to the significance of the stone in verse 9a. This is probably the hardest aspect to identify. I believe it represents God’s perfect eyes (7) watching over the temple building project. It means they could pursue the work with confidence knowing that God was watching over them.

Then we read something very important about the removal of their iniquity in “A Single Day” (v.9b). You may think this is easy to understand on this side of the cross, but put yourself in the shoes of the original audience. They saw an endless procession of sacrifices day after day after day. There were eight different types of sacrificial offerings taking place throughout the year. This prophecy would have been shocking. Jesus Christ would accomplish in a single day, what a countless number of animal sacrifices could never achieve.

Finally in verse 10, we see a Vine & Fig Tree which represent the peace and prosperity that God’s people would enjoy. Prior to that day, vines and fig trees were to be protected from enemies who would rob them of their fruit (Judges). But after “that day” peaceful sharing would occur.

All of these symbols point us forward to Christ. They flow out of the work done to preserve Joshua’s life and ministry.

› Let us conclude with that main idea again…


In order to be saved God must remove your sin and clothe you in an alien righteousness.

That prescription is the same for everyone, no matter how “good” you are. You may not even notice the stench of your sin. Or you may be so overwhelmed by the oder that you are ashamed to do anything. Either way, your need remains. You stand before a holy God in filthy garments.

Your role is to simply rest and receive the work of Christ done on your behalf.