A True and Better Priest

I need you to imagine something.

Let’s imagine that you need to go in for surgery. We’ll imagine that it’s an appendectomy—a fairly standard procedure, but in the absence of treatment can become something much more dangerous.

If you’ve ever had surgery, you know there’s a whole pre-flight checklist that everyone goes through. It’s more than just dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s.” It’s a whole protocol that ensures the absolute safety and integrity of each participant from patient to surgeon. The final step is to wheel you into the operating room where you are put under for the procedure. Now imagine, right as your eyes are about to shut from the anesthesia, that you look over to see the surgeon walk in the room. Instead of wearing the sterile scrubs, mask, and gloves you expect, your surgeon is covered in mud, or wearing those ugly rubber orange gloves she found in the janitor’s closet.

If you caught such a vision, your last thoughts before shutting your eyes would be paralyzing fear. This was the one person you were counting on for what would ultimately be a life-saving procedure. Yet your health had now been compromised by her lack of purity.

A DEFILED PRIEST

In the book of Joshua, we catch a vision of the high priest on what seems to be the great Day of Atonement, the day when the high priest would offer a sacrifice for the provision of the nation:

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. 2 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?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. (Zechariah 3:1-3)

at in the Hebrew, we would notice that it doesn’t just say “Satan,” but “the satan,” which might simply mean “the accuser.” Again, this is a vision, not reality, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see such supernatural elements here, but it’s not necessarily clear that Zechariah is referring to the devil himself or merely an enemy of Israel hurling accusations.

What we are meant to see is the defilement of Joshua, the high priest. Customarily, priests like Joshua were sequestered for a week to prevent them from coming into contact with anything unclean so that they could perform the ceremony undefiled.  There was even a set of ritual bathings, after which Joshua would emerge wearing pure white robes.

But in Zechariah 3:3, Joshua is wearing “filthy robes.”  The original Hebrew seems to suggest that he is actually covered in excrement.  He is expected to be clean, to bring purity to the nation.  But in God’s eyes, all the rituals and duties do not truly cleanse the stain.

We find a similar theme in the letter of Hebrews—though here the author focuses not on the priests or the Day of Atonement, but the entire sacrificial system:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” (Hebrews 10:1-7)

There’s no doubt about it: sacrifices ultimately meant nothing.

A TRUE AND BETTER SACRIFICE

Not to keep using such visceral imagery, but we need to truly wrap our minds around the culture of sacrifice in the ancient world. To do this, we can actually look at the history books from the ancient people and catch a glimpse of what their religious system looked like.

The writer Josephus, for example, tells us that major Jewish holidays attracted so many worshippers to the temple that there were over 200,000 sacrifices made for 2.7 million people. [1] Even if you think this is an exaggeration, we might point out that Jewish commentaries describe the need to install drainage systems in their temple system:

 “At the south-western corner [of the Altar] there were two holes like two narrow nostrils by which the blood that was poured over the western base and the southern base used to run down and mingle in the water-channel and flow out into the brook Kidron.”[2]

The Kidron would have looked like the Chicago river on St. Patrick’s Day—only instead of green it would have gradually become a deep red.

In short: the system was bloody.  So when Jesus made a once-for-all sacrifice, it would have stood in sharp contrast to this older style of worship.  Imagine living in a city where once a year, the local river turned red from all the killing.  Where the sounds of thousands upon thousands of animals being slaughtered could be heard above the traffic.

Inadequate, the Bible says. Only a shadow of what’s to come.

See, we need a better high priest—a true and better Joshua. We find this in Jesus. He’s the true and better high priest who offers a true and better sacrifice, so that his once-for-all sacrifice could atone for the sins of God’s people, past, present, and future.

 

 

 

 

[1] Josephus, Bellum Iudaicum, 6:423-427.

[2] Mishnah, 3:2.

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This One Weird Trick Makes You OK with God (Zechariah 1, Zechariah 3)

Zechariah 1:1-6; 3:1-10

Most of our writings look back to the previous Sunday and pick up the themes of that day and expand upon them in written form. And that is what was done the past two days with Chris’ writings on the two chapters of Haggai. But today we need to move on into the larger books of Zechariah and Malachi, which will take us through our devotionals for the end of this week and all of next week – along with being the basis of this coming Sunday’s sermon.

Zechariah the prophet was a younger contemporary with Haggai, as both of them where post-exilic prophets – speaking to the nation of Israel and to those who had returned to Jerusalem after the end of the Babylonian Captivity (around 520 BC).

As we highlight a few portions of the relatively unknown book of Zechariah (though not all of it), you find yourself saying, “OK… so this is where that New Testament quote came from.”  This very messianic book provides allusions or is quoted 41 times in the New Testament.

Over the years of my life, particularly as a pastor, I’ve come across more than a few folks who were banking that they were in good shape with God because of some connection they had with Him through someone else. Sometimes it was a spouse who was faithful. Often it was parents or a family with a heritage of faith. Others just seem to think that getting to church at least somewhat frequently will mean that God will prove to be a bit pacified and let them slide when their day of accounting comes along.

Israel was often like this. They simply believed that because God was THEIR God by His covenant with them that they were therefore OK. Who needs to live a holy and committed life of faithfulness when you are born with acceptance from Him as standard equipment through your heritage? But God reminds them that each generation and each person needs to renew the covenant and be faithful toward God.

In essence, God says to them, “Don’t be stupid like your foolish ancestors!” The exact date of this prophecy coincides with Haggai, where he called the people to get back to work on building the Temple after 16 years of putting off that task. So Zechariah joins in that exhortation of making the place where God would meet with His people as they came to that place to meet with Him.

A Call to Return to the Lord

1:1  In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

2 “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

Beginning in 1:7 is the first of a series of eight visions that Zechariah received, along with an angelic interpretation. These visions have both near and far fulfillments – near fulfillment in that contemporary time of the building of Zerubbabel’s Temple, and far fulfillment in the coming of Christ and with the final days of time in the Messianic Kingdom.

We are going to look at just one of these eight visions – the fourth one – by going to chapter three today …

Clean Garments for the High Priest

3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 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.”

5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

6 The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

8 “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes[b] on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The Joshua character in this vision was the high priest at that time of the return to Jerusalem. Remember that the priest represents the people before God, whereas the prophet speaks from God to the people.

So the scene here has Joshua the high priest before the Lord, with Satan standing there ready to accuse him (the nation). Rather than being the accuser, Satan is told to stand down – that Joshua has been plucked from the fire, and that his filthy clothes would be replaced by a fine garment.

Even in the vision, all of this is said to be symbolic of the future – of a “servant” … a “branch” … a “stone” that is to come, which of course looks forward to Christ. Israel will be forgiven and restored.

This whole scene is our story. We are guilty of sinfully walking away from the Lord. Satan is our accuser, and we are guilty. But our condition of being covered with the filth of sin is taken from us graciously by our sovereign God who clothes us in the fine garment of righteousness. And in that standing we have open access with God and a promise of eternal peace. And this fellowship grants us the position and privilege of worship … it is truly One Weird Trick! And it ain’t spam!