Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 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 rich garments on you.” – Zechariah 3:3-4
Back in my college days I remember playing intramural football in the mud occasionally. The rain would be dropping in buckets. We were all probably only a few degrees from hypothermic—this was Minnesota in autumn, after all. The depressions in the field filled with muddy water. Whenever you sprinted through one of those huge puddles, the mud would cake you from socks to stocking-cap. After the victory was won, we’d run back inside to warm up in the hot showers.
At the end of the month-long intramural season, though, came the distressing question.
What on earth should I do with the nasty, sweat-stained, mud-caked, ratty clothes I had been wearing for four or five weeks? Take the time, effort, and quarters to clean them in the dorm-basement’s laundry machines? Or just throw them out?
Talk about first-world problems!
I typically opted for the latter option. In New Ulm, Minnesota, I could by a new pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt for a combined fifty cents at Treasure House thrift-store. So into the garbage went the old clothes, never to be worn again!
When we open up to this scene recorded for us by the prophet Zechariah, he is watching an interesting vision unfold. He sees Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD. Satan is also standing next to him. (Take note that this is not the same Joshua who was Moses’ successor and led the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan. This is Joshua, the high priest of Israel chosen for the reconstruction of the temple following their captivity in Babylon.) Satan—whose name means “accuser”—is doing just that here. He is accusing Joshua of his uncleanness.
As was read in the above passage, Joshua is wearing filthy, defiled clothing. From neck to sandals, he is covered in muck and slime and whatever else might constitute the idea of “filth.”
And what does the angel say to the attendants before him? “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he says to Joshua, “See I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” In the following passage, Joshua receives a clean turban to place upon his head and clean clothing upon his body.
How great was Joshua on his own? Not very. Joshua was rather the opposite of great. In his role as a high-priest, he had not taken great care to see that either he or his family obeyed the proper ceremonial laws. In his personal life, he was far from exemplary. So Satan accused him before God, leveling his finger at Joshua wearing his filthy clothing that had been muddied and stained by sin. Joshua here is a tiny man, a weak man, an accused man—not a great man.
Then in a beautiful image, all those nasty clothes are stripped away from Joshua. They don’t belong to him anymore. God removes the clothes—blatantly symbolic of Joshua’s sin, as is said—and arranges for him different clothing to wear.
Joshua is now clothed in the clean clothes, new clothes, great clothes.
But the vision with Joshua isn’t finished quite yet. The angel speaks again: “Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch … and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day” (Zechariah 3:8,9b).
Although Joshua does not earn his new clothing or even put it on himself, someone must earn it. Someone must clothe Joshua.
The servant. The Branch.
Here is what the prophet Jeremiah said of him: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
Only one in the entirety of history fits the descriptions that were prophesied—and not just these here, but all of them from the Garden of Eden onward.
The servant. The Branch. The Messiah. Jesus Christ.
He is the one who accomplishes what Zechariah foretold. He became our righteousness when the world was clad in stained clothing. He saved Judah and Israel and all the world so that they could live in safety. Then, in a single day, he destroyed sin forever by taking sin upon himself.
Jesus then credits to our accounts his own righteousness. He takes away all the debt in our lives’ bank accounts, but he doesn’t just leave us at zero. He then deposits his righteousness there, which is worth more than can ever be stated with numbers.
This is the righteousness we wear. God does not see you as a pathetic, miserable worm of a person. He sees you as great, because Jesus has made you great. You have riches and power beyond any kings or presidents or Bill Gates-type figures, because you wear Christ’s righteousness. You don’t belong to Satan the Accuser. You belong to your Father.
It doesn’t matter who you have been in your past. This doesn’t hinge upon what you do now or in the future. There is no guilt so great that it has not already been disposed of by Christ’s sacrifice and replaced with his holiness.
The prophet Isaiah, who is sometimes called the Gospel-writer of the Old Testament, also speaks of what we now wear: I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10a). Like Isaiah, I am one who wears righteousness. I wear the greatness of the Branch, who is Jesus my Savior.
Along with these robes of Christ’s righteousness, there’s one other item that we now wear.
In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the impossibly awesome picture of life in heaven is granted to the Church. Here is just one verse of that vision: They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4). The saints in heaven, triumphant after struggling through life on this earth, have the name of God and of the Lamb stamped right on their foreheads, where they wear it forever.
There is no greater name we could wear than this. There is no greater clothing we could wear than this. God gives them both to you completely free of charge.
In the upcoming days, consider a few things. Ask yourself where you have been looking for greatness in the wrong places. Beyond that even, ask yourself why you look for greatness there—why are you so attracted to the idea that greatness is found in peer-acceptance or sports or wherever that might be for you. Then ask yourself how Jesus has already given you greatness in those very areas of life. Pray that he would help you to realign your thinking to understand that your greatness is not found in anything that you clothe yourself with, but that it is found in Christ alone.
May your Father be by your side as he shows you what it means to be great.