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Green jackets and white robes.
This article was originally written for Christ Hold Fast.
I don’t know much about golf, but I do know that The Masters is like the Super Bowl for golfers. There’s something truly special about the annual tournament held at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA. Sure, it’s not the only major championship on the PGA Tour but something sets The Masters apart. Undoubtedly, that “something” is the rich tradition of the green jacket. Since 1949, the winner of The Masters has been awarded the distinctive kelly-green sport coat signifying the remarkable victory the champion won, donning the jacket after defeating the rest of the golfers. It’s a jacket of very special privilege and significance, as only members and champions of the tournament are granted such a gift. Likewise, the green jacket symbolizes the honorary membership the champion is bestowed: with the sink of a putt, now he’s in, now he’s a member of one of the most prestigious clubs in the nation. There are, however, strict rules associated with the green jacket. Even though you’ve won it, it’s not really yours, as it can’t be taken off club grounds; only the reigning champion can take his jacket off the property, if he so chooses. Otherwise, it hangs there at the club, nothing but a dusty, green trophy.
But as meager as this award seems to be, the symbolism behind it, which represents the immense accomplishment of the champion, is what’s truly seen. That’s why every year hundreds of golfers scratch, claw, and fight to be clothed in the elusive and exclusive green jacket.
Oftentimes, though, I think we slip into approaching our Christian life in much the same way — as if the God’s redemption of us, our salvation, is some phantom green jacket or imaginative trophy we are chasing and that’s only won through our blood, sweat, and tears. But what the prophet Zechariah shows is one of the most important truths in the entire Bible: that is, our spiritual life, our right standing before God, our justification and redemption, isn’t accomplished through our blood, sweat, and tears — but through the blood, sweat, and tears of Another.
Zechariah 3 commences the fourth vision of the Lord to the prophet Zechariah. The first, second, and third visions having told of the future spiritual restoration of the nation of Israel, give way to the fourth vision, as if to answer the questions Zechariah might’ve been asking himself: “How? How can these things be? How can Israel be delivered from its dirtiness? How have they not already condemned themselves forever by their rejection and rebellion? By their rampant filth and iniquity against God’s name?” This fourth vision, therefore, is shown to Zechariah for two reasons: (1.) to communicate the truth that the fulfillment of Israel’s restoration doesn’t rest on its own merits or worthiness, but on the merits and worthiness of Jehovah’s “servant the Branch.” (Zec 3:8), that is, Jesus Christ. Also, (2.) it served to show how the infinitely holy God might remain so even while pardoning guilty, defiled, sinful people.
The vision begins with Joshua the high priest standing before the bar of God. (Zec 3:1) Joshua was the son of Jehozadak and served as the high priest following the restoration of Israel after their exile in Babylon. In this vision, Joshua is standing on trial in the courtroom of heaven, with the “angel of the Lord” presiding as judge. And it must be noted at the outset that this “angel of the Lord,” here, is the Second Person in the Trinity, the Sent One of the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Joshua’s acting as the defendant, on trial for the accusations laid down by the Accuser himself. Satan stands “at his right hand to accuse him.” It should also be noted that “Satan” in this text comes from the Hebrew word, which literally means “the Accuser” or “the Adversary.” (Zec 3:1; Ps 109:6) The words of Satan’s prosecution aren’t given, but they can be inferred by verse 3: “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.” These “filthy garments” imply the guilt and shame that was upon the high priest, both for his own sins and the sins of the people of Israel, for whom he served. The Accuser’s motive isn’t only his malice against God’s people but also his intense hatred of God and desire to frustrate the Lord’s program of grace. Our Adversary only endeavors to remind us of our guilt and shame, to haunt us with past sins and shortcomings. Just as he did here with Joshua, Satan continuously assaults the believer with remorse and regret, reminding you of the shame that’s long been forgotten. Indeed, Satan’s greatest weapon against God’s children is to persuade us that we’re not forgiven; that God’s pardon is conditional; that his grace must be earned, bought, or won through some sort of self-effort. If he can get the Christian to doubt the certainty of the grace of God, he can get the Christian to stumble. “If’s” are Satan’s bombshells.
So there Joshua stands, before the bar of God, representing the nation of Israel, waiting for the Judge and the Accuser to rule on his fate, with the Adversary ready to rejoice at a swift, unapologetic verdict. As the defendant stands in the place of the nation, if he is rejected, the nation is rejected; if he is accepted, the nation is accepted.
But the remarkable fact about this text is that the Christ rebukes and rebuts Satan’s indictment of Joshua, even though Joshua stands there as absolutely guilty. Whatever charges Satan was bringing before the Lord, Joshua was a bona fide lawbreaker, a certified criminal, and deserved the condemnation the Adversary sought. He was at fault, and Satan certainly had a strong case for his accusation, for he stood “clothed with filthy garments” (Zec 3:3), with nothing but guilt and shame to offer as paltry evidence for his acquittal. This is shocking because Joshua is supposed to be a “man of God.” He’s religious, he’s the high priest of Israel, having devoted his life to divine servitude. Yet here he stands before the Magistrate of heaven as blameworthy, dressed in soiled clothes. It’s as if the high priest has entered the heavenly courtroom with blood on his hands, which condemn him before the trial even begins.
The fact of the matter is, there’s ample evidence in the course of one day for Satan to accuse and condemn us forever. Our Adversary can find continual reasons to accuse, as many as he wishes, in fact, we have “all fallen away” and become altogether corrupt. (Ps 14:3; 53:3) We have sins and shortcomings enough to be arraigned by Satan till the End of Days. But what does the Lord do with this vile criminal garbed in sullied clothes? What does Jesus do with this sinner? Precisely what he always does with those who are most aware of their desperation and have nowhere else to turn: he gives them grace.
Jesus rebukes the Adversary and he’s immediately silenced. (Zec 3:2–4) The malice of Satan stands no chance against the mercy of God! The Lord Jesus rules Satan’s charges as inadmissible, declaring Joshua’s position to be as one free from condemnation. He commands his angels (the jury in our scene) to remove the “filthy garments,” removing Joshua’s iniquity, and to further clothe him in “pure vestments.” This change of garments exemplifies the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness. The “pure vestments” depict God’s justification of the sinner through the atonement of his Son. And surely, if Joshua’s and Israel’s fate depended on their own faithfulness they would’ve been convicted long before now. But Joshua’s, Israel’s, and our hope and safety rest on the immutable grace and faithfulness of the everlasting, unchangeable God, and that makes all the difference.
Notice that nothing is said here about washing the old garments. Christ didn’t command the angels to wash these soiled rags, or mend these tattered robes. He told them to take them away. “Remove the filthy garments from him.” (Zec 3:4) Thus, Joshua stands free from condemnation (Rom 8:1) because he’s been “plucked out of the fire” as a brand is taken from the furnace. (Zec 3:2) Joshua and Israel’s right standing is restored — the charges of Satan are left utterly powerless against the grace of God.
But as Joshua serves to represent Israel, he, likewise, represents all the people of God, who stand before the Heavenly Father in their sins, rightly accused but graciously acquitted by the merciful Messiah. Guilty as we are, we tremble before the bar of God, with nothing to stand or rely on of our own. We are clothed in “filthy garments,” robes soiled with excrement, lives filled with sin. We’re not only covered in filth but we reek with the stench of corruption. The odor of iniquity goes before us, incriminating us before we’re even arraigned. And as we stand before the bar of God, we have nothing to offer to clear our name. We can give nothing to God to secure our absolution and justification — even our good deeds are marred with iniquity and fraught with sin. Our “righteousness” is as filthy rags in God’s sight. (Is 64:6–7)
At the table of God’s salvation, we have nothing to offer but the sin that makes it necessary. No obedience or merit of our own is worthy or acceptable to God. It’s to the empty-handed beggars that saving grace comes, not the gluttons of self-righteousness. God’s justification of sinners isn’t a green jacket you earn, it’s a white robe that’s freely given.
The moment you begin to believe that God’s justification of you is something you can win, something you can earn, like a green jacket, you void all that Jesus came to earth to accomplish and establish for you. Remember the words of Paul to the Galatians: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal 2:21) Regardless of how hard you try, despite all your efforts, you remained clothed in sin, in garments that are rife with the filth of sin. You’re soiled by sin from birth; therefore, for you to wash yourself is a categorical impossibility. You can’t wash these “filthy garments,” you can’t earn these white robes. You can’t make what is old new again. Your only hope is to confess that your clothes are too bad to be mended, too filthy to be washed, and turn your eyes to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith, who clothes you with his righteousness.
Our Advocate never ceases to intercede on our behalf; he clothes us in robes which we can never win or fabricate; he clothes us in his righteousness. “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.” (Is 61:10) There is only one voice by which you can be made clean. There is only one word which can secure your pardon. That is, the voice of God, Jesus himself. “The voice which silenced your cruel foe,” declares Charles Spurgeon, “is the voice that rolls the stars along, against which nothing can stand.”
Once Jesus clothes you in his “garment of salvation,” in his white robes, the Father no longer sees you and your guilt, now he sees his Son and his perfect atonement. (Col 2:13–14) Those who believe no longer have to fear Satan’s fury or his accusations, because just as Joshua stood in the place of Israel, so does Jesus stand in our place. The gospel declares that our Advocate has become our Substitute, absorbing and absolving all our condemnation. Jesus is our true and better Joshua, our true and better High Priest, who intercedes for us, who presents a blameless, righteous, perfect pardon. (Heb 4:14–16; Rv 12:10)
Once you’re saved, you stand before a Holy and Righteous Judge, bearing the title “No Condemnation!” because the Magistrate has banged the gavel, the sentence has been given, and “No Condemnation!” is the verdict, “No Separation!” is the decree. The debt has been canceled, the pardon paid in full, the appeasement for our sins has been perfectly supplied and satisfied by our Advocate, by the “angel of the Lord,” the Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Jn 2:1–2) The intercession of Christ is greater than any indictment the devil can bring. The malice of Satan stands no chance against the mercy of God. The guilt and pollution of sin is replaced by the holiness and purity of Christ. We are arrayed in Jesus’s perfect robe of righteousness. Our rebellious account is replaced with Christ’s righteous one — he takes our iniquity and gives his innocence.
This is the mission of Jesus: acquitting the guilty, healing the sick, raising the dead, bringing the lost home, and making the sinner holy. What he does with Joshua is what he perpetually does with us: he bestows a life-giving word of grace, the gospel, which resurrects, restores, and redeems sinners from an eternal hell. We sinners, guilty as we are, stand as pardoned saints solely because of the imputed righteousness of Christ, which God adorns us with as with a white robe. And this adorning is secure and forever in the Savior’s blood. We are cleared because Christ bore our condemnation. We are acquitted because Jesus took the penalty we deserved. We are pardoned because of the purity of Christ, not our own. Praise Jesus there’s no green jacket, only his white robes.