An Expository Sermon On Righteousness By Faith
By Dr. Diego Sausa
Before we start, let me ask the congregation two questions, Who among you think that they are already saved, please raise your hand? The second question is, Who among you think that they are not yet saved, please raise your hand? Those who answered that they are already saved are correct, and those who answered that they are not yet saved are also correct. Why? Because in the Bible, God teaches us that there are two stages of salvation: number 1, the first stage of salvation is called spiritual salvation or justification. The penitent sinner who accepts by faith God’s gift of salvation through Christ is already saved from the default verdict on mankind which is eternal death and deemed qualified for eternal life. Paul says, “The wages of sin is [eternal] death” (Rom. 6:23). And since we all have sinned, all of mankind from Adam until the last generation are condemned to eternal death. But Paul continues in Romans 6:23, “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In other words, by virtue of God’s gift of salvation through Christ, all men may be saved from that eternal death condemnation and receive God’s gift of eternal life. So the moment we received God’s gift of salvation through Christ by faith we are already saved from that condemnation and are deemed worthy of eternal life. Technically we call this stage of salvation as justification. We receive this salvation individually by faith in the vicarious merits of Christ. This is the first stage of our salvation because although we have been saved from the eternal death condemnation and are already deemed worthy of eternal life, we are still here on earth. We still live in a sinful and wicked world, and we still don’t have eternal life, we are still bound to grow old and die the natural death. We are already spiritually saved, but physically, we are not yet saved because we are still here in this world.
The second stage of salvation that the Bible teaches is the climactic corporate physical salvation of all believers, and this happens at the Second Coming. When Jesus comes again He will resurrect all justified believers and together with all the living justified believers, He will change all of them in a twinkling of an eye from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal and take them all to heaven (1 Cor. 15:52-54; 1Thess. 4:16-17). This second stage of salvation which happens at the Second Coming is technically called “glorification.” Both stages of salvation, spiritual salvation and physical salvation are accomplished because of the vicarious merits of Christ in behalf of mankind.
Our Scripture today is found in Zechariah 3:1-5:
“1Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ 3Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. 4Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’ 5And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by” (NKJV).
THE VISION OPENS THE WINDOW INTO THE SPIRIT WORLD
We are studying this Scripture because Zechariah’s vision of the high priest Joshua portrays vividly how mankind is saved and draws the curtain open into the spiritual world, and graphically presents before us the great controversy between God and Satan as regards the salvation of man. Zechariah’s vision of Joshua the high priest gives us a view into what happens behind the scenes in the spiritual world where we see Satan as always opposing God for every single person that God saves. Remember Moses? The Angel of the Lord, Michael (Jesus) resurrected Moses, but Satan opposed the Angel of the Lord and the Angel of the Lord rebuked Satan (Jude 1:9).
The prophet Zechariah lived during the post-exilic times, that is, after the 70-year Babylonian exile. He was probably born in Babylon and at a very young age saw Daniel and Ezekiel who by this time were already old. Zechariah as a young man most likely went with the rest of the Jews who went back to Palestine to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Zechariah was a priest and also a prophet. His writings also contain apocalyptic visions like that of Daniel and Ezekiel. He was raised as a prophet at a time when God’s people had a renewed relationship with God after the 70-year exile in Babylon, about 500 years before the birth of Christ. It was at this time when Zechariah was shown this symbolic vision of the high priest Joshua. The high priest Joshua in this vision is symbolic of the Jews who had been motivated to obey God and had revitalized their covenant relationship with Him after their 70-year exile.
THE COURT SCENE
The vision in Zechariah 3 is a court scene. The high priest Joshua which symbolizes Jerusalem or the Jews is the accused, God is the judge, the Angel of the Lord is the defense lawyer, and Satan is the prosecutor with all his evidence and accusations. Zechariah tells us in chapter 3:1, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him.” The Angel of the Lord was the identity of Christ Himself in the OT (Judges 13:18-22). Joshua the high priest represents the people of God. He stands accused by Satan in the court of God. Satan is pictured being at the “right hand” of Joshua because in the Ancient Neareast courts, the prosecutor or the accuser stayed at the right hand side of the accused. Even in our modern court system today, the prosecutors or the accusers often stand at the right hand side of the accused in the courtroom.
SATAN THE ACCUSER
So we have a picture of a courtroom with Joshua the high priest who is under accusation by Satan. The name Satan is a transliteration of the Hebrew noun Satan, which literally means “accuser.” In verse 1, the Hebrew word satan appears twice, once as a noun as the name of Satan and once as a verb in the phrase “Satan standing at his right hand to oppose [satan] him.” The Hebrew word for “oppose” is also satan in Hebrew, meaning, “to accuse” or “to oppose.” In other words, Satan lives true to his name, he is the accuser of the brethren. He is accusing or charging Joshua the high priest as guilty of the crime of disobedience to God’s laws and therefore deserves to die mankind’s penalty which is eternal death.
THE HOLIEST MAN ON EARTH, GUILTY?
What? The holiest representative of man on earth, the high priest, the highest religious leader of God’s people is accused by Satan as guilty of the crime of disobedience the wages of which is eternal death? How can that be? Joshua returned his tithes, he spent his waking hours ministering to sinners every day, he’s the elder of the church, he teaches God's Word to many people and preaches God’s message every worship hour, how can Satan’s accusations be true? Can you believe Satan’s charges against Joshua? O there must be some kind of mistake here!
THE APOSTLE JOHN AND ON HAVING NO SIN
An elder one day boldly said, “I believe I haven’t sinned anymore because I have kept all of God’s commandments for a long time now.” Wow! Really? How about being guilty of telling a lie? What does the apostle John say? “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jn. 1:8), in other words, when we think or say that we have no sin we are already guilty of lying because the truth is not in us. And this is John the beloved disciple speaking under inspiration, long after he was converted, he said this about himself and his fellow Christians, that is, he used the word “we” including himself, that is, the apostle John who was Spirit-empowered, Spirit-enabled, Spirit-inspired to write the Gospel of John, to write the three epistles of John and to write the book of Revelation, says that even he, cannot claim that he was without sin. Indeed no converted Christian can claim that he is already perfect and without sin by his own merits even if he is Spirit-enabled or Spirit-empowered in his converted life as long as he or she remains a mortal.
GOD’S REQUIREMENT FOR ETERNAL LIFE
God’s justice requires that in order to be worthy of eternal life, a person has to be absolutely 100% perfect 100% of the time, not only according to the letter of the law, but according to the spirit of the law as well. Yes, maybe we can be 100% perfect according to the letter of the law some moments in our Christian lifetime, but not 100% of the time. And even if for a minute we have been absolutely perfect according to the letter of the law, that minute of being perfect according to the letter of the law evaporates the moment we realize that according to Paul, “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Are you sure everything that you did was done in faith, that you did not doubt, that you did not fear, that you took care of your poor neighbor in the streets, the you have visited the widows and the prisoners, that you were never angry with a brother, that you never lust in your mind, that you never hated, that there was never a trace of pride in your heart?
This is exactly the reason why the apostle John told us that we cannot claim that we have no sin, because it would be a lie. Any shortcoming from the spirit and letter of God’s standards is sin and that my friends makes our righteousness as “filthy rags” because for an absolutely perfect God the only passing score is 100% absolute perfection 100% of the time, any score below that is failure and is considered filthy rag righteousness and deserves eternal death. In God’s grading system, there is no such thing as 99.9% pass. God’s grading system is only pass or fail. Our score has to be 100% perfection 100% of the time in order to be worthy of eternal life or any score below that is an abysmal failure – that is, our righteousness is as filthy rags worthy of eternal death.
JOSHUA, GUILTY AS CHARGED
Satan is the best theologian, he knows that the evidence in Scripture and the evidence in the life of Joshua the high priest pointed to only one verdict: Joshua was guilty as charged. In fact the real or direct evidence is even openly visible in court as Zechariah 3:3 tells us, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel [of the Lord].” This picture of Joshua standing before God’s courtroom in Zechariah 3:3 is very graphic in Hebrew. The words “filthy garments” in Hebrew is begedim tso’im, literally meaning “garments soiled with human feces.” This is similar to Isaiah’s description of our intrinsic righteousness before God, Isaiah says,“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy garments” (Isa. 64:6). Isaiah’s words in Hebrew rendered “filthy garments” describing our righteousness are also graphic. The Hebrew words beged ‘iddim for “filthy garments” in this passage actually means “garment soiled with menstruation.” In other words, even the Spirit-assisted, Spirit-enabled righteousness of God’s chosen leader of His own people – Joshua the high priest, looked like garments soiled with feces or garments soiled with menstruation in the eyes of God.
This means that according to the empirical direct evidence, Satan’s accusation that God’s chosen holy man Joshua was guilty, was beyond any reasonable doubt. Satan’s case against Joshua was a slam dunk. Without the shadow of a doubt, the empirical direct evidence of the case against Joshua points to only one verdict, that is, that Joshua was indeed guilty as charged and therefore deserved to die the eternal death penalty for sin.
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD DEFENDS JOSHUA
The case against Joshua looked like a decided case by virtue of the clear evidence presented by Satan until Joshua’s defense attorney stands up and defends Joshua by attacking Satan’s arguments. In Zechariah 3:2, Joshua’s defense attorney was the Angel of the Lord, so He stands up and defends Joshua by saying, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” In this verse, it becomes obvious that Joshua is symbolic of God’s people because he is equated with “Jerusalem” or the Jews. The Hebrew word ‘ud for “brand” means a wooden stick that starts to burn in the fire as in pieces of dry sticks that burn in a camp fire. What the Angel of the Lord or Christ is trying to say to Satan is, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem (who is represented by Joshua) rebuke you! Is not My people like a piece of stick that was ready to be burned in the fire but the Lord chose to pluck it out of the fire that it may not burn?” What the Lord was trying to tell Satan was, “Look! It is true, My people are worthy to burn in hell alright, but I chose to pluck them out of the fire that they may not burn.”
THE MEANING OF “THE LORD HAS CHOSEN”
What does it mean when the Lord says, “I have chosen Jerusalem”? Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:2-14 gives us the idea what “chosen” by God really means. Jesus starts the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son” (v.2). The king sends His servants to call on all the guests who were invited to the wedding. But then the invited guests took the invitation lightly and preferred to attend to their other important businesses. Worse yet, some even killed the king’s servants who gave them the invitation. So the king sends his other servants and decides to invite anyone who would be willing to come to the invitation. Many responded to the king’s invitation to come to his free grand wedding banquet for his son. And in the conclusion of the parable Jesus says, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
So what is the meaning of God’s chosen? Did Christ refer to those who were chosen as guests but who didn’t come, or those who were not originally chosen as guests but who actually positively responded to the invitation by coming to the free wedding reception? The answer is clear, those who were randomly invited and who accepted the invitation by coming to the king's free wedding reception became the king’s chosen. In other words, God’s salvation is free for all, but we become “chosen” only when we choose to accept by faith God’s free gift of salvation through Christ.
JOSHUA’S FILTHY GARMENTS REPLACED WITH RICH ROBES
So in Zechariah’s vision of the trial of Joshua the high priest who represented God’s people, the Angel of the Lord “chose” to pluck His people out of the burning fire because they responded in faith to God’s free gift of salvation. In other words, the Angel of the Lord was telling Satan, “My people have accepted my free gift of salvation by faith, so I have chosen to pluck them out of the burning fire because of their faith in the merits of the Messiah-Savior.” That God’s people accepted by faith God’s free gift of salvation is obvious in the next scene portrayed in the vision. The Angel of the Lord says in Zechariah 3:4, “Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’”
In this scene, it becomes obvious that Joshua’s “garments soiled with feces,” symbolized his sins. Because of his acceptance and faith in God’s free gift of salvation, the Angel of the Lord removes his “garments soiled with feces,” that is, his “iniquity,” and replaces them with the Angel of the Lord’s own righteousness represented by the “rich robes.” We do not earn Christ's righteousness, we simply receive it by faith as a gift from God.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE COURT PROCEEDING
The implications of this court proceeding are enormous and profound. It tells us that no amount of good works or obedience, and no amount of good position in the church can be good enough to make us appear righteous and deserving of eternal life before the eyes of God. No matter our position in church, no matter our good works and obedience, we can never be 100% perfect 100% of the time, so our "righteousnesses" are always like garments soiled with feces in the eyes of God and, therefore, we deserve eternal death. But for those who by faith have accepted God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, God chooses to pluck them out of the burning fire, removes their “garments soiled with feces” and replaces them with the righteousness of Christ. In Zechariah’s vision of Joshua the high priest, God reverses the guilty verdict sought by Satan and declares Joshua not guilty because Christ’s righteousness replaces the righteousness of Joshua that looks like “garments soiled with feces” according to God's absolutely perfect justice. Christ's rebuke silences Satan. Satan is silenced and has no more argument against the Angel of the Lord's immovable defense, that is, that Joshua is not guilty because the Angel of the Lord's own righteousness symbolized by the "rich robes," vicariously covered Joshua.
As long as we remain members of the fallen human race, even our Spirit-enabled and Spirit-empowered good works like that of Joshua the high priest will continue to miss the mark of God’s standard of absolute perfection. Nevertheless, God understands our depravity and fallen propensity. That’s why He sent Christ to die the eternal death penalty that was ours and live the absolutely perfect life in our stead which we need in order to deserve eternal life. The sooner we realize our depravity and hopelessness, the sooner we run to Jesus as our only source of righteousness. Because God knew that we could not pay for our death penalty and live, and because He knew that we could not be 100% perfect 100% of the time in our converted lifetime to meet the requirement for eternal life, God did it all for us!
He sent His only begotten Son to become like us and live an absolutely perfect life as a human being in our behalf, and He died the eternal death penalty that was ours, so that whosoever keeps having faith in the merits of Christ’s vicarious death and Christ’s vicarious absolutely perfect life which He lived 2,000 years ago in mankind’s behalf, shall not die the eternal death penalty but shall be worthy of eternal life. All we need is accept by faith God’s free gift of complete and total salvation through Christ through His dual vicarious merits, namely, His vicarious death that paid for our eternal death penalty, and His vicarious absolutely perfect life which He lived in our behalf 2000 years ago that replaces our “filthy garments.”
CHRIST’S VICARIOUS MERITS: THE ONLY METHOD OF SALVATION
Christ’s vicarious dual merit which He accomplished for us 2000 years ago, is what we need for our spiritual salvation (justification) now and for our corporate physical salvation at His Second Coming. As Paul tells us “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God [i.e., redeemed from eternal death penalty] through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved [i.e., we shall receive eternal life] by His [absolutely perfect] life” (Rom. 5:10). Again, Paul tells us, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s [absolutely perfect] obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
REASON FOR OBEDIENCE
We may ask, so what’s the use of obeying God, if Christ already did everything for our salvation? The answer is, Christ did not tell us, “If you want to be saved, keep my commandments,” rather, He said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” Obedience therefore is the result of salvation, it is not the method of salvation. We obey because we love God because He has already saved us through the vicarious merits of Christ which He accomplished for us 2000 years ago. So the motive for obedience is love and not salvation because God has already saved us! In this symbolic story of Joshua the high priest, nothing in what Joshua had done made him righteous. It was totally the Angel of the Lord who made him righteous after the Angel of the Lord removed Joshua’s “garments soiled with feces” and replaced them with the Angel of the Lord’s own “rich robes.”
It was only after Joshua had received this total salvation from the Angel of the Lord or from Christ that the Angel of the Lord tells Joshua to obey, He says, in Zechariah 3:7, “If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall judge My house.” In other words, obedience is the result and not the method of salvation. We obey God because we love Him for He has already saved us through Christ. Imagine a deathrow inmate, sentenced to death. No matter how much good he does inside the prison cell, the deathrow inmate will still die by execution. But then the President pardons him and saves him from sure death. Now how does the freed inmate react to the President’s grace? The most natural thing for him to do is to love the President back by being a good and loyal citizen. The reason for his obedience and loyalty is not because he wants to be saved from the death penalty because he was already saved by the President from that death penalty. But rather the pardoned inmate out of love and gratitude obeys and becomes loyal to the President because he has already received the President's free gift of salvation.
In a spiritual sense, we are all condemned inmates. Like Joshua, we are all guilty as charged and are ready to be burned like a stick in the fire. But because God loved us so much, He sent His only Son to become a human being like us, so that as a Man, He might live perfectly in our behalf and that He may die the eternal death penalty that was ours. All that we need to do is accept by faith Christ’s accomplishments for us 2,000 years ago for our complete salvation. Our world today is so dress-conscious. Magazines declare “the best dressed man of the year,” and the “best dressed woman of the year.” Unfortunately, magazines also publish “the worst dressed” people in the world. I feel bad for those people branded as “the worst dressed person of the year.” In God’s eyes, however, there are only two kinds of dressed people in the world: people who have the righteousness of Christ are dressed with perfectly clean rich robes while those who don’t have the righteousness of Christ are dressed with “garments soiled with feces.” The Lord is calling us today to let Him remove our filthy garments, that He might replace them with His own rich robes of righteousness. If you are willing to accept by faith Christ’s vicarious death as payment for your eternal death penalty and Christ’s vicarious perfect life as replacement for the filthy garments of righteousness that you wear, please stand with me and pray:
Thank you Lord for saving my soul
Thank you Lord for making me whole
Thank you Lord for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.