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“The Priest on His Throne”

Zechariah 3:1-9, 6:9-13
Bob DeGray
March 31, 2002

Key Sentence

The one who bore our sin is now the one who reigns!


I. The One Who Removed Our Sin (Zechariah 3:1-9)
        A. The image: filthy garments removed (1-5)
        B. The meaning: God’s servant will remove sin (8-9)
II. The Priest on the Throne (Zechariah 6:9-13)
        A. The image: a crown for the high priest (8-11)
        B. The meaning: the priest who builds the temple is the king (12-13)


        Our text this morning is from Zechariah 3 and 6. But before we get to those prophecies I want to share a story and a Scripture that will help us put it in the context of our Resurrection celebration. The story concerns a doctor whose heart was heavy over one of his patients. When he entered his waiting room, there sat Edith Burns with her big black Bible in her lap earnestly talking to a young mother. She had a habit of introducing herself this way: "Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" She’d explain the meaning of Easter, and often people would be saved.

        Dr. Phillips walked into the office and saw the head nurse. Beverly had first heard the question while taking Edith’s blood pressure:"Do you believe in Easter?" "Why yes I do." "Well, what do you believe about Easter?" Beverly replied, "Well, it's about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up." Edith kept pressing the real meaning of Easter, and finally led Beverly to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

        When she was called in, Edith took one look at the doctor and said, "Why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?" Dr. Phillips said gently, "Edith, I'm the doctor and you're the patient." With a heavy heart he said, "Your lab report came back and it says you have cancer. You're not going to live very long." Edith said, "Why Will Phillips, shame on you. You’ve just told me I'm going to see my precious Lord, my husband, and my friends. You’ve told me I’m going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are struggling to give me my ticket!"

        Edith continued coming to Dr. Phillips. A few months later, not far into the new year, she had to move to a hospital. She asked Dr. Philips to be sure to put women in her room who need to know about Easter. Many of the women who shared that room with Edith became believers. Everybody on the floor started calling her Edith Easter. Except for Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. Phyllis made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because she was a "religious nut". Phyllis had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She’d been married three times, she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.

        One morning the nurses who attended Edith were sick. Phyllis Cross had to give Edith her shot. When she walked in, Edith smiled and said, "Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I’ve been praying for you." Phyllis Cross said, "Well, you can quit praying. It won't work. I'm not interested." Edith said, "Well, I’ve asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family." Phyllis Cross said, "Then you will never die because that will never happen," and curtly walked out.

        Every time Phyllis would walk into the room Edith would say, "God loves you Phyllis and I love you, and I'm praying for you." After several months she found herself drawn to Edith’s room one day like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the bed and said,"Edith, you’ve asked everybody here the question, 'Do you believe in Easter?' but you’ve never asked me." Edith said, "Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have...”

        Edith Burns took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter Story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Edith said, "Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, that he is alive and that he wants to be your Savior?" Phyllis Cross said, "Oh I want to believe that with all my heart. I want your Jesus in my life." They prayed, and Phyllis Cross received Jesus. A few days later, she came in and Edith said, "Do you know what day it is?" Phyllis said, "Why Edith, it's Good Friday." Edith said, "Oh, no, for you every day is Easter. Happy Easter Phyllis!"

        Two days later, on Easter Sunday, Phyllis came into work, did some of her duties and then went to the flower shop and got some Easter lilies because she wanted to wish Edith a Happy Easter. When she walked in Edith was in bed. The big black Bible was on her lap. There was a sweet smile on her face. But when Phyllis went to pick up her hand, she realized Edith was dead. Her other hand was on Revelation 21:4, "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more death, or sorrow, or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away."

        Phyllis Cross took one look at the body, lifted her face toward heaven, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, said, "Happy Easter, Edith _ Happy Easter!" Then she walked out of the room, over to a table where two student nurses were sitting and said, "My name is Phyllis Cross. Do you believe in Easter?" If, as reported, this is a true story, then Edith Burns had a focus on the resurrection in life and death.

        Jesus also had a focus on the resurrection, from the earliest part of his ministry. According to John, the first time Jesus visited the temple during his ministry years, he already had the resurrection on his mind. In John 2 Jesus goes to the temple courts and drives out those taking profits there. Then, verse 18: “the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Like most of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, when he prophesied, used symbols. He compared himself to a temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. This was a picture of the resurrection - as the disciples eventually figured out.

I. The One Who Removed Our Sin (Zechariah 3:1-9)

        In the same way Zechariah uses symbols in the two passages we’re looking at today to show Jesus as the resurrected High Priest who bore our sins and at the same time as the resurrected king who will reign on the throne. Let’s begin in Zechariah chapter 3, verses 1 to 5, where we see an image of the resurrected High Priest who took away our sin. 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. 2The 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?" 3Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4The 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." 5Then 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.

        A little background: Joshua was the high priest for those who had returned from exile in Babylon. They rebuilt the temple, about six hundred years before Christ. It’s probably not a coincidence that Joshua and Jesus have the same name, only slightly altered by translation into Greek. Joshua is a symbol or type or picture of the work of Jesus as our great High Priest, which we saw in Hebrews. Joshua is pictured as standing before the Lord, with Satan at his side, accusing him. Literally it says ‘the accuser standing to accuse him’, since Satan means accuser.

        The Lord does not allow the accusation to stand. He rebukes Satan, saying “is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” What does that mean? Well fire is typically a symbol of judgment. So this man is a stick snatched from judgment at the last moment, when it was already burning. But if Joshua is a symbol for Jesus, what can this mean? Jesus is a branch snatched from judgment? I wonder if that could possibly have anything to do with the resurrection?

        Verses 3 to 5 give another image of this High Priest: he’s dressed in filthy rags. This is also a common Biblical picture: filthy clothing stands for sin. So the high priest is covered with sin - and then the filth, the sin, the clothing is removed. The angel explains: “See, I have taken away your sin and I will put rich garments on you.” What does this picture mean, if the High Priest is Jesus? I hope you can figure it out. Jesus bore our sin. Jesus wore our sin. He took the guilt, the shame and the penalty of our sin. In fact the Apostle Paul goes so far as to say “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus became sin for us and went into the fire of God’s judgment for us to pay the penalty of sin for us. But here we see him after the crucifixion, as a stick snatched from the burning and a high priest clothed in rich garments.

        Yes, Jesus died for our sin, yes Jesus became a curse for us on Good Friday. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He was snatched from the fire of judgment after having paid the full price for our sins. He was cleansed from the weight and guilt of sin because sin could not cling to him. He was, in short, resurrected, clothed in the rich garments of a high priest. And now he stands before the father making intercession for us.

        So this is a picture of a high priest who bore our sins and receives honor before the Father. Verses 6 and 7 are an aside to Joshua, but in verses 8 and 9 God explains what Joshua symbolizes, and makes sure we understand the images we just studied. “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. 9See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes 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.”

        God himself, through the prophet, tells Joshua and the other priests and leaders of Israel that they are symbols. The word is literally ‘signs’ and is often used of miracles. For example, God tells Moses at the burning bush that when Pharaoh asks for a sign, Moses is to throw his staff down and it will become a snake. At times a person can be a sign. Isaiah uses this word when he says that he and the children God gave him are signs and portents to the nation. They are people who represent something God is going to do. In the same way Joshua is a symbol of the Messiah yet to come, and represents what God is going to do.

        God says to Joshua, ‘here is what you symbolize: I am going to send my servant, the branch.’ Who is this? It’s the Messiah! Both ‘the servant’ and the ‘the branch’ are key names for the Messiah in the Old Testament. The servant, of course, is the suffering servant, the one in Isaiah who bore our sins and carried our sorrows. He is the servant who after the suffering of his soul will see the light of life - that is, he is the servant who will be sacrificed and then raised from the dead. He is the servant who justifies many, who puts men and women right with God.

        But the one promised in Zechariah is not only the servant, he is also ‘the branch.’ This is yet another name for the Messiah. Jeremiah 23 says “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.” Isaiah 11:1 says “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Isaiah 53 says of the suffering servant that he grew up before God as a tender shoot. So the servant, the shoot is the Messiah: not just the conquering king the Jews imagined, but also the suffering servant they failed to foresee, the branch snatched from the fire.

                He is also ‘the stone’ - a stone with seven eyes set in front of Joshua. Both the stone and the seven eyes are, again, symbols. In the gospels Jesus identifies himself as the ‘the stone which the builders rejected’, that is, the Messiah that the Jewish leaders rejected. His disciple Peter refers to Jesus several times using the same phrase, a quote from Psalm 118. The seven eyes, are used in Revelation to indicate the complete knowledge shared by God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. So this stone is not just a man, but a Messiah who is shares God’s attributes.

        This divine Messiah’s purpose is clear. End of verse 9: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”. He dies on the cross to remove our sins by his sacrifice. He bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sins and live to righteousness.

        Joshua is a symbol of the ultimate high priest, the suffering servant, the branch, the stone, the one who removes our sins. He is the picture of a branch rescued from burning and a high priest from whom the filthy garments of sin are removed. He is a picture of Christ after the resurrection. The one who bore our sin was not permanently stained by it. The one who was judged with fire for our sin was not consumed by it. He died for our sins, but death could not hold him, and he rose again, to be clothed in rich garments and serve us in the heavenly temple. That’s the message of Zechariah 3. It is Edith Burns’ message. It’s the message of Easter - that God’s Son will bear our sins, and suffer death, but rise on the third day to give life.

II. The Priest on the Throne (Zechariah 6:9-13)

        It’s a great message. There’s another like it in Zechariah, linked to this by the fact that they both refer to the one called ‘the branch’. It’s Zechariah 6:9-13. The word of the Lord came to me: 10"Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 11Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. 12Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.'

        It appears at least three exiles have just arrived from Babylon. It might be more than three - they may have been leaders of an expedition. Like other returnees, they brought donations for the work in Jerusalem, gold and silver, which Zechariah is told to fashion into a crown, and place on the head of Joshua the high priest.

        Stop for a minute and recognize how radical that is in Jewish history. The line of kings had always come from the descendants of David. The line of priests had always come from the descendants of Aaron. There was never a priest who was a king. But symbolically at least the priest Joshua is being made a king.

        There is only one other king in Scripture who is also a priest: Melchizadek. He appears briefly in Genesis and then he is mentioned in Psalm 110. “The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” and then “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” The Scripture we’ve been studying recently in Hebrews makes a big deal of this, and teaches us that Jesus is a priest king like Melchizedek, the one who will reign at God’s right hand.

        All of this would have been mysterious to Zechariah’s countrymen, so the Lord goes on, as he did in the first prophecy, the Lord explains himself, explains what the crown on the head of the priest means. “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from here and build the temple of the Lord.” The fact that Joshua is once again called ‘the Branch’ tells us that the picture is of the Messiah. But here he builds a temple and is given a crown. Does the Messiah literally build a temple? Well, maybe, in the sense that Solomon built a temple or Herod built a temple, Jesus will build a temple in Jerusalem when he comes again to reign. But it is better to link this prophecy to the one Jesus made when he visited the temple: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”

        Jesus had a resurrection on his mind and it seems Zechariah did too. The temple this priest with the crown would build was his own body, destroyed at the hands of sinful men, rebuilt by the unquenchable power of a godly life. Yes, Jesus died on the cross, but he didn’t stay dead - the Scriptures never anticipated he would stay dead. He is risen from death and he reigns. His resurrection is a fact as significant as any in Scripture and as well attested as any in ancient history. Christ rose from the dead in a real physical body and reigns in heaven now, and one day will reign on earth.

        He is in fact, a priest on the throne. Verse 13: “He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.” Only in Jesus is there a priest who is also a king. In Israel there was tension, political infighting, sometimes pitched battle between those who were associated with the priests and those who were associated with the kings. But in Jesus, after the resurrection, the priesthood and the kingship are embodied in the same person. Notice that just as he was clothed in priestly garments in the previous section, here he is clothed in majestic kingly garments. There, as high priest he stood to serve, but here as king he sits on the throne to reign forever.

        Our Lord is resurrected to be priest and king. The New Testament celebrates these things often. As we close, let me read some of the verses that celebrate his high priesthood or his kingship or his resurrection, or in many cases a combination of these things.

        The disciples, for example, knew that he had been resurrected to reign. Acts 5:30-31. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

        Paul taught that Christ’s reign grew out of his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:20. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” In fact, Paul said that the resurrection and reign of Christ were his whole gospel. 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”

        But Jesus was also raised to be the high priest, as we’ve seen so often in Hebrews. Hebrews 4:14 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hebrews 7:26 “Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Hebrews 8:1 “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.”

        Without the resurrection we would have no king, without the resurrection we would have no priest. That’s what Zechariah celebrated so many years ago in these two great prophetic passages: that God’s servant, the Branch, would bear our judgment, but rise from the dead to be clothed as high priest and robed as king. Zechariah saw the priest on his throne and knew him to be the one who had removed our sin in a single moment on the cross, who died, who lived to tell about it, and who reigns. The one who bore our sins is the one who reigns.

        On one occasion Michelangelo turned to his fellow artists and said with frustration in his voice, "Why do you keep filling gallery after gallery with endless pictures on the one theme of Christ in weakness, Christ on the cross, and most of all, Christ hanging dead? Why do you concentrate on the passing episode as if it were the last word, as if the curtain dropped there on disaster and defeat? That dreadful scene lasted only a few hours. But to the end of eternity Christ is alive; Christ rules and reigns and triumphs!" Michelangelo had it right. Zechariah had it right. I hope that we have it triumphantly right in our hearts today: Jesus is risen. Jesus reigns!