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Small Beginnings

Zechariah knew what it was to feel small. Being a prophet during the period of 520 BC, he lived through the return of Judah to the Promised Land. He lived through that hopeless feeling of disappointment as he surveyed the landscape and saw that it was pillaged. Desolate. As a priest, he was daunted by the task of rebuilding the temple, the dwelling place of the Lord. Terrified of starting anew. An exile no longer, but the burden of being the intercessor between a faithless nation and God weighed heavily on him, making his heart speed up and his hands shake a bit to the careful observer. 

Israel was a nation of deep, rich history and was marked by the God who couldn't seem to let them go, but standing there looking over that land, it seemed like they were beginning all over again.

To console Zechariah, and also to call back the forgetful nation back to Himself, God grants the Prophet-Priest a series of visions. One vision in particular is extremely significant, and most scholars agree that it is this very Messianic image that is the hinge of the entire book. As you read, recall that many times in Scripture, the "Angel of the Lord" is an appearance of pre-incarnate Jesus.

"Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. And the Lord said to Satan, 'I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.'"

Take particular note of the fact that Zechariah is receiving a vision of a High Priest with the name "Jeshua", which in Hebrew is the same name as Jesus, a name that means God is salvation. Though the High Priest is meant to do the work of making himself and his people right before God, it is not him, nor his sacrifices, that offer salvation- but the Lord alone. Jeshua, unlike Jesus Christ, represents the impurity of mankind. Jeshua is a high priest who, like all of us, is devastatingly human. Zechariah would have looked upon the man standing before the angel of the Lord and would have seen his own humanity reflected back in the high priest's eyes. So when the Accuser begins to speak out against Jeshua, condemning him, Zechariah must have grown increasingly anxious. Jeshua's fate was very much bound up in his own. Satan, who I will not grant much screen time here, is interestingly enough being depicted as being at the right hand of the "Angel of the Lord". According to Moody's Commentary, the right hand is "the place of accusation in a courtroom". Hold on to that thought!

The Lord directly rejects any accusation coming at Jeshua. Why? Because "the Lord...has chosen Jerusalem". Regardless of the sinfulness Jeshua was standing in, the filthy garments wrapped around his body revealing just a fraction of the capacity for faithlessness in his very human heart, God loved the man. A man unworthy of standing before the God of all creation, the Redeemer of his people, was loved. Despite his track record of worshipping idols, and worshipping self, God was jealous for that high priest's heart. And nothing Satan could accuse him of would ever change His mind. "This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire". In other words, this man was worth saving. The term "stick" could also be translated as "log". This is important to note because this is a log that is capable of growing again. Being snatched from the flames, this log will be tended to by the hands that rescued it, until it is established. The Lord is reassuring Zechariah that despite the daunting task that awaits him of rebuilding the temple, it is by God's hands that they made it home, and it will be by God's hands they will be established. They have been taken from the furnace because the Lord wanted to see His plan through. They will grow again.

They were chosen, cherished in a way that doesn't make sense, by the King of kings, who defends against every accusation thrown their way. "Therefore," said Paul, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Indeed, in the New Testament it is said that the "place of accusation in the courtroom", the right hand of the Father, has become the place where Jesus is now seated. It has become a place of reconciliation. “[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. . . . He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:20-23). There is now no condemnation

Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. So the angel said to the others standing there, 'Take off his filthy clothes.' And turning to Jeshua he said, 'See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.' Then I said, 'They should also place a clean turban on his head.' So they put a clean priestly turban on his head and dressed him in new clothes while the angel of the Lord stood by. Then the angel of the Lord spoke very solemnly to Jeshua and said,  'This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: If you follow my ways and carefully serve me, then you will be given authority over my Temple and its courtyards. I will let you walk among these others standing here. Listen to me, O Jeshua the high priest, and all you other priests. You are symbols of things to come. Soon I am going to bring my servant, the Branch." -Zechariah 4

Ever since the opening pages of Genesis, there has been a reoccurring paradigm in Scripture that mankind is a Priesthood, intended to have dominion over the land and co-rule with God on earth. They were to keep and work the garden. But as we are well aware, the fall happened, resulting in dirty garments, and an even worse track record of abandoning God. Zechariah would have seen the people around him leaving God time and time again, and this reality was deeply written into the way he was called to be a priest on behalf of these people. But now, right in the time he desperately needed hope, God was telling Zechariah of his plans. Plans to reclothe mankind, reclothe Israel, in garments that were worthy of His presence. There would be a day in which the Priesthood would be restored, and a right spirit would be upon them. And, conjuring up an image of the Garden of Eden, God references that authority over the land would be restored into the Priesthood once again. They would keep and work the gardens, and co-rule with God, once again. He then says, "You are a symbol of things to come". The significance of the term "symbol" is lost on us in English, but the Hebrew refers to "a sign with prophetic significance" according to Moody's Commentary. Thus, the Priesthood is not the endgame but instead, it serves as a prophetic call to look forward to the Messiah. Again, Zechariah is being reminded that he is standing at the beginning of things. A log plucked from the fire, that is only just starting to grow. But what is this log, this priesthood, a symbol of? "Soon I am going to bring my servant, the Branch." The word "Branch" in Hebrew is quite distinct from the term "stick"- the word "Branch" actually means growthsprout, or vine. Jesus, the High Priest, opens His wide as an invitation when He says in John 15:4, "Abide in Me, and I in you." The source of life, of growth, and the Branch we are to abide in. We can abide in One who is spotless and pure because "[He has] taken away [our] sins". That sentence in Hebrew can be translated as "I have taken away your remembrance that causes shame". We are given new eyes to see the redemption of God. We remember Him. Zechariah's name is a Hebrew term that means "God remembers", but the whole point is that God remembers us in love, in light of His redemption, and not through the voice of the Accuser. God remembers, but He rejects the voice of anyone who dares speak against His beloved.

Jeshua looks like all of us- condemned by our guilt, accused, and clothed in garments covered in all the dirt of this world. But Jesus looks upon us, upon you and me, and sees someone worth saving. Loving. Redeeming. 

And He says to each one of us, take off your filthy clothes. Those aren't who you are anymore. Those don't reveal the person Jesus sees when He looks at you. In Jewish tradition, it was the outer clothing that had to be right for the priest to be fit to serve in God's temple. But even before Jeshua's clothing was changed, the Lord saw something in his heart that was already fit to serve. Jeshua's heart, fallen and broken, was already bound up in God's own before the foundation of the world. 

Take off your filthy clothes, beloved. Come and abide in Me.

We have a place in the heart of Christ, our Branch. A place where we fit right in, the place we were made to be. And it is in that place we will grow. Though we may be looking at the place Jesus is inviting us into, this place where we must start anew, and we can't help but be daunted by all we have ahead of us, we are told in Zechariah 4:10, "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin."


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