Can we be free from the past?
I have a good friend who fought in the Vietnam War. I love this man. It warms my heart to think of him.
He is a story teller. I could sit and listen to his stories for hours and never get bored. The war is not something he talks about much, but some of the stories he has shared are nothing short of amazing.
This friend struggles with depression. He told me of a few times when another person took his place on a patrol or guard duty and died. He said, “It should have been me.” This is his struggle. Someone died in his place. This kind of regret goes far beyond my experience. I am out of my depth and am humbled by the pain this friend carries.
Do you have pain that you hide? Some of us have things we would like to go back and undo. We would like a chance to undo some decisions or at least do some things differently.
Today, I was looking at Zechariah 3, not a frequently visited part of the Bible, but it in I saw how God deals with the past.
Zechariah wrote at a time in Israel’s history when they were not an independent nation. Under King David and King Solomon the nation had seen its glory days. It was a great and powerful nation. But, over the course of a few hundred years the people had ignored God’s messengers. They had ignored justice. They had knowingly practiced many things that violated every moral standard. They had given themselves over to practice evil to the point that God finally had had enough.
For many years, the prophets warned the people that God’s patience would wear out. They preached that God would judge the nation and send them into captivity for 70 years. That is exactly what happened.
Zechariah was a prophet and priest that lived at the end of those promised 70 years. He preached to the people who returned from the exile.
The 70 years of captivity started with millions being led away from the land of Israel. The people who returned from exile numbered less than 50,000. They were still subjects of a pagan king and under the rule of Darius, King of Persia.
Their past haunted them. The warnings of the prior prophets were still there to be read. We have accounts in both Ezra and Nehemiah of those who returned from exile doing the very things that had led to the exile in the first place. They were still imprisoned by their past.
There was a huge problem in the hearts and minds of this small and struggling people. Their fathers had failed. They had failed. They were tasked with rebuilding the temple, and the work was stalled. Years went by with no progress. Zechariah was sent with a message to get them back on task, and the first thing to be dealt with was the past.
Zechariah chapter 3 starts out: “Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord.”[i] (Zechariah 3:1, NLT)
Zechariah would have been especially sensitive to this image. He was a priest, and the vision was of the High Priest.
Hebrews 5:1 tells us, “Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God.” (NLT) Seeing the high priest standing before God, Zechariah knew Jeshua was representing his people before God. Since Jeshua is standing, we know that judgment is taking place. Who is standing on the right hand side with Jeshua? “The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. (Zechariah 3:1, NLT)
This is so typical. Whenever God has called us to do something, Satan is there to remind us how unworthy we are. He calls up the past. He calls up our failures. He calls up anything he can to keep us tied to the past.
God called this small group of people to build him a temple, and Satan was there to stop it from happening if he could.
Look at how God responds. “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.”” (Zechariah 3:2, NLT)
God does not accept accusations against His chosen ones. The rest of the chapter will show how He is able to remain holy, just and true and yet forgive the past.
God said, “This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.” (Zechariah 3:2, NLT) Those who came back from exile were few and they were saved as if from the brink of extinction. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom are still lost to this day. Fire burns and consumes everything. These people were all but consumed and God snatched them from the very brink of destruction.
This is what God does. If someone thinks he is a good person and does not need to be snatched from the fire, he is in danger. His self-righteousness could destroy him. If someone thinks he is so bad that none could ever save him, he is close. No one can ever save himself. Only God can save us. Only God can deal with the past.
The rest of Zechariah 3 is about how He does that.
We see in verse 3 that Jeshua was dressed in filthy clothes. This is a picture of all of us. The priests were the most holy, the best of the best. And here Jeshua is unfit to stand before God.
When God gives Jeshua clean clothes he says, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.” (Zechariah 3:4, NLT) This is what happens. When a person accepts Christ, God places his sin on Jesus. Jesus paid for those sins on the cross. Next, God puts Jesus’ perfect righteousness on the forgiven sinner like a fine set of priestly garments.
The next detail given in Zechariah 3 is astounding. It says, “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.” (Zechariah 3:5, NLT) This priestly turban was very significant. There was a gold plate attached to the front of it that said, “Holy to the Lord.” (Exodus 39:30) Holy means set apart, or special.
This is what God does for those who accept Christ. 1 Peter 2:9 puts it this way: “you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (NLT)
When one accepts Christ, not only does God cloth him in the righteousness of Christ and take his sins away, but He puts a special crown on his head that says, “This is my son, this is my daughter, she is special and precious to me.”
God says this to Jeshua:
“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. Now look at the jewel I have set before Jeshua, a single stone with seven facets. I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and I will remove the sins of this land in a single day.” (Zechariah 3:8-9, NLT)
They were symbols of things to come. The Branch is Jesus. The single day was the day on Calvary. We can stop worrying about the past. We can leave the shame and guilt behind like the dirty clothes taken from Jeshua. If we accept Jesus, He will tell us, “I have taken your sins away, and you are precious to me.”
Jesus is calling each of us to follow Him. Is there anything holding us back?
[i] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.