‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land. [and so on to the end of chapter 13]
Once again Zechariah brings a message of comfort to the people of Jerusalem (as they rebuilt the ruined city and were erecting a new temple), few in numbers, threatened by the surrounding tribes, traumatised by the memory of the city’s destruction and their 70 years of slavery in Babylon, full of guilt for the way they had disdained Jehovah their God. Why wouldn’t God condemn them again? To answer that fear Zechariah preaches the message of this chapter to them. He does so first of all in the way every preacher comforts God’s people by preaching to them the message of the Messiah’s dying love that frees us from all our sin.
- HOW DID GOD MAKE THE WAY TO CLEANSE US FROM OUR SIN?
Zechariah begins thus; “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” God will not again open a trail through the desert, 500 miles in length, taking them off to slavery in Babylon to punish them for their sins. No. He will open a remarkable fountain that will cleanse them from their sin and guilt. God will do it. He will design a laundry where their inner filthiness can be made clean. He knows how to wash our hearts and souls from all that defiles them. He had said, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). He has said of the high priest Joshua’s dirty garments, “‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin’” (Zech. 3:4). God is the one who planned and erected this place of cleansing. It was not Pontius Pilate who dug this fountain. It was not Judas Iscariot. It was not the Jewish powers that erected it. It was not even Jesus himself, the Great High Priest. There was a higher one that day; it was God the Father who opened up the fountain. And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in. Redemption and the cosmic cleansing of heaven and earth has been accomplished by a mission to the world of God the Son sent by God the Father. Paul tells the elders in the church at Ephesus, “Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:29). What laundry actually purchases the dirty clothes that people bring in? Not one. They don’t want our defiled garments, but God did! What man-made detergent can compare to the power of Christ’ sacrifice to purify and make sweet-smelling? Listen to what John the apostle tells us; “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Do you know it? William Cowper says,
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day
And there may I as vile as he wash all my sins away.
Do you know it? Can you say, yes . . .
I know a fount where sins are washed away.
I know a place where night is turned to day.
Burdens are lifted; blind eyes made to see.
There’s a wonder-working power in the blood of Calvary.
Do you know that place where the vilest, most scarlet, seemingly indelible sins are all removed completely so that not a slight stain remains to remind us of what was there? They are all gone! They are all removed! God has taken away every spot or wrinkle or any such thing. On that day a fountain will be opened to cleanse from sin and impurity.
Of course if you have a shallow perception of sin and a superficial awareness of spiritual need you will not want to know of this place of cleansing. Only those who know something of the depth of their depravity and the extent of their own guilt will dance with joy at the discovery that there’s a place where their enormous sins can be removed. Let me describe the Golgotha Laundry.
i] It was not a beautiful building. It was not at all like the Taj Mahal; it was not like Versailles; it was not like St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the ugliest place in the world. It was a hill of execution, and suffering, of blood and death, terrible pain and darkness. It was a place of mockery – this laundry – and a place of gambling. It was a place of utter brutality where three young men were nailed to wooden crosses by their hands and feet and they were hung up in the air hour after hour in desolate anguish. That is the strange place where sin is washed away.
There on the central cross on that hill was a man who had lived at the lowest end of the social scale, born in a low condition. His father had made fence posts and ploughs and doors and window frames and he had helped him. His life had been a life of survival, weariness and deprivation. He did not own any home. And as he moved nearer his death all his sufferings were intensified. He was aware of what God was asking of him, to become the one through whom all those whom God had given to him to save and keep would be cleansed of their sin. That is how washing and purifying could become theirs. The detergent of his death removed their guilt. There was no other way. Their sin would collide with his purity but he would annihilate it by answering to God for it and stand in the naked flame of the holiness of God until all their guilt, attached to him, was removed.
As the time for him to enter the depths of their depravity came nearer he began to quake and break under the strain of what lay before him. Could he do it? Wasn’t there another way, another detergent that could just as effectively be a human stain-remover? Haven’t we all been afraid of some event before us and wonder if we can go through with it? And very often we have found that the experiences we dreaded were not nearly as bad as we had imagined. For Christ the very opposite was true. No human imagination was really able to grasp what it meant for him, the holy one, to cleanse us from the guilt of our sin in the presence of God. When all the engineering of this laundry came into operation it meant unmitigated human pain; it meant total social isolation; it meant he experienced all that hell could do by way of darkness and onslaught and temptation; it meant the experience of the agony of being isolated by God his Father; it meant that he who had not had the slightest experience of sin in eternity and throughout his life became intimately and experientially fastened to all our sin, attached to the very worst things that people had ever done, their blame and shame and the penalty due to it in their very place was all laid on him. It was as if he were made dirty and defiled in them.
Above all, he experienced the agony of being abandoned by God his Father, and as the wheels of guilt and condemnation and purging began to turn on him, he became the great outsider. Who was less prepared for this than Jesus? Who was less apt to be treated like that than him? God had always been there. All through eternity, he was God with God; he and his Father were one. All through his life in the world there was God to turn to, God to appropriate, God to enjoy, God to comfort and strengthen him, God to understand. He had never known to the least degree what the loss of God was, and so the crushing and this engulfment in our sin was all the more excruciating because the bond of Father and Son were so close. He once said in the Upper Room, “I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (Jn.16:32). But the Upper Room was not the fountain. That was Golgotha and that was the place of the Son’s greatest need and greatest pain, and God was not there. The familiar one he had always turned to, his ultimate and primary resource, whom he needed now more than ever before, was nowhere to be seen. There was no one to answer Christ’s cry. There was no comfort. In the oceans of guilt and shame that swirled around that fountain Jesus was left God-less with no perception of his Sonship, unable to say for the first time in his life, “Abba, Father.” It was the Black Hole Laundry in which he had been immersed as the one made sin and impurity. God was dealing with him not as Son but as Sin.
God had opened such a fearful laundry on Golgotha, fearful not only in the experience of the Son but in the experience of the Father too. The cost of our being cleansed from our sin was not borne by the Son alone but by the Father too. God the Father loved, and in loving he gave up the most precious and lovable entity in all of heaven, his only Son, and he did not spare him. Every one of us would spare our children pain and would volunteer to bear it for them, but God did not spare Jesus Christ because he had determined to spare us and provide his Son as the solvent for our depravity, and at such a cost. That laundry was full of suffering, the suffering of his body, and the suffering of his soul, suffering that came from heaven, and suffering that came from hell. He was dealt with as sin deserved. So Golgotha’s fountains were not like the fountains of Rome. This fountain had no beauty that men should desire to see it. Again let’s say this, that . . .
ii] The means of cleansing us from sin and impurity had itself to be totally sin-free. We all know of the boasts of the manufacturers of soaps and detergents that they claim to be 100% pure. Dirt cannot cleanse dirt. So it was on that green hill far away. The only perfect Innocent in the Universe became the greatest Remover of guilt in the Universe. If he had not been as pure as God then he would himself also need to be purified. So it was that the Lamb of God, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners separated our sin from us by drawing it all to himself. Again we say this . . .
iii] Only the eternal Son of God could remove all the guilt and stains of as mountainous a collection of dirty clothing as was brought to this fountain. Who is he, in that laundry, dying in shame and agony? Tis the Lord, O wondrous story! What is he doing there, washing our filthy garments? Deity humbled himself even to enter such place. What do you think the angels were thinking? “What is he doing there, on that cross?” We can imagine the whispered voices going through Paradise. “Have you heard what our Lord is doing? He is washing the clothes of Adam and Eve, of David, and Paul, and Mary Magdalene, and the woman of Samaria, and the dying thief, and millions and millions like them. He is doing it all by himself. No one else is there helping him, and he is using his own blood to purify their filthy garments! He is working to death in order to give them life and clothe them in white, fit for eternity in the presence of God and he is doing all that because he has loved them all.
- WHAT WAS THIS FOUNTAIN OPENED TO FAVOURED SINNERS?
It was not some accidental occurrence, like the unplanned and unannounced appearance of a powerful spring pouring out water in your back garden. It was not simply bad luck for Jesus to meet such crooks as Caiaphas and Annas the high priests and antagonize them, and also Herod the king, and Pilate the governor and that combination of evil and weakness was enough to overwhelm all the great achievements of Jesus. No, it was nothing like that. Jesus’ death was planned by God who opened up a fountain in him that would refresh and irrigate and cleanse the whole cosmos! He died as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world! “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebs. 10:14) and made clean. That is how the New Testament explains it. What Zechariah prophesied in the Old Testament Jesus fulfilled in the New Testament. “This is my body which is broken for you,” he said. “This blood is the blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
If cleansing could have become ours simply by the Son of God becoming a man then after Bethlehem he would have returned to heaven. If we could have been cleansed by Jesus saying “Amen!” to God’s condemnation of sin in the cup of wrath Jesus saw in Gethsemane, then he would have returned thence to heaven from the Garden. But there was no cleansing possible for impurity without God opening a fountain to wash away sin on Golgotha. Jesus did not come simply to take our nature. He did not come simply to add his “Amen!” to God’s condemnation of sin. He came to purify and cleanse and wash away our sins. He came to pull the plug that was preventing a mighty fountain flowing for 2000 years from Calvary to every part of the world, a torrent that would never stop flowing and irrigating and cleaning up all our mess until all the ransomed of the Lord are clean to sin no more. There is a choice facing each one of us. Either I am clothed in filthy clothes for ever, or he takes them and washes them all whiter than snow. He takes them, and so I am whiter than snow! Blessed fountain, opened by God, where Jesus worked all alone to make the dirty clean. “By the obedience of one many were made righteous” (Roms. 5:19).
- WHAT IS THE ONLY MESSAGE THAT THE CHURCH MAY PREACH?
You will remember how the gospel came to Europe, that it was by the apostle Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, and he tells the Corinthians the manner in which he brought the gospel to them. Was it with marvelous eloquence, or in a display of superior wisdom or with informal chats and debates he brought the gospel to them? No it was not. He says quite specifically: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:1&2). Paul preached the message of the cross, a theme which sounded pure foolishness to those who were perishing, but that message was the power of God to those who were saved.
That message of the fountain was that God had opened a supernatural divine laundry not designed to wash dirty garments but dirty hearts and dirty souls, that message I say was the divine touchstone of truth and by their message of the suffering substitutionary Messiah the Old Testament prophets were evaluated. The message is here, that God was the one who had opened the fountain, that the blood and water that flowed from the five wounds of Christ was all by the determinate power and foreknowledge of God. He was the one who made that cleansing flow. Isaiah preached that it was “the Lord who had laid on him the iniquity of us all . . .” That was not the message of the Baal worshippers and the false prophets on whom God declared war. He declares here in Zechariah that he would banish these liars from all of Judah, saying “I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land” (v.2). The gospel message would finally triumph in the Great Commission and at Pentecost. There would be such awareness of the coming of the Messiah and his saving work that any other message will be despised. Jerusalem and its false teachers would be destroyed but the world would be full of the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Under Haggai and Zechariah’s preaching the gospel would triumph in Judah. The prophet tells us in the chapter before us that if parents heard one of their beloved sons preaching another message and claiming it to be from God that they would wish their son dead. They were prepared even to put him to death themselves rather than see people being misled and God dishonoured: “his father and mother, to whom he was born, will say to him,`You must die, because you have told lies in the LORD’s name.’ When he prophesies, his own parents will stab him” (v.3). As the influence of Haggai and Zechariah grew so throughout the land self-appointed and self-promoting prophets would be covered in shame. They would discard their prophetic robes (v.4). A typical repentant prophet would protest to people who came asking him for a word from Jehovah, “I’m not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth” (v.5). They would be too afraid of the enormous responsibility of standing before people and saying to them that they had a word from God that their hearers must believe and receive. Remember the warning of James, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). There was once a farm labourer in Michigan who was not enjoying his work and itched for a higher calling. He announced to his boss one day that he was going to be a preacher because he had seen a cloud formation which spelled out to enormous letters in the sky, P and C, and he knew it was God saying to him, ‘Preach Christ.’ His old Dutch farmer was not impressed telling him that the letters stood for ‘Plant Corn’ and that he should get back to his tractor and plough the fields.
In Zechariah’s time the preaching of the Messiah’s fountain convicted false prophets. They had turned in grief from daring to have spoken folly and error in the name of the Lord. “I am a farmer,” they acknowledged, “not a prophet.” But then some of their superstitious hearers might protest that they knew they were prophets, that they had gone to them over the years for prophecies. Also some of these religious spokesmen bore the marks of being real prophets. There were ritual scars on their bodies, and many false prophets bore them. Then “what are these wounds on your body?” their hearers will ask them (v.6). Weren’t they divine evidence that they were the Lord’s prophets? One former prophet would answer them cynically, “These wounds I was given in the house of my ‘friends’” (v.6). Maybe it would be better translated ‘my lovers’ – his fellow idolaters in their pagan rites. He was spitting out the words, “I was wounded by my lovers.” He has seen the folly of his ways.
Then Zechariah returns to the theme of the fountain that washes sinners clean but he changes the metaphor to provide another crucial perspective on the death of the Messiah.
- WHAT WAS GOD DOING ON GOLGOTHA?
Men are tempted to portray God as twisting his hands in helpless impotence and rage as he merely spectates the sufferings of his Son. He hears him cry out, but God can do nothing to alleviate his agony. How different is the Bible’s portrait of the activity of God! He is in control of Golgotha; everyone there is working all things after the counsel of God’s will. There’s never been a day when God was more triumphant in his power, in his love and in his holiness than he was that day at that fountain. Jesus Christ was not a martyr; God’s son was not a victim, and God himself not a mere helpless spectator. That day at Golgotha was the day of God’s victory, not a day of defeat. God was the director and master of ceremonies controlling every single details of that event. The world and the devil may have thought that God’s plan had been thwarted, but they were wrong. Some sinner or other picked up a sledgehammer and nails and by them he attached the body of Jesus to the cross. Another soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to finish him off. A crowd jeered and mocked for hours as our Saviour hung there, none of them being aware that their very thoughts, words and actions were fulfilling God’s ordained purpose.
Let me remind you of a classic statement from one of the Puritans. “What God sovereignly decrees in eternity, man will always demand in time.” Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. The blood of animals was but a symbol and type of the one true sacrifice yet to be made when the Lamb of God took way our sin. He must die, the just for the unjust to bring us to God. God has decreed that this must be so, and so the alleged ‘free wills’ of Judas and the chief priests and Pilate and the squaddies were going to choose freely the very thing that God had ordained. Thus God’s purpose was being fulfilled, what he had prophesied in Genesis 3:15 about the seed of the women bruising the serpent’s head, and what he inspired Isaiah to write, and David in Psalm 22, and Zechariah in these final chapters. But even what all the actors on Golgotha on the first Good Friday were all speaking and acting according to the script God had written for them, while still being responsible to God for what they did. The hand of Almighty God was controlling everything that happened while Jesus was being executed. The pain that he endured was ordained for God’s glory and our salvation.
So Isaiah writes of the Messiah’s sufferings and he says that God was responsible; “we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him . . . it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (vv. 4&10). God smote his Son. It pleased the Lord to bruise the Lord. God put God to death. Or as Zechariah tells us of God’s word spoken on Calvary, “‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones’” (v.7). Who is the Shepherd? He is the one David spoke of saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Jesus is the one who claimed, “I am the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.” Who is he? The one who is close to God, Zechariah says, and who could be closer to the Father than the Son? Close in eternity; “And the Word was with God,” and close in time, “I and my Father are one!” What could be closer, and yet God was the executioner. Christ was the Lamb. God the willing High Priest offering the divine Lamb as the willing sacrifice. Total agreement between Father and Son while the mob and the soldiers around this fountain were doing all that God had planned for them to do.
So now God is wholly satisfied because God’s Fellow on Golgotha has done all that was necessary to accomplish our pardon and achieve a reconciled God. There is nothing left to do. It has all been done. There is no need for a supplement. There is not a speck of sin on any one of those for whom Jesus suffered. There were no deficiencies in the Saviour’s obedience and blood. The Father did not temper the stroke because it was his dearly beloved Son whom he was smiting. Once God made him sin for us then Christ dealt with that sin as it deserved, with our sin. It immediately became pardoned sin, forgiven sin and sin that had been covered by the great royal death of Jesus the Son of God. It was a favoured and focused redemption which saves his believing people from their sin. What of all the others?
- WHAT WAS THE JUDGMENT THAT FELL ON THE PEOPLE WHO KILLED THE MESSIAH?
The Lord Jesus spoke often about what lay ahead for Jerusalem and Judah, even with tears. “I would have taken you and protected you under my wings, but you rejected me. How fearful the days ahead will be for you when you will be awaiting your fate and envying those mothers who had no children. You know that you will be unable to protect your own little ones.” Zechariah here describes so accurately the judgment that would in AD 70 fall on the land at the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah: “ ‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish;” wholesale destruction; horror piled upon horror, and “yet one third will be left in it” (v.8). There would be a remnant according to the election of grace preserved, half of the number destroyed, and what would happen to them? The Lord would refine them like silver, and he would test them like 28 carat gold is purified.
Now there are many things we know about the future as Christians, many great comforting promises of God helping us, keeping us by his power, providing all our needs and enabling us to do all the things he desires from us, demonstrating the sufficiency of his abounding grace and working all things together for our good. That blessed prospect is what lies before every single Christian, but there is another reality too that is just as certain. It is this, that he will refine and purify us. What Zechariah tells us of the future must also be our experience. “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold” (v.9). Paul reminds Titus the pastor of the church in Crete that this is going to happen to every believer, because this is why the Lord Jesus gave himself up to Golgotha’s pain; he “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:14). You hear one cheerful Christian going through some tough trials and yet laughing and shaking his head about it to his best friend; “Man, I’ve been in the furnace again this week. God’s determined to make a good job of me and really purify me.” Whom the Lord loves he refines like silver and tests like gold. He does it for our good; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
And what good comes to all those who are exercised like that. God makes this promise to us, “They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say,`They are my people,’ and they will say,`The LORD is our God‘” (v.9). Could there be a more glorious privilege than this while we are in the body? We call on the name of the Creator, and he answers us. We will look at one another here and throughout history and we will say that these believers are my people. Like Dr. Lloyd-Jones coming out of a play in a Leicester Square theatre and hearing a Salvation Army band playing some great hymn tunes and his heart filling with a deep assurance; “these people are my people,” and he would spend his days helping and strengthening them. It is like Jacob’s cross-over blessing. We say to God about the fellow members of our congregation, “They are my people,” and then we say to the people, “Jehovah is our God.” That is Christian hope and certainty.
6th April 2014 GEOFF THOMAS