Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The 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.’ Then 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.
Zechariah 3:3-5

Joshua was the high priest of Israel but instead of covered in all the gorgeous garments stipulated by God for the performance of his duties he was dressed not even in his civvies or mufti but he is dressed in the most reprehensible, filthy clothes. That was shocking enough, and then Satan came and was also standing at his right side ready to accuse him of his past sins. It was then, at that point, that Jehovah himself spoke up; he rebuked Satan for being there, even before the devil could open his mouth and utter one word of accusation. “Joshua,” God declares, “is my chosen one.” “Joshua,” God says, “has been plucked like a brand from the burning. Joshua is saved and is safe.” That is the word of God.

So here in Jerusalem in the Temple, as Zechariah the prophet is observing everything, Joshua should have been mightily comforted by this word of God, by overhearing what Jehovah had spoken to Satan rebuking him and exalting the status of Joshua, as you believers should be today and at every service as you hear the living word of God. The words of rebuke to the devil and assurance to Joshua should have mightily encouraged the high priest. God’s electing love had homed in upon his life; yes, he is a sinner but a brand plucked from the burnings, a saved and rescued sinner. Let him rejoice in that word of God. Let him be comforted that though he is clothed in stinking raiment, God loves him and God has chosen him and God has saved him. This is the word of God to him. Wouldn’t we go home today with a new assurance and joy if we knew that God had spoken to us today and told us that he loved us today and had saved us, and today it was as if we had heard it for the first time – like a man digging a hole and discovering treasure in a field? Wouldn’t we be lost in wonder, love and praise? And I’d say to every Christian here that God has done that already today. He has been dealing with us. In our hymns and prayers and reading from the Book and in the message to the children we have already met with God today. We need nothing more than the word of God, nothing more. It is God’s own word, the God who cannot lie. He cries for our attention; he always points us to the work that the Son of God has done; “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!” Trust what God has said. Our hopes of eternal life lie in the Lord Jesus Christ. You have come to him because his word to you is, “Come unto me”. You have trusted in him because his word to you is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The obedience of faith has made you safe and comforted. Today you can know again a renewal of the blessing of God on your life, and from here to eternity you can know it, all because of what God says in his word and because you have given simple obedience to it in faith.

But God doesn’t finish his exquisite pastoral care of Joshua in rebuking Satan. God has more wonderful words to say to him, and the same God has more to say to all of us today because our Shepherd has not ceased dealing with us. He who has ears to hear let him hear! Please hear the word of God. You can understand it. It will be life and health and peace for you!


The messenger of the Lord is speaking to his servants and that is what they are commanded to do. Those stinking garments are all to be removed. You know the experience of having slipped over on a muddy path, and your coat and trousers are covered in dirt. You come home and the first thing you do is undress and take off your outer garments. You don’t first sit down and read the paper, or go to your desk and write a sermon – dressed in filthy clothes. You deal first of all with the dirt. The collier comes home with his clothing black with coal dust. He doesn’t sit on the settee and watch the TV in those clothes. He does nothing until those clothes are removed. The dirty garments are all put in the washing machine and the detergent is added. The boiling hot water pours on them and churns them round and round, and the result is that the coal-dust and mud and grass stains are all washed out of the clothes. The soapy water works its way through the fibres of the garments and every spot of mud is removed completely. Before we can do anything satisfying and fulfilling the dirty clothes have to be cleaned. You don’t iron dirty clothes. You don’t hang dirty clothes in the wardrobe. They first have to be washed and cleansed. Before we can do anything useful for God in our lives the great problem of our guilt and shame has to be dealt with.

The living God is concerned about our dirty lives. Think of it! The Creator of the universe is determined to deal with the filthy souls of men and women. God is able and God is willing to remove from us every spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Isn’t that the message of the Bible – even in the Old Testament? “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Is. 1:18). That is a divine invitation from the throne of the universe to God’s creatures that he is willing to make them clean. “Come now!” he says to you. Come now! Don’t go on another hour in those stinking clothes.” I will tell you now where each of you can be made clean. I know it!

“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.”

God, the mighty Lord of heaven and earth, is yet one who’s also concerned about the dirty nature of your past and present. It is a barrier between himself and you and it is he who is going to deal with it. He is the God speaking here who points to Joshua and orders his servants, “Take off his filthy clothes.” He has said to me this day that he wants to use me to sort you out, and clean you up, and make everything sweet and new in your life. That is the work and the word that he has given to me, and that is why he brought you here today. He would have you clean, every bit of you, totally de-sinned, so that not a speck remains, and he has made provision for this. When your wife or mother looked at you coming in from your gardening or playing soccer in the park with your mates then she saw the state you were in. She said, “First take those dirty clothes off.” But did you let them just drop to the floor? Did they stay there for ever, getting more and more dirty, an embarrassment to everyone, and a reminder to you of your state that day? No. She picked them all up and took them all to the utility room to get them clean again. She put them in the place where they could be rid of all the dirt on them. So too God has a place where the foulest are made clean. God has opened up a fountain for sin and uncleanness. God built a laundry on Mount Golgotha. That is the place where sins are washed away. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. That is why the Son of God came from heaven to live and die for us.

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.”

“Take off your filthy clothes,” but don’t leave them hanging around. There are lots of organisations that will help you ignore or forget about your past, but only the gospel tells you, “Take your guilt to Calvary. Go to the cross of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and tell our great High Priest you are so sorry about your condition, and so ashamed of your dirty life, and the one thing you want above everything else is to be made clean. Oh make me clean! Cleanse me from sin’s guilt and power. Let the water and the blood from your riven side that flowed be of sin the double cure.” If I filled buckets with my own tears then my salty tears couldn’t make my sins disappear. If I shed all my own blood, and dipped my filthy life into that haemoglobin then my life would in fact become worse not better. “Lord, thou must wash me clean, and thou alone!” There is none other name. None other heavenly detergent. Nothing else can change the leopard’s spots or the Ethiopian’s skin. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Only the Lamb of God can take away the sin of the world. That is why he came from heaven. That is why he become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh while yet he remained infinite, eternal and unchangeable. What potency, and what power lies in such blood, the blood of the God-man. Your clothes must be taken to the cross and dealt with by Jesus. You must go to him and tell him what you want. “Please remove my filthy clothes from me. Wash me Saviour or I die.” Have you gone to the cross and knelt there and asked Christ to make you clean? Everyone in the world has to go to that one place and nowhere else. The richest and most distinguished must go there. The mightiest and the most moral must go there. The genius and the academic – all must come here to the cross or they remain in their dirty clothes for ever and ever. They will be the garments of the inhabitants of hell!

One day two men found themselves sitting next to one another in a church pew at a communion service. It was not until the service was over that they recognised one another, but they said nothing as it was for each such a momentous meeting. One had spent twenty years in prison in which place he’d come to know Calvary, that place of cleansing, where sins are washed away. He was now out of prison; the sentence paid in full. The other was actually the judge who had sentenced him all those years before. After the service the minister asked the judge, “Did you recognise the man sitting beside you?” “Yes I did,” replied the judge. “That is a miracle of grace.” “You mean that a man you sentenced to prison should be kneeling beside you?” “Oh no, not at all,” said the judge, “The miracle was that I should be kneeling beside him. That man made a big mistake and committed a horrific crime, and then he came to know clearly that he was a sinner and he needed to be washed of all his defilement. He came to know his only hope was the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. But I was brought up in a religious home. I went to private school and to Cambridge University. I’ve lived a decent and a moral life. You know how I was honoured in the New Year Honours’ list. I’ve been invited to Buckingham Palace, and the Queen has given me an O.B.E. I’m respected in the community. It’s much, much more difficult for someone like me to acknowledge that his only hope of heaven is the blood of Jesus Christ to wash away his sin, that I have nothing to plead in the presence of God except the Lamb of God taking away my sin. I’m the miracle of grace, not him.”

God has given me authority to say to you today that he wants your dirty garments all taken away. He is talking about the garment of unbelief, and the garment of idolatry, and the garment of taking God’s name in vain, and the garment of doing your own thing on the Lord’s day, and the garment of dishonouring your father and your mother, and the garment of sexual sin, and the garment of lying, and the garment of violence, and the garment of stealing, and the garment of drunkenness, and the garment of drug-taking, and the garment of greed and covetousness.  They are all stinking sins. They must all be taken away. I want to help you remove them. God says to me, “Take off his filthy clothes!” He says, “Put on him the best robe!” because you have come home at last, you have turned from all that wasted life, and you want to get rid of the smell of the swine on your clothes. You are a repentant sinner, and you have come home to clean up your life.

Are you going leave this meeting today in the same old dirty clothes in which you came? You wore them here, and do you love them so much you won’t be parted from your sins? Will you cling to them and wallow in them for all eternity, like a pig wallowing in the mud. Take off your filthy clothes! Make a great big bundle of them and carry them to Calvary. Throw them all into that fountain. See them washed! See them sanctified! See them clean! What a lovely odour of newness! The whites are sparkling. They are whiter than snow. How lovely and soft they are to wear. I can’t understand how any one of you can leave this place and go on wearing your old guilt and shame and defilement for a minute longer. New clothes! Clean clothes! Fragrant clothes! For the dirtiest of men and women, for those who are caked in filth and covered in depravity. One drop of the blood of Christ and those wretched garments are all sweet and new. Every stain gone! That is the message God brought you to this place to hear today. God sincerely desires you to become whiter than snow, a new creation. You look at the pictures in the papers of the new line in clothes for men and women, the autumn fashions, those beautiful clothes and you can see yourself looking so smart and elegant and comfy in some of them. They would perfectly fit you. They are made for you, but do you know that these clean clothes I am talking to you about are not fabulously expensive like the clothes that models wear. They are in fact absolutely free. There is no expense in going to this laundry. No delay in having to wait a week for the laundry to have them clean and wearable again. Cleansing is immediately available and it is all free! God commands all men everywhere to take off their filthy clothes and cast them into the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.


God has not finished with us yet. We are now forgiven, but still unrighteous. We are pardoned but imperfect. We cannot stay in this neutral position, and so do you see that after speaking to his servants to take away the dirty clothes he turns to Joshua and he tells him that he, God, has taken away his sin. In other words I have not been allegorizing this incident in equating Joshua’s dirty clothes with Joshua’s sin. I am not the one who has invented that thought; God has done that. God alone, and he cries to him as all his stinking clothes are removed, “See, I have taken away your sin” (v.4). It reminded me of the letter that J. Gresham Machen wrote to his mother describing his second visit to hear the evangelist Billy Sunday preaching in Philadelphia in the Tabernacle. 20,000 people were there, and they had waited in the rain for over an hour for the doors to open. Billy Sunday preached on 2 Samuel 12:13, “And David said unto Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord,’ and Nathan said unto David, ‘The Lord hath also put away your sin.’” Machen wrote to his mother, “The total impact of the sermon was great. At the climax, the preacher got up and stood on his chair – and if he had used a step-ladder, nobody could have thought the things excessive, so dead in earnest were both speaker and audience! The climax was the boundlessness of God’s mercy, and so truly had the sinfulness of sin been presented that everybody present with any heart at all ought to have felt mighty glad that God’s mercy is boundless. In the last five or ten minutes of that sermon, I got a new realization of the power of the gospel” (Ned. B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, pp.223&224). God said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin,” and do you have in your heart an inward witness to that reality? Do you know that your sin has been put away? Do you? Do you?

Then the messenger of the Lord speaks further to Joshua. “See I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (v.4). Now we are told what the filthy garments are. They are Joshua’s sin, but do we know what the new rich garments are to clothe him? Yes. They are the righteousness of the Messiah, the God-man Christ-Jesus. Joshua has been prepared for this reality from his knowledge of the Scriptures. He has seen a hint of this in Genesis three when our first parents fell, and in their nakedness and shame they hid from God and wore fig leaves. But God took two animals and killed and skinned them and he prepared clothes for Adam and Eve in those skins. God did it. He took the initiative. They did not suggest this to him. Genesis 3 which records this follows the mighty description of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 and now we understand more of who God is. The Creator is also the Redeemer. He is one who covers our shame with garments which he has prepared for us.

Then as Joshua read through the Scriptures he came across the fact that this idea had been embedded in one of the very names of God – Jehovah Tsidkenu, “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6, 33:16). Some of you might remember how Robert Murray M’Cheyne took that divine title and made it the theme of one of his hymns, “I once was a stranger to grace and to God.” He wrote,

When free grace awoke me by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see;
‘Jehovah Tsidkenu’ my Saviour must be.

Again, in the very rituals of Leviticus and the exact clothing the Lord insisted that every high priest must wear there was a visible proclamation of the spiritual reality that the clothes stood for, the beautiful covering of divine righteousness. Of again Joshua would have read the prophet Isaiah who testifies to the fact of something wonderful had happened to him. He’d actually been clothed in the garments of righteousness: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10). This is done by the only God there is, and he is going to do this not just for prophets Isaiah but for all his people. He is going to dress them with rich garments. Tell me, how much would you pay for the righteousness of Christ? What is its worth? It is beyond price, and yet God says, “I will put rich garments on you.” He says it to all who see how filthy are their own clothes. He says it to me; he says it to the newest, smallest, youngest most backsliding Christian, so that we can sing the great words of Zinzendorf that Wesley translated into English:

Jesus Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed with joy shall I lift up my head.
This spotless robe the same appears when ruined nature sinks in years!
No age can change its glorious hue; the robe of Christ is ever new.

Nicholas Von Zinzendorf, 1706-60 tr. John Wesley, 1703-91

Again we love to sing Charles Wesley’s words;

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown through Christ my own.
    Charles Wesley 1707-88).

Again, what were Edward Motes’ hopes built upon? It was Jesus’ blood and righteousness:

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.   
Edward Mote 1797-1874

What was M’Cheyne’s confidence?

When I stand before the throne
Dressed in beauty not my own.

Or there is the hymn of Isaac Watts, “Thy Works Not Mine O Christ” and again it’s not long before he is singing about the robe of righteousness;

Thy righteousness, O Christ, alone can cover me:
No righteousness avails save that which is of thee. 
Isaac Watts 1674-1748

Joshua had been prepared for the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in the Old Testament and now he experiences this great typical sign, his stinking clothes all removed, but he was not left in the state of neutrality. He was clothed in new rich garments.

How clearly this is declared in the New Testament. Paul announce this remarkable truth, that “now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21–22). Do you see this righteousness that Paul is speaking about? It is not something flat and static like the ten commandments written on stone tablets. This righteousness is different; it is dynamic; it is living, stirring, moving and it’s coming to you. It’s on its way to every single believer; it’s coming right up to him and into his mind and heart as he hears this gospel, and as he embraces it then it embraces him and it covers him. This gospel righteousness comes to him, is in him and is upon him from head to foot, inside and outside, and it’s upon all who trust in Jesus Christ. It is not the righteousness that reveals just how unrighteous we are, humiliating us and breaking us, no, it is the imputed righteousness of Christ that is revealed and received through faith and it covers us, and clothes us so that we can stand before God in the great day with joy, lifting up our heads. All who believe will certainly receive this righteousness as God’s gift.

See again how Paul states this so specifically in Philippians chapter three and verses eight and nine, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” The new clothes that were put on Joshua by God were signs of the reality, the righteousness of Christ, that covers all whose faith is in him. You see how Zechariah is drawn into the whole event, and he cries out, “Don’t forget his head-covering! The words written on that head-covering were so relevant to the newly clothed Joshua. They were, “Holy to the Lord!” And he was, and so are all clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. Their status is exactly this, “Holy to the Lord.”

Again let me stress that it is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth. It is not the eternal righteousness of the Word who was with God and was God, who was in the beginning with God. It is the divine-human righteousness accomplished by the life of the incarnate God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. It was often his sweaty, painful, tough achieving of righteousness. For Christ to obtain it wasn’t a breeze. It is rather the kind of righteousness you can only obtain by sacrifice – a plucking out the right eye type of righteousness, a cutting off of a right hand kind of righteousness. The righteousness of the man Christ Jesus is the measureless accumulation of trillions of thoughts and feelings and words and deeds over 33 years by this one true and good man. This righteousness is not an attribute of God that the eternal Son of God brought into the world with him from heaven – that righteousness that had been eternally displayed up there, in his love to his Father and to the Holy Spirit, or in his graciousness towards the angels. Not that at all! Such righteousness was a reality but we are not first of all talking about that, we are considering real human righteousness suffused with eternity. That is the righteousness that Christ has taken to heaven with him. A man there is, a real man, at the right hand of God, and he has a real human righteousness there, but it is also infinite and eternal and unchangeably divine.

Where is Joshua’s righteousness today? Where is our righteousness today? It is where Christ himself is. That is a wonderfully safe place to be. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress was tormented with uncertainty about his relationship with God until the truth of the imputed righteousness of Christ broke in on his soul, but when he saw it, it changed everything. Bunyan described it in these words:

“One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ And me thought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I am, or whatever I am doing, God could not say of me, ‘he lacks my righteousness,’ for that was there in front of him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today and, and forever.” . . . Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [e.g. Hebrews 12:16 –17] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.” Are they not rich garments with which every Christian is clothed by God?

We sing to God that he would be of sin the double cure. We need to be saved from its guilt, and God has done that by making his Son sin for us. Our guilt was laid on him and comprehensively and eternally dealt with. Have you understood that? Your pardon and forgiveness lies in what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for you in his death.  Then we need to be reckoned righteous in God’s sight, declared righteous by God in an act of justification. How is that possible? Through Jesus Christ. He fulfilled all righteousness for us. We are made the righteousness of God in him. Have you seen the wonder of that imputed righteousness of God which comes upon all and is freely given to all who believe? Are you clothed in these clean garments? You cry to God that he makes you clean and covers you with the righteousness of God and don’t stop asking him to do this until you know he has answered you.

17th November 2013      GEOFF THOMAS