A Word of Great Hope

                “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 all of your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:3-4

                ““Listen, o High Priest Joshua and his associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring My Servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that 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.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-9

                Over the past weeks we have been inundated with various kinds of bad news.  With each new event we find ourselves cast anew into the fears that dominate much of our lives.  We wonder what the future will hold.  What will happen to us?  Will there ever be joy and peace again?  Who will stand up and fight the battles which we fear we are about to face?  We wonder where the word of hope is in our uncertain times.

It is in times like these that the words of the prophetic scriptures are so helpful and comforting.  In reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I came across a reference to Bonhoeffer’s study of the Psalms in which he made reference to the tremendous comfort that could be found there by people who were facing dangerous and difficult times.  What Bonhoeffer had learned was something which God’s people have always known.  This is the Word of God has the power to lift us out of our secular, unbelieving, frame of mind, and to cause us to focus upon the word of hope which we find in the Gospel.  It is this that we find the Prophet Zechariah doing as he passes along the visions that he had received.  He was providing ministry to people who were facing very uncertain and disappointing times.  Zechariah finds his visions pointing ahead to an incredible event that was to come.  This event, the coming of a Savoir, who would, in one day cleanse his people from all of their sin, would become a word that would provide comfort and joy for people right down to today.  Imagine what Zechariah is recording for us.  Personal, and National, sin will be cleansed away.  A new start would be given.  The benefit of what the redeemer to come would accomplish would be of eternal.  Hope is rooted in One who is eternally faithful.  It is not given by shifting people, or governments who can never be counted on.  It is not a security that is based upon fallible and weak people.  Our hope is established in the Redeemer who is unchanging, eternal God, who in love took upon Himself flesh, and came to live among us so that He could die in our place bearing our personal sin.  This hope can never be lost because it is in Him, not in us, or anything human.

At the heart of our hope is the forgiveness of our sin.  The wonder of this forgiveness can be illustrated by a testimony recorded by David Baron in his commentary on the book of Zechariah (David Baron, The Visions and Prophesies of Zechariah, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975, p. 93-94)

“Some of my readers may have visited the Wartburg and had pointed out to them the black spot on one of the walls of the room which Luther occupied during his benevolently intended imprisonment.  The legend connected with it is this.  One night during this mournful solitude, when suffering from great depression, because, as he himself expresses it in a letter to Melanchthon, dated May 24, 1521, “I do see myself insensible and hardened, a slave to sloth, rarely, alas! Praying – unable even to utter a groan for the church, while my untamed flesh burns with a devouring flame” – the great reformer dreamt that Satan appeared to him with a long scroll, in which were carefully written the many sins and transgressions of which he was guilty from his birth, and which the evil one proceeded to read out, mocking the while that such a sinner as he could ever think of being called to do service for God, or even of escaping himself from hell.  As the long list was being read, Luther’s terrors grew, and his agonies of soul increased.  At last, however, rousing himself, he jumped up and exclaimed: “It is all true, Satan, and many more sins which I have committed in my life which are known to god only; but write at the bottom of your list, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleansesth us from all sin,’”  and grasping the inkstand on his table he threw it at the devil, who soon fled, the memorial of it being left in the ink-splash on the wall.”

                Amen!!  It is in that completed, holy work of the Son of God that we have hope.  It is that work that brings the joy into our lives in this new year.