Sermon #14 Zechariah Series
Title: God’s Firebrands
Date: Sunday Morning — September 25, 2005
Tape # Zechariah #14
Reading: Psalm 30
It is my desire to publish with the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all the wondrous works of God for my soul. Yet, I know that “if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” The Psalmists sang, “Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Psa. 40:5). — “He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion” (Psa. 111:4). With David, I cry, “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psa. 107:8, 15, 21, 31). I am unceasingly amazed by the wondrous works of our God.
· The Wonder of Electing Love
· The Wonder of Divine Providence
· The Wonder of the Incarnation
· The Wonder of Redemption
Yet, none of these wonders of God’s matchless grace can be known by any of us until we have been made to experience them personally in conversion by the irresistible power and omnipotent mercy of God the Holy Spirit.
What a wondrous thing it is for a sinner to be converted by the grace of God! Nothing is so glorious! Nothing is so wonderful in the experience of it as God’s omnipotent, free, saving grace in Christ!
· The conversion of a sinner attracts the eyes of the holy angels to the spot where it takes place.
· The conversion of a sinner causes the God of Glory to rejoice.
· The conversion of a sinner gives satisfaction to the Lord Jesus Christ.
· Indeed, the works and operations of God in saving grace brings greater glory to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit, than all the other works of God in creation and providence.
There is nothing that can be compared to God’s wondrous grace.
When God begins his work of grace in a poor, lost sinner, the world takes notice of it, but cannot understand it. They see a young man, or a young woman, known as a careless, reveling, “free spirit,” like themselves, who becomes strangely serious. They observe a change in his speech. They see a change in his behavior. He starts to inquire about the things of God. He is concerned about his soul. And they think it is a passing whim.
We see the same person and hope that we are beholding tokens of grace, a soul cast out into the open field to the loathing of its person. We see the Lord Jesus, our glorious Redeemer, stooping down and binding up the wounds of a smitten conscience, healing the plague of a ruined heart. We see a brother, or a sister, born for eternity into the family of God.
Every sinner’s conversion is a magnificent display of Christ’s triumph over Satan. That is the picture we have before us in Zechariah 3.
(Zechariah 3:1-2) “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. (2) And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”
Here the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who sits upon the throne of grace triumphing over the devil in the conversion of one of God’s chosen ones, saying, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”
The world is a great battle-field, upon which a war is constantly being waged between the seed of the woman and the serpent. The Lord God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between thee and the women, and between thy seed and her seed, it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
· Satan has the world bound in strong fetters.
· The whole world lies in the wicked one, lies in his arms, sung to sleep with his lullaby.
· But Christ rides forth on a white horse, like a mighty conqueror, conquering and to conquer, having on his head many crowns.
· He enters the strong man’s house, binds the strong man, casts him out, and cuts in sunder the strong chains with which the fiend of hell has bound his ransomed ones.
· The Lord Jesus reaches down with the mighty arm of his omnipotent grace and snatches his chosen from the very clutches of hell, saying, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”
Our text speaks of fire. There is something terribly fearful about fire. What can be more destructive? What wreaks more havoc? What leaves such ugliness and ruin in its path? Some of you are in the fire, a fire far more dangerous, far more destructive, far more devastating than can be imagined. You are children of wrath. The wrath of God abides upon you. You are living on the very brink of hell! Another breath, and you may be among the damned in hell forever!
Some of you, I hope, know that you are in the fire. Your screaming consciences torment you day and night. Separated and alienated from God, you know that you are as useless and unprofitable as a piece of dried wood in a fire. In your inmost soul, the billows of God’s wrath blow against you. What dreadful apprehensions you have of being consumed by God’s infinite wrath in hell! Like Jonah in the belly of hell, you cry, “all thy billows and waves pass over me.”
Are you in the fire? Have you ever been in the fire, under the sentence of God’s holy law, guilty, condemned, and slain before the holy Lord God? I know this. — If God ever saves you, he will first slay you. — “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive.” It is never the other way around. — “He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up” (1 Sam. 2:6). That is exactly what Paul tells us happened to him (Rom. 7:9).
(Romans 7:9) “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
Saul was slain by the law. His mouth was stopped. He stood guilty before God. He was in the fire. And there he died.
What was it in this man that died? It was that which ought never to have lived. It was the great “I”. “Sin revived, and I died.” The law killed it. “I” was so secure. “I” was so proud. “I” was so holy. “I” was so zealous. But now “I died.” Any man whose heart has been exposed to the light of God’s holy law sees himself as a vile, obnoxious, rotting corpse of human flesh.
What does Paul mean by this statement — “I died”?
1. I saw that I was justly condemned to die.
2. All my hopes from my past life of self-righteousness died.
3. All my hopes regarding the future died.
He had broken the law of God, and all his efforts to keep it in the future would not atone for his sin. All his tears of repentance, all his sorrowful cries, all of his sincere confessions, all his best deeds, could not mend God’s broken law.
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and Thou alone.
The thunderous bolts of Sinai dashed all his hopes to the ground. The iron cold sword of the law, had wounded and slain his spirit. Then, but not until then, we hear this broken man cry, “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?”
Have you ever been slain by God’s holy law? Are you in the fire? I hope that some of you who now hear my voice have been slain. You feel yourselves to be real sinners, utterly lost and undone. I’ve got good news for sinners. Christ died for sinners. God, for Christ’s sake, saves sinners.
Here are five powerful truths that dawned upon my soul, by which I was slain in the fire of God’s holy wrath.
1. I saw my own sinfulness.
· I saw my sinful deeds.
· I saw my sinful nature.
· I saw the sinfulness of my righteousness.
2. I saw the infinite holiness of God’s law. The law of God requires perfection. God cannot and will not accept anything less than absolute perfection.
(Leviticus 22:21) “And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein.”
3. I saw that the only hope for sinners is a perfect substitute.
· I must have someone to obey the law and accomplish righteousness for me.
· I must have someone to make an infinite, justice satisfying atonement for my sins.
· That Substitute I found in Jesus Christ the Son of God.
4. I saw that faith in Christ is the only way a sinner can ever find acceptance with God.
5. And I saw that faith in Christ is the gift of God.
By these five truths I was slain; all hope in myself was gone. And I was compelled to fall down before Christ, sueing for mercy. — “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” “Lord, if you will, you can make me whole.”
Zechariah saw Joshua as a brand that had been in the fire. What a vivid picture of a lost sinner! He is as a brand in the fire, in the midst of roaring, engulfing flames. Nothing is more suitable for burning than a brand. A firebrand is not a green tree with the sap of life. A firebrand is not even a dried log. A firebrand is what we used to call “kindling wood,” a small, dried, useless twig or piece of wood, that is very easy to burn, fit for nothing but burning. Is that how you see yourself? I hope it is…
· Fit Only for Hell!
If that is your soul’s state, I have hope for you.
Joshua was a firebrand. He was in the fire. But he did not stay in the fire. The Angel of the Lord snatched him out of the fire. He said to Satan, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Oh, may he do that for you this day!
· The firebrand did not fall out of the fire.
· And it did not decide to jump out of the fire.
· It was plucked out of the fire.
· That is how God saves sinners.
No sinner ever escaped the fire of God’s wrath by his own free will. We were plucked out of the fire by omnipotent mercy! God the Holy Spirit took the firebrand in his hand, and without asking permission, by the sweet and irresistible compulsions of infinite grace plucked the brand out of the fire.
Every saved sinner is a trophy of the omnipotent mercy, grace, love and power God. It took as much omnipotence to snatch him from the fire as it needs to make a world. Every believer is a brand plucked out of the fire.
But Satan resists conversion of the sinner.
(Zechariah 3:1) “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.”
Zechariah saw Joshua as a poor sinner awakened, coming to, and standing before the Lord. But he saw Satan standing at Joshua’s right hand to resist him. That is always the case. When God the Holy Spirit convinces a person of sin and he brings him to stand before him, Satan comes to resist him.
Up until now, the devil has tried to keep you secure. He cried, “Peace, peace.” He told you that everything is alright, that you are not so terribly bad, that a good God would never send you to hell. He filled you with thoughts of your goodness. He made you proud. He told you how much you know. He reminded you of your religious training, your Bible reading, your sound doctrine.
When that did not work, he bound you with silk fetters to some unlawful attachment, caused you to meet some pretty girl or handsome young man, walking in the broad way to destruction, and stirred your heart’s enmity against God and the gospel.
When that failed, the crafty old serpent brought you under the faithful preaching of the gospel, and made you content to sit and hear the preaching of the gospel, and even caused you to delight in hearing it, thereby causing you to imagine you are Christ’s though you know him not. — But the moment Christ comes to awaken you, comes Satan to resist you.
He resists you at the bar of God. In ancient courts of justice the accuser stood at the right hand of the judge, and brought charges against the accused, describing the crimes he was accused of committing. So is it with Satan (Rev. 12.10).
(Revelation 12:10) “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”
As soon as God comes to perform his work of grace in your heart, Satan stands at the bar of God to accuse you. He raises the body of Moses, the law of God, and accuses you.
· He accuses you of sin.
· He accuses you of unbelief.
· He accuses you of self-righteousness.
· He accuses your of hypocrisy.
· He accuses you of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, of the unpardonable sin.
Not only does Satan resist you at the bar of God, he resists you at the bar of your own conscience, too. He says,
· “How can you come? You are too vile? You are the chief of sinners, there none in all the world so corrupt as you.”
· “It is too late; you might have been saved had you come sooner. You might have been saved had you come when you were first awakened; but now it is no use, it is too late.”
· Sometimes he takes another plan. The fiend of hell stirs up corruption within you; even when you are upon your knees he stirs up corruption in order to shut your eye from seeing the Mercy-seat. He stirs up the sin that is in your heart. He makes you to see its vileness in order to keep you from Christ.
Now, hear me. O poor sinners, hear me. — It is only Satan who resists you. God does not resist you. Christ does not resist you. The Holy Spirit does not resist you. Whoever it is that says your sins are too many to be forgiven, it is not God, it is not Christ. It is Satan. The Lord Jesus Christ calls sinners to come to him. The Holy Spirit calls, God the Father calls, and all the friends of Christ call sinners to come. Do not be driven back.
(Isaiah 45:20-22) “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. (21) Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. (22) Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”
(Isaiah 55:1-3) “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (2) Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (3) Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.”
(Isaiah 55:6-7) “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: (7) Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
(Matthew 11:28-30) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Revelation 22:17) “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
The God of heaven has sent me to you, saying, “The wedding is ready. As many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”
Christ the Advocate
Let me remind you once more, that Christ is the Advocate for sinners at the bar of God.
(Zechariah 3:2) “And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”
“If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.” — Christ is the Advocate of everyone he saves, and not only is he an Advocate after conversion, but before, and throughout conversion. He answers Satan’s accusations. There are two arguments here by which the Lord Jesus answers Satan.
First, he declares the fact of God’s free, electing love. — “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee.” There was no more wicked city in the world than Jerusalem. Jerusalem had sinned against light, against love, against long-suffering mercy. Yet, the Lord chose Jerusalem.
Hear me. God’s elect are spoken of here. We are his chosen Jerusalem. There are none more wicked and vile than we. Yet, the Lord God has chosen the vilest of the vile. Hail! Sovereign love!
(Romans 9:15-16) “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (16) So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”
This is the argument our Advocate uses to rebuke Satan, the argument by which he argues in the court of heaven for our salvation. This is the argument he uses in the court of conscience! — The very argument that often troubles sinners most is the argument Christ uses as the reason why the sinner must be saved! Satan says, you have sinned against light, against conviction, against love. But the Lord Jesus says, “the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” By divine election, he shuts the devil’s mouth! This is an argument he cannot answer.
The second argument our Advocate employs is effectual, omnipotent grace, grace that can never be overturned. — The brand is already “plucked out of the fire.” He says, “Whatever this man may have been, whatever he may have done, he is now plucked out of the fire. How is the brand plucked out of the fire?
· By Divine Predestination!
· By Divine Purchase!
· By Divine Power!
Once my soul was astray from the heavenly way,
And was wretched and vile as could be;
But my Savior in love, gave me peace from above,
When He reached down His hand for me.
I was near to despair when He came to me there,
And this sinner, by grace, He made free;
Then He lifted my feet, gave me gladness complete,
When He reached down His hand for me.
How my heart does rejoice when I hear His sweet voice
In the tempest to Him now I flee;
There to lean on His arm, where I’m safe from all harm.
Since He reached down His hand for me.
When my Savior reached down for me,
When He reached down His hand for me,
When Christ Jesus reached down for me,
When He reached way down for me,
I was lost and undone without God or His Son,
When He reached down His hand for me.
By these two things, all Satan’s arguments are silenced; and he is sent slithering back to the pit.
I see another thing in our Savior’s rebuke of Satan. I see an open defiance of hell itself. The Son of God, defiantly says to Satan, “the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”
There stands Joshua, the high priest. There stands Christ, the angel of the Lord. And there stands Satan. The adversary attacks Joshua, but the Angel of the Lord said to him, “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the. Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is, not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” It is as though he said, “What do you have to do with him? If I have plucked him out of the fire, you can never put him in again. He is a chosen, redeemed, saved soul. You shall never touch him!”
This is defiance full of majesty and grandeur. It puts a gorgeous luster on the past. “God saved him,” says the Angel to Satan.” Why did he do it? Because he chose him, because he ordained him unto eternal life, because everlasting love was fixed on him from eternity.
· If God has chosen me, Satan will never undo God’s decree! The fiend of hell will never thwart the purpose and grace of the Almighty!
· If God has snatched me from the fire, and saved me. Satan will never overturn his work of omnipotent grace!
Our Savior’s defiant defense of this man, Joshua, looked forward to all the days appointed to his servant upon the earth, too.
· Did the Lord God pluck him from the fire, to throw him back? Absurd! Preposterous! He plucked me out of the fire to keep me from ever being burned.
· That brand, taken out of the fire, shall be exhibited in heaven as a proof of what God’s almighty grace has done.
· God has done that in me and for me which is the earnest and pledge of my perfect eternal salvation and complete safety in Christ.
“And can he have taught me
To trust in His name,
And thus far have brought me
To put me to shame?”
I see something else here. When the Lord Jesus takes Joshua, as it were into his arms and shelters him under his wings, even in his filthy garments, and says, “the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire,” I think to myself, if that worthless firebrand has been plucked out of the fire by sheer, free grace, why not another? Why not me? Why not you?
The whole vision is designed to teach us that “Salvation is of the Lord!” This thing called “salvation,” though impossible with men, is possible with God. “With God all things are possible,” even the salvation of sinners like you and me! All who are saved by God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ are “brands plucked out of the fire.”
“With Satan, my accuser, near
My spirit trembled when I saw
The Lord in majesty appear,
And heard the language of the law.
In vain I wished and strove to hide
The tattered, filthy rags I wore;
While my fierce foe insulting cried
See what you trusted in before!
Struck dumb, and left without a plea,
I heard my gracious Savior say,
Know Satan, I this sinner free,
I died to take his sin away.
This is a brand which I, in love,
To save from wrath and sin design!
In vain thy accusations prove;
I answer all, and call him mine.
At his rebuke the tempter fled;
Then He removed my filthy dress;
Poor sinner, take this robe, he said,
It is thy Savior’s righteousness.
And see, a crown of life prepared!
That I might thus my head adorn;
I thought no shame or suffering hard,
But wore for thee a crown of thorn.
O how I heard these gracious words!
They broke and healed my heart at once;
Constrained me to become the Lord’s,
And all my idol-gods renounce.
Now, Satan, thou hast lost thy aim,
Against this brand thy threats are vain;
JESUS has plucked it from the flame,
And who shall put it in again?”