Today Is Important

Today seems important to me. Can you give me just a few minutes? (You may want to stop and go get that second cup of coffee!)

Today is September 30, 2018. In the One Year Bible that is the day for the assigned reading of Isaiah 60:1-3:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come the your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

It’s also the day for the assigned reading of Isaiah 60:21-22, which is the last verses of Is 60.

“Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swifty.” Is. 60:21-22

Following the prophetic words in Isaiah 60, are more prophetic words in Isaiah 61, which were Jesus’s first words in a public setting—his first sermon. After he read these words, he said, “Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing.” These were the prophetic words that Jesus fulfilled.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Is 61:1-4

Today, September 30, 2018, is also the last day of the Sukkot—the Feast of the Tabernacle, which is the remembrance of the desert wandering. Today is the 7thday of the Sukkot. Today, the 7thday of the Sukkot, is called Hoshanah Rabbah. It means “the great hoshanah”. It was considered the last and greatest day of the Sukkot. It was the final day to receive God’s divine judgement (verdict) concerning the fruitfulness of the coming year.

A hoshanah is a series of 7 liturgical poems calling on God to rescue and redeem His people. It is viewed as a mini-Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It is a cry for the water of the seasonal rains to come—for Christians, we cry for the Rain of the Holy Spirit, to cleanse, refresh, and nourish our spiritual lives, so that we may be fruitful for God’s kingdom.

Today, after the seven poems, Jewish people will strike the ground with a willow branch 7 times in a symbolic attempt to rid themselves of any remaining sin. Now, let’s think for a moment about the branch that they will use symbolically to rid themselves of remaining sin, and let’s think for a moment about the Branch God has already sent to us. Look at what I wrote in my book, Stones from the River Jordan.

“Read the following vision, given to Zechariah, a beautiful, symbolic picture of our place before the judgment throne:

Then the Lord showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’

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.

The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua:  ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.  ‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your 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 one 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.  ‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.’

         (Zechariah 3:1 – 10)

This vision was given to Zechariah about his friend Joshua.  Just after this vision, another was given to describe to Zechariah the anointing that was about to come to Joshua and Zerubbabel so that they could serve the Lord in an extraordinary way. And all the power would come from God, not from their own feeble efforts, for God gave this word:  ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty’ (Zech. 4:6).But the initial vision had to be fulfilled first.  Work needed to be done to prepare the ordinary for the extraordinary.  Picture the vision as if it were a courtroom scene: Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord with Satan right beside him continually accusing him.  Were the accusations accurate?  Perhaps, but that is not the point.  The point is that the Lord himself stepped in to defend.  The Lord himself rebuked Satan, declaring that Joshua was a burning stick snatched from the fire.

What a beautiful description.  Joshua, ordinary man, was snatched by God himself from the eternal destruction of a fiery hell. That is me, too.  God snatched me from the fire when he graciously saved me. And to further bless my soul (and yours, if you are a believer), He declares in John 10:27-29 that, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  What a beautiful picture!  The Father will not let go of His people.  He will personally defend them, snatch them from the fire, and not let go!

Next, we see that as the accuser is forced to leave the scene, the repair work begins.  Joshua was standing there in filthy clothes.  Those clothes represented the priestly order, and taking them off represented removal from the priestly office.  Yet, this was also representative of the removal of sin. Perhaps Joshua was in all appearances a “priest,” yet God saw his heart.  In the same way, we often have an effective Christ-like appearance on the outside—we go to church, tithe, talk the talk, etc., but what about the state of our hearts.  I, too, have had times that God exposed my “filthy clothes,” only to reveal a heart that was in desperate need of revival.

What about you?  Is God calling you to the humbling position of admitting, even if only to yourself, that you too need to have your filthy clothes removed?  If so, there is good news to come!  Listen to what God says directly to Joshua just after the filth had been exposed: “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zech. 3:4).  What grace and mercy is displayed in those words.  Mercy is not getting the punishment and death that we deserve.  We could never get rid of our filthy clothes on our own merit.  Only God can take away our sins.

But then He goes even further.  He does not leave us unclothed, in shame and embarrassment.  He then promises to clothe us with rich garments!  In fact, Romans 13:14 says “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  No brand of clothing could ever compare to these rich garments!  That is the grace of God in action.  Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.  It is receiving far more than we could ever hope, or dream, or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)  God takes the ordinary man, removes the sin and obstacles that hold him back, then clothes him in preparation for the extraordinary work that God has planned for him.

As we see in the vision, a clean turban is put on his head.  This action re-instated him into the high-priestly order, only now with the purity and holiness and power that could not come from ordinary man, but only from the Holy Spirit.  Now he is ready for the extraordinary work.  But the experience was not complete without the acceptance of the charge laid before Joshua:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.  Listen, O high priest Joshua and your 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 one 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. In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.”  (Zech. 3:7-10)

This charge sounds very much like the charge laid before Joshua, son of Nun in Joshua 1:7-8:

Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  

You see there is a cause and effect in action.  There is a charge that we have to keep.  Though it clearly is not based on our own good actions, there is an acceptance of the charge.  There is a “if you, then I” principal.  God clearly says, “If you follow in my ways, then I will anoint you for extraordinary success.”  And as if that promise was not thrilling enough, God added something even more phenomenal!  God did not want the significance to be lost, so he prefaced it with the word, ‘Listen’.

When I am telling something important to my children and I want them to understand the importance of what I am saying, I will often use that preface of ‘Now, Listen!’  In the same way, God wanted Joshua and his associates to understand the importance of what was to come: ‘Listen…I am going to bring my servant, the Branch’ (Zech 3:7, 8).  That is a Messianic title.  He was talking about Jesus.  Note the comparison of Joshua, ordinary man, as a burning stick, and Jesus, the Branch, with a capital B!  We are nothing, He is everything!  Yet, He was sent for us!

God again prefaces his announcement with an attention grabber word, ‘See’. It is as if He is saying, ‘Don’t you see the significance!’  There is a stone set before ordinary man, Joshua; a stone with seven eyes, perhaps symbolic of the completion and perfection of the stone. And this same stone is engraved with an inscription and a promise for the instant removal of sin.  This sounds very much like what we find in Isaiah 49:15, 16: ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…’

We find in Exodus 28:9-12 that the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on stones and fastened to the ephod of the high priest as a memorial before the Lord.  At the cross, Jesus, the greatest high priest, the Chief Cornerstone, engraved our names on His palms as a memorial and remembrance before the Lord. He will not forget you if you are His! No matter what happens, God will not forget His children. The removal of sin in a single day refers to the day that Christ died for us.  And what should our reaction be to all of this? ‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty’ (Zech. 3:10).

After I began studying these scriptures, I came across the ‘vine and fig tree’ phrase many places in the Bible.  When these truths finally hit home, our reaction should be two-fold: first, ‘sit under his vine and fig tree,’ according to the NIV study Bible, is a ‘proverbial picture of peace, security, and contentment’.  And secondly, we should invite our neighbors to join us!  How are we doing in these two areas?  Have we forgotten what has been done for us?  Do we really ‘get it’?  If we stop and think, and remember, then we will be a ‘proverbial picture of peace, security and contentment,’ and that alone should be such a witness to our ‘neighbors,’ or anyone that we come into contact with, that they, too, will want to come and receive what we have so graciously been given.”

Hoshana Rabbah 2018 began last night and ends tonight. Each of the poems recited today begin and end with Hosha Na—“Save, we beseech Thee.” In between this beginning and ending prayer are words which indicate why we would be saved (eternally as well as from various situation which would thwart our fruitfulness) and who gets the glory for it. The words are: “For Your Sake, our God”, “For Your Sake, our Creator”, “for Your Sake, our Redeemer”, then “For Your Sake, O Thou who searches us”. These are good prayers and good words for us as Christians to reflect on. All we do, and all we are is for Him. He saves us for Himself, for he loves us with a jealous love. It is important to note that in the first three of these phrases we see the word “our”—our God, our Creator, our Redeemer. It is personal. He is ours and we are His and because of this most precious and intimate relationship with our God, we can feel safe as He searches us. In fact, we should invite Him to do so.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

On each day of the Sukkot, the priests walk around the altar 1 time, but on the 7thday (today!) they walk around the altar 7 times, carrying the palm and willow branches. We know the willow branch represented atonement, the finished work of removal of sin. But what about the palm branch? It is associated with praise. Specifically, the praise we give when we experience victory. This was also conveyed in the passage of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. After the seventh turn around, they shouted victory and “the walls fell flat.”

When the people waved palm branches when Jesus entered Jerusalem during His triumphal entry, they were shouting out that He was the victorious one. They would have learned this significance by celebrating the 7thday of the Sukkot. (Which, may I remind you is today!)

Little did they know that their announcement of his victorious title would not come about as they imagined. However, Jesus would indeed wear the Ultimate Victor’s Crown when 7 days later he defeated sin and death forever when He rose from the grave.

Tomorrow, October 1, is Shmini Atzeret, which is the Jewish holiday which commemorates the answer of God for the coming rain in the coming year. It is observed because of Numbers 29:35, which says, “On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly.” The Sukkot—the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles was over, but God asked his people to tarry with him one more day, so that they may continue to ask for the coming rains and hear His reply. For Christians, we too, need to tarry with the Father for another day and ask for the “rain” of His Holy Spirit in the coming days, that we may be fruitful for His kingdom.

John 7:37, 40-42 is the account of when Jesus, Himself, was celebrating 7thday of the Sukkot—the Hoshanah Rabbah. It was on this day, even as the people were praying for the water of the coming rains, that Jesus said:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

May we all praise Him who is the giver of the water which cleanses and satisfies our thirty souls—the One who sends rain in due season to cleanse us, nourish us, and make us fruitful. And may we tarry with Him another day as we look for His answers to our heartfelt prayers. May we receive mercy to help in our time of need. May we have ears to hear.







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