By Michael Hoch
SIN. It is of utmost importance and the subject of many discussions, yet some people ignore it or deny it. Others redefine it or minimize it, while still others accept it and embrace it. Since near the beginning of time and until the end, sin affects and infects every person, every day, everywhere. It is pervasive, penetrating, powerful, and pernicious.
It is an emotionally charged word (with good reason), but we cannot avoid it. In fact, a better understanding of sin actually gives us greater hope and gratitude. We need sobering reminders that sin is real and has the potential to destroy our personal lives, cherished relationships, and family dynamics. We also need glorious reminders that God’s grace is greater than sin (Rom 5:20). Let’s consider a fascinating passage in Zechariah.
In 538 bc, King Cyrus of Persia gave an edict that allowed Israel to return to their land from exile. Two years later temple rebuilding started, but it stopped prematurely because the workers were distracted. When Darius came to the throne, Israel feared he might retract permission to build, so Zerubbabel and Joshua encouraged the people to finish the work quickly. The people, however, lost their zeal. Enter Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah challenged discouraged and pessimistic Israelites to complete the rebuilding of the temple and reorder their spiritual priorities so they could enjoy covenant blessings.
The first four chapters of Zechariah are full of hope and glory. Israel was admonished to repent, given hope that God would judge the nations persecuting them, reassured that God would prosper and protect them, and reminded to be a holy people. Beginning in chapter five the tune changes, comfort turns into judgment. Before enjoying prophetic blessings, God’s righteous judgment needed to purge all iniquity. Untold glories awaited the faithful remnant, but the stench of sin must first be cleansed.
Four somewhat obscure verses in Zechariah 5:1-4 masterfully portray God’s character as it aggressively confronts man’s sinfulness. First, God’s holiness opposes sin. Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits” (Zech 5:1-2). What an unusual sight. Imagine a gigantic scroll hovering above you. In ancient times a scroll was the standard media, especially for important messages and occasionally to pronounce God’s judgment. The scroll was flying to symbolize the imminence of the message rapidly descending upon Israel, the source of the message (God), and the vitality of the message as the living Word of God. The enormous size of the scroll made this message plain and unmistakable. It measured 30' x 15', which is same the size as the Holy Place within the Temple. This bold pronouncement of judgment for sin was the result of God’s holiness.
Second, God’s righteousness purges sin. Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side (Zech 5:3). This verse and the next explain the meaning of the vision (vv. 1-2). An unusual Hebrew word identifies the message as a curse with consequences for breaking the covenant (cf. Deut 29:14, 19-20). Covenant overtones continue with the mentioning of stealing and swearing. Those two sins represent the middle commandments of each half of the Ten Commandments. The Israelites, therefore, had broken their covenant oath with the Lord and His righteous anger delivered a curse to them, a curse that would purge unrighteousness.
Third, God’s wrath consumes sin. “I will send it out, declares the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.” (Zech 5:4). The sovereign Lord was about to carry out His destructive purpose of punishing sin. Notice the sequence: I will send it out…it shall enter…it will remain…and consume it.” The active and aggressive nature of God’s wrath against Israel’s sin is unmistakable. God’s holy and horrible judgment abides on those who persist in their wickedness. Not only will it abide in the house of the sinner, it will actually completely consume it! The timber and even the stone will be demolished. God pours out His wrath in order to cleanse Israel of the disease of sin (cf. Lev 14) and prepare them for future glories.
Were it not for the gracious death of our Savior we too would be cursed. All who commit even the slightest sin are cursed under the Law, but Jesus Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3:13). He consumed the wrath of God in our place! While believers are saved from the consequences of sin (death and hell; cf. Rom 8:1), the residual effects remain (Rom 6-7). Although defeated on the cross, sin is still our archenemy (cf. Jam 1:14-15). It is still a dangerous threat. Our victory is secure in Christ, but right now, today, you must count the cost of sinning. How is sin put to death (Rom 8:13)? By continually rehearsing, reiterating, and rejoicing in the truths of the gospel (e.g. Col 3:1-5). God’s grace is our strength (Rom 16:25; 2 Tim 2:1). God’s glory is our transformation (2 Cor 3:18).