Christians often feel like they are on a tightrope between believing our sin is too small for us to confess or too big for God to overcome. But no matter how often we lose our balance on this tightrope, Christian worship draws us into a radical tension between the two extremes.
In Zechariah 5, God gives his prophet two complementary visions. These strange visions — a giant flying scroll and a woman in a basket — reveal God’s plans to purify the land so his temple can be rebuilt. And these two visions help us navigate the tension between thinking our sin is too small for God’s attention or too big for his cleansing.
Our Sins, They Are Many
In the first vision, the Lord God sends a giant flying scroll into the houses of evildoers, and the scroll consumes the house whole, “both timber and stone” (Zechariah 5:4). This appears extreme, especially when the offenses don’t seem especially egregious — stealing and swearing falsely. But these problems created obstacles for the temple reconstruction project by polluting the whole land where God intended to dwell.
“One great gift we receive in worship is to be reminded that our sins are many, and worse than we want to believe.”
If God does not cleanse the people who are building his temple, everything they touch will be as defiled as they are (Haggai 2:13–14). God’s scroll of judgment was fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long. If anyone hearing Zechariah’s vision thought their sin was small, this massive word of judgment from the Lord would inform them otherwise.
Every week we gather as God’s people, and we get the privilege of seeing God’s giant judgment scroll unrolled before us. It might arrive during a corporate reading of Scripture, or the lyric of a song about God’s holiness, or we might get a new glimpse of our sinfulness as the pastor preaches. This is one of the greatest gifts we experience every weekend: the reminder that our sins are many, and worse than we want to believe. The giant flying scroll reminds us that the Lord God intends to consume our sin whole.
His Mercy Is More
In the second vision, we see how God is going to cleanse the place where his house is being built. If the previous vision revealed the massiveness of God’s judgment, this vision reveals the smallness of wickedness when compared to God’s power. The angel shows Zechariah a basket, about three to five gallons large, with a miniature woman named Wickedness inside (Zechariah 5:6–8). The angel can toss Wickedness around like a house cat, keeping her in the basket with a lead weight. Then the basket is flown from God’s temple construction site and placed in a containing house far away in Babylon.
God cleanses our sin by removing it from us, “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). Zechariah reminds us that God’s cleansing is not a knock-down, drag-out brawl for him, but something he can do in a single day (Zechariah 3:9). Sin may overwhelm us, but it’s like a frisbee in the hand of the Lord — tossed to the other side of the sea in a single motion.
“Our sin is no obstacle for the wickedness-removing power of the Lamb of God.”
Every week God’s people gather to hear the good news that God removed all of our sins from us and hurled them into the bottom of the sea (Micah 7:9). We read declarations, sing songs of celebration, and hear gospel truths about our full pardon. The basket with our lady Wickedness was no match for the death and resurrection of King Jesus. And not even Babylon the Great, the scarlet beast, nor all their armies pose any threat to the Lamb (2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 17:14).
Building the Holy Temple of God
God gave Zechariah these visions to encourage Israel and their high priest, Joshua, to rebuild his temple. But because they were not fully cleansed, the work of their hands would inevitably be tarnished (Haggai 2:14). Tragically, Joshua’s uncleanness — and that of all the people — was more contagious than holiness. But hundreds of years later, someone greater than Joshua would come and start a new kind of temple building project. Only this time, his cleanness was even more contagious:
And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. (Mark 1:40–42)
This greater Joshua, Jesus Christ, has completely consumed our sin and removed it from us, he has made us clean and acceptable in his sight. And every time we gather as God’s temple (1 Peter 2:5), we are able to participate in an even greater rebuilding project than the exiles from Babylon.
“Sin may overwhelm us, but it’s like a frisbee in the hand of the Lord, tossed across a sea in a single motion.”
Every week we gather to hear God’s massive proclamation of judgment over our sins, and to hear how the cross of Christ has consumed that judgment. Our sin is no obstacle for the wickedness-removing power of the Lamb of God. We can be clean in him. As a great new hymn says,
What love could remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all-knowing, he counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore,
Our sins, they are many; his mercy is more!