John Bradshaw - From Rags to Righteousness
Thank you so much for joining me. Let's pray as we open up the Bible.
Our Father in heaven, speak to us, we pray. Let Your Word be alive in our experience. Give us grace to experience Your power and Your presence. And we thank You in Jesus' name, amen.
Here's the story as I read it. It was reported in the Milwaukee Journal back in 1946. Because everything you read in the newspaper is true, I am left to assume that this is a true story. During the last days of World War II in 1945, German forces were occupying Sastin in Czechoslovakia, a country, oddly enough, that does no longer exist. Near the Austrian border, that city is now in Slovakia, seeing as Czechoslovakia ceased to be on the first day of 1993. The Germans were using the mayor's office at the town hall as their headquarters. And on this particular April day, the Nazi commandant was getting nervous. Nervous, because the Russian army was closing in on his troops.
In his office were a few battered trunks filled to the brim with korunas, the Czechoslovakian currency. It had all been looted from the vaults of the Czechoslovakian National Bank in Bratislava. Outside, his staff car was waiting for him with the motor running. He had to leave immediately or he'd be taken by the Russians. But there wasn't any room in that car for the trunks full of money. So he told a couple of Slovakian peasants to look after the trunks. He said, "I'll be back some day, and I'll come to you for these trunks, and if you hand them over to me, you will be richly rewarded". It was the next day when the Russians arrived in town. One of the first things they did was inspect the Nazi headquarters, and there were the trunks. Wondering what they were, they broke one open and found them filled with currency.
Now, you have to keep in mind what was on the minds of these soldiers. They'd been on the move for months with just one aim, and that aim was to march into Berlin and secure victory. So a weary lieutenant, whose name nobody knows today, said, "Who knows if I will even be alive tomorrow? Give this money to the townspeople". He gave orders for the people of Sastin to receive a thousand korunas for every year of their life. In all, 300 million korunas were handed out, the equivalent in 1946 of 6 million dollars. People with large families ended up between 150 thousand and 200 thousand korunas. A pile of money, especially in that day and that time. Those downtrodden people went quite literally from rags to riches. Now, just about anyone hearing a story like that listens with just a hint of envy, at least. But the fact is, suddenly getting your hands on a ton of money can be a curse. An English baker named Keith Gough died some years ago cursing the fact that he had won the lottery.
In 2005 he won 9 million pounds, the equivalent of almost 14 million dollars at the time, and it ended up ruining his life. When they won the money, the Goughs said they'd never have to worry about money again. Well, they lost their marriage, they lost all their money, and finally, Mr. Gough lost his life due to a heart attack, said to be brought on by worry about money, alcohol abuse, and boredom due to not having a job. He told the newspaper about a year before he died, "What's the point of having money when it sends you to bed crying"? A man in the United States won 250 million dollars in a lottery. His wife said she wishes he had never bought the ticket. Rags to riches. Uh, might sound nice, might be nice, but it might not be. Either way, what the believer in Jesus can experience, without any worry at all, is going from rags to righteousness.
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul deals with the question of experiencing true righteousness. In chapter 3 he lists some qualifications that would lead many to believe that he was a tremendously righteous man. Let's look at what he wrote. We're in Philippians, chapter 3, and I believe we're going to start, and let me just turn there with you, Philippians chapter 3, and we'll begin in verse 4. Paul says, "If any man thinks that he has whereof he might trust in the flesh," Paul wrote, "I more". He went on to say, "Circumcised the eighth day," like a good Jew should be, "of the stock of Israel," a descendant of Jacob, "of the tribe of Benjamin," that's the tribe King Saul came from.
Paul, who was Saul, was in all likelihood named after King Saul. And it was the tribe of Benjamin that stood faithful to Judah at the division of the kingdom. He went on to say, "An Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is of the law," he wrote, he was "blameless". How holy do you have to be to be able to say, "According to the law, I am blameless"? If there was something the law required, he did it. You couldn't fault that man; he was righteous in the eyes of the religious people of the day. This was somebody whose Jewishness was beyond question. And if the Jews had been considered to be God's own people, Paul was suggesting that, using the measurements that people commonly used, he was a pretty holy sort of man. However, he goes on to say something that's really quite shocking. He goes on to tell that in spite of having tremendous credentials, those credentials wouldn't win him the election if there was a search for someone who was genuinely holy and righteous.
He said in verse 7 of Philippians 3, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ". He goes on to say, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ". Now, that's an interesting description. Rubbish, worthless, garbage. Paul, once Saul, the great dedicated, zealous, righteous man came to the place that he considered all of those credentials to mean little or nothing to him. How could that be? You see, Paul came to a stunning conclusion. In spite of the fact that he had some impressive credentials and impressive qualifications, he came to see that they were woefully inadequate for getting the job done. All his goodness, all his righteousness, his pedigree, his family tree could not obtain for him true righteousness. And that would be the righteousness of Christ.
Paul discovered that all the discipline, all the self-control, all the good intentions, all the fervent belief in the world couldn't make an unrighteous person into a righteous person. He possessed an awful lot of impressive credentials. You've seen military people, right? Rows and rows and rows of ribbons and medals on their chest. They're impressive to look at. An army veteran might have a ribbon for World War II, or for having been a POW, or for having served overseas, or for having served in a place such as Korea, or for having served in Iraq. Then when you add to some of these a Distinguished Service Medal or a Soldier's Medal or an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal or an Iraq Campaign Medal, those things look impressive. Paul had row after row of religious ribbons and medals, and they looked good, but they didn't mean anything.
In Paul's case, all they did was look good. When it came to righteousness, they were not worth anything to him. So what did Paul really find would bring spiritual satisfaction? And so we read further. In fact, let me just recap a little bit of verse 8 and then, and then springboard into verse 9. He said, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: so that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith". Notice what he said. All this self-righteousness not worth two cents, but what I want is Christ's righteousness, and I want the righteousness which is of God by faith. Christianity can be a tricky thing. You can't get away from the fact that when it comes to Christianity, there are rights and wrongs. Can't get away from that. It's right to pray; it's wrong to cuss. It's right to tithe; it's wrong to steal. Right?
It's right to be courteous. It's wrong to be dirty-minded, right? We understand that. Right and wrong. Problems come about when we start to lean on that checklist and rely on the results of our checklist. We get the idea almost of Christian karma. Let me explain that. You'll hear people who think that karma is, um, you do enough good and good things will happen to you. Or, or you get what you deserve. This guy helped a little old lady across the street; he found five dollars; it's karma. This guy yelled at the lady in the supermarket, and he, uh, went outside and, and stumbled and fell on the ground and grazed his knee, karma. That's not karma. Karma is this. In the Hindu sense, karma is, if I do enough good deeds, then I will outweigh the bad deeds, and I'll do enough good deeds that I can, experience the transition to the afterlife and ultimately achieve "moksha," which is basically, we'd call that salvation.
I think Christian karma has come into the church. Well, I'm a good person; I'm good enough. You know, I know I might have an honesty problem, but at least I'm not like that guy over there who's cheating on his wife. Or, I know I should tithe, but, you know, money's tight, and so rather than trust in God, I'm providing for my family, so I'm doing a good thing. So my good deeds are outweighing my, my, my bad deeds. It's not how it works, brother, sister. It's not how it works. There are many people today who assume that since they name the name of Jesus and because they don't kill and they don't commit adultery, then they must be righteous. Because they went to church school, graduated from a church university or college, they've done just about all there is that needs to be done.
They're as good as the Pharisees. Lots of outward observance, high profession, a great amount of dedication to what undoubtedly is a good cause, and, therefore, surely they're going to go to heaven. And after all, they're, they're good people, right? But that isn't how Paul saw it. He said that far from his good attributes recommending him to God, he came to the place where he considered his own righteousness, which he said was of the law, to be refuse or dung. Righteousness involves an awful lot. It isn't just saying the right words, making the right movements, doing the right things outwardly. There is no question that righteousness is right doing. I'm not trying to muddy the waters and give the impression that somehow a righteous person doesn't do right.
Of course a righteous person does right. But I'd like to suggest to you that righteousness is more than right doing. Righteousness is right being. When it comes to being righteous, the Word of God tells us, and Paul tells us explicitly, that the righteousness we need is, get this now, the righteousness of God. And I would like you to stop and think about that. What sort of righteousness is the righteousness of God? Think about that for a moment. That would have to be the most righteous righteousness that you can imagine. What would you call it? How would you describe it? Would you call it complete righteousness? I think we could. Could we call that perfect righteousness? Oh, man, we'd have to. If not, we're finding ourselves in the place where we are saying there's something incomplete or imperfect about God's righteousness.
So what Paul is telling us is that it is God's plan to give us God's own perfect righteousness. Now, mention this too loudly and you'll make a lot of people very nervous. Because we all know that that sort of righteousness is very, very righteous. And we're tempted to say, "I could never imagine myself ever being that righteous". But evidently God does imagine you being that righteous. The prophet Isaiah was gifted in such a way by God that he was very, very able to, to clearly and articulately, uh, and insightfully elucidate our very real spiritual condition. He wrote these in the 64th chapter of his eponymous book. This is verse 6. He wrote, Isaiah 64, verse 6: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away".
Now, I know you got that. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags". It's kind of shocking, really, isn't it? My goodness, my works, my holiness, if it's mine, then according to the Bible, it is worth nothing more than filthy rags. So, if I think I'm pretty good, then I need to think again. Our best is not good enough for heaven. I want you to stop and consider the crisis that we find ourselves in, and, brother, sister, it's a crisis. Remember Grandma Eve and Grandpa Adam. They were made perfect, but then they sinned. Their sin separated them from God. So what'd they do? You see, they immediately began setting about trying to make themselves acceptable in God's sight. They sewed together garments made from fig leaves. They tried to remedy their own lack.
Now they had a fallen nature, and there wasn't a thing that they could do to change their own nature. Their problem was within, and therefore, they needed help from above. Instead of righteousness, they were now wearing rags, fig leaves, as a matter of fact, but think about how long a fig leaf lasts before it dries out. They were looking ridiculous. How very typical of people today, to try to do something to conjure up righteousness of their own, to try to do something to ameliorate one's own unrighteous state. Try a little harder. Do a little better. But that's just making an apron of fig leaves. Adam and Eve's fig leaves were not going to help them one iota. They weren't clothed until God had made them coats. Let me say that again. They weren't clothed until God had made them coats.
I'm going to say it a third time and shift the emphasis. They weren't clothed until God had made them coats. Then they were clothed. And where did those coats come from? They were made out of skins. It's very clear to us that something had to die in order for Adam and Eve to be clothed. The death of the animal or animals that provided the skins for Adam prefigured the death of Jesus. The poor animal that died for Eve prefigured the death of Jesus. And it's Jesus' death for us that is absolutely our only hope of salvation. It is Jesus' death that provides us with the robe of righteousness we need in order to see eternal life. It's more than a theory you need. It's not just theology you need. It's not just a belief system you need.
You need, we need, I need Jesus. Not an idea about Jesus. Not merely a belief in Jesus, but we need to possess actually Jesus Himself, for in Christ we find righteousness. Adam and Eve needed something that they couldn't originate. When it comes to righteousness, you and I both need something that we cannot originate. Jeremiah asked a searching question: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots"? The answer is no and no. He answered, or he went on to say, "Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil". And so you see how that works? We try to improve ourselves. We try to make ourselves better. The wife says to the husband, "You drink too much". The husband says, "All right, I'll try better". And he might have a good day and he might have a bad day. He might have a better day; he might have a worse day.
You and I both know that through sheer bloody-mindedness and, and exercising our willpower, we can, if we wish, stay away from chocolate cake or chocolate chip cookies. We can, if we wish, put down alcohol and not pick it back up. At least some people are able to do that. But with sin, it's not like that. It's not willpower you need. It's you need power connected with your will. It's not willpower. "If only I'm tougher". Oh, no. It's if only Jesus would take my will and make it His own. Then we are really on to something. Our life and Christ's life united, our will merged in His will, that's what makes the difference. So that Jesus begins to live His life in your life.
People who try to become good through their own efforts invariably end up either quitting on Christ, or if they don't quit on Christ, they do something even worse. They stay in the church, and they're miserable, and they make other people miserable. Or, or, I guess there's another option, they invent a theology that somehow excuses spiritual failure. There's a lot of that about. But the solution for our unrighteous state is found in the righteousness of Christ, and it's perfect righteousness. Therefore, what I don't need is goodness of my own. What I need is God's goodness. And I get that in Christ. The righteousness of Christ, mine, free, from God. So, we're going to go to the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Did you know that in the book of Revelation there are only two Old Testament books that are quoted more than Zechariah? Isn't that something?
Two Old Testament prophets, because the Psalms would be as well. Of the prophets in the Old Testament, Zechariah is quoted third-most. Uh, and so we read this in Zechariah chapter 3. It's where Joshua the high priest is standing before the angel of the Lord. And Satan is standing there as Joshua's adversary, standing there to accuse. Joshua is wearing what the Bible calls "filthy garments". The symbolism is obvious, isn't it? Our righteousnesses are as what? Filthy rags. And here is a man clad in filthy garments, unrighteousness. In his unrighteousness he stands before the angel of the Lord. I believe if you study that, you'll find that the angel of the Lord in this case is actually Jesus. And what does Joshua do in order to have clean garments? What does he do in order to have clean garments?
Well, nothing really. He doesn't say, "I'm going to go out now and keep the commandments". He doesn't say, "In order to have clean garments, I'm going to give a big offering". He knows that none of those things can alter his unrighteous state. He says, "There is nothing I can do. I'm unrighteous. I am filthy. I am no good. But I'm here in the presence of God, and I'm willing, I'm willing to be made right. I'm willing to accept what the Angel of the Lord has for me".
And so let's pick it up here. I want to start in verse 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. 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?' Now Joshua was clothed in filthy garments, and stood" before the Lord, "before the angel. And He answered and said unto those that stood before Him, saying, 'Take away the filthy garments from him.' And to him," to Joshua, "He said, 'Behold, 'I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with a change of raiment.'"
I'd like you to understand what He's saying here. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were wearing garments that were woefully inadequate, but God took them away and gave them clothing that would be appropriate for their needs. And God does the same here with Joshua the high priest. "Take away the filthy garments from him". And then in verse 5, it says, "'Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.' So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by". Okay. Who made Joshua the high priest clean? God did. What did Joshua do? You're going to say, "He did nothing". That's not right. He allowed God to do what God wanted to do. In other words, he surrendered. He didn't fight. God said, "I want to do something in your life, Joshua". And Joshua could have run out of there. "I don't want to have anything to do with that". But he didn't.
Joshua could have squirmed and fought and said, "I don't want that rotten thing on my head. I like my old garments". Joshua didn't fight. Joshua surrendered. Joshua let God do what God wanted to do. Come on now. Bring it home. Apply it to your own experience. Joshua let God do what God wanted to do. In essence, friend, faith in God is simply a matter of letting God do in our lives what He wants to do. It's that simple. We let God be God. The sinner repents. And when he or she repents of his or her sins, sincerely confessing and by God's grace forsaking them, what does God do? Oh, this is too easy. First John 1 in verse 9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".
We confess, we repent, and what does God do? God does what we couldn't do for ourselves. We don't have the righteousness. God has it in Jesus Christ. God meets our sincere repentance with forgiveness and with cleansing. And so, I want you to think about something here. I want you to think about something. We feel like we have failed. Of course we fail. By the way, if you feel like you're not good enough for heaven, let's just say it all together everybody, "I am not good enough for heaven. Amen". But then we say, "I have claimed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and He is good enough for heaven".
Now you're saying to me, "Wait a second. Does that mean that Jesus comes into my, into my life, I'm just some wretch of a sinner, and I stay this way"? Oh, come on now. Mercy, no! Jesus said to Nicodemus that night, except a person is born from above, born again, "born of water," baptism, "born of the Spirit," conversion, transformation, the power of God in your life. But what we do is somebody said, "I have been a Christian now for six weeks, and I cussed when I hit my thumb with a hammer". Now, you shouldn't do that. But I want to encourage you to give yourself time to grow. How long had Peter been walking with Jesus? Three and one half years, and they said, "You're one of them". "Oh, no, I ain't". "You're one of His followers". "I am not"! "We know that you're one of His". And he turned the air blue with his cursing in order to demonstrate that he was not a follower of Jesus. He had been a Christian for three and a half years.
And he was too chicken to simply say, "Yeah, I'm one of His followers. What's it to you? Sure I am. I'm dedicated to Him". What did Jesus do? Did He say, "Bro, you've had three and a half years following me. Ahh. Out"!? He didn't say that at all, did He? In fact, when He rose from the dead, He said to Mary, "Go and tell the boys, and Peter". "Peter, the Lord has risen". "Huh"? "Oh yeah". "Oh, like, oh-ho, well, that's good, I guess, but oh..." "No, no, no. He specifically told me to come and tell you that He's risen". Imagine Peter, who's been feeling as guilty as guilty about what he did, and Jesus sends him a special message. "Grow, Peter. Do you love me, Peter? Do you love me, Peter? Do you love me, Peter? Grow, Peter".
Why is it that you think it's okay for Peter to have gone through that experience and grow and not you? Why is that? Why do you think it's okay for an oak tree to take 70 years to grow, but you want you to be Enoch overnight? Hmm? Why is it okay to take, I don't know how long a pine tree, 20-25 years for a pine tree to grow. Why is it okay when you plant corn in the garden, nah, it'll take 44 days and that thing is going to be on my plate, and you don't expect the corn to be growed... to be "growed"? To be grown, to be grown, I live in Tennessee, to be grown overnight? Why? Why is it that the baby comes home from the hospital and the baby cannot feed herself, cannot change himself, cannot speak, cannot tie his or her shoelaces, and you go, "Oh, that's okay"? Because you understand that babies grow. No, this is not making an excuse for our stubbornness or our sinfulness; it's just the reality that we have to grow, and that nobody is transformed into a flawless individual overnight.
We receive credit for the righteousness of Christ. In a moment we are righteous. But don't think that in that moment we are no longer prone to make mistakes. We got some growing to do. Don't revel or glory in your mistakes. Don't use mistakenness as an excuse. Some people will. "Well, what do you expect from me? You know, I'm just human". Never mind that. We keep our eyes on Jesus, and we grow, and if we love Jesus, you know what, if we love Jesus, sin is going to hurt us. We're not going to want it in our life. We're going to somehow wake up in the morning and go, "I can't, I cannot treat my spouse today like I treated him or her yesterday. Cannot".
It's not even about, am I good enough to go to heaven? Because that should never be the question. It's, what's the will of God for my life? This stuff hurts me. I don't want to misrepresent Jesus. I don't want to be the burr under that person's saddle. I don't want to live without integrity. My eyes are on Jesus, and He's growing me. It's what He does. God took away the fig leaves that Adam and Eve wore. He gave them skins to wear, prefiguring that their clothing had come at great price. Ultimately, the true Lamb, Jesus, would die so they might live and be pure and cleansed from sin. Joshua the high priest had his filthy garments taken away and replaced with clean garments. I want you to think about the prodigal son. He returned to his father, and the father said, "Kill the fatted calf, and bring forth the best robe, and put it on him".
As far as we can tell, the son never even took a bath. Did he deserve to wear the robe? No. So what made him worthy of wearing that robe? One, his own great need, and, two, his father's love. And that prodigal son, as you know, represents all of us. We've all wandered far from home and gone to live in a far country. It's important for us to recognize that in us dwells no good thing, that we're entirely dependent on Jesus for our righteousness and our salvation. This thought prods me a little bit, I must confess. How can I be entirely dependent upon Jesus for my salvation and not have much to do with Jesus? Is it true that God wants to do something for me that I cannot do for myself? Yes. If that's the case, then He must be entirely prominent in my life.
What if we're spending little time with Jesus? No power. What if we're not praying and not reading? That'll be a disaster. But God doesn't want your spiritual life to be a disaster. He wants success for you. He wants power in your life. And if you learn to lean on Him and trust Him and open your heart to Him, then you will have success. You'll have true spiritual success. In the city of Japan, I need to say that again, don't I? In the city of Japan, that wouldn't be right. In a city in Japan, city officials discovered something of great value in the last place you'd ever expect.
For years, the city of Suwa, which I think, given the context of the story, is kind of a funny name, the city of Suwa was paying to have its sewage hauled away. But then they happened upon an idea. They decided to burn it, to incinerate it. That's how they'd get rid of it. And it was then that an incredible discovery was made. Barrels and barrels of ash were seen to be glimmering with gold! Suwa is close to the city of Nagano, and there are natural hot springs in Nagano that contain a lot of minerals, including gold. And there's a manufacturing plant in town that uses gold in a lot of its processes. Seems obvious that some of that gold would end up, uh, you know, going down the drain.
These days, Suwa's waste, once incinerated, contains gold at a concentration of 40 times one of the world's leading gold mines. And so they took that gold and sold it for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Out of, uh out of, out of, nothing, something of great value. When Adam and Eve sinned, they gave away everything we had that was valuable. God pledges to give it back. We can have that which is so valuable it fits us for eternity. We can have it free of charge. Out of the nothing of our lives God brings the true gold of the character of Jesus. When we have Christ, Christ as our righteousness, we experience the power of God, and we have absolutely everything. Come on, let's pray.
Our Father and our God, we thank You for the everything that we have in Jesus. We thank You for the righteousness of Christ. Lord, we think about how You took away Joshua's garbage and You made him clean and clothed him. And we pray, dear God, for that same clothing upon, with the righteousness of Christ. We will believe it by faith. We pray the prayer right now (friend, will you pray it with me?) I have the righteousness of God, and I know I have it by faith. I have Jesus dwelling in my heart, and I know I have Him by faith. Lord, we believe it. Help our unbelief. Give us grace to grow in Your grace, we pray, in Jesus' name, amen.