My sermon from this past Sunday at Hamilton Anglican Fellowship:
Among people who are familiar with the stories of the Bible, the expression "the patience of Job" will occasionally pop up. Job is one of the most famous of all people for the trouble they had - not, I'm sure, something that anyone would like to be famous for! Our Old Testament lesson today is about the end of Job's troubles. Thankfully Job's life had a happy ending! It's a part of the Bible we like to read! We all like happy endings. I would not be surprised if there are not some here who are waiting to see if the Downton Abbey series is going to have a happy ending or not.
Part of Job's happy ending was to finally hear from God, after all that time when God seemed to be ignoring him while he suffered. It was, of course, a mixed blessing. To hear from God meant coming face to face with that awesome Being, which is an experience indeed desirable, but at the same time, shall we say rather scary. Most people to whom this ever present Mystery is revealed fall on their face as if they'd just died on the spot - it's so overwhelming.
While Job had been waiting for God to say something to him - hopefully about why he was suffering so much - he talked a good deal because he had to answer back to his "friends" who were convinced Job must have done something wrong. Job knew he had not done anything wrong to deserve his suffering and he was quite adamant about it. But when God finally spoke, Job realized he'd said too much about the affair. In fact, God confronts him with just how ignorant he really was about everything, v. "Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?" God says. Job, of course, as you can imagine, now wished he hadn't said anything - and his words from this point on were few.
And when God was finished talking to Job - asking Job where he was when God had made all the wonders of creation - Job's final reaction to God is to abhor himself and repent "in dust and ashes." (v. 6).
But in the midst of this storm of suffering in his life, in the midst of all the pain and confusion, Job was still walking with his God. He was still for God, he was still on God's side, he was still - as God called him - a righteous man. And while the book of Job is often referred to as a philosophical book, delving into the mysteries of the problem of pain and suffering in a world otherwise good, it's also very much a book on how to walk with God. It's a book that teaches us important lessons about how to relate to this God who, as C. S. Lewis depicts him in the Chronicles of Narnia, in the character of Aslan, he is "not a tame lion". He is who He is, and we have to get in stride with him, not he with us. And that can be very, very challenging to our faith.
And one of those lessons is that, if we would walk with God, we must be willing to accept his plans for us when circumstances are mysterious and the purpose is unknown. I have always been impressed by the fact that when God finally answered Job's cries, God never said a word about Satan's accusations against Job and how his testing had been to prove that Satan was wrong about him. As the story goes, it seems Job never knew about that. He never did know the reason for why those bad things happened to him. But he was content to have it that way. He was content for God to be God - to have his own purposes and for Job himself to mind his own business. And his business was to trust him.
Years ago when I worked with Kay Arthur at Precept Ministries, there was a saying that meant a lot to her and was repeated often in those days - I forgot where she got it from - and it was this: "trust his heart, when you cannot trace his hand." Satan wanted Job to curse God. He wanted Job to prove that he was trying to live a righteous life because of what he was getting out of it for himself. But when God allowed those afflictions to come to Job, Job did not curse God. Job would not give up the truth that God is good. And even though he had no idea - and never did - as to why the Lord's hand seemed to be against him during those days, he nevertheless trusted God's heart. He held onto God's goodness, and eventually proved his belief to be justified.
And is this not the character quality of meekness, as we find in the Beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew? A meek person is someone who accepts God's will for them, even when it is something we would not chose for ourselves. And Jesus says, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And Job proves himself to be a righteous man - as God said he was - by displaying a meek spirit toward God.
Friends, when the Lord allows mysterious circumstances - and those often painful - in our lives, we must never, never, never give up believing that God is good. That's what the devil wants us to do. That's what the world wants us to do. But if we did, it would be a lie. If God is anything, he is good. And he has proved that by giving us His Son, to become one of us - to become a man - and to suffer more than we will ever suffer, for our ransom and salvation. And think of it: as a man himself, when he hung on the cross, he felt what it is like to not understand what God is doing with us - so much as to cause him to cry out, "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me? What are you doing?" And yet, he refused to give up his faith in the goodness of his heavenly Father, and even though it meant his death, with his last breath, he prayed, "Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit." Through the mystery and pain, he trusts and commits himself into the good hands of God.
Yes, in this way, with his meekness, Job was something of a type of Christ, and we would do well to follow his example if we would walk with God.
Another lesson we learn from Job about walking with God is that, if we would walk with God, we must be humble. Job says, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Now, when you read the book of Job, there are times when it seems like Job thinks a lot of himself. He rattles on about all the good things he has done. But let us remember that he is answering false accusations about his character. His friends are saying, "Come on Job, admit it! You must have done something wrong!" Job, in arguing for his righteousness, is not doing it out of pride, but out of an insistence that the truth be told. And that's what Paul tells us true humility is, in Romans 12:3: it's the truth about ourselves. We are not to think too highly of ourselves, but neither are we to think too lowly of ourselves. We are to just think what is true about ourselves before God. And of course, it's not very pretty, but by God's grace in Christ it's not all bad either, and we have to be truthful about it.
Of course, what Job has to repent of at the end is talking about himself too much. He realized that it would have been better to just be silent before God and let God justify him before his friends.
And I cannot help but observe that, again, we have one of the Beatitudes here in Job's life: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." To be poor in spirit is to recognize the truth of just how impoverished we are spiritually apart from the graces that God gives us in his Son. There is nothing good in us but God has given it to us. So, we confess that there is this or that good about us, but we give God the glory for it - because it all comes from him. That's true humility, and that was how Job was able to walk with God. He could have been proud instead, and said, "Why, God has no business making me suffer - I'm such a righteous guy!" But you see, that would have been to bring an accusation against God - to not walk with God but against him. Job's humility saved him from that kind of foolishness.
So we learn from Job that, to walk with God, we must be willing to accept mysterious and unknown things in our lives, we must be humble, and then thirdly, we must pray. And specifically, we must pray for those who may be part of the troubles we are experiencing. Job prayed for those friends! We noted in v. 10, that it says the Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. What's been left out of our reading is the part where God, having done with Job, then speaks to his accusers and tells them they are in trouble. He says, "My wrath is aroused against you ... for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has." And then God tells them to bring offerings to Job - Job is now going to act as their priest - and God tells them that Job will pray for them. You see, God expected Job to pray for these characters, because He knew Job walked with Him. And sure enough he did. Job walked with God and he did it as someone who was ready to pray for troublesome people.
If we would walk in fellowship with God, we must be compassionate toward those to whom he himself is compassionate. Does the apostle not say, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son?" Just think: the people that are giving you the most trouble right now - be they in your family, or at work, in church, or in Washington, D.C., these are people for whom God gave his Son to die for their salvation. How must he think about them? Does the Bible not say that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance? We need compassion, and to pray for people who obviously need the Lord is an act of compassion.
Doesn't Job remind us again of the Beatitudes? "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Job obtained mercy! He wound up with far more in the end than he had at the beginning! But he also was himself merciful. When his friends showed up to bring him their offerings to God so that He would turn his wrath from them, Job could have easily said, "Nothing doing! You did nothing but rub salt in my wounds when I was suffering. Serves you right if God zaps you!" But no; he brought their offerings to God, prayed for them, and kept on God's side about the affair; he kept walking with God.
And surely, Job is again something of a type of Christ. Are the words not already echoing in our heads? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The guys nailing Jesus on the cross were definitely not helping him to have a good day. But Jesus had compassion on them; indeed, he had come to save those guys through the very nails they drove into his body. Job prayed for his persecutors. Jesus prayed for his. And if we would walk with their God, we must pray for ours. Besides, it's good for us. It helps us to get over our obsession with the trouble we are having. We need to forget about ourselves and think about others.
What does Paul say? "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," who came to save them. So, we should pray for them.
Jesus said, "In this world you are going to have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." And when, by the grace that overcoming Lord gives to us, we walk with God as Job did, we overcome the world, too, through him. The world tempts us to give up our faith in Christ and our belief in the goodness of God. But when we refuse to give up that faith, we overcome the world's temptation. Let us overcome the temptations inherent in our troubles by following Job's good example - and Job was a good man. Let us hold onto God's goodness when we cannot understand what is happening to us. Let us keep a humble attitude toward ourselves before God. And let us pray for others - especially those who are troubling us. And as God rewarded Job, He will not fail to reward us. And He will reward us with riches Job never had. Dear old Job finally died and left everything behind. But our reward is forever. Praise the Lord.