Trinity 14, 2019
A preacher from the 4th century said the following: “If Satan should not be able by wealth to cast us out of [heaven], he comes by another way, the way of poverty.” In other words, if Satan cannot take our faith away in good times, he tries to take it away in bad times.
That accurately describes today’s theme. On the one hand, when we have good things in life, we are tempted to forget God. It is what happened to nine of the ten in today’s Gospel whom Jesus healed of leprosy. They forgot God. On the other hand, when we have bad in life we are tempted to curse God. That is what Satan thought he could get Job to do.
The opening verses of Job describe the kind of life Job had before all the bad happened in his life. To begin with we are told of his faith. Job believed the word of God. Not only did he believe it, he conformed his life to it.
Then we are told of his family. Job loved his family. It was a large family. He had ten children. It was a close knit family. The children hosted regular family get togethers. Each one took their turn hosting. It was a family that needed God. So, Job brought them before God in prayer.
Finally, we are told of his wealth. He had a flock of 7000 sheep – market animals – animals used to provide wool and food. He had a fleet of 3000 camels – transport animals – animals used like delivery trucks and semi-trailers. He had 500 yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys – work animals – animals used like pick-up trucks and tractors. He needed hundreds of servants – employees – to run his business. He was a wealthy man – “the greatest of all the people of the East in his day.”
To be sure – Job had a ton of good in his life – a wonderful family life and loads of wealth. You and I do not have that kind of wealth, but we do live in a time and in a country that is blessed with wealth like never before – entertainment at your fingertips – medical care to extend the quality of life – recreation to enjoy living.
There is, in our culture, the temptation to think when we have so much good it is because we have been good people. Good people deserve good things in life. Good people deserve to be happy. So we do what we can to have happiness. We buy books on happiness. If you search Amazon for books on happiness, you will find more than 40,000 titles. In short, our culture craves happiness. The more good you have in life, the more happiness you have – and, the more happiness you have, the more proof God loves you. In short, happiness becomes god.
If anyone could have been tempted to think like that, it would have been Job. Satan knew that. So, one day, he intruded into God’s heavenly council. He had no business being there. Even so, God acknowledged his presence. He asked Satan where he had been. Satan answered that he had been going to and fro on the earth. He was that “roaring lion,” Peter writes about, “seeking someone to devour.”
So God says: “Have you considered My servant Job? There is no one like him who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan tried to contradict God. He suggested that Job was a phony – a fake. Job did “not fear God for nothing.” To put it another way, Satan made the accusation that the only reason Job believed in God was because God was so good to him. As long as God was good to Job he would believe. Take that good away and Job would curse God.
God accepted Satan’s challenge. He permitted Satan to test Job. He did to demonstrate that Satan could not snatch Job out of God’s hand.
That is the promise God gives you. When God permits Satan to trouble your life – to afflict you – to put bad into your life – Jesus gives you a promise by which to live. He promises: “My sheep hear my voice, they follow me and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” No one – no bad – not Satan can snatch you out of Jesus’ nail-marked hands – hands that gave his life to rescue you from Satan.
That is what we see in our text. God permitted Satan to afflict Job; and, it came like an east coast hurricane – sweeping house, home and business away just like that. In one day stunning report after stunning report after stunning report left Job in shock. It was total economic disaster – total loss of his business – total loss of market, work and transport animals as well as servants. And if that were not bad enough, disaster struck the home where all his children had gathered for a family get together. There were no survivors.
Job was deeply afflicted. Job’s afflictions remind us of afflictions that come to all people. For as much as we as a people want happiness in our lives – as much as we think that happiness is a measure of how good God is – as much as we do try to keep affliction from our lives – it is unavoidable.
A seminary classmate of mine put it like this: “The more we try to avoid suffering the greater its burden when it finally and avoidably does come.” The reality he explained is this: “Daily life is filled with endless little traumas. Things break. People hurt our feelings. Ticks carry Lyme disease. Pets die. Friends get sick and even die.”
Those daily little traumas are big traumas when they directly impact our lives – a doctor’s diagnosis that is not good – a lingering chronic health issue – a child experiencing a difficult time – an anxiety that cripples emotions – an accident that turns life upside down in a moment – a temptation that constantly tugs – a workplace that is toxic – a loved one dying.
To be sure, affliction is a part of this fallen world. It is a consequence of Adam’s fall into sin. Everyone – believer and unbeliever – suffers them at some level. In the life of a Christian they are called “crosses”. A cross is something you have because you are a Christian. They are called crosses, because we do not understand why God permits us – his baptized children – to suffer them. So, when we have bad things happen to us Satan uses them to try and get us to give up on God – to blame God – to curse God.
That is what Satan expected Job to do. He expected that when Job did not have the happy life he once had, that Job would curse God – that Job would abandon the faith.
Instead, Job got up, tore his robe and shaved his head. They were symbols of being shattered by grief. Then, he dropped to the ground – not to curse God – but to worship God. As he did, he spoke these well-known words:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
No. Job does not curse God. He sees God’s hand at work in his affliction. He believed in God not because God gave him so much good – so much happiness in life. He believed in God because God was his Redeemer from sin, death and the devil. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” Job later confessed, “and though my skin be destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God!”
That is to say, in the midst of his cross Job sought refuge in Christ – he looked ahead in faith to Jesus’ cross and empty tomb – and because Jesus would triumph over sin death and the devil, Jesus would raise Job in the resurrection. That was Job’s comfort in his affliction.
In his affliction Job points you and me to Jesus’ cross. In his cross, Jesus met Satan head on. He did as he bore the burden of sin for all people – the very thing Satan uses to accuse you before God. Because Jesus bore your sin and paid for it in his death – he destroyed the work of Satan, rescued you from his hellish grip, and triumphed over death for you Easter morning.
So what does that all mean for the crosses you suffer? In the midst of your crosses, you can find refuge in Christ. Someone said: “The real contents of Job is the mystery of the cross – Christ’s cross is the solution to the [problem] of every cross.”
To put it another way: “We walk by faith not by sight.” If we walked by sight, we would see the bad in our lives – the affliction, the suffering, the trials. Focusing on the bad – the bad would look like threatening hurricane waves – would lead us to give up and abandon God. Yet, God’s word comes to you in the midst of all that. It comes to you in the troubling waves. It gives you your greatest good – Jesus – the good of his cross and empty tomb. That is your hope in the midst of your crosses – that God loved you so much that he went to the cross to rescue you from sin, death and the devil and then rose to say to you: My triumph is your triumph.
Jesus’ cross and empty tomb is your comfort in the midst of your crosses. It is the comfort you, in turn, can give to give to others that are afflicted: The apostle explains:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.”
God comforts you in Jesus’ cross and empty tomb; and God opens doors for you, in turn, to comfort those who are afflicted – the sick, the hospitalized, the anxious, the grieving, the suffering – to give them a Bible verse – to give them a devotional – to give them Jesus.
It reminds me of one of our pastors who was hospitalized 35 years ago. His first name was Bruce. Bruce was in his 50s. His illness was terminal. There was no earthly hope for him. He happened to be a relative of my seminary professor. Our professor told us about Bruce’s plight and that he was hospitalized in his last days. Our professor also spoke of Bruce’s faith. He related that everyone in the hospital knew where Bruce was going. In the midst of his heavy cross Bruce freely spoke of the comfort he had in Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. Through his cross God opened doors to connect others with Jesus.
Now God invites you to come and get that comfort by drinking of the cup of salvation – the cup that pours into your mouth Jesus’ triumph over your greatest enemies – sin, death and the devil. Come and eat his body and drink his blood for your salvation and be comforted. Amen!