23 ‘O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock for ever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. --Job 19:23-27
These words were uttered by Job as recorded in the book which bears his same name. As we read these words, we may detect a hint of triumph within them. They sound ultimately hopeful! They sound like words we too might utter if we have stumbled upon fortune. Perhaps we got lucky enough to win the lottery. Perhaps we were fortunate enough to be declared cancer free after fighting an arduous battle with cancer. Perhaps we heard our child received a full ride scholarship to his or her preferred university. “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth!” It is so easy to give God glory and thanks when things are going in our favor.
But there is an interesting twist with these words which were uttered by Job–an interesting twist indeed. Let’s set the background.
Job was a pretty wealthy guy. He was happily married; had several children; large flocks of sheep and goats. He loved the Lord and worshiped Him and only Him. Now, we are told that God and Satan are having an argument, and they decide upon a wager: Satan believes Job’s faith is only skin deep. Satan believes that if calamity were to befall Job, then Job would curse God. God has more trust in Job than Satan does. God believes Job will remain steadfast in His faith. In order to settle the bet, Satan is given reign to torment Job.
Satan is pretty thorough. He afflicts Job mightily. He sends disaster upon Job’s flocks; his crops, and his family. He afflicts Job’s health and covers him with painful sores. Job goes from the top of the world having everything, to the top of the ash heap having nothing. While sitting on the ash heap, Job’s friends come to visit with him. It’s a really interesting conversation which takes up many chapters in the book of Job–it’s particularly fascinating that they continually believe Job must have done something to deserve the calamities which have befallen him. They say God punishes sinners in such a manner, and that Job should repent or curse God and walk away from Him. Job steadfastly refuses to walk away from God, and he says that he has done nothing to deserves such punishment.
Job’s friends are unrelenting. He must have done something to have earned God’s wrath and punishment.
Let’s stop here for just a moment because Job’s situation gives us a chance to talk about grace. Some of you might scratch your heads at this. How in the world does this story about a guy whose family has been taken from him; who has lost his wealth; who has lost his health; whose friends are telling him he is a sinner; and who is now sitting on an ash heap give us an opportunity to talk about grace?
Well, remember what I started this sermon off with? Remember those words, “I know that my redeemer lives!”? Remember how they are often spoken when things are going good? What do we usually say when things are going badly for us? What do we utter when it seems like the world is against us?
Many times, we don’t need friends to sit next to us and tell us. Many times we say it ourselves, “What have I done to deserve this?” You would be surprised how many times I have heard someone say this in the time that I have served as a pastor. Cancer strikes: what have I done to deserve this? A child is stricken with disease: what did we do to have this happen to us? A loved one suffers a debilitating health issue: she doesn’t deserve this. Over and over and over again.
What is behind this? Perhaps not in all circumstances, but I think there is a bit of commonality running through each and every one of these situations: it’s the idea that somehow we can still save ourselves. It’s the idea of works/righteousness. It’s the idea that if I just do the right things; believe the right things; say the right things, then everything will work out for me in the long run. It’s the idea that if I do the right things, then I will be accepted and be blessed. And so when things don’t turn out the way we think they should, we start asking ourselves what we might have done or not done to deserve what has befallen us.
We must stop here and ask: is this the way God, as revealed in Jesus Christ acts? Is this the modus operandi of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Actually, no. Not in the least, because as we see God revealed in Jesus Christ, we do not see this kind of working at all. Instead, we see a God who operates by pure grace. We do not see a God who demands that we work out our own salvation, but we see a God who works out salvation for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. We see a God who literally dies for us so that we might live. There is nothing we have to do to earn this. There is nothing we have to do to make this happen. There is nothing we have to say to earn God’s favor. There is no mountain we have to climb or ocean we have to swim.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.” That’s the beauty of grace. And God acted in this manner while we were still sinners.
So, what does that mean in relation to when those bad things start happening? Well, a person functioning under the works/righteousness model says, “Why is this happening to me?” The person who operates under the grace model says something quite different. The person working under the grace model says, “I know that I am a broken person. God has every right to punish me in whatever mode He sees fit. I know that I have sinned against Him in thought word and deed by things that I have done and things that I have left undone. I have not loved Him with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. Never-the-less, God has removed the discipline of the law. God no longer punishes me or anyone by sending death, disease, or misfortune. This is not God’s will. I may not know why these things are happening to me, but I do know that God is operating in the midst of this in some way, shape or form. I know God is working to transform this situation. I know that God has promised me hope, and I will have faith in Him no matter what happens.”
How can we know that God has promised such a thing? How do we know God is working in the midst of such turmoil and struggle and pain and suffering? Well, we look to the cross. Yes, the cross. That instrument of death is the focal point of the Christian faith, and there is little wonder why. For if there was anyone who didn’t deserve to die, it was the God incarnate who hung on it. If there was anyone who had actually lived up to the works righteousness end of the bargain, it was Jesus. If there was anyone who should not have suffered, it was him indeed. But that’s not what happened. Jesus was nailed to that cross. Jesus bled. Jesus suffered. Jesus died.
But death was not the end. Suffering did not provide the final answer. Evil did not carry the day. For on the third day, Christ rose from the dead showing the power and desire of God to conquer evil, suffering and death. Christ rose from the dead to show us that the final answer rests with God and will forever be God. Grace leads us right to this spot.
“For I know that my redeemer lives!” Job spoke these words from the top of the ash heap. He spoke these words after his friends tried to convince him that he had done something wrong to anger God, to provoke God’s wrath, to make God send him suffering. But Job would have none of it. He would not blame himself. He would not blame God. Instead, he would put his trust in the one who gave him hope. In the midst of his pain; in the midst of his suffering; in the midst of those who would call him to do otherwise; Job spoke words of faith.
“For I know that my redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives. He lives! He lives, who once was dead. He lives my ever living head!” We will sing those words in just a moment, and whatever your situation in life–whether you are struggling mightily with what life has given you or whether you are satisfied and happy with what is going on–sing them not because you believe you have earned your lot, but because you trust that God loves you whatever you may be facing. For that is what we do when we Live God’s Word Daily. Amen.