The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany February 7, 2010
Job 7:6; Mark 1:35-38; 1 Corinthians 9:16-17,22b
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
26, 797 (TLH alt. 132), 349(1-4), 349(5-7)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Job said], “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope.”
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, [Jesus] went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”
For if I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Dear friends in Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve:
An angry and bruised father comes into the house and calls for his six-year-old: “Tommy, come here!” An innocent-looking redhead appears. “Tommy, you need to be more careful with your toys. You left your Tonka truck on the sidewalk right at the bottom of the steps.”
“I know I left it there. I put it there on purposely,” the boy answered.
“You what? Why would you do that?”
“That’s the road where the trucks park when they’re at the coal mine. That way they’re ready for the coal.”
“Wait a minute! Road…coal mine? What are you talking about?”
“The sidewalk is my road, the dirt near the sidewalk is the coal mine…”
“Dirt? You mean the flower bed?”
“I dig the coal out of the mine and the truck takes it to the railroad car.”
“Ummm…what’s the railroad car?”
“Your tool box.”
Grownups sometimes get frustrated at little children for doing things that seem random and careless. The children in question often wonder why grownups can’t understand that they do the things they do with great planning and care. They do things “on purposely.” The grownups just don’t happen to see the world quite the way the children do.
Unfortunately, many grownups have trouble seeing how some other things are done on purpose. All too many people end up seeing life as a purposeless existence. Humanity itself has been degraded and cursed by accepting the general conclusion that our existence is a mere random event in a universe of random events. And yet, our lessons direct us to one event—Jesus’ appearance—that was never more on purpose. This one event has great meaning for our view of life as well. There is a clear message that comes through as we find Jesus going about preaching, healing, and casting out demons. In Jesus we come to learn that all things are “on purpose!” I. A purposeless existence?, II. Jesus’ life had great purpose!, and III. Jesus’ gift of salvation brings purpose into our lives.”
Now we admit that seeing the grand design of things or understanding that each of us has a meaningful existence may not always be self-evident. It wasn’t for Job who on one level began to wonder if he was living a purposeless existence.
The account of Job is one of the longest books of the Bible with the shortest story. The events that make up the nuts and bolts of the story take up little more than two chapters at the start of the book: God approves of Job, Satan sneers that Job only likes God because God is good to him, and God permits Satan to afflict Job and push him to within an inch of his life—first losing every material thing and then his own health.
The next 39 chapters or so make up a running conversation between Job and his friends trying to make sense of the stunning change in Job’s fortune. In the chapter that makes up today’s Old Testament lesson, Job has concluded that God has turned His back on him. He feels that he is already consigned to an existence outside of God’s favor and it looks pretty terrible. His days fly by like a weaver’s shuttle flying back and forth between the cords of a tapestry, but he fears that his life will not amount to any discernable purpose. Imagine life, robbed of every material comfort, every sense of satisfaction or pleasure. How bewildering, how meaningless to go on and face another day! Job looked forward to the morning only because he couldn’t bear the tossing and turning all night!
People in this world, ourselves included, spend a lot of time and energy seeking satisfaction, contentment, and courage in the things with which we can surround themselves or put in their bodies. We try to plan out our lives and chart our course. That’s fine as far as it goes, but Jesus reminds us that “A man’s life does not consist in the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). So let us hope that a larger, more comprehensive plan becomes apparent as our guiding principle in life.
Now, it seems incredible that anyone could survey the Biblical account of Jesus’ life and come away with any other conclusion than Jesus was someone whose life was filled with purpose.
One thing that is often noted about Mark’s Gospel account is his vigorous, dramatic presentation. He uses words like “immediately” that move the story along. Much of this first chapter is presented in a “day in the life” format while covering events beginning with calling the disciples by the sea, to the next day in the Synagogue, proceeding into the evening when people were free to move about and swarmed to Peter’s residence with their sick and demon-possessed. This was clearly the most astonishing and joyous thing to happen in Galilee in a very long time.
But the miracles and exorcisms were, for Jesus, a side issue. They only supported His real purpose which was to proclaim the kingdom of God—God’s gracious and saving activity among His people. He was there announcing the fulfillment of promises God had begun right from the fall into sin and the loss of Paradise. He was there to make known God’s favor toward man despite sin. He was to tell of the restoration of the image of God in man. He was to show how God was acting to defeat the chaos of sin and establish His rule in man’s heart.
At the end of the day, Jesus rested. Unlike Job, we do not hear that He tossed and turned all night. He had fulfilled whatever was appointed for that day. Like Job, Jesus rose early but not because He was miserable in bed, but rather He was ready to embrace the day. Unlike Job, Jesus began the day in prayer—not grumbling with God as Job was leaning toward doing, but uniting His purpose with God’s. Jesus was seeking His Father’s will and drew strength from the Father for the task at hand being confident that God’s wisdom and will are superior. He was a man with a purpose and He knew what that purpose was.
Jesus’ disciples found Him praying. It seems like they wanted to bring Jesus back to Capernaum for there were more sick people to cure and demons to launch out of people. But Jesus had His eyes on the horizon. There were other towns to visit, there were more synagogues in which to preach, there were many more busy days in the three years to come and then His work (on earth) would be done—atonement would be made, redemption would be complete. Jesus had a purpose and He understood it.
So, you say, “That’s great for Jesus. From day one it’s almost as if He had a road map. But where does that leave the rest of us?” The answer is that Jesus’ gift of salvation brings great purpose into our lives.
The apostle Paul was another person who woke up every day with his eyes on the horizon. He was just as restless as Jesus to carry his message to another town—another synagogue if possible, but out in the streets if need be. He was restless to reach as many people as he could with the good news that through Christ Jesus mankind and God are reconciled.
People would have said that Paul was a pretty focused person even before becoming a Christian, but after his conversion everything he had thought or pursued before was nothing to him. On the road to Damascus he saw in a flash what Job was wrestling with: if we are dealing with an angry, unsatisfied God, life is pretty terrifying. If we have only our own accomplishments and possessions by which to measure our life, we are the most miserable of all men.
But Christ, in His life and His work, brought Paul new life. His baptism into Christ ensured that he was forgiven, washed of all sin and guilt before God, redeemed to become an instrument of God to extend God’s kingdom to others. It certainly wasn’t easy, or comfortable, or profitable in any material sense, but he gladly traded all that and more in order to “be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:9)
In the particular section of 1 Corinthians from which our text comes, Paul is speaking about the importance of, at times, foregoing your own rights and liberties in order that Christ and His cross might be magnified in the eyes of others through our lives. That gives him a fascinating outlook on what he believes is the central purpose of a believer: “For if I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to boast of.” [v.16] I don’t expect that to elevate me in the prestige of the world. “Necessity is laid upon me, yes, woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel.” [v.16] Paul felt compelled to go forward in life, not looking back and fretting over the things he left behind or hobbled by the failures in his life. God had received him and incorporated him into the body of Christ. Paul had nothing but amazement and gratitude for what the Lord had done for him in Christ Jesus. A compelling purpose had overtaken his life which he couldn’t deny. And he wasn’t about to deny it. He did this preaching gladly. He went into prison for the Gospel’s sake, gladly. He suffered beatings, abuse, rejection, journeys—all gladly. He suffered it all because, He said, He knew there was a reward involved [cf. v.17]
Aha, you say, there’s the rub—He knew that after all that he went through, he would get to heaven—that’s the prize!
Well, that is the prize, but that wasn’t the particular reward Paul had in mind. Having the life he had, that was his reward. Being free to preach the Gospel of free salvation and preaching that Gospel for free—that was his reward.
So what is the point here? What’s the upshot for our lives? It is this, that in Jesus Christ we are the objects of God’s grace. Therefore, our purpose is given to us freely. He has loved us from the foundation of the world. We are destined to be and to live as the children of God. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Now, we are called to share that love, that purpose, that truth, in word and deed. We are here to share Christ with one another and with our neighbors. We are here to urge others to “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6).
As long as Job focused on himself and how miserable and unjust life was he saw no purpose, no meaning to his life. But when he simply placed himself at God’s disposal and clung to God’s promise of a Redeemer, he lived. He did and we will too and so will many others who find their purpose in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
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