The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany February 5, 2012
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
17, 430, 521, 433
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Job said], “Is there not a time of hard service for man on earth? Are not his days also like the days of a hired man? Like a servant who earnestly desires the shade, and like a hired man who eagerly looks for his wages, so I have been allotted months of futility, and wearisome nights have been appointed to me. When I lie down, I say, ‘When shall I arise, and the night be ended?’ For I have had my fill of tossing till dawn. My flesh is caked with worms and dust, my skin is cracked and breaks out afresh. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope. Oh, remember that my life is a breath! My eye will never again see good.”
In the name of Jesus, who breathes new hope into dark lives, dear fellow Christians:
The commercials are some of the most compelling I have ever seen. Clean-cut young men streak through a cobalt blue sky in supersonic jet fighters launched off nuclear aircraft carriers. Soldiers standing ramrod straight dressed in crisp uniforms march and salute with perfect precision. Upbeat music plays in the background throughout the 60-second spot. The ad portrays military service as patriotic, exciting, and personally fulfilling, so much so, that you might feel like running out immediately and enlisting.
Yet, while serving the country is an honorable profession and certainly needed, the commercials don’t tell the whole story. Before joining the armed forces a person needs to know that it will not be all glamour and excitement. There will be grueling weeks of training and going without conveniences and freedoms usually taken for granted. There will be long periods of time away from home in dangerous situations. The advertising doesn’t tell the whole story. There has to be a reality check.
The same principle holds true for life in general. If we have unrealistic expectations we could end up bitterly disappointed and discouraged. There are people who enthusiastically speak of life as just one great, exciting adventure after another. With a positive attitude, they say, you can overcome all obstacles and rise above every adversity. You can be the master of your own destiny; and if people and nations work together, we can make life better and better until everything is perfect and wonderful. It sounds good. It is an upbeat message, and it would probably make a great commercial. But this morning the Lord leads us to a much needed reality check.
Reality hit the Old Testament believer Job hard. It was as though he was standing on a street corner enjoying a warm Spring day one minute and the next he was run over by a bus he didn’t even see coming. If you have ever studied Job’s biography you know that the Lord had blessed him with incredible wealth, a large family, and a stellar reputation. He is described as “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3 NIV). He expected things to go on as they were for the rest of a long fulfilling life.
But then God allowed Satan to take it all away. Within minutes Job received word that all of his possessions and wealth were gone and that his sons and daughters were dead. He fell to his knees and said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21 NIV).
Satan wasn’t finished. Again, by God’s permission, the Devil next struck Job with a terrible skin disease which caused painful sores to erupt on his body from head to foot.
Life became incredibly hard for Job. He compared it to being drafted into military service, to a slave laboring under a blistering sun longing for a patch of shade, and to a hired man counting the minutes until he gets paid at the end of the day. The days and months dragged by without relief. During the day Job longed for the night, and at night he restlessly tossed and turned. Tortured by feverish nightmares and his maggot-infested sores, Job longed for a dawn which never seemed to come. He saw his life slipping by faster than the movement of a weaver’s shuttle flying back and forth across a loom. Time and trouble wore Job’s faith down to the point where he was afraid even God had turned against him and he didn’t know why. Job saw himself as a magnet or target for God’s arrows.
It’s frightening to hear what Job had to endure. It is even more disturbing to think of such suffering coming upon us or those we love. Why did Job suffer so much? To his friends it was cut-and-dried. “Admit it, Job,” they said, “you did something terrible for which God is now punishing you.” The lesson then would be, “If I don’t do what Job did, I’ll be OK.” But we know that God was not punishing Job. The Lord calls him “blameless.” We also know that heartaches and suffering are a reality for everyone on earth because sin has been passed down from Adam through every generation of human beings.
We haven’t suffered to the extent Job did, but aren’t there days when life seems hard and meaningless? You go to work, clean the bathroom, do the laundry, wash the dishes, pay the bills, but what’s the use? Tomorrow you do it all over again. What’s the point? Where is the lasting benefit or personal satisfaction? There is always more to do, and you long for a break, but then what? Things still are not right. You lie awake tossing and turning, wondering what’s wrong and worrying about what lies ahead. Even if we are healthy and full of energy now, we know that won’t continue forever. Age and sickness take their toll on us, too.
We may envy those who don’t have the troubles we do. We look at a neighbor, fellow believer, or a celebrity and tell ourselves, “If I had his life, I wouldn’t have a thing to worry about. “I could be happy all the time.” But if you get to know that person well enough, you will find out that he too has burdens in life. No one escapes, all have sin, all live with the consequences, and all face the final wages of sin: death. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 NIV). God told Adam, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
The reality is that life is hard and short. Job also recognized that God ultimately has control over everything in our lives, just as the writer of Psalm 88 says: “I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me” (Psalm 88:15-16 NIV). Job’s conclusion was that there was no hope. His eyes would never again see good. All of this would be true if God did not intervene in man’s behalf. There would be nothing else, no other reality. Life would be filled with pain, followed by eternal death in Hell. You can understand why people become bitter and disillusioned with their lives and sometimes even commit suicide rather than face the despair.
Even in the depths of his gloom, Job clung to a glimmer of hope. Did you catch it in our text? Though he doesn’t name Him here, Job prays to God and says, “Oh, remember that my life is a breath!” [v.7] He didn’t have any false hopes in his own goodness, strength, or abilities before God. He simply pleaded that God would take into consideration that he was a frail, mortal man, and would show him mercy.
Job trusted God would hear him because he knew God as the “Lord”—the God of loving and faithful promise. God had made a solemn covenant or contract, and bound Himself to it. He promised He would send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head and free mankind from the curse of sin. God continued in that comforting covenant years later when He announced through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people…Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2 NIV).
Job trusted that God would step in and rescue him just like an Old Testament kinsman-redeemer would come to the aid of a family member in trouble. Job’s faith soared with his confident words in chapter 19 verses 25-26: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (NIV)
Sin and its curse are real, but the other reality of life is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God has kept His covenant. He remembered Job and every sinner. Jesus came to be our kinsman-redeemer. He sympathizes with us as we struggle under the burdens of life. But more importantly, He took the guilt, punishment, and hopelessness of our burdens upon Himself.
Only one man suffered more than Job—the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Listen to what He endured for us: “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people…My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm. 22:6,15). Job felt attacked and abandoned by God, but really wasn‘t. Jesus truly was forsaken by God for Job and for us. He completed our “hard service” for us. So like David we pray: “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord” (Psalm 25:6-7 NIV).
Because of God’s covenant of love fulfilled in Jesus, the reality of our earthly troubles is not what it seems. The trials of our lives are not designed to harm us. They are not retribution for our wrongdoing. They are intended by God to bless and fortify our faith in Jesus. The Lord led Job through hardships and grief to great faith and finally to renewed joy. Job did see happiness again. The Lord promises to do the same for us. “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
No matter how ordinary our days, they are not meaningless, empty hours, for in Jesus we have a purpose. Having new spiritual life in Him we want to live here on earth reflecting love for Him and serving our neighbor. We have opportunities to do that no matter how humble our work may be. When suffering comes we don’t have to fall into deep despair as though God has turned against us. He will use the trials of life to draw us even closer to Him to show us His love. We read in James 5: “As you know we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11 NIV).
Even death has a new reality because of Jesus’ saving work. It is no longer the final hopeless exclamation point to a miserable life. Because Jesus died and rose again for us, death becomes the means by which the Lord rescues His people from the suffering of this world and brings them into the glory of His presence. While the body will sleep for a time in the earth, it too will one day be awakened and glorified.
Carry out a reality check every day. Look around and take note of all the suffering sin brings into our lives and world. Don’t expect the world to get better. Don’t look for lasting hope and meaning in the things of this life. Instead, look at what is unseen, but which is every bit as real. God’s grace has taken away our sin and punishment by Jesus’ cross. No matter how dark the day, the light of the Savior shines into our hearts and lives giving us never-ending joy and hope. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). That is the best reality of all! Amen.
What God ordains is always good.
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me. (TLH 521:6)
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.