10.24.21 Homily on Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Hebrews 7:23-28 by Pastor Galen
Today we conclude our journey through the book of Job. And what a journey it has been! We’ve seen Job at his best, and at his worst. We’ve journeyed along with Job as he experienced devastating loss, compounded by the harsh criticism and judgmental attitudes of his colleagues, as their overly simplistic understanding of the universe led them to erroneously conclude that Job himself was to blame for the terrible suffering he endured.
Throughout his whole ordeal, Job never questioned the existence of God, never doubted that God was real. But Job did accuse God of being unjust, and of treating him unfairly. Job wondered aloud why those who commit evil deeds so often go unpunished, while he himself, who was known for his moral uprightness and virtuous living, endured immeasurable grief and sorrow.
Throughout this journey we’ve been reminded, along with Job, that everything we have in this life comes from God, and therefore we ought to hold our possessions and even the people in our lives with open hands. We’ve also learned that it’s okay to question God, and even to be angry before God, as long as we bring our worries and concerns to God, rather than allowing those questions to turn us away from God. And last week we learned that the universe is so much larger and more complex than we could ever begin to understand, and that although we may never understand why bad things happen to us or to those around us, we can and should be grateful that we are not the ones in charge of this vast universe, that we have a God who is more than competent to handle any problem, any situation. We learned to “let God be God.”
A Fairytale Ending
This morning as we reach the conclusion of the story of Job, many have probably been wondering, “well after all of that suffering, is there at least a happy ending to the story? After all that Job went through, all of the pain and suffering that he endured, does it all turn out alright in the end?”
That’s what we always want to know when we’re reading any sort of book or watching any sort of movie or show. We want to know, is it going to be OK in the end? Will they live happily ever after? We don’t want to know the ending before we get there. We don’t like spoilers. But we want to know, will the main character be OK? Most of us would be very disappointed and demand our money back if we went to a movie that ended with the main character sitting in dust and ashes, as Job was for most of the story. We want our princes and princesses to ride off into the sunset. We want our fairy tales to end with a happily ever after.
The writer of the book of Job does in fact give us a fairytale ending. After God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, Job’s former life is restored. Job’s friends and family members come and apologize to him, and ask them to forgive him for how they treated him throughout his time of suffering. And somehow, Job becomes wealthy once again, with twice the amount of livestock that he had before tragedy struck: fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. Once again Job is given a family – seven sons, and three daughters, just as he had at the beginning. His three daughters were known around the world for their exquisite beauty, and he gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. Job lived to a ripe old age, and lived to see not only his children grow old, but to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren as well. The author of the book of Job tells us that “Job died, old and full of days” (Job 42:17). Job and his family lived happily ever after. A picture perfect, fairytale ending.
“Now My Eye Sees You”
And yet anyone who has ever endured tragedy and loss knows that the experience of suffering changes you. The Job we see at the end of the story is a much different Job than we saw at the beginning of the story. The tragedy and loss that he endured, and the encounter he had with God, led him to a different spiritual plane.
In Job chapter 42, Job says to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).
Prior to Job’s experiences of grief and suffering, Job was a good and upright person, “who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). But his relationship with God was transactional. He thought that if he did the right thing, then God would bless him. Job didn’t really know God personally, but his understanding of God was that God was someone to be feared and appeased. Job thought that if he offered the right sacrifices, said all the right prayers, did all the right deeds, then God would bless him and keep his family safe.
What Job didn’t know in the beginning, but what he learned through his experiences in life, is that God is not a far-off, distant, cold and uncaring deity to be manipulated and appeased, but rather in the midst of this wild and crazy and often seemingly erratic and unpredictable world, God is right there with us, in the midst of our suffering, working to bring good out of evil, order out of chaos, purpose and meaning even in the midst of senseless pain and grief. Job learned, along with the Psalmist in Psalm 34:18 that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,” and as we read in Psalm 145: 18, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” And so Job says that whereas in the past I only heard rumors of God from others, now Job said, I know and have experienced God for myself.
The Example of Steve Hayner
In 2014, Steve Hayner, the 66-year-old beloved president of Columbia Theological Seminary, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After tests revealed that the chemotherapy wasn’t working, Hayner wrote, “The cancer continues to have the upper hand. What now seems clear from a purely physical perspective is that in all probability the remainder of my life on this earth is now to be counted in weeks and months.”
In a blog post, Hayner addressed the many people who had been praying for a miracle of healing in his life. He said said to them,
Many are praying for one of God’s “big” miracles. We are as well. But it is not how God answers prayer that determines our response to God. God is committed to my ultimate healing. But being cured of my cancer may or may not be a part of that healing work …
I truly don’t know what God has planned … I could receive “healing” through whatever means, or I could continue to deteriorate. But life is about a lot more than physical health. It is measured by a lot more than medical tests and vital signs. More important than the more particular aspects of God’s work with us … is God’s overall presence with us, nourishing, equipping, transforming, empowering, and sustaining us for whatever might be God’s call to my life today.
TODAY, my call might be to learn something new about rest. TODAY, my call might be to encourage another person in some very tangible way. TODAY, my call might be to learn something new about patience, endurance, and the identification with those who suffer. TODAY, my call might be to mull through a new insight about God’s truth or character.
Unlike Job, Steve Hayner did not live to see his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren grow old. Steve Hayner died in 2015, less than one year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And yet through it all, Steve Hayner learned the same invaluable lesson that Job learned through his suffering and grief – and no matter what, God is with us.
Hope Beyond the Grave
Of course for Steve Hayner, as well as for Job, and for all of us, there’s more to the story, because there is life after death, there is hope beyond the grave. Although the book of Job is mostly concerned with answering the question of why there is suffering in this life, we do catch glimpses of eternity throughout the story of Job. In Job we learn that there is more to the story than what we see and experience here on earth. And along the way, we catch glimpses and foreshadowings of Jesus Christ – the ultimate expression of God’s love for the world, who came to show us the way to eternal life.
Job chapter 9 is one of those places where we catch a glimpse of Christ. In that chapter, Job is complaining to his friends about his suffering (of course all of this was before he had his direct encounter with God). Job wishes he could talk to God, but he expressed his doubt that God would even listen. Job said, “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (Job 9:33-35).
One translation puts it: “if only there were an umpire” who could stand between me and God Job’s perception was that God was distant and terrifying. He thought that God was not only unfair, but also that God did not care. Job wished there were someone to mediate between him and God.
Later on, in Job chapter 19, Job says, “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-26).
Even in the midst of his most severe suffering and grief, Job held out hope that one day all would be made right. That one day, perhaps in this life or the next, that he would be vindicated. That all would be made right, and that he would finally be able to stand in the presence of God, and that he would be able to experience the beauty and wonder and majesty of God. But he knew in order for that to happen, he needed a Redeemer, someone to stand in the gap, someone to mediate between him and God. Little did Job know that in Christ, God would come to us.
Jesus Our High Priest
This was the context in which the New Testament book of Hebrews was written. The book of Hebrews was originally a sermon preached to a predominantly Jewish audience, connecting the life and ministry of Jesus to that of a high priest in the Jewish tradition, who served as a mediator between God and the people.
In chapter 4 of the book of Hebrews, the preacher highlighted that Jesus is our mediator, our high priest, who can empathize with us, since he experienced all of the tests and trials that we experience in this life, even though he was without sin. Now, here in chapter 7, the preacher points out that, unlike the high priests of the Hebrew people who needed to continually offer sacrifices for themselves and the people, Jesus was and is perfect, and therefore he was able to offer himself once and for all as the perfect sacrifice, or atonemen,t for our sins, to restore our connection with God, to make us right in our relationship with God.
Hebrews 7 tells us that Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:25-26). In other words, Jesus is our high priest, our Redeemer – the mediator/umpire – that Job was longing and hoping for. Jesus is the perfect advocate, who stands in our place, and argues on our behalf. But Jesus is even more than that, because in Jesus, God showed up in the flesh – not hidden in a whirlwind like God spoke to Job, not in a cloud or on a mountain top like when God spoke to Moses. In Christ, God showed up looking like one of us, a human being, as the ultimate demonstration of God’s love and compassion and care and concern for us. In Christ, God walked among us and talked with us. Jesus showed us God in a way that we could comprehend – a way that we could get our minds around.
As it says John 1:14 in The Message Paraphrase, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” Christ came to reveal God to us, to reconcile us to God, to bring us back into right relationship with God. Through Christ, we, like Job, can see God. Not just hear rumors about God from other people. We can see God with our own eyes.
This morning, if you, like Job, have felt distant from God, or like God doesn’t care about what you’re going through – I would invite you to come to Jesus. Come forward to the altar, and lay it all at Jesus’s feet. Know that in Jesus, we have a perfect mediator, a perfect advocate, a perfect Redeemer. Come to Jesus, bringing your worries and fears and concerns, knowing that God sees you, God cares about you, God wants to make you whole and right in your relationship with God. Amen.