Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Sermon: Job 19: 1-29 Holding on to Hope: Job's Confidence

In so many ways, our funeral service is built on the words that we find in the book of Job. You might have recognised the words from chapter 14 that we heard in our reading. ‘Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.’ (14:1-2). And, when you think of it, those words are entirely appropriate for a funeral service.

They were uttered by a mourner at a wake. Job is sitting on the ash heap, mourning the loss of his ten children (as well as his wealth and his health). They sum up so perfectly what life and death is like in this world. Especially when we gather at a funeral, the words resonate, no matter how long the deceased had survived. Life is short, and hard. Words of pain, words of mourning, words from the mouth of Job.

But they’re not the only words from the mouth of Job which we hear at a funeral. And if those words from chapter 14 are words of realism and mourning, the other words are entirely different in form. They are words of hope, words of confidence, words of faith. It’s not that one set of words trump the other; it’s not that we have to choose one set or the other; but it’s important that we don’t just have words of realism, especially at a funeral. We also need those words of hope.

Even in chapter 13, we heard those remarkable words from the lips of Job: ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.’ So how could Job, enduring such unbelievable suffering, keep holding on to hope? Why was he still hoping in God, even if God slayed him? That’s what we’ll discover as we focus in tonight on chapter 19.

Now, as we’ve already seen in the series, after Job’s lament of chapter 3, Job’s three friends have been taking it in turns to answer him and argue with him. Last week we listened in to their words, their useless, uncomforting, accusing words. Their basic premise was that you get what you deserve, so if Job was suffering so badly, he must have sinned really badly. To have heard that once must have been hard enough, but by chapter 19 he’s heard five of these speeches. And they’re really getting to him. No wonder he bursts out in chapter 19 with: ‘How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?’ Who ever said sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me?

What follows in chapter 19 is the full weight of what everyone has been doing to Job. His friends, his God, his family. Let’s look at each briefly in turn. His friends, well they have cast reproach upon him (3). They’ve magnified themselves against him, made themselves look good, bigged themselves up against this terrible man Job and his terrible sins (as they imagine).

The main thrust, is what God has done. That comes from verse 6. God has put me in the wrong, caught me in his net. Job calls for help and against ‘violence’, but there’s no answer, no justice (7). Look how verses 8-13 begin, each with a ‘he’ or ‘his’. All of them God’s acts.

8. Walled up my way - like the Roadrunner cartoons where Wile E Coyote bricks up the tunnel. Darkness on my paths. Job doesn’t know where to turn; he can’t advance. He’s stuck.

9 Stripped from me my glory. Taken the crown from my head. Job’s power and prestige has gone. It’s not so much rags to riches, as riches to rags.
10 Breaks me down on every side. Hope pulled up like a tree. We nearly saw some trees uprooted today in the storm. How serious to have hope, deep rooted hope, pulled up.

11-12 Kindled his wrath against me, counts me as his adversary. Besieged me with his troops. Job is surrounded by this hostile army, no one can get in or out, no one can come near to help.

This leads us from what God has done to what his family has done - He is completely isolated, cut off, estranged. No one wants to know. No one answers his phone. No one texts him. No one writes on his Facebook. Brothers, relatives, close friends, guests, maidservants, wife, siblings, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has abandoned him. no one cares. No one helps.

Verses 20-22 sum up his suffering at this low point. ‘My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. [That’s where that saying comes from!]. Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?’

What a haunting cry. Abandoned by everyone. Left all alone. And his three last friends are no help. But remember that we know more than Job does. We had the glimpse behind the curtain in chapters 1&2. We had access to the heavenly throne room. We heard the conversation that Job and his friends never heard. Job thinks that it is God’s hand has touched him to bring this suffering.

And while that was what Satan wanted: ‘Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has... ‘ (1:11) ‘Stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh...’ (2:4). But both times, God says ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand...’ (1:12). ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.’ (2:6). Job thinks it is God doing the smiting, but it is Satan’s hand which has afflicted him (under God’s power).

But to get to a place so low, so isolated, so lonely, Job’s next words are so amazing. Even in the lowest of places, Job is holding on to hope. So let’s look at them, to find the reason for the hope.

Isn’t verse 23 quite ironic? ‘Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribe in a book!’ Oh, that’s what they were - for us to be able to read them tonight, so many thousands of years later. But then Job thinks that a book wouldn’t be permanent enough. ‘Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!’

These are important words, words that Job wants preserved. You see, for all Job knows, these words could be among his last. He doesn’t want these friends to be the ones to define his legacy. He doesn’t want the people already listed in the chapter to spread their rumours of him. He wants his own words to be read, preserved, and held onto. So what does he want recorded? What is so precious?

‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!’ (Job 19:25-27)

Notice that this is something Job knows. This isn’t an uncertain guess. This isn’t wishful thinking. This isn’t a last gasp gamble. I know. What does he know? My Redeemer lives. The Redeemer is the family kinsman, the one who buys back people from slavery, the one who rescues from poverty. If you’ve read Ruth you’ll know that Boaz was her redeemer kinsman. Job is certain that he has a Redeemer, but more than that, that he lives. That he is alive. That he is active. That he will act.

At the last, the Redeemer will stand on the earth. The Redeemer will endure. But look at what Job says about himself. ‘And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.’ My Redeemer will stand, and so will I. I will see him, face to face, in my own flesh.

So far back in the Old Testament, Job catches a hold of the hope of the resurrection. He doesn’t know every detail; he hasn’t got the fuller picture we enjoy this side of the first Easter, but he knows enough. He knows that a living Redeemer will cause him to stand face to face with God, through the resurrection.

How much fuller we can claim Job’s words! Jesus is our Redeemer, the one who died, but was raised to life. My redeemer lives. And because he lives (not breaking into the Gaither song...) we too will live. As Paul puts it in 1 Thes 4:14 - ‘For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.’

In the worst of days, Job was able to hold on to hope because he held onto the truth about his Redeemer, the one who could buy him back, rescue him from slavery and bring restoration. How amazing that he grasped this before the cross. Let his words be your words. Let his hope be your hope, except if his was in black and white, ours is in full technicolour, made certain through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I know that my Redeemer lives. These are the words of Job, words of hope, spoken at every funeral. Words of comfort and reassurance; words pointing us to the future with confidence as we trust in the Lord Jesus, our Redeemer. I know that my Redeemer lives. And because he lives, we too will live. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached at the Lent Midweek series Out of the Storm on Wednesday 2nd March in Aghavea Parish Church.

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