Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sermon: Job 42 Restoration: Job's Conclusion

And they all lived happily ever after. Everyone likes a happy ending, whether it’s at the panto, a Disney film or a fairy tale. The heroes triumph, the villains are caught or punished, and everything is ironed out before the curtain falls or the credits roll, or the book is closed.

So when we come to Job 42, is this just another fairy tale ending? Does God do fairy tale endings? Let’s review the story so far. Satan has accused Job of loving God only because God has blessed him, so God permits Satan to take away his children and possessions, and then to inflict him with sores. All that happened right back in the first two chapters. Since then, Job has been lamenting his circumstances and debating back and forth with his three so-called friends. When their arguments were done, another man, Elihu stepped in (but we didn’t look at him as God doesn’t mention him in the end either). Then suddenly God intervened and spoke to Job directly.

Job had been asking questions about how God ran the universe, so God asked Job some questions of his own. ‘How to Rule the Universe for Dummies’. Basic stuff, but Job couldn’t answer even one question. Back in 40, God asks ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’ Job’s initial response was to say no more: ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand upon my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.’ (Job 40:1-5) But that wasn’t enough. God continues asking about Behemoth and Leviathan, a picture of Satan’s chaotic power.

It is the awareness that God has power over Satan (while Job has none) that eventually brings Job to this closing chapter in the book. Not the happy ending we expect, but God working for his glory in the lives of Job, his friends, and his family. As we look at the chapter, we’ll do so under three headings: Repentance, Rebuke, and Restoration - seeing in turn God’s power, God’s mercy, and God’s vindication and blessing.

First up, repentance. Throughout the book, Job was asking why had all these bad things happened to him. After all, he was righteous, and didn’t expect bad things to happen to one who was trusting in God. Despite the friends’ accusations, Job remained steadfast, and even suggested that God may be in the wrong in how he was running the universe. That was until God spoke and demonstrated Job’s ignorance, weakness and powerlessness. How does Job respond? Through repentance. He realises that he has gone too far, said too much, spoken about things he didn’t know. It would be like a normal toddler trying to write a PhD dissertation. Out of his depth.

Instead of asking all those questions, it’s enough for Job to be reminded of who God is - his holiness expressed in his sovereignty. ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.’ (2). God is on the throne - that must be enough for us. As Job sees God on the throne, sees clearly who God is, Job despises himself, he thinks back on his attitude, his words, and he ‘repents in dust and ashes.’ (6). Job started on the ash heap lamenting his calamity, and he ends on the ash heap in repentance. As he says in 28:28 ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’

This isn’t quite what we expect, if it’s a fairy tale ending. Job is presented as the main protagonist, the hero of the book, with his story being presented and his words being recorded. We expect our heroes to be all conquering and not apologising - Shrek rescues the princess (with a little help from his friends). But then Job isn’t the hero of the story - God is.

Are there things that we need to repent of - yes, even Christians, when we fail to trust God’s sovereignty or think we could do a better job? Job is helping us to see ourselves in perspective - not at the centre of the universe, but with a proper perspective of God who is on the throne. Job’s repentance - and God’s power.

Next, we come to another unexpected element of a happy ever after story. The villains normally get it. Think of the robbers in Home Alone who keep getting caught up in sticky situations - we laugh because they deserve it.

But that’s not what happens in Job’s story. There are villains, yes - Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are addressed by God, and told ‘My anger burns against you... for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’ (7) Are they going to get it? Will they be destroyed by the blast of God’s anger? Well, no.

In God’s rebuke of the three friends, we also see God’s mercy. God’s anger burns against them, yet it is God who takes the initiative to turn aside his anger. God provides the means for them to be reconciled to himself - ‘Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’ (8-9)

Do you notice what their fault was? Twice it is identified in the Lord’s words - ‘You have not spoken of me what is right.’ They were misrepresenting God, not speaking what was right, but more than that, not speaking of God what is right. As they accused Job, they also accused God, taking his name in vain as they blamed God for Job’s miseries (and not Satan). They painted a wrong picture of God - creating an idol in their own image.

What a marvellous picture of the true God and his mercy, as he provides them with pardon through the actions of his servant Job. There are four sentences in what God says, and each one contains ‘my servant Job’. We who are Christians have one who prays for us, one who turns aside God’s anger and wrath, and as we trust in Christ, we can be confident that the LORD accepts Jesus’ prayer. Rebuke reveals God’s mercy, as Repentance displayed God’s power.

We turn now to the final verses of Job 42, to the section that may seem most like a happy ever after fairy tale. In summary, ‘the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends’ (Job even forgives those who had accused him...). He’s given twice as many sheep and camels and oxen and donkeys as we found in 1:2, and he has another seven sons and three daughters. And the whole town turns out for a party - like the big happy scenes at the end of a fairy tale story: ‘Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each one of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.’ (11)

(I want to be asking - where were all these people when he was going through the hard times? They all turn up for the party at the end...)

Job is restored, and given long life to enjoy it. Job, God’s servant, has been vindicated - he doesn’t trust God for what he gets out of it, but has held firm through hard times as well as good. Job is an illustration of the Lord’s parable: ‘One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much’ (Luke 16:10). He has been tested and his faith is genuine (cf 1 Peter 1:6-7). Job is rewarded for his faith, restored which demonstrates God’s vindication and blessing of his servants.

But how do we apply this? Can we jump straight from Job 42 to today and say as some would: God wants you to be wealthy, healthy and happy. Do you know what? When I was typing my sermon, I Googled that, and this book popped up straight away. At $22 perhaps it’s only the author who will be wealthy... So if you’re going through tough times, just have faith, buy the book, and you’ll get all you want and more? Another website promised to make you a millionaire for Jesus. Is the Christian life all singing, all dancing, happy ever after?

God vindicates his people, and blesses his people. That’s what Job 42 is teaching us, but we can’t always expect it in this life. Job was described as my servant - another one who was the Servant of the Lord endured excruciating pain, mocking, shame, and taunts of what the Lord’s will was for his life - ‘He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ (Luke 23:35). God’s will is for you to be wealthy and healthy and happy? Ask Jesus, the Chosen One, the servant of the Lord. His way of obedience led to the death of the cross - and he was vindicated by being raised to life on the third day. (Acts 3:18-21 - link to vindication and restoration).

Why would it be different for his followers? If you’re going through difficult times now, I can’t say to you ‘name it and claim it’ like the prosperity prophets. God will vindicate his people and bless them - but it may not be in this life. That’s why we long for the return of the scarred Saviour, the one in whom we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

I can’t promise you a fairy tale ending for your suffering here and now. The bad guys don’t always get it, and the righteous aren’t always wealthy and healthy. We await a Saviour from heaven ‘who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.’ (Philippians 3:21) When Jesus returns, all will be restored. All sorrow for the believer will end. Joy will be ours for eternity.

In Job’s story, we see repentance (through the Lord’s power), rebuke (and the Lord’s mercy), and restoration (as the Lord vindicates and blesses). Our vindication is sure, but it’s no fairy tale ending. In fact, it’s so much better: ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor 2:9 quoting Isaiah 64:4).

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

This sermon was preached in the Out of the Storm Lent midweek series in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 16th March 2016.

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