Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Suffering of a Righteous Man

Job 1

As preached at Rolling Hills Church on Sunday, November 28, 2010

 Today we're going to consider the first chapter of Job together. Job is the first book in what is known as "The Wisdom Literature," or the Poetic Books of the Bible. This group includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. There is a common theme that runs through all of those books except Song of Solomon, and we understand his healthy distraction there. That theme is this: The fear the LORD is wisdom. When one fears the LORD, he or she will turn from evil. Here are a few examples from these books.

Job 28:28 And he said to man, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.

Ps 90:11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

Ps 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Prov 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Prov 3:7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Ecc 12:13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

You will see this theme right away in the book of Job. Let's read chapter one and get right to it.

Job 1:1-22

1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters.

3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.

4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.

5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, "It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did continually.

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.

7 The LORD said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."

8 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?"

9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason?

10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.

11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face."

12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house,

14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them,

15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house,

19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.

21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Let's pray. I think we see up front that Job is righteous, and that Job is suffering. We also see what Job cannot see  - what goes on in heaven, and why he is suffering. Now here's what I hope you can take away from this story today: Righteous people suffer under the hand of our sovereign and good God; but our suffering here is limited and brief, for but God grants eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is a fascinating story in the Bible; it is a very, very helpful story as well. It's long and it's difficult to read (unless you appreciate poetry). Here's why it's helpful, church; it's because we are often perplexed when the righteous suffer; especially when we think we are the righteous ones and we are suffering! Part of the reason we're perplexed is that we are prone to believe like many, that all suffering is a result of either 1) consequences of our choices/actions, or 2) punishment from God. Job's friends believed this, and they were wrong here. Certainly people do suffer for those reasons, but it is NOT always the reason. There are at least two other reasons righteous people suffer: 1) sin in this world in general (sins of others), and 2) God allows it for a purpose. It gets hard because of what we DON'T know, or because of what we CAN'T see. But we can know some things about suffering, two specifically that will help us as we undergo such misery:

-       God uses suffering to purify our faith and to humble us for usefulness. Rom 1:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

-       Our suffering is light in view of the weight of God's blessings and glory. 2 Cor 4:7 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

It doesn't feel light, does it? But it will when we consider the depth of our sin and the weight of God's glory. I think this story is extreme so that any of us can relate: it's the standard of suffering! We'll say, 'I'm having a Job day', or something similar.

What we need to know about Job from the book of Job:

He is rich. He is righteous. He is wise. His wealth is clearly laid out: it is extravagant in any culture, but in his day it was Bill Gates kind of rich. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. He was blessed by God, is what the adversary said. Job was rich.

His righteousness is testified of by God – twice in this chapter! 8 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" Of whom has it ever been said by God, "This man is righteous!" Didn't David in the Psalms 14 and 53 (and Paul in Rom 3) contradict that in Romans when he wrote 'there is none who is righteous, no not one'? But God calls Job righteous. Since the Scriptures do not contradict, I believe we can take that description into context and into account with other Scriptures that teach that a man is only declared righteous by faith in God.

Now I said he is wise as well. Let me explain that statement:

His wisdom – and his righteousness – is demonstrated in his life: his deeds make known his faith and character. It's simple, really: Job feared God and turned away from evil.

So we're back to that theme in the Wisdom Books, right in the beginning…

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: it leads us to turn away from evil. Job feared God, and turned away from evil. And still, he suffered greatly; for a while.

What we need to know about God from this book: He is Sovereign, and He is good.

His Sovereignty is demonstrated by His power over all creatures, including the adversary here. He is over all nature as well, and anything that happens to anyone or anything on earth must be approved by our sovereign God. That's the beauty of us being able to see what happened in heaven – we learn good things! But when God in His sovereign power allows righteous people to suffer and to suffer greatly, we are prone to question His goodness. His goodness is proven in this book; but way, way at the very end is where we see it; chapter 42. Let me summarize it with verse 10: And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.  God always works for what is best for those who are loved and called according to His purpose – but sometimes only at the end. We might, as Job did during the course of this book, ponder the reasons or the methods of God, but let's hold on to the goodness of God.

Sometimes that might be tough, right? Let me give you something that will be helpful, I think: God's goodness was demonstrated on the cross.

Job is righteous: nevertheless he suffers; yet he is restored to his blessed life. Does that sound like anyone you have read about? This portrays Christ – who is righteous: nevertheless suffers, but for our sins, and rose from the dead to receive to Himself a bride.  Job intercedes for his children, and in the end, for his friends who falsely accused Him. Christ intercedes for us, and from the cross He prayed for His accusers and abusers.

Righteous people suffer under the hand of our sovereign and good God; but our suffering here is limited and brief, for but God grants eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Why did Christ suffer – because of His sin? No, because of ours.

Read Job; ponder the weight of Job's sufferings, and the weight of God' glory. And ponder the sovereignty and goodness of God; both for Job, and for us – in Christ.   

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