Affliction in Verse: Get Ready

Sermon by David Strain on January 7, 2018

Job 1:1-5

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Tonight we are beginning a new series of sermons looking at the teaching of the book of Job. And so let me invite you now, if you would please, to go ahead and take your Bibles in hand and turn there with me to Job chapter 1; and you’ll find that on page 417 in the pew Bibles. We call the series, “Affliction in Verse,” because as you’ll see if you turn over and get out of chapter 2 all the way through to chapter 42, by far the bulk of the book of Job is an extended poem; it’s poetry. There’s a section at the beginning and a section at the end that is prose and the rest is poetry. And if you were to ask me why we are studying or considering the book of Job on these Sunday evenings together, I don’t think I can do any better than to point you to Satan’s question which he puts to God in verse 9. If you’ll look down at verse 9 for a moment. “Does Job fear God for nothing?” That is the central question of the book of Job. Is Job a man of God only because of the many and varied blessings he enjoys from God? Or does Job fear God for God’s own sake?


So why should we study the book of Job? Answer: We should study the book of Job because if yours is nothing more than a fair-weather faith, a Christianity that lives only in the constant sunshine, what will happen when the storm hits and the shadows obscure the light? Is your fear of God resilient and enduring even in those seasons when you are made to walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Are you able to say with the psalmist, for example, in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” and “There is nothing on earth that I desire beside you. My flesh and my heart may fail, life may crumble around me. All my outward blessings may shrivel and die. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”? That is the great lesson of the book of Job. It is, if you like, divinely inspired resilience training for Christian believers. It is resilience training for Christian believers.


And it provides that training for us not simply by exploring Job’s example, but by taking us into the deep, impenetrable mystery of suffering itself; the reality of evil in God’s world. It is an unflinching look at some of the unanswerable questions that every righteous sufferer finds him or herself asking of God. “What does it mean? Did I do something wrong? Why is this happening? Where are you, God?” And we’re going to see as Job takes us down into the dark abyss of grief and suffering and loss, meeting us in those depths time and again is someone else. We meet not just Job, the righteous sufferer, but as we are going to see, we will meet the Lord Jesus who, at the cross, in the midst of the horror of God-forsakenness, asked his “Why” question – “Why have You forsaken Me?”


At the heart of the response of the book of Job to our sharpest trials is much more than a robust doctrine of the sovereignty of God, although that’s certainly there and is part of how Job helps us weather the storm of affliction; a robust doctrine of the sovereignty of God, much more than an unflinching portrayal of human tragedy. And sometimes in our most acute suffering, it really helps us to have those sufferings named and faced so honestly as we are going to see them here in the book of Job. But there's more even than that. At the heart of the response of the book of Job to the problem of evil and the suffering of God's people, we are going to see stands the Lord Jesus Christ – the ultimate and quintessential righteous sufferer. And that is where this book of going to constantly fix our attention as it seeks to cultivate in our hearts resilient faith before the storms of affliction begin to break.


And so tonight we are turning our attention to Job chapter 1 and our focus is only going to be on the first five verses. This is, if you like, the preamble; it is the calm before the storm. What we are going to see as we look at what we learn here of Job and his family and background that unbeknown to Job, there are a number of features of his life that are building into his discipleship we might say, the kind of resilience we need that will help him to weather the storm that is about to break upon his head that we, like him, might be able to weather the storm when it breaks upon ours. So Job chapter 1, verses 1 to 5. Before we read it together, let’s pray.


Lord, just as Your Word is open in our laps, we know our hearts and minds are open to Your gaze. We are so grateful to know that You know us completely. Before a word is on our lips, you know it altogether. All the days that have been ordained for us have been written in your book, O Lord, before as yet one of them has come to be. We bless You that You are able, therefore, to take the Word of God, the Scripture now before us, and to bring it to bear on all these places in our hearts where we need to hear You and learn of You, where we need to see ourselves and be brought perhaps even to the end of ourselves that we might turn back or turn for the first time to You. And so as we bow in humility before You, we ask You so to wield the Word of God in our hearts for the glory and praise of Your name. Amen.


Job chapter 1 at verse 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. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 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. 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. 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.


Amen, and we praise God for His holy and authoritative Word.


A Wealthy Man

The curtain rises on an idyllic scene – a scene of harmony and happiness. That’s how the book of Job begins. He has achieved the American Dream, hasn’t he? He has a large, affluent family that, according to verse 4, absolutely loves to party. He is extremely wealthy. I mean he has made it. Verse 3 says Job was the greatest of all the peoples of the east. And it might be tempting, actually, to read these opening verses of the book with Job as a poster boy for the prosperity gospel. “Here is a man of faith,” we might argue, “and look how God has prospered him!” Creflo Dollar would be proud. In verse 2 we are told that he has seven sons and three daughters. Verse 3 lists his possessions; they are remarkable – 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys. To manage it all, of course, very many servants. He has it all, doesn’t he? And we know something, however, if you’re at all acquainted with the story of the book of Job, we know something at this point poor Job does not. We know very soon, verses 13 through 19, that Job’s whole world is about to come crashing down on his head. For all his piety, prosperity will forsake him utterly.


And as we begin tonight to examine Job’s story, I want you to see there are a number of things that Job does in this passage that build into his life a resilience that will enable him to weather the coming crisis. The weather alerts on our phones are really handy things, aren’t they? Very useful; very helpful except perhaps when they go off in the middle of a worship service! But they are very helpful. And they’re helpful because we know what’s coming up and so we can prepare. The time to get ready for a hurricane isn’t in the middle of the storm. The time to get ready is when the weather alerts forecast what is coming your way. The book of Job is like a Scriptural weather alert. It is sounding the warning – whoever you are, whatever stage of life may be yours, however secure and prosperous you may currently be, there is a storm coming. Suffering of some sort of fashion is on its way and will etch its way into your life at some point. And so get ready now, before the storm breaks. That’s the message.


Godliness is Preparation

Despite what the false teachers of the prosperity gospel tell you, to the contrary, it’s very clear, isn’t it, Job’s godliness is no inoculation against suffering. But it is preparation for when suffering comes. It is preparation for when suffering comes. That’s probably not a new idea for most of us. If you’re at all like me, however, you’ll need to hear it again and again. We need reminding, don’t we, at least I certainly do, that we never put God in our debt. He never owes us a favor.


One of the deacons in my previous congregation had four boys, all of them preteen, and they were a pretty rambunctious lot. One day, one of them came in from playing in the yard and said, “Daddy, would you spank me please?” And his dad stopped with a look of surprise and a significant scowl of suspicion and said, “Why? What have you done?” to which he replied, “Nothing, yet.” He thought he could bank a spanking in advance so that he could be free to do what he liked when the time came. We approach God like that all the time, don’t we? We think in transactional terms. We try and bargain. We think we can pay Him off with good behavior or serve enough to leverage a blessing from Him. And then life throws us a curve ball and we don’t know how to handle it because, “God owes me! I’ve been devout. I played the game. I’ve done my duty!” But as Paul reminds us in Romans 11:35, actually quoting God’s words to Job at the end of this book in Job 41:11, “Who has ever given to God that it should be repaid to him?” We never put God in our debt. God cannot be bargained with. Godliness, Christian obedience, is no inoculation against suffering. There is no quid pro quo, “You do a little bit for Him and He guarantees prosperity and happiness and blessing.” No, godliness is, however, preparation; not inoculation against suffering but preparation for when suffering comes, for when the storm comes at last.

So how is Job prepared to endure? Look at the text with me. There are three things to notice about Job. We have already noticed the first. Job is a wealthy man. We need to notice the other two, however. He’s not only a wealthy man, but he is secondly, a wise man, and he is a watchful man. He is a wise man and a watchful man. It’s not his wealth that enables him to weather the storm but rather his wisdom and watchfulness.


The Wise Man

First of all, look at Job the wise man. “There was a man,” verse 1, “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.” Blameless and upright there does not imply that Job was without sin, but rather that he is a man of unimpeachable character. He’s a man of integrity. And we are told that he fears God and he turns away from evil. Those are really two sides of the same coin; you can’t have the one without the other. The fear of God and turning away from evil – they always go together. You do not fear God if you will not turn from evil. And you cannot turn from evil if you do not turn to God. I had a very dear friend who was a really remarkable minister of the Gospel in the United Kingdom who made a dreadful shipwreck of his ministry. And I called him up and asked him, “What in the world happened? How could you do this, fall into such egregious sin?” I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “David, I stopped fearing God.” The fear of the Lord and turning away from evil always go together. If you will not fear God, if you do not fear God, you will not turn from sin. If you will not turn from sin, you cannot fear God.


Righteous Living

The New Testament actually speaks of these same twin graces in slightly different language. It calls them repentance and faith, doesn’t it? Turning from and turning to. Turning from sin and self to the living God in renewed or in true dependence and trust upon Him. That is what characterizes Job’s life. Or to put it a little differently, Job has given up trying to live on his own terms; trying to live life on his own terms. He has surrendered command of his life to the God who has made him and who claims his loyalty and love. He surrendered control of his life. And now that’s a scary thing to do, isn’t it? To give up control like that. However scary it may seem, actually in the Hebrew Bible, the way that Job is described here presents him to us as the ideal wise man. He epitomizes wisdom – blameless and upright; fears God; turns from evil. It’s a virtual summary of the life of wisdom described for example in the book of Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord,” Proverbs says, “is the beginning of wisdom.” That’s why, like Proverbs, the book of Job is considered to be a book of wisdom. It’s a book about righteous living under God in the real world. Job is going to weather the storm, the storm of suffering that will shortly wash over him, and he will be enabled to do it because he is a wise man; a man who repents and believes, who fears God and turns from evil. He has surrendered the reins of his life to the Lord his God. Job is a wise man. It’s a wisdom we need badly to learn.


You go to Lemuria Books or Barnes and Noble and you’ll find shelf upon shelf of books about how to make life work, how to better yourself; books of practical advice, the collected wisdom of the ages. And much of that is really very helpful. But the heart of true wisdom can only be found here, can only be found here. Here’s how to live well in the real world – fear God and turn from evil. Repent and believe. Surrender the reins of your life to the lordship of the living God. So Job is a wealthy man. He is also a wise man.


The Watchful Man

And then finally, I want you to notice that he is a watchful man. Look down at verses 4 and 5. His children, we read, would each hold a feast on their day, their birthday. They’d invite the others. There’s really no suggestion here that these were debauched affairs or that anything untoward went on at the feast. But Job is a conscientious, careful father who loves his children very deeply. “He was,” Matthew Henry says, “He was jealous over them with a godly jealousy. And so we ought to be over ourselves and those who are dearest to us.” And so verse 5, once the parties are over he would send for each child and consecrate them and offer sacrifices for each of them in turn because, he said, “it may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.”


Just imagine it with me for a moment. On their birthdays at family worship, after the parties are done, dad will offer sacrifice. The kids’ instincts are to play; dad’s instinct is to pray and to seek atonement. The reflex of Job’s heart is to go to the altar. So on Jim's birthday, a bloody sacrifice was offered and burnt on the altar and Jim would be reminded, "This is what my sin deserves. Instead of me, in my place, the victim dies." And then it would be Sue's turn and then Bill's turn and then George's turn and so on until all ten of the children saw that graphic, ugly ceremony playing out before them, driving home this one central lesson – "In my place, condemned His stood; sealed my pardon with His blood." This goat or bull or lamb making clear what sin deserves and what God provides. 


Preaching the Gospel

What is it that Job is doing? He’s preaching the Gospel to them, isn’t he? He’s teaching them in these bloody rites of sacrifice about the greatest need of the human heart. It’s not for pleasure but for peace with God. It’s not prosperity we ultimately really need, but pardon. And so he punctuates his family life with regular trips to the altar. And that, in the end, is actually the real demonstration of Job’s wisdom, isn’t it? A watchful father is wise when he seeks to keep short accounts with God for himself and for his family. We are wise when, in our watchfulness, we rightly interpret our real need – to be right with God. And we are wise in our watchfulness when we make the right provision for that need. It’s not self-help, self-improvement, but the bleeding sacrifice who appears in our behalf before the throne of God. Wise watchfulness, Job shows us, is revealed and expressed by a Gospel instinct. A reflex that runs at every opportunity for ourselves and on behalf of others to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – the Lord Jesus Christ. The bloody drama that played out every birthday for one of Job’s kids – what a downer that must have been after all their festivities and celebrations, graphic and disturbing – was nothing compared to the horror of the cross to which those sacrifices were merely pointers.


The Picture of Christ

And there is an irony in all of that that’s worth noticing, I think, before we conclude. The action in the book of Job is likely happening during some point during the patriarchal era – the age of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are no priests, you notice; no Israel, no temple. Job, as the head of the family, acts as the priest and he offers sacrifice on an altar that he has built. And so we see this righteous man, prosperous and happy, go to the flock and pick a lamb, carry it in his arms, and we hear it scream as the animal is sacrificed. And then we watch, eventually, as the smoke begins to billow from the pyre atop the altar as the burnt offering ascends from the altar. And all the while – here’s the irony – all the while, right there on the altar, is the picture of the only one who’s suffering would surpass Job’s; the only one in whom Job could find comfort when his whole world would come crashing down as it shortly would. On the family altar, surrounded by his ten children, is the picture of Christ crucified, in whom alone the suffering believer can find refuge in the drama and in the fury of the storm of suffering when it comes.


How shall we prepare for the hurricane winds of tragedy and trial? Whatever our wealth or our present prosperity, the book of Job urges us to find true wisdom, true wisdom. We must repent of trying to live life on our terms and we must begin to believe the promises of God in the Gospel. We must turn to live life on God’s terms. And we must learn to keep watch over our hearts and over the hearts of those we love, and to run regularly and often to Christ crucified who deals with our real need and our deepest problem – not our lack of prosperity, but our need of pardon; our need of pardon, to be rightly related to the God with whom we have to do. In the end, the thing that keeps and sustains Job is not the strength of Job’s faith. The thing that will keep and sustain you is not the strength of your faith, but rather the strength of the object of Job’s faith and of your faith; the one in whom he trusts, by whom he is kept unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. How shall you weather the storm? Not by toughing it out. Not by being strong enough, smart enough, clever enough, brave enough, prosperous enough. But by being truly wise and truly watchful and resting your confidence not in yourself but in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. He will keep you. He will keep you secure until the end, until the storm breaks and the sun parts the clouds.


Let’s pray together.


Lord, it is, in fact, the temptation of all our hearts so often when suffering intrudes and trials overtake us to tough it out, to rely on our own imagined sufficiency, to think we are supposed to be up to the task. Please, would You help us to learn Job's lessons the way Job learned them before the storm comes that we might be ready? Help us to become people of true wisdom who stop trying to live life on our terms, under our own steam, guided by our own best light, but who bow before You and submit to Your lordship and rule, who repent and believe. And make us people of true watchfulness who see with clarity the real need of the soul – to be rightly related to the living God. And find the only way that can ever happen in the blood of Christ crucified, placing all our confidence, all our hope, all our assurance, all our security in Him. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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