Sermon series: Lessons from Job

  1. Choosing faith in the midst of suffering - Job 1-2

  2. Six questions when giving or receiving advice - Job

  3. Three hard truths about wisdom - Job 28

  4. Job's perfect storm - Job 30, 40, 42

  5. How to respond to a powerful and loving God - Job 42

Job's road to the most important encounter he'd ever have was paved with similar grief. In a single day, he had lost people he loved. Every child he had perished in a single calamity. His own, painful illness that followed must have paled in comparison to those losses. The grief and pain was so severe, Job must have wondered if it would ever end. Nevertheless, the end of his journey left him surprise by a one-on-one encounter with the living God.

  1. Our God is so powerful, healthy fear is the appropriate response.

  2. Our God is so loving, His gift to us is grace.

  3. Our God is God: Obedience is the only correct response.

Illustration: She had no idea that a seat was reserved for her for the 2002 State of the Union address, or that the President of the United States would recognize her before a world-wide television audience within the first few seconds of his address. But then again, the entire world had changed since Sept. 11, 2001, and Lisa Beamer had already assumed her life would never be the same.

Lisa's husband Todd had been on United Flight 93, the fourth plane hijacked on the darkest day in America's history since Pearl Harbor. But upon finding that three planes had already been used as missiles against American landmarks, Beamer and his fellow passengers decided they would fight back. Though the details of the final struggle will be buried forever in the Pennsylvania field where the plan crashed, Todd Beamer's challenge of "Let's roll" had already rung an important chord with the entire country.

"In the normal course of events," said President George W. Bush, in his opening remarks, "Presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people.

"We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground - passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight."

The applause was thunderous, and Lisa didn't know what to do with the standing ovation. And so, very slowly, she stood with the rest of the country..

"Standing there in my borrowed dress, with the eyes of the whole world on me, I somehow managed to remain standing," Lisa wrote in her book, Let's Roll. "I glanced down at the floor of the Chamber and saw the faces of our national leaders looking back up at me, applauding. It was an extremely strange feeling. No doubt if Todd were alive, he'd be laughing and saying, 'Can you believe this?'"

There was much more, of course, for Lisa Beamer. National talk show hosts demanded to talk with her, before audiences of millions. She'd meet with the President and his wife again, privately. She would soon write a national best-seller about her memories of September 11.

Can you imagine how dramatically and instantly life seemed to change for Lisa Beamer? On Sept. 10, 2001, she was the mother of two, and dealing with the first stages of pregnancy. No one could have convinced her that in less than four months, she'd know the President of the United States! (Source: Let's Roll. Lisa Beamer, page 248.)

I supposed if you asked her, Lisa Beamer would trade all the notoriety for one more day with her husband. The cost of meeting the President was far too high . . . the road that took her to Washington was paved with the worst grief of her life.

Job's road to the most important encounter he'd ever have was paved with similar grief. In a single day, he, too, had lost people he loved. Every child he had perished in a single calamity. His own, painful illness that followed must have paled in comparison to those losses. The grief and pain was so severe, Job must have wondered if it would ever end. Nevertheless, the end of his journey left him more surprised than Lisa Beamer when he had a one-on-one encounter with the living God.

If you know the story, God responds to a five-man, 35-chapter debate on suffering not by answering all of Job's questions – but by simply showing up. When Job finally gets a chance to speak, he speaks as a changed, humbled man. No longer does he demand an answer from God. No longer does he insist that his righteousness wasn't deserving of suffering.

Then Job replied to the LORD:"I know that you can do all things;no plan of yours can be thwarted.You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,things too wonderful for me to know."You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;I will question you,and you shall answer me.'My ears had heard of youbut now my eyes have seen you.Therefore I despise myselfand repent in dust and ashes."Job 42:1-6

The lessons here are critically important, especially if you happen to be in a season of crushing grief, or painful suffering. What Job discovered has given people insight for centuries, and the truths he learned haven't lost an ounce of their power.

1. Our God is so powerful, healthy fear is the appropriate response.

Job is not the only person to meet God in the Bible. From Adam and Eve's rocky start, through Moses and the patriarchs, all the way to the disciples of Jesus, many people had the uncommon experience of meeting God. Consider their reactions.

Adam and Eve cowered in the Garden. Moses could barely breathe in front of the burning bush. Isaiah said, "I'm a dead man." The disciples bowed in their still-rocking boat and worshipped the man who had just ordered a storm to disappear. John and Peter left the empty tomb trying to fathom what they'd just discovered. Peter, especially, wondered what a risen Savior would do with a denying disciple. Saul needed three days to recover from his Damascus Road experience, so shaken that he would take no food or liquid.

Know what's obvious, from even a casual observation of these encounters? When people meet God in the Bible, no one is laughing. No one is taking it lightly. No one acts as though a meeting with God is part of a routine schedule. All of them seem to connect with an early proverb: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge . . ." (Proverbs 1:7)

God is so powerful, no world leader has ever avoided the God-given law of limited life. They've all died, from Caesars to kings to dictators to Presidents.

God is so powerful, no creation of man has ever withstood the creation of God. In Rome, Italy, the Coliseum ruins bear testimony to the effect of nature, time, and neglect. In Israel, entire cities have been discovered by archeologists, cities destroyed and covered by nothing more than the sands of nearby deserts. And in New Orleans, a sports arena so big and magnificent that it had to be called the "Superdome" has been nearly destroyed by a single hurricane. From God's perspective, the Superdome was battered by a bit of wind and rain. But from the perspective of those seeking shelter in the giant, disintegrating arena, the only thing "super was the power of God – not the creation of man.

There's a difference between fear and healthy fear. You probably have a healthy fear of electricity. You're not afraid to use electricity, but you take great pains not to misuse it.

In a healthy family, a child might have a healthy fear of a parent. The child thinks: Dad is a man who loves me, provides for me, protects me . . . and if needed, disciplines me."

We have a healthy fear, or understanding, of death. Sooner or later, every person encounters death. Perhaps a child's pet dies. Maybe he sees a car hit an animal. Or more personally, perhaps a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, or a friend dies. When it happens, the teenager attending the funeral discovers a universal truth: A bigger law than I know exists, a bigger power than anything any of us know, and that law simply can't be disobeyed. Life, and death, belong to God, and the grasping of those concepts shake us.

When we grasp the power of God, we're just like Job. All of our questions, all of our complaints, all of our priorities melt into sheer awe. The book of Job is non-stop dialogue, until it's time for Job to react to God. At that moment, Job says little more than, "Oh."

My ears had heard of youbut now my eyes have seen you.Therefore I despise myselfand repent in dust and ashes."Job 42:5-6

After that, Job is silent. After all the words in the previous chapters, there is not another word recorded from his lips. Seeing God, and understanding God's power, changed Job's entire perspective. He had a renewed fear of God, and it was a healthy fear.

2. Our God is so loving, His gift to us is grace.

When Job saw the approaching clouds (the Lord spoke to him from a storm, according 38:1), surely he became nervous. From the hints we have in Elihu's comments, it must have been an impressive set of clouds, replete with lightening and thunder, and rolling thunderheads. It would have been a massive show of force, a Category 5 type of entrance for a Category 5 kind of God.

But Job wasn't hurt, wasn't injured, and wasn't silenced. In fact, not long after God joins the conversation, Job is blessed with children, property, and wealth. His prestige, integrity, and honor are restored. He died "old and full of years," having seen his great-great grandchildren born from his second set of children.

What kind of God shows up for the trial, finds a man guilty, and then blesses him beyond his wildest imagination?

Our God does.

The Bible teaches that we're all guilty in God's courtroom, since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) Even so, that same passage couples the grace of God that is given to guilty people. We are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24)

Illustration: Millions of golfers know the name of Harvey Penick. His first book, Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, became a surprising best-seller, selling more than 1 million copies in 1992, quickly earning the title of the best-selling sports book of all time. But by the time Penick even showed his notes – the genesis for his book – to a local writer, he was nearly 90 years old. Penick wanted to know if the book was worth publishing. The writer read it, and told him he liked the book. In fact, by the next evening, the same man left word with Penick's wife that Simon & Schuster had agreed to an advance of $90,000.

When the writer saw Penick later, the old man seemed troubled. Finally, Penick came clean. With all his medical bills, he said, there was no way he could advance Simon & Schuster that much money. It took a while, but finally the writer convinced Penick that the publisher would pay him the $90,000 . . . not the other way around!

What a joy to realize that instead of needing to pay God an insurmountable bill for sins already committed, God has decided to give us the priceless gift of grace – our sins are already paid for, in full. (Source: Leadership Journal, Fall 1995)

Having been shown grace, God expected and commanded that Job show grace to his friends. He was to pray for them, and restore their relationship with God, and with him.

3. Our God is God: Obedience is the only correct response.

It's interesting that God only gave Job one set of instructions. He was to pray for his friends, the men who had argued with him during his lowest hours. Job had been forgiven, and as a result, Job was expected to forgive. This was the command of God to Job, and Job was expected to comply. From the short ending to the book that describes more blessings from the Lord for Job, and his friends' gifts to him (42:11) we can assume he complied.

However, God deals individually with individuals.

To Adam and Eve, the command was to start populating the earth outside the Garden. For Moses, the job was an exodus. For Isaiah, it was prophecy and national leadership. For the disciples and Paul, the command was evangelism. And for each disciple, the individual commands varied from day to day, from situation to situation. Some were comfortable with their tasks, but others were frozen in fear. Moses begged for someone else to take the job, and Gideon made doubly sure the command of God wasn't his own imagination. But despite the fears of some of the great names in the Bible, the response never varied. Only obedience is acceptable, when God gives a command.

Over and over, God gave individual commands to individuals. Think of the unexpected trip that Philip took so he could meet the Ethiopian eunuch. Or what of Peter's trip to Caesarea, where he would meet a Roman centurion? Paul's journey's were often directed specifically by God. When he tried to leave for Asia, God directed him to Philippi and Europe, instead. For Job, the command was to forgive and restore his friends, and to start over.

For you? The command could be simple or profound, convenient or life-changing.

But in the end, whatever the request is, there is only one proper response to God. You must obey. When you have a clear instruction, as Job had, you simply must obey. If even the mighty Superdome gives way to the natural forces of God, it would be wise if we voluntarily gave way to the supernatural forces of God. Obey! As the old hymn says, there really is no other way.

Obeying the God who loves you is to commit to the most satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding life possible. Whether it's the decision to follow Christ in baptism, to follow him in a commitment to your church, or to follow him with a lifetime of ministry, when God gives the command, obeying is the only proper response.

Conclusion, (with two possible endings)

Illustration: It's an unusual way to end a sermon, but one of my favorite stories about grace is actually a joke. It seems a man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, in the manner of so many dreams and TV show, it's St. Peter who meets the man at the pearly gates.

And in a completely non-biblical way, St. Pete says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

This made the man extremely nervous, but there seemed to be no way around the rules. "OK," he said, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."

"That's wonderful!" said Peter. "That's worth three points."

"Three points?!" The man is horrified. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."

"Terrific!" says St. Peter, making a note on his clipboard. "That's certainly worth a point."

"One point?" He's running low on things to list. "How about this? I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.""OK," nods Peter. "That's good for two more points."

"Two points?! That's only six points. I've got 94 points to go!" The man is in tears. "At this rate, the only way I can possibly get into heaven is by the grace of God."

St. Peter put down his clipboard, smiled, and said, "Ah . . . the grace of God. In your case, that's worth exactly 94 points. Welcome to heaven!"

That's a silly story. St. Peter really isn't standing outside the gates of heaven with a clipboard, and there really won't be points given for all the good you've done. But if there were points given, you and I wouldn't stand a chance. When the Bible says we've fallen short of the glory of God, we've fallen very short of the glory of God. Except for grace, we wouldn't have a chance. With his grace, it's a sure thing.

(Note: the below illustration was reported in as being "unproven" - in other words they couldn't verify the story. Use your own judgement on how to use the illustration. Andy got the illustration from the illustration database)

Illustration: Davon Huss tells the story of a boy who came home one hot afternoon, anxious to take a cool swim in the pond behind his home. He lived in south Florida, so taking a quick dip was a common way to cool off.

He was so anxious to get in the water, he didn't even go inside to change clothes. He just raced for the pond, dropping his shoes, shirt, and socks along the way. His mother spotted him diving off the dock, and went outside to check on him.

As she watched her son swim toward the middle of the lake, she also spotted an alligator moving from the far shore, toward her son! She began screaming the warnings, and the boy stopped in mid-swim. He finally understood the danger, and began racing back toward the dock. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him.

It was a tug-of-war from a mother's worst nightmare. From the dock, she pulled his arms. From the water, the alligator held his legs. The water was quickly stained with blood.

A farmer driving by heard the screams, and ran to help. He shot the alligator and helped the mother call for help. The boy survived, and after several weeks of hospitalization, was ready to talk with a news reporter.

The reporter asked the child if he could see where the alligator had bitten him. With the typical pride of a boy, he showed off his healing wounds to the interested reporter. "But wait," said the boy, "look at these!" With that, he showed the reporter the scars on his arms. "I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my Mom wouldn't let go."

The book of Job reminds us that there will be some painful moments in life, some so painful there come times when we wonder if we'll make it another step. But as we look at the scars left behind, some of the scars are from the times when God simply wouldn't let us go.

Trust Him. Obey Him. The scars He leaves behind are the ones meant to rescue us.

Andy Cook is the pastor of Shirley Hills Baptist Church in, Warner Robins, Georgia.