Reading Ramblings – September 21, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #12—Job: September 21, 2014

Texts: Job 1; Psalm 34; Mark 4:35-41

Context: The story of Job is one of the best known stories in the Bible and perhaps the least understood.  We are initially tempted to side with Job’s friends in their insistence that God operates on a carrot or stick basis.  Do what God likes and you get the carrot.  Do something God doesn’t like and you get the stick.  It’s a tempting way of looking at life because it puts us in control of God.  The climax to Job—Job’s encounter with the power and presence of God himself—is a strong reminder that we are creatures, and God alone is God and creator. 

Job 1 — So many questions arise from the first chapter of Job.  What is the nature of the relationship between Satan and God?  How is it that God can so cavalierly hand over one of his own to Satan’s destructive powers?  The descriptions in the first five verses describe a period of history similar to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) – before the establishment of a priestly class after the Exodus.  As such, it is one of the most ancient stories in the Bible.  Yet it addresses themes so pertinent to today—the incomprehensibility of suffering, and the role of God in the midst of it.

What we see from beginning to end of Job is that God alone is God.  He alone is in control.  He gives, He takes, He gives back.  Satan does not possess the freedom to antagonize God’s creation at will.  Evil is not the equal or opposite of God, but firmly beneath Him.

This should help condition our response to suffering.  Not that we claim suffering is good—it isn’t!  But that we continue to see the omnipotence of God in the midst of suffering.  He sustains us in all things and through all things, towards his good ends and purpose, which we may very well be completely unaware of.

Psalm 34  — The first verse of this psalm is the condition for all that follow—in all circumstances the Lord is to be praised and I personally will be the one to praise Him in all circumstances.  We are to exhort one another to praise of our God even in the midst of loss and suffering, and certainly in the center of joy and richness.  Verses 4-7 cause us to reflect on what the Lord has already done in our lives as context for continuing to praise Him in all situations.  What begins as a personal vow expands into exhortation.  How do I best proclaim the goodness of God?  By encouraging others to do the same, to join me in praise!  The final three verses conclude with an acknowledgement that there will be suffering for those who follow God, but that such suffering is never to be seen as final and terminal.  The language here is interesting as well in vs. 19-20—the righteous, which up till now in the psalm has been a plural designation, suddenly becomes singular.  The righteous is not a collective or a generalization—it has suddenly become individual and specific.  This one righteous individual will suffer many things and be delivered from them.  Not one of his bones will be broken, which should cause us immediately to think of our Lord Jesus and his death, and the fact that despite typical Roman practice, his bones were not broken in his crucifixion.  What God has done in his Son He will also do in us.  Wickedness will not prevail.  The righteous in Christ will receive victory!

Mark 4:35-41 — Trust is easy to talk about in the abstract, and often in short supply when truly needed.  The disciples, who have just seen Jesus do miraculous healings (3:1-6) and amazing teachings are still mortally terrified.  The presence of Jesus the wonder-worker is not enough to assure them of their own safety, and so at their wits end they run to him, accusing him of neglect and a lack of love and concern for their well-being.

We can laugh and shake our heads at their foolishness, but how many of us have begun to doubt the power of God in the midst of suffering or danger?

Jesus responds to their concerns by immediately and completely removing the threat at hand.  Jesus who was fast asleep seconds before is in full and total command of the elements here.  No gradual lessening, but like flipping off a light switch, the wind is gone, the waves subside.  There was not just calm, but a great calm.

Now for the first time since He called them to follow him, Jesus rebukes his disciples.  What gives?  Why all the worry?  Don’t you trust me?  Even after what you’ve seen me do, did you think that a storm was going to drown us all?  Rather than being comforted, the disciples are terrified.  They talk amongst themselves, uncertain of what they have gotten themselves into and who it is that their lives are suddenly bound up with.  As with you and I, the answers to those questions can only be properly understood after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  We too must live in faith of a still-unfulfilled promise—our Lord’s return and the beginning of a glorious eternity in the perfect presence of God.  In the meantime, Satan has been allowed to thrash in the throes of death and defeat.  Good people are injured and ground under by the power of evil in our world.  We are tempted to cry out to find out if God is sleeping while radical Muslims slaughter people in Syria and Iraq, or as our own leaders founder for lack of moral clarity and vision.  Has God consigned us to the depths?  Will we be swallowed up by the waves of life never to be heard from again?

No.  Our life in Christ is promised to us, and it is our duty and privilege to hold on to that promise regardless of how Satan rails against us or the power of evil threatens us.  Every one of Jesus’ disciples died—most prematurely and as martyrs.  Jesus is not promising his followers exemption from suffering.  Rather, He promises his presence in his Holy Spirit, and the hope of life everlasting once we have endured to the end, whatever circumstances that end might arrive in.


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