Advent 3a

Preached: December 15, 2013

Persevere in Praising the Lord
Job 1:6-22

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word form God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Job 1

On a certain day when the angels of God came to station themselves before the LORD, Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where did you come from?”

Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming the earth and going back and forth on it.”

The LORD said to Satan, “Did you notice my servant, Job? For no one on earth is like him. He is upright with integrity, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

Satan answered the LORD, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Haven't you built a wall of protection around him and his house and all he has? You bless the work of his hands. His possessions increase in the land. However, if you please, send out your hand and strike all he has. Surely he will curse you to your face.”

The LORD said to Satan, “So be it. All he has is in your hands, except do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the LORD's presence.

On a certain day Job's sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their oldest brother. A messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and then the Sabean attacked, took them, and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword. I alone escaped by myself to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another came and said, “God's fire fell from heaven. It burnt up the sheep and the servants and consumed them. I alone escaped by myself to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups. They raided and took the camels and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword. I alone escaped by myself to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the oldest brother's house. Suddenly a strong wind crossed the desert and struck against the four corners of the house. It fell on the young people, and they died. I alone escaped by myself to tell you.”

Job got up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will return there. The LORD gave. The LORD took away. The name of the LORD be praised.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:6-22).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Can we hear the name Job and not think of suffering? Yet the book of Job is not only for times of suffering, though such experiences do help us appreciate its greatness. Rather at all times this book draws us in to reflect on our own relationship with the Lord God.

Job does not fit the world's idea of Christmas preparation or the merriment of the season. But what is Christmas all about? God's Son came down as one of us to reconcile sinners to God. That's the peace the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. Christ was born to repair our sin-ruined relationship with God. Since that's what Christmas, the real Christmas, is all about, shouldn't our Advent preparation take time to reflect on our own relationship with our God? Job gets us to do that.

In today's text we see Job praising the Lord even in a time of great loss. Such perseverance in praising the Lord is not only a challenge at a time of loss, but at any time. Busyness can crowd it out. The joys or happiness of life may distract us. So dear Christian friends, my prayer for all of us is that the word of God today encourages each of us to persevere in praising the Lord.

A. He delights in our obedient works

As the text opens the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse of heavenly workings that defy our explanation. The angels gather in mighty array before the Lord. Satan is there as well. He'd been roaming the earth, like a lion looking for his prey.

Take note what the Lord says to Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8 NIV84). Do you hear the delight in his voice? At the risk of sounding a little irreverent, his words almost sound like a parent taking pride in their child. “Look at Job. What a great job he's doing!” That's something for us to think about. How does our obedience, the good works we do, bring delight to our heavenly Father?

But first, notice how Satan seeks to spoil that. He doesn't nitpick by saying things like, “Job could have used more of his wealth to help the poor. Or he could have offered more sacrifices to you, God. Or he must have said an angry word under his breath at some time.” Rather Satan aims at the heart of it all. “Job's not doing any of those obedient works freely out of love for you. He's doing them to stay on your good side. Look at how you protect him and bless him. It's not for nothing that Job serves you. He knows which side his bread is buttered on.”

How that stabs our hearts! Why do you do the good that you do? So much of what we do is driven by a desire for appreciation or thanks or because we want to feel good about ourselves. Deep down inside us is the thinking that my life should be better if I do what's right. Even if it doesn't change right away, at least in the long run it should improve. From little on up children are told: You better watch out ... better not pout. The nice boys and girls will get the gifts. Do you see how all that falls under Satan's accusation?

Our inborn self is incapable of doing anything good without some sort of thought of what's in it for me. We can try to deny that damning truth, but the troubles in life eventual expose it when our pain and loss lead us to cry out how unfair God is.

But the Lord delighted to save selfish creatures like you and me. That was his good will. He had nothing to gain. All is already his. Yet he gave his only-begotten Son. What a Christmas gift! What an undeserved, unmerited Christmas gift! His good will delighted to send Jesus, giving up his Son for both the naughty and the nice, for all sinners, even for you and me.

Why would we not thank him by obeying his word and doing good? Why would we not persevere in praising him no matter how blessed or how cursed our life may feel? He has brought you into his family. In Baptism you were reborn as his own dear child. He clothes you with his Son. Through faith in Jesus you are God's true child, and he is your true Father.

Your heavenly Father delights in your obedient works. So imitate Job. Live an upright life with integrity. Fear God with that holy awe that reveres his word above all else and gladly obeys his commands. Shun evil. Don't see how close to the line you can get; rather, run the other way. For your heavenly Father delights in your obedient works.

What perseverance fills us as we focus on delighting our heavenly Father simply because he is good and gracious! Then our joy is not in getting a reward of feeling good about ourselves but rather simply in obeying our Father no matter what the outcome. Then whatever happens you will persevere in praising the Lord. For just as he delights in your obedient work, so also will you delight in obeying him.

Persevere in praising the Lord. For not only does he delight in your obedient works, but his faithful grace is in control.

B. His faithful grace is in control

Notice how the Lord sets limits for Satan. Satan can take away all Job has but he can't touch the man himself. In chapter two, the Lord gives Satan more room. He can take away Job's health but not kill him. Satan is on God's leash and can go no farther than the Lord allows. The Lord is in control.

Now we may want to question why God would allow this or that. Why doesn't he keep Satan on a shorter leash? Why doesn't he get rid of him entirely? But these are not questions for us to ask or answer. For they stand in judgment over God. What are we, though, but dust and ashes? Who are we to intrude into the counsel of the Almighty? The Lord brought this home to Job and to us in the closing chapters of this book.

Asking those questions also robs us of the comfort that the Lord's faithful grace is truly in control despite what we might see or feel. Because his faithful grace is in control, we persevere in praising him whatever may come.

Sometimes though rather than trusting the Lord's faithful grace, we try to comfort ourselves by saying, “It could be worse.” What shallow comfort that is! Where would Job have ended up if he thought like that? “Your oxen and donkeys have been taken!” “At least I still have 7000 sheep. That's plenty of wealth. It could be worse.” “Your sheep have been destroyed!” “At least I still have my camels. It could be worse.” “Your camels were all taken in a raid!” “All that is just stuff. At least I still have my family. It could be worse.” “The house collapsed, and all ten of your children died.” And even if some smart aleck would say: “It could be worse. At least you still have your health.” just read chapter two and onward. Job did not persevere by convincing himself it could worse.

In addition, don't imagine it was easier for him because he didn't really feel these losses. Job truly felt them deeply. He was not some stoic figure. He wasn't stone-hearted and uncaring. He wasn't some sort of Buddha detached from the physical world. He didn't put on a stiff upper lip or paint a smile on his face. Job did not look happy because he did not feel happy. These loses stroke deep into the very marrow of his bones. He shows his grief, tearing his robe, shaving his head, falling to the ground. But notice he did all this not in anger but in worship, in praise to the Lord. This becomes clear as we listen to his words. “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21 NIV84).

Three times he uses that special name for God that is often translated as LORD with four capital letters. That's the name he praises, for that's the name of faithful grace. The LORD, that is Jehovah or Yahweh, is the eternal I AM. That name means that God is independent of all, totally self-sufficient, so he is free to make his promises of grace. That name means that God is constant and unchanging, so he is faithful to his gracious promises. Job praises the LORD, the God of faithful grace. Job perseveres in praising him, since the LORD's faithful grace is in control.

So also in your life, dear Christian, persevere, confident that the Lord's faithful grace is in control. Whether things could be worse or not doesn't matter. The Lord's faithful grace is in control through it all, even when Satan is at his worst. The grace that came down from heaven in the flesh and was laid in the manger over two thousand years ago is the same grace that you eat and drink today in the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of your sins as you proclaim his death. He is faithful. God let Satan loose on Jesus no limits at all. Jesus, instead of you and me, suffered true God-forsakeness. So Satan's accusations no longer condemn us, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Through faith in your crucified and risen Savior, you are justified before God. The Lord is faithful. His grace never fails. Persevere in praising the Lord.

As you prepare for Christmas, if you face disappointments or heartaches, failures or losses, remember Job and persevere in praising the Lord. If all goes well and happiness and joy fill your holidays, don't forget the Lord. Persevere in praising him. Praise him by your obedience, for he delights in your obedient works. Praise him by fully relying on him, for his faithful grace is in control. Persevere in praising the LORD. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313