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TEXT: Job 1:1-12
SUBJECT: Scenes in Job #1: The Heavenly Court
Most of my friends think I'm an optimist. Most of my family think I'm a pessimist. Most of the time, I think I'm a realist. A realistic view of life is built on two Bible doctrines: Creation and Fall.
In the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created by a good God who created every part good, and the whole of them very good. This is why the sun rises every morning, on the good and evil alike. It's why the rain falls of most parts of the earth, causing food to grow on farms, cattle to graze on ranches, and every one of us to have cool draughts of water on hot days when nothing in the world tastes better. The Psalmist spoke for every mindful person-
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
This goodness is seen, even in places where you'd least expect it. The most beautiful flowering vine I've ever seen was growing over (and almost covering up) a garbage dumpster! Is there anything more charming than the innocent laughter of children, laughter not at the expense of other people, not cynical, not sarcastic? You'll hear plenty of that.in pediatric hospitals, from sick, even dying children.
Paul knew the pagans had their share of joy, and traced every drop of it to the goodness of a Good God, who-
Gave us rain and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
The Lord is good to all! His tender mercies are over all His works! This is the way things are, no matter what the skeptics and sourpusses say to the contrary. One of the most realistic men who ever lived, he called himself the preacher, said-
Behold, this only have I found: God made man upright.
.Good in himself, and able to recognize the good all around him and appreciate it. This is the first plank in the platform of Realism.
And, there's a second plank: The Good Creation of God has fallen away from Him and is now falling to pieces. The Preacher I mentioned a moment ago, finished his line thusly-
But he (that is, man) has sought out many devices.
Genesis 3 and Romans 8 tell us that, when Adam and Eve fell, they pulled the whole world down with them. The creation was put under a curse, the curse of God, that is seen every day in every thing, from broken marriages to bent nails, lost friendships, bad news from the doctor, and, finally, in death. This is also the way the world is-not just parts of the world (bad neighborhoods, for instance or in bad families), but the whole world. The Bible teaches this, and not even the silliest, shallowest, most sheltered and optimistic person can say otherwise.
This is the way things are: Not the way they're supposed to be, not the way they will be, but the way they are for now, and there's not a thing you or I can do about it.
REALISM IN JOB
This view of life is assumed in every chapter of the Bible, except the first two of Genesis and the last two of Revelation. Every other chapter in the Bible, all 1,185 of them, teaches or assumes that God created a good world and we messed it up.
Along with Ecclesiastes, no book in the Bible teaches this more plainly than Job. If you're looking for 'nice Bible stories' to put your children to bed, stay clear of Job! His story will keep them up at night-and you with them! His is the story-however stylized or intensified-of every human life lived-
Under the sun.
In other words, what Herman Melville said of Ecclesiastes, can be equally said of Job. It is-
The truest book in the world.
In the first chapter, we see how good God was to Job, giving him a wife, ten children, a profitable and diversified business, and all the employees he needed to run it well. These were his outward blessings. But they were not alone, for riches and honor and happiness hadn't gone to the man's head. Job was a good man; maybe the holiest in the world, whom we later find out never looked at other women with lust in his heart, or turned a blind eye to the needs of people less fortunate than himself. James would call his religion pure and undefiled, because Job-
Visited orphans and widows in their affliction
And kept himself unspotted from the world.
All of his gifts-from his three thousand camels to his good reputation and reverence for God-were just that: Gifts of God, benefits the Lord loaded onto him every day.
This is how Job and his world are presented in the first part of Chapter 1. But in the second part, his world falls apart; the dear man loses all of his children and all of his wealth in a single day. He didn't lose his wife that day, though in retrospect you have to wonder if that was more of a blessing or a curse!
The Book of Job, then, in a spectacular and condensed form, presents life as it really is, a mixture of good and evil; we're living in a world of lights and shadows, of additions and subtractions, of parties and funerals!
There is much we can learn from Job-even if the sermons are no good, just reading his story scours the souls, dispels our illusions, and finally, gives us what we need more than anything else: Hope-not wishful thinking, not optimism-but Hope in a Sovereign God who is all wisdom and all love, and who-in His Son-re-lived the Life of Job (and worse) in our place and for our Salvation.
On a technical note: The Puritan Joseph Caryl published twelve volumes on this Book, taken from his own long sermons, which must have cultivated the patience of Job in the people who got to (or had to) listen to them all. If others can preach through Job verse-by-verse, I say, 'God bless them'. I wouldn't do that, and if I would, I couldn't do it. But I'll try to cover as much of its Message as I can in a few sermons, centered on its major themes, or rather, its Scenes, for Job is written like a movie, with the camera cutting from scene to scene.
INTRODUCTION TO THE MAN JOB
Verses 1-5 present the life and character of Job, both of which are remarkably good. He is a man of integrity, very rich, and with a wonderful family life. He is also a Gentile, a fact that must have troubled the rabbis. How can a man outside the Covenant be a saint? How can he direct his life without God's Law? The Book doesn't address these questions at all, except perhaps in the roundabout way of saying that God is everywhere and always at work in the world. As a Rule-
Salvation is of the Jews.
But God is free to make exceptions to the Rule, and here-in the case of Job-that's what He did. Like Abraham, Job is from the east, and also like Abraham, it was there, in a place steeped in idolatry and vice, that God spoke to Job, calling him to a life of piety and obedience.
This is not really the first scene in the Book of Job, but only sets the scene. The man's godliness and success in life are given at the start so that we'll marvel at the unexpectedness of his fall and even more, at the wisdom and grace of his Savior.
The first scene is set in Heaven, where God the King has summoned His ministers to a council. These Royal Meetings are a commonplace in the Bible. In Genesis 2, for example, the Lord announces to the angels that He's going to make man in His own image and they're going to be our servants. In Isaiah 6, He seeks their advice on mission strategy-
Whom shall I send? And whom shall go for us?
In Psalm 82, human judges are called to the council and bawled out for taking bribes and mistreating the people who couldn't pay them.
Getting closer to our present subject, in I Kings 22, we have the gathering of two Royal Councils, one of earth one in Heaven. King Ahab is presiding at the former and he's listening to false prophets who are urging him to war against the Syrians, with the promise of God's blessing.
But while Ahab listens to their pack of lies and flattery, God has called His own council. He wants to destroy Ahab and He wonders what the best way to do it would be. One heavenly minister after another offers his ideas, but none of them are any good. Until a Lying Spirit speaks up. He'll possess the Ahab's prophets and get them to tell their king a lie, so that he'll go to war and be killed. 'Good idea' the Lord says; the spirit is sent, the prophets lie, Ahab listens and, after his army was routed, he escapes the judgment of God.until
A man draws a bow at venture that smites the king between the joints of his armor.
When the Heavenly King calls for a Counsel, He listens to His ministers, and always chooses the right advice. That's why-
The counsel of the Lord stands forever;
The thoughts of His heart to all generations.
.and also why-
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
And the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.
How literally or otherwise we ought to take this Royal Court imagery, its significance is too clear to miss: The Heavenly King is wise! King Rehoboam wasn't wise in ignoring the good advice of the old men and in taking the counsel of young men, but God is no Rehoboam! He is-
The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God!
To whom be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
As usual, at this Council, the King takes the initiative. Evidently, one of His ministers hasn't been at court in a while, and the Lord wants to know where he's been and what he's been up to.
The officer is none other than Satan, who has been canvassing the world in search of a good man, a man who truly revered God from the heart-and not to win Brownie Points with Him. His conclusion? There is no such man. I wonder if he quoted the Bible to God, as he did to Christ in the wilderness?-
There is not a just man on the earth who does right and sins not.
Whatever Satan used to support his conclusion, God challenged him to find something wrong with-
My servant, Job. There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.
Like all effective liars, Satan is never stumped for an answer. Of course, Job serves God outwardly.but his motives are all wrong. He's as selfish as every other man, and he's only behaving himself because it pays. And, in Job's case, it pays handsomely.
If God took away his money, Job would-
Curse you to your face.
This is an attack on Job's character, of course, but more than that, it's an attack on God's character. The preserving, the keeping power of God is what's on trial. The Lord has committed Himself to Job, but Satan alleges that He cannot make good on the pledge. God is not-
Able to keep us from falling, [no less]
Present us faultless before the Presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
An old friend of mine (now with the Lord) had a very fine career in the Law because-he said-no one thought he could do it. His parents told him he was too stupid to get into college-so he got into college. Too stupid to get into a good college-so he did. Too stupid to get into Law School, to graduate, to get a job, and to become a partner. But he did all the above-because he liked proving people wrong.
The Lord is like my old friend! Unlike insecure people with our fragile egos, there's nothing God likes nothing better than to prove his naysayers wrong! To make fools of them; to shut their dirty mouths; and force their knees to bow and their tongues to confess that He is Lord.
The Lord means to shut up the devil, and while He's at it, to cover the know-it-all friends of Job with shame, and even Job himself, who finally said-
I know that you can do everything,
And that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you.
I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eyes see you.
Therefore, I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.
THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD
When the word, 'justification' is heard in church, it usually refers to the justification of sinners, God justifies the ungodly Paul says. This is a Biblical use of the word and cannot be heard too often at church.
But, here's what is not heard nearly as often at church-and very much needs to be: Before God ever justified a man, be it Paul or Martin Luther-God justified.Himself!
God makes the most mind-boggling claims about Himself, claims not even the most arrogant pagan priest would make about his own gods. The Lord calls Himself faithful and true, for example, and He spends the whole of history proving He is. And, to bring it closer of Job-and our own lives-God promises to Do all things well, and to turn every last thing-including, even especially the bad and painful things-
Work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
For all of these things (Romans 8 tells us) are in the plan of God, and it's not some any old plan, but, in particular, His Plan of Salvation.for you! Why would God let the devil take away your wife? Or your job? Why would He let the sins you've repented of still be exposed?
In a word, why is God so mean? Why doesn't He care for us? Draw near to us? Hear our prayers? Or give us the patience or courage to 'take it like a man'? Here's why: Because we need them! And, in the Resurrection, all complaints, all doubts, every little correction we have for Him, will be swallowed up in the Vision of His Infinite Wisdom, Power, and Love.
Some of His wisdom, power, and love can be seen in the Book of Job. But only some of them. For it wasn't to Job that God showed the depths us His loyalty and grace. It was to Christ.
Who took the Cross and all that went with it with hope, knowing that the One who sent Him to death would also raise Him to Life-and not just the life He had had when He worked in the shop or even Preached on the Mount, but rather the Life of the Resurrection, the indestructible and unimaginably happy Life of God!
This is what God did for Job, for Jesus, and for everyone who belongs to Christ by faith. Some of you-I know-are even now walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But through the tears of that dark place, you can sing with Job-
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Because, in Jesus Christ this Lord, the Lord who dared Satan to try Him, has become your Savior. And so, in the trials of this life and in the prospect of death, you can cry out with the tortured man-
I know my redeemer live and
I shall see God.
The Word of the Lord. Amen.
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