Pulpit Today Sermons
Robert D. Pace
The Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle, who wrote for encyclopedias, history books, and magazines said the book of Job was “one of the grandest things ever written.” He went on to say that no writing on earth held “equal literary merit.” Maybe Carlyle held this view because there’s something about Job that everyone can identify with. Suffering, insult, loss, pressure, betrayal—it’s all in the book of Job. And yet it’s about a person that overcame his difficulties.
Let’s suppose that from the outset of this trial God assigned a News Reporter to cover Job’s dilemma. This would be a lengthy assignment because the Bible says the trial lasted for several months. I can assure you it would have been more worthy of news coverage than some stories that fascinate the media.
As we imagine this report let’s consider what some of the headlines could have been. And since the Euphrates River coursed nearby let’s imagine the reporter wrote for the “Euphrates Tribune.” Before I announce the headlines I need to briefly summarize Job’s experience because it will help bring understanding to the headlines we use.
(Summary of Job) Job came from the Land of Uz, not be confused with Oz (where Dorothy was from), and Uz was located between Babylon and Egypt. Job is minding his own business, caring for his kids, and not beating his wife. In fact, God calls him ‘perfect and upright and incomparable to anyone on earth.’ But suddenly, for no apparent reason, his world capsizes. He loses his health, wealth, possessions, children, and without moral support from wife or friends, winds up covered with boils. Ultimately, Job works past his insufferable tragedy and God rewards him two-fold for his faithfulness
(Transition) That’s sketchy but it gives us enough information to build upon and here comes the reporter ready to scribble his first headline. And it’s a familiar one: “Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
First Headline: “Bad Things Happen to Good People”
Do you recall what the Bible says about Job? Job 1:3 says he was the wealthiest and “greatest of all the men of the East” (1:3). Then God said in Job 1:8 he was blameless, upright and “no one on earth was like him.” I’m convinced the people of Job’s day understood the stature of this man. He was unequalled in integrity, wealth, and esteem. And yet, he suffered like no one they had ever seen.
That’s surreal. If the reporter had used nothing but those seven verses of Scripture to write his article it would have appeared like a page from the Twilight Zone. Few people in human history have experienced such sudden devastation as this.
(Illustration) Some years back a couple in a church I pastored lost their teenage son in an automobile accident. Six weeks later they lost their other teenage son in a motorcycle wreck. I simply can’t imagine the agony parents would experience from such a loss. But Job experienced something worse than this. He lost ten children in one day!
Several weeks passed while Job and his wife mourned their losses, then suddenly he breaks out with sores from head to toe. They’re enflamed, tormenting, oozing boils (7:5). There’s no morphine pump or Demerol to ease the agony. Job moves outside the house and sits in a pile of ashes and you can almost see the flies swarm him. Perhaps that’s why Job 2:8 says he took a broken piece of pottery and scraped himself clean.
(Transition) It was a horrific experience for anyone. Yet, this happened to the world’s most godly person. “Bad things happen to good people.” And how do you think Job’s wife felt about all this? Well, she’s about to make her mark in history so let’s see how the reporter writes her words.
Second Headline: “Mrs. Job Urges Husband to “Curse God and Die””
Ladies, how would you like to leave your legacy with that quote? Four words that go down in infamy: “Curse God and die!” And then she disappears! When you think about it, it might not have been a bad suggestion. Who wants to see their loved ones suffer like that? But Job rejected her suggestion. He didn’t curse God; and he didn’t die!
There are several crucial points in this narrative and this is one of them. Have you ever read this saga and wondered where Job found faith toward God for this assault? Where did he muster his resolve? What basis did he have for hope? Someone says: “Job anchored his faith in the written Word of God.” But that’s not so. Do you realize that Job is the oldest book in the Bible? Job didn’t have the writings of Moses or the prophets to claim because there was no written Scripture! So what basis did Job have to trust God? God did for Job what He’s done for everyone. In some unique way God made Himself known to Job. And when God revealed Himself Job welcomed God into his life and developed a living relationship with Him. He totally committed himself to God and worshiped Him in “spirit and in truth.” Job made God the foundation and framework of his life.
This is the key to overcoming the crush of a crisis. You must have a solid foundation. And Jesus Christ is that foundation you need because He produces security like nothing else. Turn to Isaiah 28:16 and let me show you what I’m talking about. Isaiah 28:16 says: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.” Let’s investigate that verse.
1. First, notice the people that are pledged this promise. Isaiah said it belongs to Zion. It belongs to “him who believes”—the people of God. It doesn’t belong to the world. Only God’s covenant-people are pledged a solid foundation for life.
2. Second, notice the security of this promise. “I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.” The only foundation Isaiah could possibly be referring to is Jesus Christ—it’s the “foundation of foundations.” There’s no other like it!
(Interaction) I need you to interact with me for the next few minutes. Whenever I say, “Are you standing on the rock?” I want you to respond by saying: “Amen.”
(Illustration) Imagine a rock. With that picture in mind imagine you’re standing on that rock. You probably need to readjust your vision, so, imagine a large rock. Perhaps you’re thinking of a rock the size of this sanctuary. That’s still not big enough, so enlarge your vision again. The world’s largest exposed granite rock lies outside Atlanta, Georgia. It’s called, Stone Mountain. Its exposed base is approximately five miles in circumference and it rises 1683 feet above sea level. It’s so large that half of Georgia and part of North Carolina rest on its base. It’s estimated that Stone Mountain descends ten miles beneath the surface. That means our eyes see only a fragment of this majestic mountain that has stood 6000 years of human history. This helps us understand the Rock-solid Foundation Isaiah referred to—Jesus Christ. Are you standing on the Rock?
3. Third, notice the blessing of this promise. The King James Version renders blessing of this promise this way: “He that believeth shall not make haste.” That’s not the best translation and it’s why for years I didn’t have a clue what that phrase meant: “He that believeth shall not make haste.” But when you blend together several versions of the Bible it begins to express its meaning. You see, when you place your trust in this Rock, who is Christ, the Rock you’re standing on right now:
- The NIV says: “you shall never be dismayed.”
- The NAB says those that put their faith in this Rock “shall not be shaken.”
- The NRSV says the one that trusts in this Rock “will not panic.”
- The Phillips version says: “the man who trusts in . . . [this Rock] shall rest unmoved.”
- I love how Fenton’s version renders it. It says the one who trusts in this Rock shall be “immovably fixed in the Truth.”
- And then the KJV says: “He who believes in . . . [this Rock] shall not make haste.” “Shall not make haste” to do what? You won’t make haste to run from that Rock of security. You’ll stay there and reside there and you’ll rely on that Rock that’s more secure than Stone Mountain. Are you standing on the Rock?
The reason Job wouldn’t “curse God and die” is because He trusted in the “foundation of all foundations.” He knew God wouldn’t let him down. And that’s why you can trust Him. And let me make one more point here. You can weather any storm that assails you not only because Christ is your Rock, but because you are a rock. That’s what Isaiah 51:1 commands Believers to recognize. Isaiah said: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.” In other words, God made you out of something permanent. You don’t have to be like a “reed wafting in the wind” during trouble because rocks don’t do that. I know the Bible says your flesh was scooped out of the “dust of the earth” but the part of you that’s a “new creation in Christ Jesus” was hewn from a rock and you can stand secure.
(Transition) It’s time to read the next headline. After several days, Job’s friends read the Euphrates Tribune and came to sympathize with him. But when they arrived they were so appalled at his condition that they couldn’t speak. They literally sat silent for seven days watching him writhe in pain. On the eighth day the reporter captured another headline.
Third Headline: “Job’s Friends Break Silence. Bring Indictment: “Job Suffers Because He Sinned!””
Isn’t that the pat answer? Unfortunately, that headline doesn’t come from the world when people suffer; it comes from the Christian community! We need to understand something about suffering. Suffering is not necessarily a sign of sin in someone’s life. And suffering is not necessarily a sign of God’s displeasure with someone. God allows suffering for many reasons. Some reasons we understand while others will always remain a mystery.
What we do know is that the apostle Paul said there is a “fellowship of suffering” that is part of the Christian life. I know we aren’t prone to welcome a theology of suffering into our experience, but there is a reason God ordains suffering. One reason we suffer is because certain blessings can only be obtained that way.
Hebrews 12:7-11 says, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (8) But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (9) Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? (10) For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (11) All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
God has a purpose for all testing. We may not understand what He’s doing during a trial—I don’t believe Job did—but God has a grand design for everything He allows us to suffer. What we should know is this: God doesn’t send difficulty to petrify your life He sends it glorify your life. He wants you to look more like Jesus! He wants to mature you and cause you to manifest His temperament of love, mercy, truthfulness, and kindness; He wants you to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.
(Illustration) Years ago a man planted a huge field of corn and sent his sons out to manage it. In truth the man didn’t even need this crop, but the boys plowed and tilled, sowed, watered, and weeded. Day after day they labored in the fields—and they loved their work (sic)! Finally, a friend came by and said: “Jones, why are you growing that corn? You don’t need it?” Jones looked back at his friend and said: “I’m not growing corn, I’m growing boys!”
Have you ever considered that some of the pain and difficulty God ordered for your life was designed to grow you into the full measure of the stature of Christ?
(Transition) God loves you so much He intends to deal with you in ways that cause discomfort. But it’s always designed to reveal God’s glory. Many times we fail to understand that and the reporter from the Euphrates Tribune certainly doesn’t see it this way. Look at his next headline: “If God is Good, How Can He Permit Suffering?”
Fourth Headline: “If God is Good, How Can He Permit Suffering?”
There are people that won’t accept Christ because they can’t come to terms with the issue of suffering in a world that is governed by a sovereign God. Their question is, If God is all-wise and all-powerful and completely good to the core, then how can He permit evil, injustice, and anguish? Several years ago the Barna Research Group reported that if Americans could ask God one question and they knew He would answer them it would be: “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” (Strobel, IBID, page 29.) It’s a legitimate and burning question people have. And you can’t say people don’t have a right to ask the question.
I have to admit that we preachers (especially Pentecostal/Charismatic) haven’t given the issue of suffering our best consideration. And it’s no wonder because it is an outright perplexing issue. But we can’t ignore it. If we ignore it we leave people to question God’s goodness. Think about something. God never once tried to hide any supposed flaw in His character by sidestepping the issue of suffering. As I mentioned earlier, chronologically Job is the oldest book in the Bible, and what is the first issue that God tackles? It’s the issue that most perplexes and frustrates mankind: the issue of suffering!
Let me be very bold here. Ultimately, because God is all-powerful He is responsible for allowing, not causing, but permitting all the sin, evil, pain, injustice, and turmoil in the world. There’s no other logical, coherent conclusion available! The only way to take God off the hook is to strip Him of His sovereignty and say that Satan lords over areas that God can’t control. But you can’t say that. Satan is not superior to God. That means God’s takes responsibility for allowing suffering and inequity. And here’s why (And this is far from an exhaustive answer):
Thousands of years ago God ordained to create a race of people that would serve Him out of love. That meant man needed a “free will,”—the power to choose. It would have been a contradiction of reason for God to create man with a ‘free will’ yet unable to rebel. ‘Free will’ isn’t authentic if you can’t choose; and Adam did that. He disobeyed God, ate the forbidden fruit, and that brought sin, suffering, and evil.
(Fact)I want you to consider the magnitude of suffering. Did you know this world contains one billion people that are destitute? One billion people that are impoverished, without medical care, and living in squalor. Besides that, babies are born deformed and diseased and they’ve done nothing to deserve it. People suffer strokes, heart attacks, and contract deathly illnesses. And God allows it all! Maybe some of you are feeling uncomfortable right now. You don’t like the thought that God’s character might be called into question—even impugned—or that something might actually count against God. But let’s not stop here. Take your mind and imagine all the suffering, disease, and injustice that have ever existed.
Imagine Hitler’s genocide against the Jews and the millions of innocent lives that he snuffed out in torture chambers.
Imagine killer storms, earthquakes, Tsunamis, floods, and draughts that have swept people away from their families.
Imagine brutal dictators that tortured their citizens; or rapists that preyed on young girls.
Imagine properties being illegally seized.
How could a loving, good God permit such atrocities, knowing before He created anything what would befall men? Well, if God knew all this before the beginning of creation and then left us to our evil devises and walked away without even shrugging His shoulders then God’s goodness might be suspect. But that didn’t happen. What God did was unimaginable! When man rebelled against God, God Himself assumed the consequences of our disobedience.
He took every sin, all the evil, murder, injustice, birth defects, rejection, and pain upon His own divine—yet incarnate—self.
He called for a crooked trial—for betrayers and false witnesses.
He called for a cross that included nails, a spear, and a crown of thorns. And when He hung there He called for insults, scorn, spit, and flies to buzz around His brow.
Isaiah 53 says: “He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We esteemed Him smitten and stricken of God.”
God helps us answer the question of suffering by entering into it Himself and bearing the sin for which we are responsible. And then, He says: “If you’ll accept My sacrifice, I’ll know the proof of your love for Me and give you a glory that far exceeds this suffering.”
(Transition) Yes, there are times God not only allows suffering He sends it! And that’s our next Headline: God Announces He Sent the Trial!
Headline Five: God Announces that He Sent the Trial!
This is precisely what Job 42:11 says. The Scripture says that Job’s family and friends “comforted him for all the adversities that the Lord had brought on him.”
(Illustration) Years ago I spoke with another minister about the source of Job’s suffering and pointed out that God took responsibility for sending the trial. He wasn’t about to believe that. So I read him Job 42:11 that says: “the Lord brought [these adversities] on him.” He stared at that verse and said: “That’s not what that Scripture means!” In all honesty, I think that’s our first response when pain enters our life: “God isn’t in this!” While we can’t be certain God sent the problem we can’t necessarily be certain He didn’t send it!
You know what happens when we feel the first tinge of pain? We medicate it! And if that doesn’t work we renounce it or rebuke it and command it to leave. And let me say there’s nothing wrong with this approach.
That’s why the Bible says we should anoint the sick with oil.
It’s why Jesus taught us to pray: “Lead us not in to temptation but deliver us from evil.”
That’s why there are spiritual gifts like healing and miracles.
But there’s a problem when we pray, fast, confess, and rebuke and the suffering isn’t alleviated. We start grasping for reasons we aren’t relieved. And there are plenty of explanations:
“I must not have enough faith.”
“Maybe there’s sin in my life.”
“Am I harboring unforgiveness?”
“Maybe I didn’t plant enough “seed” in the offering.
Then the frustration mounts when we come clean with all the answers but the suffering hasn’t abated. Here’s the danger: Unless we understand that there’s a theology of suffering that’s woven into this life we could face grave spiritual consequences. It can lead to depression, anger, serious doubts toward God, or even renouncing the Faith.
Sometimes we need to get quiet before God and ask this question: “Lord, are you sending this trial?” And if He is sending it, and He wants you to walk through it, then ask Him for grace to bear it, because you aren’t coming out until He’s finished! That means there are occasions when we don’t need out of a trial, we need grace to endure it. In fact, we need to understand that God is sovereign and He is controlling your circumstances to the point that He has you right where He wants you. There’s a reason God ordained the natural and spiritual laws that govern our surroundings. God has fixed the present conditions of earth to test us and prepare us. We are being tested and prepared to reign with Christ throughout eternity. When we don’t understand that, we get hung up on achieving it all now. But God has fashioned us to reach for another life—eternal life.
(Illustration) Sometime back I read the story of a minister that lost his family in a fire. The burden of death seemed almost unbearable as he was gripped with deep depression. But it’s ironic how God comforted this pastor. It happened as he walked past a construction crew building a church. As he observed their work he noticed a mason carving a stone. He watched the mason, skilled in his craft, crack his hammer against the chisel while chunks of rock fell to the ground. The rock slowly took shape. When the stone was crafted into a precise measurement of a triangle— representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the crew lifted it high on the church and carefully placed it. Literally, the stone had been hammered on earth so that it would fit up higher. And God had conveyed His message to that bereaved pastor: God’s carving and sculpting on us down here helps us fit up there.
I know this sermon, much less a story like that, doesn’t fully explain the issue of suffering, and evil. But what we do know is there is purpose every time God strikes His divine chisel against our lives. God’s carving on us down here helps us fit up there.
I want to close with Paul’s words in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” In other words, ‘Our suffering, regardless of its oppressive burden, is not a worthy comparison to the eternal weight of glory that will one day be granted to us.” Our suffering doesn’t even register on the scale when you try to balance it against what God ultimately has for us.
Are you standing on the Rock?