My Hope Will Not Change
A sermon based on Job 7:1-7
Sunday, February 5, 2012 – Epiphany 5B
I had it all. I had the good life. I had the most beautiful wife, who gave me the finest children a man could have. Through hard work and the good Lord's blessing, business was good. But what I valued most, above all else, was the relationship I had with Jehovah! I knew my blessings had come from him, when I deserved none of it. I knew that even greater than all of these blessings was the promise of the Redeemer he made to our first father and mother in Eden—a promise that was passed through the generations to me. And in thanks to him, I did not keep my blessings to myself, but gave generously to all who were in need. And I gave not just of my wealth, but of my time and of myself. I was the eyes of the blind, helping them to see, and the feet of the lame, helping them to live. God had blessed me in every way. Life was good. I, Job, really did have it all!
But then, in one season it all changed. I lost all of my wealth in a single day. Sabean raiders stole my oxen and my donkeys and killed my servants. Fire from heaven consumed my sheep and those servants tending them. And Chaldean raiders took my camels and slaughterd the last of my servants.
And it was all gone! Not some! Not most! Everything! When the economy was strong and thriving I went from riches to rags—by no fault of my own, but at the hand of wicked men and at the hand of God. I was ruined. But it got worse. The day was far from over...
Children should bury their parents; not vice versa. We who are old should not outlive the young and vibrant. But that day I had to line up the lifeless bodies of all ten of my children, the little ones that I held in my arms and bounced on my knees. I would never hear the sweet sound of their laugher again. I would never again see the beaming smiles on their faces. Cruel Death had taken them far too soon!
Naturally, I took it hard. But my wife took it harder. I tried to comfort her, but she shouted, "My babies are in the ground! How can anything bring me comfort?!" Words can't describe the great grief and sorrow that consumed us both.
I thought I had lost everything that day. But I was wrong. There was still more for God to take.
One morning I rose early to visit the graves of my children as I did every day. But that day, by the light of the lamp I saw the spots on the back of my hands. I visited the doctors and they diagnosed the disease. It was a rare disease of the skin. It would grow more painful than it already was, they told me. The sores would soon ooze and spread across all of my body, they warned, making me repuslive to everyone who saw me. The chance of recovery was slim. God had taken my health.
And then, as if things weren't bad enough, God delivered the harshest blow yet. He took my wife and he took my friends. No, they didn't die. He spared their lives, but far worse, he turned them against me. My wife, the bride of my youth and, next to God, the sole object of my love and devotion... she now hated me. She blamed God and she blamed me for the death of our children. She told me to give up hope. "Curse God and die," she said.
I left. I went to sit alone in the dust in my misery and weep. Then my so-called friends came to offer their miserable "comfort." After giving me the silent treatment for seven endless days, they turned against me! They all swore that I had committed some great and secret sin against God and that I deserved all that I got.
And now, worst of all, my faith began to slip. I lamented to my "friends" and to the God who so cruelly made me just to bring me to ruin and misery. I said...
1 "Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man? 2 Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages, 3 so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. 4 When I lie down I think, 'How long before I get up?' The night drags on, and I toss till dawn. 5 My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering. 6 "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. 7 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.
I. I Hoped for Change
Let me confess to you right now, that not everything I said was godly. But understand what a valley I was in. God seemed hidden. I longed for some change for the better. I longed for the night to come like a slave longs for the end of the day that brings relief from his painful toil. I hoped that in sleep I might find some reprieve from my pain. But as I lay on my bed, sleep did not come easily. I tossed and turned in my misery and longed for the day again. There was no relief of any kind. As my wounds oozed, the worms crawling on my skin ate their fill.
I hoped against hope that this judgment from God migt pass. I hoped for anything that would change my situation, and if not restore things, at least make it more bearable. I hoped for new doctors who could offer, not some cure, for I knew that could never be, but some drug or drink that could at least dull the pain. I hoped for new friends who would not drive me further into despair. I hoped for a change of heart in my wife, that she might show me some pity. I hoped and longed for a swift death that might finally bring me relief.
But above all else I hope for some explanation from God. Why would he do this to me when I had been faithful to him?! I loved my children so much that I would gladly suffer anything to keep them from hurting! If the omnipotent God would let me suffer as he did—and he could surely have stopped it at any time—I wondered if he really loved me. How could he be loving and omnipotent and still let me suffer?! In my pain, in my frustration, in my arrogance, I demanded that God give me an answer. But he gave me none.
God owed me no explanaton. I wanted to put him on trial, but the truth was I was the one who should have been on trial. Eventually God himself appeared to me and confronted me, putting me on the witness stand with dozens of questions. Where was I when the earth was formed? How did he create the stars? How he measure off the depths or scatter the starry hosts? I admitted that these things were too lofty for me. And if I didn't understand them, neither could I understand the purposes of God. I now realize that no matter what I suffered, it could have been—it should have been—much worse. For arrogance that I displayed in the face of a holy God I deserved no change for the better, but hell itself. And for your arrogance before God in questioning his ways and what he does and does not allow, so do you.
I hoped that my situation would change, but when it seemed that it never would, I could either give up in despair or I could change my hope. I did the latter. I pray you do too...
II. I Changed my Hope
You see, I had some misperceptions. I thought that if I was upright and holy before God that he would then owe it to me to give me good things in this life. I thought that if I would serve him faithfully he would keep suffering and pain far from me. But my hope was placed in wishful thinking and not in the promises of God. You see, Jehovah never promised me that this life would be a life of comfort and ease. He never promised that I would never suffer. He never promised to explain to me why he did what he did. (In fact, he never did tell me that I suffered such misery and pain because satan, that foul demon, dared him to cause it. At least, he didn't tell me while I was alive on this earth.)
And only later did I realize that because God had not promised these things, my hope in them was poorly founded. I could not cling to promises that God had never made. So while I hoped things would change, God did not promise such change. I had to change my hope. I had to trust in that which he did promise to me.
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.
Finally, as I drew close to despair, my desperate plea was simply that God remember me. I knew that I didn't deserve a holy God to remember a lowly mortal like me, a sinner like me, a rebel and an arrogant fool like me. But deserve it or not, God would remember me anyway. He promised he would. Later, long after I died, the Psalmist wrote, "He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations..." (Psalm 105:8) And God does remember and keep every promise he ever made! He remembers that we are but dust, though we deserve to be long forgotten. In fact, the only thing he forgets is our sin.
My friends tried to convince me that I was being punished for my sin. Now I realize that God, being holy and just, must punish my sin. But he was not then, never has, and never will punish me for those sins. Instead the Messiah, who you know as Jesus, took the full punishment for all our sins. He endured hell itself in our place. That's why your prophet, Isaiah, wrote that, "the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
This hope—of sins forgiven through the coming Messiah—this is where I would put my hope. Since God had promised this, it was certain—as good as done. I've heard it said that when you reach the end of your rope, you should tie a knot and hold on. When I reached the end of my rope, I tied a knot to my Redeemer and let him hold on to me.
Now, friends, I don't know what you've suffered in your lives. I don't know what pain and misery you endure today. You may be suffering as much as I did. But no matter what you are asked to endure I'm sure that at some point you've felt the hurt and the pain that I have. You too surely must have questioned God's love for you. And though it's not wrong to hope that your situation will change, you have no promise from God that it ever will this side of the grave.
So I advise you to change your hope. Don't put your hope in some change of life that God has not promised. Rather, put your hope in what he has promised, in what is certain, in what is sure to be. Put your hope in the Messiah. Put your hope in the forgiveness that he brings. Put your hope in the heaven that he promises on oath to you. And this hope will never be disappointed.
And when things are tough? Well... Whenever we had a draught and rains did not fall, when the wells were bone dry, those were the best opportunities to dig deeper wells. Then, when the rains finally did come again we had more water than we ever had before. When times are tough, when you're hurting and full of pain, coming close to the point of despair, let God dig the well of your faith even deeper than it's ever been. When all else fails, you are forced to rely on God, where you should have relied all along. Then, you will have more trust in him and more strength of faith to bring you through the next tough times.
Finally, dear friends, rejoice in God's great grace. If you must, hope that things will change. But better still, change your hope. Put your hope in the certain promises of God. Rejoice that your sins are forgiven, that heaven is yours, and that you can say with me with all certainty and sincerity, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27) In the name of the Messiah, who gives us real and lasting hope that cannot change, dear friends, amen.