Saturday, February 27, 2016

Have you had a bad day?

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Suppose you have had a terrible day at work.  Everything you tried to do was wrong, no matter how conscientious you were about it.  People were getting impatient.  When you tried to drive home, the traffic was all tied up.  You were stuck at a dead stop, so you turned on the radio, only to realize that you were right beside a power station.  All you could get was static.  If only you were in your quiet, comfortable home!  You could crawl into a corner and forget this day, but as you open the front door, there's a party going on.  Your son's football team won today, and they want you to celebrate with them.  Your harp has been on the willow tree for hours now.  Can you get it down for the family's sake?  Expand that a bit.  You look to your church for peace and quiet, but in the church there is a celebration.  In fact, we are celebrating the cross.  In the upside-down world of the Triune God, affliction is a cause for celebration.  We embrace every humiliation, savor every sacrifice, bless every bruise.  The secular world can only wonder in astonishment.  Could it be true?  Could being a Christian mean being happy about having a hard time?

There isn't anything delightful about the pain.  The good thing about afflictions is the special meaning they have for us.  We call such troubles the correction of the Almighty.  God disciplines His saints.  The ancient poet who gave us the Book of Job, quite probably the oldest book in the Bible, proclaims Happy is he whom God corrects, therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.   God tested Abraham by demanding his son as a burnt offering.  He tested Joseph by making him a slave and a prisoner before setting him over the Egyptians.  He permitted the Philistines to capture the Holy Ark.  Above all there is Job himself, who was anything but happy about what was going on.  Not only did he pour out the agony of his heart, he took God to task for it.  That was nervy of him, yet I think God must have been pleased by Job's honesty, as well as by his chutzpah.  The words in our text were spoken by Eliphaz, one of the three friends, urging him to find comfort in the divine reproof.

Let's review the story of this remarkable man of very ancient times.  We see Satan, so at the very beginning we have a character who cannot stand to see anyone who is both godly and happy.  He interrupts our walk with God at every point.  He wants to make us ungodly, or unhappy, or if possible both.  God obviously permits trouble.  He permits the hurricane kind of trouble, lonely orphans, runaway teens, drunken drivers, or the kind of violence we remember on this day.  We ask, Can the devil do anything he wants?  We are aware in some sense of catastrophes all over the world, but eventually it is our turn to suffer.  That's when the temptation comes to question God.  The devil wants us to doubt God's mercy, to turn our confidence away from Jesus, to make us angry, to weight us down with self-pity, to spur us into rebellion.  God permits this.  He permits the devil to make it look as though the real winners are the evil ones.

What God does not permit is for the devil to get inside of us.  He cannot join us in our flesh and blood the way God did.  He must keep his angelic form, and his angelic power, but he has nothing divine, and nothing human.  He has to remain outside.  The Bible assures us that Jesus is the Stronger One, yet Jesus was the One on the cross!  What happened here?  God had compassion on us,  so Jesus took our life upon Himself, as a baby, a child, an adolescent, a man.  We have crosses today because of His cross.  It has become the new Tree of Life.  Here we may eat and live, and that is the only way to life.  Technology can never bring us back to Eden, but Jesus is better than Eden.  Certainly He looked like a loser on the cross, but the Holy Spirit gives us special vision, the eyes of faith, to see that Satan is the real loser.  Jesus lays down His life, but takes it back by His own authority.  He can be both, the Suffering Servant and the once and future King.  He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows, but He also brings life.  His cross is the Tree of Life that counts, therefore the Cross is our true delight.

For a hundred and sixteen years we have gathered as a church, hearing the bells, the organ, the choir, the prayers spoken and sung.  For that same century plus we have had afflictions to bear to the glory of God.  We render the highest worship of all by our sorrow.  Job would sympathize.  He had served God all his life, but Satan pointed out that Job had profit-sharing built into his contract.  He had a large family, a huge ranch, flocks, herds, and caravans carrying his goods all over the Middle East.  Then came the correction.  In one day Job's world fell apart.  Shortly after came physical misery.  Soon Job was asking serious questions.  God permitted this.  He allowed the devil to drag Job into the depths to purify him.  

Notice, Job did not go looking for trouble.  Neither do we.  We don't have to, because if we are faithful trouble will come to us.  Jesus is definitely in charge, and He will let us suffer whatever He thinks we can handle.  Consider the widow in the Gospel.  Her son was being carried to the cemetery.  Jesus timed His arrival at the town just as the funeral was passing through the gate.  In front of all those Jewish people who knew the story of Elijah, Jesus did something very Elijah-like.  He gave the widow her son.  Just as it seemed life couldn't get any worse, the Lord turned her weeping into dancing.  Jesus is Lord over death.  He raised others, and He raised Himself.  The correction of the Almighty, however hard, is never the last word.  It is preparation to turn to the One who first says Weep not, and then, Arise!  God never casts off those who humbly seek Him.  For Job it took extraordinary measures.  God came to him in a tornado and straightened him out.  In the end, Job had a stronger faith.  So Jesus also shares His sufferings with us.  He shares His death, but also His resurrection.  He brings down only to raise up.  He wounds but His hands heal.  When we have been corrected, what a delight it will be to stand before God as He intended us, to enjoy the wonderful things He designed for us, far better than the vanities our flesh would choose, but for the present we must trust Him.  Such compassion has certainly earned our trust!  His forgiveness is sure. He is worthy of our complete confidence.  Cleansed by His blood, we can humble ourselves under His mighty hand, for in due time He will exalt us.   AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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