Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Job The Intercessor; Date: 18 April 2010

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None Answered

 

For the next three months – as a church – we will spend time studying the ins and outs of prayer because God promised us much in the Bible. He said – I read from James 5:16-18: “ … The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results … ” This is good. However, what happens when even the prayer of the most righteous person falls on deaf ears and God does not grant wonderful results but the very opposite? What then?

There is one such person in the Bible that suffered the disappointment of having every single one of his prayers not answered by God. He was righteous and prayed but the outcome was pure devastation. The man I am talking about is Job. We read about him in the Bible – Job 1:1-5: “There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless – a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and he employed many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area.

Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended – sometimes after several days – Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular practice

On a number of levels Job was a remarkable man. He was rich but still remained hungry for God. There was no pride coming in and self-reliance. He didn’t become comfortable (slouch on his couch and watch TV) and forget God. Jesus taught his disciples – Mark 10:25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of GodYet, Job was exceptional and remained close to God (cf. Mark 10:27).

Then, he prayed for his children. When people feast and pamper themselves, they let down their guard and many a loose word may be spoken – even about God. Therefore, when Job’s children feasted, Job stepped up his prayers. He got up early in the morning and sacrificed one entire animal for every one of his children. He prayed for them – on a regular basis – and he did all of this when he was not even sure about any of his children’s sins. This was prayer just in case: “For Job said to himself, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.’”

Job was a good man and God loved him. The Bible records – Job 1:6-12: “One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them … the Lord asked Satan, ‘Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.’ Satan replied to the Lord, ‘Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!’ ‘All right, you may test him,’ the Lord said to Satan. ‘Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.’ … ”

God loved Job and he was pleased about his prayers but now Job’s faithfulness would be tested. Satan was right. It is one thing to be a Christian when you are cruising but what happens when God’s “wall of protection” around you crumbles? Does it still make sense to be a Christian when God no longer answers any of your prayers and there is no blessing?

Job was tested – Job 1:13-20: “One day … a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: ‘Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another message arrived with this news: ‘The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: ‘Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting … Suddenly, a powerful wind … hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead … ’”

How would you take this from God? Bad news day! The car, the house, the investments, the children – all gone – with much violence: stolen, killed, burnt up and crushed under brick and mortar.

Job took it well – Job 1:20-22: “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, ‘I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!’ In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God

Job was amazing in his trust of God. God was always good. God was always right. Job had no claim on anything. He had come naked into this world and he would be naked departing from it. Praise be to God!

Yet, there would still be another round of testing – Job 2:3-10: “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘ … Job still maintains his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.’ Satan replied to the Lord, ‘ … reach out and take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!’ ‘All right, do with him as you please,’ the Lord said to Satan. ‘But spare his life.’ So Satan … struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad? So in all this, Job said nothing wrong

Not only had Job prayed for his children and they died, now his own wife turned against him and his faith, saying: “Curse God and dieAnd was she not right? Job was covered in itchy boils from head to foot. This kind of living was worse than dying. God had turned against him and all of his prayers fell on deaf ears.

Job 2:11-3: “When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.

At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said: ‘Let the day of my birth be erased, and the night I was conceived … Let those who are experts at cursing – whose cursing could rouse Leviathan – curse that day … Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? … Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace … ”

At last Job could not take any more and – then – in his frustration – went as far as he could without cursing God. He cursed the day of his birth. He finally erupted with all of his pain and screamed out all of his misery. This righteous man despised his life and wanted to die. Have you ever felt this way? How would you respond to a person like Job – the man who was the most mature church member (a light in every prayer meeting) – the man who feared God and stayed away from evil but now was sitting in ashes scraping his skin with a piece of broken pottery and bursting with despair?

Job’s friends could not handle his emotions and situation. Job himself was more than confused, saying – Job 29:1-20: “ … I long for the years gone by when God took care of me, when he lit up the way before me and I walked safely through the darkness. When I was in my prime, God’s friendship was felt in my home. The Almighty was still with me, and my children were around me. My cows produced milk in abundance, and my groves poured out streams of olive oil … All who heard me praised me. All who saw me spoke well of me. For I assisted the poor in their need and the orphans who required help. I helped those without hope, and they blessed me. And I caused the widows’ heart to sing for joy. Everything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban. I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. I was a father of the poor and assisted strangers who needed help … I thought, ‘Surely I will die surrounded by my family after a long, good life. For I am like a tree whose roots reach the water, whose branches are refreshed with dew. New honours are constantly bestowed on me, and my strength is continually renewed.’”

What should have happened was that a righteous man would go from strength to strength – blessing to blessing – and no evil would befall him. Instead, Job suffered the worst fate of any person on earth. This was against his expectation, against the expectation of his friends and against our expectations. This was plain wrong. I repeat the Bible promise from the beginning – James 5:16-18: “ … The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results … ”

Yes – the Bible does also say that every Christian will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12) but otherwise there should not be such Job-like devastation. According to the rest of the Bible – righteous Christians are to experience better things – Ephesians 1:3: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” Ephesians 1:19: “ … understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him … ” 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast your cares upon the Lord, for he cares about you.” James 5:13-15: “Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray … Are any of you sick? You should call the elders of the church to come and pray over you … Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well … ” Luke 18:29: “ … I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come

Therefore, how would we handle a Job among us? How do you confront your own suffering? This is important now because this is where most of us go wrong. You put the entire blame on yourself. “The reason that I am not experiencing any blessings is my sin and my many faultsThis always works – this always sounds reasonable – because when we examine ourselves in a hostile manner, we always find sins – pride, greed, gossip, lack of zeal, sexual temptations, addictions. Then, we conclude that it is because of these sins that all of these bad things have happened to us. We condemn ourselves. The end result is that not only has our house burned down and we are a picture of misery, now we also have no comfort. Regret and remorse are eating us up.

In addition, our friends and church are often making the same mistake. They also begin to wonder why there is such an apparent lack of blessings in our life. We become an embarrassment to them. “Why is he not healed by now? We have prayed so hard for him. Why has his wife left him? Why did the business go bankrupt? He must be under the judgement of GodWe can all appreciate this kind of logic because it makes sense in the light of a good God who rewards those who love him but here is the first practical lesson from Job: Do not go down this track. Do not go down in self-condemnation. Job did not agree with the evidence of his suffering and did not conclude that he was to blame. He did not deserve his pain.

His friends were saying – Job 11:4-5, 13-19; 15:11-14: “You claim to be innocent and argue that your beliefs are acceptable to God. But I wish he would speak … Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer, and give up your sins – even those you do in secret. Then you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless. Your troubles will go away like water beneath a bridge, and your darkest night will be brighter than noon. You will rest safe and secure, filled with hope and emptied of worry. You will sleep without fear and be greatly respected. …you have been offered comforting words from God. Isn’t this enough? Your emotions are out of control, making you look fierce; that’s why you attack God with everything you say. No human is pure and innocent … ” Job 34:5-7; 10-12; 31-32: “Job claims he is innocent and God is guilty of mistreating him. Job also argues that God considers him a liar and that he is suffering severely in spite of his innocence. But to tell the truth, Job is shameless! If any of you are smart, you will listen and learn that God All-Powerful does what is right. God always treats everyone the way they deserve, and he is never unfair. Job, you should tell God that you are guilty and promise to do better. Then ask him to point out what you did wrong, so you won’t do it again

Job was suffering but he did not accept the verdict of his friends. He called them “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) and insisted – Job 9:21: “I am innocent … ” Job 19:28: “How dare you go on persecuting me, saying, ‘It’s his own fault’?” Job 27:1-6: “ … As long as I live … my tongue will speak no lies. I will never concede that you are right … I will maintain my innocence without wavering. My conscience is clear for as long as I live

At this point you may say that you are not in the same league as Job and therefore you do not have the same confidence in your own righteousness as he had. But – the truth is – you can be even more confident than Job in knowing that God loves you and does not crush you because he is angry with you and judges you for your sins. The Bible assures us of the following – Colossians 1:20-22: “ … God made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault

Job never knew why he was suffering one devastating blow after another and we may never fully understand why the present time is so hard but what we can know is this: God is on our side. God must be on our side because no sin stands between us and him. He himself (because he loves us so much) has taken care of our guilt on the cross of Jesus Christ. His own son Jesus Christ became the blood sacrifice for our sin so that now – on account of him – if we only believe and trust him – we are brought into the presence of our God – holy and blameless – without a single fault.

This is at the heart of the Christian faith and it means that when suffering comes, we do not spiral down in self-condemnation. Since Jesus died for you, you can know – you can be absolutely sure – that God will never lash out against you because your personal guilt made him angry. (At times he may discipline you or purify you but this is another matter and even then self-condemnation is never an option.)

Job teaches us another practical lesson. When you are covered in boils and you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning because there is nothing good about a new day, do not hold back your emotions. Be honest and let your feelings come out. Job didn’t care about the sensitivities of his friends. He didn’t care about the sensitivities of God even. He expressed his feelings in full – Job 16:7-17: “O God, you have ground me down and devastated my family. As if to prove I have sinned, you’ve reduced me to skin and bones. My gaunt flesh testifies against me. God hates me and angrily tears me apart. He snaps his teeth at me and pierces me with his eyes. People jeer and laugh at me. God has handed me over to sinners. He has tossed me into the hands of the wicked. I was living quietly until he shattered me. He took me by the neck and broke me to pieces. Then he set me up as his target, and now his archers surround me. His arrows pierce me without mercy. The ground is wet with my blood. Again and again he smashes against me, charging at me like a warrior. I wear burlap to show my grief. My pride lies in the dust. My eyes are red with weeping; dark shadows circle my eyes. Yet I have done no wrong, and my prayer is pure

Just imagine that we take this on board here in our church. You ask someone: “How are you goingAnd instead of that person, saying: “I’m finethe real answer is: “God snaps his teeth at me and pierces me with his eyes … He took me by the neck and broke me to pieces. Then he set me up as his target, and now his archers surround me. His arrows pierce me without mercy. The ground is wet with my blood. Again and again he smashes against me, charging at me like a warriorThis kind of sharing may be difficult to handle – so much grief – such conviction that God is not nice – but when we love each other in a church, there has to be the freedom and understanding to let all of our feelings come out. Otherwise we cannot comfort anyone.

There is more to learn from Job. He remained convinced that God is always good. Yes – on the one hand – he was raging against him. He accused him of snapping his teeth at him and attacking him like a warrior but – on the other hand – he did not think that God was unjust or unloving. If he had believed that, his rage would have turned into bitterness and depression. Job kept raging against God because he kept believing that God was always good. Only – in his case – (according to Job) – God got it wrong. He was attacking the wrong guy. What Job wanted was his day in court. He said – Job 23:1-7: “ … If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me. Would he use his great power to argue with me? No, he would give me a fair hearing. Honest people can reason with him, so I would be forever acquitted by my judge

Job kept believing that God – at least deep down – was always good and always just. He only was wrong in his verdict and consequent behaviour against Job. A proper court proceeding could straighten this out. However, Job also recognized the need for a mediator in this kind of trial – Job 9:1-35: “ … If someone wanted to take God to court, would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times? … Who has ever challenged him successfully? … So who am I, that I should try to answer God or even reason with him? Even if I were right, I would have no defense … And even if I summoned him and he responded, I’m not sure he would listen to me … If it’s a matter of justice, who dares to summon him to court? Though I am innocent, my own mouth would pronounce me guilty … I am innocent, but it makes no difference to me – I despise my life … God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial. If only there were a mediator between us, someone who could bring us together. The mediator could make God stop beating me, and I would no longer live in terror of his punishment. Then I could speak to him without fear, but I cannot do that in my own strength.” Job 16:21: “I need someone to mediate between God and me, as a person mediates between friends

Job was longing for a mediator (or – to use another word – an intercessor) and – in Jesus Christ – God has answered this longing – for us. We have a mediator. We have someone guaranteeing a safe audience with our God. When we look at the power and fierceness of the one that created the entire cosmos, we may get intimidated but when we look at Jesus Christ – the Son of God – who became a human being and died for us on the cross, we see his compassion and trust him to plead our cause – as he died and then rose again for our cause.

God is always good and we have a mediator – an intercessor – someone that stands between God and us (for us) – and this person is Jesus Christ. The Bible says – 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself [on the cross] … ” Romans 8:33-34: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? … Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for usGod is always good and there has to be a good outcome for us with Jesus Christ as our mediator and intercessor. Like Job – do not give up on the goodness of God.

I repeat some of the practical lessons from Job: 1) When everything around you dies, do not go down in self-condemnation. Your suffering is not evidence that God hates you. He loves you. 2) Do not hold back your emotions. You can be honest about God’s treatment of you. 3) Keep believing that God is always good.

The story of Job continues by God giving him what he desired. God finally appeared to him and Job had his day in court. Yet, it proved to be overwhelming and beyond the human wisdom of Job. In the end Job was none the wiser as far as his suffering was concerned but – with the appearing of God and seeing him – he was (at least) satisfied. [Maybe another practical lesson: Keep crying out to God until he appears.]

I give you only a few excerpts from the Bible – Job 38:1-4: “Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? … ’” Job 40:1-41:1: “Then the Lord said to Job, ‘Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?’ Then Job replied to the Lord, ‘I am nothing – how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say.’ Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: ‘Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right? … Can you catch Leviathan with a hook or put a noose around its jaw?” Job 42:1-6: “Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, Who is this that questions my wisdom in such ignorance? It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you and you must answer them. I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance

When God appeared to Job, everything changed. Job’s suffering was not explained but the trust in God’s wisdom was restored. God had not made a mistake with Job. He was wise and always good. Then – and this is another practical lesson – Job was satisfied (and humbled himself again before God) when he saw God with his own eyes. Therefore – in times of suffering – draw closer to God. See him. Experience him – 2 Corinthians 3:16-18: “ . whenever someone turns to the Lord … wherever the Spirit of the Lord is … all of us … can see and reflect the glory of the Lord

There is more and this takes us back to the beginning. Job had prayed for his children but they died. Now – after all of the disappointments – God asks Job to pick up again the work of intercession and pray for his friends – Job 42:7-9: “After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf … ’”

In one sense God was asking for the impossible. The friends of Job had made his life an even greater misery. They had blamed him and argued with him. They had ganged up on him. How could God ask Job now to forgive them and even pray for them. Yet, this is what he did and when Job prayed, something happened in his own life – Job 42:10-16: “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before … So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters … ”

Numerous commentaries argue that the story should not end like this. The happy ending seems to provide an easy escape from the suffering. However, this is not true. Any devastation – any suffering – for the children of God is only temporary. God’s ultimate plan is always to bless and prosper – maybe not always in this life but surely in the life to come.

I come to a close. Job had been praying for his children and in the end was praying for his friends. In the end God confirmed his role and power as an intercessor. As we are now considering God’s call into prayer and interceding for others, we are learning some lessons from Job which help us not to become discouraged: 1) When everything around you dies and your prayers are not answered, do not go down in self-condemnation. 2) Do not hold back your emotions. 3) Keep believing that God is always good. 4) Draw closer to God. See God and be satisfied. 5) And the last lesson: Keep forgiving your friends even when they are miserable comforters. Pray even for them with a pure heart and so release blessings for them and yourself.

James 5:16-18: “ … The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results … ” Amen.