Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021
Scriptures: Job 23:1-17; Ps 22:1-15; Heb 4:12-18; Mk 10:17-31
The story is told of an Ohio State University student who was academically competent but tended to need time to complete assignments (smart but not speedy). You may know the type. They do know the material, but think things through carefully until they have the right answer. Others may come to the answer more rapidly but few are as careful as this.
The student was troubled by a Calculus class he needed to pass—and wasn’t—with a demanding, annoying professor. The guy seemed to delight in frustrating his already discouraged students. During exams, he would walk around, watching them like a hawk, expecting to discover someone cheating. He would frequently announce the amount of time left—30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.- just to interrupt their trains of thought and to agitate everyone. In a class of 1,000 students, the slow-but-steady young man was the only one not to turn in his exam when time was called.
The prof waited impatiently and then, an hour later, when the young man finally finished his test, the prof asked him what he thought he was doing. The kid answered, “Turning in my exam.” The prof replied, “Your exam is an hour late. Congratulations! You’ve failed it. So, I will see you next term when you repeat my class.” The student smiled and asked, “Do you know my name?” The prof replied gruffly and incredulously, “What?” The student rephrased his question, “Do you know what my name is?” With irritation, the prof replied, “There are 1,000 students in this class. What makes you think I would know your name?” The student then smiled, and, lifting up a tall stack of test booklets, placed his completed test in the middle of the pile and casually exited the huge lecture hall.
Life sometimes presents us with tests–and authority figures– like that one. We may think our prospects are slim and we don’t have much of a chance of succeeding. But the truth is that if we have a relationship with the Lord, we can make it through any trial that might come. Let’s see what our passages today have to add to this issue:
A. Our OT lesson comes from Job 23:1-17. You may recall that the Lord is so confident of Job’s righteousness that He allows Satan to strip him of his family, his wealth, and his health. Satan is sure Job will turn against God if his blessings are all removed. But Job is such a faithful believer that he does not, even though his wife advises (Job 2:9), Curse God and die (Great advice, right? Horrible!).
Instead, Job spends much of the book trying to figure out how he has offended God. He believes he is being punished, but stops short of blaming God (This is such a good lesson for us!). In today’s chapter, he begins to believe his faith is being put to the test. So he wants an opportunity to speak to God face to face. In verse 3 he admits he doesn’t know where to find Him; in verses 4-7, he is sure that if he could locate God, and confront Him, God wouldn’t find any problems with him.
YIKES! Don’t you just want to tell Job 3 things:
#1, None of us is without sin—as Paul says, except for Jesus, No, not one! As J. Vernon McGee says, No one can go into the presence of God to defend himself. We must all go before God to plead guilty before him. Every one of us is guilty (commentary on Job, p.125). We are only made righteous—we only have passing marks– because we have been cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
#2, So, if we think we can defend ourselves before God, we need to remember to approach Him with humility. He is God; we are not!
#3, Finally, anyone who seriously wants to find God will do so. Our God is not hiding from us. In fact, He calls us to Himself. If we really want to meet up with Him, He will make Himself known to us—through Scripture, dreams, billboards, overheard conversations, song lyrics, and life events (to name a few means at His disposal). And unlike the calculus professor at Ohio State, God is for us, not against us.
But praise God! By the time Job arrives at verse 10, he realizes he is being tested for some purpose. Like us, he doesn’t yet know what the purpose is. Like us, he doesn’t understand why he needs testing. But—hopefully also like us—he does believe that God is using this testing to somehow bring about His good purposes in Job’s life. If we let it, trouble strengthens our faith. If we let it, trouble improves our moral character.
If we let Him, God will comfort us and equip us as we move through our difficulties. Some unnamed wise person once said, You know that God has never promised that we would miss the storm, but He has promised that we would make the harbor.
B. Psalm 22 is known as “the Psalm of the Cross.” Written by King David (around 1,000BC) before the Romans invented crucifixion, it provides us a clear window into Jesus’ thoughts as He hung on the Cross. Some scholars believe Jesus recited this psalm from memory while nailed to the Cross. In verses 1-2, Jesus essentially cries out to His Father, My God, where are you? He is feeling deserted and abandoned. In verses 3-5, He reminds Himself that His Father is the Holy One in whom the patriarchs of Israel put their trust…they trusted and You delivered them…in You they trusted and were not disappointed.
Unlike Job or us, Jesus was entirely without sin. He had personally done nothing to merit death. In verses 6-8, He states that He knows He has not provoked the attacks of vicious and vindictive men; and that, thus far, God has not delivered Him from their cruelty. He reminds His Father that He has trusted in Him from birth. Finally, verses 12-15 describe His deep physical and emotional distress. Here is indeed a portrait of unjust suffering. By the end of the psalm, however–as by the end of the book of Job–we find that the truly righteous, despite their suffering, still maintain their faith in the Lord.
C. Our Gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31) relates Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man. The fellow mistakenly believes in his own righteousness. He says he has kept the last 6 commandments all of his life, the ones that have to do with how we relate to others. We are told that Jesus loved him, even though He realized the man has probably not kept the first 4. How did Jesus know? He recognized the man’s wealth was an impediment to his relationship with God. Jesus asks him to give it up. The young man walks away from Christ because he cannot (his wealth was his idol); and both he and Jesus are saddened by his decision.
The message is to give up whatever keeps us from remaining close to Jesus. At one time with me, it was my children. I didn’t trust God to care for them. I had to give that up and then noted how much better they did than when I tried to control them. Later, I learned that God was not selling my house because I was not willing to pastor a church. I thought I had been called to ordained ministry, as a psychologist, to do therapy with the clergy. But the Lord made it clear I had to give that goal up too. The day that I agreed to do whatever God asked of me, my house sold. My realtor brought a couple by to see it at 5:00pm and I had a signed contract by 8:00pm. Jesus promises us we will receive blessings 100 times greater than whatever we have to give up for His sake. He promises us eternal life, despite any and all persecution.
D. The writer to the Hebrews (4:12-18) wants us never to forget that God’s Word activates us/energizes us to hold firm to our faith. Scripture is more than words on a page. It comes with power to help us achieve what God has for us. Secondly, it exposes us to God’s sight. If we compare ourselves to the biblical standard, we see where we fall short. We can’t really get away with slipping our exam booklet into the middle of the pile. God knows all about us. Thirdly, Jesus’ example, and His once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins, allows us now to approach God’s throne of grace not with fear of condemnation, but with confidence in God’s loving grace and mercy.
None of us wants to suffer, do we? Nevertheless, we have to realize that following Christ does not give us a pass to avoid problems.
Rather it is a guarantee—as we see in the outcomes of Jesus and of Job—of blessings and God’s favor following our faithfulness through trials. Because of God’s grace and mercy, we are all like calculus students who have gotten away with not finishing on time by putting our test booklets in the middle of the pile. Chuck Swindoll has written (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p.35), “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”
Let us pray: Lord, we know we make better than passing marks when we remember that You do not promise to save us from trials, but You do promise to be present with us as we endure them. We ask Jesus to tattoo on our hearts the reminder that He suffered untold agonies to atone, in advance, for our sins. Help us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to achieve or earn our salvation. Our money will not get us to Heaven, just as our good behavior or our generosity toward others will not. It is only by loving You and Jesus, and accepting our grace-filled redemption at Your hands, that we are saved. Assist us to let go of all and any impediments or roadblocks to having a satisfying, deeply faithful, intimate relationship with You. Amen!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams