Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, August 11, 2019

Text:  Job 1:6-22

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A couple of months ago, Pope Francis made a bit of a stir among Catholics and broader Christianity when he approved a new translation of the mass that had been prepared by the Italian Bishops Conference. Among the changes made was a slightly different rendition of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because the changes really didn’t have a major effect on the meaning and don’t affect us at all in the Lutheran church, but I bring it up today as an illustration of a simple fact.  Some people find the sixth petition to be a bit difficult to understand when they overthink things a little. For example, some have wondered, if we didn’t pray, “lead us not into temptation,” would there be a chance that God might actually lead us into temptation? That doesn’t really fit with the rest of what God tells us about himself and his plans in the rest of scripture, so what is God inviting us to pray that he would do in time of temptation?  Where can God’s people turn in time of temptation? Afterall, living in a sinful world and shackled to our sinful nature, it’s a daily struggle!      

Today, we have the chance to take a look at a series of unusual and catastrophic events in the life of a man named Job. Job is probably best known as an example of how a child of God endures hard times in life, and rightly so, but along with those hard times we see Job fighting a spiritual battle against temptation, and as we see how God led Job through that temptation we have the chance to observe the place of refuge God provides for his children of every generation when we face temptations during our lives. 

Temptation is from Satan

So, the story of Job. Other than the events recorded in the book of the Bible bearing his name, Job is a bit of an enigma. There are a handful of other scripture references to him, but nothing that shows him interacting with other people in Bible history. Based on his lifestyle most scholars think that he probably lived around the same time as Abraham, about 2000 years before Jesus. But even though the specifics of his timeframe are a bit of an unknown, we do know a fair amount about Job as a person. The Bible paints a picture of a man who was extremely wealthy man in many ways. Materially, God had blessed him with a large family and tons of animals and servants – the primary way wealth was measured in those days. But his riches weren’t limited to material things.  Spiritually, the Bible describes a man who was quite wealthy too as a faithful and dedicated follower of God like Abraham and many others from Bible history.

Job’s story begins with a glimpse behind the scenes into a conversation that took place in heaven unbeknownst to Job – a conversation about Job between God and Satan. “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”  Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”  (Job 1:6-7 – NIV84). To fully understand this conversation, we need to take note of what Satan was doing while he was going back and forth through the earth. This was no sight-seeing expedition or tourist trip. Remember what the devil’s goal was and is and always has been – as the one who had rebelled against God and lost, as the one for whom that horrible place called hell was created, and as the one who faces an eternity confined there, one can see why the devil’s primary mission is revenge on God. Since he can’t defeat God, he wages warfare on the world God loves and tries to drag as many people down to hell with him as he can.  That’s why he tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God and sin, and now he continues to do the same thing ever since with as many people as he can.  And so, what was he doing while roaming through the earth? Tempting people. Leading them into sin. Trying to lead them away from God. In a sense, you can almost hear a challenge to God in his words. “I’ve been messing with your creation. I’ve been tempting your people, and I’ve been winning.  There’s a lot of sin down there.  What are you going to do about it?” 

Despite his successes, however, the devil was had not achieved a complete victory. There were still people who trusted in God – people like Job. “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  The devil thought he knew why he hadn’t succeeded in dragging Job away from God.  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-10 – NIV84). In other words, does Job actually believe in God’s promise of a savior and eternal life in heaven, or is he just going along with the flow and worshipping God because that pattern of activity happened to coincide with things going in his life so far? God allowed Satan to run a test and see Job’s faith for himself. “The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  (Job 1:12 – NIV84).

Not surprisingly, Satan takes the liberty he has been granted to the extreme. “Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who escaped to tell you! While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”  While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”  While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” (Job 1:13-19 – NIV84). Just like that, just about everything Job had been blessed with was gone, and with this shocking change came a powerful temptation – in grief and frustration it feels good to have a scapegoat to blame. Would Job give in and be angry with God to make himself feel better, or would he continue to trust God’s promises? Would he do what feels good right now, or would he trust what God has planned?

I don’t think any of us have experienced anything quite on the scale of the tragedy that came into Job’s life, but every temptation works in that same way as Satan roams back and forth in the earth today, attacking God’s people left and right, demanding that we choose between what feels good and satisfies our sinful nature and what God promise about the future.  When hard times strike, will you become upset with God because your sinful nature says that will feel good, or will you trust God’s promise to bring about good? When someone hurts you, will you seek the revenge that you want – the revenge that many would say you rightly deserve, or will you forgive in the same way God has forgiven you? Will you make decisions in life, will you take the route that helps you fit in with friends, the route that makes life easier, or will you stand up for what God says is right in his sight? You can add to the list from there. Whether it’s a major struggle like Job faced or the little day after day, hour after hour temptations you face throughout life, the devil makes the same offer: will you do what your sinful nature says would be easier or more enjoyable and suffer eternal consequences, or will you follow God?  It’s an ongoing struggle, and if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’ve given into it on far more occasions than we’d care to remember!

Salvation is from God

But the good news is, no matter how prevalent temptation is, no matter how readily our sinful nature is drawn to it, whether it’s something big like Job or the little daily temptations we face all the time, God doesn’t leave his children to fight this daily battle by ourselves.  He provides a place of refuge where we can turn in time of temptation. As you watch the account of Job unfold, you can see that he knew about it too. Listen to his response: “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:20-22 – NIV84).

You and I can only marvel and that and wonder how we’d ever find the strength to respond like that…but here’s the little secret: this strength didn’t come from Job.  If you were to read the rest of Job, you’d see that he had his struggles and weaknesses in trying to make sense of what had happened in his life, but through it all he knew exactly where to turn.  Later on in the book, after Satan robbed him of his health too and after he has been driven to the point of frustration by useless conversations with unhelpful friends, Job reveals what he’s been clinging to all along. As his whole world falls to pieces around him, Job confidently says, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 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 – NIV84). As an Old Testament believer, Job didn’t know all the details of what Jesus would do, but he trusted God’s promise to send a Savior, one who would overcome the sinful world, one who would overcome even death, one who would win the victory for God’s people and take Job home to heaven.  That’s what he was clinging to in this time of hardship. 

And you and I can see from the rest of Bible history that Job’s trust was not misplaced. Jesus did exactly what Job trusted him to do. He met the devil’s temptations head on day after day, and he won. He never gave into sin – not even once. He suffered himself the punishment that the devil had hoped would be brought down on the heads of God’s people when he suffered the horrors of hell in our place at the cross. He rose from the dead, declaring that this world filled with sin and temptation is not the final destination children of God. There is a home in heaven waiting for you that the devil cannot touch, cannot take away, cannot fill with temptation or wickedness.

Turning to God’s promises is what gives you strength like Job had when it comes to temptation. There will be days when the devil points out that blaming God for problems in life will feel good, but you can turn to God’s promises that he has your eternal interests in mind and is orchestrating events to bring you safely home to heaven. The devil whispers that revenge would make you feel better, and it might seem like it will, but Jesus reminds you that he’s already suffered the punishment for every sin, forgiving you and those who sin against you.  You will come to times in life when doing what God says is right might well make life harder, and the devil says it’s not worth the bother, but on those days you can turn to God’s promise that at the end of your life he will take you out of this world to a place where there is no more sin or temptation, a place where the devil cannot go, a place where you’ll live with him forever! 

Lead Us Not Into Temptation. In the sixth petition, we pray that in time of temptation, God would lead us not to look at the allures of the temptation, not to look at what our sinful nature wants, but that he would lead us instead to fix our attention on his promise about the future.  There he will provide comfort and strength. There he promises you will find the strength to resist. We pray: Lead us not into temptation – lead us instead to your promises. Amen.