Sermons, Uncategorized

If You’re So Smart…

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“Illustration to Book of Job” by William Blake

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“If you’re so smart, then tell me this…” Ever heard those words? They’re usually words children speak when they’re playing the game of one-upmanship. One child brags how far ahead he is of the rest because he’s been there, done that. Someone else doesn’t like the insinuation and says, “Oh, yeah. Well, if you’re so smart, then how did you get a C on that last science test? If you’re so smart, why did you have to stay in for recess yesterday? If you’re so smart…”

Our Old Testament Reading contains God’s words to Job at the end of the lengthy discussion between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, plus a fourth by the name of Elihu. After letting the human counselors and counselee vent for thirty-five chapters, God finally speaks out of the storm.

His silence throughout the long days of Job’s illness no doubt parallels the silence of God during some of our tough times. Sometimes it appears God is silent, or maybe sleeping, like Jesus was in our Gospel Reading. But God does care. He is not asleep. God is not silent. But neither does He owe us an answer.

As Job forgets, and as we may well be reminded this morning too, God is so much bigger and smarter than you or me. We can trust Him even when life seems out of control, even when things just don’t make sense to our human reasoning.

Lots of people think they know better than God, and they need to hear these words from Job. The atheist who claims not to believe in God. The skeptic who questions whether God cares what goes on in the world. The secularist who’s far too practical to depend upon God. And the materialist who says if he can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. These and many others think they know better than God. To use the words of the text, they speak “words without knowledge.” They “darken counsel.”

But let’s face it: they’re probably not going to hear these words. But we do. We need to! The truth be told: we play that game all the time as well. It’s just that we don’t express it quite so crudely. We don’t say, “I know everything.” We say, “I know Scripture says it’s wrong, but in my case…” Or we cry out in despair, “God, why have You let this happen to us? Don’t You care?”

And then God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Could it be that most of us have at times thought we knew better than God? Perhaps when we wanted an illness healed, a war stopped, or even a voters meeting decision to go our way? Or we wonder, “Why does it seem that everything in my life has to be so hard? Look at so-and-so! They’ve got it so easy!”

Let’s learn from Job this morning. His is not a formal institution of higher education. His is the school of hard knocks.

Remember, Satan has challenged God about Job. “He only serves You because You’re making life easy for him,” Satan charges. “You let me afflict him, and he’ll curse You to Your face.” And so Job suffers greatly. In just a short time, he loses his twelve children. He loses his great possessions and wealth. And then he even loses his health.

Job’s wife isn’t exactly encouraging or supportive. As Job sits among the ashes and scrapes at his festering sores with a broken piece of pottery, she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Job’s friends have nothing comforting to say to Job, either. Their greatest help is when they just sit with him for an entire week before speaking. When they begin to speak, though, they accuse Job of great and secret sins that are the cause of his suffering. In their faulty theology, every person’s suffering is in direct proportion to the measure of his guilt in God’s eyes.

In reply, Job protests his innocence. But to whom do you appeal when your friends don’t believe you, and God appears to be giving you the silent treatment?

As much as Job suffers physically and psychologically, what pains him the most is God’s apparent alienation from him. Several times in this book, Job requests that God speak to him: “Oh, that I had one to hear me!… Let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put His indictment in writing” (31:35).

Job has been saying, “I know my situation better than you do, God. I know I’m innocent. I know I don’t deserve the rough lot I’ve had. If I could just talk with You about this, man to God, we could surely resolve this problem.”

About this time God’s silence ends. Out of the storm, God demands: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

Pretty good questions, aren’t they? Some of them we still can’t answer, even now. Just like people today, Job asks, “Where is God when these bad things happen to me? How can a loving God allow suffering, pain, and death? Even if He doesn’t fix my problem, can’t He at least let me see why it’s happening?”

And God answers Job’s questions with His own, beginning with: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” In other words, “If you’re so smart, if you know better than I do, then you tell Me.”

God first uses the image of the construction of a major building, where He is the architect, surveyor, and engineer. He talks about laying the foundations of the earth and stretching the measuring line across it. In effect, God says, “Believe it or not, Job, I knew what I was doing when I created the earth. It didn’t just happen. I put a lot of planning into it. No matter how hard you try, you couldn’t begin to cram My creative wisdom into the narrow confines of your limited imagination.”

Then God uses the image of a midwife. “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb? Who else was present at the birth of the seas, when I wrapped them in the swaddling clothes of clouds and darkness?”

God the builder, God the midwife: both images tell us that God knows what He’s doing. He understands the master plan. He knows how things operate—whether He’s building a home, delivering a baby, or allowing Job to suffer. Each of those images is designed to create confidence in the God who is speaking and to remind His listeners of our smallness in comparison to God.

In the verses that follow our text, God gives rapid sketches of some 20 creations. God’s words testify to a sense of beauty and order in the world, whether it’s in the spiritual realm, cosmic elements, meteorological phenomena, animals, or birds. Job is to conclude that if God cares for the many creatures He has created, He will care for His human beings far more wisely and compassionately. If God is in control of the clouds, the storm, and the rain, as our Gospel reminds when Jesus stills the storm, then God is in control of what happens in our lives as well.

Well, that’s what God says. Now, for what He doesn’t say. Does it strike you as odd that God doesn’t answer Job’s questions? He doesn’t debate with Job or Job’s friends. He doesn’t even refer to Job’s suffering. Instead, God raises Job’s sight from his own troubles to the marvelous order that undergirds the whole world. He patiently instructs a man who needs to see the larger picture.

Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case—that Satan had brought up the matter and that God had allowed the suffering. Job must operate “by faith, not by sight.” He must love God for God alone. God invites Job to love Him for no reason other than that God is worthy of love.

God invites us all to have a humble perspective that is willing to learn and listen. He says, in short, that it’s more important to know Him than to have all the answers. Which is a good thing—because none of us do. But that’s okay! We don’t have to have all the answers because God does—even when things seem their worst, even when everything seems out of control as it did that dark day two thousand years ago when it appears Satan had won, when the disciples have no clue why Jesus was abandoned by the heavenly Father to die on a cross.

Jesus’ disciples don’t have the answer, but God does. Christ bears our sins on the cross that we might not have to die for our own sins. We know that now through the preaching of the Gospel. And unlike Job, with Christ’s resurrection, we come to understand God’s reasons for the greatest, most unjust suffering that ever happened. Jesus willingly gave up His life for the salvation of the world—yours and mine, the disciples’, and yes, Job’s.

Well, how does the Book of Job end? What’s the result of Job’s meeting with God? In the final chapter Job says, “Now I’m satisfied; I’ve seen You with my own eyes.” With his newly opened eyes of faith and spiritual understanding, Job learns that everything is right between himself and God. And knowing that, Job becomes content not knowing all the answers to his questions. He learns to rest in the power and grace of God. He learns to trust that even in suffering and unanswered questions, God is graciously working all things for “the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Today, you also meet with God. He is present in His Word to instruct, comfort, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness. He is present in the assembly, wherever two or three gather together in Jesus’ name. He is present in the Sacrament you will share in a few minutes. He invites you to learn with Job that you need not have all the answers as long as you have God. You need not know why certain things happen as long as you know that He loves you in His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the larger picture. That’s the teaching you can always trust.

You are right with God. He is not silent. He is not asleep. He loves you. He promises to work all things for your good. No matter what may happen in this life, He will bring you to the joy of eternal life with Him. In the meanwhile, He speaks to you peace and absolution. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Uncategorized

Glory of Christ Hidden in the Humble

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“Palm Sunday” by Octavio Ocampo

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“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“Behold, your king is coming to you!” Were you to hear such a glorious announcement, what would you look for?

Or to make it a little easier to imagine: Let’s suppose the president of the United States is coming to town. You pack up your family and drive to the route on which you suppose that he would travel to his speaking engagement. Your family sets up their chairs at the side of the road and you wait. Others gather, many holding welcome signs and American flags.

Time slowly passes and the excitement builds. Your son notices that the traffic has begun to thin out on the road. Police officers have started to direct traffic at intersections. A helicopter flies overhead, and you wonder if that is a sign that the president is on his way.

Ten minutes later, the road is eerily empty. Occasionally a police car zooms by with its lights flashing. The president must be on his way. He will be here soon, but not yet. The highway is empty again for a while.

Suddenly, you see two police cars in the distance coming toward you. They drive by and a swoosh of air hits you in the face. Then, far off, you make out some vehicles. The excitement builds and you think you can see…

Well, what do you think you would see? After all, this the president of the United States, and he is coming to town. You know what to expect. You have seen motorcades on television. The power, the honor, and the glory of such a prestigious office is manifested in the limousines, SUVs, law enforcement vehicles.

On this glorious day of the majestic entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, God Himself enters into His glory. The very Creator of all that is, the omnipotent power of the universe, the One who was, is, and always will be, begins His triumphal trek to His most glorious and honorable day on earth. How does He enter? Like the president of the United States? Like the conquering king of a Middle Eastern dynasty? Like an A-list celebrity on the night of the Academy Awards? No.

In our scenario with your family at the side of the road, would you expect to see the president and his motorcade drive by in a rusted-out mini-van? An old Ford Tempo? Perhaps a wood-paneled station wagon? Of course not! But how did God enter into the glory that you and I see and believe? He entered on a donkey! The prophet Zechariah announces: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9).

This is our Savior? Why would God ride in on a donkey? Why would He do such a thing? Because this is exactly how He said He would come. God would do such a thing for the very purpose of His coming—salvation. The salvation of His people, the salvation of the world. The Righteous One would become the Unrighteous One. The Blessed One would be cursed. The Sinless One would bear our sin. The holy must become unholy to save us from our sins. The glory of God comes in Christ’s humility and servitude. He humbles Himself to take our sin and suffer the consequences of the eternal wrath of God as His own punishment.

But unbelievers and the world in which we live look for a triumphal entry. They look for limousines and well-armed motorcades. Or given the day and age of that first Palm Sunday—war horses and iron chariots, escorted by soldiers and accompanied by personal attendants. The world wrongly assumes a majestic and glorious entrance that reflects the honor and power befitting the Creator of the universe like any other powerful ruler.

The unbeliever, though, sees with his eyes and not through faith. The sinner looks and lusts for the excitement and honor found in the power of an earthly king. That is true of our Old Adam as well. We sinners want to win! We seek a popular Jesus that attracts more and more people or an eye-candy Jesus who makes us feel happy and important. But alas, this thinking is an entry not into Christ’s glory, but rather an entrance into hell. It is a road to the tomb with no chance of a resurrection into the presence of the Christ. Our sin—and our sinful nature!—is ever before us.

Yes, even we believers, who confess the suffering and death of our Lord for our sins, we, too, yearn for a Jesus of glory who would be popular and successful. We sinfully seek a kingdom builder of wealth and power and numbers so that we might have bigger churches for the sake of recognition or influence or just the simple hope of survival for a few more years. A Jesus who will make our church great again. A Jesus who will make our own lives great again. A Jesus who will return us to the glory days.

However, Jesus, the Lowly One, calls us not to glory, but to lowliness and repentance, to have the same humble mind as Jesus, who emptied Himself of His glory, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Following in our Savior’s footsteps, we carry our own crosses and bear one another’s burdens. Our new man rejoices in the glory of the lowly and humble. The believer rejoices in the poor, the sick, and the needy. The believer rejoices where only faith can see the glory of God: in suffering and death.

We poor sinners need the glory of the God who died. We need a God who suffered. We need the glory of the cross. That is the irony of the Gospel. It is a scandal to sinful thinkers. That is the hidden truth that eyes cannot see, but only faith can believe and confess. The glory of God that saves us is, ultimately, the death of God!

The glory of God that saves us is in the scandal of His conception, the humility of His birth and His life, and His suffering and endurance of the wrath of God—all of this in our place. Our sin did this to Him. Your sins, your hidden sins, your silly sins, your big sins, in fact, your entire sinful life was given to Christ. He endured what we could not. It is really insulting—shameful, even!—that God Himself gave up the holiness, power, and glory in exchange for our sinful, lowly, and suffering existence. However, there is where we see the glory of God. There is where we see the extent of His love and grace.

Well, then, how do we see the glory of God in our lives? We do not—that is, we do not see His glory. Rather faith confesses and sees the glory of God where He has told us He hides it. Our eyes do not see the glory; our faith does.

“How does that work?” you ask.

God’s Word teaches us where to see His glory. In the lowliness of this sinful world, God hides His glory. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was humble and lowly—swaddling clothes and a manger for a bed. His entry into Jerusalem was humble and lowly—riding on a donkey. His death was humble and lowly—crucifixion, the cursed death reserved for slaves and the most dangerous criminals. That is how Jesus accomplished the work of salvation—His glory hidden in humility and lowliness. In the same way, Christ’s glorious and triumphant entry into your life hides in the reality of your humble, everyday life.

God has called you according to your vocation to do what you do. He calls you to be a mother or father, a son or daughter. God calls you to be a teacher or a student, an employer or employee or retiree, a neighbor or friend. He calls you in so many ways, and you do what He has given you to do—love and care for your neighbor, that person who is in need of your love—for there is the glory of God.

“But, Pastor, it doesn’t look like the glory of God. It looks like, well, normal daily life. At best, it is mundane and routine, but it is often more draining—emotionally, mentally, and physically—sometimes, it’s more overwhelming, or just plain scary than it is glorious.”

That’s it! Now, you’re getting it! The glory of God is generally found in the in trials and troubles, in humility and servitude through your daily call. It’s not flashy or popular. It’s not big and powerful. It rarely makes the nightly news or social media. It is most often found in the normal grind of daily life. However, it is still the glory of God.

Getting the children up and ready for school reveals the glory of God. Loving your wife and caring for her needs is the glory of God. Washing clothes and changing diapers is the glory of God. Going to work and bringing home money to support your family is the glory of God. Giving your neighbor a ride to church or the grocery store is the glory of God. Praying with your neighbor who has just gotten a bad report from the doctor is the glory of God. Reading a book to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren is the glory of God. Picking up your room without making a fuss when your mother tells you is the glory of God.

How can this be? Because our Lord makes your work holy by His grace and His call for you to be His own in your Baptism. He gives you the faith that receives the holiness Jesus earned on the cross. Therefore, you are holy through faith in Christ. All the works done for your neighbor are holy and done to God’s glory.

The glory of God is seen through the eyes of faith trusting in God’s Word. As Christians, we confess our Lord and His glory in our normal, sometimes painful and hurtful life. Christians also understand that God and His glory come into our lives in the least of these Christ’s brothers—in the poor and the sick, in the lonely and in the hurting, even—and especially—in death.

Our Lord’s death on the cross is His greatest glory. There in all humility He served our most desperate need, the payment of our sins. On the triumphant day of entrance into Jerusalem, our Lord Jesus sat on a donkey in humility. In that triumphant entry, He entered the way of the cross. That entrance took Him to His most glorious moment: His death on the cross.

Through the glory of the cross, our Lord gives to us and teaches us to see His glory in the hidden reality of our faith. When we turn to our lives and see them in faith, we see the glory of God in our suffering, in our humility, and in our servitude. He calls us to love Him and others. But once again, our love for God is hidden in our love of our neighbor. When we love our neighbor, we love God.

So the love of God and His mercy come to you hidden in the waters of your Baptism and in the eating and drinking of bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. These bring the glory of the kingdom of God to you for your salvation. Like the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they are lowly, humble, and simple means. But there is exactly where He brings us to the triumphal entry into His kingdom, in everlasting joy and blessed righteousness. Through these humble means the Lord strengthens you in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. By them you have forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. Indeed, through these means and for the sake of the glorious death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by Ronald R. Feurhahn, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 16, Part 2, Series B, Concordia Publishing House, 2005.