Note: We were unable to capture audio for this week's sermon. Sorry! We hope to be back next week! - Pastor Jonathan
Job 1:6–12 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 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.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “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. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
You don’t have to know that Satan went out and immediately erased job’s entire net worth. Nor do you have to know that he also assassinated all of Job’s kids. You don’t have to know that to ask why. Why, God? Why would you let Satan off his leash like this?
Was it because, Lord, you had to? It’s not usually put that bluntly, but an awful lot of people approach Job that way. They say, “Such is the way the chips had to fall. Satan always works so hard.” As if sometimes he’s just so incredibly and supernaturally smart that he occasionally manages to slip through the cracks of even the Lord’s best laid plans and manages to achieve his own ends. Some say these verse teach that view of why suffering happens. They say, “Look at how brilliant Satan was here. He totally cornered the Lord. He even laid out the perfect accusation.” “‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?’” (v. 9-10) Brilliant. “Job doesn’t love you for you, Lord. You have no real relationship with him. What you call faith, Lord, is just disguised selfishness. Job is just using you for what you give him. That’s it. Boom. Now you have to prove me wrong.” “But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (v. 11)
You know what my NIV Study Bible says about that accusation and that opportunity to prove Satan wrong? That the Lord had to answer. That he had to. That Satan had with great genius cornered God and forced his hand. That now the Lord had to prove Satan wrong and for the sake of his own honor the Lord had to let Satan off his leash onto Job. He had to. Satan had put the Lord in checkmate and the Lord didn’t have any more moves. That in a cage match of supernatural wits the Lord had lost this round with Satan. The Lord had to begrudgingly say to Satan, “Go ahead, but don’t take his life. I have to prove to you that Job loves me for me.” So the thinking of many goes about suffering. Satan occasionally manages to get off his leash and suffering happens. So you get cancer because Satan somehow got the Lord’s goat on something. And your job isn’t fun anymore because Satan had a moment of genius. And you suffer insomnia or your depression got worse because sometimes even the Lord gets caught in Satan’s web of trickery and lies. Is that it? Is that why suffering happens?
Not according to Job. In Job suffering gets planned in a totally different place. Not somewhere deep inside the recesses of Satan’s demented mind. Not down in some hellish cavern where we find Satan laughing diabolically as he rubs his hands together having dreamt up his foolproof plan. In Job, the planning happened in heaven. “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD” (v. 6) A certain day was planned and on that day a heavenly council was convened. And why? The angels were convening to take orders. That’s what you do when you show up in the King’s court. You take orders. Orders for what? They were all there to take orders for the governance of this bluish orb. That’s amazing if you think about it. That the Lord is that interested in this place. That he’s no ancient clockmaker who set the law of gravity, Bournelli’s Principle, and a few other laws of physics in place and then went on permanent vacation. You’re seeing the Lord here dishing out orders and making things happen on earth. That’s what you’re seeing. You’re getting a rare, rare look at the Wizard behind the curtain in our Oz. You’re seeing him pull heavenly strings to make the marionettes dance down here.
You know what that means? The Divine Wizard wasn’t the one getting played. He was the one playing. And here he plays not only the Wizard behind the curtain, but also interrogator-in-chief of the terrorist-in-chief. He immediately asks Satan, “Where have you come from?” (v. 7) And the answer comes back, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (v. 7) I mean what you can you say about that answer? I suppose you can call is malevolent and insolent. But it’s more too. It’s not just a teenager’s evasive, “nowhere.” It is actually an admission. He was saying, “Oh, I was out and about. I was doing this and that. I was tooling around and patrolling and doing what I do.” You know what’s amazing about that? Satan told the truth. That is exactly what he had been doing. He had been roaming and prowling and reacting. Because that’s what predators like him do. They spot opportunities to victimize and then they avail themselves of those opportunities. They cannot help themselves. They move from whim to whim whatever they may be.
I think it’s important to understand that. Satan’s not really in control of himself. Not really. Not any more than a lion is who has red meat dropped in front of his nose. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have cunning plans when he does spot victims or that he doesn’t have supernatural intelligence. He does. It’s just that when he confesses, “I can’t move in a straight line.” He’s being honest. He can’t control himself. His supernatural anger and malice control him. He has to roam and he has to go wherever he spots red meat. Why do I point that out? To show you the big picture here. The planning is done in heaven. The good angels show up to do God’s bidding. Satan in the moment must too. How will the Lord make that happen? Point to some red meat. “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.” (v. 8) I mean how could Satan not have a Pavlovian response to red meat like that? How could he not start drooling after Job? “There’s my guy over there. Nobody’s better than Job. He loves me for me. And he even shows it with his actions.”
How could Satan not head right for Job? A key to understanding the book of Job is to realize that Satan merely reacts and plots, but the real governor is the Lord. The Lord here dropped Job as a piece of red meat right in front of the lion. Use whatever analogy you want to, but understand that’s what’s happening here. The Lord had cornered Satan. Not the other way around. The Lord had pushed over the first domino in a domino train. Satan hadn’t done that. The question then is not whether or not the Lord is powerful. Clearly the Lord is that. Everything happens on Lord’s terms and by his direction. That is not the question. The better question when it comes to suffering is this: Does the Lord actually care? Because if he did... if he truly delighted in Job... if he was truly interested only in blessing him why in the world would he drop Job like a piece of red meat in front of a predator that fierce? That’s the key question. The question is not whether or not the Wizard behind the curtain is powerful. The question is whether or not he occasionally games from heaven at our expense.
Do you think that’s what’s happening? I think we have to ask. Is God really as kind as he says he is? We have to ask. Truth is we all already have before. You feel that aching question whenever you suffer. You don’t want to say it outloud. You don’t want to give your fear life with words. But there it is. You ache wondering if your hospital visit was God just keeping it interesting for himself. Wondering if your difficult relationships at your job or in the family are examples of God entertaining himself with the reality TV of your life. Wondering if that abuse you experienced as a child was God just checking out. A man known for writing about horror, Stephen King, put that kind of horror into words in a screenplay he wrote called Storm of the Century. He used the story of Job as his backdrop. He wrote, “When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, ‘There’s just something about you that ticks me off.’” Is that the Wizard in our Oz? Is he powerful, but uncaring? Is he big, but not interested in our small?
You know what Job believed? He believed the Lord was the Lord. Powerful and caring. Both. He believed the Lord. You need to know that. Titles matter. Calling God God is to refer to him as powerful, but not necessarily a personal deity. That’s what the title is talking about. He’s God the creator. God over all. God the supreme. The Lord is a title that means far more. And Job knew that. Please understand that. When Job responded in faith to his suffering with his very famous, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away may the name of the Lord be praised.” (v. 21) He wasn’t talking about a cold, powerful, far-off God. This wasn’t him saying, “I bow to your sovereign will. I submit to your incredible divinity.” He hadn’t called him God. He had called him Lord. Job believed he was the Lord, the God of free and faithful love. The covenant God who is always working a plan for his people. Those ideas are actually implicit in the title itself. Lord is the verb to be. He is. He is the same Lord who loved people into existence and now yearns to delight in them as his highest goal.
And so whatever this Lord was up to it was for Job. That’s what Job believed. Job believed that sometimes the Lord, who is always working a plan for his people, had to take from him in order to give him even more. That sometimes the Lord had to be the surgeon who cuts in order to heal. That sometimes the Lord has to be the oncologist who administer chemo to beat cancer. That sometimes the Lord has to be the botanist who prunes to make us grow. That sometimes the Lord has to get out the jaws of life to rescue us from our car wreck. That he’s the Lord. That he’s not just powerful, almighty, and omnipotent, but that he’s also saving and gracious and compassionate. And Job believed that a God like that doesn’t push over dominoes because he’s divinely bored. He does everything as a saving mission to souls. Somehow Satan’s suffering was going to minister to the Lord’s child, Job. Somehow the Lord was going to become more to Job than he was already was. Somehow this was going to help Job delight, focus, and have more of the Lord.
Job believed that. Even without what we have. You know what we know that Job never did? He never got a glimpse behind the curtain. He never did. He never got to see the Lord convene his divine council and hold up Job even there with love and delight. “Look at him. He’s my child.” He never got to hear that. He never got to see how the Lord was pulling strings way up in heaven just for him so that the marionettes on earth would have to dance and to bless him. He never got to see that. But you just did. You got to see that that car accident was no accident. Not in the way you once thought. You got to see that that surgery wasn’t just bad genetics or that on the job boredom or that family tension wasn’t just bad karma. You got to see with unmistakably clarity that behind the curtain is the true Wizard of our Oz. And he’s not just a wizard. He’s the Lord and he loves you. And that whenever your life feels an awful lot like Satan’s munching on you like a piece red meat that only means the Lord’s best work is happening. That the Lord high from heaven is outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting even the supernatural intelligence of Satan for you.
You know how I know that for sure? Job 2.0 came. Job 1.0 was “the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (v. 3) He was someone who the Lord delighted in and treasured and for saving reasons he got dropped like red meat in front of Satan. Thankfully with limits. Satan couldn’t kill him. But Job 2.0? The ultimate Wizard of our Oz played a salvation game with him we’re only coming to fathom it now. Because as faithful as Job 1.0 was he couldn’t hold a candle to Job 2.0. He couldn’t. The Lord loved Jesus like he’d never loved anyone before. Because Jesus was his Son. And this time the Lord didn’t declare that love behind the curtain and only in the heavenly council, this time the Lord shouted it to the entire world. He said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) And the Lord knew – he knew! – we wouldn’t be the only ones listening. He was dropping his Son in front of Satan like a delicious hunk of gorgeous sirloin. And the hunt was on. How do I know? The very next verse in Matthew tells us Satan came running.
Do you see what that means? Whatever game the Lord is up to with suffering in your life you have to see that the Lord himself played by the exact same rules with his Son. With one key difference. With Jesus there were no limits for Satan. The Lord green lighted him. He said, “Satan, you can even crucify him.” And that’s just what Satan did. Satan took Jesus, the ultimate Job, and crucified him. And you know what came of it? The Wizard behind the curtain, the Lord, conjured up forgiveness for the world and made life come out of that death. That’s the truth about suffering. THE TRUTH. The Lord pulled back the curtain on suffering the whole way in Job 2.0, Christ crucified. However much the Lord lets Satan off the leash is the same amount of rope that in the end we’ll find Satan hanging from. That’s the power of God. The Lord is so perfect in power that he turned the greatest tragedy into perfect joy. And the Lord is so everlasting with his love that he received the most severe suffering for you.
So trust him when you suffer. Trust him when it feels like a cosmically smart and supernaturally powerful demon is eyeing you like red meat. Trust him whether it’s sadness or sickness. Trust him whether it’s insomnia or stress. Trust him whether it’s your kid that dies or you that has a stroke. Trust him. Trust him that your name is on his lips in his heavenly council. That your heart is on his. And then take one look at Christ crucified and know that you cannot possibly be wrong. Amen.