Rest in This Friend

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Good morning, everyone. I am glad to see you this morning, even if it is only virtually on Facebook.
When we awoke to four and a half inches of snow yesterday morning, it was clear to me that we needed to be wise and careful in choosing whether to meet in person or virtually here today.
I want to thank the deacons for their sensitivity to the danger some folks would have put themselves in by trying to get here this morning and the difficulty we would have had getting the parking lot and sidewalks cleared with so many folks already out sick at this time.
We’ll be back together again next Sunday, God willing, and I am looking forward to the message we will receive then from Derek Blumenthal of Chosen People Ministries.
Today, however, I wanted to take some time to talk to you about what most of you were already thinking about — snow.
I hope that those of you who are so inclined were able to get outside and have a little fun. Annette and I built a little mini snowman in the backyard. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, my obligation to winter in Virginia has now been satisfied.
I’d be perfectly content for the snow that’s on the ground today to be gone by Tuesday and for temperatures to climb back into the 70s. We’ve had enough winter for my taste.
Unfortunately, God hasn’t ever given me a say in the matter, so it will be what it will be, and I will remind myself that whether the temperature is 7 or 77, “This is the day the Lord has made” and “I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
As I was thinking about my attitude regarding snow yesterday, I came across a story about researchers in Wisconsin who created a computer program in 2009 that can duplicate the symmetrical beauty of snowflakes.
After four years of work, they were able to design software that could model the way snowflakes form as water molecules crystalize around a speck of dust, creating all the ridges and markings that we all would recognize as part of a star-shaped or fern-like snowflake crystal.
One of the researchers described the complexity of the program and the complications involved in growing even one digital snowflake. He said they’d spent several years trying to make the model simple and efficient, but even after all that time and work, it still takes them a day to grow just one digital snowflake.
Fortunately for those of you who love the snow — and I know there are some of you out there who do — the Bible tells us that God has snow set aside by the storehouse-load. And He’s much better at making it than we ever will be.
In fact, what these scientists learned was very much like what God taught Job.
You’ll remember that God had allowed the devil to test Job’s faith by striking him with one catastrophe after another. So, first Job’s cattle, and his sheep, and his camels, and his servants, and all of his children were killed. And then, he was struck with boils from the soles of his feet the the top of his head.
And then, Job’s friends arrived, and after sitting quietly with him for seven days and seven nights, they could no longer hold their tongues, and they proceeded to make things worse.
Although they had started well by simply sitting with Job through his suffering, they made things worse when they finally opened their mouths and began to speak.
And one of the great lessons from the Book of Job is that if you don’t have something constructive to say — especially when you’re with someone who is hurting — don’t say anything.
Another of the great lessons is that if you’re going to talk to someone about God — especially to someone who’s suffering — make sure you do so in a way that honors God’s true character.
You see, the Book of Job seems to have been written to counter some very bad theology that was apparently widespread among the Hebrew people in the Ancient Near East. And Job’s friends were absolutely consumed with this bad theology.
Here’s what they said to Job, essentially. They said, “Job, we know that God does good things for people who love and serve Him, and we know that he brings evil upon those who are evil. Therefore, you must have done something evil to have brought God’s judgment upon you. If you were a righteous man who truly feared God, these things wold never have happened to you.”
The message of Job’s friends might sound familiar to some of you, because I know you hear it on the radio, and I know you see it on television. This is the message of so many prosperity preachers today: Do something good for God, and He will do something good for you. Give the church more money so you can expect greater blessings.
There are many problems with this false prosperity gospel that was so popular in Job’s time and is still so popular today, but one of the biggest problems it how it portrays God. This false theology makes God into some sort of personal genie whose role is to reward us for doing good things.
The other big problem is how it portrays man. It completely distorts and exaggerates our ability to be righteous, and it suggests that we somehow put God into our debt by simply doing good things — which, frankly, is what we all should be doing anyway.
To Job’s credit, he doesn’t seem to share the wrong theology of his three relentless friends. But he has had a terrible run, and he quite understandably begins to feel sorry for himself as the story progresses, and eventually we hear him begin to spout some bad theology of his own.
And Job’s bad theology pretty much comes down to this: I’ve served God, and therefore I deserve an answer from God as to why He’s allowed such disaster to fall upon me.
It’s the age-old question that I suppose each of us has asked at some point in our life: Why, God? Why?
Except that, by chapter 31, Job has worked himself into quite a lather, and he has become indignant, and impetuous, and demanding.
Listen to what he says in verses 35-37 of that chapter:
Job 31:35–37 NASB95
“Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me! And the indictment which my adversary has written, Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, I would bind it to myself like a crown. “I would declare to Him the number of my steps; Like a prince I would approach Him.
You know, I think it’s OK for us to ask God “why” in the midst of our struggles. Where we go wrong — and where Job surely went wrong — is when we demand that God explain Himself to us.
And verses 1 and 2 of the following chapter say what we should already have recognized from this high-handed pronouncement by Job: He had become righteous in his own eyes, and he had justified himself before God.
In other words, Job was now lifting his eyes to heaven, shaking his fist at God and suggesting that God had made some kind of mistake by letting such a righteous man as himself suffer as he had suffered. More than that, Job was demanding that God explain Himself.
Now, Job had certainly come upon some terrible times, and he was hurting emotionally and suffering physically, so maybe he just figured there was nothing worse that could happen to him.
But I hope you will all recognize that this really isn’t a proper way to come before the creator and king of the universe. To say the least.
But God is gracious, amen? And so, God didn’t strike Job down then and there, and He didn’t send wasps to sting Job on his boils or whatever.
Instead, He first speaks through the fourth friend, Elihu, who had remained silent until now. And then, in case Job had some notion to speak back to the things Elihu had said to vindicate God, God speaks for Himself, answering, as we see in verse 1 of chapter 38, out of the whirlwind.
Job 38:1–3 NASB95
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? “Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
And then God lets loose a barrage of questions through the next four chapters, stopping just once for Job to say, essentially, “I have nothing to say for myself.”
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth,” God asks in 38:4. “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place?” He asks in verse 12 of that same chapter. And then in verse 22, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail?”
And God’s questions to Job just do not let up for four chapters.
Verse 34: “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water will cover you?” Verse 19 of chapter 39: “Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?” Verses 7-9 of chapter 40:
Job 40:7–9 NASB95
“Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. “Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? “Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?
And finally, in chapter 42, God becomes silent, and Job speaks again, and he says, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.... Therefore, I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”
The point of all this is that God is absolutely sovereign, and He does just as He wills, and we must never demand that He explain Himself as if He stands accused before us and we could ever judge Him.
He is not indebted to us for our good works. Nor is He obliged, according to our timelines, even to bring His judgment against those who do evil.
As God put it through the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 55:8–9 NASB95
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.
God WILL judge those who do evil on the earth in His timing. But He may also allow them to prosper while they are here on earth. This is one of the things that Solomon struggled with in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
And we know that for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, God works all things for good. So, there is a sense in which we who have followed Jesus Christ in faith can expect that we will be rewarded for our good deeds. We can know that even our suffering will be used by God to make us more like Jesus.
But we are not promised that those things will take place in our earthly lives.
Instead, what we are promised is that God is sovereign. What we are promised is that not one thing happens to us that has not first passed through His hands. We are reminded that our days were written in His book and ordained for us before even one of them came to be. We are promised that He loves us.
Whatever you are going through right now, brothers and sisters in Christ, none of it is a surprise to God. Nothing that is happening in your life has caused God to have to go back to His drawing board and sketch out a new plan for you. None of it has caused Him to love you any less or any more.
Just before He ascended back into heaven in His glorified body, Jesus said something to His disciples that should be of comfort to us all: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
For we who have followed Him in faith, this might be the best promise of all.
He who described Himself as “the way, the truth and the life” gave us the Spirit of Truth, the third Person of the Trinity, to be the indwelling presence of God Himself within us.
There is no sickness you will face without His presence. There is no hurt you will be dealt without His presence. There is no suffering you will encounter without His presence.
As Paul put it:
Romans 8:38–39 NASB95
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not even death itself will separate you from the presence of God, nor from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friends, we live in hard times. We live in times when it sometimes seems that we can’t count on anything, not even the faithful love of friends and family.
We live in times, like Israel during the days of the judges, in which everyone does what is right in his own eyes. And just like Israel during those days, we see the resulting pain and suffering that comes from the world living that way.
But you who are part of the body of Christ have a friend who sticks closer than a brother. What a friend we have in Jesus!
What a privilege to call Him “Friend” who laid the foundations of the earth, who commands the morning, who lays up the storehouses of snow.
Turn to Him in your troubles. Even if that just sounds like, “God, please help!”
Come to Him, you who are weak and heavy-laden, and He will give you rest.
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