Sermon for October 28, 2018

Scripture Readings: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Ps. 34:1-8, 19-22;
Heb. 7:223-28; Mark 10:46-52

Sermon by Sheila Graham 
(from Hebrews 7, Job 42, Mark 10 and Psalm 34, 
drawing from The Expositor's Bible Commentary)

Marvelous and Wonderful!

Introduction

Remember the old hymn, My Savior’s Love? The refrain goes like this:

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

The words and music were written by Charles H. Gabriel in 1905. He wrote an estimated 8,000 gospel songs, many about God’s love for us. You might recognize some of the titles: “He Lifted Me,” “More Like the Master,” “Higher Ground,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” “Since Jesus Came into My Heart.” So inspiring, uplifting and comforting! We have a God who actually loves us, in spite of ourselves, and we can be in relationship with him. How marvelous! How wonderful!

High Priest—then and now

Our reading today in Hebrews reminds us that we have an eternal high priest in Jesus. It tells us that at any time, we can go to him without fear or shame, knowing he made the perfect sacrifice of himself so our sins could be forgiven, and we could have that relationship with him:

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:23-28, NRSV)

Some of this passage may sound strange to us today, but the author of Hebrews was writing to people who were well acquainted with the Old Testament and the history and traditions of the Jews. They understood Jewish worship, which was centered on the law and the priesthood. God was approached through the priesthood and the prophets.

Now, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the old was gone, the new had come—an eternal priesthood was established with Jesus as the permanent high priest. Verse 25: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Icon of Christ, the Great High Priest
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This message of grace through Christ was not only for those people, of course. It’s a message that has resonated through the centuries since Christ. No barriers exist between us and our Savior. We can freely approach him, and he will intercede for us. Our sins are forgiven.

But, does freely approaching God almost sound too good to be true sometimes? When we look at ourselves and our shortcomings and sins, we may feel unsure about coming before our perfect Savior. We know our God is holy and pure and righteous, and we are not. Does that create a stumbling block for us? If it does, it shouldn’t.

Let’s look at a couple of examples in the Scriptures when people—people like you and me—approached God fearlessly and even presumptuously.

God and Job

There’s the story of Job, a righteous man who Satan said would curse God if it weren’t for God blessing him all the time. A little background: Job wasn’t an Israelite; he lived in the land of Uz. But like Abraham he was an upright, honest, God-fearing man who God blessed and protected.

But Satan accused Job of hypocrisy. Sure, he’s righteous; who wouldn’t be with all you do for him? Satan said. God then allowed Satan to take away what Job had. First, he destroyed Job financially and then took away Job’s beloved children. Then Satan was allowed to inflict Job personally as well, with severe physical pain.

Job Speaks with His Friends
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

To make matters worse, his wife turned against him, and so did some of his friends, who accused Job of having some secret sins, assuming that God wouldn’t allow Job to suffer without a reason. Though Job didn’t curse God, as Satan said he would, he did get very depressed and began to complain about his situation and to question God. And who could blame him?

Have you ever questioned God? It’s easy to feel God’s love when all is going well for us, but what about when it’s not? What about when we have an unexpected financial setback or lose a loved one or suffer a severe health problem? We might feel we’re being treated unjustly. I hope we would hang in there like Job did, but we might also question God’s love and concern for us.

When we read Job’s story, we see God was quiet at first and just listened, but then God did answer him, and it changed Job’s life. Let’s read Job’s answer when God did respond to his questioning:

Then Job answered the LORD:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, NRSV)

Though God didn’t explain why he allowed Job to suffer, he did remind Job of who he was. Job was humbled. He had presumptuously complained to God about how he felt mistreated. Now God told him who he, God, was.

Sometimes we humans need to remember that God is God and we aren’t.

Among other things, the book of Job shows how little we humans can know of God’s purposes at times, yet we should still have faith in him. It also shows how a human being can have a close personal relationship with God.

All this time, Job thought God was ignoring him in his misery, but God was there with him throughout his sufferings. Though he was not being punished for any particular sin, he came to see he really didn’t deserve an explanation or anything else from God. For the first time he saw himself as he really was, and Job repented.

His friends were shown to be wrong. Just because Job was suffering did not mean God was punishing him for his sins. We can learn much from the story of Job.

There are many examples in the Bible of people presumptuously questioning God: Moses, Abraham, Gideon and Jeremiah, for example. But, did you notice, God doesn’t seem to mind. We’re his children. He loves us. God allows us to come before him with all our wants and needs and, yes, with our complaints and questions, even when we’re a bit presumptuous in doing so. Let’s look at another example.

Jesus and the blind man

Jesus and his disciples, followed by a crowd of people, seemed to be in a hurry as they traveled out of the city of Jericho. Let’s read the account in Mark 10.

 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52, NRSV)

This blind man wouldn’t be ignored, even though those following Jesus, probably including Jesus’ own disciples, tried to quiet him: “Don’t bother Jesus; quit your hollering. We’ve got someplace to be. Jesus doesn’t have time for you.” But Jesus did have time, and because Bartimaeus believed and wouldn’t be discouraged from speaking up, he was healed.

Healing of the Blind Man
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

There are many other examples. Remember the Samaritan woman who wouldn’t leave Jesus alone until he promised to heal her daughter, or the woman who reached out and touched Jesus’ robe in the crowd, or the guys who dropped their sick friend down through a roof right in front of Jesus?
God always has time to listen to us, his children. He wants to hear from us, yes, in worship and praise and thanksgiving, but also when it comes to our questions and complaints. He wants a relationship with us.

Have you, like Job, ever been angry with God? You can go to him and express that anger. He wants you to. He knows how hard it is sometimes for us as human beings to understand. It comes down to a matter of faith and trust in him.

This world is temporary. God has better things in store for us. But, for now, we live in an unpredictable and dangerous world. We aren’t promised we won’t suffer while we’re here, just the opposite. However, we can take comfort knowing that God has promised that he will never abandon us in our pain, grief or loss.

Our relationship with God

Let’s read from the 34th Psalm:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all. (Ps. 34:19, NRSV)

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf, and through the ongoing ministry of the Spirit, we live in relationship with the almighty God of the universe. That’s difficult to get our minds around, isn’t it? As Christian author Paul David Tripp writes:

God is involved with every detail of our lives, he is near. He is so near that at any moment we can reach out and touch him. This means that every grace that you and I will ever need is near and available to us as well. So reach out today. The Author is near and he has grace in his hands. (“New Morning Mercies”)

Conclusion

Our God, who is a God of love, is approachable and loving. He wants a relationship with us. He is worthy of our adoration and worship. Though King David suffered some major setbacks in his life, he wrote many Psalms praising God for his goodness and mercy. Let’s conclude by reading from Psalm 34:

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
and was saved from every trouble.
(Ps. 34:1-6, NRSV)

Our God is a God of love, deserving of our praise and worship. We can come to him with our hopes and dreams and with our problems and faults. Our Savior understands. We can trust him with our lives. He is marvelous and wonderful!

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