Ash Wednesday – 2017 LSB #’s 440:1-4, 440:5-6, 750:1-4 & 7, 878:1 & 6
Text – Job 1:12
“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.’”
In 2007 Jim O’Neill was flying from Glasgow, Scotland to Colchester, England when his vision failed. Initially he thought he’d been blinded by the sun, but soon O’Neill realized it was much worse. He had suffered a stroke. It gave new meaning to the expression, “flying blind.” O’Neill groped around, found the radio & issued a Mayday alert.
Paul Gerrard of the Royal Air Force quickly took off &, finding O’Neill, began talking to the blind pilot. “Keep coming down. A gentle right turn. Left a bit. Go right now.” Gerrard hovered within 500 feet, guiding him to the nearest runway. O’Neill would have to land the plane flying blind.
We’ve all been struck, perhaps not with a stroke, but with divorce papers, a crippling expense or a cancer-ridden body. Not midair, but mid-career, mid-semester, or midlife. Losing sight of any safe landing strip, we’ve issued our fair share of Mayday prayers. Who of us does not know that feeling of flying blind?
And so does Job, the man who wrote one of the Bible’s greatest wisdom books. Nine sermons will help us dig into the central message & supporting truths. We begin with Job 1:1–12, & what do we learn? We learn the skill of flying blind.
There are some times we know why bad things happen. I run a red light. The cop pulls me over. He writes a ticket. I’m out $275. Why did that happen? Because my nickname is “lead-foot pastor!” Job’s suffering, on the other hand, was undeserved, unjust & unwarranted. Job 1:1 & 8 describe him as “blameless & upright, a man who fears God & turns away from evil.” This doesn’t mean he was without sin, but that Job was a godly man. And just in case we miss that, Job 2:3 also describes him as “blameless & upright, a man who fears God & turns away from evil.” Job was an innocent sufferer. He didn’t earn or deserve any of his human hell.
In Job 1:6 the curtains are lifted for a moment to provide us with a glimpse into the invisible spirit world where, behind the scenes, a wager is being made between God & Satan, whose very name means “accuser.” Like a vindictive lawyer or a corrupt policeman, Satan is on the lookout for someone to drag before the judgment seat of God in order to condemn:
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’” (Job 1:8 ESV) It’s sort of like a diamond thief coming into a jewelry store & the owner says, “Have you seen my most prized diamond? It’s the most valuable one we have, the most precious diamond in our store. Let me show it to you.” Thanks a lot God!
Satan then asks the key question in the book: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9 ESV) In other words, Lucifer knows that every man has his price so he thinks Job is only good for what he can get out of it. Satan thinks that Job loves the gifts of God more than God himself. Satan bets the farm that if God removes the gifts, Job will curse the Giver.
“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 ESV) Job is about to become Ground Zero as the devil gets ready to launch his assault. We see this conversation in heaven between God & Satan. But Job? He has no clue.
When all hell breaks loose Job repeatedly, with increasing intensity as the drama unfolds, cries out, “God, where are you?” Job was being forced to learn the art of flying blind. Why? Because all of this points us to Jesus. Let me say that again. All of this points us to Jesus. Luke 4:13 tells us, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Jesus until an opportune time.” St. Luke gave us another bird’s-eye view of spiritual realities. Jesus, like Job, is “blameless & upright, a man who fears God & shuns evil” – only Christ was without sin in the fullest & the most complete sense imaginable. Jesus is the ultimate innocent sufferer. Like no other, Jesus didn’t earn or deserve any of His human hell.
With Job, God did not allow Satan to test him to the point of death. But with Jesus, Satan was allowed to marshal all of his weapons of mass destruction. If Job was reduced to living on the local ash heap, Jesus was stripped naked & nailed like a scarecrow to a cross in a God-forsaken garbage dump called Golgotha.
When you cry out, from the depths of your suffering, “Where are you, God?” Jesus says:
“I’m here, on the cross, suffering with you & suffering for you. I’m here, bleeding for the sins of the world. I’m here, feeling every last ounce of your pain. I’ll always be here for you as together we long for the New Jerusalem, when I will wipe away every tear from your eyes. In that place & from then to eternity, there will be no more death, no more grief, no more crying, no more pain. For the old order of things will pass away.”
And if we want to hear how unbelievable suffering like Job’s can be transformed into infinite good, then we journey from the cross to the empty tomb where the crucified Conqueror stands, with the palms of His hands outstretched, offering the gift of eternal life. It is there that we find courage & strength to say again, “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
On that day in 2007, on his 1st try Jim O’Neill hit the runway & bounced up again. Paul Gerrard continued to speak calming words of assurance & hope. Finally on the 8th try the blinded pilot managed to make a near-perfect landing.
When you & I are flying blind many voices will clamor for our attention. The talk show host says not to worry. The financial advisor says buy now. The friend says read this book. Then we add our own voice which asks, “What’s the use?” The end result, too often, is that we crash & burn. As the season of Lent begins, we want to remind ourselves that it’s time, again, to listen to the only voice that really matters. Maybe for Lent, we should give up listening to all the voices of our broken culture. It would be far healthier to focus on the voice that matters most as Jesus speaks to us with tenderness & love, “Keep coming down. A gentle right turn. Left a bit. Turn right now.”
At the altar Jesus gives us these words for the ages: “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood.” With this voice guiding us we will land safely in His loving arms, today & forevermore! Amen.
If Thou but trust in God to guide thee & hope in Him through all Thy ways, He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee, & & bear thee through the evil days. Who trusts in God’s unchanging love builds on the rock that naught can move. God knows full well when times of gladness shall be the needful thing for thee, when He has tried thy soul with sadness & from all guile has found thee free, He comes to thee all unaware & makes thee own His loving care. Amen. LSB 750:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet