Good Friday – 2017 LSB #’s 448, 451, 439
Text – Job 42:8b
My servant Job will pray for you, & I will accept his prayer & not deal with you according to your folly.
TEARING DOWN THE SPITE HOUSE
[Note: the illustration on the Spite House comes from Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This.]
In 1882, a New York City businessman named Joseph Richardson owned a narrow strip of land. It was 5 feet wide by 104 feet long. Another businessman, Hyman Sarner, owned a normal-sized lot adjacent to Richardson’s skinny one. Sarner wanted to build an apartment that fronted the avenue so he offered Richardson $1,000 for the slender plot.
Richardson was offended by the amount & demanded $5,000. Sarner refused & Richardson called Sarner a tightwad, slamming the door on him. Sarner assumed the land would remain vacant & instructed the architect to design the apartment building with windows overlooking the avenue.
When Richardson saw the finished building, he resolved to block the view. No one was going to enjoy a free view over his lot. So Joseph Richardson built a house – five feet wide & 104 feet long & four stories high. The house was so narrow that only one person at a time could use the staircase. The largest table in any room was 18 inches wide.
A newspaper reporter of some girth once got stuck in the stairwell, & after two tenants were unsuccessful in pushing him free, he got out only by stripping down to his undergarments. People called the building “The Spite House.”
The Spite House was torn down in 1915, which is odd – very odd. I distinctly remember spending a few nights there some time ago. And, if memory serves me well, I think I saw you squeezing through the hallways. The spite house is a lonely place isn’t it? There’s only space enough for one person, & people who live in the spite house are reduced to one goal: make someone miserable. They’re often successful. Who is that person? Themselves!
This sermon series is about Job. If anybody had a reason to live in the spite house, with large amounts of animosity & resentment, it was Job. At the top of the list was his wife. Job had lost everything, & then his wife said, “Curse God & die.” If Job doesn’t already feel abandoned, he certainly did the minute his wife tells him to pull the plug & be done with it.
Then, there was Eliphaz the Arrogant, who says in Job 4:7 that the upright never perish, & in Job 4:8 that those who sow trouble reap it. Both comments imply that Job is getting from God exactly what he deserves.
Add Bildad the Brutal to the list as he says in Job 8:4, “Your children sinned against God, so He gave them over to the hand of their transgression.” For Bildad the only explanation for the tragic death of Job’s children is that they sinned against God. Then there is Zophar the Zealot. He adopts, like the others, an aloof, stoic attitude toward Job’s suffering & grief.
These people never address God & never pray to their Creator on Job’s behalf. In Job 11:6 they all agree it’s surprising that Job doesn’t suffer more. What Job needs to do is stop claiming that he is righteous in God’s sight &, instead, repent.
There are few experiences in life more painful that being rejected by friends & family members who should understand & sympathize with us. We wouldn’t be shocked if Job decided to build a spite house & live in it the rest of his life.
But, wonder of wonders, in our text from Job 42:8 God says, “My servant Job will pray for you, & I will accept his prayer & not deal with you according to your folly.” In Job 42:7–8, Job is called “servant” four times! What does God’s servant do? He intercedes for his enemies. He blesses those who cursed him. He does not return evil for evil. Though Job is still a broken man, still scraping his boils with shards of pottery, he refuses to unleash weapons of revenge. You understand, don’t you? All of this foreshadows & previews the greatest act of forgiveness. If anybody, & I mean anybody, had a reason to live in a spite house with large amounts of animosity & resentment, it was . . . Jesus.
At the top of the list were the chief priests & the scribes. They paid Judas to betray the Master, sent temple soldiers to arrest Christ in Gethsemane, brought Messiah’s case before Pilate, & stirred up the crowd to demand that Jesus be crucified.
Then there were the Pharisees & Sadducees. The Pharisees were the 1st to actively plot to kill the Son of God. And when the Savior cleansed the temple, the Sadducees joined in the plan to murder Christ, at any cost.
And don’t forget the Roman soldiers. They brutally butchered Jesus at Gabbatha; placed a crown of thorns on His head; blindfolded Him & struck Him in the face with their fists; spit on Him, railed against Him & finally, with three nails, the Roman soldiers crucified Him.
Add to the list Pontus Pilate who had found Jesus innocent. Yet, because of Jewish pressure, the Roman governor sentenced Jesus to crucifixion & then publically washed his hands. What a crass, political, double-faced act of betrayal! That’s quite a list, wouldn’t you agree? But it’s not complete.
There are other notorious sinners that Christ could have, should have, had huge amounts of spite toward. And who are those people? Brace yourselves. You & I are on the list. Our sins sent Jesus to the cross as well – our corruption, our pettiness, our indifference.
The soldiers hoist Jesus up, the cross swaying forward, then back until it is secured with wedges to hold it upright in the hole. Then they gamble to decide who will get the Savior’s garments. We’ve heard the words Jesus spoke at that point. Can you recall them? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Who is the “them”? The chief priests & scribes; the Pharisees & Sadducees; the Roman soldiers; Pontius Pilate; you & me. God’s servant intercedes for His enemies. He blesses those who cursed Him. He doesn’t return evil for evil.
Jesus is a broken man. He hangs in pain & misery. Yet still He refuses to unleash His weapons of revenge. Jesus refused to build, or to live in, the spite house.
How about you?
Oh, I know. It’s so easy to hold on to raw anger & bitter resentment. I know. I know. He treated you like trash! She left you when you needed her the most. They let you down in the most crucial moment of your life. You can flee. You can fight. You can forgive.
Some opt to flee: to get out of the relationship & start again elsewhere, though they are often surprised when things go sour, again.
Others fight. Houses become combat zones, & offices become boxing rings. Tension becomes a way of life. Still others choose to forgive. Where do they get that power? In the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Does that make forgiveness easy? No. Quick? Seldom. Painless? I don’t think so.
But stay the course. You’ll spend less time in the spite house & more time in God’s house – the grace house. As one who has walked the hallways of both, I can guarantee that you’re going to love the space of grace. Amen.
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, was there ever grief like His? Friends through fear His cause disowning, foes insulting His distress; many hands were raised to wound Him, none would intervene to save; but the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that justice gave. Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost: Christ, the Rock of our salvation, is the name of which we boast; Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built. Amen. LSB 451:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet