Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Heirs of Eternal Life” (Job 19:25-27)
November 10, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the collect for today we are reminded why Jesus Christ came to earth, that God’s “blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life” (The Book of Common Prayer 236). God’s love is stronger than death. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means death is not the end of the story. Upon their death God’s children—including you—are not heirs of oblivion, not heirs of nothingness, not heirs of empty silence, but rather, as we prayed in this collect, “heirs of eternal life.”
Scripture does not turn a blind eye to suffering and death—neither personal suffering and death, nor corporate suffering and death. In scripture one of the individuals who experienced the most suffering was Job, who is described as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” In fact, God said this about Job, “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:1, 8). And yet Job still endured a tremendous amount of suffering in his life. In a very short time he lost his children and lost his property to a combination of invaders and natural disasters. Upon hearing all this awful news Job famously said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
It grew worse for Job when he lost his health to a hideous skin disease that covered him with “loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” By this time his wife had had enough, “Do you still persist in your integrity?” she asked, “Curse God and die” (Job 1:7, 9). But of course Job would not do that.
Over the years I have had the privilege of making many visits to people on their deathbed. I wish I could tell you all these visits were marked by the assurance that in Jesus Christ the one dying was an heir of eternal life, but there have been some occasions where the atmosphere was more characterized by “curse God and die.” Job’s wife is not alone in that hopeless, nihilistic, angry perspective of death.
Job had three friends named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—all names that apparently lost their popularity at some point. These three friends came alongside Job and for a week they did the exact right thing: they kept their mouths shut and their hearts open—but then one at a time they began to explain to Job about their theory of karma, their theory that the reason Job had suffered so much loss, the reason Job had lost his children and his property and his health, the reason even his own wife would not comfort him, was all payback for the sins of his life. They reasoned that although on the surface Job appeared to be righteous, apparently he was not righteous at all, and so God punished him through his vast suffering.
This type of thinking is alive and well today although it has nothing at all to do with the gospel. We may candy-coat suffering with expressions like, “God needed to get my attention” or “God needed to give me a wake-up call.” Many years ago a middle aged member of a church I was serving wanted to meet with me. He told me his marriage was falling apart and he was convinced that God was punishing him for his salacious and promiscuous past. He wanted to confirm that theory with me, to know that indeed his marriage was falling apart because God was punishing him for the sins of his past. It’s all karma, right? In his song “Instant Karma” John Lennon put it this way, “Instant Karma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head, you’d better get yourself together, pretty soon you’re gonna be dead.”
This idea of karma is even alive and well in the church. Perhaps some of you have embraced it. In John’s account of the gospel we see that this is nothing new. Before Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth, his own disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” and Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”, and then Jesus healed him (John 9:1-7). It had nothing to do with karma, and everything to do with God’s love.
Yes, we reap the consequences of our actions but that is the law, not the gospel. The gospel is that God is with us even in the midst of suffering, especially in the midst of suffering. The gospel is that we reap what God sowed for us on Good Friday. The gospel is that Jesus “suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The gospel is that we reap the consequences of Jesus’ actions in our place, that as scripture tells us, “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
The gospel is that “God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The gospel is that because “he who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). The gospel supersedes karma. The gospel is supersedes the law. The gospel is that because of God’s love, we are “heirs of eternal life.”
One of the most harmful things I have ever heard preached was a sermon many years ago about how when we are in the midst of suffering we are not supposed to ask “why” questions, but “what” questions instead. In other words, instead of asking God, “Why is this suffering happening?” you need to ask God, “What are you trying to teach me through this suffering?” That may sound good on the surface, but again, it is the law, not the gospel—and it is pastorally cruel to tell people that when they are suffering.
Back to Job…Job did not curse God as his wife had advised him, but he did curse the day he was born, “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine in it” (Job 3:3-4). Moreover, in the midst of his suffering Job was not asking “what” questions, but “why” questions:
Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light? Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come…Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in? (Job 3:11, 16, 20-21, 23).
Job was not asking any “what” questions, but he was asking lots of “why” questions, because in the midst of suffering those are the questions you are asking in your heart. This is not just the case with Job, for in the Book of Psalms there are lots of “why” questions: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)—“Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” (Psalm 42:9)—“O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14). Biblically, even if there are no clear answers to such “why” questions in the midst of suffering, you will still ask them anyway, and that’s okay.
And as Job’s despair intensified, his three friends continued to answer his “why” questions with their lame explanations about his suffering being punishment from God, on and on it went until eventually Job became utterly exasperated, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2). And yet, even in the midst of all his suffering, even in the midst of all his despair, even in the midst of all his friends’ karma counseling, Job uttered the following words of resurrection hope in today’s Old Testament passage:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
Job is speaking here of physical, bodily, resurrection—“in my flesh I shall see God” because his Redeemer, and your Redeemer lives. In the midst of his suffering Job placed his hope not in karma but in a Person, in the Lord his Redeemer, with whom Job had a personal relationship—“my Redeemer lives.”
Many years ago I received a phone call in the middle of the night from a young couple whose baby son had been stillborn in the wee hours. As you can imagine, they were devastated. They asked me if I would please come and baptize their baby boy even though he had been stillborn. I drove to the hospital and arrived in their room and the young mother was holding her stillborn son. And of course I baptized him, because God’s love is stronger than death, because that little stillborn baby’s Redeemer lives, and someday in his healed flesh he will see God, because that little stillborn baby is an heir of eternal life.
Jesus Christ is your Redeemer, and your Redeemer lives. Scripture assures you that God has redeemed you from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), God has redeemed you with Jesus’ “precious blood” shed on the cross (1 Peter 1:18), and God has marked you with the Holy Spirit, your seal for your “day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
On Good Friday Jesus Christ your Redeemer, suffered on the cross, and he did not ask a “what” question, he asked a “why” question—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But on Easter Sunday Jesus Christ your Redeemer was raised from the dead and even now your Redeemer lives.
One more illustration and then I will close…at the end of The Last Battle, the final volume of C. S. Lewis’ classic children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia two of the main characters, the young siblings Edmund and Lucy, find themselves in heaven, where Aslan, who is the Christ figure throughout The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan who is their redeemer, greets them. Edmund and Lucy are confused, and Aslan asks them, “Have you not guessed?” C. S. Lewis continues:
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them. “There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And C. S. Lewis concludes:
And as (Aslan) spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before (228).
Because Jesus Christ your Redeemer lives, after you die in your flesh you will see God, whom you shall see on your side—who has always been on your side—and your eyes shall behold, and not another.
Because Jesus Christ your Redeemer lives, you are truly “heirs of eternal life.”