08-03-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Living in a fallen, broken-down world—a world that has been ruined by sin—we face challenges. Suffering is the normal human condition. Even Jesus suffered when he became flesh. Even before the cross, Jesus felt what we feel: he experienced fatigue, hunger, thirst, rejection, and temptation.
We should not be surprised, Peter wrote in the NT, when we encounter troubles and problems (he called them a “fiery ordeal”)—“as though something strange were happening to you.” So troubles may come in many forms: physical pain, illness, emotional struggles, mental anguish, spiritual battles. In this life, we will experience disappointments, temptation, loss, anxieties, doubts and fears.
But there is another side to the story. As believers, we know victory is promised to us even when we face the worst that the world—and the Enemy—can throw against us, even when we can’t see any tangible evidence. “Therefore we do not lose heart,” Paul says in Corinthians. “… we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen…” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
God promises that we can be “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37). “In all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us” (CEB). He promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:35,38).
How can we be more than conquerors in a broken world? We conquer because Jesus conquered! He won the battle against sin in an overwhelmingly decisive way on the cross—
- First, from the penalty of sin (because Jesus paid the penalty, we are free from it);
- Second, from the power of sin (Jesus sets us free from sin’s crippling control over our lives…we have the potential to live a victorious life); and
- Finally in the future, from the presence of sin (where in heaven we will finally escape all the troubles of this world—the temptations, the injustice, and the wrongs so prevalent here).
We are more than conquerors—that’s a spiritual fact!
But while we’re here on earth, we’re still engaged in a “mop-up operation.” The battle continues each day. Whenever we face a temptation, whenever doubts or fears attack, whenever we encounter troubles or trials and our faith wavers, we will find ourselves in a spiritual battle.
This is the basic theme from a classic book by Edith Schaeffer entitled, Affliction.In it, she tells of visiting a friend on a beautiful spring day in Holland. He was lying on his bed, unable to move, having just gone through surgery for a brain tumor. He knew that he was mere days away from death. A faithful Christian, he had served the Lord diligently for years. He was a devoted father to nine children, and he was only 50.
With his wife next to him, Mr. Van der Weiden looked up at Edith and struggled to speak: “Before…I… everything…could do”—words expressing his life-long commitment to serve the Lord. “Now…I…nothing… can do,” revealing his frustration of a life cut short. And then, with enormous effort, he said, “I..wanted… to…” but he was too weak to finish the sentence. Edith understood, though, that he was trying to speak of his overwhelming disappointment that he had not yet done everything he wanted to do for God.
Edith Schaeffer wanted to encourage her friend, but this was a desperate situation. In fact, although she didn’t know it at the time, he would die just three days later. So what could she say? Was there any encouragement for him?
At that moment, the Holy Spirit prompted her to show Mr. Van der Weiden that even flat on his back, unable to do anything physically, unable to speak, in his final days here on earth, there was still something he could do for God. In fact, it could be the most important thing he would do in his entire life.
Sometimes we wish we could change our circumstances. In desperate situations, we wish we could reduce the pain or remove the problem. Often, however, it’s not the situation that needs to change. Instead, God wants to change us. God wants to change our attitude—our perspective. He wants to give us eyes that can glimpse eternity—instead of focusing only on our short-term troubles.
Years ago my wife did a needlepoint for a friend who was dying of cancer. As Sharon pushed the needle and thread back and forth through fabric, stretched tight on a small frame, if you were to look at the wrong side of the frame, from underneath, all you’d see was a tangled collection of thread—loose ends and knots that made no sense. But if you turned it over to look at it from above, you could see a design taking shape. You could see beautiful leaves and a little bird—and the words: “His eye is on the sparrow.”
As long as we see things only from this world’s perspective—from underneath—we will have trouble making sense of the tangled mess and loose ends of life. It’s only when we’re able to see things from above—from God’s perspective—that we can begin to see a beautiful design and a divine purpose.
If we could see it, pain and troubles here on earth mean something beautiful in the future. “…Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).
God wants to change our perspective. God wants to encourage us in the battles we face. And that’s what Edith Schaeffer wanted to do for her friend.
She had been studying the Book of Job and as she stood next to Mr. Van der Weiden’s bed, the Spirit helped her to connect Job’s story with his story—and, in fact, it is connected to all our stories, whever we encounter pain, suffering, disappointment, or unanswered questions.
The Book of Job is considered the oldest writing in the Bible, acknowledged to have been around even before Moses wrote Genesis. In other words, Job tells a story for all times—one that is central to the human condition since the dawn of history. It’s the story of undeserved or inexplicable suffering and loss. It’s the story of the human experience.
Let me recall the story for you, just as Edith Schaeffer did that day for her friend.
Job had everything going for him. He was on top of the world, wildly successful in every way. But he was also a righteous man, totally devoted to God. One day while Job was minding his own business, just trying to do the right thing, honoring God as best he could, something was happening behind the scenes—in the invisible spirit world. There, where Job could not see, a cosmic battle was unfolding.
And God started the whole thing.
There was some kind of council in the heavenly realms, and all these spiritual beings, including Satan, were gathered before God. So, what have you been up to? God asks Satan. “Oh…you know. The usual. Just going about from place to place, checking things out.”
So God says to Satan, Well, have you considered my servant, Job? There’s no one else like him! He’s a righteous man. A man of integrity, a man who is completely committed to me.
God was so pleased with his servant, Job, that he pointed him out to Satan. It was as though he put a target on Job’s back. Did you ever feel like there was a target on your back?
Satan is the Hebrew name for the devil. It’s a name that simply means, the Adversary or the Enemy—the one who is opposed to us. Satan is like a prosecuting attorney who is determined to get a conviction. He takes great pleasure in condemning people—he is the Accuser.
Let me just say, just as there is a real God, there is a real Adversary. The devil is not some nondescript, impersonal evil force that permeates the universe—the Dark Side. Satan is a real spiritual being with real spiritual powers—like an angel. Long ago he rebelled against God, and he continues to fight against God’s purposes wherever he can. Satan stands in direct opposition to God’s will. Satan is at war with God and with God’s servants.
So, as I said, God started it: Have you noticed my servant, Job?
Satan say, Well, what do you expect? You’ve basically bribed him to love you. You’ve bought him off! You’ve protected him from harm and done so many good things for him, it’s only natural that he’d serve you. …Ah, but take away his blessings and then see how he treats you.
Now, I want you to notice something here: Satan has real power, but he is limited in his power because God puts limits on him. He’s like a ferocious dog on a chain. He can only go so far before he is held in check. He snarls and he growls and he lunges to stretch his chain as far as he can. But as long as you stay beyond the reach of his chain, you’re safe.
There are, however, two ways the Adversary can do damage: (1) If you make a mistake and step inside the length of his chain, you’re in danger. Many do that when they live a compromised life—when they dabble with temptation, for instance, or hang out with the wrong crowd. “Do not be misled,” the Bible says. “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor 15:33).
(2) The other way that Satan can do damage is when God temporarily gives him a longer chain. On occasion, God permits Satan to tear up the neighborhood. That’s what happened here. God temporarily lifted some of his protection over Job, allowing Satan to test Job.
So Satan unleashed a barage of undeserved suffering and tragedy upon poor, unsuspecting Job. He had no idea what was going on behind the scenes—in the spiritual realms. How could Job have known he was the object of a cosmic bet between God and Satan?
Job was being tested, though he didn’t know it. In a matter of moments, he lost all his wealth—his sheep and camels and donkeys and oxen were all wiped out by a variety of catastrophic events. Dozens of his servants were killed, and even his ten children died in a house destroyed by a windstorm.
Job was completely devastated, but despite the shock, despite his enormous loss and grief, he remained true to God.
Job 1:20-22.20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
So another heavenly council takes place. Satan appears again before the Lord. Same story—What have you been up to? Oh…the usual. Have you considered my servant Job? He’s still faithful in spite of all I allowed you to do to him.
Satan says, Skin for skin! You didn’t allow me to touch him physically. Let me strike his flesh and bones. Let me rob him of his health. Then you’ll see a different story. And God says, Fine. Do what you want, but don’t kill him.
Ironically, Job would have preferred to die than to go through what he went through. I wish I’d never been born, he said (3:11). Why can’t I just die? (3:21).
So Satan afflicted Job with painful sores all over his body, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. And Job sat in pile of ashes, scraping his skin with a piece of broken pottery.
He remained faithful, but his wife had a different response. She was ready to throw in the towel. She’d had enough with the injustice and unfairness of it all.
(Remember, she was suffering as well. She also had lost all her children; her husband was bankrupt; they had nothing to live on; their income was completely destroyed, their retirement plans wiped out. Not only could Job not care for her, now she was a full-time caregiver, nursing him in his illness.
Job’s wife said, “Why don’t you just give up? God allowed all this to happen to you. Curse God and die.”
But Job wouldn’t do it. “If we can accept good from God, can’t we also deal with troubles? Though he kill me, I’m still going to trust him.” (2:10; 13:15)
Job 2:10b.In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Edith Schaeffer reminds us—as she told her friend—that Job’s troubles came because God allowed Satan to test him. Why? Why would God allow Job to be tested? More to the point, why do we go through tests?
Last week we said that our tests can purify us and strengthen our faith. But she suggests an even bigger thing that can happen: Our trials put us in the middle of a cosmic battle. Our troubles give us an opportunity to fight a spiritual battle and win by giving honor and praise to God.
Edith Schaeffer observed that since the time of Job, down through all of human history, people have had to deal with injustice, unfair treatment, undeserved trials and suffering. Through no fault of their own, this cosmic battle invaded their lives. They didn’t ask for it. They didn’t deserve it.
But in this spiritual battle each person has a choice. Each one can choose how he or she will respond. Will we respond as Job did or as his wife did?
When you respond as Job did, you have fought a spiritual battle and won! In that little piece of the overarching cosmic battle, you have notched another victory in the name of the Lord. You have honored God and said to Satan, “You will not destroy my faith in my God. You can rob me of my health. You can wreak havoc in my family. You can alienate the affections of my spouse or my children. You can take away my job or my income. But you will not destroy my trust in the Lord! He gave his life for me, and you cannot undermine my confidence that one day, despite all my troubles and trials here on earth, one day I will stand victorious by the power of Jesus before the throne of God.”
You see this confidence exhibited in various ways throughout the Scriptures. I like the way the OT prophet, Habakkuk put it: “17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17-18)
Edith Schaeffer says that this cosmic battle has been going on for centuries—for millenia. And over and over God’s saints have faced a decision. Though some have struggled and doubted, many have remained firm in their faith. And over and over again, behind the scenes in the invisible realms, Satan—the Adversary and Accuser—has stood before God to accuse the saints.
This scenario has occured countless times through history, and one day Satan’s final accusations will occur. One day you and I will stand before the throne of God, not only to be declared righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, but also to see Satan’s defeat.
The Scripture says that Satan continually appears in the heavenly council—day and night, standing before God to accuse all the Jobs of history—all those who have suffered through this life. But what happens? The accused win, and the Accuser is defeated!
Rev 12: 10-11. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (NIV84)
Are you going through a battle right now? A spiritual battle? A cosmic struggle? Have you had to suffer? Have you been treated unfairly? I want you to know there is something unseen going on behind the scenes! How will you respond? Will you give up? Will you quit? Or will you trust God no matter what and defeat the Accuser by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of your testimony?