Oswald Bayer makes a point of illustrating man´s common pursuit for justification in our time. He goes a long way to prove, that that is a general and practically universal human endeavor, despite others pushing the agenda, that this sort of justification is no longer of concern to modern man and Dr. Martin Luther´s search for a gracious God has become outdated and highly irrelevant to people in our day and age. Rather, they would have us believe, that the real issue today is about meaning – and what Schleiermacher touts as “what ultimately concerns me!” Sunday´s sermon on Job 23 underlines Bayer´s point and reading P. Michael Voigt´s sermon shared from Guben in the local sermon-chatgroup (SELK Predigtwerkstatt), I would argue, that it´s very much today´s story and issue still. “Just words” by Jack Preus illustrates this point quite convincingly too.
Just Job explains to his friends, how he tries by all means to justify himself before God. He is convinced, that if he could find him, he would be able to prove his innocence before the supreme judge. Because God is just, he would justify just Job too. That´s Job´s point – and we know from the introduction to this biblical book of the Old Testament, that it is a valid one and no exaggeration. Even God acknowledges Job´s righteousness in the heavenly courtroom. But, and this is part of the problem, God is not easily located by Job or any human for that matter. In fact, he´s not to be pinpointed by us at all – if God doesn´t in his magnanimity let us find him. So, Job just doesn´t come face to face with God. That´s part of Job´s predicament – and not the smallest one. He does not find God, although he looks in every direction – north, south, east and west. God´s just not to be found by our endevours – even if we go to great lengths to get our hands on him. Just look at all the monuments and structures, localities and sanctuaries, where people try to tie God down. He remains invisible, incomprehensible and out of touch. Yet, God is there, but not for him. God is everywhere, but is found only, when he reveals himself out of his hideness. His remoteness and hideness remains a serious afflication to the faithful throughout the ages. That ´s why Elijah pleads with God: “Let me see Your face!”
God on the other hand, knows Job – and each one of us – very well. He´s familiar with all of Job´s ways. And, who are we, to blow against the wind. We´ve got not one thing to hold against God. For, God is God and Job is Job. God has his way with Job, but not the other way round. As sinners, there are always too many rightous and lawful fingers pointing at us: “You are the man!” as we hear in the OT lesson describing the prophet Nathan´s righteous accusation of the adulterous and murderous king David (cf. 2.Samuel 12:1-10) In the end, that´s why Job fears God. It´s not just about this or that, not just darkness, but God himself in his absolute holiness, who frightens Job and makes his heart scared and even loose hope. Who are we to blow against the wind?
It´s even worse in the big conundrum of innocent suffering. Innocent people suffer bad things. It is, the way of this fallen world. Things are just not perfect anymore. Rather, suffering of the innocent has become part of our world – and that is why the faithful cry out to their God in their pain and hurt and wrong suffering. This is essentially summed up in the lament of our Lord on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” The prophet Isaiah elaborates and puts it into these profound words for us in the passion passage chapters 52-53 describing the ultimate suffering servant and innocent lamb of God: Jesus Christ +
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
The apostle St. Peter preaches the wonder of this vicarious satisfaction and justification to the crowd in Jerusalem in the clear accusation and miraculous proclamation of God´s gracious forgiveness and that we sinners are no longer being held accountable by God. We read this in the records of the evangelist St. Luke Acts 2:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. … Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
The apostle St. Paul summarizes it perfectly for us in his letter to the Ephesians – and we hear it in the prescribed epistle for this Sunday:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph.2,4-10)
It is this wonder and miracle of God´s salvation, that he justifies sinners and that his only begotten son Jesus Christ came to seek and save, what was lost – to die for those, who were God´s enemies and had schemed to get rid of him. Still, God triumphs over all evil – Satan and his ilk – he justifies the guilty, so that he would have mercy on all – pharisees, tax collectors and even the likes of Job. The wonderful news is really, that we now even know, where to find the true God – in Jesus Christ, who alone is the truth, the way and the light. Not on this or that mountain, but in the Holy Spirit and Truth. So, whoever sees the Son IX, sees our Father in heaven. And whoever hears the Son hears the Father. And whatever is loosend in His name on earth, is also loosend for sure in heaven. Therefore, go and tell them, everything He has taught us – and that is doctrine entails, that he now can surely be found in His holy Word and Sacrament. As the hymn teaches us to sing: “Wo er sich finden lässet in Nachtmahl, Tauf und Wort!” (He is to be found in His holy Supper, Baptism & Word). Those are His sure means of grace for this fallen world. We are grateful for this his gracious salvation and praise his holy name – now and always.