Sermon Options: October 17, 2021

August 15th, 2021

FINDING THE ANSWER IN THE WHIRLWIND

JOB 38:1-7 (34-41)

When a whirlwind of adversity strikes, how do you deal with it? We often ask “Why?” or “Why me?” Some stoic may keep silent or feel guilty about questioning, but most of us seek answers.

Viktor Frankl suffered through years in World War II concentration camps; he lost everything. Frankl later wrote, “If one has a why to live, he can endure almost any how.” The Old Testament account of Job reveals that sometimes the why isn’t given, but an even better answer can be found. How do we find the answer in the whirlwind of illness, death, war, bankruptcy, or natural calamity?

I. The Answer Comes When We Remember Who We Are

We don’t have all the answers. A couple lost their son in a tragic motorcycle accident. Friends of the mother found it easy to say, “God needed a flower for his garden.” The “friends” of Job had easy answers. They offered conventional wisdom—“sin brings adversity; righteousness brings prosperity.” Righteous Job didn’t know what was happening, but he didn’t buy that line.

Job stood defiantly before God and sought an audience to plead his case. He demanded a judicial hearing (31:35), but got far more than he expected. God said, “Who is this . . . ? Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you” (38:2-3).

Because we often consider ourselves “the masters of our fate,” it is easy to slip into pride and self-sufficiency when adversity strikes. We defend ourselves, justify our actions, point to past faithfulness. We demand an answer, or give out easy answers. God reminds us who we are—a person limited in knowledge and power whom he may be teaching some lessons with adversity.

God placed Job on the witness stand and displayed multiple exhibits of creation’s mysteries. “Where were you . . . ? Have you commanded the morning . . . ? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up?” Since none of us can fathom the mysteries of life, we ought to keep more silence in the midst of the whirlwind of suffering.

II. The Answer Comes When We Remember Who God Is

With the splendor of creation spread before him like an Imax theater, Job realized anew the power of God. But what he needed even more—and what we need as well—was the presence of God. The Powerful One became the Present One. “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1). Our God is “a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) . If we are willing we can find the reality expressed in the old hymn, “He walks with me and talks with me, and tells me I am his own.”

Job’s attention was directed to the rhinoceros and the crocodile. David Cline observed, “These too are part of God’s creation though we may see no value in them or indeed may find them positively malevolent. It is the same with suffering, sometimes indeed it may have a recognizable purpose, but sometimes it may be just as enigmatic and hurtful to man as the wild animals can be. Nevertheless it is part of God’s order for the world, and he knows what he is doing in allowing it to be” (The International Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce, ed., p. 547).

The liberation forces in Europe found written on a prison wall, “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in the day, even when it is dark, and I believe in God, even when he is silent.” Look and listen for God in the midst of your whirlwind. He does work “in all things for the good of those who love him” ( Rom. 5:28) . (Bill D. Whittaker)

QUALIFIED TO SERVE

HEBREWS 5:1-10

Whenever there is a local election, most newspapers run articles or charts that provide information on the background, experience, and views of the candidates who are running for office. That’s because when a person is elected, or chosen for a job, the list of qualifications is always important. The candidate’s abilities, experience, and knowledge are all a part of his or her qualifications.

In Hebrews 5, Paul outlines the duties of a high priest. And as the responsibilities are listed, he points to Jesus Christ as the supreme example of a high priest, who ministers on behalf of sinners who need his help. He reveals that Christ alone is qualified to serve.

I. The Role of the High Priest (v. 1)

Paul writes that “every high priest is appointed to represent them (men and women) in matters related to God.” The high priest becomes a mediator between God and mankind; he brings the petitions and needs of man to the throne of God’s grace and in turn he reveals to mankind the will and Word of God. The high priest makes the connection, facilitates the exchange.

When I preached in some evangelistic services in Brazil, a key person in every service was the translator. Brazilians speak Portuguese and I speak “Southernese,” so it became necessary to involve someone who could understand both parties and facilitate communication between the two. Without the mediator, our words were lost.

The high priest of God represents men and women before God. The task is carried out in two specific ways. The high priest was to offer gifts and sacrifices to God to atone for the sins of the people. Normally a dove or a lamb, without spot or blemish, was sacrificed on the altar by the priests to represent the repentance of the people so that the relationship between God and man could be established once more. Through the sacrifice of the animals the sins were carried away. God and man would be made at one again.

II. The Calling of the High Priest (vv. 2-4)

To become a high priest required the special calling of God. One could not seek the office, but rather the office would seek the candidate. God—in his own time and in his own wisdom—would call out those whom he wanted to serve. It would be a special person, with a very special calling of God.

The calling to become a high priest carries with it two distinct qualifications. First, the priest has to be empathetic with human frailty. Paul states, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” A good high priest understands the needs, problems, and pains of those whom he was called to serve.

As a pastor, I am always struck by what is said to people in the midst of their grief. So often as we attempt to comfort those who have lost a loved one to death, we say things like, “I know exactly how you feel, I know just what you’re going through.” The truth is that many of us don’t really know, nor do we really understand the depth of their pain. To fully appreciate all that their loss will mean requires the experience of having walked where they are now walking. The high priest understands intimately the needs of his people.

The second qualification involved the calling of God. Only God can know the hearts and minds of his people, and only God can call persons into service who will adequately fill the role of a just and fair mediator. It was not uncommon for people to seek the office of high priest in the Jewish world because of the fame and notoriety and to some degree the financial success that it would bring. Only those who had felt the true call of God to lead his people found ultimate and lasting success.

III. The Sufficiency of Christ (vv. 9-10)

Paul reveals that all of the duties and qualifications of the high priest are fulfilled in Christ Jesus. It is Christ who becomes the High Priest for the people of the world. He offers gifts and sacrifices for our sins. He is mediator between God and man. He who was without blemish or sin died for us that our sins might be removed. The gap between Holy God and sinful man has been spanned only through the work of our High Priest.

As a Christian people we affirm that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. We believe Christ to be fully human and fully divine. He understands humanity and he emphathizes with our needs.

He carries the calling of God. So Christ did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you . . . You are a priest forever . . . ” (vv. 5-6). From the beginning of time to the end of the age, it has been the will and plan of God for Christ to serve as the connection through which we come to God. God called him to serve us. He alone is worthy. (Jon R. Roebuck)

THE ABUNDANT LIFESTYLE

MARK 10:35-45

Joseph Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago says that when he was made an archbishop many years ago, his mother instructed him, “When you walk down the aisle in the service, try not to look too pleased with yourself.” One could forgive a Christian leader for being moved on such an occasion, but his mother’s warning was both timely and timeless. The church is all too prone to count success as the world measures it: by salary, prestige, and power.

In evaluating a former student’s career progress, a retired professor at a Protestant seminary superciliously remarked that this minister had “never served any really significant churches.” The same criticism could be made about Jesus earthly ministry—and the same problem, longing for “success,” can be identified in the Twelve who followed him.

I. We Make the Wrong Assumptions

James and John were two of the three in the Savior’s inner circle of disciples. Along with Simon Peter, they witnessed our Lord’s Transfiguration and appear in the forefront of many gospel stories. They loved Jesus, and wanted to remain close to him, but they misunderstood what close discipleship entailed.

The setting of this episode in Jesus ministry is on his way to the cross. When he first predicted his suffering death (8:31), Peter strongly objected to the concept. Peter was on the side of humans, not of God. He had a flawed understanding of the Messiah’s mission, and what following Christ would mean. In Mark 10:35-45, we see that James and John made the same mistake.

The church is prone to the same error today: believing that visible power denotes importance to God, numbers equal faithfulness, and religious celebrity means success.

II. Jesus Turns Our Assumptions Upside Down

The Master’s response to James and John is one of the rare occasions when Jesus did not do what was asked. He queried, “What do you want me to do for you,” as he did before healing blind Bartimaeus. But in this instance, he told the disciples such a favor was not his to grant. Not only did the Savior deny their claim for places of privilege, but his answer also modeled for them the servant mindset they ought to emulate.

His response asserts that the “payoff” for discipleship is uncertain; there are no guaranteed successes as the world measures them. The “cup” and the “baptism” mentioned in verses 38-40 were later understood by the early followers as references to the sacraments: gifts of God’s grace by which people have a share in the destiny of Jesus, as Albert Schweizer points out. Thus the cup and the baptism are not symbols of achievement or tokens of successful discipleship, but marks of our commitment to do as our Lord did.

III. Assume Following Means Serving

Jesus said, “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all,” in sharp contrast to James and John aspiring to places of honor. Isaiah 53 depicts Jesus as the suffering servant who was despised and rejected in his self-giving, not admired or loved.

The death of the Messiah as suffering servant offers freedom and forgiveness to all in the bondage of sin. While our following Jesus does not have the same redemptive power as his suffering, it does mean loving and serving others in Jesus name. Far from being masochistic or self-destructive, our servanthood has a purpose: to reveal God’s grace made incarnate in Jesus Christ. What is more, we can rejoice in the midst of any suffering such servanthood entails, confident that the road to the cross also leads to the resurrection. (Carol M. Noren)

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