January 20, 2008

Text: Job 12:10

The Book of Job is about life and death, about the cosmic battle between the Creator of all life and the ruler of this world who wants to destroy life. The fate of man, embodied in Job, is at stake, for the battle is being waged over Job’s life. His love for God is being tested. Satan is the one who attacks Job, and the real issue is whether Job is willing to let go and completely trust in the mercy of God. Will Job finally place himself in the hand of God? Job’s suffering shows him that he is nothing, and that God will restore this prodigal servant to full communion with God—to real life—for Job’s suffering proves that no one can restore that communion with God except God Himself, who must return to His fallen creation in human flesh to die so that He might make all things new.

Trusting in the mercy of God. That is Job’s dilemma, and that’s what it has been about since the fall of Adam. Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal son to show how it’s all about mercy. Hanging in the Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is one of Rembrandt’s final paintings, a portrayal of the parable of the Prodigal son from Luke 15. On the left hand side of the painting the waiting father, old and tired, has his hands draped over the back of his youngest son, the prodigal one. This wayward son is on his knees in repentance, partially barefoot, bedraggled and broken, a ragamuffin son. Rembrandt bathes this merciful father and his repentant son in light, with the brightest part of the painting illuminating the father’s face of mercy that washes down and covers his prodigal son with light. The embrace of his son by the father shows that they are almost inseparable, as the light of mercy encompasses them both. 

The father’s two hands are laid over his son’s back so that the father and the son are one. The hands express, physically, the father’s love and acceptance of the son. The hands of the father are his gift of mercy to his prodigal son. The prodigal son, ragged, one shoe off, clearly defeated, now nestles in the arms of his merciful father.

The hands of the father are the hands of life. This son of his was lost and is now found. He was dead and now he is alive! The broken, prodigal son is in the hands of his merciful father, and through those hands he now has life. He was dead but now he lives. 

We are all prodigals. And to each of us the Father says: “Let me embrace you with My merciful hands, for it’s all by grace, costly grace, the grace of the life of My Son in exchange for the life of the world. See My pure grace and mercy hanging on that tree outside Jerusalem where the gift of life to the world was given by the shedding of the blood of Jesus, My very Son. The cross means there is nothing for you to do, for Jesus has done it all.” Jesus died for sinners—for you—and there is nothing you can do about it. That’s the grace—that’s the mercy—it’s not up to you. Jesus loves you so much that He is willing to give up His life for you—even though you are His prodigals.

“While you are still far off” your merciful Father sees you, runs to you, falls on your neck, showers you with kisses, kills the fatted calf, showing you mercy and forgiveness at a feast that knows no end—even though you are his ragamuffins. This is the Father’s most beautiful mercy, and it all comes from His hands.

He Creates Life with His Hands

“Your hands fashioned and made me.” (Job 10:8a)

Job was conflicted. Even though he could say, “your hands fashioned and made me like clay,” in the next breath he also says, “and will you return me to the dust?” (Job 10:8). Even though he could say, “you have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit” (Job 10:12), he will also say, “if I sin, you watch me and do not acquit me of my iniquity, if I am guilty, woe to me!” (Job 10:14-15a)

But Job never lost faith, for it was clear to him that God was the Creator of all things, and that God created life with His hands. He had reached His hand into the dust of the ground and formed man, breathing in his nostrils the breath of life. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo has that magnificent painting of the gracious hand of the Father reaching out to give life to Adam. All life in this world, no matter how primal or insignificant, comes from the hand of God, a gracious and merciful hand.

Trusting that all life is from God’s hand—that is such a dilemma for our culture today. Trusting that all life comes from Him, that He is the one in control of life, is the challenge also facing us in the Church. What we see every day on the news, in our own lives, is pain and suffering, and our human nature wants to stop it, even if it means taking control of when and how life should end. Like Job, when things go wrong in our lives, when there is an unwanted pregnancy, when there are decisions to be made about an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s who is facing major surgery or death, we find ourselves confronted with the capacity to end suffering by ending life. What a burden for us to bear, for we are faced with decisions that make it appear more difficult to choose life than to choose another alternative, one that will lead to death. 

Like Job, like the prodigal son, we must come to that point when we realize that we are not in control, that God created life by His hands and that He is the author and giver of life. And that this life is a real life, a life sanctified by our Lord himself whose suffering for us made our suffering now a participation in His suffering. To join our loved ones to Christ in His suffering when facing life and death decisions, this is God’s severe mercy. But we are ever under His mercy, even when, in our conflicted moments, we choose death instead of life. Christ chose death over life, and then, in reversing the curse, brought life and immortality to life through His resurrection. Christ’s mercy extends from His suffering cross into our suffering homes and hospitals, where He gives life because He chose death for us.

He Redeemed Life with His Hands

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)

Job finally had to admit that God was in control, that God is incomprehensible to man, and that to understand God is to listen to His creative Word as God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. The voice of God in the whirlwind calls Job to absolute trust in Him as the Lord of all life, to trust that all life comes from His hands.

Earlier, in his discussions with his three friends, Job yearns for an arbiter between himself and God, “who might lay his hand on us both.” (Job 9:33b) What Job longs for is a Savior, whose hands could be stretched out on a tree and nailed to that wood so that He might take away the curse under which Job, and all living human beings, have struggled since Adam’s fall.

Job and his friends, like all of us, were under the impression that God’s mercy was based on Job’s piety and expressed through God’s blessings. He could not comprehend, then, when his suffering began, that this was a sign of God’s mercy and His grace. Like the prodigal son, it was only after he hit rock bottom, when his resources were spent, when his suffering was acute, that he could return to his father for mercy, and even then, it was only after the father ran, threw his arms around him, kissed him, did he realize that it was all by grace, costly grace, the grace of the life of my Son in exchange for the life of the world.

Job wanted a redeemer—Job needed a redeemer. Little did he realize this redemption came at a horrific cost, that a cosmic collision had to take place in order for this redemption to happen. Job’s arbiter had to take into his own body all Job’s sin and suffering, in fact, the sin, sickness, suffering, and death of all of humanity. Jesus, the arbiter of Job and all of us—Jesus, who knew no sin—

had to become sin for us. Stretching out those hands on the cross—hands that first gave life to Adam in paradise—Jesus bears the weight of the sin of the entire cosmos in His body, broken in death. And because Jesus was the embodiment of sin, the law had to curse Him. On the cross, Jesus collided with the law, and the result was the most violent moment in the history of the world. Jesus, who knew no sin, became a curse for us, for cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.

And so it’s not about Job’s faith or the prodigal’s faith or your faith. It’s about Christ’s faithfulness to His Father in submitting to the law’s curse by allowing the hands that first gave life to man, to give new life in a new creation by being nailed to a tree. These are the merciful hands that extend now to all of us, supporting us when we choose life, forgiving us when life overwhelms us and we choose death. God’s mercy, in life and in death, extends to us from our crucified Lord: “On whose hard arms, so widely flung, The weight of this world’s redemption hung, The price of humankind to pay And spoil the spoiler of his prey” (LSB 455, v. 4).

He Calls Us and Holds Us with His Hands

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you.” (Isaiah 42:6a)

In the midst of his suffering, Job still believes that God will deliver him, that there is a reason for his suffering, and that God will continue to hold him in His hand. Job realizes that he must simply trust God, place himself in God’s merciful hands, and look for God’s righteous judgment in an unknown and unknowable future for the incomprehensible suffering he is experiencing now. In the midst of all of this pain and anguish, Job announces a most powerful statement of his hope for the resurrection: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25).

What a remarkable confession, in the midst of suffering, of the bodily resurrection of Christ and all who are in Christ—“yet in my flesh I shall see God.” God the Father declared in the resurrected body of His Son that all righteousness had been fulfilled. The curse of the law that killed Jesus satisfied God’s demand for justice. God’s justice would never again be leveled against humanity because it had been completely satisfied in Jesus who became a curse for us so that we might now be called by Him in righteousness. Job was righteous because God declared him so; we are righteous because God joins us to the flesh of His crucified and resurrected Son in baptism and makes us so. And in this righteousness we have life—real life—the life of the Son of God dwelling in us by His Spirit.

Life and death, suffering and deliverance were the issues for Job and they are the issues for us. We may not be always be consciously thinking about them, but they are always there for us, and we cannot escape them. At times, they consume us when we become ill or near death, or someone we love or know is critically close to death. At times, life brings us intense joy, like at a birth of a child, where life is so primal, so real. At times, even in the midst of suffering and death, there can be great joy.

Real life is what we are all seeking. Genuine, authentic life. Meaningful life. But how many of us actually realize real life? In our world, where so much is artificial and virtual, we crave for what is true and what is real.

Real life is only possible in this world if we know and believe in a real presence, the real, bodily presence of Christ, sent by the Father into our world to reach out His hand—the hand of God—to heal those who are broken by sin—to hold a little child and bless it—to stretch it out on a cross to receive a nail for our redemption. And by His Spirit, that same Christ continues to be present among us, calling us by His name—the name He gave us in baptism—holding us in His hand as He speaks His Word to us, as He feeds us the holy food of His body and blood. 

Christ is merciful. He rejoices over those who were dead and are now alive in Him, for He is a God of the living. By His Spirit He not only calls you and gives you life, but holds all of you in His merciful hand. Amen.