Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Call and Answer

As I have probably mentioned from time to time, it is my habit every morning to try to read one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New. Other Christians I know do much the same thing. More than once we have found ourselves sharing with one another how remarkably one passage seems to dovetail with another.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But the unity of scripture is a real phenomenon, and it should not surprise us when that inherent thematic oneness expresses itself in remarkable ways. This morning it is in the form of a call and answer.

The Call

The “call” comes from Job 14. One of the earliest books in the Bible points to mankind’s greatest need. Hint: it is not mere immortality. It is something much better:
“Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.”
This is resurrection as a fond hope distantly glimpsed. Job lacks the confidence which comes from being the recipient of explicit revelation from God, but these five verses beautifully set out what appeared to him to be missing in the Almighty’s dealings with him. Everything Christ would later do for man is anticipated and longed-for from the deepest places in his heart.

We often hear the complaint that life is too short. That was not Job’s problem. He was not seeking immortality for immortality’s sake. He does not cry out for a longer life on earth. He could do without that, as he makes clear both before and after this passage. At that point, for Job the grave would have been a relief. His physical discomfort and mental anguish were such that he preferred the peace of death to his daily allotment of apparently endless suffering.

But Job was a righteous man, and he saw in the Spirit that mere cessation of misery is not enough to address man’s need. And yet even nothingness is preferable to an extended existence trapped in an unresolved and unresolvable sinful condition under the scrutiny of an all-seeing God.

No, what Job craves desperately is reconciliation with a God he believes has rejected and abandoned him. He dreams that God would one day long for the work of his hands, and would call him, and he would answer the call. Job would be quite willing to be shut up in the grave indefinitely so long as he knew that great day of reconciliation would eventually come to pass.

In this Job recognizes what so many today do not, when they talk of a hope of heaven for all men without reference to repentance, or an entrance into heaven based on one’s deeds. Job knows there is an unbreachable barrier between the Creator and his creation: our sin and God’s wrath against it. We cannot have fellowship with God until our iniquity is covered over, and our transgression metaphorically “sealed up in a bag”.

These are things only God can do for us; man cannot accomplish them. Job articulates the problem perfectly, though he first expressed these thoughts something like four thousand years ago.

The Answer

The “answer” comes from John 20, one of the latest books of the New Testament. Jesus has risen from the grave. God himself has accomplished what man could not. The long-anticipated resurrection of the redeemed human race has finally been realized in Christ, its firstfruits and forerunner. Jesus’ first message to his followers is this: “I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.” It is not just a renewal of life, but a life fully reconciled to God in the person of his Son. It is “your Father” and “your God” to which he ascends.

His second message is really the same message in another form. He invites his disciples to enter emotionally into the reconciliation that has already been legally accomplished for them. He wants them to appreciate and enjoy their new fellowship with Heaven. So he says, “Peace, be with you,” and again, “Peace be with you.” Eight days later he reappears and again, the very first thing he says to the disciples is “Peace be with you.” He then invites Thomas to test the reality of this new accord: “Put your finger here, and see my hands.”

There is no harsh rebuke for Thomas’s nagging doubts. As a saved man, his iniquity is covered over. As a member of the family of God, his transgression is sealed up in a bag. God is not keeping watch over his sin. Job’s cry has been answered.

2,000 Years of Felt Need

Jesus said an interesting thing: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick”. He did not mean for a second that the grumbling Pharisees and scribes were spiritually healthy. Not at all. What he was saying is that only those who first recognize their need can really appreciate when the answer to that need is presented to them.

I am confident that one of the many unstated reasons Job was allowed to go through what he suffered was because he knew God well enough and was sufficiently articulate to be capable of expressing his need and correctly identifying his problem in a way that the readers of the Old Testament could relate to, and could appropriate for themselves, much as David would later do in the Psalms.

One of the greatest beauties of scripture is the way it expresses exactly what we feel when we understand our true condition. Another is that it does not leave us there. Job encapsulates 2,000 years of felt need in a mere five verses. John answers that need in just a few more.

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