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The Call to Walk on Water.

“And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” (Matthew 14:28-30)

In Job 38 the Lord proclaimed His power over all creation, over all the forces of nature. In the story Matthew tells us of Jesus walking on the water we see this portrayed in a graphic and powerful image. As we have noted earlier in previous readings from Matthew, the Jews of Jesus’ day expected the coming of the Messiah to be accompanied by many signs and wonders. The feeding of the 5 thousand was one sign Jesus performed akin to Moses giving manna to the Israelites in the Wilderness. In addition, Jesus, like Moses, had power over natural forces. Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea so the people could pass through the waters. But Jesus is Lord of the sea. He did not need to part it. Jesus walked on the surface of the water. He showed the apostles, as He shows us, that He is no mere man like Moses. He is greater than Moses. He is no mere political or military leader. He is the Creator and sustainer of all life.

Jesus’ power over the natural forces in the world is certainly a great encouragement to us. If Jesus can control the wind and the waves then we really should realize that He certainly has the power to help us to “walk on water”, to endure with grace the suffering and persecution that assault us. But, like Peter, we doubt Him especially when we look at the circumstances that fill us with distress. We call out to the Lord to save us, yet we are still afraid of the dangers and the pain. The Lord understands what we feel but He wants us to know that nothing will overtake us that He cannot enable us handle. And yet He will forgive our doubts and will always encourage us to carry on. He will never condemn us for our weakness.

Trinity Lutheran

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Agabus

The cup of suffering.

Mark 10:35-45

There is a third choice Jesus places before His disciples to make. Not just between selfish ambition and sacrifice or between power and service, but between comfort and suffering. By asking for thrones in glory, James and John wanted comfortable security in addition to power and glory. Who doesn’t long for a nice easy life of comfort with no problems, with all our needs met? Jesus asks them a question in reply to their request: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I will receive?” James and John say “We can.” But they misunderstood the question. Perhaps to them the cup in question was filled with the choice wine that they would drink at the victory feast of the Kingdom.

But Jesus meant the cup of suffering. Indeed these 2 would share that cup. James would beheaded by Herod Antipas. John would suffer lonely exile on the island of Patmos. But such thoughts were far from the minds of these two brothers. Now they were dreaming of security, ease and affluence. Sad to say, that spirit is alive and well in the world. The way of the world is always to seek the easy way to satisfy self first above the needs or wants of others.

And unfortunately the same spirit also is present in the church especially in the West, particularly here in America. We regard security and safety as our birthright. Most of us know little nothing of real suffering for our faith, the suffering that the saints endure today throughout the Moslem world, as well as in India, Africa and China. We in America think that when we come to Jesus, He will take away our problems and allow us to do what we want. We think “I shouldn’t have these problems. I shouldn’t be sick. I shouldn’t have money troubles. I shouldn’t have to work that hard. Everyone should like me.” But when we come to serve Jesus, He asks us to put others first before self, to put service before security, compassion before comfort and hardship before ease. Insistence on personal comfort is incompatible with the way of the cross. Jesus calls us to take on uncertainty, discomfort and rejection for His name.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: A fresh bag of wind blows more hot air.

Job 32-33
Job32At this point we encounter Elihu, a 4th friend of Job’s, younger than the others. Although his words convey a lot of truth and wisdom, he is way off the mark when he accuses Job. First of all, he rightly observes that age does not equal wisdom. Yet he does so to express his anger over the failure of his older colleagues to refute Job and set him straight. So we must be aware that even though much of what he says may edify and enlighten us, Elihu is sadly lacking in wisdom for he has misjudged Job entirely. His speech reveals to us that he is nothing more than an arrogant bag-of-wind as he unwittingly claims in 32:18-20. Although he claims to speak for God, that he has the answer to the argument, none of what he will add is going to resolve the situation for he insists that Job is guilty of provoking the Lord to wrath.

In response to Job’s allegation that God is silent, Elihu rightly observes that God speaks in dreams and visions and through the circumstances of adversity. He also rightly notes that God does not desire the destruction of any man but wants all to come to repentance. And so Job would have to repent if he was guilty but he is not. Despite Elihu’s error he does claim that we need a mediator who must act to restore our relationship with the Lord. Elihu wrongly attributes this role to an angel which is perhaps where the idea of guardian angels may find its root. How this angel mediator provides a ransom to deliver the sinner, he does not say. The truth is that when the sinner admits his wrongdoing to the Lord he finds healing and restoration but only because of the ransom that was paid for sin by our mediator, Christ Jesus, on the cross.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: Wisdom comes from God.

Job 28

wisdomThe nameless author of Job presents us with a transition from the dialogues of Job and his friends to the resolution of the book. His purpose is to bring us back to the real issue which has been obscured by all the theological rhetoric and emotional responses of these men. We may have thought that the core issue of this book focused on suffering and its causes, or why the good suffer while the bad do not, or even God’s justice. These are all topics which we have explored, but the real issue is wisdom. God possesses it without limit; He acts according to it and in a way consistent with his Divine nature and sovereignty. Yet man is unable to begin to grasp or understand it on his own.

Human beings seek wisdom by observing the created world and by thinking about the wonders of the entire universe. Human beings mine the world for answers and explanations as miners dig for precious metals and gemstones. The world considers the wise person to be one who is successful, famous, accomplished, charismatic and talented, one who can pontificate on a subject or variety of subjects without fear or trepidation.

The author lets us know that this is not true at all. Wisdom comes not by human effort at all. Wisdom comes from a relationship with the Lord. Though we can never hope to fully comprehend Him and His ways, we can begin to understand Him as we humbly acknowledge our weakness, as we admit that compared to Him we know nothing, as we declare our total dependency on Him. Then we will respond in worship and in obedience to follow all He has commanded us to do. The hardest thing to admit is that we cannot begin to even follow Him unless He draw us. That is true wisdom.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: We suffer because of sin.

We suffer because of sin.

JobaccusedJob 25-26

Bildad’s short argument attempts to refute Job’s view of God’s nature that has upset the comfortable theology of the three friends. He presents the bottom line reason that tries to explain why God allows bad things to happen: human nature is corrupt. Sin is the source of all the evil that occurs and all men are sinners. No man can stand before a holy and perfect God and claim innocence. Therefore, according to Bildad, we should not complain but merely accept what we have coming to us. Certainly this is of no comfort or help to those enduring suffering and pain delivered as it is without feeling and compassion, but in an attempt to prove oneself right. It makes the “comforter” feel comforted while belittling the suffering one’s grief and crushing his honest dialogue with God.

Job rejects this argument for although it is true that all men are born with a sin nature, the explanation does not fit his situation or for that matter every situation he has cited. Instead, Job focuses on God’s awesome nature, his power, might, splendor and wisdom as proclaimed in all of His creation. He does this to point out to his friends and us that God’s ways are, ultimately mysterious and beyond our comprehension. He defies our vain imagination and disrupts our easy answers and comfortable rules. All our knowledge, all our attempts to explain and thereby control the world and God, through theology, philosophy, science and the arts, are but a whisper compared to His thunderous Word.  We may be comforted somewhat by the thought that as sinners we deserve to suffer since that allows us some explanation for our pain. Nevertheless we should voice our complaint to the Lord for we know in Him we are forgiven and that He made us for something better. Yet in the end, it is up to Him.

Biblical Thoughts on Suffering: Does God’s silence mean that He is unjust?

Job 23-24

job23In response to Eliphaz’s baseless accusations, Job feels utterly frustrated. His friends have misjudged him. He informs them that if he were only able to go before the Lord and make his case, he would be vindicated. The Lord would show them that his motives were pure, his actions faultless and his suffering undeserved. But he cannot do this because the Lord remains hidden from him and silent. Job has cried out to God but He has not answered. Job concludes that this means God apparently does as He pleases. Such a thought is terrifying for that means his suffering can continue indefinitely.

Job’s experience of God runs counter to his friends’ rigid ideas and formulas about the way the Lord acts. God does not seem to have fixed times of judgment as would an earthly court. No one can appear before Him at a certain time and know they would get a hearing let alone receive justice for their case. Meanwhile He looks the other way at the wicked, almost as if He supported their cause and protected them. His withholding of justice and retribution allows them to get away with all their monstrous deeds and actually prosper. This occurs at the expense of those whom they afflict, abuse and denigrate. The powerless and the oppressed are denied basic human rights and dignity while the wicked are elevated and praised. Job’s friends cannot explain this away but they know it is true.

Many of us today wonder why God does not act to prevent evil or punish those who inflict harm on us or others. We feel this way usually only after there has been a serious incident of a violent nature such as a mass shooting or bombing. We call out to God to do something but we also call on the government to protect us as if the two were somehow equal. In reality, the government cannot stop or prevent evil, merely limit it or hold it in check for a time until it periodically breaks forth. Only God can resolve all our social woes and do away with violence. He alone is the Almighty one who is sufficient to supply our every need, satisfy our every desire and comfort all our fears. Until we submit to His will we will never know peace.