Our Redeemer Lives – And So Shall We

Michael S. Horton
Friday, February 28th 2014
Mar/Apr 2014

Editor’s Note: A few years ago, Michael Horton was asked to deliver the funeral message for Don, a long-time Christian friend who—having encountered a number of family, career, and health difficulties that led to a deep depression—committed suicide. Being concerned to avoid speculation about questions that cannot be answered, while affirming Scripture’s answers to our hardest questions, Dr. Horton turned to the book of Job. The willingness to leave some questions unanswered provides assurance to thoughtful Christians that their reticence to accept simplistic or sentimental answers about tragedy is acceptable to God—not a betrayal of faith. The determination to provide answers that Scripture gives to other questions provides assurance that there is hope beyond human explanation—hope that is the essence of true faith. The result is a humble and articulate confession of what cannot be answered and a bold declaration of what must be said about the sovereign mercy of God that provides comfort beyond reason and triumph beyond tragedy.

Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him, to be gracious to him and say, 'Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him'— then his flesh is renewed like a child's; it is restored as in the days of youth. He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. Then he comes to men and says, 'I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light.'" (Job 33:23-28)

In this passage, Job’s friend Elihu began to understand something of the comfort Job needed in the midst of his great loss and burden. But after Job’s friends finished their sermons—and after Job finished his own commentary on his situation—God finally spoke up and preached for himself. Out of the whirlwind, he answered Job: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:2-4). After listing a litany of divine actions that illustrate his wisdom and power over the universe, God shut the mouths of Job and his well-meaning friends. For they all assumed that they had access to the divine filing cabinet. They all operated under the assumption that they could discern the mind of God.

How easily we attempt this when suffering strikes us or our loved ones! We immediately set out to discern the purpose behind it all. But God refuses to be figured out in these matters, and his counsel is hidden to mortals. God asks all the human commentators in the book of Job, “Can you make a pet of [me] like a bird or put [me] on a leash for your girls?…Any hope of subduing [me] is false; the mere sight of [me] is overpowering….Who then is able to stand against me? Who has claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:5, 9, 10b-11).

After God’s defense of himself, Job was left without excuse. In spite of his superior theology, his experience led him to question God’s sovereignty and goodness. Because he could not comprehend how his pain could be reconciled with his view of God, he concluded that God had no answers for him. But God reminded him, as he reminds all of us, that just because we don’t have all the answers, this doesn’t mean that no answers exist.

Job’s friends thought they had all the answers: Job’s suffering was the effect of his sin or his failure to claim victory over his circumstances. Refusing to buy into their works-righteousness and hollow platitudes, Job became an existentialist, preferring no answers to wrong answers. Much like Jean-Paul Sartre after the despair of two savage world wars, Job concluded that suicide might be preferable to enduring his suffering. Again and again he cried out to God for an end to his life.

For those who are tied to the high masts of suffering, there is often a fear that is greater than the fear of death. It is the fear of life. It is the fear of the next morning, and the morning after that. In the face of deep despair, the temptation is great to either turn away from God because the suffering is somehow credited to his wrath toward personal sins, or to turn toward him because one knows that one is at peace with God. This is why Job said he would be able to turn toward God in this situation if only he had a go-between, an advocate. Gradually, he came to greater confidence in this mediator: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend” (Job 16:19-21).

Whatever was wrong in Don’s life, he had an unshakable conviction that his witness is in heaven. He knew that Jesus Christ was his intercessor, a friend to whom he could pour out tears to God. And he knew that Jesus Christ, his Elder Brother, was pleading on his behalf with God as a man pleads for his friend. Don knew the meaning of Paul’s despair over his ongoing sinfulness in Romans 7, where the apostle laments, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (vv. 15, 24). But also like the apostle Paul, Don knew the answer to that question: “Thanks be to God’through Jesus Christ our Lord!…Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:25-8:1).

So why didn’t this confidence keep our brother from ending his life? We cannot answer that question any better than perhaps Job’s friends could resolve the riddle of their friend’s suffering. But I can say this: Even if we are too weak to hang on to Jesus, he is strong enough to hang on to us. Even though we may not be able to face tomorrow, Jesus has already passed through death to the other side and has taken away death’s sting for us. Like Job, who knew that his Redeemer lives and that he would see him in the very body that was at present covered with bloody and painful sores, the apostle Paul declared, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith….If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19).

Christianity is not true because it works. In many cases, it does not work. That is to say, it does not solve all of the problems we think it should solve. Those who become Christians because they were told it would fix their marriages, only to find themselves in divorce court, might well give up on Christianity. Those who expected to be free of sinful habits and desires, after a conversion in which “sudden victory” was promised, may find themselves disillusioned with God altogether soon after, when they realize that they are still sinners saved by grace. And there are, no doubt, many in this city and in other places who will say, “If Christianity didn’t work for someone like Don, how can it work for me?” It is an honest question, an understandable question. But it assumes that Christianity fixes everything. It doesn’t fix everything, at least not here and now. Christianity does promise that everything will be fixed at the end of history, but in this wilderness experience we are on a pilgrimage to the holy city. Some pilgrims will find the journey much more difficult than remaining back in Egypt, in unbelief.

Don was not one of those pilgrims who turned back to Egypt. Don and his wife were towers of strength to me in my own pilgrimage, as I watched them meet successive disasters by turning again and again to God and his gracious promise. But Don was a pilgrim for whom the hike to that eternal city had become so heavy that he looked for a way out. He was longing for a better city, but he was unwilling to wait.

We are not called here this afternoon to judge God. God didn’t promise any of us health, wealth, or happiness. In fact, he tells us that we who expect to share in Christ’s glory will also participate in his sufferings. Christianity is true, not because it works for people in that pragmatic, utilitarian way, but because nearly two thousand years ago, outside the center city of Jerusalem, the Son of God was crucified for our sins and was raised for our justification. This historical event may not fix our marriages, our relationships, or our messed-up lives in the way and timing that we would like, but it saves us from the wrath of God to come. Surely, in view of this, all else pales not into insignificance but into secondary importance to that great issue; for “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

We are not here to judge God today, but neither are we here to judge Don. No one can justify his action, but Don is justified before God. Being accepted before God is not a matter of what we have done or left undone, or we would all be lost. It is a matter of trusting in that which Jesus Christ has done, for he has finished the work of our redemption. He has paid the ransom for our sins and satisfied the justice our guilt required.

The perfect righteousness that God requires of us was possessed by only one man who ever lived, the Redeemer to whom Job and Paul and every other saint has looked for shelter from death and hell. The moment we trust in Christ and renounce our own claims to holiness and acceptability, stripping away the fig leaves of our own making, God clothes us in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Because of Christ’s life of obedience, his sacrificial death, and his triumphant resurrection, we are accepted by the Father and made his heirs, given the Holy Spirit, and promised the resurrection of our own mortal flesh. This means that it is safe to look up at God again. Just as Job said that if only he had an advocate, a mediator, he could lift his eyes up to God in his suffering, so all of us can cry on our Father’s shoulder this afternoon because we have nothing to fear. It is not his wrath that has sent us pain and suffering if we belong to him, for he intercepts Satan’s designs and fashions even sin and evil into messengers of grace.

With Job and Paul, Don knew that his Redeemer lives, even though he himself did not think he could go on living here below. With the Redeemer, there will be no death, no suffering, no pain, no disease, or disappointment. Even now, Don is awaiting his new, glorified body while his spirit is already enjoying the immediate presence of God. If God’s grace is greater than all our sin—even than this sin of suicide—then surely every one of us is warmly invited by the risen Christ: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And with Job and Paul, Don will reign with Christ because his Redeemer lives. Because Christ’s tomb is empty, Don’s grave will also be empty on the last day. With Job, Don can say, “I will see him in my flesh,” in the very body that, at eighteen years old, fell seventy-five feet while rock climbing, leaving him with a broken back and reconstructed feet; in that body that witnessed the death of his brother from leukemia and his father’s death while Don was in college.

It is in that body that held children with severe learning disabilities as gifts from God, and in the body that just four months ago was injured in a train accident, that Don will see God. It will be a body reconstructed, not by the skillful hands of doctors below, but by the hand of his Creator, the Great Physician—and so Don’s body will be perfectly mended and free from pain. On that day, Scripture assures us, God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Until then, Don is in God’s presence without his body, awaiting that triumphal entry of God’s liberated captives, arriving in triumphant procession together through the gates of the eternal city after a long, hard winter through the wilderness. Indeed, Christianity does “work” after all, for all of us who believe, just where and when we needed it most. Perhaps some of you here, like Job, have thought, “Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain?…He is not a man like me that…we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him” (Job 9:29, 32-35). Don would want to remind all of us that we have this arbitrator, this mediator, who has removed God’s rod from us so that his terror frightens us no more. Now we can speak up without fear of him because he calls us children instead of enemies.

To the family, I know you have lost your husband, son, father, and brother. Although I myself have lost one of my closest friends, I cannot begin to know your suffering, but God knows what this is like—for he also lost a dear one, his one and only Son. God committed his Son to dreadful suffering and a cruel death because through it he could save people who hated him and make them his own sons and daughters. You can turn to him as your Father, not only because he knows how you feel, but because his loss secured your adoption into his family and made Don a coheir with Christ. And for all of us here who are afraid of death, or of life, the good news is that this man is still at God’s right hand, this Advocate who pleads our case. His name is Jesus Christ, and if your faith is in the Rock of Ages and in this Mighty Fortress, he will be your friend in this world and in the world to come.

This sermon was originally printed in The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times, ed. Bryan Chapell (Zondervan, 2011), and is reprinted by permission of Zondervan Publishing Group.

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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Friday, February 28th 2014

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