HOLY BAPTISM OF JOB CHRISTIAN PREUS – SERMON ON JOB | WEDNESDAY AFTER TRINITY 19 | Pfr. Dr. Martens
“Job” – this is one of those names that can only be given to an American child and not to a German one. In German Job is just known as a misadventurer, as an unlucky fellow who is just collecting one bad news after the other. Nobody wants to be Job in Germany. But this German usage of this biblical name does not comprehend the biblical story of Job at all. Job is not just a walking disaster area. When we look into the Bible, we will find out that Job is a good Lutheran, somebody who has really understood good Lutheran theology. Thus I need not explain any longer, why you two chose this name for your oldest son. Why is Job a good Lutheran, after all? Holy Scripture gives us four answers:
- He cautions us against trusting in a prosperity gospel
- He teaches us to flee from the hidden God to the revealed God.
- He is a witness of God’s victory over the devil.
- He is an example for the justification of the sinner.
Of course, Germans are not always totally wrong. That’s one aspect of the Job story in the Old Testament that Job gets indeed bad news one after the other. And he does not only get bad news, he becomes terribly sick and does not have anything left but his mere life at the end. But that’s not the worst that Job has to experience that he loses all his possessions, his family, his health. It’s even worse for him that he has to endure the visit of several Joel Osteen friends in his home. At the beginning they do the only appropriate thing that you can do in such a situation: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” But then they open their mouths – and that makes it much worse for Job, having to listen to their prosperity gospel: If you just really believed in the Lord, you would be well off now; you would have everything that you wish. It’s your mistake that you have all the problems. Just activate your faith, achieve your dreams and increase in God’s favor; go beyond your barriers and live an extraordinary life! You can, you will! But Job remains Lutheran. He does not believe that it is true that you can read out God’s grace and favor from your bank account, that health and success are marks of the Holy Spirit. He knows that you are totally led off the way when you think that your personal experiences are a source of revelation of God’s plans for your life. And he knows even more that you cannot explain affliction and distress by pointing to alleged former sins in your lives – as if everybody just gets what he deserves in his life. Job remains a Lutheran. The only answer that he accepts is God’s own word. The only answer that he accepts is what God says to him. That’s what Job teaches us: If you want to understand God, just stick to his word, stick to Holy Scripture. And Holy Scripture does not promise you success and health and a life without problems. Holy Scripture does not point you to your own resources. It points you to the cross; it shows you that God is acting contrariously, that he gives you everything by seemingly taking everything away from you, that he makes you win by seemingly making you become a loser, that he gives you life by making you die. That’s the real gospel that Job preaches us with his own life. That’s why he does not follow the advice of his wife to renounce God and to die, when he does not get what he wants. Job knows better; he is not willing to be taken in by his prosperity gospel friends. He rather sticks to God’s word. He rather sticks to his redeemer.
And that’s the second thing that we can learn from Job: He teaches us to flee from the hidden God to the revealed God.
In the 19th chapter of the book of Job from which Job’s baptismal verse is taken, Job says it very clearly: “Know then that God has put me in the wrong!” How are you allowed to talk about God like this, we might ask Job. Isn’t it enough to sing “Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things is wondrously reigning”? No, it is not, says Job. There is a hidden God who can be so terrible, so incomprehensible that you cannot agree with him and with what he is doing at all. There is a hidden God, as Martin Luther himself has put it in his great work “De servo arbitrio”, “The Bondage of the Will”, and this hidden God is no source of comfort at all. You can only run away from this God, who cannot be discerned from the devil in so many regards.
But Job knows where to run. He does not become an atheist, who denies the existence of God because of all the bad things in this world, and he does not become a Muslim who simply submits himself under the incomprehensible power of Allah. Rather Job flees from God to God. He says on the one hand: God is doing me injustice. But on the other hand he says in the same chapter: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” Job expects his Redeemer, who is no one less than God himself. He expects this God to grant him justice, to give him life instead of death.
That’s the movement that we are taught by Job: We should always run from God to God, when we cannot understand what’s going in our lives. We should not stare at the hidden God, trying to understand him. Rather we should cling to the revealed God, to our Redeemer, who will give us life and divine righteousness that we cannot give to ourselves.
Job – the name means in Hebrew: “Where is the father? Where is the heavenly father?” That’s the program of Job’s life: to look for the father, to look for this God who has revealed himself as the Redeemer. “Where is the father?” – that’s exactly the program of our lives as well!
There is a third important thing that we can learn from Job: He is a witness of God’s victory over the devil. The devil tried to win his bet against God. But at the very end he has to see that he is the loser, that he has not been able to move Job away from God.
In the story of Job in the Old Testament it is Job himself who finally goofs the devil’s plan. But as we move on to read in Holy Scripture we encounter the one who has finally blundered all the bad plans of the devil by his righteousness, by his obedience to the father, by his suffering, by his unshaken unity with the father. Jesus Christ is, of course, even much, much higher than Job. He has come and has finally destroyed the works of the devil. But already Job is a witness of God’s victory over the devil, showing us that the devil always remains limited, always remains the one who cannot really compete with God, who has to give up at the very end.
And then, of course, Job is also a great example, how God justifies the sinner. At the end Job cannot say anything anymore but confessing: “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” And then, totally unexpectedly, God declares Job righteous – not because of what he has done, but simply because he has confessed that he has no right to be justified, simply because he stands in front of God with totally empty hands. Job did not deserve it to be justified. He was simply declared righteous, because God decided to do so. Just as St. Mary, the mother of God, sings it in her song: “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Tonight Job will be baptized. He will hardly experience anything in baptism tonight, he will not have a special feeling, he will probably not be especially happy tonight. But that does not matter, how he feels. The only thing that matters is what God says, what he does, what he effects through his word tonight. We do not know what Job will have to experience in his life. But we know that God will remain faithful, that he will never recant his promise that he gives to Job tonight.
Tonight Job will be baptized. Tonight he will find his father, his heavenly father, who will never let him down. Tonight he will encounter the revealed God, his Redeemer Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead and who gives him a new life tonight that even death cannot destroy anymore. Job will live forever with his Redeemer, he will see his Savior with his own eyes. That’s what the revealed God promises to him tonight.
Tonight Job will be baptized. And in this baptism the devil will lose all his power over Job, will have to endure it from now on that Job will sing his song all his life long: “Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled all your might has come unraveled, and against your tyranny God my Lord unites with me.”
Tonight Job will be baptized. He will be justified not by his works, but by grace alone. That’s why it is good and right that we baptize children; that’s why it is good and right that you have come to this font with Job as soon as possible, three days after his birth. Job will be saved tonight – and may he always remain a good Lutheran like his name giver! May he always know his redeemer and trust in Him alone: I know that my redeemer lives! Amen.