Few of Days, Full of Trouble
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The text for today is Job 14:1-2: “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” This is the Word of the Lord.
Perhaps you noticed a theme today: “Trouble.” I don’t mean it to say that Jack was a troublemaker… although I’m sure he had his moments, as we just heard from his grandson. But the theme just sort of developed as we met to plan for this service. Talking about Jack’s love of games, Vernice mentioned that every morning after milking the cows, they would go into the house and play a game of “Trouble.” As we talked about Jack attending country school, Jack’s granddaughter, Kayla laughed as she recalled a story she had heard about him getting in trouble for throwing a snowball at the teacher.
The word “trouble” brought to mind our readings. In John 14, Jesus seeks to calm His disciples’ troubled hearts. In Psalm 91, the Lord promises to be with those who call upon His name in the day of trouble. And in Job 14, the ancient patriarch speaks of his own troubled life. Each of these passages is quite fitting for a day like this, for there can hardly be anything more troubling than the death of a loved one. Death—though a fact of life in this world—is not normal; it is not natural. It is the ultimate proof we live in a world that is broken by sin. We were created to live forever in a perfect paradise, not for a few days full of trouble.
Job knew a thing or two about trouble. He had been a prosperous farmer and loving father. But in one day, he lost almost everything: his flock of 7,000 sheep, his herd of 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, very many servants, and worst of all, seven sons and three daughters. Like Jack, Job knew physical suffering, being so besieged with loathsome sores from head to foot that the only relief he found was in scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery while he sat in ashes.
Scripture tells us that “in all of this Job did not sin with his lips.” But that does not mean Job doesn’t complain. “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble,” he says. “He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” Not exactly sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, huh?
In these verses, Job makes several remarkable statements. To us today, so used to the euphemisms offered in our feeble attempts to soften the blow of death, they might sound too pessimistic. One might even wonder if Job was a believer, perhaps, for we are not accustomed to such transparent vulnerability and blunt honesty when it comes to speaking of our own doubts about God and life. And we are so much the poorer for it.
So let’s put ourselves in Job’s place. He has just lost his children and all his property, and now he is suffering indescribable pain, intense anxiety, and deep loneliness. He receives no help from his unfeeling friends; their visit rather increases his distress and adds to his sense of guilt. In addition, he is tempted to think that God has forsaken him. From his own experience, Job realizes that life is short and full of trouble. It’s not really a mere opinion, but a cold, hard, documented fact. Compared to eternity, even a long life is nothing. 84 years is a blink. And as we all know, that brief life has many troubles and sorrows. Job sees himself as a flower that blooms for a short time only to wither away.
Realizing his own wretched condition, Job makes a profound observation. He asks, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” And then he answers, “There is not one.” Job realizes he is a sinner and doesn’t deny it. Indeed, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Ever since the fall of our first parents in Eden, sin has contaminated every human being except our Lord Jesus Christ. As a result of sin our life is few of days and full of trouble. In his own case, Job wishes that God will give him relief from his affliction. At this point, that could mean death or speedy healing; either is preferable to his current suffering.
Job goes on to draw a comparison between mankind and a tree. Many trees, if cut down, will sprout again. With God’s blessing, proper amounts of rain and sunshine will make even a seemingly dead tree grow and thrive. Thinking of man, Job wishes he could say the same thing. Experience, however, leads him to declare, “But a man dies and is laid low, man breathes his last, and where is he?’ Then he concludes, “So a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.”
On this ultimately crucial matter of the resurrection to a life hereafter, Job is wrestling with two possibilities: either there is an afterlife, or there is not an afterlife. Here we see him waver and doubt that there is a resurrection; yet he uses words that hint at resurrection: “rises,” “awake,” and “be roused.” And in a later passage (19:25-27), he will boldly profess such hope. This is no contradiction. Job is only human, with his ups and downs. In his affliction, Job at times is tempted to doubt, but at other times he desperately clings to the hope that he will be raised from the dead to live forever.
This struggle leads Job to ask a very penetrating question, a question that gets to the heart of the matter, one that certainly comes to mind on days like today. “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Here, Job’s faith comes to the fore and shines as a bright light in the darkness of pessimism. Despite all outward considerations, Job clings to his conviction that God is his Savior and Redeemer. He holds on in hope. “I would wait until my renewal comes.” The Hebrew word for renewal is of the same root as the word translated as “sprout again” earlier, describing the new growth of a tree that has been cut down. It provides a striking picture of resurrection, and it points forward to St. Paul’s description of our resurrection on the Last Day: “The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53).
Confident of that Day, Job also expresses the hope that he can then stand in the presence of God as one whom God has pronounced innocent on the basis of His grace and mercy. “You would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.”
Job’s experience is not unique. We are also like that when we suffer, a mixture of faith and doubt, saint and sinner. And that is especially true when it comes to mattesr of life and death, our own death or the death of a loved one. The death of a loved one, without fail, triggers every emotion in the human existence in very short order. For people of faith, the question also arises concerning the eternal welfare of the departed. And too often, our thinking becomes fretting in light of what we knew or thought we knew. It is difficult for us, in such a time as this, to reflect and focus our concerns with what God knows.
Our Lord spoke to His people through Isaiah the prophet and had to remind them that He operates in ways that we cannot always understand; and He points out the arrogance of man in presuming to know better than God. “My ways are not your ways; My thoughts are higher than your thoughts,” He tells us. And that is sometimes hard for us to accept. We like everything all wrapped up neat and tidy. We seek “closure,” whatever that might mean. It pesters us to no end when we are confronted with things that are beyond our limited human comprehension. We find it difficult to place the knowledge of all things with God alone and leave it in His gracious, powerful hands.
But there is much we do know, from which our Lord would have us receive strength and comfort, especially in times like this. We know, according to the Scriptures, that it is the Lord alone who searches the heart and the Lord alone who has the power to save. And He has promised us that His Word does not go out into the ears of His hearers in vain. God makes contact with sinners through His Word, and it produces fruit. God’s Word is effective and powerful.
Through His prophet, God compares the work of His Word to rain and snow coming down from heaven. Any farmer like Jack knows that when rain and snow come down, they water the ground and make the crops bud and flourish. When God’s Word comes to sinners, it works in the same way. God’s Word works when and where He pleases, simply by His grace, by His almighty power.
The free gift of eternal salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is just that—a free gift. And the Lord has told us in His Word how it is that He gives us this saving faith. He tells us in Titus, chapter 3, that He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This washing He granted Jack in his baptism, for our Lord declares that as many of us as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In Baptism, Jack was buried in the death of Christ with the promise that He would raise him again. Our Lord never forgot His promise to Jack, and Jack was confirmed in the faith that was once delivered to the saints. He confessed his Christian faith publicly and acknowledged God’s gift to him in Holy Baptism.
And though it had been a while since he had been in church, Jack still heard God’s Word; he confessed his sin, and received Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of his sins through pastoral visits in his home. Even as recently as Thursday, I had the opportunity to read God’s Word, to pray with him, and we confessed our Christian faith together in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. And so I commend Jack to our heavenly Father’s gracious and merciful care, trusting that He who has begun a good work in Jack will be faithful to complete it.
God’s Word does not return to Him empty, even when we can’t measure the results with our limited human minds and sinful hearts. Your peace and your comfort must not come from a few days, full of trouble, but from the certain and the eternal; and that is the precious truth that God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Christ Jesus died to save sinners. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the only Way to the Father. And He has prepared a place for His own.
The Lord Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He came to His people to redeem them. Christ reconciled the whole world, Jack included, to Himself. He bought us back from sin and the power of the grave not with gold or silver, but with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Through the power of His death, He has forever destroyed death, and all the dead will be raised on the Last Day.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and died for Jack’s sins, as well as the sins of every person here. Though the wages of sin is death, as we are grimly reminded today, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. He died for you. He died for me. And He died for Jack. He paid the price for all of our transgressions, and gives the promise of the resurrection of the body to everlasting life to all who would believe in Him.
May our Lord impart this comfort and hope to you, no matter what trouble or temptations you may face today or in the days and years to come. Trust in God’s great love and mercy, His Word and His promises, which are far above our ways and beyond all human comprehension. He will sustain and keep you.
In the Name of our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.