May I begin by expressing my sympathy and condolences to you all on your bereavement. For some of you your loss may be very recent, and your emotions may still be very raw. Others may be here to mourn someone you loved and lost many, many years ago. But that doesn’t make your grief and sadness any less real. That doesn’t make your need for comfort and hope any less acute.
It’s my prayer that the words from Scripture we heard just now – words which I’m about to explain – will give us all real comfort and genuine hope. So before I go any further, let me pray: Heavenly Father, help us to hear from you today. Help us to hear words of comfort, words of hope, as we look at your Scriptures now. Amen.
1. Job’s anguish
Bereavement is perhaps the most poignant and powerful evidence that we live in a fallen world. A world that is not what we would all like it to be. A world where sin, suffering and death are sadly all too common. Suffering like we saw inflicted on the streets of Paris two days ago.
In our Old Testament reading a few moments ago we met a man who was well-acquainted with suffering. A man who knew bereavement first hand. A man who was very well aware of his own weakness and mortality. That man was called Job. The Bible tells us that Job was once wealthy, healthy and successful. A man who had many children. But he had lost it all. In a series of devastating events (described for us in the OT book that bears his name) Job had lost his livelihood, his health, and his family.
As we join Job in chapter 19 today he feels he is about to expire. He is planning his epitaph. Job wants to have his words preserved for posterity on a scroll, or better still, inscribed in lead or engraved on rock. He wants something of his life to withstand the test of time. He wanted some kind of legacy that would endure beyond his death.
We are the same aren’t we? We crave a lasting legacy for ourselves, and we rightly treasure memories and possessions of those we’ve loved and lost. We hold on to things that will keep the memory of our loved ones alive. We preserve things that will honour them even after they are gone. In a few moments time we will have an opportunity to light candles as a tribute to those we have loved. As a powerful, public statement that they continue to be loved and will never be forgotten.
2. Job’s hope
In my home we are fortunate to have an open fire. A coal-burning fire that gives us light and warmth on cold winter nights. A fire that give us a foretaste of the light and warmth of Summer. A fire that keeps our faith and hope alive that Spring will one day come.
In the midst of his own bereavement and suffering, Job too remained hopeful for the future. His hope wasn’t sustained by the warmth of a fire, however, but by his faith in God. His hope was fed by his faith in God’s power and goodness. We know this, because in our passage today, in the midst of suffering, Job gives a great declaration of faith. Job gives a world-famous proclamation of personal hope in the face of death – a certain hope that every Christian can share.
Let me remind you of Job’s words – words often read at Church of England funeral services even today: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”.
It’s worth taking a moment to dissect this wonderful declaration from Job. For a start, he knows that his “Redeemer lives”. In other words, Job has faith in God’s reality. He believes that there is a creator of the cosmos. He believes in an ever-living God who will never die. A God who is the source and origin of life, including our very own.
Job calls God his “Redeemer”, because he knows that God is in the rescue business. He knows that a God who was powerful enough to create the cosmos and part the Red Sea also has the power to rescue people from the grave. Job is convinced that somehow, sometime, God will defeat death. Job is sure that the Sovereign Lord will one day destroy all the forces of evil in this world.
That is why Job can say with confidence that even after his current body (or “skin”) has been destroyed, in new “flesh” he will see God – he himself will see the Lord with his own eyes. You see, Job’s faith means he foresees a future beyond the grave. He is sure that one day he will personally enjoy the awesome privilege of seeing God face to face. And what’s more, this future will be physical. He won’t be an insubstantial spirit or a ghost, but a physical person with a renewed body in a renewed world. Nor will he be lonely. He will be with other people – God’s people – enjoying his presence and protection forevermore.
Job’s hope is a glorious one. No wonder he says it is his hearts desire – he “yearns” for it to be fulfilled. But was it all just wishful thinking? Was Job merely expressing a belief in ‘pie in the sky’? Do we have any real, historical, objective basis for sharing his hope? Thankfully we do. Thankfully our New Testament reading today reminded us that two thousand years ago death was indeed defeated by God’s Son. 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us that our Redeemer, Jesus Christ has stood on the earth and has conquered the grave. It gives us good reason to believe that there is hope for us all in the face of death. Good reason to believe that if we trust in Christ he can carry us into eternity.
3. Christ’s resurrection
Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world. Since it was first composed in 1741 it has been performed thousands of times in concert halls around the world. No doubt many of us have heard at least parts of it played occasionally, perhaps on radio or CD.
But what you may not know is that both of our Bible readings today appear in the lyrics of the Messiah. Not separately, but together. When he wrote his masterpiece, Handel joined Job’s words from our Old Testament passage to the words of 1 Corinthians chapter 15.
In a stroke of genius, Handel realised that the resurrection of Christ – described for us in 1 Corinthians 15 – is the ground and fulfilment of Job’s hope. We can share Job’s hope of life beyond the grave because Christ has risen from the dead. We can share Job’s hope of a physical future in a world to come because Jesus was raised physically from the grave on the first Easter day.
Jesus resurrection was an objective, observable and historical event. An event with over 500 witnesses. An event that transformed the lives of those who saw it then, and of countless millions over the centuries since. If you have never looked into the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection for yourself, can I encourage you to read the eye-witness accounts recorded in the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Because if we come to Jesus Christ, and put our trust in him, we can experience sins forgiven, friendship with God, and sure hope for everlasting life beyond the grave.
Let me finish this afternoon with those famous lyrics from Handel’s Messiah: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand upon the earth. And though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh I shall see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of those that sleep.” Amen!