Sermon on Easter Sunrise, OT, Job 19:23-27
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.” (Job 3:25-27, ESV). These miraculous words of faith in the bodily resurrection spoken by Job have been put to music in hymns and in a beautiful soprano solo from Handel’s Messiah. The words are miraculous because only God could work faith such as this in a man who also believed he was stricken by God, whose children were killed in a disastrous storm, whose health and wealth had dried up, whose friends and wife had turned on him in his time of greatest need. We see a man whose skin is in the process of being destroyed, of being flayed as it says in the Hebrew, by a disease like leprosy, yet Job says he “knows” that his Redeemer lives, whom he will see with his own eyes after they has been destroyed and turned to dust. Faith like this is a miracle. We look on it and marvel.
Our materialistic society has a hard time with miracles. For many around us, if something can’t be explained through natural causes it can’t happen. The creation account in Genesis has to be explained away as a myth created for simple, pre-scientific minds. The parting of the Red Sea? Actually a tsunami. The manna in the desert? Insect secretions. The Israelites couldn’t really have conquered Canaan in such a short time, blowing down the walls of Jericho with their trumpets. No, they were most likely a tribe of nomads that lived in the land alongside the other tribes of Canaan for hundreds of years and eventually developed their own myth for how they came to be there. These are some of the explanations given by “scholarly” writers about the Bible miracles over the last couple of centuries.
I was reading a popular study bible a couple of years ago for a men’s Bible study. We were reading the book of Daniel and came to the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. You know the story. Daniel is thrown into the a den of lions for praying to God instead of to Darius the King. The king’s advisors, called satraps, catch Daniel praying and rat him out to the king. The king is bound by his own law to throw Daniel to the lions. The morning after Daniel is tossed into the lions’ den the King returns and finds that Daniel has lived through the night unharmed. When the king asks Daniel what happened, Daniel tells him that an angel was with him during the night who shut the lions’ mouths. The king recognizes the power of God, and furious at Daniel’s accusers, throws them and their families into the same den. The lions fall on them and quickly kill them. We read this story and then went over the questions in the margin of the study Bible. One of the questions was “What do you think really happened in the lions den to Daniel? To the lions? To the satraps and their families? What about this do you have problems with?”
What do I think really happened?! Did I hear that right? Did the study guide actually say, “What do I think really happened?” To put the best construction on it I have to assume that the writers of the study meant, “What do you think it looked like for the angel to shut the mouths of the lions all night?” However I’m sure there are many people who do wonder “what really happened” in the sense that they don’t believe the Bible’s account of the angel shutting the lions’ mouths. A better explanation for them would be that Daniel calmed the lions somehow, or that the lions had just eaten and were full, or that Daniel found a place to hide out of reach of the cats. These would be rational explanations. And they might also ask, “How could God let the families of the satraps be punished? God wouldn’t do that! There must have been dozens, if not hundreds of people killed. God would never allow that. There must be some other explanation.” There always is some other explanation if we look for it hard enough.
Even respected Biblical commentators have trouble with miracles. I just read a commentary on Job by one of the most highly respected Biblical scholars today as part of preparation for this sermon. This commentator twisted himself into a veritable pretzel to avoid the clear meaning of Job’s words. He refused to accept that Job actually believed in the miracle of bodily resurrection. So he said that the Redeemer whom Job knows lives is really a “personification” of Job’s pleas against God, not a real person; that “after my skin has been destroyed” means that Job’s skin is already destroyed by leprosy and he hopes to see God face to face now, not after he dies and is raised. The commentator says that the Hebrew has to be corrupt for it cannot mean what it says. After all, Job believed that God was afflicting him. How could he look to God who was afflicting him to also raise him from the dead?
In the same way, Enlightenment and modernistic scholars for the last three centuries have been coming up with natural explanations for the miracles of Christ. The feeding of the five thousand was not a miraculous multiplication of food by the creator of food, but was the crowd sharing its hidden food among themselves after they saw a boy offer his loaves and fish. They were inspired by his selfless generosity and shared what they had. The healings of Jesus were done through the power of suggestion on people who were suffering from psycho-somatic illnesses. Demons don’t really posses people, nor are they cast out. Demons are simply primitive people’s personifications of mental illnesses, illnesses which Jesus helped cure, again with His persuasive powers of suggestion. And the resurrection appearances? Wishful imagination, group hallucination, etc…
No, the world does not want us to believe in miracles. It wants us to find a materialistic explanation for everything. Because if there is something that stands outside of nature, that supernatural something must be God, and God makes demands on us, demands of belief, demands on how we are to live. It upsets everything we’ve got going for ourselves, it spoils our fun. It takes the focus off of us and puts it onto someone else, onto God and onto our neighbor.
So it’s better not to take seriously the tales in the Bible. The devil introduced this distrust of God’s Word into the world in the Garden of Eden. His, “Did God actually say that…?” was the primal question that raised doubt and confusion in Eve’s mind about God’s Word, and he continues to use the same old question to raise doubts about God’s Word in people today. Hey, if it works?
You may have heard of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who met regularly some years back to try to discover the “historical” Jesus. They had a method of determining what sayings were really Jesus’ words and what events actually happened that are described in the Gospels. It worked this way: They would take a sentence from the Gospels, say John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” and then they would vote on it by casting colored marbles into a box. If most of the marbles were black, that meant that Jesus hadn’t really said that. Their conclusion? Less than one in five of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually said by him. It was the Devil’s trick all over again: “Did God actually say that?” on steroids.
Even our revered founding father, Thomas Jefferson, had a problem with miracles. A huge problem. He put together his own Gospels by literally cutting out all the miracles and sayings of Jesus that point to His divinity, and pasting together what was left over. One of the miracles that he cut out was the miracle we are celebrating this morning, the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. The closing lines of Jefferson’s “Bible” were, “ “Now, in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” The— end.
But we know that isn’t the end. Despite all the rationalistic, materialistic, and logical arguments to the contrary, we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story— that our Redeemer lives. But how do we know? How can we know? We know because of another miracle, the miracle of faith that Job received—that miracle we receive in Holy Baptism.
We did not come to believe that Jesus lives through rational proofs and evidence. These things can support faith, but they can’t produce faith. Only through the miraculous “regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom [God] poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6, ESV) can we believe that Jesus is Lord, our Redeemer, that He died for our sins, was buried for three days, rose on this morning almost two thousand years ago, and is alive now, with his body and soul, skin, bone and blood, eyes, ears, pierced hands and feet.
Only the miracle of faith given to us through hearing God’s word and receiving His sacraments in the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to believe that Christ really said, “This is my body, which is given for you.” (Luke 22:19). “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20, ESV). With faith we know that Jesus not only actually said those words, bur He actually meant them in their plain sense.
When Jesus said these words on the night when He was betrayed He knew that His skin was going to be destroyed by the whips of the Roman soldiers, that He would be flayed alive by the bits of bone and metal woven into the braids of the whips. But He also knew that after His skin had been thus destroyed and nailed to a cross, pierced with a spear, after his dead corpse was taken down, wrapped and buried in a cold tomb, that He would see God, His Father, with His own eyes in His own flesh, the same God, His Father, who had turned His face away from Him in His moment of greatest pain and need, God, who had afflicted and condemned Him, the Righteous One, for sins He had not committed.
This trust that Jesus has in His Father’s mercy and love is the same trust that Jesus miraculously gives to us, His brothers and sisters who have been adopted into His family, the church, through baptism. And Jesus, our Redeemer, is sharing His resurrection with us this very morning, in the hearing of His Word and in the partaking of His living body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We know that our Redeemer lives and at the Last Day He will return to stand upon the earth. And because He died for our sins and rose again, we, after our sinful flesh has turned to dust, will see God face to face, with our own eyes, in our own risen and glorified bodies. Our hearts faint within us for joy with this knowledge. I know, and you know that our Redeemer lives. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.