Saturday, March 26, 2016

Prayers of the Risen Christ

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. (Colossians 3:1-7)

Setting our minds on things that are above, and not on things that are on earth, applies continually in life, especially spiritually.  Putting our hope in the next life instead of this one is a good rule of thumb to follow.  However, this also applies to scripture. Today, we celebrate Christ's rising from the dead, the firstfruits of the promise of God that we are justified in his sight.  No matter how wretched and sinful we have been in this life, if we are "in Christ," we are accepted into the heavenly places by faith in Christ alone. All the Bible is about this message, from the clear and straightforward passages of scripture to the difficult parts, which require other clear passages for interpretation.  However, when we read scripture, we tend to read ourselves into the text instead of Christ, even when Christ tells us that scripture is all about him.

I want to look at the end of Job, because this is a book of the Bible that everyone tends to read himself into. Granted, there are parts of Job that we can apply to us directly, things like the famous line from Job 19: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth."  Like Job, we know that our redeemer lives, but even this text points to Christ.  Job prophesies that Christ will stand upon the earth long after Job himself is not.

The reason we tend to read ourselves into Job is because 1) Job is a person, 2) We are people, 3) Job suffers, 4) We suffer.  Job is real to us.  But there are some very significant aspects that point to Job being a type and shadow of Christ. 1) Job suffers undeservedly and 2) Job is rewarded at the end of his narrative with greater prosperity than he had at the start. As a man, Job is still sinful, because all people are sinful, but that's not the purpose of the book.  He is shown not to be sinful but instead, "blameless and upright."  The only one who ever walked the earth blameless and upright was Christ himself.  Also, and this is the real reason we want to read ourselves into the story of Job, his being rewarded with greater prosperity makes us believe that if we suffer like Job, we will be rewarded, too, here on earth, with wealth and health and good relationships.  This aspect of Job also points to Christ and him alone.  Why? Because Christ truly suffered undeservedly and his is the only restoration to his previous state that not only should be expected but should be encouraging to us.  We personally may be given prosperous outcomes here on earth, but if we expect an end result like Job's we will not only be disappointed, but we can even harm ourselves and others, spiritually.  We can fall away from the faith, because we never had a true faith in Christ, and we can lead others astray.

Many figures in the Bible undergo similar misreadings. Look at Joseph, son of Jacob. He is a type of Christ, a type that saves the faithful. If I read myself as Joseph, I fail. Look at David. He is a type of Christ, a type that conquers evil. If I read myself as David, I fail. Job is a type of Christ that suffers on our behalf, even though we deserve the suffering and he does not. If I read myself as Job, I fail.  Look at Philippians 2:5-11:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the story of Job in a nutshell: Christ as God, emptying himself and suffering on our behalf, only to have all of his fortunes restored to an even greater position than before.  This is who Job is pointing to: Jesus, not us.  But we should look at the text of Job 42 to be certain.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.”

This first part is that of repentance.  We can read ourselves into this.  Even though Job is considered upright and blameless, he is in such awe of God by the end of this book, he can only "despise himself and repent." This is how we should see ourselves in relation to God. Remember, the worst failure of a Christian is made righteous in God's eyes by Christ, and the greatest triumph of an ungodly person is worthless in God's eyes because of lack of Christ. Only by the risen Christ is this paradox even possible.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job's prayer.

Now, we move from Job as man to Job as type and shadow of Christ--specifically the risen Christ.  If we want to identify, let us identify with Job's friends, who acted self-righteous and dispensed wrongheaded advice to Job throughout the book.  Look at the prayer the Lord requests of Job.  This is not a prayer of need, but a prayer of salvation.  This is a prayer of intercession for redemption.  We know this because God says, "I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly." Only Christ can intercede in such a way for us. True, we can pray for people's needs, we can pray that an individual will repent and put their faith in Christ. We can pray for people to be saved.  But our prayers don't actually save people.  Christ saves people.  Our prayers ask Christ to intervene. Christ's prayers actually intervene. Also note the sacrifice of animals that points to the ultimate sacrifice.  Christ redeems people through his sacrifice on the cross.  All who put their trust in him are redeemed.  This faith, too, is a gift from God.

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 

Here is the danger zone.  If we read ourselves as Job for this last part, we will get the impression that if we pray for the salvation of our friends, the Lord will reward us with material blessings.  Yes, he rewards his children, but he does so with heavenly blessings, which is what our Colossians passage above is focusing on. These are spiritual blessings that come by faith.  If we fall into a "God is a genie" realm and believe that if we perform magic rituals, God will give us our heart's material desire, we end up disappointed at best and lost at worst.

In Romans 5:19, Paul writes, "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." This sentence is referring to Adam and Christ respectively, but I have seen pastors take this verse to mean that if we are obedient, we will make others righteous. Why would I want others' salvation to depend on my obedience, when I am still a wretched sinner?  Christ is working in me, but I still have a far distance to travel.  Why would God put others' salvation in my hands? No, the truth is much more encouraging. My salvation, and yours, are in Christ's hands alone.  We are made righteous through Christ's obedience only, the obedience of a servant who gave up everything and suffered to the point of death on a cross for the forgiveness of all our sins.

This is the good news that we find in Job and everywhere else in the Bible. There is no better news.