“Then Job replied: ‘How can a mortal be righteous before God? If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.’”
— Job 9:1a, 2b, 33–34
By the time you read this article, the year 2015 will already be well under way. 2014 may have been a difficult year for you. 2015 will certainly present its challenges. I have always found that in difficult times it is beneficial to read through the poetic literature of the Holy Scriptures, especially the books of Job and Psalms.
By the time we get to Job 9, Job has gone through some dramatic events in his life. He has lost all of his children. All his possessions have been taken away from him. It was one tragedy after another. And then, to make matters worse, when his friends come to comfort him they offer him all kinds of horrible advice.
Don’t we sometimes identify with Job? We think we do all the right things: we go to church; we spend time in devotions and prayer; we busy ourselves with all kinds of volunteer work. Even so, there are times in our lives when things don’t go right for us. To make matters worse, our friends gossip about us, lie about us and to us, and treat us as if we have leprosy.
Granted, we may not face the same perils as Job did, but let’s face it, life is not always easy. We cry out to God, “Look at all I do, and then you bring this into my life? How is that fair? If only I had someone to confront God on my behalf, to bring my trials and my problems before Him.”
That’s the cry of Job in the closing verses of Job 9. But even before Job can air his frustration he has to acknowledge that God “is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court” (Job 9:32).
Job’s Lament Charles Spurgeon wrote more than a century ago, “Will God contend with man? If God be angry, can he not take away the breath of his nostrils, and lay him low in the dust of the earth? If the heart of the Almighty be moved to displeasure, can he not speak in his anger, and will not the soul of man sink into the lowest hell?”
The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism put it this way: “According to God’s righteous judgment we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after” (LD 5, Q&A 12).
The ultimate question that the person who realizes he deserves nothing more than the wrath of God poured out upon him is the same question the catechism asks as it begins the Deliverance section: “How then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?” Isn’t that the question Job asked: “How can a mortal be righteous before God?” Have you ever asked this question of yourself? Has it become real to you? It is not enough to intellectually know your sin and misery. Do you struggle with your sin? Does knowing that one day you will stand before the Most Holy God in judgment make your knees shake?
With quivering in our voices we ask, “Can we escape this punishment?”
But even that isn’t enough. What if you could somehow escape for the moment? What if God would say, “I forgive you all your past sin. Now go and sin no more.”
We wouldn’t even be done reading this article; not even done with our morning breakfast and we would be right back in our predicament. We would be complaining about the weather, gossiping, telling white lies, and sinning all over again.
Included in the yearning that we have within us should be the desire not only to escape punishment but also to be brought back into the condition that Adam and Eve enjoyed when they were in the Garden of Eden. It is not just rid of the judgment we deserve. We must go a step beyond that.
How can we be right with God? How can you ever come to a point in your life where God no longer looks upon you as the sinner that you admit you are and instead He looks upon you with favor? How can God ever delight in you? How can you ever be the apple of His eye?
After all, God is a just God. He cannot simply cancel our guilt. Before our first parents ever disobeyed God, they were told clearly what the penalty would be: “The day you eat thereof you will surely die.” It could not have been much clearer than that. God had declared that the wages of sin is death. You sin, you die.
That is the penalty that rests upon each and every descendant of Adam. No generation has ever escaped that punishment. If the Lord tarries, neither will this generation. Your sin must be punished. Your sin will be punished either by your death or the death of another.
The obvious question that follows would be to ask if you can pay for your sin yourself. Because you are responsible for your own sin, it should be your duty to pay for it. Unfortunately, you are unable to pay for those sins. First of all, you can’t bear the full punishment required by your sins. If God were to extract payment from you as you deserve, it would utterly destroy you. Add to that the fact that you increase your guilt every day. There is absolutely no way that you will ever be able to satisfy the justice of God. You must look elsewhere for someone to deliver you from your sin.
Romans 3 reminds us that “there is none that is righteous, no, not one.” There is no one who can stand before God and say that he is without sin. Not even Job. The book of Job begins by saying he was blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil. You couldn’t find a nicer, more careful, more religious person than Job. But not even Job would be able to pay for your sins. He was a sinner, too.
Psalm 49:7 says, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.”
Well, if a human being can’t redeem the life of another what about some other creature God made? What about angels? Angels can do a lot of things: they can open prison doors; they can lead righteous people out of doomed cities; they can announce the birth of a Savior. But one thing they cannot do: they cannot take your place in hell. They cannot face the punishment of God for you. The human race has sinned, and the human race shall be punished.
What about sacrifices? In the Old Testament the priests would kill a spotless lamb on the great Day of Atonement. He would take some of the blood and pour it on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Then he would declare that the people were forgiven. Can we do that now?
Every Israelite knew—or should have known—that the sacrifices were not enough to save them. They pointed to the fact that sin meant death. Instead of their own death, it was the death of a substitute. They pointed ahead to a future sacrifice. “Those sacrifices [made in the Old Testament] are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:3–4).
It was just like today when everyone is supposed to know that the sacraments we celebrate in the church do not save us. They point us to something else. They point us to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made upon the cross of Calvary on the great Day of Atonement so many years ago.
Even if you could somehow find an animal, angel, or some other creature who could be offered for the sacrifice of your sin, it wouldn’t work. The infinite wrath of God upon our sin would be so intense that whatever you offered up would be completely destroyed long before the punishment ever came to an end. “The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.”
Can you get a sense of the utter despair that the human race finds itself in? Job understood it as he cried out to God. Paul understood it as he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:23). Spurgeon understood it when he wrote, “Will the Almighty contend with the nothingness of man? Will the everlasting God take up weapons of war, and go out to fight against the insect of a day against the one that is here today and returns to dust tomorrow?”
They understood. Do you understand it? Understanding where you stand before God because of the horror of your sin makes all the difference in the world and in eternity. It is the difference between a historic faith where you know the facts and they mean nothing to you and a saving faith. A saving faith means you marvel in awe at the grace of God and bend your knee before Him as the glorious good news of the gospel unfolds.
You see, there is no one else! No human being, no angel, no creature, no sacrifice that will pay for the horror and the atrocity of your rebellion against God. Do you see how hopeless it is!
God’s Answer And yet, there is one last place to look. It is to the very One whom we have offended.
Job cries out: “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more.” The Bible answers Job and says there is Someone.
There is Someone, Job, who will stand before God in your place. Someone promised by God already in Genesis 3 when mankind first fell into sin—the One who will crush the head of the serpent.
Human beings sinned, and they have to pay the price. He could not just seem to be a man like Thor or Zeus, or Dr. Who. He has to be a man. God provided One who is truly human to be your Mediator and Deliverer. Real flesh. Real blood. One heart. A human being.
God Himself poured Himself out to become nothing—to become one of us insignificant little creatures on this insignificant little planet. He who was very God of very God became very human of very human!
However, if this human being ever sinned—even once—he would have to pay the penalty for his own sin. He would have to die for that sin. The holy and righteous God whom we sinned against came into this world as a human being. He faced all the temptations that we face but did not once did He disobey the will of His Father in heaven.
Adam and Eve, in the sinless Garden, disobeyed God. Jesus of Nazareth, in this sin-filled world, obeyed God perfectly. He was without sin. That made Him the perfect sacrifice for your sin. Instead of dying for His own sin like you and I would have had to do, when He died He died for your sin. He paid the price. He took your sin away from you.
How is that possible?
If God’s wrath upon our sin would destroy the angels and us, how could Jesus of Nazareth possibly survive? Because He is very God of very God—infinitely strong and infinitely powerful. On the cross of Calvary, when God the Father poured out His perfect wrath against our sin, God the Son bore it all. In His infinite strength He was able to do so.
Do you see how absolutely incredible this is? Do you see how significant this event is that took place on the cross? The second person of the Holy Trinity—very God of very God—took upon Himself His own wrath against your sin.
You rebelled against Him. You hated Him. In spite of all that, He died for you. In complete obedience to the Father, Jesus Christ went to the cross. God the Father took His life in the place of ours. God the Son gave His life instead of ours.
Our Response This isn’t just something you can nod your head in agreement to with some kind of historic faith. This is something to marvel over and believe. Stand amazed at the love of God. Jesus said, “It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth.” The opposite is true, as well. If you love the Lord and understand the significance of what took place at Calvary, it will flow from you.
Psalm 107 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” How can the redeemed of God be quiet in the matter? God Himself took upon Himself your sin! Why would the redeemed want to talk about anything else?
When Job realized that God would provide an advocate, he cries out ten chapters later: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon 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!” (Job 19:25–27).
When Paul came to the realization of what a horrible sinner he was—unable to save himself and that it was all God’s grace, he cried out, “Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25)!
What are you going to be singing throughout 2015? How can you—poor sinner lost in sin and saved by grace—sing anything but “Hallelujah” at every opportunity you have?
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.