Article based on the Bible readings listed for October 3 in the Revised Common Lectionary (used across a variety of churches and chapels) and the TLW Bible Study for Sunday, October 3, found here.
Job 1:1, 2:1-10 — How Satan oppresses but God rules over the tests of life
Mark 10:2-16 — In the kingdom of God, justice demands that everyone is esteemed equally
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 — Jesus, the radiance and the exact representation of God, entered our messy world to redeem it
• See also the Really Quick Introduction video, Taming the Tests of Life
WE ALL know about the tests of life, and we have all thought about how to avoid them — or just get through them.
To say that Jesus is the answer is a kind of Sunday-school answer that may be correct — but it doesn’t tell us how that strand of faith makes a difference. How much weight can it carry?
One of the less well-known names and titles of the Lord is the Way. John’s gospel tells that Jesus said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:7)
The Way is a title — it is part of who the Lord is, His essence. It tells us that He is the way to salvation: “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Believing in Jesus and trusting in what He has done for us is fundamental — that is how we become ChristIans and have an assurance of our present partnership and future destiny with Him.
“I am the Way” is also a broad hint that Jesus’ way of life, is a that is life-giving. This is the way that works!
Life can be like a woodland path with obstacles, holes and foot-snagging undergrowth — and at times the track becomes indistinct. Jesus, who is the Way, gives us the way through.
Let’s go back from our present time, back to Jesus on earth, in fact back more than a thousand years before that. Jesus was present at Creation and has always been in the Godhead and showing His way , unseen and unrecognised.
Job is a character from a very early time and of course he didn’t know Jesus, but he is is a man of good values, compassion and integrity. He is confused about why so much hardship comes His way — and the point of the book is how he continued to trust God while the spiritual battle was being played out in the heavenlies, and he was losing everything including his health, and seeking help from friends, hearing veiled criticism and accusations. It must have been his fault.
The part of this story that we are looking at is how the testing and loss and shame he experienced on earth was connected to a test that was being played out in the heavenly realm. And it isn’t to do with his merit from good deeds, or his lack of protection for an absence of them.
In this scene Satan is presenting himself with the angels, an unwelcome imposter, appearing in the heavenly court having been roaming the earth and doing his evil where he can.
The Lord tells Satan: “Job still maintains his integrity, although you incited Me against Him to ruin him without any reason.”
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now, stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to your face”.Job 1:3-5
And here we have Satan’s strategy in black and white.
Satan causes us trouble to tempt us into sin, especially the sin of not trusting or even blaming God, and his objective is to harm God’s reputation at the same time.
That’s why we pray:
“…Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”Matthew 5:13
Job’s wife, embittered by the terrible loss of her entire family and provision, mocks Job for maintaining His trust in God’s goodness. And another strand of Satan’s strategy is laid bare — destabilising the partnership and trying to trick us into a spiritual agreement with his lie, which would destroy the power we have when we believe and trust God together.
Next we see Jesus in a testing dialogue with some Pharisees who asked Him whether it was permissible under Moses’ low for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus’ cousin John has already been imprisoned and executed by Herod for challenging him on taking his brother’s wife.
Who was behind this injustice? We saw from the background to Job’s experiences that there is nothing fair in Satan’s oppression. In fact, his choices are egregiously unfair! That’s why it is important for us to guard against self-interest motivating our values becoming part of his corrupt system.
That sets up a wrong agreement in the spiritual realm. Just as agreement with what Jesus wants is spiritually powerful for good i.e. bringing His kingdom, agreement with what Satan is about is spiritually harmful and gives him legal rights in our lives.
That’s why it is important for us to guard against our values becoming part of his corrupt system.
And we see this in Jesus’ teaching which is the next scene in our story.
Some Pharisees came and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?… Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.Mark 10:2, 4
Self-interest can be used to justify ends which are far from righteous. The Pharisees had twisted a provision of Moses’ law intended to give a measure of protection to women, into a kind of ‘no fault divorce’ which the man could initiate.
That kind of injustice sets up a wrong agreement in the spiritual realm. To the same extent that agreement with what Jesus wants is spiritually powerful for good i.e. bringing His kingdom, being tempted to agree with what Satan is about, is spiritually harmful and empowers him by affording him legal rights in our lives.
Jesus moves the focus of the discussion from man’s purposes, back to God’s eternal purposes:
Jesus said: “… At the beginning of Creation, God ‘made them make and female’. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, the and two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”Mark 10:6-9
Jesus then gave an example of how justice and equanimity works in the kingdom of God. Parents were bringing a stream of children for Him to bless, and the disciples were turning protective and putting them off.
When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”Mark 10:14-15
How does a small child receive a present? With excitement, not with questioning
How does a little child receive a present? With excitement, not with questioning. Not grudgingly, as if expecting there to be a catch.
And that’s what Jesus wants for us — a kingdom mindset, learning to see life from the perspective of heaven and live life by heaven’s priorities. Not man’s way of privilege and power, rank and entitlement, preference with prejudice. “Valuing others above ourselves” (Phil. 2:3) is the kingdom way, generosity especially to the last and the least — which is how His hearers would have understood the children in “such as these.”
From our perspective, the tests of life are the subject of the picture with us facing them. From Jesus’ perspective, the tests of life are facing Him, and our need and reliance on Him has changed the picture and made Him the subject of it. And when we show Christ-like concern for fairness to others, we are in effect inviting Jesus into that scene to be Lord of it.
The writer to Christians of Jewish background, including many former priests — there is no separate order of priests under the New Covenant, as the writer makes clear — brings out how Jesus and we who He has made holy are now of the same family.
How did that happen? Through something we did, or something that He did?
The thrust of this part of the letter is how Jesus — the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being — took on Himself the injustice, prejudice and evil-intentioned judgment of the world.
We do see Jesus, who was made (in humanity like us) lower than the angels for a while, now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone…
… Both the One who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.Hebrews 1:9, 11
If I have received Jesus into my heart, submitting to Him as my Lord and trusting Him as my Saviour, and he counts me as brother or sister — then I have no rank, merit or privilege above any other believer. No religious devotion of mine can make me any more holy, than I am made by the One who has conferred holiness upon me. Nothing I do can earn me a greater standing, than the standing Jesus has given me as one of His closest family.
This releases us to live above ourselves as those who are in close relationship with the king. And frees us to reach out beyond ourselves, our ‘tribe’ or cultural affinity, to others — with the generosity of the One whose self-giving gave us everything.
We all know something about the tests of life. But when we come to know Jesus, we know the One who took on Himself the greatest and most costly test — of death. And in so doing He was made the perfect pioneer of our salvation. That salvation holds good for us at the final judgment. It is also a salvation that meets us in every trial and test. The salvation, written in the blood of Christ, strikes out every legal device the devil can find as a foothold for his oppression of us. It is a truth given to us to know — and also to use.