Some sermons, the gist of them or a particular point or illustration, stay with us forever. One such message for me took place some 25-30 years ago. Our pastor at that time began describing some of the creatures Ezekiel saw in his vision, like the wheel within a wheel full of eyes, and went on to detail various other heavenly beings. Then he read from Ephesians 3:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:8-10, ESV).
The pastor probably brought several things out of that passage, but the one that most struck and remained with me was verse 10: somehow God teaches and displays to “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (“principalities and powers” in the KJV) something about Himself through how He deals with us.
We’re going through Job in the church we’re visiting now, and we see an example of this in the first two chapters. Though the events in this book occurred before the church itself was born in Acts, the principle is the same. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6; 2:1). God’s conversations with Satan about Job seems to be before the rest of the assemblage, though they could have been private. Either way, God displayed truth to a non-human being through an earthly one.
Hundreds of years later, Jesus told His disciples:
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father (John 14:30-31, ESV).
In this case, one reason for Jesus’s obedience to the Father’s command was that the world might know that Jesus loved the Father.
Some years after the sermon I mentioned, I read this from Elisabeth Elliot in Keep a Quiet Heart:
The disciples’ worst fears were about to be realized, yet He commanded (yes, commanded) them to be at peace. All would be well, all manner of things would be well–in the end. In a short time, however, the Prince of this world, Satan himself, was to be permitted to have his way. Not that Satan had any rights over Jesus. Far from it. Nor has he “rights” over any of God’s children… But Satan is permitted to approach. He challenges God, we know from the Book of Job, as to the validity of His children’s faith.
God allows him to make a test case from time to time. It had to be proved to Satan, in Job’s case, that there is such a thing as obedient faith which does not depend on receiving only benefits. Jesus had to show the world that He loved the Father and would, no matter what happened, do exactly what He said. The servant is not greater than his Lord. When we cry “Why, Lord?” we should ask instead, “Why not, Lord? Shall I not follow my Master in suffering as in everything else?”
Does our faith depend on having every prayer answered as we think it should be answered, or does it rest rather on the character of a sovereign Lord? We can’t really tell, can we, until we’re in real trouble.
Any trial we have undergone has probably fallen far short of what happened to Job or to Jesus. Even still, our first thought, our consuming thought is usually for relief. We want it to end, we want things to go back to normal, we want to be out from under whatever the pressure is.
First we need to ask God to help us learn what He is trying to teach us – usually something of His grace, provision, strength, and love in contrast to our limitations and our need to rely on Him. But we need to remember the bigger picture. Maybe our trial isn’t just for us. Maybe creatures in the heavenlies are learning something about God through His dealings with us. Maybe the world, or at least our children, family and friends, acquaintances, need to be shown, to see in action, genuine faith and loving obedience even in difficult and mysterious circumstances.
Elisabeth Elliot went on in the piece above to write:
I never heard more from the young woman [mentioned earlier in the piece]… But I prayed for her, asking God to enable her to show the world what genuine faith is–the kind of faith that overcomes the world because it trusts and obeys, no matter what the circumstances. The world does not want to be told. The world must be shown. Isn’t that part of the answer to the great question of why Christians suffer?
May God enable us as well.