The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 4, 2018
Remember, O God, that My Life is But a Breath!
Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages, so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, “How long before I get up?” The night drags on, and I toss till dawn. My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? I have. It’s horrible. When I was in grade school we lived in a brand new subdivision in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. There were very few houses— but lots of places to play. One day we were riding our bikes around on top of a hill near “The Cliff.” It was actually more of a steep hill, but that didn’t sound nearly as cool as “The Cliff.” Some of the older boys thought it would be fun to ride their bikes off of “The Cliff.” As they went over the edge their bikes would go flying and they would go rolling down in the sand. It actually did look like fun! Then it was my turn. I got my bike going as fast as I could, I went off the edge of “The cliff,” my bike went flying— and I fell flat on my back about half way down the hill. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe! All the other guys thought it was hilarious as I lay there gasping for air.
Our sermon text for today reminded me that there are times in our life when we might feel like we have had the wind knocked out of us. We might feel like we can’t breathe. We might feel like we are going to die or perhaps even wish the good Lord would just take us Home.
I have a feeling that if we were able to go back in time and talk to Job when he wrote these words, that he would agree that he had gotten to a point in his life where he felt as though he had had the wind knocked out of him. Since many of us may be able to relate to how Job was feeling when he spoke these words we’re going to study this portion of Scripture by borrowing our sermon theme for today directly from Job himself. Our theme is found in the closing verse of our text: Remember, O God, that My Life is But a Breath. We have four questions to consider this morning. First, what caused Job to speak these words? Second, what can cause us to speak these words? Third, what kind of response can we expect to receive from God when we speak these words? Fourth, why can we expect to receive this response from God?
What caused Job to speak the words, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath”? To answer that question we need to go back to the beginning of this book. In Job chapter one Job is described as “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). We’re told that Job was “blameless and upright” in the eyes of God. God had blessed Job with seven sons and three daughters. God had also blessed Job with tremendous wealth. He had oxen and sheep and many servants. Humanly speaking, Job had it all! Then God allowed Satan to take it all away— Job’s oxen, Job’s sheep, even Job’s children— all gone! We’re told that when three of Job’s friends heard about the tragedies Job had experienced, they came to see him. Their assessment of Job’s “problem” was that he had committed some great sin against God and that was why he was enduring so much suffering. What was their solution? They told Job that if he confessed his sin instead of trying to deny his sin then perhaps God would take all of his suffering away. That’s when Job spoke these words.
It is clear from these words of our text that Job was indeed at a point where he felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him. Phrases such as “hard service,” “months of futility,” “nights of misery,” “longing for the evening shadows,” “I toss till dawn” can almost make us feel Job’s pain and hear Job’s helplessness. It’s no wonder that Job laments, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath.”
What can cause us to say along with Job, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath”? The answers to that question are often far more abundant that we could care to admit, aren’t they. Some of the answers center on things that are all but out of our control. A terminal illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a friendship, loneliness, rejection, disappointment— these are just a few of the things that can leave us feeling as though we have had the wind knocked out of us. Now add to these wounds, the spiritual wounds that we all too often bring upon ourselves— the guilt of our own sin, the physical consequences and emotional scars of the sinful choices we have consciously made in life. When you stop to think about it, my friends, it really doesn’t take very long at all to think of situations which can leave our soul gasping for air. Like Job we can easily find ourselves lamenting, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath.”
When we find those words pouring out of our heart what kind of response can we expect to receive from God? Our text for today does not answer that question directly. At the same time, our text for today triggered a thought process in my mind. I began to wonder how many times Scripture mentions other people who have voiced the same sentiment that Job expressed here in our text. What I discovered was both interesting and enlightening! Let me share just a few of the examples I found.
When Samson foolishly misused and then lost the gift of tremendous strength God had given to him, he quickly found himself in a situation that may indeed have left him feeling as though he had had the wind knocked out of him. He was captured by the Philistines. He had his eyes gouged out. He was tied like an ox to a grinding wheel in a prison. As the Philistines gathered in the temple of their god, Dagon, to celebrate their victory over Samson— and they thought, their victory over Samson’s God— they brought Samson out to “entertain” them. Samson prayed, “O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more” (Judges 16:28). How did God respond to Samson’s prayer? God “remembered” Samson and granted his request!
When King Hezekiah was told to get his house in order because he was going to die, he too undoubtedly felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him. In deep humility he asked the Lord to “remember” him. How did God respond? He “remembered” Hezekiah and added fifteen more years to his life! (See 2 Kings 20:1-6)
When the prophet Jeremiah was being persecuted for faithfully proclaiming the Word of God he cried out to the Lord, “Remember me and care for me” (Jeremiah 15:15). How did God respond to Jeremiah’s request? He “remembered” Jeremiah and said, “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel” (Jeremiah 15:21).
When the thief on the cross turned to our Savior and in humble repentance said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42), how did the Son of God respond? He lovingly and graciously said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
And, of course, we certainly do not want to overlook God’s response to Job’s request, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath.” At the end of the book of Job we’re told that the good Lord answered Job’s prayer by making him prosperous once again, by giving him twice as many herds and flocks as he had before, and by blessing him with seven more sons and three more daughters.
These examples answer our third question for today. Whenever a child of God humbly cries out to the Lord, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath” what kind of response can they expect to receive from God? They can expect that He will “remember” them by hearing and answering their prayer!
Why? Why can we expect that our God will indeed hear and answer us when we cry out to Him? The answer is actually quite simple! God promises that He will “remember” us!
As I was researching how the word “remember” is used on the pages of Scripture, I was reminded of God’s two-fold promise to us, His children. The first part of that promise is found in passages such as Exodus 2:24. When God’s people were being oppressed as slaves in the land of Egypt we’re told, “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.” We can indeed expect that when we cry out to the Lord our God He will hear and He will answer us because He promises to always remember the covenant that He has made with us! And what covenant has the God of heaven made with you? There are actually two!
For most of us, God first entered into a covenant relationship with us when we were baptized with water into His holy Name. Through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism God gave to us His solemn promise that He will always remember that we are His dearly beloved adopted children! Can we expect God to “remember” the covenant that He made with us when we were baptized in His Name? Absolutely!
The second part of the promise that God has made with us can be clearly seen and personally experienced in the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20) the Lord has established with us— the Sacrament of Holy Communion. While there are many passages which proclaim this promise I’d like to point you to the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews chapter eight the Lord says, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord…I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (8:10 & 12). When we come to the altar of the living God to receive His true body and blood in the “new covenant” He has established with us, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt what answer we can expect to hear from our God when we say to Him, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath.” Through this holy Sacrament God not only promises to “remember” us, but He also promises that all of our sins are forgiven!
Those of us who have indeed had the wind knocked out of us can relate to how Job was feeling when he spoke these words of our text. There are times in our life that can leave us gasping for air. In a similar light, those of us who have experienced the guilt and the burden of our own sin can relate even more to Job’s words, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath.” Yes, there are times in our life when sin— whether it’s our own sin or the sins of others— sin has left our soul gasping for air.
My prayer this morning, my friends, is that no matter whether it is on a physical level or a spiritual level, whenever you feel as though you have had the wind knocked out of you I pray that you will kneel at the foot of the cross, humbly say with Job “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath” and then lift up your eyes (Pointing to the cross) trusting in the promise that God has made with you— the promise to always remember you!
To God be the glory!