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Minor Men With a Major Message: The Man Who Wanted Somebody With Skin On

I Kings 13:26-32

The Book of Job is a book which is filled with an agony and a heartbreak. There are so many passages in that book which echo that heartbreak, which speak so pointedly out of pain that once almost winces as one reads the words. The passage of Scripture I read to you this morning, just a few verses from the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Job, is a passage which is painful, painful because it erupts out of pain. But it is the Word of God.

“Then Job answered his friends, ‘Listen carefully to my words, and let this be your consolation. Bear with me, and I will speak, and after I have spoken, mock on. As for me, is my complaint against man? Why should I not be impatient? Look at me and be appalled, and lay your hand upon your mouth. How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.'” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I love the story of the mother who was putting her little girl to bed in the midst of a thunderstorm. And as the mother prepared to leave the room, suddenly the little girl began to cry. And the mother turned and said to her, “Don’t cry, honey. Don’t be afraid. God will watch over you.” And the little girl sobbed out in reply, “I know that, Mommy. But I want somebody with skin on.”

Well, as you read these verses in the 21st chapter of the Book of Job, it becomes quite clear that Job was a man who wanted somebody with skin on. You see, when we are in trouble in life, it’s so much easier, isn’t it, to trust God if there is someone else there beside us, someone with skin on? Job was in trouble and Job wanted someone beside him, someone who would stand with him in the midst of his agony, someone who would listen to him as he unburdened his soul. But Job’s friends would not offer him that comfort. He said to them, “Listen to me, and let that be the comfort you offer.” But they wouldn’t listen. They had come to talk. They hadn’t come to listen. And Job cries out in special pain, because they wouldn’t listen.

I believe that in this experience of Job, there is a great lesson to be learned. And it’s a lesson which we, as Christians especially, I think, need to learn. And that’s why I want to ask you to join me, for just a few moments now, in looking at the man who wanted somebody with skin on.

First, we learn from this experience of Job that it is easier to talk than to listen.

You remember the story. Job was a righteous and a Godly man. The Bible even says that he was the finest man living at his time. And yet, in spite of that, Job encountered a series of crushing personal disasters. Now, in those days, such disasters, when they came to an individual, were regarded as blows from a divine sledgehammer. That is to say, if a person encountered suffering or difficulty in life, that it was purely and simply because that person, openly or secretly, knowingly or unknowingly, had sinned against God and God was punishing them for it. The Almighty was lowering the boom. And so, when Job’s friends heard that he had lost his money and his property, that he lost his wife and his children, and that he was, himself, in terribly physical pain – when they heard that, they immediately assumed the worst. They immediately assumed that Job must have committed some horrendous sin. And so, they decided that what Job needed more than anything else in the world, what Job needed was a good old-fashioned fire and brimstone sermon to snap him out of his sin. And so, they came prepared to deliver that sermon.

Now, at that point, what Job needed was not their words, but their ears. You see, Job had a lot going on in his mind and in his heart. He was being buffeted by all kinds of strange and confusing ideas. The emotion was welling up within him like floodwaters pressing against a dam. He was in trouble and he knew it. And he wanted somebody with skin on, somebody to stand with him in his agony, somebody who would listen to him. And so, he said, “Please,” he said, “Listen to me.” They didn’t listen. I mean, they had come to talk. They hadn’t come to listen. They had come to talk, and talk they did, until they had practically buried the poor fellow under an avalanche of words.

Job scarcely had a dozen sentences out of his mouth before the first friend interrupted him and launched into a long, long speech. And after he got through, the second one started, and when he got through, the third friend started. And not only that, after having delivered the three speeches, they started around again, and they went all the way around once more, and yet again. Nine times, and the subject of all nine speeches was the same: Job’s shortcomings as a man.

They started out speaking relatively gently. But the longer they talked, the nastier they got, so that they wound up accusing Job of all sorts of terrible things. They didn’t comfort him at all. No, they twisted the knife in his heart. They rubbed salt in his wounds. They plunged him even deeper into the abyss of agony. And finally, can you imagine? They walked away in a huff. Insensitive clods. If they had had even the remotest sense of compassion about them, they would have understood that Job wanted them there, in the flesh, to listen to him. He didn’t want their sermons. He wanted their love and their care and their concern. He wanted them to listen. They didn’t listen. It’s easier to talk than to listen. And so, they talked and they talked and they talked and they talked, until Job thought he would scream. It’s easier to talk than to listen.

Dr. Leo Buscaglia has become a kind of a high priest of pop psychology in our time. But because I make it a habit to try to latch onto truth wherever I find it, I have – well, sometimes, on occasion, not always, but on occasion, I find that he deals in that kind of truth. For example, in his recent book – it’s called Loving Each Other, and there are some lines there entitled, “Listen.” And they cut right straight to my heart. And I want to share them with you. Here they are. “Listen. When I ask you to listen, and you give me advice, you haven’t done what I asked. When I ask you to listen, and you feel that you have to explain to me why I shouldn’t feel that way, then you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen, and you feel you’ve got to do something to fix my problems, then you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Maybe that’s why prayer works, because God is silent, and God doesn’t give advice, and God doesn’t try to fix things. God simply listens, and then assists you in working it out for yourself. So, please, listen to me. If you want to talk, wait a few minutes for your turn, and I’ll listen to you.” I like that. And you know, Job could have written those words.

Yes, Job could have, because at this point in his life, the one thing that Job needed more than anything else on all of the earth, the one thing that Job needed was for someone to be there with him, someone to listen to him as he poured out all of the emotion stored up in his heart and in his soul. But his friends, they didn’t listen. They had come to talk. And it’s always easier to talk than to listen.

But the second thing we learn in this experience of Job is that it’s easier to hear than to listen.

That’s a fine distinction to make, there, but you need to make it. It’s easier to hear than to listen. You see, even when these friends permitted Job to speak, they weren’t really listening to the words. They heard the words. But they didn’t hear what Job was saying. The sound of the words pierced their ears, but they didn’t grasp what Job was trying to communicate. They heard, but they didn’t listen. And Job had to cry out to them, in a personal agony, “You comfort me with empty nothings. Your answers are false,” he said. It’s easier to hear than to listen. You believe that?

Let’s not be too harsh on Job’s friends at this point. I mean, after all, have you never been guilty of committing that same blunder yourself? Have you never been guilty of wanting, impatiently, for the other person to stop talking, so that you can get your two bits’ worth in? Have you never been guilty of preparing, in your own little mind, the speech that you’re getting ready to deliver just as soon as you can politely, or even impolitely, interrupt that other person? Have you never been guilty of being so wrapped up in your own concerns and your own thoughts and your own ideas that you may have heard the words spoken by that other person, but you never heard what they were saying? Ever been guilty?

It’s like the fellow who went out with his wife one morning, going out the front door. He was on his way to work. And the two of them were standing on the front steps. And they looked across the street, and there across the street, on the front steps across the street, was their neighbor. And he was very warmly hugging and kissing his wife goodbye as he prepared to go to work. And as the two of them were standing on their front steps looking at that, this fellow’s wife said to him, “Why don’t you ever do that?” And he replied, “Honey, I hardly know her.” You see, he heard the words, but he didn’t hear what was being said.

It’s easier to hear than to listen. It’s like the wife who said to her husband, “Honey, you don’t ever tell me anymore that you love me.” And he replied, “I told you that I loved you twenty-eight years ago when we were married. And if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.” He heard, but he didn’t listen. Ever been guilty? I surely have. Oh, have I.

Not very long ago, my wife was very gently reminding me that my responsibilities at home are just as important as my responsibilities at the church. That was something that I’d forgotten, all right. But I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying. And finally, she said, “The lawn needs mowing.” And I said, “You don’t understand. I got a big job, and I got a lot of responsibility, and I’m the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.” And she said, “Well, it’s all right if you want to put your robe on, if that will help. But the lawn needs mowing.” I heard the words, and that time, I listened. It’s so much easier to hear than to listen.

And that’s what’s so beautiful about Jesus. Jesus was absolutely perfect in His living, absolutely perfect. And He was perfect in this as well. Jesus is the perfect listener. You see it all the way through His life on this earth. As He walked the roads of this earth, He never seemed to be in a hurry, but He was never late. He moves through the crowds of people always wide open to them, ready to stop at the moment’s call. Even people who reached out and touched Him felt that He was accessible. He was constantly encouraging others to come up to Him and to speak to Him and to talk with Him. And He never turned and walked away from anyone. He never snapped at anyone in irritation when they interrupted Him. He never bowed down to the mighty or despised the poor. He was always, as He moved through life, wide open, encouraging people to come to Him, to talk to Him, and He would listen. He had an eye for the lilies of the field, and an ear for the voice of God, and a hand for anyone in need. But most importantly of all, I think, Jesus was always ready to listen. And I believe that that is what drew so many people so closely to Him, that He was always ready to listen. Jesus is the listener.

And the good news of the gospel is that what Jesus did for people back then, He does for us now. He is the listener. And that listener is available to you. That’s why it’s so important for us to have Jesus as part of our lives, because He’s there. He’s ready to listen. We can pour out to Him everything that there is about us, the worst as well as the best. Oh, we won’t tell Him anything that He doesn’t already know. But it’s such a help to be able to pour out to Him the difficulties of our lives, and then to look at them with His direction.

Job made that discovery in his life long before Jesus came. You see, Job’s friends wouldn’t listen to him. But God would. And Job discovered that. God would listen to Job until Job had said everything he knew to say, everything he needed to say. And after that, God answered him and redeemed him. That’s the miracle. Do you hear it? That’s it. God listens to us until we talk ourselves out, and then God reaches out and redeems us. God, in Jesus Christ, listens to us. And then, He lifts us up. That’s the miracle. That’s why it’s so important to have Jesus as a part of your daily life, because He is ready to listen to you, to whatever there is in your heart or your mind or your soul. He’s ready to listen to you. And then, He will lift you up, so that you will say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

But the third lesson that we learn from this experience with Job is that it is easier to act than to listen.

You know how it is. When we get into trouble, we have a tendency to say to those who are around us, “Don’t just stand there. Do something.” Job was different. When Job got into trouble, he said to his friends, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.” But they couldn’t do it. They were men of action. They had to be doing something. They could do something, but they couldn’t just stand there. They didn’t know how to listen.

Jesus is the listener, and He calls us to be listeners as well. And it’s important for us to have Jesus in our lives, but it’s also important for us to be like Jesus in our living. And that means we have to learn how to listen as Jesus listened.

I came across some lines the other day, that there are four rules for good listening. And I think those four rules are worth sharing. Rule number one: listen to what the other person says, concentrating on the words without considering your own thoughts and ideas. Never say, “You think you’ve got troubles, you ought to hear mine.” Rule number two: listen to what the other person actually presents, without adding to it or subtracting from it with your own imagination. Rule number three: listen with the third ear, the ear of mental attention, which then can analyze and interpret the words being spoken. Rule number four: listen not just to the words, but to the person. Note the look in the eyes, the use of the hands as gestures, the tone of the voice. Read between the lines of what’s being said.

Four rules to be a good listener, and, you know, if Job’s friends had applied those four rules, things would have been different. If they had obeyed rule number one, they would have kept their mouths shut and let Job speak. If they had obeyed rule number two, they would have focused on Job’s present predicament without trying to imagine what kind of trouble he must have been in in the past to get himself in such a predicament. If they had obeyed rule number three, and listened with the third ear, they would have come to understand that Job’s greatest pain was not the loss of his health or his wealth, it was the loss of his contact with God. If they had listened not just to the words but to Job himself, they would have readily seen in the look in his eyes, that all of the bitterness and the belligerence and the blasphemy that was spewing out of him was nothing other than a cry for help and understanding.

That’s the kind of listening Jesus calls us to perform in life. We ought to live for others. That’s what He calls us to do. And in obedience to that call, we do all kinds of wonderful things. We feed the hungry, and we shelter the homeless, and we befriend the lonely, and we comfort the sorrowing, and we visit the sick and the imprisoned. And we do these things, and we ought to do these things, and we ought never to stop doing these things. But once in a while, we ought to stop to remember that sometimes, there are people and situations around us which do not require that we do something, but rather that we just stand there, that we just listen.

That’s hard. It’s easier to act than to listen. But all about us are people who don’t need food and clothing and shelter and all kinds of practical needs, but they do need – yes, they do need someone who will be Christ to them. Someone who will come and stand beside them. Someone with skin on, who will listen to them and embrace them with love.

It may be our children, our children who’ve stopped talking to us because, when they try to talk to us, we silence them by saying, “Now, you listen to me.” Or, it may be our young people, whom we don’t seem to understand, and it’s simply because we have formed our opinions about them without ever waiting to hear their point of view. Or, it may be those people who are outside the church, who are constantly criticizing God and Christ and the church, and we fail to hear the fact that those criticisms are nothing other than a cry for help and understanding. It may be the person at work, who came up to us, and started to talk, and then stopped and backed away. Because why? Because we seemed to be just too busy to listen. It may be our husbands, or our wives, or our friends, who no longer confide in us, who no longer share with us, because our thinking has become so rigid that it just won’t change, and because we always have an answer ready to deliver to them, without ever giving them the time to tell us the problem.

All about us are people who are crying out what Job cried out to his friends. “Listen to me, please. Just listen to me, and let that be the comfort that you offer to me.” And Jesus, the listener, calls us to listen to them.

So, one day, in God’s good time, you will stand before the judgment bar of the kingdom of Heaven, and there, God Himself will stand and will call out to the assembled multitudes in heaven, “Is there anyone here who will speak for this person, who desires to gain entrance into heaven?” And at that point, a friend of yours who preceded you in death will come with tears of gratitude in his eyes to stand before the Almighty, and he will say, “Lord, I owe my soul to this person.” And God will say, “What did he do for you?” “Oh, my Lord, he did nothing for me.” “What did he say to you?” “Lord, he didn’t say anything to me.” “Then why do you owe him your soul?” “Oh, because, Lord, because he listened to me.” And the Lord of Glory Himself will turn to you and say, “My beloved, Heaven is yours.”

Let us pray. Gracious God, teach us to listen. There are those about us crying out to us and we’re so busy, we’re so preoccupied with our own concerns, we’re so caught up in our own conversation, that we just don’t hear. Give us the ears to hear. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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