Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2021
Focus: God is still in control.
Function: That the hearers trust in God above all things.
God Never Lost Control
It’s a question many Christians are thinking about. It’s a question quite a few have allowed to cross their lips: “where has God gone? If He were here, if He were with us, none of this would be happening. Our world is shambles. This nation is chaotically divided. And the culture all around us has turned against us. God must be on vacation. He’s lost control!”
In these last eighteen months, we have watched a virus sweep across the globe. People are dying. We’ve watched it take over our lives and turn everything inside-out. A people used to freedom and independence have been forced to give way to new laws, decrees, ordinances, and mandates. We’ve come to realize that we aren’t in control of our own lives. Lock it down. Quarantine. Flatten the curve. Global cries of government overreach and tyranny. Never shake hands again. Wear a mask. Zoom zoom. Get a shot, or two, or three, or annually. And that loss of control has led to chaos in the Church. Christian’s fighting amongst themselves. Gossip, slander, divisions, forming two separate classes within the Church, hating each other. As we lost control of things out there, we sought to take it here.
But maybe we lost control before that. June 26, 2015 is a day of great importance within the Church. On that day, the Supreme Court of this land ruled on the Obergefell case, in a ruling that immediately made same-sex marriage legal throughout the kingdom. From my vantage point as a theologian and a pastor who grew up in this kingdom, attending her schools, this case changed the Church’s place in this society practically overnight. Before that day, we could expect a fairly Christianized culture and worldview. But after that day, Christians are now outsiders. Your opinions not only aren’t wanted, they’re deemed hateful and dangerous. We’ve been excommunicated from the water cooler conversations unless we stay silent.
On that note, I admit, I don’t preach on homosexuality often. It’s a sin. Scripture is abundantly clear on that, no matter how much other denominations seek to twist God’s Word to fit in. It’s a sin. And it’s likely that there are people here today who struggle with those temptations, just as everyone of us here struggles with various temptations. Whichever temptations you find difficult don’t make you better or worse than another. So for those of you who need to hear that truth, I’m sorry for not telling you. Now, I don’t have to tell you that it’s pride month. The celebration of lifestyles that deviate from God’s Word is all around us. You can’t avoid businesses that promote it by flying their flag; you’d end up starving to death.
But in hindsight, maybe we lost control before that. The educational system in this land has long been overwhelmed. The teachings of critical race theory have been growing for the past thirty years, dividing us into groups in ways completely out of our control, ranking and empowering us based on terms like privilege and intersectionality. For longer than that, the focus us being special and having self-esteem and self-respect have dominated our schools, teachings that stand in direct contrast to all that we know about original sin, our continuing sinful nature, and our calling to not think of ourselves, but to serve others. And for longer than that, our schools have pioneered the way teaching our children that God didn’t really create all of this. It’s just an accident billions of years in the making. And we don’t have to look far to see the results of it all. Retention of children born in Christian homes is one of our greatest griefs.
But, maybe we lost control before that. Did you know that the first children slaughtered after Roe vs Wade 48 years ago could be grandparents by now? So on top of the blood guilt of 62 million dead, there’s the further damage of all those missing people that would’ve been.
“God, where did you go? Clearly you aren’t in control of all of this!”
Enter Job. Do you know Job’s story? A man of strong faith, and great worldly wealth, who hoped in the promises of God. And yet one day, out of nowhere, the devil waltzes into the heavenly court. And after God lifts up Job above all men as an example of faithfulness, the devil challenges God.
“Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have You not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face.” – Job 1:9b-12
And so Satan goes to work, killing thousands of his sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. Killing his servants. Killing even his ten children. Job grieved immensely in response. He tore his clothes. He fell to the ground, and he worshipped God. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh,” (Job 1:21). The devil’s attempts to drive him away only brought him closer to God. This, by the way, is how one of our brother pastors in Missouri shared his faith when his toddler’s life was on the line. And God used that response to draw the doctor closer to Him.
Satan didn’t stop. He returned to God’s court. And God, once again, lifted up his servant Job. The devil took the bait again, claiming that “all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face,” (Job 2:4b-5).
So again, God permits the devil to act. And Satan goes out from Yahweh and strikes Job from head to foot, leaving him to scrape his sores with broken pottery as he sat in ashes. Even Job’s wife told him to “Curse God and die.” To which he again faithfully responded, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9b and 10b).
Three of Job’s friends came and sat dutifully with him for a week, in silence! Truly, sometimes, this is all you can offer to those who grieve. Because, when they finally break that silence, they prove it would’ve been better for them to have kept their mouths shut. They speak of things they don’t know, they challenge Job in ways that aren’t helpful. And then Job rebukes them, and in doing so, does the same. He says things he can’t possibly know. And so then Yahweh speaks and rebukes His servant Job. We had the beginning of that rebuke as our Old Testament text today.
Our culture all around us has rapidly changed over the past couple of generations. Christianity was the center. The local congregation was the center of social life. And now we’re outcasts. But as we ask our question: “how can all of this be if God is in control?” God answers our question with a question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
God is still in control. He always has been and He always will be. He created this earth and all that is in it. He created this entire universe and all that is in it. The stars rejoice because He made them. The sea knows its limits because He commanded it. The devil can’t thwart the faithful, because God is in control.
So let us reflect on Scripture. Romans 1:18-32 is never read in our churches. But it most definitely should be. If you want to know why the culture is going the way the culture is going, open your Bibles and read this section. Let me pull out selected phrases so you get the picture:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
In short, when the sinner loves their sin, and insists again and again on remaining in that sin, the patient Creator and Lord of all eventually gives them the desire of their hearts. He gives them over to their sinfulness. And this doesn’t end well. Our culture seems to be at this point.
Consider also the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” God opposes the proud, and He brings them low by His own timing, not ours. And God takes the humble and He exalts them, not by our timing, but by His own. God is still in control of all things, be it cultural revolutions, wicked governments, or worldwide disasters.
Enter Jesus. This is a lesson the disciples learned firsthand. Many of these young men were fishermen by trade. Their families had made their livings off of the Sea of Galilee for generations. And yet a storm so fierce arises when they’re out on the water, these men panic, afraid that their lives are lost. And so they go to Jesus, who is simply sleeping through the whole thing…because He’s in control…and they wake the Master. And they accuse Him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). He simply rises, and speaks two little Greek words: “σιώπα, πεφίμωσο” and just like that, the storm of the ages not only ends, but the turbulent waters that were flailing in all directions are instantaneously stilled; calm, as though a storm had never occurred at all.
Then Jesus returns the accusation: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” And they respond in fear again, saying “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:40-41). For just challenging our lectionary committee that picks these readings a few moments ago, I appreciate what they’ve done here. They’ve connected the dots for you to see. We learn from the Job text that only God commands the sea so that it knows it’s bounds. And now we learn that Jesus commands the sea. Therefore, Jesus must be…………God.
There’s another text I want to share with you: Genesis 6-9. The account of Noah and the flood. That the hearts of men were evil continually and so God judged the world, commanding the waters into a worldwide flood that wiped out all but eight people, spared aboard the ark, spared through the water, by the mercy and grace of God. And as the waters left the surface of the earth, God gave Noah a sign of His continuing mercy and grace. He took Hisקֶשֶׁת , (ke-sheth) and He hung it in the sky. Hebrew doesn’t have a separate word for a rainbow. God took His bow; God took His instrument of war, His means of destruction and judgment and He hung it in the sky. So every time we see that bow, we are called by Scripture to remember the mercies of God. That He has suspended judgment against the sinner.
And not only that, but as you look at the bow hanging in the sky, in which direction would the arrow fly? God’s judgment was taken away from us, and the arrow flew straight into the side of His own Son. Jesus Christ, the God who commands the waters of the sea, in the words of the prophet Isaiah (53:5), “was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”
Not only is there a stay on God’s hand of judgment, but even greater than that there is a flow of forgiveness that comes from His wounds. In the death of Christ all the sins of sinful mankind are washed away: our pride, our rebellion, our lust, our know-it-all-ism, our bloodshed. All cleansed in the blood of Christ.
So consider now the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12-17 –
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
This is nothing new. Evil will only get worse as the days go by. As we wait for Christ’s return, an evil culture not only shouldn’t surprise us, we ought to expect it. And then we are taught how to live in the midst of it. Live by His Word. Live by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Hang up your bows of pride. We all have them. And our fellow sinners are caught in the crosshairs. Hang them up. We are not called to violence. We are not called to take control of a society. They’re not the enemy.
Wherever you get your news from, turn it off. Seriously. Peek every couple of weeks just long enough that you know how to pray. But let’s turn them off. Acts 1:8 gives us an evangelism model that starts where you are, at home. And it extends out from there. Start at home with your family. Move out into acts of service to your neighbors that literally neighbor your home. And then move into loving your community around you. Finally, then, we can seek to in small ways encourage those around the world. But the instant access to knowledge from all around the globe has so overwhelmed us, that we freeze like deer in the headlights. We have lost so much time trying to solve the world’s problems, thinking we’re in control, that we don’t even know our neighbors. Flip it over again.
Love your neighbors. Live out your vocations. Serve those people around you. Serve them by loving them. Serve them by sharing Christ’s Word with them. Serve them with acts of service. Serve them by pointing them to the mercy of God for them, how He has offered them freedom from their slavery to whatever sin they struggle with. That’s enough to keep us busy for a lifetime!
And if you need still more to do, if you still want to know how the Scriptures say we the Church should respond to a world of ever-increasing darkness, allow me to offer you a crazy-sounding proposal, from Hebrews 10:24-25, “24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” If you believe the days are growing more evil, as God says they are, it means we are edging closer and closer to Christ’s return. And the Scriptures teach us that as we do, we are to gather all the more often. To encourage one another. To hear the profitable instruction of God’s Word and His rebuke of our errors, and to receive Christ’s body and blood together, as the center of who we are: forgiven children of God, the One who is in control of all things. God is still seated upon His throne. So, fear not, and let us gather more often!