Rethinking Religion: Suffering Under the Cross

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Lesson: Job 1:13-22 (NIV)
Second Lesson: Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38 (NIV)


  • Hymn: CW 694 “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”
  • Hymn: CW 817 “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart”
  • Hymn: CW 844 “What God Ordains Is Always Good”
  • Hymn: CW 932 “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing”

Pastor Jon Enter                

Theme: Losing Control

Text: Job 1:13-22 & Job 13:20-28 

If you travel 59 miles in 35 minutes, you have to be going pretty fast. In fact, in order to do that, you have to average 101mph. That’s half the speed of a NASCAR driver, but still much faster than you normally see someone driving on the interstate. That’s exactly what happened to Lauri Ulvestad.

She was driving home from visiting a friend when the accelerator in her 2011 Kia Sorento SUV became stuck. For the next 35 minutes, no matter what she tried, she couldn’t stop. The SUV kept accelerating until she reached a peak of 115 mph. For 35 minutes, she swerved in and out of cars, drove over the median three times, with no control whatsoever over her accelerator. She called 911. They told her to shift the SUV to neutral; it didn’t work. Neither did tapping the brakes or slamming them or yelling at them. Eventually, a police car caught up with her and started tailing her, which is why video of this horrible high-speed runaway SUV went viral a years ago. The 911 operator finally suggested she try pulling up on the accelerator and pushing down on the brake at the same time. It didn’t work the first time or the second. It finally did—the third time. She came to a stop on the side of the road, stumbled out of the driver seat and hugged the police officer. “It was the worst moments of my life,” Lauri said. The worst moments of her life were when she had no control. 

That’s what Satan was banking on when he asked God for permission to afflict Job. Satan complained, “Have You not put a hedge around him and everything he has?” (Job 1:10)“It’s like You’ve surrounded him with a slow-moving police escort and one big fluffy airbag. Every year, like clockwork, You make his crops grow. And because his crops grow, he has more income than most people will ever know. His job is solid. His retirement’s secure. His employees love him. His kids are nice. His marriage is working. He’s healthy enough to run a triathlon. Every day he wakes up, Job feels good because his life is good. He knows what’s going to happen. He’s feels in control.”

And so, Satan’s request was to take that feeling of control away from him. Satan asked for permission to slam the accelerator of Job’s life down to the floor and send him speeding down a highway he never traveled before without a seatbelt, without an airbag, without any control, as Satan, in less than 35 minutes, ran right over his income, his job, his home, his health and his children. We read that in Job chapter one. Satan was convinced that, by taking Job down this road, one thing would happen. Do you know what that one thing is?

What happens when you lose control? What happens when you get unexpected bad news, when your family relationships are full of friction, when you’re staring down a surgery or doctor visit you know isn’t going to be pleasant? What happens when you notice a fault or a health problem with one of your children or when you’re starting to lose your sight, your memory, or your health; when your mistakes as a parent are magnified in your child, or the number of responsibilities is overwhelming? What happens when an SUV uncontrollably going 115 mph runs into something? In Job’s life, Satan hoped that it would lead to the loss of his confidence, his faith and his hope. 

But today, God uses Job’s life to remind us that, even though the circumstances in Job’s life were completely out of his control, that doesn’t mean God lost control. And whether or not you feel like you’re in control, whether or not you know exactly how the current situation you’re in is going to turn out, it doesn’t mean God has lost control.  

Today we read in church Job 1 and now I want to examine with you Job chapter 13. [Read these words.] You probably noticed Job is in a place where he has lost much of his confidence, his hope and, most importantly, his trust that God really was in control.

I want to illustrate something here and I’m going to need your participation. Bear with me…I want you to pair up with one other person. It’s best if they’re in the same row as you. Take a close look at the other person. Now, look away from that person and change two things about your appearance. It could be anything. When you’ve switched two things about your appearance, turn around and face the person. See if you can identify the changes. [Give time for them to complete this challenge.]

Watching you go through this exercise, there are a couple of things I noticed. First, whatever changes you made were probably uncomfortable for you. If you’ve ever tried wearing your watch on your other hand, it feels like dead weight hanging there. What you changed or made different felt awkward. Secondly, as soon as the little experiment was done, you ‘fixed’ what you changed. You rushed to restore things to the way they were – because the way things were is typically the way you’re most comfortable. 

When Satan attacked Job, he knew this about us. He knew that we feel in control when we’re most comfortable and we’re most comfortable when nothing changes, when we know what to expect. Every day of his life, Job knew his crops would grow, his workers would show up, his kids would give him a hug. So that’s where Satan struck. He made multiple uncomfortable changes, all in the most meaningful areas of his life. But unlike you in our little experiment, Job couldn’t ‘fix’ it and make it all go back the way it was. That’s why he felt like his life was “in shackles.” (Job 13:27) It’s because he couldn’t fix his life and put it back together the way he wanted, he lost control. And you know how that feels.

You have similar thoughts and emotions. How much better and happier would your life be if Jesus would just come through for you, like you asked Him and fix your life making it the way you want it so you can feel in control? What if you weren’t so sick; weren’t so tired; weren’t so lonely? Doesn’t God want His children to do well? Doesn’t He realize how much better His Church would look, how much less we’d be made fun of by unbelievers, if we could tell them from our own experience that believing in God has its benefits (you ask, God does); that He comes through for you as soon as you ask Him; that you don’t worry anymore ever about anything because you already have everything, that you don’t struggle with any temptations because He’s given you strength to overcome them? Doesn’t He know how much happier you’d be, how much more content you’d be with your current situation, if He would just do something and do it differently?  

But that goes right back to what Satan said to God: “Do you think Job loves You because he just loves You, or because by loving You, he thinks he’s going to get something out of it?” What do you think? Did Job really love God more than anything or did he love God like we love a vending machine?  We’re happy when it gives us what we wants but we start pounding against it when it doesn’t. Satan thought Job loved and thought of God like his personal vending machine dropping out blessings after blessing whenever Job asked for it. And Satan was convinced that’s why Job loved God. 

So, Satan put this relationship to the test by taking control out of Job’s hands. “Let’s find out. Take away his job. Take away his ability to make a living. Take away his health. Take away his children. Take away his sense of control.” That was Satan’s plan. He was convinced it would change Job when Job lost control and couldn’t fix his life. 

What’s keeping your heart, soul, mind, and strength from unrestrained love of God? Where have you lost control of your life and you just can’t seem to put it back together again? Does it have to deal with money? Your job? Politics? The state of our economy or the security of our nation? Your marriage? Your children? Loneliness? Too much responsibility? Worry?

When we feel like we’ve lost control in our lives, we tend to fight even harder—no matter how hard it is or who we hurt—to try to get that control back…even if that means pushing God aside or trying to push God around to “Fix this already, God!”. In God’s eyes, there is nothing worse than playing God, nothing worse than trying to control Him, nothing worse than walking around this world like we have the right to give Him orders and the right to be upset when He doesn’t listen. Whoever wants to be my disciple,” Jesus once said, must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) You must deny what you want, what you feel, deny your desire to dictate and be comfortably in control of everything – because you can’t.

Debbi and I were reminded of that several times when the kids were little. Debbi was at the pool when Lydia started screaming. Our daughter, Eden, fell into the pool. People often associate drowning with splashing of water, noise and cries for help. That might be true with adults but not kids who can’t swim. By God’s grace, Lydia saw it and cried for help. Eden is safe. That whole experience taught Eden a big lesson. the pool is dangerous and deadly without her arm floaties or knowing how to swim. “Daddy, I go underwater. Daddy, I go underwater.” She learned a big lesson.

It’s clear in the Bible and in our lives that God often uses pain to teach us lessons but often we don’t understand why. It’s because there are some lessons we simply will not learn any other way. Just like you cannot bend or change certain metals without letting them sit in the fire, neither can our hearts, which come into this world only thinking about ourselves at every moment, be changed to think only about God without going through pain.

And if you doubt that, just look to the Holy Scriptures which are plump full of people who praised God … after being born blind or paralyzed for 38 years, after decades of being slaves, after the disciples nearly drowned, after the widow lost her husband and son, after lepers were expelled from their families, and Mary was controlled by seven powerful demons. All these people, against their will, lost control and fell down into the perils of life without their arm floaties, without being able to control their lives and float above the pain. They learned the same lesson God was teaching when Jesus was the one in crippling pain; when He was the one who lost everything, when He was the one begging there to be another way; when Jesus who healed the paralyzed and drove out demons and has proven again and again that He can do anything, decided to use all His strength and all His power to do nothing—to not give up on saving you, to not stop hurting, to not leave His cross—because His only desire has ever been to send you one very important message: I hope someday you grasp just how loved you really are.

There was a meaning to His pain. By it, God meant to forgive you and give you an eternal home in which you will never have to hurt again, as well as a promise that, until you get there, God really is in control and so there is a meaning to your pain. When He leads you through the valley of the shadow of death, it is only for one reason; to bring you closer to Him. He allows you to hunger and thirst so that you can taste even more fully the sweet refreshment of hearing Him say, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” (Isaiah 43:2) Or, in the words of Job, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10). That’s a pretty good result – for a man who had such little control. Amen.

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