In Between

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 28:05 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is a strange day in the Church Year, especially with respect to the apostles. It’s 43 days since Jesus rose from the dead, which means it’s three days since Jesus’ Ascension, which we celebrated on Thursday; three days since He was no longer visibly present with them. But it is still seven days until Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit, giving them the promise of the Father, so that they will preach boldly what Jesus has done and it will be heard by all the people in their own languages. It’s a strange, in-between time, and all they can do is what Jesus told them to do: wait in Jerusalem until you receive the promised Holy Spirit. They didn’t know how long it was going to be. So they were just waiting.

We live, of course, after Pentecost. Every person who is baptized has been given the Holy Spirit of God. But we still live in-between: in between the revelation of Jesus in the flesh and the revelation of Jesus in His resurrected and ascended glory; in between the Ascension and the return of Jesus, as the angels told them would happen just as they saw Him go into heaven. We too are waiting for the Kingdom to be revealed to our eyes.

Jesus prays for His disciples on the night before His crucifixion. He prays that the Father would keep them in His Name, because they are still in the world. So Jesus prays for you, too, because you are still in the world. He prays that the Father would keep you in the Name into which you were baptized. And Peter writes to Christians who are still in the world, who need assurance and the intercession of Jesus, because they are suffering as Jesus said they would. They are being persecuted for bearing the Name of Jesus, and they have anxiety about that. What should they do with that anxiety about what’s happening around or to them?

We are not being persecuted like they were. The evidence is that we are gathered in this building. The evidence is that I am free to speak the Word of God to you and there are no police waiting at the door to arrest me. The evidence is that we are able to gather here freely and celebrate the gifts of the risen Jesus. Not that it could never happen here. Who knows what the future holds? But as of now, we do not face the persecution that Peter’s hearers faced. Even so, we still have anxieties about what is happening around us, anxieties about what is happening to us, or to our families, or to our congregations. What should we do with that anxiety?

Peter says, “Be humbled under the mighty hand of God, so that at the right moment He may exalt you.” To be humbled is to be lowered down, and to be exalted is to be lifted up. Be lowered down so that God may lift you up, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you. But we don’t want to put our anxieties on God. We want to keep them for ourselves, worry over them, lose sleep over them; try to figure them out ourselves, solve them, resolve them, fix them. Otherwise, why are we continuing to be anxious, if not because we think we have to deal with all of the sources of anxiety ourselves? Why are we anxious about the state of the world, if not because we have some doubts about whether God is doing anything, or is going to do anything, about the way things are? We’d much rather keep our anxieties with us, where we can keep an eye on them, than give them over to God. That’s not humility; that’s pride. You thinking it’s all up to you is spiritual pride.

And that’s exactly where the devil wants your anxieties: on you. He wants you to be buried under them, burdened, weighed down, overwhelmed. Because as long as you’re focused on what is causing you worry, what is making you anxious, you don’t have any time to be looking at Jesus. And above all, the devil wants to keep you from looking in the direction of Jesus. Anywhere but there. He is like a prowling lion, Peter says, trying to find someone who is separated from the rest of the flock of sheep, so that he can devour them. And one of the ways he devours is with anxiety and worry.

Now sometimes it backfires on the devil. If you get too anxious, too worried, too overwhelmed, then you might realize that you’re not in control and finally give it up to God, who wanted it all in the first place. And God will take you in that state. He’s not too proud. He take you however He can get you. So the devil will then work to lighten your load just a little bit, so you think you’ve got things under control. Sure, you needed God when you were at your lowest point, but now you’re back on track. Thanks for the hand, God, I’ll take it from here. And we know how that will work out.

God doesn’t only want your anxieties when you’re too overwhelmed to resist. He wants them now. Cast all your anxieties on Him; throw them on God! Because He cares for you. That’s the same word Jesus uses of Himself, when He says that the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. Let the care for all the causes of your anxiety be His. Be humbled under His mighty hand, because that mighty hand is the same hand that was pierced with a nail for you. He took the sin and death that are the cause, finally, of all anxiety, and He took it for His own. He was humbled to the point of death on a cross, so that He will lift you up from underneath all your burdens, overwhelming worry, and anxiety.

He who called you by Name, and who prays that the Father keep you in that Name, does four things: He restores you; He confirms you; He strengthens you; and He establishes you on a firm foundation. Trusting the Lord in the midst of all anxieties is to stand firm against the devil in your faith in Christ. Do not let him pile up on you your guilt and shame and inability to deal with everything in your life. Of course it is more than you can deal with! But it is not more than God can deal with, has dealt with, in Christ. Stand firm in your faith in Christ, knowing that He is alive and risen from the dead. That you are in His hand, and no one and nothing can snatch you out of His hand. And coming through that particular testing, that particular anxiety, the Lord restores you. He confirms that He never left you alone, that His Spirit sustained you the whole time, even when you didn’t feel like He was. He strengthens you by that test for the next one and the next. He strengthens you to endure and stand firm. He reminds you that your feet are planted on a rock, a firm foundation, the promise of God in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, that He is alive and He will be with you all the days until the completion of this in-between age. Then, there will be no more devil, no more anxiety, no more worry; only the glorious presence of the one who lifts you up to Himself and exalts you to His blessed side, to dwell with Him forever in the new and coming creation.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/19/23

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