“Our Anxieties and God’s Care” (1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11)
What are your anxieties? What are you worried about? Anxiety is really another way to say worry. They pretty much mean the same thing. To be anxious, to be worried, means that something is weighing on your mind that you’re thinking about, almost obsessing about. You’re worried about what might happen in the future. It’s the negative prospect of what might happen that keep hanging around in your head. That’s anxiety, that’s worry.
So what are your anxieties? We all have them. From time to time, some negative possibility causes us to worry. Today we’ll look at some anxieties that are common among men, and, I dare say, even common among Christians. You see, it’s when our trust in God’s care is weak or wavering–that’s when we begin to worry. So that leads us to our theme for this morning: “Our Anxieties and God’s Care.”
First, know that God cares for you. We see this in our Epistle for today. There St. Peter says, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Our anxieties and God’s care: See? They’re a match for each other. When we have anxieties, the thing to do with them is to cast them all on God, because he cares for you. All your anxieties. What are those anxieties, and does God really care for us when we have them? That’s where we’re going today.
We worry and are anxious over many things. Some of these worries are rather trivial: How are the Cardinals going to catch up to the Cubs? How are the Cubs going to hold off the Cardinals? Or then there’s the proverbial woman’s question: Does this outfit make my butt look big? But there are also worries that are not so trivial: Do I have enough clothes to keep me warm? Where is my next meal going to come from? Will I have a roof over my head? Maybe we’re not worried about those things for today, but perhaps down the road. Will I have enough to live on next year? Or five years from now? What if I get sick? What if emergencies pop up? These are worries and anxieties that people have, that even Christians have.
But the greatest anxiety that people can have–or I should say, the greatest anxiety that people ought to have–is this: How do I stand before God? I mean, how do I know who God is, what he is like, and how he regards me? How can I know if God is favorably disposed toward me? What will happen to me when I die? Is death the end or is there something after that? How can I know? How can I be ready to face death and to face God? These are the Big Questions people should be worried about. This is the Big Anxiety above all anxieties.
People struggle and strain to come up with answers. It’s like they’re groping around in the dark. They don’t know God, so they come up with answers of their own making, answers that feel right to them. They think that if they’re good enough, or at least better than the other guy, then God or the gods will be pleased with them and will reward them in the end. That is natural religion, and it’s what all religions except Christianity believe. But that still leaves you with a lot of anxiety about the big questions, because deep down you really don’t know who God is or if he cares for you, and you don’t ever know if you have done enough or are good enough to please him.
What some people do, then, is to block out the anxiety and not think about it. They dull the pain and numb themselves by escaping in various ways: drugs, alcohol, sex, the pursuit of pleasure–whatever it takes so I don’t have to deal with the big questions.
Even as Christians, we might revert to the old ways, the ways of the world. We let those old anxieties creep in and try to take over. We forget who God is. We doubt God’s goodness: Does he really care for me? Or else we take his goodness for granted and use it as a license to do whatever we please. Or maybe we push out the big questions, those life-and-death questions, because they’re too scary for us.
But God wants you to know the answers to these questions. He wants you to know who he is. He wants you to know how things stand between you and him. God wants you to know that he is favorably disposed toward you. God wants you to know how and why and how much he cares for you.
How do we know that God cares for us? That takes us to the Holy Gospel for today, from John 17. There Jesus prays for us, that we would know the answers to these big questions. Listen to what he says: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Here Jesus is praying for you. When he says things like “glorify your Son” and “glorify me in your presence,” Jesus is talking about himself, but ultimately he is really praying for you. What he is praying about himself is for your benefit.
You see, Jesus is praying this prayer on the night in which he was betrayed. The hour has come, the hour of his suffering, the hour of his death. Soon Jesus will be lifted up from the earth, lifted up on a cross. And he knows it. So he prays to his Father, for now he is about to finish the mission on which he was sent. This is what he came for. And he sees the hour of his suffering as really his being glorified. What Jesus is about to suffer will bring glory to his name, glory to both the Father and the Son. “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”
Jesus had spent his ministry glorifying the Father, revealing God to people. By his words and his deeds, Jesus showed what God is really like, so that people don’t have to grope around in the dark, wondering and wandering. When you see Jesus, you see what God is like. For the Son of God comes from the Father’s side, comes in the flesh, and makes God known. Jesus was bringing glory to the Father in this way.
Jesus had work to accomplish, and now he was completing that mission. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” Now the culmination, the completion and fulfillment, of that work is right at hand. It all leads to this. In a few short hours, Jesus will cry out on the cross, “It is finished.” The work is accomplished.
Jesus came from the Father, and now he is returning to the Father. The Father sent him on a mission to save you and me. Again, listen to what Jesus says: “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” “To give eternal life.” This is the mission, this is the work that Jesus came to accomplish. To give you eternal life. He gives it to you freely, as a gift. That’s how much God cares for you! And when you have eternal life, that puts everything else, including all your anxieties, into perspective.
Jesus is about to suffer and die, and in so doing, he gives eternal life. By his death he overcomes death and gives you eternal life. Christ’s death solves the sin problem, which is the source of our death problem and all of our other anxieties. Through the fall into sin, we fell into endless anxiety and uncertainty about the big questions of life. Who can rescue us from this pit of anxiety and darkness? Only Jesus can. Only Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Only Jesus can overcome death by his rising to life. Only Jesus, the only Son of God, who has life within him and is the source of life, can bestow this life on others. The Son has authority to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given him.
What is eternal life? When we think of eternal life, we may think of what this life is like, except longer, like by a bazillion years. We think of quantity instead of quality. But Jesus defines eternal life in terms of quality. He says: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The right knowledge of God, being in right relationship with him–this is what eternal life is. It’s a new kind of life. Knowing who God is, knowing Jesus as our Savior–this is what makes eternal life what it is. Now of course it will also last forever. We will live with Christ and all his saints in perfect fellowship for eternity. This is the eternal life Christ gives you.
Now all this puts all our anxieties into perspective. Because now we see how much God really does care for us. The big questions, the anxiety-producing questions, the life-and-death questions–to these Jesus gives us the answer. And that answer is Jesus himself. God wants you to know that in Christ you have eternal life and so to know that God indeed cares for you.
But what about God’s care in all of our lesser anxieties? Can we know that God cares for us in the midst of them? All our little anxieties, which seem very big and looming at the time. Anxieties about finances: Will we have enough money to live on? What about when I retire? Anxieties about health: How many more trips to the doctor can I make? Anxieties about our children: Will they stay on the right path? Or will they drift away the church and the faith? It’s just one worry after another. And so I lose sight of God and his promises. I become distracted and preoccupied with all of my anxieties.
That’s why Peter tells us: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Peter takes us back to the basics. Know who you are, know who God is. He is God, you’re not. But you are his dear child, and he is your dear Father. You know his care already. You are baptized. God took you as his own and put his name on you. You know his care on the big questions of life and death, because you know the one big answer, which is Jesus.
And if God cares for you in the big things, he will also care for you in the smaller things, which may seem big at the moment. He knows your suffering, whatever it may be. God is watching over you, to guard you in all your ways. The greatest danger you face–the greatest danger is not the suffering itself, but rather that because of the suffering you might despair of God’s goodness and fall away from the faith. God is guarding you from that. He is keeping you in the faith by the Word and Sacrament he gives you to keep you strong.
So know that God cares for you in all your anxieties. Food, clothing, shelter? Remember what Jesus said about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. If God so feeds and clothes them, will he not also feed and clothe you? Your heavenly Father knows what you need. Therefore, Jesus says, do not be anxious.
Here’s an idea: Turn your anxieties into prayers. What I mean is this: Every time you feel an anxiety coming on, turn it over to God in a prayer. Like this: “Heavenly Father, I’m beginning to worry about this problem. Help me to not let this worry overwhelm me. Help me to not to give in to fear. Help me to trust in you, that you will take care of me, as you have promised. I know this most certainly, because you have given me eternal life through your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.” That is turning your anxiety into a prayer. “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Remember this today: God cares for you, he really does! He sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the answer to all the big questions of life and death. He gives you eternal life. Now you know who God is and how he regards you. And this is how you will know for sure that God cares for you also in all the smaller anxieties of life. Dear friends, God’s word to you today is this: Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you.