May 27 & 21, 2018 Easter 7
1 Peter 5: 6-11
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
How afraid are you of lions? The only time I have seen real lions is in a zoo. They are not very scary there. But what if you were out in the open savannah without any gun and a lion showed up. How afraid of lions are you going to be then? The consequences could be disastrous. Peter knew all about the dangers of another lion, the devil himself. He had fallen to Satan’s attacks, defenseless. Jesus had warned him: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” But then he gave him this promise: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31.)
Now in his letter, Peter is fulfilling Jesus’ promise about strengthening his fellow believers, including us. He does it with what he teaches us here in his letter about how to be vigilant and ready to handle the attacks of the devil. He teaches us: How to Keep the Lion (Satan) in the Cage.
Peter says: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” In real life, what would a lion attack? The lion doesn’t go after the whole flock, especially when the shepherd is right there among them. No, he circles around, bides his time, and waits for the stragglers or the sick and the young who get behind, or perhaps one that is not paying attention and wanders off from the flock.
The picture fits the devil very well. When we stay together as a flock and stay close to the Shepherd, the lion may roar, but he won’t attack. But stray away from Jesus, or get all alone as a Christian and you can be sure that the old lion will be ready to pounce, looking to devour.
Another parallel: The lion out in the bush doesn’t show himself. He hides himself in the brush where he can’t be seen, and waits patiently for just the right time to attack. The unsuspecting sheep doesn’t even know that he’s there until it’s too late. In our world today, it is popular to scoff at the existence of the devil and act as if the Bible doesn’t know what it’s talking about. That’s just the way the devil wants it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the very book that is treated as a story and not history is the origin of the earth, the book of Genesis. People don’t want to believe in a 6 day creation, which means God didn’t start out with just two people, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, which means that there wasn’t a devil around to tempt them to disobey God. The devil would like people to think he is just a fictional character, a comic book villain. That way people are lulled into sleep if they don’t even think he exists.
C.S.Lewis was a Christian writer from Great Britain, whose most famous work is “The Screwtape Letters.” Perhaps you are familiar with it. It portrayed an experienced devil named Screwtape, writing a series of letters to his nephew, a novice devil named Wormwood. He picks up the idea of this roaring lion, seeking to devour us, by portraying the devils literally using lost souls as food. In one letter, Screwtape advises his nephew not to try to attack God or his church directly because his human patient would recognize that right away, but to get him to feel pride in himself and in his accomplishments, get him to be ready to boast: “Lord, look at the great things I’m doing for you.” “Look Lord, how strong I am in following you.” And once he has that pride then devil can hit him with some temptation to sin and he will fall for it because he think he’s so strong. Think of Peter and how he boasted: “All may fall away from you Jesus, but I never will. I am ready to die for you.” Pride in ourselves only sets us up for a big fall into some other sins as well.
Our first line of defense against the roaring lion are the first words in Peter’s paragraph: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” We can shut the lion’s mouth so he can’t devour us, we can cage him with humility.
Humility under God can defeat the devil’s temptation of pride, but it’s one of the hardest things to have. By nature, we are very self-centered creatures, and that shows up right from the start. How many children insist, “This is mine, you can’t play with my toys.” People are expected to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Peter says: “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.” The truth is, by ourselves we are nothing. We are not self-sufficient, we can’t handle our own problems. We can’t take care of even one sin, but the Lord had to do that for us through Jesus, who paid the price for them all. There’s nothing we have to boast about, except Jesus Christ and him crucified. That proper humility and willingness to depend on the Lord for everything will muzzle the lion and stop many of his attacks.
Secondly we can cage the lion with confidence in God. What bothers you the most? Worries for the family and their safety? Health problems? How to pay the bills? Stressed out and can’t sleep because you’ve got too many things floating around in your mind? And the lion is roaring in our ears: “Things will never work out. It’s too messed up. God doesn’t care.” He wants to pounce on us with doubt.
But we can cage the old lion with Peter’s words: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” What’s the most profound thought in our text? “He cares for you.” The roaring lion doesn’t want us to believe that. He wants to remind us that you and I have messed up so badly. So why should the Lord care for us? Why would he be willing to die for us, give his life to pay for all of our sins? We certainly didn’t deserve it. True. But Jesus died for us because it is all grace, God’s underserved love. You don’t have to doubt it. No matter you have done, no matter what difficulties you experience, he cares for you. The proof is the cross.
So we can cage that old lion with confidence in God. We can really cast all our cares and anxieties on the Lord, because he has proven his love and care for us. Paul put it this way: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, he shall he not, along with him, freely give us all things?” Don’t fall for the devil’s roar that God doesn’t care. It’s a lie.
That’s why Peter calls him our enemy or adversary. That word literally means someone who is trying to accuse us in court, like a prosecuting attorney. And the word devil itself means “false accuser.” He lies and tries to accuse us of guilt for our sins. “Aha, you really did it now! God will never be able to forgive you for that.” He wants us to despair. But God says: “No matter what you have done, Jesus has paid for it. Because of Jesus and his sacrifice for you, I declare you “Not Guilty!”
Luther once wrote: “When I go to bed the devil is always waiting for me. When he begins to plague me with a catalog of sins, I give him this answer: ‘Devil, I must sleep. That’s God’s command. So go away.’ If that doesn’t work, I say, ‘Yes old fellow, I know all about those sins. And I know some more you have overlooked. Here are a few extra. Put them down too. Jesus paid for them all.’”
As Peter says: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Yes, we can resist him, but not by our own strength! We can cage the lion with power from God.
You know that one danger is to think the devil is nothing or non-existent. The opposite thought is just as dangerous, to think that the devil is some kind of supreme-being for evil. It is true that the Bible calls him the prince of this world and the god of this age. But who is actually in control? Who has power over everything? It is Jesus of course. God has placed everything under his feet including the devil himself. The devil cannot do anything without our Lord allowing it. Remember that Satan is just a fallen and sinful angel.
So Peter says: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever.”
We don’t have the power on our own, but God will make you strong firm and steadfast. We stand strong in God’s power when we stay in God’s Word. No wonder the devil does his best to discredit the Bible and make people doubt it. That’s our power source from God. It’s what the Holy Spirit uses to make us strong, firm and steadfast.
So we can cage the roaring lion. When we stay close to Jesus and his Word, he gives us the power we need. Then the devil can roar all he wants, but he can’t bite. He’s a toothless, mangy, old lion before the Lord. As Peter concludes: “To him (to our Jesus) be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”