1 Peter 5:6-11 ~ Lion Taming
The light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. But the woman tailgating behind him had to slam her brakes, dropping her cell phone and her makeup. She honked furiously, screaming in frustration at missing her chance to get through the intersection.
While she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.
After a couple of hours, a policeman approached her cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.
He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, cursing the guy in front of you, and waving your middle finger at him. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the “Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, so naturally…I assumed you had stolen the car.”
Then the officer said, “Now I know I was wrong. It’s obvious you own this car. You must have just let the devil get into you.”
When was the last time the devil got into you? In these closing words from 1 Peter, we read about the devil stalking around like a prowling lion. This message today is in three parts: Lion Prowling, Lion Taming, and God Gracing.
1 Peter was written to first century Christians who felt like they were being stalked because they followed Jesus. Their neighbors mocked them. Sometimes even their own families disowned them. They were called atheists and anarchists and cannibals. So this letter told them, “Your enemy, the devil, is stalking around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 translation by N.T. Wright) Peter was telling them that their persecution was more than just the work of suspicious neighbors and hostile communities; it was the work of the devil. In the New Testament, the devil is the slanderer and the false accuser. Diabolos is the evil one, the tempter, the enemy of God who incites humans to sin.
When you and I think of the devil stalking after people, we usually think in personal, individual terms. Like C. S. Lewis writing The Screwtape Letters, we think of the devil plotting to waylay some poor soul. We all have our own stories of succumbing to temptation. There is evil in the world and we are tempted to do wrong. (Tony Cartledge, www.nurturingfaith.net)
But the devil doesn’t just work in retail; the evil one also works in wholesale, stalking not just individuals but whole groups. This is what 1 Peter was talking about: wholesale suspicion and persecution that extended across a whole society. Once a Christian in Denmark named Soren Kierkegaard described how wholesale, social evil works, as opposed to individual evil. He said, “The crowd is Untruth.” That is, take an individual and place him in a boisterous crowd, and that individual will get caught up in the spirit of that crowd, will start shouting with them, and will start doing hurtful things with them that he would never have done on his own. Sometimes we call that peer pressure or group-think. 1 Peter was describing how the prowling lion of group-think and peer pressure was causing whole communities to ostracize these misfits who followed a convicted, crucified criminal named Jesus.
Sometimes you and I can sympathize. Sometimes you and I feel ostracized as misfits because we follow the same convicted criminal. The lion is still prowling.
But can it be tamed? When we are under stress, when we feel we are being preyed upon, we may deal with the prowling lion in a number of ways.
One way would be to circle our wagons and build a fortress and stay within it. It would be tempting to create Christian enclaves in which we live all of our days with no contact with anyone who is not Christian. Ask yourself, do I have any friends who are not Christian? Do I spend all my time in Christian circles? If so, then you have dealt with the prowling devil by hiding within a Christian fortress of your own making.
Another response to the prowling devil is to give in. You can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em. This is the way of assimilation. We say we are Christian, but we live and think just like everybody else. Our personal conduct is no different from that of anyone else. Our vision of society is no different from that of anyone else. An outside observer would not be able to tell any difference between us and the rest of the culture.
But we are called to be different. For example, we are called to be different in how we handle sex and money and power. The culture says sex is just another animal appetite that everyone does. But we are called to treat sex as a gift of God to be enjoyed in the ways God intends. The culture says that money and power are to be used to take care of yourself — to build the biggest personal empire that you can. But Christians are called to treat money and power as gifts of God to be used not for ourselves but for God and humanity.
The devil prowls like a lion, hoping to get us to use sex, money and power just like everyone else. We are tempted to just give in and be assimilated by the culture, like the Borg in Star Trek (“resistance is futile”) Or as I’ve said, instead of giving in, we could wall ourselves off in Christian enclaves.
But there is another way to deal with the prowling lion of persecution, a way that does not require walling ourselves off from the culture, nor mindlessly joining the culture. What if we saw ourselves instead as a colony – a colony in the midst of a strange land, with a mission to that land, a mission given by our Lord? What if we shape a strategy for confronting the realities of our world? Look again at verses 6-9:
Humble yourselves, then, under God’s powerful hand,
so that he may lift you up at the right time.
Throw all your care upon him,
because he cares about you.
Stay in control of yourselves;
Resist (the devil)
…knowing that other family members in the rest of the world are facing identical sufferings.
We deal with the prowling devil by being humble enough to ask God’s help. It takes humility to admit that we can’t deal with the pressure by ourselves. We throw our cares upon the one who cares about us.
We deal with the pressures of persecution by maintaining self-discipline and by staying alert. We stay alert to the ways that peer pressure and group- think tempt us to give away our personal responsibility. We also stay alert so we can see not just what the evil one is doing but also what God is doing around us.
And we deal with the prowling devil by flat out resistance. How do we do that? Ask any recovering addict how he resists and he’ll tell you a story of falling down, then with God’s help getting back up, then falling down again, then with God’s help getting back up, again and again, until the addict just got tired of falling, and was ready to keep standing with God’s help. Resisting the devil is an ongoing journey, one day at a time.
Or, if we could reach back 500 years ago to Martin Luther and ask how he resisted the devil, he might tell us of the time the devil tried to discourage him by making him feel guilty through rehearsing a list of his sins. When the devil had finished, Luther said, “Think harder: you must have forgotten some.” And the devil did think, and he listed more sins. When he was done enumerating the sins, Luther said, “Now, with a red pen write over that list, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” “The devil had nothing to say.” (Sermon by Daniel Harmelink, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Huntingdon, Beach, CA)
Martin Luther would say, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
But remember, the devil doesn’t just operate in retail, he loves to operate in wholesale. So we also resist the Evil One’s operation in mass sins by whole groups of people: the sins of injustice against whole classes and races. We could ask other figures in history how they resisted the devil’s work in social evils, people like Wilbur Wilberforce who battled the English slave trade, or Mohandas Gandhi who liberated his nation from colonialism, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who resisted Hitler’s Third Reich, or Martin Luther King, or on and on… Each of them confronted the realities of the world. Each of them faced the wholesale social evils that the devil had spawned. Each of them resisted the prowling lion.
And one more thing 1 Peter told about how to deal with the devil prowling: know that other Christian brothers and sisters in the rest of the world are facing identical sufferings. Here are some examples from just the past few years:
In Ethiopia … one man was killed and 59 churches and 29 homes were burned after a rumor spread that a Christian had torn a page out of the Quran. In parts of India and Africa, laws prohibit Christians from evangelizing. Christians caught sharing God’s Word are chased out of town, beaten, or worse. Suffering for Christ is a reality for millions of Christians across the world. They are still the scattered, isolated minorities that Peter is speaking to.
(Catherine Cavazos, sermon to East Brentwood Presbyterian Church, Brentwood, TN)
To remember their suffering makes our own challenges seem trivial.
But while the devil is prowling like a lion, the Lord is also moving, full of grace. Here is the third thing to be said this morning: not only is the Lion Prowling, and not only are we called to engage in Lion Taming, but the best news is that God is gracing. That may not be very grammatical, but it is true. The grace of God will put things right:
Then, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you in the Messiah Jesus to the glory of his new age, will himself put you in good order, and will establish and strengthen you and set you on firm foundations.
For believers who suffer for their faith in loneliness and humiliation, here is God’s promise: in God’s time, they who have been put down will be lifted up. With a mighty hand, God will restore and support and strengthen and establish. God will shepherd God’s put-down people out of their persecuted present into God’s favored future. Eugene Peterson put it this way:
It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ … will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word.
– Douglas E. Murray
(This message will conclude with The Lord’s Supper, which unites us with the body of Christ, with persecuted Christians around the world.)