Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Battling a Lion - 1 Peter 5:8-11

In 1898, the British East Africa Company sent Lt. Col. John Patterson to Kenya to oversee the building of a bridge over the Tsavo river. Soon after Patterson arrived, the work camp began to be plagued by the nighttime attacks of two man-eating lions. Over the course of nine months, twenty-eight railway workers and countless local villagers were viciously mauled by these stealthy predators. Patterson began to search for a way to deal with the lions and the crisis they were causing among his workers. After nine months of failed attempts to deter or trap the lions, Patterson shot and killed one of them on December 9, 1898. Three weeks later, in a confrontation that nearly cost his own life, Patterson shot and killed the second of the two lions. The work on the bridge resumed and was completed just a few weeks later.

I have been to Africa numerous times, and I am glad to say I have never encountered a lion there. I would imagine that most of our experiences with lions have been on television, in movies, or at zoos where a cage or glass keeps a safe distance between us and them. Some of you who are from Africa may have had or know of more dangerous encounters. But there is another sense in which every Christian finds himself or herself engaged in a daily battle against a lion-like predator. Here in this text, the Apostle Peter, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, likens our spiritual enemy, the devil, to a prowling and roaring lion. Just as John Patterson had to strategize in order to gain victory over the wild beasts of Tsavo, so we must have a spiritual strategy against this enemy. And we find just such a strategy in the words of this text.

I. We must know our enemy.

John Patterson was chosen by the British East Africa Company because he knew how to hunt predators. He had been successful in hunting tigers in India, but now Patterson would have to learn about the habits of lions, how to find them, where they were vulnerable, and how to effectively kill them. Similarly, in human warfare, military strategists have known for centuries that knowledge of the enemy is crucial for victory. Sun Tzu, who wrote the classic Art of War in the sixth century before Christ, said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” And the same is true in our spiritual warfare as well. We must know our enemy. And for that we turn to Scripture, where God has recorded for our information and instruction all that we need to know about him. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “We are not ignorant of his schemes.” In texts such as this one before us today, we find the necessary data about our enemy to equip us for battle.

First, we are told his name. He is “the devil.” The Greek word diabolos is a word that typically means “slanderer,” or “false accuser.” Jesus said that the devil is a liar and the father of lies, and that there is no truth in him (John 8:44). In Revelation 12:10, he is described as the “accuser of the brethren.” So, by his very name, we know that he is a liar, a slanderer, an accuser, and an adversary.

Then we are also told something of his nature: he is our adversary. When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, the word diabolos, or “devil”, was used 18 times to render the Hebrew word Satan, which means “adversary,” or “one who withstands.” As an adversary, he is an enemy or opponent. But whose enemy is he? We know from the rest of Scripture that from the beginning, since his fall from the position of being an exalted angel, he has been opposed to God. Throughout the life of Jesus, we find that he is an enemy also of Christ. But here Peter reminds us that by entering into the family of God by faith in Jesus, the devil has become our adversary as well. Notice the personal pronoun: “YOUR adversary, the devil.” He is not only radically opposed to God; he has you in his crosshairs as well. Peter understood this from experience. Jesus told Peter during the last supper, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:31). And Peter reminds his readers and all of us here that the devil is “your adversary.”

Notice that we find here a description of the devil’s tactics. He prowls around like a roaring lion. The description is one of a lion who is stalking his prey in silence, and then launching upon the prey with that ferocious roar at the opportune moment. Grudem writes, “The metaphor is apt, for a prowling lion attacks suddenly, viciously, and often when its unsuspecting victim is engaged in routine activities.” He doesn’t always roar and make his presence known in an obvious way. If he did, avoiding the battle would be easy. He stalks in silence until he has the prey right where he can attack and then comes the roar of the attack.

Three biblical examples illustrate this stalking, prowling behavior of our enemy. The first one comes from early in the book of Genesis when Cain was wrestling with his frustration against God and his brother Abel. God confronted Cain and said, “sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:7). The image there is of a ferocious predator positioned at the door prepared to pounce upon whoever walks through it. The other comes from the book of Job, where Satan comes before God and says that he has been “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7). As the context unfolds we discover that he has been looking for someone to attack as his prey. The third illustration comes from the life of Jesus. After He was tempted by Satan during 40 days in the wilderness, we read, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him alone until an opportune time.” He was never far away; he was lurking in the shadows waiting for that opportune moment when he might come out roaring to attack the Lord Jesus once more. From these examples, and the words of our text today, we see how Satan camouflages himself in the environment around us, like a lion in the tall grass of Tsavo, silently waiting to attack his prey at the opportune moment.

Then we are also informed here of his objective. This lion-like enemy is not a kitten looking for someone to snuggle or play with. He is out to devour us. The Greek word used here means, “to swallow.” In the Greek version of the Old Testament, this word was used to describe the fish swallowing Jonah. Only, in that instance, the fish swallowed Jonah to save him; here the lion devours the Christian to destroy him or her. Knowing that he can never prevail against the Lord, Satan attacks humanity, who bears the image of God, and Christian humanity, who bear the divine image and the divine name, in particular in an effort to destroy the work of God in the world.

The great reformer Martin Luther, who knew a thing or two about spiritual warfare, said this: “If Satan were far from you and would leave you alone in peace, he would do little harm. But … he encircles you … He does not lie upon a cushion and sleep and snore, but he walks about … day and night. He does not do so that he may joke and play with you, … he is angry and furious, and hungrier than a wolf or lion.... His only purpose is to swallow you whole. He walks about … until at last he causes you to fall; now he attacks you and stirs you to adultery and anger, then to avarice and pride. If he does not succeed in this way, he tries with terror and unbelief, to persuade you to let go of the Word of God and to doubt His grace. … So cunningly and wickedly does he plot for you Christians!”

Now we know about our enemy: his name, his nature, his tactics, his objective. He is not a cartoon character in red tights with a horn and a tail and a pitchfork. If you think of him that way, he’s already got you fooled into not taking him seriously. Better to think of him as a bloodthirsty lion that is crouching in the tall grass waiting to pounce on you and destroy you at any moment. Knowing this is essential for the battle, but it is not sufficient. There is more that we must take from this text if we are to effectively battle this lion.

II. We must take our position

I love reading adventure stories that take place in some of the far away places I have visited, and a few of those have had to do with hunting lions in Africa. In a number of those stories, the hunters talk about how they went to an area where they knew the lions would be coming, maybe because there was some bait or prey there, and they positioned themselves in an elevated spot so that they could see in all directions. They crouched down behind a blind so they could see without being seen, and the carried the right weapons with them in order to down the beast in one shot. If you aren’t positioned rightly for a battle with a lion, you lose the battle. It’s that simple.

Now Peter says that we have to be in the right position for this battle as well. There are three primary imperatives for the believer here in the text that describe for us what we must do in order to be well positioned for the battle that we will surely face. The first is to be of sober spirit. This idea has to do with clear thinking and sound judgment. It literally means the opposite of intoxication, but it is used figuratively in 1 Peter three times to indicate, as Grudem writes, not “letting the mind wander into any … kind of mental intoxication or addiction which inhibits spiritual alertness, or any laziness of mind which lulls Christians into sin through carelessness.” If you knew that lions were prowling around preparing to devour you, you wouldn’t want to be drunk or in any kind of stupor that may dull your senses, dim your reasoning, or lull you to sleep. No, when the lion is prowling you want to make sure that you can see straight, think clearly, and act quickly. And that is what Peter is saying that we must positioned to do in the spiritual realm against our prowling enemy as well.

Related to this is the command to be alert. Like spiritual sobriety, alertness has to do with being sharp in senses, reason, and reaction; but it also has to do with the focus of our attentiveness. It has the idea of being watchful; and for what are we watching? We are watching for the enemy to attack. It is one thing to know that Satan and his forces may attack. As long as we think like that, you know, “he may,” then we might get lazy and even begin to slumber spiritually. And before we know it we are under attack. Being alert means thinking not that “he may attack,” but knowing that “he will attack.” We don’t know when, or specifically how, and that is why we have to be like a watchman on guard duty: awake and alert, on watch at all times, knowing that the lion will strike. We have no excuse to not be ready when he does.

And when he does, what must we do? Do we cower in fear? Do we attack him back? Do we speak to him or rebuke him or attempt to bind him? Interestingly, in many popular Christian books and television programs, we are taught some of these very things. Attack the devil; bind the devil; rebuke the devil, etc. But we never find any of these notions in Scripture. Throughout the New Testament, we are told that our response to the attacks of Satan is to resist him. In Ephesians 6, we are told about a great panoply of spiritual armor that we have been given, but we are told that our orders are to “stand firm” and “resist” the devil. In James 4:7, we are told to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

The word that Peter uses for “resist” here is a common one in the New Testament. In various contexts it means to stand your ground, to not back down, to remain courageously unmoved. And how do we do that when Satan is attacking? Peter says it is by remaining “firm in your faith.” Just as he sought to tempt Adam and Eve by making them question God’s word, God’s goodness, and God’s faithfulness; just as he sought to tempt Jesus to question God’s promises and purposes; so also he desires to ruin us by luring us into abandoning the gospel, abandoning the truth of God’s word, and abandoning our convictions concerning God’s nature. But even in the thick of battle, we must hold fast to the faith that God’s Word is true; that the gospel is our only hope; that God is good and faithful, a loving Father to those who are His by faith, and that God’s purposes will ultimately prevail. Satan only gains ground in the battle when he persuades a Christian to weaken his or her confidence in one of these fundamental truths.

When the battle begins to rage, and the enemy begins to roar and attack, the most natural inclination in any of us is to give up. But God has called us to resist the enemy and stand firm in our faith. We have to be sober and alert, knowing that the attack is going to happen; and then to be unmovable once it happens, with our feet firmly anchored in the truth of God. This has to be our position in the battle, otherwise we will be devoured. So, we have to know our enemy and take our position, but it would be presumptuous folly to do this without also following the final admonition here.

III. We must trust our God

Lions have no natural predators. The greatest threat to lions are other lions. And this is good news for us, for though our enemy is here described as a ferocious lion, we find in Scripture another, greater, and more ferocious lion who is for us, not against us. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. And our greatest hope against our enemy is knowing that another, mightier lion has been unleashed to fight our enemy on our behalf. Our confidence for victory is not in our own strength; not even in our own ability to resist; but rather in the God whom we serve, and to whom we belong by faith in Christ.

We are repeatedly reminded in Scripture that this world is filled with suffering, and that as Christians we will often be faced with suffering simply for the reason that we believe in Jesus. As Peter says here in verse 9, our brothers and sisters around the world face this reality daily. Peter’s readers in the first century understood this fully well. And Peter encourages those who read these words here by saying that though suffering is certain, it has an expiration date, and from the vantage point of eternity, the time spent suffering for Jesus will seem to have been very brief. He says, “After you have suffered for a little while.” Notice that! “After”: that means that suffering will come to an end one day. “A little while”: that means that we will one day look back on the hardships we endured for Christ and find that it did not last long compared to the joy of eternity in God’s presence. But the greatest encouragement here is not just knowing that suffering is temporary and brief, but in knowing that God is actively at work in and through our suffering accomplishing something good for His people through it all.

God, who has called us into His eternal glory in Christ by His infinite grace, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. The little while of our suffering may elapse within the boundaries of this life, or they may endure until our death; indeed, this suffering may even precipitate our death as it has done for countless believers throughout history. But now or then, here or there, it will end, and when it does, God will be proven to have been faithful to His people as we emerge from the fire refined like gold. God will perfect us. The word that Peter uses here is the same word used in the Gospels to describe the fishermen mending their nets. Peter is saying here is that God will set all things aright after we have suffered. If we have suffered loss, God will supply; if we have suffered harm, God will restore; if we have suffered death, God will give life. And all the while He is shaping us, perfecting us in our faith by making us more like Jesus through the fiery ordeals of our suffering.

God will also confirm us through our suffering. Those who truly belong to Jesus will be proven, confirmed, through the ordeal of suffering. They will not fall away because the going gets tough; they will emerge with their faith in tact, as one lexicon says, “more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief,” concerning the truth of Christ because of what they have endured. And God Himself will strengthen you through your suffering. One would think the opposite would be true, that we would emerge from the suffering of a spiritual battle in a weakened condition. But where God at work in the battle, He is strengthening His people through the midst of it, and bringing them through it spiritually stronger in the end than they were when it began.

And God Himself will establish you. Here Peter uses a word that he has used elsewhere to denote a house that has been built on a secure foundation. Jesus spoke of two men who built their houses on different foundations. One he said built his house on sand, and the other on a rock. We might imagine that to the naked eye, both houses looked equally solid. The one built on sand may have even been more impressive in size and grandeur. But Jesus said that a storm came and the house built on sand fell to the ground, while the one built on the rock withstood the storm. Jesus said that this story illustrated how the wise person builds his or her life on the rock foundation of God’s word. And it may take a storm to prove what kind of foundation your life is built upon. Only in the aftermath will those that are built on the rock be revealed. God brings His people through the spiritual battles we face with our enemy even more firmly established on that rock solid foundation.

How do we respond to these precious truths? It seems that all we can do is stand in awe and worship this great God who gives us victory. Here in the text, Peter erupts, as should we, into worship and praise, saying, “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen!” Dominion means power and it speaks of God’s sovereign rule and reign over all things. Though for a while, Satan prowls about like the king of the jungle, there is a mightier lion, a greater king, seated upon a higher throne, and He shall reign forever and ever. We pass through the field of battle under the banner of His sovereign Lordship, and we emerge from it victorious, with Him defeating the enemy forever through the blood of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

John Patterson didn’t know what he was getting into when he went to Tsavo to build that railroad bridge. He didn’t know that he would stare death in the face as he fought the maneating lions who preyed upon his work camp there. But he defeated the ferocious beasts, and after his work there was done, he took the skins of those lions home and made rugs for his home out of them. Every day he tread underfoot the fur of those beasts that wreaked so much havoc. When I think about our enemy the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us, I am reminded of the wondrous promise of Romans 16:20 -- “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” That ferocious adversary who threatens to destroy us now will one day be crushed by the sovereign dominion of our risen Lord Jesus, and we will take part in his destruction. He will be crushed beneath our feet, and all the suffering and hardship that we endured in this brief little while of life in this fallen world will be vindicated forever.

If you are not a follower of Jesus today, you might find it silly that we would spend so much time talking about fighting the devil. To you it may seem like a fairy tale or something to think that we actually believe in such a being. The fact is that Satan has no need to show himself to you, no need to attack you whatsoever. If you are not a follower of Jesus, he already has you imprisoned in his kingdom. Your agnosticism to his existence is itself one of his tactics to keep you in his grasp. But the good news is that a great liberator has come to your rescue. The Lord Jesus Christ died to redeem you from your bondage and has defeated the enemy through His death and resurrection. If you would acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior today, you would be set free from Satan’s grasp. Though the remainder of your days will find you often in battle against him, God will bind you securely to Himself and preserve you for His presence in eternity. So we would invite you today to know this Christ who would save you and follow Him with your life by faith.

Those of us who know Christ are encouraged by this Word today to know our enemy; to be sober and alert to his tactics and schemes and to resist him with firmness of faith; trusting in the power of our Sovereign God to rescue us from the battle through the power and victory of Christ who reigns forevermore.

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