Be Alert for the Lion

May 24, 2020


1 Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11

Suffering, discipline, and humility. Today’s reading from 1 Peter tells us not to be surprised at suffering, to discipline and to humble ourselves.

As I have said before, the letter of 1st Peter is an encouragement to Christians who are going through difficult times. It is a pastoral letter that aims to strengthen and support the people, but this pastoral support is more like a pep talk than it is like a soothing consolation.

Today’s reading begins with Peter writing, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

The first people to hear this letter from Peter, were Christians in the early church who were facing direct persecution. They were being rejected by society and reviled by those around them. Peter writes of this as a fiery ordeal, and he tells them that they should not be surprised.

Christianity promises new life, forgiveness, and freedom. In the early church, many of the first converts were slaves and oppressed people. They heard this promise of freedom and they were all in. They believe Jesus was going to free them from their earthly slavery and oppression.

But it didn’t happen. They were not freed from their servitude and, in some cases, things got worse. Now on top of being poor servants, they were being reviled for being Christians! They were surprised that things were not working out for them as they thought they would.

So Peter writes and says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place.” Jesus also went through a fiery ordeal, and he is Lord.
Now, we don’t face the same kind of persecution that those early Christians did. Most of us are not reviled for following Jesus.

But, we are often surprised when our Christian faith doesn’t produce results. We get surprised and discouraged when we are devoted to Jesus and still we suffer grief, anxiety, fear, and all the difficulties of life. Like those early Christians, we want devotion to Jesus to improve our position in this world and make us rise up in this world.

But we should not be surprised if we are not popular, if we are not growing in numbers, if we aren’t admired and looked up to by others.
Instead, Peter says, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

In due time, at the culmination of all things, then God’s people and God’s church will be exalted. But right now, humble yourselves.
This call to humility is a call to submission. There is no room for pride or arrogance from God’s people. We must humbly submit to God, submit to his authority and submit to his rule.

We submit to God, and then he is the one who raises us up. It is not the other way around. We do not raise our-selves up and then God will bless us and be pleased with us. We humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

Peter goes on to write, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” What an odd thing to say. It seems good to cast our praise and worship and our exultation on God, but to cast our anxiety on him?

But do cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you. When you are anxious, afraid, sorrowful, and in need of help, go to God. He is the one who cares for you.

Do not cast your anxiety onto political leaders, or onto your family, or onto those around you. The government leaders can only help you insofar as they are instruments of God’s authority. It is God who helps and God who saves, so cast your anxiety on him. It is God who will re-store us, it is God who will strengthen us, and establish us. It is God to whom we pray and God in whom we trust. We cast our anxiety on him because he cares for us.

And then, discipline yourselves. Keep alert. Here again, Peter tells Christians to discipline themselves. Discipline is a huge part of being a Christian. Discipline is where we get the word disciple. A disciple is someone who follows the way of another person, and follows their disciplines. A disciple follows “The Way” of that person and submits to their rule of life, their principles, their beliefs, and practices.

And the way of Jesus is a hard way. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of suffering and dying. A person follows this way, this path, and submits to this discipline, because they believe it is the true way and that it leads to God. The only way, the only path to God is the path and way of Jesus Christ. The only way to the father is through the son.

And the path and way of Jesus leads to death. In order to get to God, you must die. And I don’t mean that you must stop breathing and end your life on this earth. I mean that your life as you know it must end, and you must be reborn as a new person.

And so following Jesus is about discipline. It takes great discipline because there is a constant temptation to go back to your old ways, to go back to your old, dead life. As Peter said earlier, do not be conformed to the desires you formerly had. Flee from them.

And resist the devil. The devil prowls like a roaring lion. Have you ever seen a lion, or any cat, stalk their prey? They get down low, they hide in the grass, and they move very slowly. You don’t even know they are there, getting closer and closer until… they pounce.

The devil prowls like a roaring lion. Sneaking up, getting closer and closer, until it is too late, and it is already upon you. So you have to be alert. Be on the lookout. Keep your ears and your eyes open. Keep your lamps burning. Keep your minds sharp.

The way that the devil sneaks up on you is through lies and deception—through small little lies and half-truths. The lies are often so small that you don’t see them. The lie is to give in a little bit at a time, to let him get closer and closer. Anyone who has had to battle addiction knows this all too well. They know that the lion always prowls and that it is in the decisions that they make every day that they face temptation. They know that you must always be alert.

And then Peter writes, “And after you have had to suffer for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you.”

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning. We persist through life’s difficult times, we discipline ourselves, and we humbly submit to God, because he will restore, support, strengthen and establish you.

The way of Jesus Christ is a hard way, but it is the way to God. And God is good. God provides for you. God cares for you. God will bring you through the twists and turns of this life. God will lead you through this pandemic and crises. We might have to face suffering and loss, but God will restore you.

So to him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.