“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9
Our short text from Saint Peter’s first epistle begins: “Be sober-minded.” This is no hysterical cry to look for a demon behind every tree. It is a call to be calm and circumspect, disciplined in our thinking. Furthermore, to be watchful. To be alert. To be vigilant.
Like a parent urging his children to be careful when they leave home, the apostle is urging future generations of Christian believers, including you and me, to pay careful attention, fully aware of the danger we face.
Tonight, let us take heed, and recognize that we have an enemy, a very real enemy, who stands against us: the devil.
Please understand, whatever your personal opinion may be on this, the Holy Scriptures themselves present the devil to us as a real, albeit, spiritual, being. He is called by many different names: the Serpent, Satan, the Accuser and Deceiver. Originally, he was called Lucifer—the angel of light.
Let us also understand, tonight, the danger posed by our enemy is not only real, but severe. We have a vivid image before us. Your adversary the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
I doubt that anyone here tonight has ever met a lion in the wild, or even been worried about such an encounter. There are still some regions of the world, of course, where wild lions ARE a genuine concern. I remember being quite impressed by the powerful roar of a lion in captivity. But even if you have only watched documentary films of lions hunting and devouring their prey, you can understand the reason the lion is feared among all beasts as “the king of the jungle.”
It is horrifying to think of actually being a lion’s dinner. But this picture is meant to communicate our spiritual foe’s chief intention is to destroy and utterly consume us. We should be no less horrified as we consider what this means in spiritual terms.
But how do we approach spiritual things practically? The apostle’s imperative in verse 9 seems almost too little or weak: “Resist him, firm in your faith.” How does one simply resist a spiritual devil OR a prowling lion?
I encourage you to read the entire epistle, tonight, perhaps, before you go to sleep. The larger context will help you see the practical implications of the text have to do with humility before God and allegiance to the kingship of Jesus Christ.
Allow me to digress from our text for a moment . . .
The first book of the Bible (Genesis) records a benediction the Israelite patriarch Jacob pronounced over his 12 sons some 4000 years ago. In that benediction, Jacob declared his son, Judah, to be a lion’s cub, indicating that Judah’s descendants would be kings. He went on to say:
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” (Genesis 49:10)
Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient messianic benediction! The scepter and throne belong to Him, for He is the Christ, God’s chosen and anointed King. In the Holy Gospels, we find that Jesus traces his family line back to Judah. In the Revelation of St. John, the last book of the NT, the exalted Jesus is referred to explicitly in the heavenly vision as “the conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah.”
But if Jesus is the true Lion, then the devil is only masquerading. We might say he is only a counterfeit lion.
This should not surprise us. The devil is the master of the masquerade. The prince of darkness is still pretending to be an angel of light! His chief strategy is to undermine our trust in God’s Word and get us to doubt God’s intention toward us. He does this by offering his own counterfeit impressions of God’s commandments and promises, so that we will pledge our allegiance to him, instead of to Jesus.
Did God really say that? Surely, He didn’t mean it. You will not surely die if you eat of the forbidden tree. God is only trying to withhold something good from you.
The devil even tried to tempt Jesus: IF you are the Son of God, then turn these stones into bread.
The lie behind the temptation goes something like this: If God were really your father, then you wouldn’t have to hunger or suffer in this way. Your suffering proves God cannot be trusted. YOU need to take care of you. God won’t!
A variation of the lie goes like this: Your happiness depends on X (fill in the blank), so reach out and take X. After all, your personal happiness is more important (even to God) than your personal holiness. How successful the devil is in questioning and counterfeiting God’s actual Words!
The best way to discern a counterfeit thing is to know the real thing. The best way to detect a lie is to know the truth. May we acknowledge God’s holy and eternal Word is truth.
If we take time to know God’s Word and stand firm in our faith and obedience to it, then we will be able to see through the devil’s deceptions and resist him. In fact, we can be confident against our dangerous foe, because the True Lion of Judah, came to conquer him, to triumph over the power of death and all spiritual darkness through His own death at the Cross. Jesus now lives and reigns as King forever.
But let us beware, lest we fall prey, even to a defeated and counterfeit lion. For if we accept a counterfeit version of God’s truth then we are tempted to embrace a counterfeit of God’s peace and security.
Saint Peter knew from personal experience that a sleepy and false sense of security in his own strength nearly cost him his life in Christ. He understood very well the catastrophic danger that awaits those who fail to heed the call and commandments of Jesus.
As for God’s intention toward you and me in our suffering? We need not doubt the intentions of a King who sacrificed His own life for us! Such a King can be trusted fully!
May YOUR faith be firm in Him whose death has already won victory over your greatest foes. Resist the roaring counterfeit. Rightly fear the True Lion and sleep safe and secure under His protective watch tonight. Amen.