How To Tame The Lion
I Peter 5:6-11
I read to you these verses from I Peter, the fifth chapter, beginning to read at the sixth verse. Please, hear the Word of Almighty God. :Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you. Be sober. Be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ will Himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words in my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the struggle to live the Christian life, I get by with a little help from my friends. One of those friends was a Disciples of Christ minister in Texas named Dan Morgan. He was forever saying to me, “Remember, the closer you get to Jesus, the harder the Devil works on you.” He was right. And his word ought to be a word of caution for us all, for it is true that the more we seek to follow after Jesus Christ in the living of our lives, the more the Devil works to dissuade us. He pursues us actively. Peter describes him as a roaring lion prowling about seeking someone to devour. And that means that if we are going to live as God wants us to live in this world, we’re going to have to find some way to tame that lion. And Peter, I believe, in this passage of Scripture shows us how.
The first thing we need to remember is this: the Devil is.
You know, Peter’s imagery of the lion is so accurate at this point. But, you see, what makes a lion so terribly dangerous is the fact that his pale, flat color enables him to blend into his surroundings almost perfectly. A lion, for example, crouched in the sun-bleached grass of the African bush country, so silent and slow in his movements, so completely camouflaged by his color is almost impossible to see. He blends into his surroundings.
A long time ago now, the Devil got himself behind the proposition which declares that he, the Devil, no longer exists. And, you know, a lot of sophisticated, educated, learned, self-sufficient well-meaning people have voted in favor of that proposition. They argue that the Devil is nothing more than a childish attempt to name those little bad impulses that are tucked away down inside of all of us. They argue that Satan is simply a caricature of fantasy leftover from all of the darkness and the ignorance of the Middle Ages. They say that the Devil is nothing more than the – pardon the pun, please. But nothing more than the figment of some preacher’s inflamed imagination. They say the Devil doesn’t exist. And many people have voted in favor of that proposition. But I think the poet was much closer to the truth when he wrote, “So the Devil has been voted out, and now, of course, he’s gone. But simple people want to know who’s carrying his business on.”
Someone is carrying his business on. Wouldn’t you agree? I mean, look at the morning papers. I’m a reasonably intelligent man. Surely, you’re not going to try to foist off on me the belief that a man in San Diego, California could load himself down with an arsenal of weapons and ammunition and say, “I’m going out to hunt some humans,” and then proceed to turn a McDonald’s restaurant into a slaughterhouse? Surely, you’re not going to foist off on me the belief that he did that because of some bad little impulse down inside of him. Come on.
You want to know how Jesus voted on the proposition of whether or not the Devil exists? Read it for yourself. John 8, Jesus said the Devil was a murderer from the very beginning. He does not speak the truth because the truth is not in him, and when he lies, he speaks according to his own nature because he is a liar, and he is the father of lies. That’s how Jesus votes. What about you?
I recall the experience of Thomas Carlyle, who on one occasion took Ralph Waldo Emerson on a walk through some of the most dreadful slums in the City of London. And when they had finished that walk, Carlyle turned to Emerson and said, “Now, you tell me that you don’t believe the Devil exists.”
Or if that’s not enough for you, then I would simply invite you, if you like, to follow me through the course of my daily work, looking over my shoulder as I read, for example, the last note from a suicide victim or as I try to talk to someone captured by drugs or alcohol or as I visit in prison one who has taken the life of another or as I try to put back the pieces of a broken home. Then you tell me that the Devil doesn’t exist. That evil is not personal, that it’s not organized, that is not persistent in the world.
Tell Jesus that He was wrong when He said to Peter, “Beware, Peter, for the Devil will sift you like wheat.” And tell Peter in that moment when the Devil did sift him like wheat, tell Peter in that moment that it was all just an illusion.
Oh, you see, the Devil wants to blend into his surroundings. He wants us to believe that he doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for that line. You’re way too smart for that. Jesus said the Devil exists. That’s good enough for me. The Devil is.
But then the second thing we need to remember is this: the Devil is hard at work.
Once again, Peter’s imagery of the lion is so appropriate at this point. You’re aware of the fact that the lion is the top predator in the world today. Lions, as a species, do not kill in order to live. No, separate from all other species, lions live in order to kill. They’re the only cats who hunt in packs. And they are vicious and persistent in their efforts. They are constantly engaged in locating, in pursuing, in attacking, and in devouring their prey. You know, sometimes in anger, we may be moved to say to someone, “Go to the Devil.” What a useless thing to say. The Devil is only too willing to come to us.
Job says, “Satan is busy moving to and fro and up and down the earth.” The Bible teaches us again and again that the Devil is hard at work in every day and in every way. About 100 years ago now, a man one day accidentally fell overboard in the Niagara River. The swift current of that river caught him and began to carry him downstream toward the Niagara Falls. In growing desperation, not long before the falls, this man reached out and caught hold of a rock that was sticking up out of the water. He was clinging desperately to that rock. His grip was the only thing that was keeping him from being swept over the falls to death. Now, at that moment, a large crowd of people – sightseers they were – gathered on the shore, seeing what was happening. Remember, please, this was a long time ago before the days of helicopters and rescue squadrons and the like. And all of those people on the shore, though they tried, they could not get to the man. The currents were too swift. And so they were left with no alternative but simply to stand there and watch transfixed by horror, watching as this man’s strength slowly waned, so that the grip he held upon that rock gradually gave way. And he was swept over the falls. A whole group of people watching helplessly as a man’s body died.
Now you know, the life expectancy of a body is about seventy years. But I stand in this pulpit to declare to you today that the Devil, the roaring lion, is busy in our world today, attacking the lives in the hearts and the minds and the souls of men and women and young people seeking to destroy them. Well, in a crowd gathered to watch the death, no, you can’t see the Devil. You can’t see the soul. But is the death any less real? Remember, we’re talking here not about a life expectancy of seventy years but a life expectancy of all eternity.
My friends, the battle that is going on in the world in which we live is the battle between good and evil. And all of the ugliness that we see in the world about us is nothing other than a manifestation of that fact. The fact that our society permits some people to go hungry and homeless in the midst of this land of staggering affluence, that’s the work of the Devil. The fact that our society has so twisted God’s gift of sexuality that pornographers, the purveyors thereof, are being encouraged, and that lifestyles contrary to God’s will for His people are being applauded. Freedom has never meant license, not now, not ever. And to say that it does or to be taught that it does, that is the work of the Devil.
That our society, the fact that in this land of the free, people whose skin is black or brown or yellow or red find it so much harder to experience the opportunities enjoyed by those of us whose skin just happens to be white, that’s the work of the Devil. The fact that our society allows one and a half million lives to be taken each year by abortion, and the fact that the concept of active euthanasia is being discussed seriously in some political and intellectual circles, there are better ways to solve our problems, and to think otherwise or to teach otherwise is the work of the Devil.
Paul was dead right when he wrote to the Ephesians, “We wrestle not with flesh and blood but against the principalities and the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness.” That’s the conflict in which we are engaged. Make no mistake about it, the Devil is, and the Devil is hard at work.
Ah, but we must remember this: the Devil is not invincible. Peter describes the Devil as prowling about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. But then Peter goes on to show us how to tame that lion. He gives us step by step manual of instruction. And there’s one thing that I want to say to you at this point: all of those instructions, each step is expressed in the Greek language in the imperative mood. And what Peter is trying to say to us is that this is not optional for Christians; this is absolutely necessary. And here are those steps: Step one, cast your anxieties upon the Lord. What that simply means in one word is pray. I came across an interesting story about a hunter in Africa who, one night, was unable to sleep because of the intense heat, and so he dragged his sleeping bag out of his tent and out into a clearing, and there he crawled into a sleeping bag, and the only thing that he covered himself with was his mosquito net. Then he fell asleep. And sometime during the night, he was awakened. By what? He was not sure, but he sensed danger. And so, ever so slightly, he tilted his head so that he could look to see, and there he saw, coming out of the darkness toward him, a lion. Oh, not one line but two, not two lions but three. Knowing that the move would be fatal, he fought the gathering sense of fear and remained as still as he possibly could. The lions came close, so close, in fact, that their breath caused the mosquito net to quiver. Well, that was something strange to those lions, something they hadn’t encountered before. They didn’t know how to respond. And so they retreated back a few steps, and then they came once more, and once more the mosquito net quivered. Once more the lions retreated. And this time, they didn’t return. That mosquito net was very thin, but it saved that man’s life.
Do you understand what I’m trying to get you to understand? That when we, as Christians, remain within the net of prayer, however thin that prayer experience may be, we shall be safe. Because, you see, what makes the Devil so terrible is that he knows he’s defeated, and it’s already done. On Calvary, the Devil did the worst thing you could possibly do. He murdered God’s only Son. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that the worst thing that Satan could do, God can undo. The victory has been won by God. It belongs to Him, and it belongs to all those who belong to God. What I’m trying to say to you is simply this, that when we hold fast to God in prayer, then the Devil, the power of evil in our world, can never hold fast to us. Step one, cast your anxieties upon the Lord, pray.
And then step two, Peter writes, “Be sober and watchful.” You know, we always have to be alert to the attack of the Devil in our world. Lions, you know how they are. When they are rolling about in the grass and playing with one another, when they’re lolling about in the sunshine, they look so lovable. Don’t they? You’re aware of the fact the encyclopedia says it’s true, that it is when lions are at play that they are in fact at practice. It’s then that they learn and develop the killing skills which are theirs. And not only that, but their playfulness serves as an irresistible allure to their unsuspecting prey. Oh, we must be alert. Dr. Gable Williams is the greatest lion tamer of this or any other day, and you know what he says? He says, “When you are with the lions, never look away.”
Peter says, “Be watchful.” And you know when he wrote those words, I’m convinced he was remembering back to a night, a night in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus said to him, “Peter, watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.” And Peter fell fast asleep, and Jesus came to him and shook him awake and said, “Peter, watch and pray,” and Peter couldn’t stay awake. His eyelids were just too heavy. He fell asleep once more. And once more, Jesus came and asked him, “Peter, watch.” Peter couldn’t watch. He slept. And just hours later, it happened. The Devil attacked. And Peter did what Peter thought Peter would never do. Speaking of his Lord, he said three times, dear God, three times, “I never knew him.” Oh, yes, that’s what he was remembering when he wrote these words, “Be watchful.” That’s step two, “Be watchful.” And in step three, Peter says, “Resist the Devil.” John Bunyan has an imaginary conversation – ooh, I love it – an imaginary conversation between Jesus and an emissary of the Devil. It seems that Jesus and the Devil had been engaged in a war for the human soul, and Jesus has won the war. And so the Devil, knowing he’s lost the war, seeks to win the peace, and he sends an emissary to Jesus. And the emissary says to Jesus, “My master would like to suggest that we divide the soul in half, and he’ll take half, and You take half.” And Jesus says, “No, I want it all.” And the emissary says, “Well, my master is reasonable about these things. He would be perfectly happy if You give him just a small part of the soul, and then You take all the rest of it.” Jesus said, “No, I want it all.” “Sire,” the emissary said, “You drive a hard bargain. Ah, but surely there would be nothing wrong with my master sending along a few gifts, perhaps even a few letters to the soul.” And Jesus said, “No, no gifts, no letters, no contact whatever. No, I want it all.” That’s how you resist the Devil.
Paul puts it so positively in Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God’s, then you shall resist the lures of the Devil.” But on the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and the study of the Scriptures and the discipline of prayer and the supporting fellowship of the church, put it all on, then you shall resist the wiles, the lures of the Devil. So Peter says, “The Devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” And then Peter – thank God – shows us how to tame that lion.
You know, come to think of it, Martin Luther in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, says the whole thing in a single line. That single line is this: Martin Luther, speaking of the Devil, says, “One little word shall fell him.” My friends, that one little word is spelled J-E-S-U-S. Yes.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious Father, the Devil is hard at work in the world about us. If we, as Christians, are not going to be willing to stand and fight against the work of the Devil around us, then who in this world is? Oh, God give us strength. Let us look to You in prayer. Let us be watchful and alert. But then let us be strong in our faith to resist the Devil and to make this world a haven of the love and the joy and the peace and the freedom and the glory of one called Jesus. Amen.