The 4th Sunday After Pentecost June 16, 2013
1 Peter 5:6-11
24, 424, 784 (TLH 428), 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus, who has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” dear fellow redeemed:
Actions often have unintended consequences. This is especially true of big, important actions. In his book, “Last Call—the Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” author Daniel Okrent tells the interesting story of how Prohibition, intended to rid the country of the scourge of alcoholism, never came close to fulfilling that goal. What it did do was usher in a host of huge changes that none of the supporters of Prohibition ever envisioned.
The author shows how it really was Prohibition that eventually gave us a national income tax, the Mafia, plea bargaining, the city of Las Vegas, the sport of NASCAR, the right to privacy, and even Roe v. Wade. Talk about unintended consequences! It makes a person feel kind of nervous about some of the sweeping changes being enacted by our current government!
Is it possible to make plans for the future and get all the intended consequences and none of the unintended? It might seem impossible, but it’s not. Not for Christians! For us, the results are guaranteed. If you’ve been perplexed by suffering in your life lately, if you’ve felt like the Devil is assaulting you with temptation, if your life has just been generally unsettled and you need some stabilizing, then today’s text will be a big encouragement for you. Our theme today is: GOD’S INTENDED CONSEQUENCES I. Humble yourself and God will exalt you, II. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you, and III. Endure the suffering and God will establish you.
Our text begins with the word, “therefore.” A seminary professor once said, “If you see the word ‘therefore,’ you’d better find out what it’s there for.” Peter is referring back to the previous verses, where he’d been talking about the persecution and suffering that the Christians were going through at the time and which was about to get worse. He says, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:12-13). The believers were headed into a period of marked suffering. They should expect it and not be surprised by it. God would get them through it. The Lord, as always, would provide.
“Therefore”—since you already know what’s going to happen—what kind of attitude should you take? Peter first points out one obvious and simple thing you can do that will always have intended and beneficial consequences: Humble yourself. Humble yourself and God will exalt you. No question. Do this and that will happen. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” [v.6]
I hardly need to mention that this runs exactly against the common philosophy of our time. Humility doesn’t rank very high on Americans’ list of desirable qualities. Rather, today’s society teaches us to be proud and assertive, to stand up for our rights and demand what’s coming to us. If injury or suffering has come into your life, you don’t need to take it, you need to hire a lawyer and make somebody pay. The consequences to our country from this attitude were certainly unintended: we’re becoming a nation of victims. Also, with only 5% of the world’s population, we now have over 80% of the world’s lawyers!
Let me ask you this: Can you always say that you have adopted an appropriate attitude of humility in your life? I certainly can’t. I frequently feel the effects and the guilt of spiritual pride. But one Person who suffered greatly and had no spiritual pride was our Lord Jesus: “Who, being found in appearance as a man, humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him…” (Philippians 2:8-9). Peter urges you to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. He urges you to say, “Thy will be done,” and to recognize with an appropriate sense of humility that the Lord knows what He’s doing in your life.
“Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” [v.7] This passage has comforted believers for centuries. The word “casting” is the same word used on Palm Sunday when the disciples were “casting” their garments on the back of the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. What a graphic picture! Everything you’ve got that gives you sorrow in life—cast it on the Lord! This is not a suggestion, by the way, it is a command. Trouble in your marriage? Cast it on the Lord. Anxiety about how you’re going to pay your bills? Cast it on the Lord. Guilt over the sins you’ve committed? Cast it on the Lord. The Psalmist said, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22). Offload those burdens! Don’t try to proudly carry them yourself. Humble yourself under God’s hand, and He will lift you up at just the right time.
The second action Peter mentions that will definitely have beneficial intended consequences in your life is this: resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. “Be sober, be vigilant, the Apostle says, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. [vv.8-9]
Have you ever heard a lion’s roar? For real, I mean, and not just on television? Male lions can roar at 115 decibels, approximately as loud as a jet engine. You can hear a lion’s roar from six miles away, and people familiar with Africa say it can be one of the most terrifying sounds you will ever hear. Why does the Holy Spirit choose this expression in particular here in our text? Because our adversary, the Devil, is not to be taken lightly. We’d be fools to take him lightly. Peter tells us what his intended consequences are: “The Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” seeking victims that he can “gulp down.” We know the experience, don’t we? We feel the Devil’s temptations, and yet very often, when we see the Devil coming, we do nothing. We stand there like a deer in the headlights. You feel the temptation to sin, you know it’s the Devil attacking you, and you do nothing to resist him. In fact, don’t you sometimes even go halfway out to meet him? Are you ever guilty of that sin? I know I am.
By the way, “adversary” is an interesting word. It means the accuser, the one who speaks against you. And that’s the main thing the Devil does. He speaks against you. He whispers in your ear, “Remember those sins you committed? How can you call yourself a Christian? You’ll never make it to Heaven, not with the things you’ve done. Other people, maybe, but not you.” He batters at your conscience. He tries to strip you of your faith in Christ. He attempts to make you despair. But take courage! You haven’t always resisted the Devil as you should, but there’s one person who did! Jesus resisted and overcame Satan on your behalf. He overcame every temptation that the Devil presented to Him. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus knows your every temptation. He knows how hard it is. He defeated the Devil for you so that you could share in His eternal victory. He gave His life on that skull-shaped hill of Golgotha, so that you could be redeemed forever—so that you could be God’s holy child, bound for an everlasting glory!
Your victory over Satan is one of God’s intended consequences. It has already been assured by Christ, so resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Resist the Devil like Jesus did in the wilderness by using the powerful Word of God. When you feel the tug of temptation you should go immediately to your Bible, though the Devil will seek to make that very difficult. When you feel your faith is weak, you should by any means possible come to God’s house to hear the Word and get strength from your fellow Christians, though the Devil will give you a thousand excuses to skip church. Writing on this passage Martin Luther said, “You must be sober and vigilant, in order that the body may be ready. But this does not yet vanquish the Devil. It is done only in order that you may give the body less reason to sin. The true sword is your strong and firm faith. If you take hold of God’s Word in your heart and cling to it with faith, the Devil cannot win but must flee.” Encouraging words, from someone who knew the meaning of temptation.
Finally comes the part of Peter’s message that may be the hardest for us to take: endure the suffering and God will establish you. Peter says, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” [v.10] That’s probably not exactly what we want to hear when we’re going through suffering in our lives, is it? Imagine if you were sick and someone sent you a card that said, I hope you get better, but not before you suffer a while. Our prayer is always that the Lord would remove suffering immediately, isn’t it? But that’s not always the best thing for us spiritually, and the Lord knows that. “Don’t act like this is something strange,” Peter said earlier. This is an intended consequence. This is what the Christian life is—it’s challenges, and trials, and difficulties, and yes, suffering. “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Sometimes the Lord allows suffering in our lives to discipline us and strengthen our faith, to draw us closer to Him. The Bible says, “Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and [disciplines] every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).
Peter says, “Hang in there!” When suffering comes, endure it in patient hope. For this is another of God’s intended consequences. After you have been disciplined by the hard times, God promises to “perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” The picture is of the foundation of a building, firmly laid down, established, that won’t be shaken but will endure forever. Though, of course, you won’t have to endure forever. The Apostle Paul says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Our true life—our eternal life—is hidden in Heaven with our Savior.
It was the poet Robert Burns who said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We’re frail humans, and our actions—well-intentioned though they may be—often have unintended consequences. Our plans often fail. How comforting to know that God’s plans never do. What a relief it is to realize that the big things in our life, the really important things, can’t go awry. For the consequences that God wills for your life are all intended, and they’re all good. Peter has taught you a few of them today: Humble yourself and God will exalt you; resist the Devil, and he will flee from you; endure the suffering and God will establish you. But perhaps the greatest intended consequence of them all lies in the simple words of Paul to the Jailor at Philippi: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.