7th Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
I Peter 5:6-11 Sermon
May 4, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
111 "Hail The Day That Sees Him Rise"
431 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
115 "Golden Harps Are Sounding"
SATAN IS TRYING TO DESTROY THE CHURCH
TEXT: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self- controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."
During my ministry in Australia, I made a couple trips back to the United States in the five and a half years I was there. When I came back, I did so around the time of synod convention in June so I could attend that. But also during that time, I tried to schedule myself so I would be occupying a different pulpit each Sunday. God had given me the responsibility of a very small Lutheran body in Australia, and I wanted to spread the word about them to as many people as I could.
The first time I came back, the travelling sermon I had written was based upon the second portion of our Epistle for this morning. The theme was, "Satan is trying to destroy the church." And I placed special emphasis on verse 9 which reads: "Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."
I looked around a little bit for that sermon to help me remember what I said, unfortunately it was written before I owned a PC computer, and the manuscript is buried someplace in a box in my attic. And of course I didn't want to take the time to go searching.
But it's now about 17 years later, and guess what? Satan is STILL trying to destroy the church! That's a factual statement. It was true 17 years ago, it was true at the time of the Reformation, and it was true in those early years A.D. when the Apostle Peter put the divinely inspired pen to paper and wrote his first epistle.
You can be assured that anything God has established and sanctioned, anything that God blesses and preserves, anything that edifies the faith of his people, Satan is going to work overtime at trying to bring it all to ruin. And throughout my life, whether it was in the congregations of which I had my membership over the years, or the congregations I have served in Australia or Georgia or here in Nebraska, Satan is right there, close at hand, taking whatever opportunity he has to do his dirty work.
So Peter, in his no-nonsense, straight-forward manner, gives us a warning. Verse 8 says, "Be self- controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
Years ago, I remember watching my cat one summer evening. I had the lamp on by the sofa, and somehow a moth had made its way into the house, and was flying around inside the lamp shade. The cat just sat there on the arm of the sofa and watched it very carefully as it flitted around the light bulb. Now I don't know how he did it, but when the moth got into just the right position, the cat leaped up with just one paw and caught the moth. He didn't even disturb the lamp. He stalked the moth and waited for his opportunity; and then the attack was made and he got his prey.
Lions and house cats are both felines. They have very similar characteristics. They stalk their prey; and if they're hungry, then they're even more keen on being successful with their kill.
When Peter describes Satan's activity, he employs the metaphor of a lion looking for something to devour. Satan watches us like my cat was watching that moth. He was just waiting for the opportunity, and then with all of the skill he could muster, he caught what he was after.
When Satan attacks us, it can happen just that way. He attacks us personally when we least expect it. We can be going about, living our lives and minding our own business without a care in the world. And then something happens. A temptation to sin happens to come along, and then WHAM! He's got us, right where he wants us. And I know it's happened to you just as it has happened to me.
Satan works on us as individuals. He knows our weaknesses and what tempts us. He knows exactly where we are vulnerable. And it's those areas where we need to be especially mindful of his activity. For Satan to destroy a church, he has to work on the individuals in that church one at a time.
I think we all know about what happens when Satan starts getting his way amongst a group of people. There have been many congregations where arguments have erupted, mean things have been said, and out-and-out scandals have erupted.
The Apostle Paul, when writing to the congregation in Ephesus wrote in chapter four verse three, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
Satan looks at that passage and laughs. For him, it is a personal challenge. He knows that when he disrupts the unity of the Spirit and breaks the bond of peace, then he will be successful. And when that happens, we suffer. Satan's activities bring pain and suffering.
If we go back to the first portion of our Epistle for today, from I Peter chapter 4, listen to what he writes in verses 12-14: "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you."
We know that Satan is going to attack us in whatever way he can. As individuals, he is going to make us feel discouraged and alone. He is going to try to make us focus upon ourselves and our miseries. "God doesn't care about you," he says, "God hates you and has left you alone. You'd be far better off without him. Just look at the way people ridicule you for being a Christian."
But we know that Satan's promises are empty promises. There's no substance to what he says. All he brings is misery and hopelessness.
Peter comes in with the voice of reality when it comes to Satan. "Be self- controlled and alert....Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." he says. Therefore we need to be especially vigilant when it comes to Satan and the way he operates.
I'm going to switch gears here for a little bit, as we turn our attention to the words of our Gospel reading for today, from John chapter 17. This is the section known as "Jesus' High Priestly Prayer." This is the prayer Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before he was crucified. Here he was praying for his disciples and his church as a whole. It is a fabulous prayer which deserves more time than what I can give it this morning.
But do you realize that this is one of the most mis-quoted and mis-understood sections of the Bible? And it isn't even a full sentence either. The last phrase in verse 11 reads, "...so that they may be one as we are one."
From this one phrase, people have come up with the idea that various points of theology aren't important, so long as we are one. People have ignored serious points of doctrine just so they can have some sort of superficial unity. Things like Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and so forth have been seen as "unimportant differences" in bringing Christians together. And some have even gone so far as to seek a type of fellowship between Christians and non-Christians.
Talk about a tool of Satan! Here he twists the very words of Jesus himself to do his work! Even a cursory read of John 17 will show that this is not what Jesus is talking about.
Scripture in many places warns us about false teachers. Let's look at a few:
In II Peter 2, 1 we read: "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them- bringing swift destruction on themselves."
In I John 4, 1 we read: "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
And finally, we have the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 7, 15: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."
So how would we define a false teacher or a false prophet? Would it be somebody who would teach and preach something contrary to the true Word of God? Might they teach contrary to Scripture on such topics as Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, baptism, or the Lord's Supper? When Jesus is praying for everyone to be one, would he be including those false teachers and their peculiar destructive heresies too?
I've often thought that as some people sing the line from the old hymn: "We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity," Satan must really laugh when he sees the results of his dirty work in the church.
Oh yes, we can see Satan working overtime on people, and that includes us. Even though his activity might not be that blatant, it is still there nevertheless.
We do need to look at our sinful selves. We know how often Satan has personally attacked us. We know the hurt and pain he can cause. We know how he can take something good and twist it for his own purposes.
So often Satan will try to squash us down and subdue us. He wants us to be miserable, with no hope. He wants us to wallow in the mire of our sinful past and keep telling us that God would never forgive us or want us in his kingdom. Satan wants to just leave us there and rob us of all hope.
Listen now to verse 10 of our Epistle: "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."
Amidst the strife that Satan causes, Peter is very quick to offer the only hope there is, which is centered in Christ Jesus alone. He assures us that whatever sufferings we have to endure, they will be relatively short-lived. Peter speaks of a restoration which will make us strong, firm, and steadfast. And that only happens through faith in Christ Jesus.
The message of the Gospel is clear, and it sounds clearly above all of the lies and tricks of Satan. As we look at Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can see the unfathomable depth of his love for each of us. In verse 3 of John 17 he says, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Jesus wants us to know him, and the salvation he freely offers to us. Through faith, we accept him as our Saviour and what he has done for us. Even though Satan may attack us, the love of Jesus conquers everything Satan has tried to do to destroy us. God the Holy Spirit worked faith in our hearts so we would know Jesus as our Saviour and through him our hope would be secure.
Yes, I've seen Satan work in Nebraska, and in Minnesota, and in Australia, and in Georgia, among other places. You have seen him work too. We know that it is a fact that Satan is trying to destroy the church, because he is trying to populate his own kingdom and not God's. Peter tells us that our brothers and sisters all over the world are experiencing the very same attacks we are. And we as individuals and our congregation are not immune from this either.
But the answer is, and always will be Jesus. Satan may try to destroy, but faith in Jesus alone saves. So Jesus prays for us in John 17 verse 11: "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name- the name you gave me- so that they may be one as we are one."