The devil is always nearest when you and I least expect it. He approaches us at times when we are weak and think we are able to stand in our own strength. When we fail to rely in faith upon our Savior and rest in our own arm of flesh, when we underestimate the power of the devil, Satan is upon us. We stumble before him and he eats us alive! The devil is always there and ready to lead us away from God and His commandments.
If you do not believe this, then ask Peter, who writes this important word to us in our text. He walked side by side with Jesus and his fellow disciples to the Mt. of Olives. Jesus declared to them: “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” Peter did not like these words Jesus spoke of him. These words pointed to his weakness. Peter in pride felt that he was strong and courageous. He was willing to die for Jesus. So Peter hastily responded: “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended!” Jesus then rebuked him: “Peter, Peter, the devil would have you to sift you as wheat! But I have prayed for you!” A few hours later we find Peter standing outside the high priest’s palace weeping bitter tears. He had just denied his Lord three times. Three times he had given in to the prompting of the devil. If it were not for the preserving grace of God and forgiveness freely given him in Christ he would have been like unto Judas Iscariot. But Jesus had prayed for him. Now Peter gives us the instruction we contemplate in our broadcast today in I Peter 5:8, 9: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” Peter had learned this by experience. Would you and I be so bold as to deny that this is true?
You and I fight some of the most formidable foes in our battle against sin, fellow believers! Satan is the strongest of these. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood when we fight against Satan. We fight against the ruler of the darkness of this world. Surely, we do not think that we have strength enough in ourselves to resist the devil! Unless, of course, we think we are that much spiritually stronger than Peter—or David who also gave in to the devil. We are going to consider this adversary today.
I. Our Dreaded Adversary
Peter presents to us this stark reality, “your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” Using this figure Peter makes very concrete and real for us that which is often in our minds vague and abstract. That is this: the devil is real. We may not be able to see him but he is real—as real as if we were to stand face to face with a lion. Perhaps we have seen lions at a zoo. He is a fascinating beast. He is an overgrown cat. His actions are very much the same as a cat: walking quietly and gracefully. Most of the time, it seems he does not even seem to be fully aware of his surroundings. The lion is a figure of controlled yet fierce power. We can see the muscles rippling beneath his tawny hide as he walks. His great yellow fangs exude a ferociousness that is unparalleled by any other animal. Because of his prowess, power, and might he has become known as the king of the beasts. He walks with a regal dignity. When he attacks his prey he reveals a fury which when released strikes fear into the heart of mortal man.
This mighty beast which is of considerable weight the Lord has supplied with great padded paws. These are advantageous to him as he stalks his prey. The lion as a large cat is able to walk through the tall grasses of the plain or, as in Peter’s day, through the forests without a sound. He is very quiet as he stalks, crouching low to the ground, blending in with his surroundings. Because of his quietness, his prey is unaware of his approach until he is very close at hand. When as near as possible, the lion is swift to devour. He lets out a mighty roar, and with a swiftness that would amaze you he leaps upon his prey. The roar serves to freeze his prey for a few seconds, but in those few seconds the lion leaps upon it and with all fury let loose tears it in pieces! Oh, the fury! He rends his victim apart limb from limb until there is nothing left but blood and entrails. That is a horrible and gruesome reality which, if one were to see it, would leave him quivering in fear of that lion—the mighty king of beasts.
We can well understand why Peter has chosen the lion to describe the power and fury of Satan. The devil is the chief enemy or foe of the church. The devil is the chief adversary of the church and of God’s people individually. As we mentioned, we ought not to think of the devil as some vague power or force that cannot be thought of in real terms. The devil is a spirit and therefore cannot be detected with the physical eye. But he is a strong reality in this world—and especially in the lives of God’s people. The devil is a definite being or existence.
He is our adversary. He stands opposed to us and fights against us. He desires nothing more than to tear us apart and kill us. That is what an adversary is—one who seeks to conquer and destroy. But let us understand what it is that makes the devil our adversary. He is, first of all, God’s adversary. That is what makes him our adversary. The devil hates God. We ought not forget that Satan was an angel of light whom God created in the beginning of time when He created heaven and the angels. But Satan in pride rebelled against God because he felt that he could be equal with God! For this reason, God cast the devil down from his place in heaven together with the other angels who rebelled with Satan.
Ever since, Satan has continued his attempt to destroy God’s divine purpose for all things. Satan’s desire is to set up a kingdom of man that answers to him. Satan yet seeks to rule over God’s creation and the men of this earth. He never will, of course, since he is but a creature in the hands of the almighty Creator. But Satan tries! For this reason Satan hates Christ too. Christ is the very fulfillment of God’s kingdom and purpose for all things. Throughout the old dispensation Satan attempted to keep Christ from being born. When Christ was born, Satan sought to kill Him by the hands of wicked men. But Satan failed to realize that, through his evil plans, he actually brought about the salvation of God’s people and the realization of God’s kingdom and cause in this world. Now Satan is angry. He is cast out into this world and he knows that his time is limited. Now, he goes about with fury in an attempt to thwart God’s purpose for all things. He does this by venting his anger and fury against the church of Christ and the members of that church who strive to remain faithful. Because Satan is the adversary of God and Jesus Christ, he has become the adversary of every faithful church and every saint who represents God’s cause and kingdom in this world. Satan is a lion and we are his prey. He hunts you and me who believe in Christ. He hunts us in order to destroy us.
Neither ought we to ignore how Satan attacks us. Very quietly he comes upon us. Who can determine from what direction he does so, save those who are very wary and watching closely? If we think he is coming at us from one direction, then he creeps upon us from another direction. If we think we have our backs covered, then be careful because he will pounce upon us directly to our face. He is shrewd and cunning. He is clever and he works oftentimes so quietly! But one thing is for certain, Satan is stalking us—you and me. Satan does not need to pounce upon the wicked unbelieving people of this world to destroy them. He is the prince of this world. Satan works hardest where God’s people strive to maintain the truth and to walk in that truth. He will send his devils elsewhere to do his work. Satan is where Christ’s faithful church and people dwell, stalking them in order to turn them away from God and into sin.
Satan stalks the church of Christ. He does so when he attempts to destroy the peace and unity of the church. Divide and conquer is one of his greatest battle tactics. Bombard the church with heresies from all around and finally one may find foothold. Put it in the hearts of those who are church in name only to level accusations against the true church where the truth resides: prejudice, judgmental, harboring sinners, closed-minded, and such like. He uses unbelievers within the church to accuse those who are faithful of error. Satan stalks God’s people in their homes and families. Satan hates covenant families where husbands and wives abide in their callings to one another and their children love and respect father and mother. Satan uses every means possible to worm his way into the relationship of love and union between husband and wife in order to tear it apart. He works in the hearts of covenant children through the media and the world in an attempt to make them rebellious against parents.
Satan stalks us in our personal lives. He places before us all kinds of unholy temptations and pleasures in an attempt to turn us from a life of holiness. Satan slanders us! That is the literal meaning of the name “devil,” after all. It means slanderer! A slanderer is one who lies about another in an attempt to defame him. The devil slanders God and Jesus Christ, first of all! He tells lies about them to those who take God’s name upon them. He lures people to conceive of God in a way that is not true—people make of God something that He is not. Or to those who are faithful, the devil would have them think that God does not love them or preserve them. The devil is the slanderer of God’s people. He lies to others about us. He attempts to turn brother against brother in the church. The wicked world believes God’s people to be the offscouring of society rather than those who truly are!
In this way, the devil creeps up upon the church and God’s people in order to destroy them. Then, when we least expect it, Satan lets out his roar and pounces upon us. Right when he has us where he wants us he leaps upon us and tears us to shreds! What a horrible and frightening destruction he wreaks upon those of the church who are not the elect of God. How rapidly apostate churches have turned from the fundamentals of the truth—ripped to shreds theologically and spiritually. That person is ripped to shreds, sometimes so horribly that one hardly dares to confront him anymore, so ugly spiritually has he become. In fact, many are torn apart so horribly that they themselves become bitter enemies of the church and the cause of Christ in this world. They even do things that many who have never received the gospel would not think of doing! The horrible slander they can level at those with whom they at one time walked. Satan rips in pieces those who are members of the church, but who are in fact not the elect of God saved and preserved in Jesus Christ! The devil is a horrible and a powerful enemy and we ought not to underestimate his power.
Even in the lives of God’s chosen people the devil is able to cause them to stumble and fall into deep ways of sin. They too can be ripped apart by sin. Yes, God will work in their hearts by His grace sorrow and repentance over such sin just as He did with Peter. After all, Jesus prays for us. We are forgiven in His righteous blood. But the damage is done and the scars often left behind are always there to remind us of our sin. It takes an amazing work of God’s grace to preserve and heal them! Thank God for the work of our Savior in our lives! Thank God that He preserves us from being completely devoured by Satan. But, oh, what a time of pain and sorrow when we fall so deeply into sin that we are utterly humiliated and debased! Satan loves that!
II. Our Steadfast Resistance
That is why you and I hear the admonition of verse 9 to resist the devil! To resist means to make a stand against Satan. The idea is not all that difficult to understand. When an army comes to destroy a city, then the army of that city is called upon to make a stand against that enemy. They do not just surrender themselves without a fight. They fight. They defend themselves no matter what the cost. They resist their foe and unleash every piece of artillery at their disposal. This is what we are called upon to do spiritually when our enemy attacks us. We must not freeze as does the prey when he is taken unexpectedly. We must be ready. When Satan attacks, we are called upon to use every spiritual weapon available to withstand the assaults of our foe. At the same time we must realize that when we resist Satan we are fighting against an enemy far stronger than we are. Never would I attempt to go up against a lion in my own strength. I know a lion is far stronger than I am. If I attempted to wrestle him in my own strength, I know I would get the worst end of the fight! Well, the same is true with the Devil from a spiritual point of view.
This is why we are told in our text that we must resist the Devil “steadfast in the faith.” Only as we dwell within the sphere of faith will we ever be able to stand over against Satan. Paul writes in Ephesians 6 of the fact that the shield of faith is that which we use to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. Faith makes us firm and solid, immovable in the ways of the Lord. Satan is unable to sway or turn one into the lie and into temptation when one is solidly rooted in faith. That must characterize us. This is true because of what faith is. It is that bond that unites the believer to Christ. So strong is that bond that he becomes one body with Christ. By faith the believer is united to the very one who resisted the temptations leveled against Him by Satan in the wilderness, who in fact defeated and destroyed the power of sin and Satan over us at the cross. In total reliance upon Christ we face our mighty foe, and Christ in and through us fights our battle against the dreaded enemy! All our resisting rests in Christ alone. We look to the cross of Jesus and what Christ has done there to fight Satan. As long as we rely upon Jesus Christ, we need never fear but that the battle is ours. With that assurance we do not cower before Satan, but we rise up and challenge him! No, the gates of hell cannot prevail against us! Satan will never pluck us out of the hand of our faithful God! Nothing can separate us from His love that is in Christ Jesus!
This means, in turn, that in order to resist the devil we must be characterized by the following virtues of faith. We must be sober and vigilant. These are virtues that belong to those who are in the sphere of faith. If we sit back on our laurels and are not vigilant and sober, then we can be sure that Satan will take us unawares and do us hurt. We are commanded by God to be vigilant! That is to say, be watchful! This command stands contrary to the attitude of some in the church: the devil cannot harm me so long as I am a member of this church and I know its doctrines.
Contrary to this careless and profane attitude of some, the Bible gives us clear warning: be vigilant. Keep your eyes open and your senses sharp because when you think that everything is fine in your life, when you fool yourselves into thinking you can stand in your own strength, Satan pounces! We must be vigilant in our personal lives, in our families, and in our church. This is the one warning we receive.
The other is: be sober. We must be characterized by the virtue of spiritual sobriety. To be sober is the opposite of drunkenness. One who is spiritually drunken is one who is out of touch with reality. He stumbles through life oblivious to the dangers that surround him. He fails to see and understand the attacks of Satan upon him in the home or church. His mind whirls too much with the pleasures and riches of this present world. One who is sober, however, is alert to the dangers that surround him and ready to defend himself with the Word of God and prayer. When the lion roars and leaps, the sober child of God will flee to Christ and find strength to resist.
III. Our Common Endurance
Peter teaches us to keep this command to resist. The incentive is the common endurance that is found among our brethren. We find in this concluding statement of verse 9 that the suffering we experience by means of the attacks of Satan upon us is not peculiar to us. Suffering for Christ is common. Satan’s attacks upon us either by means of temptation or persecution is something we share in common with all of God’s saints. But these attacks upon us are an evident token that we belong to Christ. The devil does not attack the wicked world. He attacks God’s people. We can be assured therefore that we belong to Christ when the devil moves to destroy us.
But what is more, those saints who endured were given a crown of victory. Such victory is also ours when we endure the attacks of Satan upon us. Such victory is ours when we rest in the powerful saving work of Jesus Christ alone. The Devil is powerless to defeat the captain of our salvation. With that knowledge we resist Satan and he will flee from us! Why? Christ is Lord! Before the power of Christ, Satan will turn tail and flee. Christ has won for us the victory!