The Third Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 16, 2013| 1 Peter 5:6-11
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. 1 Peter 5:6-11
When I was a teenager a young boxer by the name of Cassius Clay became a household name and brought professional boxing out of the disreputable sports ghetto where it rightly belongs into the homes and conversations of sports enthusiasts all across the country. It was not just the fact that Clay could box, which he could. He was arguably the best boxer in the world. What set him apart was his demeanor. When talking with the press (often with the popular sportscaster, Howard Cosell), Clay would shout out: “I am the greatest!” Clay gloried in bragging. He made no pretense to humility. It was as if speaking humbly would demean him. Clay’s braggadocio endeared him to some and antagonized many. He later left the Christian religion of his childhood, adopted the religion of Muhammad, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. What stands out about the man was how he made a virtue out of what has always been considered a vice. He made bragging respectable.
Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali reflected a cultural and religious shift that has been taking place in our country for quite some time. Perhaps you have noticed it. The virtue of humility has been under attack. Humility is considered degrading. Self-affirmation, self-assertion, self-esteem, self – I think there is even a magazine by that name – is the cry of our generation. But then when the focus is on self, where does that leave the other guy? He’s not quite so important. Humility teaches us that we can have no genuine self-respect without respecting our neighbor. Humility considers the needs, wants, and cares of the neighbor as being as important as our own. There is no love without humility.
The doctrine of self-esteem that has invaded the church from the popular culture is a false doctrine. You don’t learn to love your neighbor by loving yourself. Self-love is the way sinners are wired. It comes right out of our fallen condition. It’s known as original or inherited sin. You don’t need to teach anybody to love himself. We all need to be taught to love our neighbor. Pride loves self. Humility loves the other.
The God from whom, and to whom, and of whom, are all things, the God to whom will be glory and dominion forever and ever, teaches us that humility, far from debasing anyone, is the time and place of exaltation. It is the crucified Christ who sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, from whence he will come to judge. Christ faced mockery, spitting, whipping, and the public humiliation of crucifixion without a word of complaint. He blessed those who persecuted him and prayed for those who spitefully mistreated him. He is exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords. On the last day, everyone will appear before him to be judged.
Pride always leads to a fall. It’s the nature of things. Solomon, in his wisdom, wrote:
When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
St. Paul, in listing the qualifications of a pastor in 1 Timothy 3, identifies pride as the sin that brought condemnation on the devil. Where pride reigns the devil is in control. The father of lies is the father of the great boast. Listen to what God, through the prophet Isaiah, says of Lucifer:
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
“I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.”
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15)
Pride takes many forms, conforming itself to the specific weaknesses of the individual. It is not always easy to identify pride for what it is, because the father of pride is the father of lies, and with his clever deceptions he disguises sin as virtue. The devil strikes when we are weak from suffering. We call ourselves children of God. God calls us children of God. But are we really? When we suffer cares that, judging from all appearances, God cares nothing about? It seems that we are anything but God’s children. It seems that God doesn’t have our best interests in mind, or that he isn’t mindful of us. Humility in the face of suffering seems to be resignation to failure.
Then the devil strikes. He twists up our minds and cons us into judging God by our circumstances. He who tempted Eve with the snotty, sneering, assault on God’s word asking, “Did God really say?” has not changed his strategy one bit in the past six thousand years. Why should he? It works. So these two things go together: casting our cares on the God who cares for us and standing up against the devil. The devil’s number one lie is his assault against God’s grace. In his attacks on the gospel, he parades as an angel of light. But his message is darkness and despair.
Cast all your care on the One who cares for you. But here the devil roars out his contradiction. He portrays your loving and gracious Father in heaven as a mean-spirited bully who is unwilling to forgive. And, of course, he always has access to the judgment of religious holier-than-thou types who question God’s grace. Jesus portrays the grace of God in sincerity and truth, as he tells stories about the joy in heaven over a single sinner here on earth who repents of his sin and believes the gospel. It is this faith, this simple and childlike faith in the forgiveness of sins that the devil attacks.
Faith looks at our suffering, our cares, our losses, and whatever in life makes us anxious and afraid and it casts those cares on God. Faith knows God is not punishing us when life is hard. Faith trusts that God looks at us through the obedience and suffering of his Son and sees us as his dear children, robed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. This faith, precious to God, is hated by the devil.
He’s likened to a roaring lion. Lions roar when they’re hungry. The devil is hungry for our souls. He wants to kill our souls by destroying our faith. This is why St. Peter tells us to resist him, “steadfast in the faith.” The faith is the body of Christian teaching – all of it. The faith isn’t our pious feelings or religious sentiments. It is the totality of what God reveals to us in the Holy Scriptures. This revelation is centered in God’s grace in Christ. It is the gospel of Christ that saves us. Therefore, the devil wants to rip this gospel out of our hearts. He uses our troubles and misfortunes to persuade us that God is out to get us. But we must judge according to God’s word. Luther writes in his Lectures on Genesis:
Moreover, these truths should be carefully impressed and taught, lest we yield to the flesh when we are tried or to our reason when we disregard the Word. For it is not God who torments you if you believe in Christ; it is the devil. He hates you and looks for opportunities to trouble you. But you will say: “I realize that I am a sinner. Therefore I am not a Christian. Therefore if any evil befalls me, it is sent by an angry God.” But this conclusion is false, for those who believe in the forgiveness of sins are Christians. Therefore if you believe in Christ, if you gladly hear His Word and receive it in faith, you are a true Christian, and your sins do not stand in the way. Hence if any misfortune befalls you, conclude boldly that it is from the devil and does not mean that God is unfriendly toward you, except insofar as He lets this happen as a trial, in order to put your faith to the test for your own good. LW, 3, 265
The devil would drive you away from God’s word when you are hurting because he knows that the grace of God is sufficient to meet every need you have. He knows that the God of grace will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle us through his word. He will perfect us. He will bring us to the goal he has set for us. He will establish us. He will see to it that we are standing. He will strengthen us. In our weakness he will make us strong. He will settle us. He’ll take away all our anxieties and worries and doubts and bring us his peace. All this he will do through his word.
This is why the devil seeks to exploit our suffering to drive us away from God’s word. He knows that when our suffering drives us to God’s word we are saved. This is why we resist the devil by humble reliance on God’s word.
The Bible teaches us that the devil is bound. The so called thousand year reign of Christ on earth is not something that awaits his return. It is right now. The devil is bound up in chains wherever the Christian takes refuge in the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. When we confess the gospel in the Creed, sing the gospel in the liturgy and hymns, eat and drink the gospel in the Lord’s Supper, and pray the gospel in the Lord’s Prayer – what do you think is happening to the devil? He is being bound up tightly in chains. Christ has given his keys to his Church on earth and when our sins are loosed the devil is bound. He can harm us none.
But if the devil is bound, how can he be depicted as the roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom he may devour? Is he bound or is he walking around? He is both bound and walking around. Wherever the gospel is proclaimed, believed, and confessed, the devil is bound and gagged. Wherever the gospel is silenced, denied, and distorted, the devil is stalking his prey. Everything depends on the gospel. That’s why we resist the devil and his lies not on our own power to resist or on our own cleverness or intelligence, but by the clear gospel.
The central truth of our Christian faith is that God forgives sinners freely by his grace on account of the obedience, suffering, and death of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ and that this forgiveness is received through faith and through faith alone. God justifies us. He reckons us to be righteous. It is not our righteousness. It is Christ’s. God reckons or imputes or credits it to us. This sets us before God as righteous. God will surely not punish those who are righteous. He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ. He has called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus.
Do you believe this? Then you don’t need to grasp onto any glory for yourself. God has plenty of glory to give and he will. You don’t need to elevate yourself. God will do so in his own time. Is life unfair? Does the problem hang on and on? Does it appear that God just might be giving you a hard time, even punishing you? Humble yourself under his mighty hand. For it is in humble faith that we see his grace revealed in our Savior Jesus and know that our sins are forgiven and we are at peace with God. The devil cannot accuse us. Yes, God may try us. But no good thing will he deny us. Amen