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May 28, 2017

Passage: 1 Peter 5:6-11

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Easter (season)


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our epistle begins with the original Christians receiving Peter’s letter not only enduring a “trial,” but a “fiery trial (1st Peter 4:12).” The original situation and context makes one wonder if we should be applying the text to ourselves today in South Orange County in 2017 as this is a place that easily gives the impression that life is simply for our pleasure, much less a time for enduring a fiery trial.

But perhaps this is exactly why we need Peter’s letter. Maybe our “persecutions” and “fiery trials” have taken on new forms, so much so we have no idea how far we’ve strayed from God. In other words, the enemy has options: he can charge at us in full frontal assault and the spectacle is impossible to miss (like being dragged off to be tortured in the arena); but he can also sneak up from behind when we think all is well, still able, however, to slit our throats when we we’re not looking. Don’t be deceived! Don’t be lulled to sleep! Your enemy is prowling around you…do you see him?

The enemy may be in the process of gulping us down his throat, but we might be too complacent to notice. Wake up Christian! If you think that the Christian faith can be reduced to some cheap belief that God is real, long as you admit that you’re safe to continue following sin, then watch out! If this is our so-called “faith,” then we are in the process of being duped and deceived. What is perhaps the easiest way to test the situation is by asking yourself this question: “Am I making excuses for following sin; for doing what I know I should not be doing?” If you are, then you’re being duped and Satan’s mouth is being fitted for you.

By no means am I suggesting that such realization is easy to confess and to turn away from. In fact, apart from the Word of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot remove ourselves from the bonds of sin. But nothing is too hard for God. When we cry out to Him and receive His Word and Sacrament, He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He can and will rescue us as we stop playing games with deliberate rebellion. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7b).”

 So allow me to share some history and the kinds of “fiery trials” that were known by Christians in the past. History informs us that these “fiery trials” were real. And they still are. But we have-to wake up and see that they are.

Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History writes about what the early Christians faced: “The greatness, indeed, of the tribulation, and the extent of the madness exhibited by the heathen against the saints, and the sufferings which the martyrs endured in this country, we are not able fully to declare, nor is it, indeed, possible to describe them. For the adversary assailed us with his whole strength, giving us already a prelude, how unbridled his future movements among us would be. And, indeed, he resorted to every means, to accustom and exercise his own servants against those of God, so that we should not only be excluded from houses, baths, and markets, but every thing belonging to us was prohibited from appearing in any place whatever. But the grace of God contended for us, and rescued the weak, and prepared those who, like firm pillars, were able through patience, to sustain the whole of the enemy’s violence against them. These coming in close conflict, endured every species of reproach and torture. Esteeming what was deemed great, but little, they hastened to Christ, showing in reality, ‘that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us [Ro 8:18].’” (Cruse, tr., Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000: 148-149)

Yes, that’s right “fiery trials” involved having you removed even from your own home and your things; it could involve you being physically tortured, all because you confessed the Lord Jesus Christ and were committed to following Him. Luther therefore was not merely trying to wax eloquently when he wrote “A Mighty Fortress”: The devils filling the world and seeking to devour us might ‘take our life, goods, fame, child, and wife.’” All of these could be lost due to the fiery trial.

Can we even begin to relate? And yet this precious and powerful Word of the Lord has been preserved for you and me. The Lord has given it to us today. He still speaks to us even though our cultural circumstances seem radically different. There is a reason for this. Providence is still in effect. Why be so bold to say this? This is where our text from 1st Peter 5 comes in.

Our English translation says, “Humble yourselves,” but the Greek is passive and is more like “be humbled.” That is, by the Spirit of God working through the Word of Christ we see our actual state of affairs and when we do, we are made low! We are alarmed and it makes it drop to our knees!

Our environment, our circumstances, the real problems we face externally and internally (the quality of these things in terms of how they go against our faith) cause us – at least SHOULD cause us -- to be humbled. We should be greatly alarmed because the devil and the demons have NOT gone on vacation since the early centuries of the Christian faith. They are as active now as ever. And as St. Peter writes, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (v 8).” The word “devour” graphically means to “drink down.” He is active. He is real, but how seriously do we treat him? Do we even believe that he exists? Of-course he would be delighted if you didn’t, then why would you ever resist him?! And with your guard therefore down, he can devour you as if you were a sitting duck.

But look around, be humbled and as the Lord says in this same word from St. Peter “be sober-minded; be watchful (v 8).” And then at verse 9, Peter wrote “Resist him!” This is the attitude of the Christian. You recognize an assault. You see that you’re under attack and it's serious, so you are humbled…you see the trouble and you’re alarmed, so you run to Christ.

You cast your anxieties on God, because you know Him as your Loving Heavenly Father through Christ…so you take all the worries and concerns and throw them like a pile of dirty laundry to God. “Here Lord! I give these things to you! I toss them to you! The throw them to you! I cast them to you! I say to them, ‘get away from me; I give you rather to my Heavenly Father who loves me more than I can say. These things which alarm me and cause me to be troubled and humbled are too heavy for me; they are too much for me; but for my Heavenly Father – in the Name Jesus – they are nothing for Him. He can bear them for me because Jesus bore my sin.” As our Augsburg Confession states in Article XX: “The person who knows that he has a Father who is gracious to him through Christ truly knows God.” (paragraph 24, as quoted in The Lutheran Study Bible, 2158)

And when you know this, you are confident to cast to God all your junk. Even if – and esp. if – it reflects your own contribution, your own sin; your own admitting how far you’ve strayed. But you’re confident to give it all to Him, because Jesus did not die for people who have their acts together. He really did die for sinners like you and me!

We are warned to wake up and see the real fiery trial that remains for us even while other Christians in the world are being murdered and martyred to this day. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism: “[The devil] tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.” (LC V 26) [as quoted in TLSB, 2158]

This is how serious the threat is. And the enemy will use anything to tear you from your faith. So the fiery trial is real, but for us it has changed faces. What could possibly be the threat?

I want to use an example for you. There is an extremely popular actor right now named Mark Walhlberg. I personally like him. He’s a good actor. And AT & T was genius for casting him in their latest commercial. But I want you to carefully listen to what is being said in this commercial (and these are direct quotes):

  1. “We want unlimited entertainment.”
  2. “We want more.”
  3. “We want them when we want them.”
  4. “We want all of it.”
  5. “We just want all our stuff the way we want all our stuff.”

This is a screaming commentary about our current culture. It is a form of basic hedonism: the pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence. It is the idol of our time.

But here’s the thing: it is a deceptive drink that the enemy uses. You can think you’re getting all lit and that it’s all good, cause you’re having a great time, but this stuff NEVER truly satisfies. If you love stuff, you never, ever have enough. And then the truth hits you one day: it is a deceptive drug that never gives peace for the soul. And that’s when the culture becomes mesmerized by other things: like presenting 13 reasons why, when taking one’s life is glamorized and glorified. All of this serves the enemies’ purpose, because all he wants to do is destroy you. Don’t be deceived! Don’t be duped! Don’t be lulled to sleep!

So St. Peter boldly follows the Spirit and writes, “Resist!” You know that the Lord cares for you, otherwise He would never have died for you! He cares for you more than anyone could possibly care for you! He is your brother and Lord by blood: His blood shed for you! And so God’s care and protection for you during persecution (in all of its various forms) is certain and completely reliable! Our Confessions state: “God has kindled in [the hearts of Christians] this beginning of true godliness. He will further strengthen and help them in their great weakness to persevere in true faith unto the end.” (FC SD II 14) And, “Through the Word, by which He calls us, the Holy Spirit bestows grace, power, and ability for this purpose.” (FC SD XI 33).

Because He loves you, Christ died for you. Because He loves you, Christ permits you to be humbled. Because He loves you, He leads you to resist evil. And because He loves you, He will deliver you Christian! That is how much you mean to Him. “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, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1st Peter 5:10-11)