Easter 7 · 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11 · May 4, 2008
By Charles P. Arand,
“On the Prowl”
Peter portrays an aspect of the Christian life that may sound more than a little scary. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour.” This does not portray the Christian life in rosy colors as one of increasing peace and prosperity. Instead it suggests something much darker: Christians are being hunted down by a merciless adversary. Peter’s language here would be echoed centuries later by Luther in the introduction to his Baptismal Booklet where he asks parents if they are fully aware of the ramifications of having their child baptized. In other words, by baptizing the child, they are hanging around that child’s neck a life long enemy, namely, the devil. And yet, this is not exactly how we talk today. Perhaps Satan has become something of an embarrassment. If anything, it is easier to talk about aliens and monsters (beginning with Frankenstein), all which have replaced the devil and demons as the embodiments of evil in the consciousness of most Americans. And yet, Satan as the prince of this world is a prominent theme in the writings of the New Testament. But we seem to find it much easier to talk about relationships in general and our relationship to God in particular than to talk about demonic forces.
In many ways this text in Peter follows nicely on the heels of the Ephesians text assigned for Ascension Day. In doing so, it fits well into an overarching narrative or story that we must increasingly emphasize for our hearers today lest the individual pericopes be seen as isolated and disconnected pieces of the Scriptural Gospel. Our text does not explicitly pick up the atonement narrative (Christus Victim) and instead follows what might be called “battle narrative” (Christus Victor) or what Luther called the Magnificent Duel (Mirabile Duellum) narrative. The text for Ascension Day focused on how Christ ascended into heaven and took His place at the right hand of God in order to rule over all rule and power and authority and dominion. God placed all things under His feet (here it recalls Psalm 110). As Ascension Day has become observed by fewer and fewer people, it might be wise to bring in that ascension theme into the sermon for this Sunday. It provides an important backdrop and transition to our text today.
In other words, Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. During His life on earth, beginning with the temptation narrative and culminating in His death and resurrection, Christ engaged in a duel with Satan. Satan in turn devoted all his energies to the goal of preventing Christ from achieving salvation for us. He failed. In his death and resurrection Jesus triumphed over the power of the devil, along with his allies of sin and death. Christ won a decisive victory for us as demonstrated in His taking the enemy’s capital and getting booted out of heaven as our accuser. By His ascension, He entered heaven where He kicks out Satan (Rev 12) once and for all. Taking His seat at the right hand of God, He uses the necks of His opponents as a footstool.
It is at this point that our text fits into the narrative. Even though he was kicked out of heaven, Satan now engages in rearguard operations against believers. Even though he remains on a short leash here on earth, he devotes all of his energies toward the goal of preventing us from receiving and enjoying the fruits and benefits of Christ’s victory. Who else can Satan take down with him? He prowls around looking for someone to devour. So how does he take others down with him? The notion of prowling implies sneakiness. It rarely involves a frontal attack. A lion stalks his prey. He seeks out the weak in the herd. If necessary, he chases down the prey and attacks from behind. So it is also with us. All may be going well. But Satan looks to blindside us. He sets ambushes for us. Here, Luther’s explanation to the Sixth Petition in the Large Catechism might offer some ideas about how to develop this idea. Remember, the goal of Satan is to destroy our faith and thus deprive us of Christ’s blessings. Reading Luther’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism and C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters would prove helpful here.
On the Prowl!
I. Introduction: In the movie, Predator, alien beings come to earth in order to hunt humans. Sound far-fetched? Sure. Yet there is one far more terrible who is on the prowl for us.
II. Significance of the Ascension
A. Christ’s expels Satan from heaven and makes Satan and his allies His footstool. Yet in retreat Satan’s rearguard action is to lay waste to everything left behind.
Β. Transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ in Baptism, we are enlisted in the war against Satan. In that struggle, suffering occurs as a result of Satan’s fury, yet we know that we share in Christ’s victory celebration.
III. Living Under the Reign of Christ
A. Keep your eyes open. Look all about you. Satan will engage in guerrilla actions and ambushes. He wants to catch us unawares so that we fall from faith without being aware of it.
B. Our weapons: We live under the reign of Him who defeated Satan. His strength in our struggles is given to us through God’s Word and prayer.
IV. In the end, Christ exercises an everlasting dominion and you have been called to an eternal glory.