1 Peter 5:6-11 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 1, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in the Epistle Lesson from 1 Peter 5:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 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. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
In the iconic Star Wars movies one of the main characters is a protocol droid named C-3PO. In the original 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope, C-3PO remarks, “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” Now we are not droids, but I think we can all relate. Suffering, at times, seems to define our lives. For others and, at times, for ourselves, it seems to us that we were made to suffer because that’s our lot in life.
Human suffering can be attributed to several causes. The first is sin. We face suffering caused by our own sinfulness and the consequences of our sinful actions. We live with the suffering inflicted upon ourselves by the guilt of what we have said and done to others and the guilt of failing to say and to do to others what we should. Not only are there emotional consequences of our sins, but there are sometimes physical consequences. Sex outside of marriage can lead to disease in addition to the guilt of “sleeping around.” Disobeying your teacher lands you in detention. Not obeying your parents gets you grounded. Drinking and driving can land you in the hospital, or worse, killing someone else.
In addition to our own sins and the consequences of them, we also suffer in this life because of the sins of others. A drunk driver hits your car and you are paralyzed for life. You are bullied in school. Spouses divorce and both they and their children suffer the life-long consequences of that family separation. A coworker spreads rumors and lies about you, costing your reputation and maybe even your job. Your debit card or bank account is hacked and you lose your savings. You become a victim of identity theft.
Not only are we subject to the suffering caused by our own sins and the sins of others, we also face suffering because we live in a world that is also completely corrupted by sin. Cancer claims our bodies or the body of one we love. Our physical bodies are subjected to all kinds of diseases and pains; our spirits are attacked by anxiety and depression and other mental and emotional illnesses. Fires, floods, drought, tornadoes and other natural disasters destroy lives and property. “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.”
But sin is not the only cause of human suffering. There is also the devil. Peter describes him here as our adversary, our opponent. He comes walking around like a roaring lion seeking to swallow us up. He wants to drive us into gloom because of our sin. He wants to take the Word of God from us and cause us to doubt God’s love and care for us. He is constantly tempting Christians to evil. He, along with the other evil angels, is bent on destroying the works of God to counteract His gracious purposes. Satan plots to disturb and to destroy the Church by inciting persecution and the suffering that it brings upon God’s people precisely because they are God’s children.
You and I, then, face suffering because of our sins. We suffer because of the sins of others and because of the sin in the world. We suffer under the threats and the attacks of the devil because we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We suffer as Christians. But the devil and the world tell us lies as we suffer. We are told that the suffering we are facing and going through must be from God. It must be that God’s mighty hand is crushing and squeezing us to death. Satan got Job’s wife to go there. She said to her suffering husband, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) Job himself even gets to the point of attributing his suffering to God, “Who among these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:9-10) Job remembers God’s wisdom and power but fails to acknowledge God’s use of these attributes for our good.
From His own Word to us we know that God is not the cause of suffering. That cause belongs to the devil and to sin. We also know from God’s Word that He does permit suffering in our lives for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it comes as a direct result of our own sin in order to discipline us. Other times it is an effect of being God’s child in a world that wants to crush the Church. Although, like Job, we do not know God’s hidden will, we can trust that He has only the best in mind for us, as crazy as that might sound. He will strengthen, uphold, and bless us in the midst of persecution. He will use any afflictions we face for our good or for blessing others. And so Peter writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God in order that He might lift you up at the appointed time, casting your cares and anxieties on Him because you are a concern to Him.”
You are a care and a concern of God’s. Yes, that’s how special you are to Him. He is the God of all grace who has called you into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus. And if you want proof that God is concerned about you and cares for you, even though in His wisdom and might He allows you to suffer, look at the cross. For there on the cross Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, faced the ultimate in suffering. Nails pierced His hands and feet; thorns gouged into His head. Bleeding in extreme agony and pain Jesus suffered the consequences of your sins and mine—God the Father abandoned Him. God the Father left Christ completely alone and forsaken on the cross, removing His presence from Jesus so that He suffered literal hell and damnation. Because Christ so suffered, you will not. Because Jesus died on the cross having suffered death and hell, He purchased for you and me complete forgiveness with His blood. You and I are saved from suffering hell and eternal condemnation.
Does the Lord care for you? Oh yes! How can we doubt that when we see the gift of God that is our Savior Jesus Christ? How can we doubt God’s concern for us when we see the suffering and death of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, forgiveness for the sins of the world? We cannot. We who suffer according to God’s hidden will are able in faith to entrust our souls and bodies to our faithful Creator and Redeemer. Because He cares for you and me, Christ was given into death to save us from eternal suffering and death. Because He cares for you and me, Christ is risen from the dead and lives so that at the proper time He will restore, establish, strengthen, and lay the foundation for us, equipping us with all that we need for this “little while” of suffering.
That which we suffer now from the effects of sin and Satan happens for a short time in comparison to the eternal life without suffering that is ours by grace through faith in Christ. While we are going through it, no amount of suffering seems little or short. But with trust in our Lord’s Word, He puts things into a proper perspective for us. He says, “I love you and I care for you. I am concerned about you. For reasons known only to Me, I am allowing for your good or for the blessing of others this time of suffering. But that doesn’t mean I love you any less. How could I love you any less when I have given you forgiveness of sins and life forever with Me through the suffering, death, and resurrection of My only Son, Jesus? I have given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. Take hold of my Word in your heart and cling to it with faith. Take hold of My Word, which promises, gives, and seals the forgiveness of your sins, and rely on it.”
When you and I are found in the middle of suffering, and we know that for periods of time in this life we will be, what can we do? At His invitation, we cast our anxieties and worries and fears on the Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit you and I can literally throw these things on God because He is caring for us in Christ, attending to us and to all our needs. As David writes in Psalm 55:22, “Throw your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”
In Christ, you are the righteous. You are forgiven of all your sins. You have eternal life. Your lot in life is eternal glory in Christ, although for a time we face the suffering of this mortal life. At His invitation, throw your cares on the Lord. He has proven His love and care for you in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Stand firm in your faith, for His mighty hand is lifting you up at the proper time. Take Him at His word that, in Christ, through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the God of all grace “will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”