Tomorrow marks the 8 year anniversary of one of the craziest stories I have read about.
It begins in the small town of Zanesville, Ohio. A retired school teacher named Sam Kopchak left his home to check on a horse he recently purchased. When he saw the horse he noticed something was wrong – the horse was extremely skittish. He probably assumed this was due to the horse’s new home but as he looked out the window he saw an even stranger scene. He spotted a small black bear surrounded by a group of horses in his neighbor’s pasture.
As Sam left the barn to walk back to his home, he spotted a dangerous and terrifying sight – on the other side of the fence there was a full grown African Lion looking back at him.
This was the beginning of the infamous exotic animal escape in Zanesville, Ohio. It began with Terry Thompson, an owner of many exotic animals, releasing his animals to terrorize the Zanesville area before taking his own life. Terry released 18 tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears, 3 cougars, 2 wolves, and 1 baboon.
Imagine for a moment you lived in Zanesville and received a notification that there were hungry lions and tigers on the loose. If it was me, I would quickly make sure my family is inside my home and keep my focus outside so that if I spotted one I could warn others of the danger.
This is the type of mindset Peter is encouraging us to have at the end of 1 Peter. He is writing to Christians experiencing immense and unjust suffering as a result of their faith in Jesus. In order to encourage them to stay strong in the faith, he pens a small but powerful letter. He closes this letter with a lion warning:
1 Peter 5:8-9
Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.
In this passage, Peter shares with us two ways to survive a lion attack. First, we must remain vigilant and second we must learn how to fight.
1. Remain Vigilant
If you have ever watched an animal documentary, there are two things you will notice about the tactics lions use to attack their prey. First, they are most successful when they attack under the cover of darkness. They can quietly sneak up on the prey, pounce on it, and then suffocate it by gripping around its throat with their teeth.
In a similar way, this ancient lion often attacks when we are experiencing the darkness of suffering. He attacks our faith and encourages us to walk away from God when we go through the shattering effects of divorce or the shame-inducing experience of unemployment. When we are walking through the darkness, we must stay close to Jesus and focus on His Word rather than the lies of the enemy.
Second, lions never attack an entire herd of animals all at once. Instead, they pursue the weaker animal that gets separated from the rest. When the animal is separated, it becomes ideal prey for the lion.
Likewise, one of Satan’s tactics in our suffering is to separate us from the people of God by giving us a myriad of excuses why we do not need to be committed to a local church. The moment you disconnect from the local church is the moment you become ideal prey for the enemy to consume. When we experience the darkness of suffering our natural reaction is to isolate ourselves and avoid community – that is the absolute worst thing we can do. The Church is called to be a hospital for sick people; recognizing your sickness is the precise moment you need to run to the church body for help, healing, and encouragement!
2. Learn to Fight
Peter says it this way, “Resist him, firm in the faith…” What does Peter mean when he commands us to resist Satan? Well, if we keep in mind the lion imagery, one of the worst things you can do if you are attacked by a lion is turn your back and run! The natural instinct of all cats (even your house cat) is to pursue people and prey when their back is turned. It’s important that Peter does not tell us to run from Satan or to pretend as if he doesn’t exist. Instead, he says to resist him and remain firm in the apostolic faith.
So… HOW do we resist him?
Roughly 30 years before Peter wrote this letter, we see a battle between two lions in the Scriptures – the Lion of Judah and the Lion of this World (see Matthew 4). Immediately after Jesus’ baptism he is thrust into the wilderness to battle with Satan for a period of 40 days. Each of Satan’s temptations is an encouragement for Jesus to become self-dependent and achieve the glory of the Resurrection without the brutality of the cross. If anyone could stand toe-to-toe with Satan by his own authority, it would have been Jesus.
Nevertheless, do you remember how Jesus responds to each of these temptations?
It. Is. Written.
Jesus resists the Lion of this World by meditating on and quoting the Scriptures (specifically, the book of Deuteronomy). Elsewhere, the Bible is referred to as the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) by which we fight against the spiritual forces of darkness in this world. The reason so many of us have disconnected from the local church and fallen prey to the enemy is because very few of us study the Scriptures on a daily basis. The only time many American Christians open the Bible is on Sunday morning and the vast majority of the pulpits across our country preach malnourished messages full of life-tips and empty of sound doctrine and real teaching.
Hearing the teaching of the Bible one day a week and expecting it to sustain you is like having one meal the entire week and hoping it will give you enough energy for the other 6 days. It is foolish and will leave you malnourished or dead. Likewise, refusing to study the Scriptures on a regular basis will leave you spiritually malnourished and ideal prey for the enemy of your soul.
You have an enemy who is hunting you.
He hides under the cover of suffering and seeks to separate you from God’s people. Learn to fight against Him by being so consumed with Scripture and the message of the Gospel that it flows out of you in your marriage, your parenting, your friendships, your workplace, and your community. It is time to reject the Americanized version of Christianity where we sit and listen for one hour a week. Instead, let’s pursue the radical discipleship that is evident throughout all of the New Testament.
It is through the words of God (the Bible) that we encounter the Word of God (Jesus). It is through the Word of God (Jesus) that we experience the work of God (salvation and sanctification).