Beloved. Today’s Gospel we see God’s love for us sinners as He seeks us out to bring us to faith, to bring us into the safety of the Church, into His holy family. Today’s Gospel is two parables out of a set three—the third being the parable of the Prodigal Son--that Jesus taught in response to the complaint of the religious leaders of the Jews: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What they intended as the gravest insult toward Jesus is something we take the greatest delight in hearing and which is the foundation of our faith. After all, why would we/ how could we in faith come to and look to Jesus, the true God, unless He would welcome sinners and eat with us? It would be pointless otherwise. If Jesus were just to give us what we rightly earn and deserve for our sins, instead of going to Him we would best try to flee and hide from Him like Adam and Eve did when they sinned. Let us treasure in our hearts these glorious words and always remind ourselves of them whenever the devil tries to bring us into despair, wanting us to think that we have committed a sin too great to be forgiven. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Let us hear these words and hear a glorious invitation to run to Jesus for forgiveness of sin; to run to His holy Supper where He does not merely eat with us but where He gives us Himself—His body and blood—uniting with us and giving us the forgiveness of sins and every heavenly gift and blessing.
As we hear today’s Gospel of the great effort of the shepherd searching for the one lost sheep, of the woman searching for the one lost coin, we see the great Gospel truth that we do not seek the Lord but that He seeks us out. What a great joy and comfort that is—the Lord seeks us out! And what effort He goes through—no telling where that shepherd had to go to find that sheep and how much work that woman went through light[ing] a lamp, sweep[ing] the house, and search[ing] carefully until she found that coin. How much more so our Lord searching out us sinners! That’s how much value our Lord places on us. He created us; He loves us; He seeks us out.
Not only do we see our Lord’s great efforts seeking us out, but we also see in these parables the great joy that He has when He finds us. Of the shepherd, Jesus says: And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ And when the woman finds the coin, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the lost coin.’ And then Jesus adds: In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. That great joy of God over the penitent sinner! He sought us out; it is His work finding us; He works that repentance in us and He rejoices.
How gracious our Lord is! How great His love for us is! But then we read in today’s epistle from St. Peter: Therefore humble yourselves under God’s powerful hand. If God is so loving and gracious, why, then, are we to humble yourselves under God’s powerful hand? What is this humbling? Why do we need it? St. Peter’s theme in his first epistle is “suffering” and in particular “through suffering, to glory.” Suffering is not something foreign to the Christian. It’s not that once we are Christians that we will be healthy, wealthy and wise and because of God’s great love for us and His rejoicing over our repentance that we will be spared sufferings. Anyone who thinks or teaches that goes against Scripture and the witness of Church history, the example of the prophets and apostles and against the very example of Jesus.
The simple fact is that Christians suffer according to God’s will. It is in our suffering that we feel the mighty/ powerful hand of God upon us. God is not the author of evil but as the almighty God of heaven and earth, there is nothing out of His control. The evil that the devil wants to work in the world is hindered by God who only allows that what will ultimately serve for the good of the Christian and God’s good and gracious purposes for us. As we look around at the evil in the world and what we personally endure, we have to admit how wretched it is—but we need to keep in mind, that what is there is by God’s allowance and must serve His good and gracious will toward us. Just think if God did not hinder the devil’s evil—how wretched the world would be, if it were even still standing!
We do not and cannot understand the evils in the world and what we endure. To know and understand, we’d have to have the mind of God. That’s why in the midst of sufferings, yes, we may question the “how and why” of God’s working and His allowing what He does, but in the humility of faith, what do we ultimately do? Therefore humble yourselves under God’s powerful hand. We yield to the Lord and His will knowing that it is good and the best for us. We may not understand; at the moment we may not like it, but we yield to the Lord humbling ourselves under His powerful hand. In suffering, we feel the mighty hand of God; but we also remember this is the God who created us, loved us, sought us out and rejoices in our repentance. So, what is His will toward us, then? His will toward us is good and salvific/ saving. Would He, the all-powerful and merciful God allow anything upon us that would be against His good and gracious will toward us? Certainly not! In the midst of our sufferings that’s what we need to keep in mind. What we suffer, we suffer; we don’t in our pride resist God but willingly bow. That is part and parcel of the Christian life—yielding to the Lord, humbling ourselves.
Yes, that is difficult—seemingly impossible in the midst of our sufferings. But the yielding to God, the humbling of ourselves under His powerful hand also has with it a glorious promise: Therefore humble yourselves under God’s powerful hand so that he may lift you up at the appointed time. In the midst of the trials that we suffer, yes, we humbly endure them and part of that humbling means that we pay no attention to the length of that humbling because by faith we are certain that God knows the right time for them to be ended, when they have worked their purpose—His good and gracious purpose. They will end when the saving benefit/ blessing for others or ourselves has been reached. Certainly come the Last Day we will be exalted as we are raised from the dead and we, soul and glorified body, are eternally in heaven with all the saints, the angels and holy Triune God.
Through the fire of trial, God wants to test and purify our faith in Him. His desire, His will is that in trial, as we humble ourselves under His powerful hand, we hold all the more firmly to His word and promise, trust all the more in His saving work and rely on His grace. One thing that trial does is to make us realize how much we need the Lord both physically and spiritually. We come to recognize our weakness. In the midst of our humbling ourselves under God’s almighty hand, we cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. We are not left alone in our trials; it’s not as if God allows them to come upon us and then deserts us. No! He cares for you. He is with us in the midst of our trials and sufferings; they are not pointless, random acts. St. Peter here tells us in our trials to pray to the Lord, knowing that He provides for our needs. We bring to the Lord the earnest desire of our heart and inner longings in the full certainty that he cares for you and so will hear and answer our prayer in the best way. Prayer, too, is us humbling ourselves to the Lord but it is faith in Him, His help and His care for us.
Although it bears the most glorious fruit of humility and a purified and refined faith, the life of a Christian is not just humbling ourselves under the Lord’s mighty hand. It is also a life of resisting—resisting the devil. That’s how St. Peter continues on in our text: Have sound judgment. Be alert. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him by being firm in the faith. You know that the same kinds of sufferings are being laid on your brotherhood all over the world. While yielding to God, we stand firm against the devil. The thing is, someone else has an eye on our progress as Christians, on our growth in the faith. That’s why we must be constantly on guard. As Christians we need a mind unclouded by the things of the world. Our trials and sufferings are one way God helps us in that. In the midst of our trials and sufferings, we are reminded what is truly vital; we are reminded of our weaknesses; we are driven to the Lord’s word and promise and to prayer. We don’t get drawn in to the mind-numbing things the world wants us to think important; and the true cares and worries of this life, we take to the Lord in prayer and leave them to Him to worry about. Again, cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
We are and must be on guard against the devil and resisting him because he prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He is trying to destroy our soul. He wants us to renounce our faith or to become indifferent or impatient. That’s why we must be on guard. The devil can very quickly lead the Christian to fall. St. Peter himself is an example of that—one moment he is saying he’d die with Jesus, the next moment he’s denying Jesus. We need to be on guard to resist the devil because he prowls around like a roaring lion. Since he prowls around he’s not in sight but yet always somewhere nearby ready to strike. And since he is a roaring lion he roars to terrorize and intimidate to make us feel our helplessness.
When the devil is prowling around trying to lead us into sin and to destroy our faith and to lead us into despair, let us resist him, dear Christian. We have been warned. Let us be on guard and vigilantly watching so we can resist him. And how do we do that? St. Peter tells us in our text: Resist him by being firm in the faith. You know that the same kinds of sufferings are being laid on your brotherhood all over the world. The only way to save our souls is to resist the devil firm in our faith. The devil brings temptation, evil and trial upon us in order to destroy our faith. How do we resist him by being firm in the faith? –By holding all the more firmly to the word of God. When the devil wants to turn us away from Jesus, let us, then instead hold all the more firmly to Jesus and His word and then hit the devil with the word—counteract his lies with truth. That’s why it is vital that we are in church each week to hear the word of absolution, to hear God’s word applied to our lives, to receive strength and renewal from the Holy Spirit in the word, to receive Jesus bodily and unite with Him as we feed on Him in the Holy Supper as He is in us and we are in Him. That’s why we daily remember and live out our baptism by daily confessing our sin and reclaiming the forgiveness of sin and clothing ourselves in Jesus. That’s why we daily read Scripture and sound devotional books. Through all this the Holy Spirit is at work keeping our hearts and minds on the right thing, strengthening our faith to keep holding to Jesus and His word and work and so resist the devil who wants to destroy our faith and our soul in hell eternally.
That we resist the devil and hold fast to the Lord and humble ourselves under His mighty hand in the midst of suffering is not a matter of our own strength and wisdom. It is all the Lord’s gracious working: After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.